Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Personal Legends

Am I a writer? If you had observed me for the past month, you would no more call me a writer than you would call me a runner. I haven't climbed out of bed early in the morning and sat before the computer, my fingers scrambling along the keys as the ideas pour out. I haven't turned off the college football bowl games to find a quiet corner where I can write. I haven't packed up my computer and slid along the wooden bench at Caribou Coffee, sipping from a macchiato. For the past month, maybe the past four months, someone tracking me would not have much evidence that I am a writer. The day after I turned in grades this quarter, I woke up and went for a run. A huge, 15-hour load lifted from my shoulders. But I didn't return to my new novel.
"I told you not to burn the house down," my 16-year-old daughter said when I left the story on the computer one day. Maybe she's right. Maybe my story has taken a turn that leaves me stymied, or maybe I've been led astray from what I thought was my purpose in life.
So, now, as I face 2009, what am I going to do about it? I've wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I think it was around second or third grade that I would get up, before anyone else in the house was awake. I would pack a peanut butter sandwich and gather a spiral notebook and pencil. Then I would roam the neighborhood looking for adventures to write about. I would end up back in my front yard, under a big maple tree where I would scribble furiously, not just the things that I had seen, but the things that I imagined.
I have boxes full of old notebooks that are scratched with my childhood musings. What will I do about that as an adult? I have two novels written and a third one in the works.
I am a writer, and that doesn't mean that it flows spontaneously. It may mean that I have to set a schedule and follow it until once again, my passion for writing, my need for it is stronger than my malaise. I know I can.
I am a writer.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lowest High Point

If I'd only known that puking in the parking lot foreshadowed my week as a college teacher.
Picture a bustling community college campus. A brisk breeze whips between the buildings, as it does on every college in the United States, and there strides a woman, leaving behind an office building as she heads toward her classroom. She wears a brown wool coat with a shawl collar. A fuzzy pink scarf peeks out from the v in her coat. Her steps pause there, by the parking lot where a bed of dead, dried plants wave in the breeze. Her hand goes to her mouth and she bends over them, spewing orange juice and shredded wheat.
And that was Monday.
Yes, after 40 something years, I didn't make it to the bathroom to throw up. Embarrassing, yet slightly fascinating, apparently, since I keep telling everyone. I think I'm kind of intrigued by the idea that I assumed I could force myself to keep going, no matter how bad I felt.
But, as I said, that was only a foreshadow of the pain and misery to follow. That Wednesday in class, I had to tell two clean-cut boys that I couldn't see them passing class. The one boy, a tall, blond, paled and began to shake a little bit. "But I could have my third essay to you today." The essay was due on Monday and he hadn't even turned in a rough draft. "Sorry, I don't accept late work."
The other boy tried, his hair shaved close to his head, his smile appealing. "I have my rough draft and final draft right here." "But, you didn't turn in your rough draft. I have to see your process work."
I was feeling bad. Maybe I didn't have to be so strict. I pulled out my gradebook where I keep attendance. "Look," I told the blond boy, you haven't been to class since November 7. Today's December 3." The other boy hadn't been there since Nov. 11. I tried to put my guilt behind me. They needed to attend class and turn in assignments on time. It wasn't my fault.
I spent the next morning grading papers of students who had gotten their assignments in on time. I gently explained to one guy that when he used someone else's material exactly, it needed to be in quotation marks and credited. Otherwise, that's called plagiarism.
Then I went on to the next paper that had strange blue hyperlink's underlined. I clicked on one of the hyperlinks and went to a Wikipedia page. Not only had he copied and pasted the essay directly from Wikipedia, which isn't an acceptable source, but he had left the hyperlinks. This was definitely an insult to my intelligence. I just wanted to walk in front of a fast-moving bus by this point.
Today, I girded my loins and handed him back that paper. "What happened?" I asked.
"I was just really swamped," he said.
"I don't think that was the solution," I said.
He came to the front of the class and asked whether he could still pass the class. I let him check his grades on the computer. Not much chance, he decided.
I wonder what he'll tell his parents and his friends. Will I be the villain in the story?
I try to assure myself that this hasn't happened in other classes. Students have perservered and written their own work and succeeded. But the weight remains on my shoulders. Maybe puking in the parking lot was the highpoint of the week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Revival Sex

This morning, as I blearily read the newspaper, I thought for sure I must be mistaken. But there it was, a preacher called for married couples to have sex for seven straight days (no pun on the straight/homosexual thing). A pastor in Texas, the Rev. Ed Young, is asking his congregation's married couples to have sex for seven days straight.
"God says sex should be between a married man and a woman. I think it's one of the greatest things you can do for your kids...," Young said.
Of course, this was a story I couldn't share with my 16-year-old who sat at the table reading a book for Honors English. And I tried to imagine attending a church like this, with my entire family as the preacher stood in the pulpit and admonished me to have more sex with my husband.
My teenagers would be mortified. What teenager wants to imagine her parents having sex? None! I'm betting the teens avoid church this weekend so they don't have to witness it. Thanks for the warning, Rev. Young.
And, if this church happens to be one of those that frowns upon birth control, it can look forward to a baby boom nine months from now. The teenagers can look on that as a whole school year's worth of evidence that her parents still have sex. Ooooh!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Not until the end, when they were all standing on the platform together, little blonde girls and dark-haired ones; bright-smiled, clean cut white men next to grinning, handsome black men. And there, on that platform, a shot of a middle-aged white woman with her arm around a young black man, squeezing his shoulder as they both beamed at the unending sea of people. That one picture made the tears begin as I realized: It doesn't matter who's white or black or alike or different. We're all one. We're all in this together and we did this. Now, we're starting again.
I know that the world will not be suddenly perfect and I know that I had promised I would never trust a politician again, but I want to trust this man. I want to believe that whatever he does, he is trying to make things better. I fear for him already, the challenges he must face. But he promised his girls a puppy and he has promised us so much more. And I think he'll try.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Enjoy This Moment

I stood there 90 feet up in the air, ready to jump and slide among the treetops. "Wheeeeee!" I yelled as I zoomed along. But on the ride, whooshing along a cable that stretched between multi-colored trees in the Hocking Hills, I had to remind myself.
"Pay attention! Enjoy this moment!"
So much of my life is spent planning the next step in my too busy life. I don't even write down much of it, instead filing it in my head until it is too full to hold it all. Two kids to swim. One needs new shoes. Don't forget the orthodontist appointment. Need to grade those papers and don't forget to plan for Wednesday's class.
The thing I have the hardest time with, as my husband can attest, is living in the moment -- putting away all of those extra things and concentrating on the pleasure or pain that awaits me. I have a hard time with now.
So, as I was zipping through the trees on a brisk fall day, I remembered to remind myself. "Concentrate!"
And I did. I felt the cold air sting my cheeks as my mouth opened in a yelp and a smile. I forgot about being a mom and a wife and a teacher for a little while and just enjoyed the thrill of jumping off a platform to fly over a chasm below.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No Regrets

Fifteen years ago, I remember driving down the road in Jackson, Michigan. I can still picture the expanse of concrete parking lot that led to the back of the brick newsbuilding. We stopped there. Looking straight ahead, I told my husband, "I don't think I can do this again."
My belly was swollen with our second baby. The first one, not two years old, sat in the backseat.
"I don't think I can do this again." I swept my hand toward my stomach.
"Okay," he shrugged. "This'll be our last one."
"No, I can't do this one. I can't finish. I can't give birth - again. It's just too hard."
I realize now, 15 years later, that put my husband in a no-win situation. I was weeks from meeting my son -- a bald then blond energetic fire plug who has grown into a stretched out rubber band. Every move he makes around the house could result in broken glass or bloody knees, all arms and legs with size 12 feet and the slightest shadow of a mustache.
Born two weeks before his due date, he was my smallest baby, although the birth didn't seem that much easier. Everyone he met was his friend. Everything he encountered an opportunity to explore.
He taught me that boys and girls can be given the same toys, the same movies and come away with totally different viewpoints. To my daughter, Pocahantas was a love movie. To my son, it was a movie about war.
He has imitated the dance moves of Michael Flatley, played chess against masters, fiddled the violin with ease at many recitals, broken an ankle while playing football before going back into the game, and hunched down in the car in embarrassment when I have been driving.
Sometimes he's my easiest, most loving child. Other's he's the one most likely to make me weep.
For 15 years now, he has made my life better. Happy Birthday, Spence.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fun on the Trail

This is an addendum to my previous post for anyone who might have thought that, because we abandoned the Appalachian Trail early, we didn't have a blast. Is there any possible way to travel with three girlfriends and not have fun? I don't think so. First, there is the leaving behind of children and spouses. You could just sit in the car for three days and have more fun than you would at home.
Okay, but we didn't do that. We did sit in the car for eight hours as we sped south to North Carolina. And we talked constantly, except for Najah who kept falling asleep in the middle of the conversation because she hadn't slept the night before.
So, why is it hilarious when the two car-sick people ride in the front seat and don't notice that we are almost out of gas in the Tennessee mountains. Or because I look down to program a number into my phone we miss our turn and drive miles out of the way. Hey, am I the only one paying attention here?
We laughed when Najah decided that our trail call "Hooty Hoo!" should be replaced by "Hey Laaadies!" in a Jerry Lewis voice. We found that call didn't carry quite as far. And no one went for my suggestions that we yell a hearty, "My friends!" in honor of the election season.
My husband claimed that a ball of, basically, kite string, was strong enough to hoist our bear bags over a branch. We ended up splitting our food into two separate bags and pulling it over a branch. The string was so skinny it cut into our palms so we had to work together to pull it. The branch was the right size and location, out away from the trunk of the tree so a bear couldn't get it, but it did happen to be right next to another tree trunk where a bear could have shimmied up and grabbed our food, like convenient take out. It wasn't until we left that trail that we saw the sign warning about bear activity on the trail and a bear that had been stealing packs. Ooops. Noreen had been so proud that she kept her pack in the vestibule of her tent so it was handy the next morning and didn't get soaked by the rain overnight. That bear warning deflated her pride a little.
After our night in the tent, we all swore we hadn't slept. Yet, I thought Pam didn't move all night while I turned over every 15 minutes. She said the same. And Naj claimed to have called our names all night long.
The next day had its miserable moments, I must admit. But we were so proud of filtering our own water and filling those empty bottles. Noreen sang "This is the trail that never ends" as we walked along. And when I became too tired to go on, I simply sat down. Najah was on a positive swing and was in the middle of a motivational speech about how we could accomplish our goals, we could go the distance, we could... She turned around and saw me at the bottom of the trail, staring into the multi-colored leaves that covered the trees. "Hey!"
And I decided that was it for me. My hiking days were over.
In the end, we're typical Americans. Although the hike wasn't what we imagined, we were already plotting a way to make it better the next time. Boots and a pack that fit. Naj claimed she would only carry five granola bars and a water bottle. I thought sherpas might solve the problem.
When I walked out of work on Monday, and the air had that sweet tinge of fall while the sun made me blink, I texted Naj: "I'm ready to go again."
"Me too!" she replied.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bailing on the Trail

Maybe we can blame it all on Mapquest. Maybe if Mapquest hadn't sent us on US 129 through the Smoky Mountains things would have turned out differently. Of course, my friend Naj hadn't told us she gets car sick until we began winding up and down the mountains. We met only motorcycles zooming around those hairpin curves and pulled over three times for police cars or ambulances. When we finally sped into the parking lot to meet our shuttle to the trail, Naj jumped out and puked beside the river.
Hmmm. Not a great start. We pulled our packs from Noreen's van and piled them in the trunk of the shuttle. Maybe if we hadn't been in such a hurry, I wouldn't have left my water bottle in the van.
Maybe if the driver, Mark, had not been one of those people who drives with a foot on the brake and another on the gas, accelerating and braking over the mountains, then he wouldn't have vomit on the interior of his Lincoln Town Car. And maybe if we hadn't stopped several times for Naj to throw up, we would have gotten to the Appalachian Trail earlier than 4 p.m.
Maybe if we hadn't started at Winding Stair Gap in North Carolina and planned to hike nearly 4 miles to the campsite, we would have gotten there in time to eat dinner in the light, rather than in the pitch black night. Adjusting packs, stopping for photos, admiring the changing leaves -- those were all part of our plan. But as the light began to fade, we hurried on, worried that our first night would arrive without a campsite.
Maybe if it hadn't started to rain the minute we set up our tents and continued to rain through the night and all the next day. If we hadn't cooked in the dark and hung our bear bag from a tree limb in the dark. If we'd broken down camp faster in the morning and hadn't needed to hike down a side path to filter water.
Maybe if the rain hadn't made the leaves on the path slippery and the misty fog hadn't made the view from Siler Bald disappear.
Mostly though, if our packs hadn't weighed too much and fit poorly and if the trail hadn't been straight up then maybe we would not have left the trail earlier than we planned.
Noreen and Pam hiked ahead with their longer legs while Naj and I lagged behind. The second day was pure misery. The rain fell. A blister swelled on my heel. And a thick fatigue settled on my shoulders. I felt like I couldn't go another mile. So when I pulled myself up to a gravel logging road and found Noreen and Pam there, I was so relieved when Noreen said, "I know what you're thinking because I was thinking the same thing."
Thank, God! She knows we need to leave the trail, I thought.
But then she continued, "I thought after all that climbing the trail would level off."
Behind her, wooden stairs were built into the mountain to continue the trail toward Wayah Bald.
"Wait! That's not what we were thinking! We were thinking we need to get off the fucking trail!" I said.
I rarely use the F-word, but I thought it was appropriate at this juncture.
The problem was that we needed to hike 27 miles in four days. Something we'd imagined was manageable. We had all run marathons in the past, going nearly 27 miles in less than five hours. How could we fail to go the distance in four days?
But, at 2 p.m., we had to face the fact that a day of constant walking had gotten us only four miles. We were eight miles from the beginning of our hike and we had nineteen miles to go.
"Let's get to Wayah Bald and set up camp for the night."
That would put us at 10 miles from the beginning. We couldn't imagine we could go farther. Too exhausted.
"But we're wet and cold. We can't sit still for 15 hours," Noreen protested.
So we located a road where someone could pick us up. My husband, disappointed in our choice to leave the trail, called around and found us a ride. We hiked two miles in an hour and met the car. We were going home.
When my 12-year-old called out in the middle of the night and I comforted him before climbing into my bed and snuggling against my husband's back, I thought, I'm so glad I'm home in my warm bed and not out on the cold, wet trail, changing positions on the hard ground.
Does that mean I won't go backpacking again? Well, not anytime soon. And not with my boots that are too small or a backpack that doesn't fit right. But I do have a date with the woods later this month when we go ziplining through the Hocking Hills.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What were we thinking?

Sure, it's all fun and games when you're setting up a tent in the backyard, but really who wants to go traipsing along the Applachian Trail in late October? Well, apparently my marathoner friends do and I got sucked in with them.
So, we leave on Thursday. We'll drive 8 hours then walk 27 miles over the next three days before we drive back home.
I am not someone you can picture camping. I'm not a wimp, but you don't really think of me as an outdoorsman or woman. I like early morning runs, but I've never been one who enjoys watching worms wriggle in the dirt or dissecting scat found in the woods. Now I'll be the one with my bright orange shovel, digging a hole and leaving my own deposits.
I feel guilty about going. I've been trying to finish grading papers because I'll be away from my needy online students for four days. I've found subs for my "live" classes. As for my three children, Grace has a concert Thursday night and they are all off school on Friday. My husband, of course, must work Saturday too this week. That leaves my children home alone on Friday and Saturday. So, I'm torn. Should I skip the hike to oversee the children? Should I skip the hike and avoid using a shovel in the woods?
As I pondered my ambivalence, I received a call to fetch my basketball-weary son from practice. I walked out to the car and an ivory-colored butterfly flew along beside me. I opened the door to the convertible and there, in the middle of the driver's seat, was a yellow oak leaf. Nature beckons and tries to reassure me. I guess I'll go and watch the full moon wane.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Follow through

I know follow through is always important in tennis, but I had no idea how much it meant in parenting. Until now, just now when my youngest, the 12-year-old, said "I don't care!" That was in response to my decision that he was banned from screen time tonight. Screen time is, of course, anything that involves a screen -- the computer, the television, the Wii.
Once upon a time, when we were homeschoolers, and I kept track of these things, each child was allowed one hour of screen time everyday. Now that the kids are in school and I work too many hours, along with cooking, cleaning and computing the other hours, the kids are really free to overindulge all they want. Complicating things, the boys have a bedroom in the basement, right next to the family room which contains, you guessed it, a computer, a television and the Wii. The laundry room is down there too, but I rarely catch them surreptitiously washing clothes.
So the most recent fight with the 12-year-old came because of the way he was speaking to me. The tone -- isn't it always about the tone -- came when I asked him whether the math teacher considered 2 a perfect square. He's memorizing perfect square numbers.
"I don't know!" he said, in that tone.
"Well, how are you going to find out?"
"I don't know!" he said again. Same tone.
"That's it. I'm requesting a meeting with her."
"Wait! Why?" he asked, his voice rising.
"Because you don't know the answer and you don't know how to find out the answer."
He pulled out a piece of paper.
"It's on here. No, 2 doesn't count so you can stop YELLING at me!"
But now, it's not about what he knows or doesn't know, it's all about that TONE.
So, I parried with, "Until you can learn to speak nicely to me, no screen time."
That's when he slipped in the classic, "I don't care."
And, I do know why he doesn't care. It's because he knows I have no follow through. He has a paper to type, so I'll let him type it. Then he'll pull out his guitar and start looking up songs on YouTube, learning which chords go with "Nowhere Man." And I'll think, "Well, that's kind of educational." So I won't stop him. I won't call down to the basement. "Hey, no screen time for you."
I know this is a slippery slope. But he's my third. The other two have turned out very well. Two out of three, ain't bad, as the song goes.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It's all French to me

"In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language." Mark Twain- The Innocents Abroad
One of my kids has a harder time with school than the others. His grades are all A's and B's, but he works at it. We study for tests and do homework at the kitchen table. The other children rarely carry books home, finishing everything at school.
His biggest challenge is organization so I try to stay on top of tests. Just last night I quizzed him about tests. Just finished math. Ask about a retake in science. Forgot about the one in geography on Monday, still waiting for that grade.
"What about French?" I asked.
"Lemme call Joe."
"Joe? When's our next French test? Next week? Okay. Bye."
So he told me. "Not 'til next week." He began to put away his books. This is his second year of French and the teacher keeps me informed when he needs to work on things.
"You know, Mr. Hedge puts information about the tests on the board," I said. "You should write it down."
He stopped and looked at me for a minute.
"But, Mom. I can't read it. It's all in French."
I guess we have some more work to do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Straight Talk

My parents visited this weekend and I am lucky to have avoided a stroke. It's not that my parents and I don't get along usually, but I made the mistake of bringing up the presidential election. Not in front of my dad, who had already commented that the president doesn't have that much power, so Bush couldn't be responsible for this mess. I choked out something about 6-years of a Republican congress before I stifled myself.
But the afternoon my parents were leaving, as we sat at the dining room table without my dad, I approached my mom. She'd made some reasonable remarks recently about no one in Washington to look out for the people. I thought she might be rational on the topic. Instead, she was the farthest thing from it.
When I mentioned Obama's name, she said, "Well, you know he's only where he is because of the Chicago mob."
My husband choked on his chili and a vein started throbbing in his forehead. "The Chicago mob would NOT put a black man in a place of power," he roared. I motioned to him to calm down. We could return this conversation to a sensible one yet.
"Mom," I started, "you know those e-mails you get are always wrong."
"Well, his stepfather raised him as a muslim."
I had nothing on the stepfather.
"And, he said that he'd visited all 57 states and there are 57 states of Islam. I saw that in the paper!"
This was the point where I began to bang my head on the table. No, I didn't, but I wanted to.
"Mom, if you want to vote for McCain then do it for a real reason, not this made up crap."
I wanted to spend some time imagining what my mom thought would happen if Obama was elected. Would he take over the country and force us all to be muslim, was that her fear?
I got up and walked over to the sink. "I guess we can't talk about this, because you don't realize how panicked I am about the idea that we may have three years to leave the country before Spencer turns 18 and is drafted into a needless war."
"FDR started the biggest war ever and he was a democrat."
At that point, I went downstairs to do laundry. Hmmm. Let's compare World War II and the Iraq War. My mom still thought we went there to fight Al Quaeda. She thought the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center were from Iraq instead of Saudi Arabia.
Deep breaths as I pulled warm laundry from the dryer and carefully folded the towels into squares.
What would be the reason to vote for McCain? The newspaper the next day gave me a good reason. So, Mom, if this is you, under the McCain tax plan, taxes will go down for the top 1 percent in the country by $125,000 per year. I can understand voting for McCain if you want that $125,000 back. I mean, I can understand that people don't want to pay a lot of taxes. And that money the top 1 percent gets back, that's more than we gross a year. But, if you need the money, vote for McCain. Maybe we can borrow that tax return money to buy a new house in France or New Zealand, where my boys will be safe from unnecessary wars.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Today I'm feeling...

Satisfied, like I finished a good meal, but not full and bloated and unable to move. I want to do a happy dance. Yesterday, after months of procrastination or brain freeze, I finished the revision of my novel Trail Mix.
Like a patient after bariatric surgery, the manuscript shrank from 99,000 to 87,000 words. From 360 pages to 326 pages. And, I think it improved - a lot.
I think I can blame part of the delay on my friend Marcus. He methodically began to sift through the book and we would meet each week over turkey sandwiches (sauce on the side for him, what kind of bread is that?) or espressos with flavor (only 3 squirts of raspberry in his coffee, please, and skim milk). But the loitering over lunch and coffee also led to the refinement of my manuscript. He'd come up with comments like: "This page is very -ingy." And when I read it, I realized he was right. I puzzled over sentences like: "Wearing only a blue jogging bra and her Nike running shorts, she scrubs her hands at the sink before popping some bread into the stainless steel toaster." What's with all the detail? Marcus would ask. How does the reader know which ones are important?
I got the point, and I think I reached a new writing phase where I could zip through pages and hear Marcus' nagging voice in my head. So the manuscript is better.
Now I feel anxious. I've given three copies to literate friends and asked them to read them -- fast. I want to send out query letters and manuscripts to agents who will love it! Okay, like it enough to ask to see the full. And maybe, that one agent who will say, "I can sell this."
So, what sort of incentive can I offer my friends to read my manuscript in record time? Well, I do hope they enjoy it and want to keep reading. Maybe, like the actor Bob Hoskins, who takes scripts to the toilet and knows they're good when his butt goes numb, maybe my friends will find themselves unable to put my book down.
Just in case, though, I'll offer a gift certificate to COSI or Panera or Borders to whoever finishes it first and gets it back to my greedy little hands.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What I learned living without power for 5 days

The morning after the Ohurricane blew through dawned clear and cool. Not cold, but a humidity-free cool that made the sky an eye-blinding blue. The landscape of splintered trees and blown leaves seemed surreal as kids raced by on bicycles and the quiet of an electricity-free neighborhood rang in our ears. Anybody can last 24-hours without power but how long would it go. We lost power on Sunday, and on Thursday, with a blink of off/on power at the high school, electric service was restored at our house. I knew because Earl texted me: "Ta da."
Here are some things I learned:
10. Showering by candlelight is not romantic when it's your only alternative.
9. There's no point in getting out of bed before it's light when you have no electricity and no school.
8.Taper candles work best for homework and reading at the table. Those little pillar candles don't shed much light below.
7.I will always burn myself trying to light a candle with a lighter rather than a match.
6.The night is incredibly long when it begins at 8 p.m.
5.12-year-olds need electronics way more than teenagers
4.Necessity is the mother... well, you know. I made pork chops on the grill for dinner in time for Grace to eat before swim practice, but Spencer wasn't home from soccer. How could I keep them warm? I lit a burner on the stove and filled a skillet with water. I set the plate over the skillet and put a lid over the plate. Voila. Warm pork chops when Spencer got home.
3. Midwesterners are disgustingly optimistic. I can't count how many conversations I heard that started with "It could be so much worse..." as we listed the benefits of having running water, warm weather, a gas stove and water heater
2.Don't gloat about the fact that you have electricity when much of the city is still in the dark.
1. I am no Laura Ingalls Wilder

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

No Power, the True Black Hole

That first night the power went off wasn't so bad. Tucker pulled his acoustic guitar from its case and played songs while we sang along. When he grew tired, Grace practiced the piano as the light waned. I set a candle on top of the piano, but she said she was only playing from memory so she didn't need the light. We sat on the front porch, legs propped on each other's laps and laughed about childhood memories.Then we went inside and played Apples to Apples while Spencer tried to read The Hobbit and shushed us for breaking his concentration.
The whole situation was a little pioneerish. Music and stories and family games. The boys bunked down in the living room and I blew out the candles before going to bed.
The next day I only needed to light a match to the gas stove to heat water for tea. We put the two gallons of milk in a cooler with bags of ice and we salvaged the ham and turkey lunch meat, along with the block of mozzarella and goat cheese. Sandwiches for lunch. The bread was thawing anyway. Hash browns with bacon thrown in for dinner because they had also thawed. As the light began to fail on the second day, Tucker approached me.
"How much longer? I can't go without power. Can't we go to the Knotty Pine to watch football?"
One of his friends has power. "Go to Matthew's house and watch TV," I suggested.
"It's not the same, I can't flip through the channels. I need power."
He lay his head on the table.
I tried to reassure him. "We're safe. We'll be okay."
Apparently safety is not uppermost in the 12-year-old's mind. "I need power. I can't go for six more days."
Well, I don't know if I can either. But I have hot water. I can take a shower. My hair is curly rather than straight, but really, we're fine.
Spencer has almost read all of The Hobbit and Grace sat on a trampoline with friends late into the night before walking home and finding her way to bed by flashlight.
Our radio/boombox has batteries, so I let Tucker put a CD in and he set it beside his pillow, listening to We The Kings "Check Yes, Juliet" as he fell asleep. Any kind of electronic device is better than nothing when you're desperate for civilization.
School was canceled again today and people are lined up out the door at Panera where the lights and power, along with the coffee and bagels are going full strength. So, Panera doesn't exactly make it pioneerish, but a little roughing it won't kill us

Ohio Hurricane

How was I to know that the "high wind advisory" was actually a hurricane blowing through? Seriously. Who thinks hurricane in Ohio? I went for a run in the morning and spent the day baking banana bread, cleaning, helping with homework. I noticed that the trees were bending in the breeze and my husband came in from reading on the front porch predicting that the wind might knock down limbs. I disregarded him as I handed the car keys to my 16-year-old. She was headed downtown for her dance/vocal group. I left a few minutes later.
"I'll ride my bike," I called to my husband.
"No, take the car. The wind's too strong."
I pshawed, but took the car anyway. As I drove along the main road, half a mile from our house, I swerved to avoid major branches in the road. This mile drive was fraught with wind gusts, malfunctioning traffic lights, and blowing debris. What had I sent my 16-year-old into? During the meeting, I tried to reach my daughter by text. "Let me know when you're safe."
Finally she called. "Mom, I'm having really bad stomach cramps."
She was safe. My husband and I drove down so we could both drive cars back. She seemed chipper. "I'll get my stuff."
The dance instructor confided, "She was cramping up."
"I think it might be anxiety," I replied.
When we ran to the car, the wind ferociously howling, she burst into tears.
"Is it that black hole thing?" she asked. We'd recently read about the semiconductor in Switzerland that could, possibly create a black hole that might or might not engulf the earth.
"No, honey, it's not the black hole. It's the hurricane."
So Hurricane Ike, which took hours to move across Houston, reached Ohio within a day and swept away our electricity, along with lots of tree branches. On the bright side, it wasn't a black hole.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A dream dies

My husband wanted to talk about John Edwards. He'd call me from work and say, "It doesn't look good for Edwards." I'd tell him to shut up. I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to believe it. Now that it is true and has sunk in, I still don't want to discuss it with my husband or any other man. Because this is not about John Edwards. This is about every man who I thought was decent and upstanding, and the truth is -- They are not.
Any man who is offered the world, will trade it for a piece of ass. End of story.
Do you want to be the leader of the remaining superpower or do you want to have sex with the frizzy blonde? Sex, obviously.
Do you want to make certain poor people have housing and food and health care or do you want to have sex with a middle-aged blonde? Sex, again.
Do you want to be there to comfort your wife, the mother of your four children, who is dying of cancer, or do you want to have sex with the blonde? You guessed it. Sex again.
Men should be finished ruling. Just hand in your keys and go have sex. Let us women take charge. We enjoy sex, sure, but we wouldn't let the children starve while we have sex. Sex is a great rush, but we wouldn't risk our marriages, much less the entire country.
I, obviously, do not have what it takes (a penis) to understand the ridiculous choices that men make again and again. Edwards' mistake proves to me that although I can think Obama is an awesome leader, I should fully expect him to make the same stumble. I'm ready for it this time; I won't be surprised.
The only bright spot in an otherwise sex-hazed world, is the thought that if George Bush had an affair, he might not have started a war. And, I guess, sex with irrelevant blondes is better than body bags full of American soldiers.

High-Class Strippers

I was reading the sports page the other day, getting a fix of all the latest Olympic news, when I saw a small ad at the bottom of the page -- a closeup of a blond woman's face. Her lips looked sensual, her eyes half closed. An ad for a strip joint. That's not what they call them, of course. They advertise "private modeling" or "adult entertainment." Under the woman's picture was her name -- Claudia Monet.
I cracked up and nudged my husband. "Look."
That's for the upper crust guys who want culture and hot babes stripping, he figured.
Because, really, what art afficiando is going to be lured in by a blonde named Claudia Monet?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Be The Cone

Last night, I stood in a parking lot while a car drove toward me and maneuvered within inches. After a brief stop, the car reversed and tried to retrace its tracks, missing me and crushing a traffic cone behind it. This was one of my less demanding, yet grueling jobs as a mother. My daughter was practicing for the maneuverability test so she could pass her driving test and I was one of the five cones.
Some parents are so nervous about their kids driving. Maybe because my daughter is not a risk-taker, I feel a little more secure, but I know that when she gets behind the wheel and pulls onto the road, I can't protect her anymore. Even riding with her while she practiced driving, I knew if things went really wrong, there was nothing I could do.
Her appointment was at 4 p.m. and we showed up early. A glitch. Her temporary permit was issued exactly one year and a day before. It had expired. The examiner sent us next door to get a new temporary permit and I heard her tell someone on the phone that they were scheduling appointments in two weeks. We waited in line for about 40 minutes and paid $22 for a new temporary permit that she had for less than 24 hours.
The examination office was closing when we left with her temps. Maxwell, one of the officers, told us we were too late to take the written test. My daughter had to retake the written test because of her expired temps.
"Come early. Saturday is a zoo," Maxwell warned.
So, at 8 a.m., we were in line for the written test. After she passed, we lay in wait for Maxwell as he returned from a driving test.
"Do you remember us from yesterday? Can you fit us in?"
He was a nice guy and he surreptitiously worked her into his driving schedule. She came back from the car smiling. And we stood in another line until she emerged with another license, this one letting her take to the roads alone.
So this afternoon, at 12:30, she got into her dad's red convertible and she drove away. Only three miles to work and three miles back. But she was alone in the car. Without the radio on if she was following my rules.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Brain vs. Braun

I read in the paper today about a crazy biathalon that involves playing chess and boxing.
Sorry to break it to these organizers, but my son and a friend invented this sport years ago when my then 8-year-old had his first, and so far as I know, only fist fight over a chess set. He was a slender boy with long eyelashes and gold hair down to his shoulders and he played chess every Wednesday at the library. He and an older friend wandered out the back door of the library to watch for me when one of two curly haired twins snatched away the queeen of his chess set.
When threats didn't work, either my son or his friend threw a punch and the chess set was complete again. We always joked about what a dangerous sport chess was after that. Now, I can see that someone is cashing in on it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Raspberries - My One Wish

That's when I'll know I've made it, when I can eat as many raspberries as I want. Right now, when I go to the grocery, I buy the square flat box of raspberries. What is it a pint, a half-pint? Then I bring it home and gently wash them, hoping I won't find any mold. I separate the raspberries into four tiny glass bowls (my husband doesn't like them luckily) and we sprinkle them with sugar. My 14-year-old inhales his and begs for mine. This is one thing I won't give in on. I eat my own raspberries, savoring each fresh bite.
Someday, maybe I'll get a whole bowl brimming with berries. But I have no hope of ever affording enough raspberries, or any other food, that will fill up my 14-year-old.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

If I had one wish....

A guy I teach with is getting ready to move to Kansas or Nebraska, some more Midwestern place, to get his PhD. Because he's leaving, he won't be able to teach this summer.
"Guess I'm looking at manual labor," he said. He went on to express his wish that the more letters behind his name, eventually he will be able to leave manual labor behind. He'll know he has really made it when he can order in pizza and drink good beer with it.
Funny, how such a simple thing could be the sign of success.
Mine used to be books. I thought if I had enough money to go into a bookstore and buy whatever book I wanted then I would know I'd made it. Then I realized, the library fulfills that need for me. I can bike down to the library and fill my basket with more books than I could ever read.
Sometimes I wish I had enough money to buy whatever the kids need for their many sports. Spencer's basketball shoes are too tight. We go buy a new pair without calulating when the season starts, how long they'll have to last, how much his feet will grow.
Tucker's goggles leak and we traipse down to the aquatics store. Maybe we choose a few pair so that he has a backup. Grace's racing swimsuit gets too loose so we send away for the $200 Speedo, the one that can take precious 100ths of seconds off her race time.
Maybe buying the kids all of their high-tech gear for sports would spoil them. Maybe it's for the best that I say, let's wait until... payday, we sell the other house, that big government rebate check we're still waiting for.
When I think about what would satisfy me, lately, I've mostly wished to be comfortable enough to eat out or order in most nights, so I won't have to fire up the grill or my imagination to come up with another dinner!
How about you? What's the one thing that you need to be comfortable?

Friday, May 09, 2008

School Success

My 12-year-old had been in school exactly three months when he dressed that day in a Polo rugby shirt and gray cords. He tried to smooth down his dark hair that sticks up on top and I saw him swallow hard a few times before he headed out the door.
It was supposed to be an honor, this student of the month award. To him, it seemed more like a punishment. Oh, the award was nice. Good behavior, good grades, respect, helpfulness. All of those things were taken into consideration before they chose my youngest to be the sixth grade boy student of the month. And, he admitted, that he likes to get to school early so he can hold the door open for the teachers and students. Little brown noser. So that may be why he was chosen.
The prize for being student of the month is a lunch at a local restaurant. That sounds good. We'd been there a dozen times in the fall to watch OSU football and eat wings. The catch was, the lunch was for the students of the month from each grade,
5th through 12th. One boy and one girl from each grade, plus the principals from the middle school and high school.
He was nervous. Who would he talk to? He didn't know that many students in the 6th grade, much less students from the high school.
That night he came home with his certificate.
"The burger was so big I couldn't get my mouth around it," he said.
"I was the only one who ordered Coke. Everyone else had Sprite."
We have a no caffeine rule in our house, but I told him for this special occasion he could go with the Coke.
He sat at a table with the two fifth graders and an 8th grade boy who is an acquaintance of his brother.
"It was okay," he said.
The principals sat away from the students, on the other side of a partition, peeking their heads over to see if they were behaving.
The impression that remains, Student of the Month is really just Student of the Lunch. Not a big deal, unless you're the youngest kid in a family whose older siblings haven't been chosen as student of the month-- yet.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pulling on the reins

I did something yesterday that I never imagined myself doing. I walked into a cinemaplex, entered the darkened theater where the movie flashed, and found my 14-year-old son.
"We're going home," I said. And he got up and followed me.
I don't know if I'm really mad at him, but I do know I was manipulated and I'm pretty pissed at the dad who took him.
Saturday was a busy day. I was at a writer's conference all day and my husband was working. The kids were left unsupervised. Well, the youngest spent the day at a friend's house after soccer. So my 14-year-old left a sleepover to walk over to another friend's house. He called -- three times in a row until I answered -- to tell me the change of location. I called him back at lunch time.
"Could I please go see Escape from Guantanamo Bay?" he asked. I'm picturing terrorists and guns and chase scenes.
"It's a comedy."
I asked a passing friend. "You know anything about it?"
Not suitable for a 14-year-old, the friend suggested.
"Make another choice," I told him before I went to eat a grown-up lunch.
Later in the day, my phone rang, vibrating in my pocket. A session was wrapping up and the phone vibrated again before I could escape to the hall to answer it.
"Please, Dylan's dad is going to come with us so we can get in to the r-movie."
The agent I was hoping to catch was coming out the door. I wanted to talk to her.
"Okay." I agreed to the r-rated movie so I could catch the agent.
When I got home, he stopped by for money and my phone rang again, this time it was the mother of one of his friends. "Are you really letting him go, because I'm not letting Dakota."
She read the review from Common Incest? Sexual positions? Excessive drug use?
The father, divorced, was waiting in the car with his son and another boy who was allowed to go. I walked out to the car, barefoot.
"Look, I'm not going to let him go," I said. "I just don't want to deal with all of those issues. Sorry you waited for him."
They started to drive away when the son yelled, "We could see something else."
The boys agreed and my son hopped in the car. In the house again, I looked at the newspaper to see what their other options were. Under PG-13 I saw Prom Night? A slasher film.
I texted the boys. I'll take you to the video store to rent something.
No. We're going to see 88 Minutes, they texted back.
I'd seen previews. Al Pacino. Probably a lot of tense moments, I thought. Wait. That was rated R too.
I looked it up. Violent torture of women. Victims are hung upside down in their underwear.
That was when I decided. Carrie was with me, so I wouldn't humiliate my son alone. We walked in the theater and said, "Our sons are in an R-rated movie without our permission."
They let us sail by like we were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.
As we walked out of the theater with our sons, the father came running out after us.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think."
I didn't turn around, I kept walking with my boy towering over me, my hand on his thin back.
When the dad stopped by later, to apologize again, I made amends. "He should have known he wasn't allowed to see that movie and he should have told you." I said to the dad.
"I shouldn't have put a 14-year-old in that position," he said.
Yeah, I wanted to agree with him. You shouldn't have. But you're the divorcee. The fun-time dad.
"Look, any movie that is degrading to women, I'm going to object to."
I wanted to say, you have a daughter too. Don't you get it?
But I didn't.
I'm reconsidering the freedom my 14-year-old has. You can bring your friends here, I told him. For awhile. Let's stick around home. Where I know there are adults who are keeping an eye on things.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Central Ohio Meets Hot Miami

A group of 8th graders travelled by bus from the flatness of central Ohio to the former swampland that is our nation's capital. The boys were herded into the back of the bus and the girls coralled into the front with the chaperones sitting between. They hit all the major monuments, and were stunned into silence at the Holocaust Museum. The week culminated with a dance and dinner cruise along the Potomac. The boys, growing tall and gawky, put on polo shirts and dress pants. The girls donned dresses and skirts, some of them daringly wearing spaghetti straps under a pearl-buttoned sweater. The shoes were a disappointment, but the teacher insisted on flats only, no heels. The girls' hair was slicked straight and many opted for a ponytail. Giggling, they boarded the boat and were surprised to see another group of students -- 8th graders from Miami, Florida.
These students looked different. The girls' dresses were cut low across the chest and high on the leg. They glittered with jewelry and hair ornaments in their wild curls, frizzing in the swampy heat.
When the dancing began, the groups were mingled. These central Ohio kids knew how to dance. They'd been going to dance club for six weeks, stepping and shaking in rhythm to the music and the directions of the dj. But they weren't quite ready for the Miami kids' dancing.
One boy, about 5'4" and with a smooth, innocent face, stood doing his goofy dance, his arms in the air bending back and forth like windshield wipers. His friends love to watch him make up dances. Suddenly, a girl from Miami joined him. Her dance moves were centered a little lower.
"She was just humping him," said one 14-year-old observer.
"What'd he do?" I asked.
"He ran."
And when he told his girlfriend, she laughed.
Another boy, a little taller, his muscles beginning to fill out, his face tan and his smile dazzling, shrugged his shoulders when two girls asked if he wanted to dance.
He knows now that he should have said no. Shouldn't have been so accommodating, but when they began to grind on him, he wasn't the one who went running from the dance floor, it was his girlfriend. She still isn't speaking to him, in spite of pleas and tears.
"Those girls from Miami, they were different from the ones here," my wise 14-year-old observed.
"Compared to them, our girls are prudes," said the boy who sat on the sidelines watching and refusing to dance.
"Well," I said, "let's just call them more modest."
And, as I pulled the car into the garage, I felt pretty good about our move to this small town in central Ohio.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Social Savoir Faire

My kids have done pretty well adjusting to school after all those years I tortured them with homeschooling. The thing we homeschool moms laugh about is when people ask the "socialization" question. We spent our days driving to sports and crafts and trying to get our friends to take their kids back home rather than leaving them at our house for another day. Socialization is not a problem for homeschoolers. They play with kids of all ages.
And, I'm lucky that, although one of my kids is struggling with test taking, he has mastered the school social stratum. He has had a couple of girlfriends, but he's really more interested in hanging out with his buds, coming home covered in mud from football in the field or basketball on the court. His hands grow weary from Guitar Hero and Play Station.
He came home one day and said some girls made a list of the hottest guys at school and he was number one. He was obviously feeling pretty good about that.
"Who are the girls?" I asked.
"Oh, just some girls. I would never go out with them or anything," he said.
They are on a different rung of the ladder from him. A little lower, just dreaming of the guy on the rung above them.
I'm not sure if I should be bothered by his feeling that some people are beneath him, but am I kind of disturbed to realize that I was one of those girls. I might have made a list. I might have given a secret nickname to the hot guy, but he was never going to look at me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


The worst thing about sending my kids to school, aside from all of the school things, is that in one fell swoop I lost contact with all of my friends.
When we were homeschooling, hardly a day passed that we didn't get together with friends to play or meet at the rec center or have classes at the library or go on a nature hike/kickball game. The days were filled with laughter and yelling and conversation.
These days, after 8 a.m., my house is mostly quiet. When I'm home, I work in the solitude, shooing the cat off the mantle, turning on another load of a laundry. I don't mind the quiet and sometimes will stretch out on the couch for an afternoon nap. But I do miss my friends, those homeschool moms who helped me brainstorm so many childrearing problems.
And so, I'll think to myself, we should go out for coffee or lunch. But then I remember the problem. That mom still has all those kids at home. She can't just dump them and meet me. I can't invite her and the clutch of kids to my house because my kids aren't here to entertain them. And, I'll have to assume, my homeschooling friends figure I wouldn't want to visit their houses with the passel of kids there. Who would want to leave a quiet house for a house full of kids (to steal a turn of phrase from Seinfeld)?
So, I'll sit here in my quiet house, reminding myself to get my work done while the kids are gone, and hope for more days like the snow day, when I invited some moms of schoolgoers over to play cards and we had pina coladas in the middle of the afternoon.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Somewhere back in my childhood is the memory of being snowed in. I think I can remember my father not going to work because of the snow, but it somehow gets mixed together with my best friend from college being stranded at our house too, so I know that different blizzards have mingled. But I felt that same excitement yesterday when the winter storm warning was changed to a blizzard warning.
As a child, I can remember the weather man's face on the news when he warned that the barometric pressure was dropping. That was a sudden and scary blizzard. The one this weekend was just heavy snow that refused to quit.
I was prepared to hunker down in the house, a nice fire drying off the wet gloves and boots as the kids came in from their sledding forays. I got up at 5 and turned on the TV so I could see the cancellations, confident that the championship swim meet over an hour away would be put off for another day. But when the call didn't come, we piled into the car, leaving at 6:45. The kids busily texted their friends.
"Where r u?" they asked.
Not going, came one response.
Then, "Turning around," from the friends about 20 miles ahead of us. The roads are too bad. And the highway was covered with packed down snow. When we got to a smaller route that didn't have buildings on either side, the blowing snow was piled up, scraping the bottom of our Honda Pilot. We began the route home, calling the swim coach with the bad news.
So today, as the kids arrange sledding dates, there is a vague feeling of missing something. Being stranded in the house with peanut butter cookies and cocoa, card games and a curious kitty isn't as satisfying because we have that left out, nagging feeling, knowing that in an overheated natatorium, the kids' friends are swimming, possibly making their zones' times.
And our kids ask for rides, to a friend's house three blocks away or to the sledding hill. Another is picked up to go to a farther sledding hill. And so the bunker mentality of the blizzard is broken as the kids disperse and my husband stops to get a movie for those of us who won't brave the snow. Okay that's just me. But now I'll always remember the blizzard of 2008 as the year that I watched Italian for Beginners.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I love good escapism like anyone else, but as I'm devouring a mommy lit or chick lit book, I find myself dreading the scene when the heroine has a makeover. Suddenly her gray hair is tinted with fabulous highlights. All of her old clothes are replaced with new designer brands that show off the tiny waist she was hiding under her shapeless clothes. And who knew that with a little make up she could accentuate those sparkling green eyes.
Perhaps we're conditioned from our childhood days of Cinderella to believe that the makeover must occur or we're just not worthy of all the good things coming our way. The Prince, after all, is deserving of much more than a date dressed in a Kohls' juniors evening gown, arriving in a rusting Dodge Colt. Even a magic pumpkin will suffice.
But, when I look beneath the superficiality of the makeover scene, I wonder whether this character, usually a mother who has spent her recent years taking care of everyone else, can change inside without the outer metamorphosis. Can she become introspective, realize she has become a person she doesn't know, a person without passion, and then change only within? Suppose she starts taking time for herself rather than devoting all her minutes to the kids. Can't she just curl up in a corner and read novels rather than buying a new wardrobe and going to fabulous parties? Maybe the makeover isn't just a symbol for shaking off the old life. Maybe it's necessary for this character, this woman, to realize her value again.
But the part that really hurts is when they throw out clothes that I know are in my closet. Why can't the heroine ever hold onto those boiled wool clogs and the overalls? Won't she ever have those bloated days again?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let Me Get This Straight

In the mid 1980s when big hair was on the loose, I finally let my hair down. I was living in Washington D.C. and then Pinellas County, Florida. What chance did I have against the humidity but to let my curly hair do its own thing. So I lived with the curls and became used to getting out of the shower, putting in some hair gel and not thinking about it again.
One of my friends deemed it "romance heroine hair." So I could shake back my curls and pretend to be sexy.
And that worked for me through all of my childbirthing and childrearing years. You know the ones I mean, when instead of putting in contacts, I'd wear glasses so I could nap whenever the kids were napping or watching a movie. When the only make up that got near my face were a few smears of strawberry jam on my cheeks.
This fall, when I had my hair cut, the kind hairdresser offered to blow it dry straight. I'd spent my middle school years trying to straighten it into a page boy, so I knew it would never work, but I let her try it. Something in the world of haircare has definitely changed since my middle school years. My hair was straight and flat. My husband loved it. He bought me a ceramic flat iron for Christmas. I used it once before deciding it was way too much trouble to try again.
Until last week.
That's when I got my hair cut again and the hairdresser straightened it. My husband loved it again, but the comments from friends were the worst.
"Wow, you look 10 years younger," said one.
"You look like one of the kids," another mom said.
"You look really thin," said a third. "I'm not standing by you."
Now, it is not really possible that straightening my hair has taken off years and pounds, is it? The problem is that I'm highly succeptible to other people's opinions.
So, on Saturday morning, before driving to a swim meet, I got up early, showered and blew my hair dry. When is the last time I aimed a hairdryer at my head? Maybe if the temperature was below zero and I had to go out. When my hair was dry, I plugged in the flat iron and painstakingly separated it into small chunks, pulling the scorching ceramic iron along the waves until they fell stick straight. My husband came in and added the finishing curl under at the back.
Three times now I have stood in front of the bathroom mirror, running the flat iron over and over my curls until they're straight.
People keep asking me, "How long does it take?"
I have no idea how long it takes. I don't have time to time how long it takes; I'm busy straightening my hair!
This I do know, it takes 100%, maybe 1000% more time than it used to, because I never did anything to it.
And another thing I'm sure of, now that I'm straightening my hair, curls should be back in style any minute.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"My Head is Like a Magnet"

After 9 years of homeschooling, my daughter started school this year. She's a little more naive than most 16-year-olds and that's why I didn't really believe her when she came home and said people keep throwing things at her head. I mean, she's pretty innocent, but those high school boys are way finished with throwing things at girls to get their attention.
At first it was the hacky-sack boys. During lunch, they play hacky sack in the halls. They did that when I was in college and inevitably, someone walking down the middle of the hall would get hit. She claimed it happened every time. Finally, I gave her some advice that I learned from watching her "Aunt Pat."
When we were reporters in Clearwater, Florida, Pat was terrified of spiders. One practical joker in our office took delight in hiding a rubber spider in places that would startle Pat. She would scream and rave before handing the spider back to Mike, who would hide it again in another place. One day, after finding the spider in her coffee cup, she'd had enough. She took the spider out the front door and stood along the curb, waiting for a break in traffic. Then she threw the spider into the middle of the four-lane street. (Of course, Mike later ran into the street and retrieved the spider, but that's not the lesson I wanted my daughter to learn.)
I told her that the next time they hit her in the head with the hacky sack, she should grab it, run out the front door of the school and throw the hacky sack. (They're allowed to leave school at lunch time.) But before she had a chance to retaliate against the hacky sack boys, other boys began throwing things at her head.
Carrots at a swim meet. Coins and a ping pong ball at lunch. A pencil, part of a pen and a bottle cap during class. "Then he giggled," she told me the other day. "A high school boys giggling is not something you want to hear."
Her friends at school were unbelieving too.
"You're exxagerating," one friend said.
"Watch," my daughter retorted. She stepped into the hall, her friend Lisa right behind her. A hacky sack flew straight for her head.
She glared at the boy.
I think she's becoming famous for her glares, but they don't really serve as a force field to protect her head.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bah, humbug valentine

Happy Freakin Valentine. I'm in a pissy mood. I know I have no right to be. I have a devoted husband who brought me roses and tulips and took me out to dinner last night. But my mood went bad last night when I heard a Congressman really grilling Roger Clements and his personal trainer. I wanted to scream. Who cares about baseball and steroid use? Why don't you go after the President and Vice President who have lied and tortured and sent our soldiers to fight an unnecessary war? Why don't you go after the oil company presidents, who were allowed to testify in Congress without being under oath? But they put the baseball players under oath. Hmmmm. Who is going to affect my life more?
So, I was pissed. Don't we elect these reps to make our lives better. Baseball and steroids. Who cares?
So at 7:30 a.m. this morning, still feeling a little disgruntled, I stood in the CVS with my two sons as they looked at boxes of heart-shaped candy, trying to decide which to get for their "girlfriends." Middle-school girlfriends are questionable. They seem to change quickly.
My 11-year-old grabbed a box wrapped in clear red paper and was ready to go. My 14-year-old hemmed and hawed. He was surly. I suggested this then this then this. "No," he replied each time. A woman standing in the row, exchanged a look and a smile with me.
That set him off.
"You just want me to get her candy so you look good to the other moms."
He accused.
"That's it," my brain said. Actually, it said, "What the f***?"
I know my mouth was open and I stared at him.
"Forget it," I said, starting to walk away.
He grabbed a box of candy and joined me at the register as I forked over money for my boys to woo their girlfriends.
My older son hid his candy in his backpack, saying he would give it to her only if she gave him something. My younger son hopped out of the car in front of the school, clutching the red box in his hand and his brother yelled.
"Hide it. Put it away."
He didn't care. He'll probably have a different "girlfriend" in a few days anyway.
As we drove around the corner, just me and my surly son, I remembered that my anger at his behavior rarely has an effect.
"You really hurt my feelings," I told him.
And he apologized as he slipped out of the car, looking around like a spy before he put on the backpack that held the offending red and gold box of Valentine candy that would go to a girl who loved talking to him before they were "dating." Now she barely speaks to him, because that is the code of middle school girls. Once you have them on the hook, you must keep all hopes and dreams secret.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

I sat watching the primary returns last night with my 11-year-old. He had tucked a blanket over his lap and stretched his legs along the couch as we watched CNN.
Mike Huckabee won Arkansas.
"Will he stop the war?" my 11-year-old asked.
"No," I said quietly.
John McCain won Illinois.
"Will he stop the war?" the question came again.
"No, honey," I replied, feeling the weight of the question.
Next Hillary Clinton won Tennessee and New York and Massachusetts.
"Will she stop the war?" he asked.
And I felt unbearably sad. She voted for this unnecessary war. Most recently she supported President Bush's saber-rattling toward Iran. Would she bring home our troops?
"No, I haven't heard her say she'll stop the war."
Barack Obama won Georgia and Illinois.
"Will he stop the war?" my son asked.
"Yes, I think so," I said, the words of his speech "Yes We Can" ringing in my head.
My son was asking the most important question of our day. Stop the war. Bring home the troops who are dying across the ocean for a war that should never have begun.
But he wasn't only worried about them. He was worried about himself, knowing that whoever is elected this year, might be re-elected again in 2012. And that president might get to make the decision whether U.S. troops should be sent to fight. That president might decide to reinstate the draft, scooping up boys who never thought they'd serve in the military and that might include my 11-year-old. The quiet boy with glasses who wouldn't play football a second season because he didn't like hitting people. (His siblings are exempt from this feeling.)
So I'm asking you, Hillary Clinton, if you get the democratic nomination and then win the general election, will you promise? Will you promise to stop the war? Will you promise to bring home our troops? Will you promise that anytime you consider sending our army to fight a war that you will first reflect on -- 'Is this fight worth my daughter's life? Would I be willing to send Chelsea first to battle this war?'
And if the answer is yes, you would give your daughter's life to save the slaughtered Jews in Hitler's Germany, or the Muslims and Albanians who were being exterminated in Kosovo, then send my son too.
But if you think a war would mostly benefit your wallet and the wallet of your friends. Or if you think a war might boost up the U.S. economy or settle an old grudge, and you wouldn't be willing to let Chelsea die for it, then don't send my son or anyone else's child. Promise?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Silent House

The middle of the day and all I can hear in this near silent house is the jingle of the cat's bell as he bats a rubber ball along the wood floor. Being home alone is strange for me. For 15 years, nearly 16, children have been my constant companions. Sometimes a whole houseful, other times just my three. We'd snuggle on the couch and read books in the winter or set up lemonade stands and backyard sprinklers in the summer. We did messy science projects and some unsuccessful art projects with the glitter still on the dining room table as proof.
Until today.
Today is silent.
A silence that began when my youngest walked out the door following an argument about whether he needed to wear a coat today, his first day of school, with the thermometer reaching a balmy 21. I won the coat battle, but didn't get a goodbye kiss. He left the back door open, so I had to walk over and push it closed as he climbed in the car with his father.
10 years of homeschooling have ended like that. A scared and angry sixth grader slamming out the door, wondering whether he'll have to sing by himself in choir class since he's joining in the middle of the year. His brother and sister are old pros at it now, having started school in August. His sister gave the youngest a light up pen on a string that he hung around his neck. His older brother advised him to remove it. "Looks kind of nerdy."
They were nervous for him. "You have to play football during recess. You have to play whatever the boys are playing," his older brother said.
My youngest shrugged. Today, he is still full of that homeschool fallacy -- that people can choose to do what they like and no one will protest or comment. I'm sure that will fade.
I had a meeting this morning so I jumped in the shower when they pulled away. The bathroom door opened a few minutes later and my husband's glasses fogged up as he stuck his head inside the shower curtain.
"So all the kids are at school."
I wondered how many years he had been waiting for this moment. To me, sending all of the kids to school was a slightly painful milestone. To him, an empty, silent house could mean only one thing.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Isn't it ironic that since we moved to a small town where I can walk nearly everywhere, I haven't been able to do much walking? Is it self sabotage?
First there was the falling down, stitches in the knees, swollen knobbly knee bones that refused to straighten that kept me off the streets for a couple of months.
Then I was back on my feet, even running a three-mile circuit severals days a week, gazing at the architecture of the 1920s homes, meeting my running buds on Saturdays and gritting out a six-mile route. Until that day when my feet hurt by the end of the day. But I shrugged it off. I'd run six miles, worked the bullpen at a swim meet, herding little children to the blocks, then returned home to stand on our kitchen's tile floor to bake cookies. Of course, my feet should hurt. I gave myself a day off from running. But when I ran again, surprise, my left foot was hurting. It seemed to be a phantom pain that moved around. First it was my heel and the inside of the ankle. Then it moved to the outside of my foot and ankle. I didn't want to go to the doctor until after the new year. New insurance, new medical savings account. So yesterday I went to see the sports medicine doctor. I love those guys because they understand the insanity of runners. They know that the goal is to get back on the road.
A shadow along one of the bones in my foot told him that I was developing a stress fracture. That's basically overuse and old running shoes. He assigned me to three weeks of little walking and no running. In two weeks I get to try the stationary bike. Ooops, that's what I was doing all last week when my foot hurt too much to run. Then at week 3 I can try an elliptical machine before I return to see him. And, finally, before I hit the streets (to run -- no money will change hands) I'm to go to the elite running shoe store and get a pair of new shoes.
What I learned from this experience:
*trying to save money by running in old shoes always comes back to bite you.
*I hate swimming but it's better than not exercising.
*The doctor should have given me a boot/cast as he threatened, because that way my family would take my injury seriously when I ask them to run to the freezer downstairs to get a loaf of bread rather than rolling their eyes at me.
*The only outward sign of my stress fracture is the increasing girth of my thighs.

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'...