Friday, September 30, 2011

A Lot of Poo

Last week, my eleven-year-old left me a present-- an unflushed toilet bearing what could have been confused for horse hockey. After a reminder to come take care of the matter, I assumed that this slip in judgment was resolved. The next day, however, I came home to a clot of poo on the toilet seat. As you can see, there is a lot of poo in child rearing, both actual and metaphorical. It can wear a good woman out.

Most Saturdays, my daughter has a riding lesson, and then we treat ourselves to lunch out after. This past Saturday we were trying to squeeze in a haircut, but my son pooped in his pants. I had to drive home, clean him up, change his clothes, run the wash, return to the hairdresser's, and forego lunch until after. About that time, we discovered the cause for his accident: a virus. We ordered lunch to go after his fifteen-minute diarrhea session at the restaurant, came home to care for a sick child, and then cancelled afternoon plans. So much for going to Car Pool to clean the horse manure off the car mats from the morning at the barn.

That afternoon, as I sat near my son while he pottied, he uttered these wise words: "Mom, I hate diarrhea. It's hard, it's complicated, it's frustrating... it's diarrhea." I think even he can draw the parallels between actual poop and that which is symbolic of poop.

Friday, September 23, 2011


This year I was told by a friend that I had previously considered family that I needed to know the difference between friends and family. He was not family, he said, and therefore not bound to certain obligations to help. In part, he was right. In another part, I decided that, the line having been drawn so plainly, I would just honor his request by pointing my life in a different direction.

These days, I am in an odd place, and I am not sure what to make of it. I had prayed this year that I be transformed inside and out--caterpillar, cocoon, metamorphosis, butterfly. Other friends, my mother included in that, asked me not to change at all. But something most definitely is, and aspects of that are out of my hands.

Perhaps this is another blog I should save for the book I want to write call the Unpublishable Pages, all the things I wanted to say that I shouldn't say. In my limited experience, I have learned that I hurt with words more than I thought possible. And, despite contentment with many issues, I carry a sort of deep-seated frustration, a kind of anger that seeps out of me. My struggle is to know about it this: Is it normal? And why is it so shocking to others when I become the angry one?

I used to be depressed, and looking back, I see that it was there on and off for a long time. Depression is a hidden thing, swept under the rug, leaving a crust that really doesn't completely evaporate. It's a cancer. You remember you had it, it was there, it made you crazy. It can return and make you crazy again. But a therapist once told me the most insightful thing about it: Depression is repressed anger. When I heard that, a haze lifted and I knew she was right.

These days, I allow myself to be angry. The frightening thing for others is that while I can accidentally wound in casual conversation, the true and confrontational conversations are where I mean exactly what I say, and what I say is often awful.

In a falling out with family and friends this year, something that happened this summer, I was accused of being selfish and essentially responsible for the unhappiness of others. I spoke plainly in response to that. Things didn't go well at all. Or did they go as they were meant?

And so I regroup. I have even been reconsidering writing so publicly at all, the effort to do so considerable with the new job and new schedule. Something is definitely happening to me. And I feel it when I am alone in my office at work, and when I am home engaged in good conversation with my first born--I am changing seasons.

With that said, today is the first day of fall. A season of death, really, but yet it is shrouded in brilliant hues and changing light. A fellow blogger once mentioned to me that with every rebirth comes death first. And so this fall, as I curl in my cocoon and attempt to emerge from the chrysalis, I wonder if I will leave the anger behind, and unfurl wings as light as breath in the new dawn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Note of Condolences to a Neighborhood

Recently, I received tragic news that a woman in my former neighborhood ended her life. She was 40 and expecting her first child, the delivery soon approaching. While I did not know her personally, we had in common a number of friends and acquaintances. I am struck by the shared grief of this community, that kind of loss being one that reaches profoundly into the dark and silent corners of hearts, rousing feelings we prefer to forget. Tearfully this week, I reminded my children the importance of choosing life, of loving, and of remembering in times of hardship that things get better. We have each other to live for.

I am desperately sad for the woman's husband, her other family members, for the life of the child she took with her. I have not been able to look at my children without thinking how grateful I am to still be here raising them; to have them alive, healthy, thriving really; to be well, mentally and physically; and to remember that once I had carried secretly the hollowness that makes one think life is not worth living. This woman's death is haunting. And I ache for her.

To my former community, my sincerest, most heartfelt condolences for losing one of your own. I hope this most unnecessary and tragic loss sows seeds of compassion and wisdom among you. My best wishes for growth and recovery, for the return of light and love, and that darkness ebbs away from your troubled souls in this difficult time.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Semicolon Abuse

Working two different writing jobs, I see different levels of errors. Both jobs, however, share a most frustrating  misuse of the semicolon. According to Eats, Shoots & Leaves author Lynne Truss, the semicolon was invented in the 14th Century; it has been abused ever since.

How's that for use of a semicolon? Semis help clarify or link. Semis conduct a delicate dance between defining separate ideas and connecting shared ones. This week, having spent hours on yet another paper that was heavily dotted with semis to the near point of obscuring text, I have decided to list the major rules here.

  • When writing sentences that list concepts described with multiple words, and those concepts have interior punctuation within each phrasing, please use a semi. 

For example: Edward the Mouse went shopping for all of his favorite cheeses such as Swiss, which he loved for all of its holes; cheddar, whose sharp taste and orange color thrilled him; and goat, which was considered taboo among the mouse community.

  • When writing sentences that list concepts described without interior punctuation (simple lists), commas are appropriate. (The writer of a certain manuscript that I edited this week wanted semis in this context. I objected strongly and confiscated all errant semis and firmly planted commas instead.)

For example: Edward the Mouse when shopping for tasty cheddar cheese, zesty Swiss cheese, and mellow goat cheese.

  • When writing sentences with two independent clauses, and that second clause clarifies or extends the meaning of the first one, please use a semi (or just make two separate sentences and call it a day).

For example: Edward the Mouse had extremely high cholesterol; he ate too much butter with his cheese.

At my full-time job, we use semi-colons in bulleted lists where all components are essential criteria to qualify for something. I am not crazy about this use of semi-colons, but nevertheless, we do it. I'd rather rewrite the leading sentence before the list, but I digress.

For example: In order for Edward the Mouse to qualify for health insurance to treat his high cholesterol problem, he would have to complete the following:
1) reduce his intake of cheese;
2) spend at least 30 minutes a day on the wheel in his cage;
3) drink a small glass of red wine each night; and
4) register and attend classes in a Cheese-Eaters Anonymous group.

Note that we end the last bullet with a period, treating the entire thing as a broken-up sentence. Perhaps corporate writing can be a topic for another day, but let's just say that on the lists required for my second job, I never use semis.

One of the most fun websites to explain semicolon usage is here, which describes semis as the most feared punctuation on earth. I can understand this, having once posted on Facebook this: Don't make me beat you with my semicolon! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mouse in the House... Ummm, I mean in the office...

It seems my office has a mouse. Everyday, there are new reports that he has ransacked someone's snack drawer. Today, I put up a poster about it: Wanted Dead or Alive it reads. The reward I offered was a mini-bag of Cheez-Its, something any mouse would appreciate, much less his human counterparts at work.

This past weekend, friends shared a picnic table with us and told story after story about mice and other small critters. The best one had to be from a woman who said that one day a chipmunk scampered across her kitchen floor... being pursued by the family cat... who was pursued by a dog... and yet followed by another dog. She said she had jumped upon the counter and found herself standing in the trash can as the animals ran frantically 'round and 'round.

Mice are really cute until they are running free in your home or office. A co-worker suggested we lay a trap for ours. "Let's get a shoe box and prop it up with a stick," she suggested. "I think I'll ask maintenance to set a squirrel cage-style trap," I countered. I have this picture in my head of her lying on the floor all night, holding a string attached to that stick and shoe-box rig, calling, "Here, mousie, mousie." Somehow, I think this critter will be with us a while.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adieu, Facebook

My decision to deactivate my Facebook account was multifaceted, something I had been deliberating doing for some time.

But the biggest part of it was this: I am not biologically designed to have 300 best friends. It was fun to promote my art and blog via Facebook, it was fun to see my friends’ children in online albums, and it was fun to exchange witticisms with long-time friends; however, I began to wonder if all this living online takes away from the living I should actually be doing in regard to people I love the most. Maybe we are designed to let go and not constantly reconnect. I don't know.

Facebook has had surprising benefits—the best of which was reconnections of lost friendships that formed foundations of new support in difficult times.  But I did learn that I would bump into an old acquaintance, excitedly catch up, exhaust all enthusiasm, and, for the most part, lose touch again. The option of reaching out, though, was always a key stroke away. Convenient. I think I what I learned was I don’t like severed connections, but I simply can’t realistically maintain that much correspondence with that many people.

I am sure I will reactivate my account again. I use FB as a messaging service for people whose phone numbers I don’t have—more than one lunch has been scheduled that way. When I took my children to see their paternal great-grandmother, I was able to send a rare and precious photo of her to several former in-laws. It was a tender gesture that FB unwittingly hosted—something that wouldn’t have been so possible at one time. I also enjoy seeing what's happening in my step-daughters' lives. But for now, I decided just to pull out.

The timing of my closing my FB account came when I needed to reflect a bit on priorities. The last few days have been nice—no chime summoning me on my Blackberry, no faux-urgency to check the latest newsfeed. I thought I would miss it. I know my kids don't miss my being distracted by it. So far, so good.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Day of School

I just posted a note of encouragement to a friend sending her son to a formal school as opposed to the more flexible home school environment she had lovingly provided for the last few years. Let me tell you about our start in new environments here.

At my son's school, a Boo Hoo Breakfast is hosted for parents of new kindergartners on the first day. While parents are thrilled children are growing and progressing, it is hard to leave children, children who were once babes who could curl up on your chest as vulnerable newborns, in what might become a Lord of the Flies scenario. Of course, wisdom prevails and we push ourselves out the door. The wee folk become engaged in happy activity led by a loving and firm instructor, and school becomes routine. Things are ok. The first day though, particularly for mothers, is hard.

My son is little. When he holds my hand to walk along side me, his hand is up to reach mine. He is pint-sized, snack-sized. His backpack is almost as big as he is. We walked to school from where I had parked, his hand in mine, my free hand sheltering us with an umbrella. His yellow rainboots flashed in the puddles. His excitement about school wore off by the time we entered the packed building, other parents also escorting new folk to new classrooms. Tiny hung his backpack and jacket on the notch near his name. He looked absolutely uncertain. I hugged him, kissed him once, took in his sweet young child smell, and turned. I didn't attend the parent breakfast because I was already late for work. My impulse had been, though, to clutch him to my chest and run hundreds of kisses up his neck, to take him to work with me so he could sit in my lap. But I didn't. I did the right thing. And he was fine.

Earlier that morning, I drove our daughter to school for her start in sixth grade. I pulled up to the corner and suddenly she froze. "Come with me," she said, "The seventh graders are so big." We parked and I walked with her until she stopped at the steps before the building. She hesitated, tried to speak, and faltered. She had realized no moms were entering the building. Finally she decided she could walk in on her own. I hugged her with as little fuss as possible and watched her, the backpack bouncing with her steps. Her newness would include a nearly entirely new student body of older kids (but some were friends from her old school last year), changing classes, learning how to open a locker with a combination, increasing hormones, crushes on boys, and greater exposure to pop culture. Our relationship over the last week has evolved simply from the fact that she is now allowed greater independence. I am trying to let go of certain things and trust her with  more responsibility. I sit at work and fret that she, who lives on her own planet, will be distracted and get hit by a car crossing the street on the way to her after-care program. Surprisingly though, this week her own growing awareness warned me of safety.

"Step aside, Mom," she said as we walked on the sidewalk to school mid-week. The streets here have been heavy with accumulated rainfall. I looked at her to see why she would ask that and was simultaneously drenched by a car that, at full speed, hit a puddle near the curb. The rolls had been reversed. My daughter had anticipated an event and prepared for it; she was dry.

For those of us that have shuttled our young ones off to school this month, we celebrate and mourn simultaneously. I can enjoy the knowledge that my son thinks his school is so big because he is so small and his feet make at least two steps to my one. I get to share the thrill of my daughter's meeting new friends, accomplishing good work. She is going to school with all kinds of kids in the artsy environment of this historic town, a good lesson for her.

We're doing ok.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


My husband recently told me not to write anything when upset. While no one will believe that my last blog I posted was something I had played around with writing during the summer, I did write in haste the other night and managed in the process to offend the people I love most. For this I am awfully sorry. I retracted it from here and from Facebook, which I went ahead and deactivated.

Moments like this, I wish I could just disappear. So for a little while, I have. Again, my apologies.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Irene's Aftermath

Right now, you can't take a walk more than half a block without running into the debris from fallen trees. While the damage here isn't as bad as it could have been, there is enough to provide stressful conditions for many residents. Entire oak trees--including their lengthy root systems--were torn out of the ground and took with them sidewalks, driveways, porches, roofs, corners of houses, fences, et cetera. Down the street we have cars whose tops have been crushed into the passenger space. Houses are missing chimneys and gutters. Power is just now being restored to homes here. Roads in many places are still cordoned off from entry due to rubble.

We were lucky. While gas stations and stores have been operating on limited hours if at all in many locations, not far from the house commercial business remained unaffected and likely thrived from customers seeking not just a place to eat while the home kitchen was powerless, but an air-conditioned environment. My kids watch the tree surgeons hoist and dangle themselves from trees and cranes from a safe distance. The smell and dust of cut wood has been heavy in the air here, to the point where I have had to clean the furniture and floors multiple times this week to keep the outdoors out. But we have been comfortable, exceedingly so, in a house that somehow remained unaffected by 95 mph winds.

When my daughter was little, she rode with me through the debris of Hurricane Katrina. She recalls being scared by the houses on the Gulf Coast looking like sagging spiders for the first floors that washed away leaving  the supports of a broken second story. I remember, and just saw again, the empty acres that once held neighborhoods. In New Orleans, my daughter covered her eyes from the black, empty windows and doorways of homes that had sat in a rancid stew of flood water for three weeks, the yards littered with smashed shutters and glass, upturned cars, boats in odd angles on city streets. I had determined then that I wouldn't again, if luxury allowed, expose her to such a horror.

My husband has been troubled by news about towns in the Northeast, particularly one in Vermont, a washed-away mountain-side community--homes, roads, playgrounds, stores crushed and gone. Locals fretted that there were community members trapped in their homes (or what might be left of them) from a swelling river in places where roads had eroded with the force of Irene. I write this as a chainsaw buzzes in the background, as a helicopter putters overhead, as my children play in a cooled and cleaned home. I am thankful for a civilization that was only damaged, not eradicated. And as a new storm named Katia begins to boil in the Atlantic, her path yet to be determined, I hold my breath.