Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I've been thinking about the themes in my novels lately. Whenever people asked, I always blithely said, "Escape. My novels are all about escape."
And, on the surface, that seems true. The two novels I've finished (as yet unpublished) and the one I've started on all have people fleeing their homes. In DEPARTURE, a mother takes her three children and runs away to Europe. In TRAIL MIX, two women leave behind their husbands and teenage children to hike the Appalachian Trail.
So, obviously, escaping from their humdrum lives is the point. But if I look at the end, they return to that life they were escaping from. It's not the life they want to avoid; it's themselves they need to change. So the escape is a search for an opportunity to change, to improve. In TRAIL MIX, my characters have to get over superficial worries and find the beauty in living again. In DEPARTURE, Annie must become a stronger person, find out what she enjoys, before she can be the wife and mother she wants to be.
And thinking about that search for beauty and the true person on the inside, made me think about Christmas and how my family and I probably didn't need any of the presents that made us shriek with joy. Maybe we just needed to stand for a minute in the sun beaming through the window and feel it warm on our face, to realize that we don't have to escape to find beauty.
Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Perfect Mom?

Suppose a mother took a mid-morning break from grading papers during finals week and toasted an everything bagel. She slathered on creamy swiss cheese and the savory smell filled the kitchen. She could almost taste the crunchy bagel as she tapped the spoon against the side of her tea cup and moved toward the table. Then, her 11-year-old, who'd already eaten a whole bagel on his own, asked if he could share hers. She'd look at the still warm bagel, a golden brown around the edges, the cheese melting just slightly.
"Okay," she'd agree to share.
But when the grimy hand reached for the top of the bagel, the one that was covered with sesame seeds and poppy seeds and salty goodness, she had to put her foot down.
"Not that side."
Perhaps, she's not quite the perfect mother after all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Deep Breath

I was feeling pretty proud of myself as a parent this weekend as I drove two of my children to a swim meet through the dark morning. The clouds were piled up like mountains and the light was peeking through attempting some sort of midwestern Northern lights show. We left the house a little after 6 a.m. About an hour later, I was standing at one end of the pool with a stopwatch in my hand as Grace swam the 500. That's 20 laps and it is one of her favorite races. She's pretty good at it. Some of the girls from swim team were at the end of the pool turning cards that counted her laps. She was on 13 when she seemed to fall behind the girl next to her. And, as she reached the end of the pool, rather than the smooth flip turn with a glimpse of her legs flashing over her head, she stopped and held onto the side of the pool. I saw her put her hand to her mouth and cough.
She must have gotten choked on the water, was my first thought as I stood there, glancing down at the watch. This was really going to mess us her time. The girls she had been ahead of flipped and headed back to the other end of the pool. Some of the girls were only on lap 11, so if she got going she could still beat some of them, I thought. Our coach knelt down in front of her and was talking to her. Then a white-outfitted offical bent over to talk to her.
The coach made a motion with her hand, calling me down to that end of the pool. I took off the watch, laying it on a chair next to the dad who was timing. "Sorry I can't help you with Nick," I said as I walked away. By the time I got to the end of the pool, Grace was sitting on the bleachers and the coach was glued to her side. Her friends on the other side. I knelt in front of her. Okay, I was still feeling a little annoyed. So she wasn't going to have her best time, she should have finished.
"Do you want the paramedics?" the sheriff's deputy on duty asked.
I felt confused. Why? I looked at the coach.
"Yes," she told him.
Grace seemed pale but she was upright; she was breathing.
"I had to carry her out of the pool. She couldn't support any of her weight," the coach said. "She couldn't breathe."
So the paramedics came and Grace seemed dazed. They said what people who aren't athletes would say, she probably over exerted. But she swims this race almost every week. She was scheduled to swim the 1000 later in the day. This should have been nothing.
We talked about lungs and heart and, as a mom, I began to worry. Those football players who collapse during summer drills. All those kids whose hearts seem healthy until they just stop beating and all the teammates talk about what a kind person the kids was. I was torn between encouraging Grace to try again and wanting to keep her immobilized. When she walked, I held onto her sweater, like that could keep her from falling down.
We saw a sports med doctor on Monday. She ordered a stress test to see if Grace has sports-induced asthma and she'll do an EKG too. Then a friend started talking about whooping cough and the recent outbreak that started with a swim team so we went to see the pediatrician. The pediatrician, not our regular doctor, swam competitively through high school and college.
"Sometimes if your oxygen gets low and your CO2 gets high, you'll start to hyperventilate," she explained.
I practically saw the light bulb over Grace's head. "I'm not dying?" it seemed to ask. And the cold she'd been fighting became nominal. She could be a swimmer again.
And I could take a deep breath and be just a mom again -- not the best or the worst, but a mom.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Civic Duty

"Well, what does your husband think about the gas prices?"
I was stunned into silence. This questions was beyond my grasp in so many ways as I sat on a hard metal chair against the wall of an elementary school. I had been there since 5:30 a.m. when we set up the 3 voting booths and measured 100 feet away from the doors, sticking flags and warning signs into the ground. No one should pass out campaign material past that flag. Then I was obligated to stay in the room with these four other people for the rest of the day, until we packed up the voting machines and turned in the results. I was doing my civic duty by working the polls.
The one guy working with us was probably mid 50s with hair nearly reaching his shoulders and a beard that he let grow long from his chin/neck area. Creepy. And he was the sole republican. (Can Republican and sole/soul go together?) The gas price question was obviously one of those, "do you have a husband?" questions. Ick. The man then lectured me on the fact that if he drove to Springfield - 40 miles away and 40 miles back - he could find gas for $2.50. I'm sorry, who has an extra 80 minutes to drive to fill up the gas tank and save 50 cents per gallon. Time is money, people!
The county had sent out letters to democrats pleading with them to volunteer at the polls. Since the majority of the precincts went democratic during the last election, the republicans could not be in charge of the polling places and they were desperately short of democrats. My husband (who has no strong opinion on gas prices) said he didn't have to work until the evening on election day. Why didn't I go ahead and volunteer to work. (Oh, the reasons I could come up with now!) So I did.
The gas-price guy had worked the polls for years. He came prepared with a cooler full of food, a grocery bag and a 12-pack of Sprite. Yes, 14-hours is a long time to work, but who is going to eat that much food? I'm figuring I need lunch and that's about it. As the day wore on, he walked back and forth with food. Strawberries smothered with sugar. A sandwich (he brought the whole loaf of bread and made the sandwich). A bowl of steaming soup. "And I've got two more cans of this!" Finally, around 6, he walked past with a bowl of ice cream. Ice cream? I'm going to be gone 14 hours and I pack ice cream as a snack? When anyone commented on his food, he would respond: "You don't bring it, you don't eat it."
Not that any of us were after his food. Only one woman, who was on a walker and had to take 15 pills each morning, was wishing for something of his. She needed a Sprite or clear liquid to drink before she could take her pills. The pop machine in the teacher's lounge was broken so she was out of luck. The poll worker guy did not offer to share his 12-pack of Sprite. Instead, he reminded us, "You don't bring it, you don't eat it."
When I went out for lunch, I stopped at a coffee shop for myself and grabbed a San Pellegrino limon drink for the woman waiting at the polls.
She'd had knee replacement surgery in the summer, but it became infected and she had to go back to the hospital to have it scraped before spending a few weeks in a nursing home learning to get around. Now she was up to a walker with tennis balls stuck on the back legs to keep it from scraping. She had long, numerous braids and talked about her kids, ages 21 and 22. Her mouth turned down at the edges and she was missing some front teeth. She thought someday she would like to move someplace warm, like California. I went to get a blanket from the back of my car so she could cover up as the elementary children ran in and out the school doors, letting the cold air in. She didn't mind that the polls weren't busy. She was getting paid to sit and do nothing. At home, she usually spent the day watching TV. Later, as she was talking, she mentioned her age. She was 45. Just a year older than me.
Not many people voted at that precinct on Tuesday. Not even a 20 percent turn out. But I did my civic duty and learned a few lessons about people who are outside my bubble.
Don't look for me to volunteer again, though, come the March primary. I think I'll just drop by with pizza for those other dedicated workers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Corn Syrup Conundrum

When I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I resolved to change our family's eating habits. I tried to buy fruits and vegetables in season from the local farmer's market and what I found out was, my family was eating a lot fewer fruits and vegetables.
So now I buy the boxes of clementines that have been shipped across the Atlantic from South Africa, increasing my carbon foot print with each gallon of fuel the container ship uses to bring my little oranges to the United States.
One thing I have tried to stick with is eliminating high fructose corn syrup from our diet. HFCS is genetically modified to create an easily-transported sweetener that is added to nearly everything. What's wrong with it? According to an article by Linda Joyce Forristal, CCP, MTA, from "In the Kitchen with Mother Linda The Murky World of High-Fructose Corn Syrup," male rats that were fed high fructose diets didn't reach adulthood and had health conditions like high cholesterol, anemia and delayed testicular development. The females didn't have it as bad but couldn't bear live young.
"...all fructose must be metabolized in the liver," Forristal quotes USDA researcher Dr. Meira Fields. "The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic."
Okay, I know my kids aren't rats, but I'm looking forward to grandchildren some day, so I want to avoid that lack of testicular development and the ability to bear children. It's just like that book The Children of Men by P.D. James.
But buying food without high fructose corn syrup seems nearly impossible. They hide that in everything. My first surprise was bread. Who'd have thought bread needed high fructose corn syrup? The only loaves I can find at my regular shopping stops are Archer Farms at Target and organic bread at Kroger.
I took my kids off their once weekly soda allotment and instead buy Jones cream soda made from cane sugar. Candy doesn't have a lot of high fructose corn syrup, but just about any baked good is going to have it. Forget bagels. They are off our list forever. English muffins. Little Debbies. All gone.
Spencer asked for fries and steak for his birthday dinner so I was searching for ketchup. Guess what was in it? I found a bottle of organic ketchup and went with that. But then Grace had requested apple sauce and I was out of luck at the local Kroger.
I was kvetching to my friends that I couldn't find any applesauce without high fructose corn syrup.
My friend Laura looked at me in astonishment, "Why would you buy apple sauce? Why wouldn't you just make it from scratch? Cook up some apples and add some sugar."
Keep in mind, this is a friend who admittedly hasn't cooked dinner for her family in weeks.
"Well, geez, Laura. Why would you go buy bananas when you could plant a tree and have perfectly good bananas within years?" I replied. A little stung.
So, this morning I made an apple coffee cake and I'll go to Wild Oats later today to look for organic apple sauce, but I am not going to feel guilty that I don't make it more than once a season from scratch.

Find the Forristal article at http://www.westonaprice.org/motherlinda/cornsyrup.html
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts,
the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2001

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rest in Peace

I don’t know why people insist on open-casket funerals. All it proves to me is that the person so obviously isn’t there any more. They don’t even physically resemble themselves.
I was thinking that this weekend when I stood behind a 94-year-old woman who was saying goodbye to her 92-year-old sister in a brushed metal coffin. The 94-year-old is the last of her siblings left and as she looked at my mother-in-law’s face, she probably saw a very different woman than I did, a very different woman than my husband did. She saw a tiny girl who stole her toys and a teenager who flirted with her dates. She saw a woman who became a nurse and a mother, a woman who worked constantly as they had all been taught by their Italian immigrant mother.
My husband and his siblings saw a woman who gave them the best she could. They were always clean and well fed. She may not have laughed with them as often as she should have. She may not have swung her toddlers into the air, watching their shoes fly off. She may not have settled onto the couch with a child’s head resting on her shoulder while they laughed at the television. But didn’t she also teach them that those are things they should cherish? By her omission and the times she cried from loneliness, wasn’t she teaching them that these are things to include in life?
When she died last week, my husband was out of town. She’d been sick a few weeks earlier and pulled out of it. She might again, the doctor said. But she didn’t. And I urged him not to feel guilty about missing the final moment. It isn’t about that last moment and who is there to claim it. It’s about adding up all of those moments before and relishing them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Straight Hair Secrets

Well, I had a straight hair for the weekend and I am quite perturbed that women with straight hair have been hiding the truth from me. I thought this was a sisterhood. Here's what I learned. With straight hair, I can wake up in the morning and my hair looks exactly the same as it did the day before. No strange waves sticking up in the back or clumps of hair leaning to one side or the other. With straight hair, I can ride in the convertible, see the shadow of my hair blowing in straight lines all around my head like I'm incredibly frightened, and when the car stops, my hair looks exactly the same as it did before I climbed in.
I suppose modern technology should be given credit for my weekend of straight hair. It started with a trip to the "salon," which for me is a long narrow shop with six chairs and way too many pictures of Keith Richards. As Grace the hairdresser was beginning to dry my hair, she said, "The usual?" The usual for me is letting it dry naturally. I do as little to my hair as possible. After a shower I add hair gel (confixor by Aveda) and don't think about it again unless I pass a mirror.
"Are there any alternatives?" I asked Grace. "Sure, we could straighten it."
Those words are familiar. I went through years trying to tame my curly hair into a smooth pageboy or even a Dorothy Hamil wedge. After college, I gave up and accepted my curls. The humidity in Washington, D.C. and Florida made straightening an impossibility anyway.
So imagine my surprise when Grace the hairdresser pulled out a ceramic hair straightener and my hair not only went straight, but felt baby fine. This is not my beautiful hair, I wanted to exclaim feeling like David Bowie. But it was. My children and most everyone I know felt the same. People I knew walked right past without recognizing me. Apparently, I look totally different with straight hair. Some people said I looked younger. I thought the lines around my eyes were more apparent because I didn't have all of that hair distracting from them.
And when I got up Saturday morning, my looked exactly the same. So I skipped my morning shower and ran screaming when my daughter called me into the humid bathroom. My husband, who flew in late Friday night, commented that he could run his fingers through my hair without getting stuck in tangles. On Sunday morning, my hair still looked great. Not a sign of curl and none of the greasiness that people with normal straight hair get. I avoided getting it wet again. Eventually, I had to shower and my hair has popped back into curls, a little shorter than I would have liked, but I know that if I want it longer and sophisticated, all I have to do is buy one of those ceramic straightener thingees and spend about an hour every morning fixing my hair...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


My husband called last night from his vacation, oops, I mean work conference. He was standing at the top of the St. Petersburg Pier and I could hear the wind whistling across his phone. He'd had two beers and was feeling romantic as the balmy breeze buffeted him.
I was immediately expected to match his cuddly mood as I sat at my hallway desk helping to cut and paste the table of contents for my daughter's government report, worth 20 percent of her grade. My back was already aching from sitting in the straight-backed chair for a good part of the day while I graded 25 compositions.
I'm afraid I didn't jump to that romantic, reminiscent mood my husband was hoping for. He was talking about walking along the bay. The smell of the air on those nights when the wind blew just right, rustling the palm fronds. I was barely giving him the "hmmmm" response because I was concentrating on the correct page number for each constitutional cartoon.
My 11-year-old stumbled into the hallway, a tissue stuffed into his red, chapped nose wanting to know if I'd watch Dancing with the Stars. When he saw the already distracted look, he retreated to the television in the basement.
My husband gave up with a sigh. "We should come here sometime, just the two of us," he said. I tried to picture him in the darkening night walking back toward his hotel, the gulls swooping from above and screeching. Then I realized that the evening was getting dark and my middle son wasn't back from the football game yet. My husband had lost my attention again.
"I love you," I managed to call. "Have a good time."
And I wasn't picturing a time when the two of us could escape there together, instead, I was wondering when I might escape to a "conference" and have evenings to drink atop the St. Petersburg Pier and imagine my husband at home, juggling kids and homework.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Hidden Cost of ChiRunning

I just want to reiterate the value of exercise before I start totaling up the cost of exercising, and I'm not talking about the cute running shorts or the expensive shoes. Today, in my second trip back to the doctor in a week, I handed over my credit card for my $20 co-pay.
"$10" the Russian-born receptionist asked, as if she hoped to make it less painful. Maybe she felt guilty that I paid $20 on Monday and all the doctor did was tut over my knee and tell me to come back.
In some distant month, I can see myself practicing ChiRunning as I glide along the street, barely breathing hard. For now, I'm entering the bills on my Quicken, unable to run for another week yet.
ChiRunning class taught by impeccable instructor -- $125
ChiRunning book and metronome to keep me in beat -- $ 55
Emergency Room co-pay at 6 a.m. -- $ 75
Co-pay for first visit to have stitches removed -- $ 20
Co-pay for second visit to have stitches removed -- $ 20
Lost hour and a half of work in the writing center
while I had the stitches removed -- $30
Session with psychologists to lament the fact that
I can't run and must find other ways to deal with
my stress -- $120
Extra large bandages, epsom salts, mochas to ease
the pain, extra gas because I'm driving instead
of walking -- $??
New running shoes to replace the bloodied ones -- $90

In spite of the finances, the thing I feel badly about is that Grace fell on the same day as she was riding her bike to school. I was sitting with my stitched knee propped up when she came home with large bandaids on her ankle and knee. She hadn't ridden home in disgrace, dripping blood and crying. She had simply gone to the school nurse and gotten taped up. She didn't, or couldn't, make a big deal about it, because I had trumped her with my stitches. I was proud that she was more concerned about someone else (me) than her own injuries. She's really growing up. And it gave me pause, briefly, to wonder what it would be like to have a self-centered mother who frequently grabs the limelight with her own complaints.
Of course, I shouldn't overlook the benefits I've reaped from this episode. I haven't done laundry for two and a half weeks because the washing machine is in the basement.
As my fall becomes a bad memory, I will be left with only a Great Britain shaped scar.
Photo: http://creditcardlovers.com/

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Not So Good Day

Two awful things happened to me today. Well, one awful thing and one kind of bad happenstance. But the combination led to me sitting on an exit ramp at 8:05 a.m. putting on my panties.
Adding to my panic, was the fact that the Honors English class I'm teaching had begun five minutes earlier. Maybe not begun, since I wasn't there, but had been scheduled to begin.
So I was running late for class and I had to get dressed on my way to class. I peeled off my gray wicking shirt and left the compressing running bra on. I pulled a sleeveless, navy linen dress, which nearly covered the bra, over my head during a break in traffic. When the exit ramp light turned red again, I slammed the car into park and pulled off my running shorts and shoes. That's when I put on the panties and threw the edge of my dress over them as the light changed and I passed the nice policeman who let me turn left in front of the oncoming traffic.
I was running late for this, the second day of class, because I had been at the emergency room since 6 a.m. You've gotta get up pretty early in the morning to make it to the emergency room by 6 a.m. And when I walked, well limped, into the ER, the triage nurse actually laughed.
I think it all started on Sunday though. That's when, in spite of a bad cold, I went to a ChiRunning class taught by an old friend. ChiRunning mixes the methods of Tai Chi with running. It leads to a smooth, injury free run. I'm pretty good at running. I ran the Columbus Marathon a few years ago. I did 16 miles one Saturday last month just on a whim. I'm left handed, so I have a tendency to be clumsy when I walk or cut things with sharp knives. For some reason, I've always felt coordinated when I run. I don't stumble or fall off the edge of the trail.
On Sunday, I was feeling pretty good about my ChiRunning abilities while a friend who had accompanied me was not so thrilled. She complained and pouted that she couldn't get it. I could tell I was going to be good at it. We were taught the proper stance, proper posture, tucked in pelvis and tilted forward torso. The idea, once in the right stance, is to lean slightly forward and let gravity do the running for you. I bought the book. And the metronome to keep me running on the right beat.
This morning, I did the stretches in my darkened kitchen with the cat trying to grab my hair when I hung upside down to loosen my joints. Then I ventured outside where an outdoor cat stood blocking my way as I practiced my running technique up and down the back sidewalk.
Finally, I was ready for the road. I aligned myself again and ran down the smooth concrete alley. I reached the road and turned right. I hadn't run since we moved here, nearly a week and a half ago. I was trying a new route. I stopped after a block to realign myself. Keeping the right posture is really important to chi running. The roads were empty (luckily) because I felt kind of silly stopping and using my hands to reposition myself. The next time I had to do it, I moved to the sidewalk under a tree so I wouldn't be so out in the open. Then I started again, leaning slightly forward. Step, step, splat. An edge of the sidewalk stuck up a few inches above the others and it caught my left toe, propelling me forward.
Falling down is such a surprise as an adult. I never expect it to happen. It seems there should always be some way to recover before the actual sidewalks meets my knee, hip, elbow and hands. The chi running lean gave me the extra momentum I needed to do a full sprawl on the sidewalk. I pushed myself up and looked down at my left knee for only a minute. Skinned, I convinced myself and turned around to walk home. Limp home. It hurt and I would go in the dark house and wash it off, but I wouldn't look at it until I got home. Walking, walking. Don't think about it. Then I saw the drip on my shoe. My running shoes weren't clean, but they were white, now dotted with red.
So the cat greeted me when I walked in the house and I found a washcloth and wet it before looking at the coagulated blood on my knee cap and the runnier stuff that had soaked my sock. I pushed open the bedroom door and said to my sleeping husband, "I fell down."
"What?" he asked.
"I fell running. I'm sorry. I'm just like a little kid." But I didn't sob. Do I get points for that?
He pulled on a pair of shorts and knelt on the white tile floor in front of me.
"Oh," he said.
"Butterfly bandage?" I asked.
"You're going to need stitched," he said.
And that's why I was in the emergency room at 6 a.m. and the triage nurse laughed when he saw my bloody knee and said "Running or biking?" The car valet guy didn't laugh but asked, "Are you okay?" I shouldn't have been snobby and said, "That's why I'm here."
So that was the bad happenstance that led to stitches in my knee and x-rays that turned out okay. But the really awful thing was during the questioning in triage. Keep in mind that I had gotten out of bed, put on running clothes, washed my face and brushed my teeth. Maybe I was not looking glamorous, but the triage nurse sent me into a depression when he asked the question that is the antithesis of being carded for alcohol. For the first time ever, I was asked: "Are you still having periods?"

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Following Rules

Before my kids started school, after nine years running things my way, my husband made me promise not to "piss anybody off" at the school -- at least until the kids started.
Well, today was their first day, so I guess that limitation is gone. I'm not a rule follower. I'm not certain when that happened. When I was a kid, I was a perfect student, got straight As. Now I look at rules with a jaundiced eye. What is the point of that rule, I wonder. My kids have already run into a few that are making me crazy.
Grace was in tears when she got in the car. "If I don't have my algebra book covered by tomorrow I'll get detention."
Okay. I can understand the rule to put covers on textbooks, but really, this is punishing the student if her parents don't get to the store that evening. This rule is made to teach what?
Here's one direct from the sheet: "Two (2) hall passes will be given to take care of any personal business each quarter. Any passes not used will equal extra credit! Any passes above 2 will result in a detention."
Okay, so if I'm interpreting this rule correctly,those with large bladders get extra credit. Girls, you need to schedule your periods to come only twice during each quarter. Imagine the girl who is unlucky enough for it to fall the first, fifth and ninth weeks of that quarter. I can see her squirming in the wooden chair, debating, "Is it worth a detention to staunch the flow of blood?"
Hmmmm. It's all coming back to me why I became a rule breaker.

First Day of School

Today, my son and daughter went off to their first day of school. Yes,there were tears, but it wasn't quite the way I'd always envisioned it -- my daughter in a smocked dress with patent leather shoes, my son with his caramel-colored hair slicked back and a button-down shirt. Instead, my daughter wore navy crocs with one strap missing and jean shorts tight to the knees. My son had on a gray Hollister shirt and baggy shorts that my husband kept trying to hike up even as Spencer sauntered out the door. And their first day will not require cutting or pasting. They are off to high school and middle school after years of homeschooling.
I shouldn't have had that celebratory espresso because my stomach was already in knots and now it is in jumpy knots. We left the house in plenty of time, with only a small tussle over the car keys now that Grace has her temporary driver's license. But the school buses were out in full force, stopping with their blinking red lights as the minutes ticked off the clock. I stopped in front of the middle school, in the middle of the road and said goodbye to Spencer -- no kisses, no photos. Just him with a bulky black backpack and the mandatory two boxes of tissues to give to his home room teacher.
I pulled up in front of the high school at 7:59. Homeroom started at 8 a.m. With a deep breath, Grace slid out of the front seat. She wasn't about to run. She pulled the strap of her messenger bag over her head and walked to the side door. She'd have no time to stop at her locker. I pulled away feeling like a failure as a school mom.
My youngest climbed into the front seat beside me and proclaimed it was time for Caribou Coffee. He was delaying school, choosing to stay home at least another year.
When we arrived home, my husband was getting ready to leave for work. "I put my name on my lunch bag," he said proudly, displaying the brown paper bag.
Like a brick in the gut, I realized, "Spencer forgot his lunch."
Of course, that was probably the first of hundreds of times my kids will forget something at home. But I hated that it happened on the first day.
My husband dropped it by the school on his way to work, and I could imagine Spencer realizing halfway through a class that he was without his lunch, or a teeny bopper office worker walking to the classroom and calling out: "This is for Spencer. He forgot to bring his lunch today." Or, the worst scenario of all, an announement over the PA system for Spencer to come to the office.
I watch the clock tick, imagining them going to American History or algebra or Honors English.
And I remind myself that the only thing that could make me a worse school mother would be forgetting to pick them up this afternoon.

Monday, August 06, 2007


I consider myself a fairly confident woman. I have a master's degree. I've worked for 20 years, homeschooled three kids, written two novels.
Sometimes, the little things can throw me back to that insecure 13-year-old again. I've been teaching college for two years and last week I received notice that the lead teacher will be coming to observe my class. This is a totally normal, once-a-year occurrence. I've just dodged the observation for the past two years through luck.
I know the students leaving my class become better writers, so why am I so nervous about this? Why do I feel like the wizard about to have the curtain pulled back? I'm preparing powerpoint presentations, scripting my class, trying to plan for every contingency. I want to impress her with my teaching skills and I'm afraid she'll find me a fraud.
This is the second vulnerable incident in as many weeks. I finished a non-fiction book proposal and sent it off. I know it is a great book idea, but having never written a book proposal, I was filled with trepidation as the e-mail left my desktop. These people are professionals, for god's sake. They'll probably just laugh at my amateurish marketing plan.
Maybe this fear of being laughed at or found lacking is a throwback from my adolescent years. But aren't I the one constantly telling my own adolescents that if they don't take a chance, they'll never accomplish anything.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Time Alone

Today I spent about five and a half blissful hours alone.
The only other thing moving in the house was the cat.
Now for most mothers, this is probably not a big deal, but for a homeschooling mom, this is fabulous. I managed to send my three children to the same day camp. For five days they will be catching the shuttle at a rec center and heading up to the Scioto River for sailing camp before I return to get them at the rec center.
My 11-year-old is making noises about not going back. He didn't like it. He had a stomachache. Too bad. He's going.
I have a lot of work to do while the kids are gone, but I have those restful moments too where I sit in front of the computer and listen to Stephanie Miller's radio program or sit down to a roast beef sandwich with a book spread out beside me.
I'm going to make the most of this week of sailing camp, whether the kids enjoy it or not.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Peaceful Passing

Sometime between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., our dog Rosie died.
She'd been a three-legged dog for about four months, getting used to negotiating stairs on three legs and licking her shaved hindquarters faithfully until the hair grew back. Amputating her leg was supposed to save her life, but the cancer had spread to her lungs, so she began coughing and started refusing all but the most delectable food tidbits. Yesterday, she turned up her nose at a hot dog and wouldn't take any medicine. Her last week was spent mostly lying under the porch swing as the flowers in the backyard waved gently in the breeze and the finches alighted on the bird feeder. She would lift her dry nose to feel the air wafting past and wag her tail at the approach of her family.
In spite of our coaxing, last night she wouldn't come in the house. While the kids and I went to the book store to retrieve the latest Harry Potter book, my husband sat on the ground beside her and she burrowed her nose into his lap, perking up her ears at his voice. He thought she had weeks to go. I thought otherwise. I watched how she wouldn't make eye contact with my daugher when we returned home. Grace sat with Rosie in the dark until friends arrived, taking Grace to an all night reading party.
I asked Rosie again if she didn't want to come in the house. She lapped at the water Grace had placed beside her and settled her nose on her tan paws. The clock read 1 a.m.
At 6 a.m. I wrenched myself from my bed. I was meeting friends for a run. Our black and white cat raced ahead of me down the stairs, anticipating his breakfast. I poured the dry food into his bowl and stepped to the sliding glass doors. Rosie lay on her side in the grass, her paws folded in front of her, no longer breathing.
I am sad she died, but I appreciate the way she lived and how she spent those last weeks of her life. I could learn a lot from her.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Community College Students Get No Respect

I'm fairly new to the college teaching arena. I jumped into the English classroom two years ago. I've been slogging away in the class, enjoying the interactions with the students, but I haven't seen too much of other teachers until this quarter.
This quarter, I'm tutoring in the Writing Center, so three of us are generally in there, sharing stories when students don't show up for appointments. I'm also taking an adjunct faculty workshop and that gives me even more time to listen to community college professors. Maybe I'm naive, but it shocks me how little the teachers respect their students.
One math teacher kept going on about how the college's real problem is getting students to even show up. I finally jumped in and said, in the students' defense, that was not a problem I'd seen. But I began to wonder if her students weren't showing because she expected so little of them. Her feelings of contempt must bleed through into her teaching. Why should they attend her classes?
Not many of these students come straight from a suburban high school to community college. Most of them have children. Some of them come from tough neighborhoods and their essays are filled with stories of alcoholic parents, cousins in prison and guns at parties.
They have clawed their way into college, even a community college, and they dream of coming out the other end with an associate's degree in landscaping or nursing. They work full-time jobs and juggle childcare and search out extra help for their essays, hoping to be a good example to the little eyes that watch them from home.
As an English professor, I spend a number of hours marking the rough drafts my students turn in, and that is the latest debate I've had with the other English professors. One claimed, "We don't get paid enough to grade rough drafts."
Well, really, who ever gets paid enough? That's not the reason we do this, though. I mean, we do it for the money, but every teacher who puts in extra hours in her job knows that the end isn't about the money. It's about the student.
I understand the point some teachers make, saying the students will only correct the mistakes that I mark. So I will start weaning them off their reliance on me, by correcting grammar through the first few paragraphs and pointing out the issues they need to work on. But I can't ever feel that "I don't make enough money to..." do whatever the students need to become better writers.
Sure, some of the students are slackers. They leave in the middle of class or only show up when an essay is due. Some of them will drift away from class, forgetting to drop, and end up failing. But for the ones who come everytime, who work hard, I'll pull out my pen and keep marking their essays.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Not So Dark Harry Potter

Last night, I dressed all in black, not because I live in New York (I don't) but because I was Belatrix LeStrange at a Harry Potter party. After helping my kids gather their costumes, I didn't have the energy to do much more than slip on black clothes with a black felt cape over it, knowing my naturally frizzy hair and pale skin could fill in the rest of the role.
I was in it for the long run. The party started at 7 and the movie began at midnight. Usually, my husband does the midnight movies. He has seen all of the Harry Potter movies as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks. My job is to come home with my youngest son and we are snoozing by 10 p.m.
Yesterday, my 11-year-old decided he was ready for the midnight movie. There I was, yawning in the theater seat at 11:30. I was a little apprehensive on his behalf, having heard the rumors about the darkness of this movie, following the teen wizard angst Harry Potter showed in the book.
Yet, I stayed awake for the entire movie and thought it was great. Rather than being overly dark, scary and violent, I was inspired by the moments of love, friendship and light-heartedness.
Everyone who has read the book, knows that at the end, Voldemort tries to inhabit Harry's body, but he can't stay because Harry feels love and hope. So during this scene, which could have been fairly gruesome, Harry is flashing back to all of the love he felt throughout his life and throughout the movie. Flashes of Harry, Ron and Hermione sharing a grin after Harry's first kiss. The joy of the students as they created patronus spells and watched the animal shapes gallop around the room. Harry's parents grinning at him from a picture frame. Harry's godfather embracing him in a bear hug.
In the end, I found the movie much more hopeful than hopeless.
Today, my children slept until almost noon, recovering from the late night. But as my 11-year-old climbed in my lap today, proud of his late night, I could still see the faint lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Running is a lot like childbirth. After a too short time, we forget the pain involved and decide it might be fun to try again.
Since I started running with my group again on Saturday mornings, I've been adding up the miles each week. Now I'm going between 25 and 30 miles per week. Today's run was 10 miles and I'm in pain.
No, it's not my feet or my leg muscles. My butt is rubbed raw from my running shorts. I guess I forgot that feeling from a piece of material that rubs back and forth, back and forth for 100 minutes. Sometimes after a run, before I know that I've chafed, I'll hop in the shower. Once the water hits the tender spot, I shriek in pain. Often the chafing is from the running bra, just under my breasts.
Today wasn't a good run, although last Saturday, my nine miles was invigorating. I dragged today and stopped to walk for a minute. One of my friends, Pam, slowed down, waiting for me to catch up. I felt guilty that she was running alone, so I had to start jogging again.
So, now that I'm feeling raw and wounded, when I get up in the mornings and my ankles and knees are stiff as I come down two sets of stairs, I have to wonder again why I'm doing this. Sure, overall the running is healthy. It puts me in a better mood when I jog down to the park and do a few laps, coming home sweaty and salty. The main thing that keeps me going back to the running group at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, is my friends. We run and talk for miles and soon it will be hours. We have conversations about interesting books and rebellious children. We cheer each other on with new jobs and different endeavors. And no children interrupt us. We never have to run put in the laundry or load the dishwasher in the middle of a great idea. For the miles that we pound on the trail, we can talk and analyze and laugh to our heart's content.
So, I guess I'll keep slogging those miles, but on the next long run, I'll remember to cover my tender areas with body glide to prevent chafing.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I know, I'm probably the last person in the United States to get a website, but I'm very excited about it.

I've been working with the guy who created it to perfect it. The home page was a little blah, so I decided to use paintings as the buttons. It made me realize how little I know about art. I was doing image searches with things like "artist who throws paint" which was Jackson Pollock, of course, I just couldn't remember his name. I never did find the name of the artist who uses dots.

Magritte was an easy choice. I love his clearer than life painting. Hopper was another artist I wanted to use. I was leaning toward a painting of his that shows a woman sitting in front of a table with a cup of coffee for "About Me." But she looked so depressed. I didn't want everyone to think I'm that sad. So instead I went with a Seurat. I think it's a Sunday picnic painting that looks a little formal for my life. I did use a Hopper painting for the "Home" button. It shows a woman looking anxiously, maybe anticipating something fabulous, out of a gorgeous bay window. We're buying a new house in the next month or so. Maybe I'll have a window like that as I peer out the window, waiting for the perfect offer to come from a publisher.

Stop by my webpage and look around. Hopefully, all the changes will be made today.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Dog

We have lived in this house for six years now and my dog still stands at the wrong side of the door waiting to get out. Like a misbehaving toddler from the 1950s, she stands with her nose in the corner. I have to scooch her back as I open the door at the other side and herd her around to that side, avoiding snowflakes and blasts of cold air that are gaining ground in this bizarre spring.
The dog was a bribe to the kids, brought by Santa the year we moved from Michigan, leaving behind a tight group of friends and godparents. In this friendless city, my husband drove to a farm and picked a chestnut brown puppy with floppy ears. She slept in an oversized dog kennel under the Christmas tree that night with a big red bow around her neck. The next morning she never left my 6-year-old daughter’s arms. My daughter named her Rosie, because she thought that brown fur had a reddish tint to it.
Rosie is eight years old now and mostly my thoughts of her have to do with vacuuming up dog hair and picking up dog doo in the backyard. She barks if anyone has the audacity to walk along the street in front of our house and she remains at the bottom of the pack, even under the paw of the kitten we got last summer.
My daughter Grace was certain she could turn this mutt into a show dog. She set up obstacle courses and ran her through them, along balance beams and through tunnels. Grace tried making her a sled dog, attaching the wagon to her ample sides and having her pull small children through the streets. Grace’s last efforts were teaching the dog to be a jumping dog. Grace would pull molded plastic chairs into the center of the backyard and place a long hockey stick across the seats. With pockets full of treats and a long leash, she would jump the stick, her newly elongated legs flying through the air. Rosie would follow sometimes, her belly barely grazing the stick. Other times she would simply stop, nearly pulling Grace’s arm out of socket as the leash jerked to a stop.
This fall, Rosie started limping. We probably waited a month before we took her to the vet, thinking it might go away. The vet diagnosed an old knee injury that was probably getting arthritis. He gave her a cortisone shot and sent us home. We went back two more times for pain medicine as her limp became worse. In March, the knee was so swollen and she was in obvious pain. This time, the doctor did an x-ray. He called me and my now 15-year-old daughter back to look at the x-ray.
A bone tumor.
Where her femur should have been straight and white, the bones seemed to wander off into their own curling paths.
Grace held it together until we returned to the examining room. She sat down, refusing to look at the dog. Tears streamed down Grace’s face as I petted the dog’s soft fur around her ears and neck.
“She doesn’t know why your sad, Grace,” I said.
My husband and I took her to the Veterinarian Oncologist and our very sensible friends refrained from laughing at us. But after two hours listening to the doctor explain chemotherapy treatments and the cost of amputation, we walked out having decided to make Rosie’s life as comfortable as possible. With all of the treatments, they could predict a 10- to 16-month life expectancy. She had already beaten the odds. A dog with this type of bone tumor normally only lives five months. Rosie had been diagnosed six months previously.
So, now I think about the dog much more. I give her medicine every morning and evening. I let her sleep on the living room rug rather than in her kennel. I feed her treats and trip over her chew bones. I’m careful when I open the door to let her out, trying not to brush her sore leg and leaning way into the spring snow to avoid hitting her with the screen door.
She has been the best bribe I ever gave my children.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Education Pushers

My fifteen-year-old daughter is starting college today.
It’s not that we try to be overachievers. I’ve noticed that we are not alone in pushing our kids to do more, faster.
This morning’s paper talks about how middle school kids can earn high school credit if they extend class time by 10 minutes. That’s it? That’s the difference between a high school class and a middle school class?
One friend’s son is hoping to get into a program where he takes classes at DeVry for the last two years of high school. He won’t go to high school. He’ll only go to DeVry and then he’ll graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.
What’s the rush?
Why do our kids need high school credit in middle school and college credit in high school?
A similar program stretches high school to five years, but again, once they graduate they will have an associate’s degree. What are they going to do with that extra year? Will they simply finish four-year colleges at 21? Does that mean they are rushing out to the job market?
Maybe that gives them an extra year to backpack around Europe and Asia or join the Peace Corps or City Year. Maybe they will take that extra year that we rushed them through and give something back to the community.
But I wonder if they’ll even know how to relax once we finish pushing them to their full potential.
Grace is terrified to step into that college classroom this morning. She is taking biology and French.
We have homeschooled since Grace was in first grade. Now she thinks she might want to go to high school next year as a sophomore. Looking at what she has studied, I figured she needed a language and a science credit, thus the biology and the French class.
And, I’m not worried about how well she’ll do in class. She’s smart. She can keep up academically.
It’s just getting her to take that first step across the threshold and preventing myself from shoving too hard.

Monday, January 15, 2007


The rain was blowing almost sideways while I sat in the parking lot at the zoo waiting for Grace and her friend Eleanor. They came out the exit, their look alike heads bent against the rain,although Grace was several inches taller. Eleanor's hair a little redder, but the haircuts the same with a curtain of bangs pushed to the side ending along their cheekbones and the rest stretching in choppy layers to their shoulders. They were dressed alike too in their khaki pants and khaki zoo shirt with the green logo. And they were smiling. Tonight was the Girl Scout sleepover at the Holiday Inn across the street from the University. No parents, just two leaders -- three doors away.
They opened the rear door and blew into the car with some rain.
"Hmmm, bagels," Grace said, spotting the open Panera box. She started spreading cream cheese on a cinnamon crunch while I started driving. I still had to drop the girls off at the scout leader's house, along with the leader's son who was in the way back of my car, and get my sons to swim team. Five kids in the car, 13 bagels eaten or fading fast.
"How was the zoo?" I asked. The girls had complained that their volunteer time at the zoo often resulted in a lot of dish washing. They were constantly washing the bowls that hold the animals' food. One held pinkies, which are some sort of embryo mice or something.
Why doesn't the zoo have a dishwasher -- you know, a machine like GE or Kenmore? Grace wasn't certain, but she said the washing machine sits in the middle of the hallway, so they may be lagging on some essentials.
"Good," Grace said, her mouth full of bagel while she answered my question about her day. "We got to feed the chicken."
"Chicken? Why does the zoo have a chicken?" And why isn't the chicken fed to the tigers, was what I wondered silently.
We were zooming down the highway by this point, having evaded the stop and go traffic that led us back to the highway.
"I don't know, but it's name is Gracie," she said, chewing.
"Yeah, we fed it meal worms," Eleanor said.
"Grace touched the meal worms?" I asked in surprise. I knew that Grace's contribution when it came to worms, snakes or bugs in general would be minimal. When the girls were told to clean the Hissing Cockroach cage, Grace's participation was limited to trying to scare the cockroach away from the opening while Eleanor took care of the cleaning and feeding. I'm not certain what her tactic was for scaring it -- perhaps she hissed back.
"Well, I didn't exactly touch them," she hedges with a shake of her shoulders as if disgusted at the thought of touching the meal worms. "I kind of turned the can sideways and dropped some out."
"Yeah, and we were supposed to do them one at a time," Eleanor protested. "After that, the chicken wouldn't leave Grace. It just stayed with her hoping for another worm bonanza."
They both laughed, showing mouths full of bagel and cream cheese and braces.
"Yeah," she turned in the seat toward her 10-year-old brother, "the chicken kind of reminded me of Tucker."
"Hey," he protested.
"Why," I asked, "did the chicken remind you of Tucker?"
"Well," she said tilting her head to the side as if trying to find the best way to explain it, "I think it was the facial expressions."
I spent the rest of the drive pondering what sort of facial expressions the chicken could possibly have, but afraid to ask for more details. Sometimes, with teenagers, it's best not to know.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I realize that sports coaches probably hope to achieve different goals than I do as a mother. I want my kids to learn how to play sports and to enjoy playing sports. Coaches just want to win. Still, I wonder if I am somehow a magnet for incompetent coaches or if every coach out there is incredibly BAD!!
Ironically, we decided to let my son play in the Catholic leagues, thinking ... what that the players wouldn't be as apt to use foul language and insult each other? Thinking that the coaches would be using Christ as a role model?
Some people might have wised up last year when the football coach was talking to a group clustered around him and he suddenly beaned one of the kids in the head with the football. Luckily, it was his own kid.
This year, new coach. An old guy who has been coaching forever. Why did I think that would be better? At one point during the season, he told the boys that they were the worst team he has ever had. Perhaps it's true, but not exactly inspiring. Then he told them they sent him to the hospital with chest pains because they are so bad. When my son came to me concerned, I told him the coach was a grown up and he needed to decide how much stress he could take.
Now we're on to basketball and, so far, his team has lost every game, although one game was close. Another new coach. This one is younger with a 5-year-old as his oldest child. Apparently he doesn't like losing either. He told the boys last game that if they couldn't beat the team they were playing, they might as well cancel the rest of the season. Guess what? They didn't win.
When my son asked the coach about practice Friday night, he said there wasn't much point in practice for this team.
All of this is culminating, in a kid who actually still loves sports. And if losing and lame coaching make for character, my son is brimming with it.

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...