Monday, September 29, 2014

The Talk: Part III

I had "The Talk" with Aaron yesterday. Just like with the girls, he knew some things about the care and keeping of his body, and a large number of the right anatomical parts. He'd even heard of the sperm and the egg, although his idea of sperm came from an episode of The Simpsons that Tim allowed him to watch, which meant that all sperm (in Aaron's mind) come with a face like Homer's. (Go, Tim. One of your greatest parenting moments. Glad that viewing The Simpsons didn't constitute our child's entire education on sex.)

Aaron had been asking quite a bit about how a baby was made, and considering he's in fourth grade, I thought it was high time I told him. To be quite truthful, I had planned on telling him over the summer, but each time he asked, Melina was around. And she just doesn't need to know those details yet.

Aaron took in the information well, if you can call a blush that erupted over his entire body as taking it well. His smile grew big the more information I told him--a smile of pure embarrassment. And then, just like the girls did three years ago, he looked at me and said: "You and Daddy did that?"

Yep, we did.

I didn't want to go into too much at this point, because right now, I didn't think he'd understand and appreciate STIs or condoms (although I mentioned that word). Based on the look on his face, my information had flabbergasted him just about as much as any information could, so I wrapped up the chat session and asked if he had questions. (I was prepared. We'd done this before.)

"Well...ummm..." Aaron started to say. "What happens to the stuff [sperm] if the penis isn't inside?" Aaron pointed to the picture of the vagina (yes, I had pictures out...several books worth).

"Oh, well, it still comes out," I replied.

"And where does it go?"

"It just comes out, Aaron. Kind of like this." And I motioned with my fingers the pathway a projectile might take. For some reason, that sent him into a fit of giggles.

"Okay, Mom. Okay."

And that was that. I'm sure once he's tossed the entire conversation over in his mind, he'll be coming back with more questions. Which of course, I will answer. Or maybe I'll send him to Tim.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Wrinkle in Time

Every wrinkle
that scurries across
the landscape of my face,
can be traced back to
a pathway of memories,
some beautiful
and others not.
None of which
I care to forget.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Thought

If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?
~Rumi



Friday, September 26, 2014

Wedding Day

She stood at the back of the old, wooden chapel, shivering from the cool breeze that snaked through the loose front doors. The day had dawned bright and a little too cold for her tastes, yet nothing problematic. And it didn't matter of course--she was anxious to be done with the day. To get everything over. To finally be married instead of getting married someday. And, she was ready. She had been ready for a long time. The music filtered through the double doors that separated the narthex from the nave. She imagined the faces of her friends and family--sitting quietly in the oak pews--and smiled. It was going to be a good day. No, make that a great one.

To her left, stood her dad. He cut a fine figure in his gray tuxedo and freesia boutonniere. His right leg tapped a staccato beat and his fingers drummed against each other as he accessed her, indicating he was nervous. Why? She thought. He had no reason to be nervous. Not this time. She looked into his eyes, where she thought she might have seen a tear form in the corner, but she couldn't be sure. You could never be sure with him.

The music changed; it was her cue to be ready. She pivoted on her nude heels toward her dad, at the same time as he turned toward her. She looped a light arm through his and looked down at their entwined limbs. His was a steady, albeit elderly, arm. One that had stumbled as it tried to usher her through the rough times of adolescence and into the joys and perils of adulthood. It was an arm that stayed still all those times she needed it around her shoulders. It now held tight to her, as if she was supporting him and not the other way round. She met her dad's gaze, and he leaned over, as if to kiss her cool cheek.

"When are you going to get that freezer?" he whispered into her ear.

Her neck recoiled and her eyes widened. Had she heard him correctly? They were standing at the back of the church on her wedding day, of all days, and he was worried about the upright freezer in their basement that he'd been trying to pawn off on her for years? Just last week she'd said that she'd take it, but she didn't mean today. Why today?

"Because it's ready. You just have to unplug it and make sure that you can get the right vehicle to keep it upright. You know...it can't go on its back..."

"Uh..." she was speechless, a feeling she'd never experienced before. Many thoughts tumbled through her head as her dad waited for her response. But she couldn't give him one. Not today. This was her day, not his.

"I'll get it, Dad. I'll get it soon," she said.

"Well okay then. Let's go." Her dad patted her arm with a withered hand and nodded his head. He was ready.

So they were off. With her right foot, she took a step forward as the double doors swung inward. The gathering of friends and family stood, and she focused on the man standing at the apse, hands clasped in front of him. A smile danced across his face and stars shone from his eyes. With tears in her own eyes, and beautiful butterflies in her stomach, she made her way down the aisle.

It's not all about you, Dad, she thought as she caught the eyes of her husband-to-be. It's about us. On this day that was theirs, it should be all about us. It's a pity that it wasn't.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Repeat Actions

Scrub, scrub, scrub.
My fingers press against
the lemon-scented disinfecting wipe
in an attempt to take away the gunk
at the bottom of the bathroom sink.
I know that the wipe is better for taking away germs
and not the detritus of the fairies
who live inside my house.
But the wipe is handy and available--
like a one-night stand--
and so I press my fingers again,
with more force this time,
and push the quilted white paper around the plug at the bottom of the sink.
It picks up small bits and pieces of whatever lays there,
but never the entire smudge.
I stop my hand from moving and peer into the sink.
My nose is close to the faucet
and I hear the single plink of a leftover drop of water
as it falls.
I lean in closer, thinking (always thinking)--
I've performed this action now for several days.
The same one, over and over,
and over again.
The grime leaves for a moment, but with constant use,
it's back again,
as if nothing will change its mind.
But maybe it's not the fault of the wipe
or the pressure I put on the stain.
Maybe, I need a new plan.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 4

We've lived here since August of 2003. Way back then, we had only two little toddlers running around (with hopes for more) and I had visions of working full-time in my head. But when we moved, things changed. I realized that I needed to get acclimated to our new surroundings, and I wanted to get the girls through the transition as well. Plus, I really didn't want to have the kids in day care full-time. So I poked around and found my current part-time teaching gig at the local community college. Each quarter or semester since then (not counting summers or the few brief breaks I've taken) you'll find me behind the podium spouting talk about the sodium-potassium pump, the appendicular skeleton, or how the hormones actually work.

As you know, within the last couple of years, however, I've realized that I want to make a change. From teaching to writing. So far, I've combined the two pretty successfully. (I won't say completely successfully until I've got a copy of one of these novels sitting on the library's shelf.) I have to be honest, though, that the few semesters where I've taken some time off to concentrate on writing have been some of the best months of my life. I'm more relaxed, I give more time to the kids and their needs, and quite possibly, Tim and I have more time together.

So why do I keep working? Because of guilt. For some reason, my unpaid contribution to this family (which really is worth far more than the paid contribution) doesn't seem like enough. I see braces, and vacations, and vet bills, and college and think to myself that any little bit I make, any little bit, is at least that: a little bit more to add to the bank account so Timmy doesn't need to shoulder the entire burden. That's what I keep telling myself.

But yesterday, I had a revelation. I could, in theory, justify my staying home. And it goes like this.

I get up early (as in 5:30 a.m. or earlier) to start on kids' lunches/laundry/blog writing. Not all of that time is spent for someone in the family, but by 6 a.m., I'm in mommy mode. Which means that between the hours of 6 and 8 a.m., when everyone is getting ready for school and I'm working my fingers to the bone to make sure everyone is on time, I've put in two hours of real work.

The same can be said for the hours after school, let's say, between 3 and 8 p.m. We've got homework and dinner and carting kids to late-day appointments and soccer. During those hours especially, I am mom--not teacher or writer (unless I'm teaching my children or writing with my children). Five hours of working as mom. Five.

So far then, we've got 2 hours +5 hours = 7 hours. Add into that the time during the day when the kids are away, when I fold clothes or clean or do something else family related, and I've moved myself into another hour. Which means that during the day, I work 8 hours for my family, and 40 hours a week at least for said family. And that doesn't even include the weekends.

What have I just done? I've told myself that if I want to stop working, I can. That's it's okay because in reality, I'm not sitting at home eating ice cream and catching up on soaps. (Are those still around?) I've asked Tim what he thinks, and Tim is fine with my not working outside the home. The kids are of course fine with it. I'm the only hold-out, and I'd need to be psychoanalyzed to truly figure out why I don't let go of the rat race. (It probably has to do with my need to be independent, and the fact that the idea of being able to support myself was drummed into me from an early age.) I'm not complaining here, because with the kids at school and my Tuesday/Thursday schedule of writing, I have found some balance. But if I'm honest with myself, I want something different. Just like everyone else.

What to do, what to do? Not sure yet. I'm signed up for another teaching schedule next semester, as far as I know. I'll be fine with it...I think. But I reserve the right, at any time, to fold and say to myself that it's okay to stay at home. Because it is. And that, dear friends, is How I Really Feel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Requests

Dear Universe,

The only thing I ask for today is that the kids behave for picture day. Which means I don't want Melina to scrunch up her nose at the camera, nor do I want Aaron to twitch his lips to the side and cock his head, all while rolling his eyeballs such that when the pictures come back, I shake my head and wonder where I went wrong.

Oh, and I'd like world peace. So I guess that's two things.

Thank you.

Chris

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Little Bit Dickens

Apparently, Shadow is a grumpy old man and Toby is Jacob Marley.

What?!?

Let me explain. Last Friday, I paid for a certified dog trainer to come to our home. (See, I told you I'm trying to help this Toby character. He's my responsibility, and I'm doing my best to integrate him into our family.) Anyway, the trainer came in with her loud mouth and curse words (I liked her quite a bit because of those characteristics), so the first thing I did was to thank the Good Lord my kids weren't home. The second thing I did was to listen to her, because she got to work right away. Partially stating the obvious, the trainer explained that "Shadow is old and set in his ways," and that "Toby has to learn to deal with it."

Can I get an Amen to that statement?

But then, the trainer also went on to say that Toby has no impulse control and that I, being the one mostly at home, must help him develop it. I must also teach the rest of the family how to help Toby develop that trait. And that by attaching a leash to his collar--at all times when he's not in the crate--we will facilitate the training process (because we can step on the leash when he's doing something inappropriate and move him away/reprimand him). That afternoon, before the trainer had even left, Toby managed to chew through the nylon leash--a sort of "F^@# you" to the trainer if you will. Hence, he now wears his chain leash all day, which is where Jacob Marley comes in.

I could feel bad about that old ball and chain, but seeing as he just bounded out the door without a care in the world, the leash dragging to the side, not stopping him in the least as he jumped up and over the sandbox in his quest to catch that stubborn squirrel in our back yard, I just won't.

And by the way, I do think it's helping.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wrong Response

I go to church for many reasons, most of which I won't go into here in this forum. The only problem is, I haven't been that happy with the church we go to. I don't find the congregation all that friendly, and they aren't that welcoming to the families who don't send their children to school there. And the sports program? Don't get me started on that. The year the girls participated in the sports program was one of the most revealing years of all.

You might wonder why we bother to go to that particular church in the first place, right? Well, I'm lazy. And it's in our neighborhood. Which means if I really had to, I could leave my house at 7:55 a.m. to get to the 8 a.m. mass.

Which is where we were this morning. Sitting in the pew, participating in the rituals of the mass, and listening to the voice of Fr. N. He's not my favorite priest: he tends to subscribe to the more you say the better method, and we all know that's not true. So there I was, wondering when he'd be done with his lengthy sermon (remember, we're Catholic and anything over ten minutes is pretty long) when he stepped into it big time.

He was speaking about a basketball player, and how the player had missed a layup. "Everyone knows that layups should not be missed, right?" Father said. "We expect that from a women's team," he  continued, "but not a men's." Is that right? Is that what he said? I'm pretty sure that's almost exactly what he spewed, but to be honest, my irritation began to fester and my blood started to boil. So maybe I messed up his words a little, but not by much.

A few members of the congregation groaned, but not nearly enough of them, in my opinion. I almost walked out, but gave Father the respect he should get for being up there, preaching. I thought for sure he might apologize. He did not. I turned to Tim and said, "That's not even funny," because Fr. N is known for trying to make jokes.

But alas, this was no joke. And I thought to myself, He can't possibly get away with saying something like that, if someone calls him out. So I decided to do so. At the doorway of the church, where Father stood shaking hands after church, I went up to him. I told him he shouldn't have said what he said and that he was wrong. His response? "No one should miss layups."

Really? I almost launched into a diatribe on basketball and if he'd ever played the sport and whether or not he even knew how difficult or easy it is to make a layup. I thought if I got going with that direction of thought, THEN, I could turn on him and tell him that he completely missed my point and that his comment was sexist and downright inappropriate. But then, I looked at him. And I mean, really looked at him.

And he was laughing. He had no idea at all that his comments were offensive and he probably never would. I can't remember how I ended the conversation, but I shook my head as I walked away.

I'm done with Father N. I'm done with that church. I'm finding myself a new home.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sister Time

My mom and her sisters don't get together that often. One lives in Maine, another in Michigan, and the last two in Missouri and Southern Illinois. It takes time and energy for the four of them to meet up, and at their ages, they don't have much of either of those. But back in July of this year, we had the opportunity for a family reunion. The four sisters and their families gathered together for one very hot weekend in St. Louis.

There is so much I could write about these women. The zany times, the angry times, the depressed and down times; the childhood memories that I've heard about from my mom, and the memories of their own parents. But those times and memories are their stories to tell, not mine. What I do want to document, though, is the first picture in a very long time where the camera caught all four of these lovely ladies with genuine smiles on their faces. It's easy to see a family resemblance here. It's easy to see the sisterly love.

This photo is a beautiful reminder for all of us to thank the universe: for the family we have, for as long as we have them. And to remember that, no matter what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future, that sisters truly are a blessing.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Bonding Moments

We bonded over a bowel movement in the dairy section of the Dorothy Lane Kroger. Well, I guess it was the lack of a bowel movement, really. Not on my part, but on hers. I don't remember much else about her--what she was wearing, how many children she had with her, or what type of yogurt she was getting. I just know that it had been hours, days really, since she'd had a proper bowel movement.

I'm not sure what made her confide in me, the lady in threadbare shorts with four kids in tow. The woman who was searching for a healthy yogurt alternative amongst all the sugar-laden dairy products. Maybe it was the length of time I had been standing in front of the yogurt section that did it: the sheer number of minutes I stood there convinced her that I was dedicated to the cause and that I was okay to speak to. But confide in me, she did.

"I'm looking for something for my gut," she said. "I gotta get my insides moving, if you know what I mean." The woman's eyebrows rose on her forehead and a smile lit up her face.

Of course I knew what she meant. With each pregnancy and delivery, I'd gotten stopped up, for lack of a more eloquent way to say it. In fact, since Melina has come along, my insides have never been the same. (Of course, you know this already. We talk poop here. Often. Our conversation about it might even be more regular than your bowels are.) Every once in a while I require a senna laxative to get things moving in the right direction, but for the most part, a diet of fruits and vegetables does the trick. For this lady, it was yogurt.

"I used to be a runner," she continued. She really had my attention now. It had been weeks since I'd run. Maybe I could relive the experience through her. "But now, I just can't. I don't seem to be able to find the time. And I just got divorced, so you, know, I'm stressed all the time..."

The woman let that last sentence slip right out, to someone she'd just met. I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I nodded, urging her to continue.

"Yeah, and the weight's just piling up. Can't seem to shake it off. But I'm thinking that yogurt can help get me back into shape. And of course, get these bowels going." Her arms extended to grasp one of the cold, plastic containers. She turned it to the side to inspect the dietary information and then glanced up at me. I felt like I had to say something.

"I'm a runner, too." I started. "I think the exercise can keep things moving, so to speak, and it can keep weight off. Probably better than yogurt, to be honest. But you know what? Stress can cause all sorts of issues with weight. The stress axis is a funny thing..."

The woman's eyes gleamed with interest. I'd just given her a reason for why she was putting weight on and she held onto the reason with both hands. "Huh. What are you, a doctor or something?"

"I teach Anatomy and Physiology. We talk about about the HPA axis. And truthfully, many things can make it go screwy. Setting it right again? It's hard to do but with time, that might help you out. What I'm saying is, cut yourself some slack. It sounds like you've got a lot on your plate." I looked to make sure the kids were behaving and not lurking in the snack aisle. Talia and Zoe were deep in their own conversation while Melina gazed longingly at a block of cheese. Aaron jumped behind the cart with a guilty look on his face. I still don't know what he had been doing.

"From the looks of it, so do you. You run too, eh?" she said.

"I do." I didn't tell her how long I'd been away from one of my favorite hobbies. She didn't need to know my garbage; today was a day for her to purge her own.

"How far?"

"I'm injured now, but my favorite long run is 10 miles." I heard the wistfulness in my own voice. Seriously. I knew the moment I uttered the words the woman would think I was barmy.

"Oh lord," the woman let out a low whistle. "I'm not a runner like that. If I can go two miles, I'm lucky."

"You could be, if you wanted to be," I said. "I started out with a mile and built my way up."

"You did?" Her eyebrows lifted up on her forehead, again.

"I sure did. No joke." 

The woman paused, a genuine smile pasted to her face. "Well, thank you," the woman said. "I guess I'll get this yogurt right here. If I can get these bowels going, then I'll start to feel better. And that will take some of the stress away right there, you know?"

"I do know." I nodded and grabbed a couple of containers myself. "I know how I feel when I'm bloated," I said. "It's no fun."

"That, it isn't," the woman replied. "And maybe I'll set my sights on my running again. That should help, too." She took a quick assessment of her own kids and then glanced back my way. "So many things to think about when we're moms, you know?"

"Yep." I glanced at my watch. I really needed to move, and soon. We had other places to be that day. "Well, good luck with everything. You have a great day."

"You, too," the woman replied.

We smiled one last time at one another, and parted ways. I grasped the handles of the grocery cart, turned it up the corridor, and moved it along the next aisle. The kids trailed behind me.

"Who was that?" one of them asked.

"I'm not sure. I just met her."

"And you were talking about poop? In a grocery store?"

They had a point, a very good point. The woman and I had discussed, albeit briefly and in a very innocuous way, a topic I always tell them to keep away from the dinner table. And here I was talking to a complete stranger about it?

"It's different, kids. It's just that..." I turned to see four pairs of eyes, wide and round, waiting for an explanation for why I could talk about poop in a grocery store and they couldn't. I didn't have the energy in me to explain the difference. Not then. After I'd discussed the issue with a complete stranger and didn't feel funny about it at all.

"Cupcakes," I said. "Who wants to buy cupcakes?"

Someday, they'll understand the feeling of camaraderie I experienced that day in the Kroger on Dorothy Lane. Someday, they'll know that when it comes to motherhood, there are a multitude of different experiences, but many of them bond us together--bowel movements being only one of them. And someday, they might even realize that this bonding moment dealt with so much more than just poop.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Word of the Day

The word of the day today is PATIENCE. Because I need to have more of it when:

The receptionist tells me that my doctor appointment isn't until 9:30 a.m. and it is 9 a.m. (I knew the appointment wasn't until 9:30 a.m., but I had been told to arrive 30 minutes early.) I smile at said receptionist.

I wait in the examination room for one hour before the orthopedist walks in, without an apology for my wait.

After my appointment, I stop at the bank, where I am the first in line. I stay as the first (and only) in line for seven minutes. I wonder what the tellers are doing behind the counter, but I don't stomp my feet, as my inner child directs me to.

I'm choosing to think there is a reason for these delays today. That maybe my course of action has been directed differently for a purpose and maybe that purpose is simply to remind myself that on the path to becoming a more patient person, I have a very long way to go.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 3

Sick. I feel sick. And not sick-to-my-stomach sick, thank goodness. I have a cold, and sometimes, those can be brutal. It's too early to tell if this will be a knock-me-on-my-ass sort of cold. I'm hoping it isn't. But in the meantime, I'm sick. I'm tired. I have to get Zoe to the dentist to get a tooth pulled and I have to teach. All while my head is screaming and my nose is dripping. It goes without saying that I'd rather curl up with a book (one in particular, mind you--I'm reading Julie Lawson Timmer's Five Days Left and I'm really enjoying it...great debut novel.) Or even watch television (now you know I'm not feeling well). So that's it today. Short post. Whiny post. But that's How I Really Feel.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Acceptance

A good friend of mine reminded me that acceptance and accountability go hand in hand. And she's right. While years ago I would get defensive at someone pointing out my inability to accept someone, I'm now at the age where I consider what she wrote a gentle nudge. To become a better person.

But here's what people don't know.

I actually try to practice acceptance on a daily basis, because along with accountabilty, we should be not only tolerant of everyone, but accepting. And I am, mostly. It's easy to be accepting or tolerant of people we don't know, or people who do not afffect us each day. But when those people and their actions (and inactions) affect me and the people I love, then I tend to be less accepting of them.

I'm wrong. I know this. I expect everyone else to accept me as I am, but to be honest, I try to change when I hurt other people. I look at what I did and move toward understanding how not to let it happen again. I'm not always successful, but I try.

And while someone close to me once said, "Trying is a noisy way of doing nothing," I completely disagree. It's better to try and not succeed than to not try at all. And that, my friends, is why I have the problem that I have. I can accept you for your blue hair and your tattoos, your republican ideals, or your whoring ways. I can accept that you choose to serve your children fast food several times a week or that you don't think homework is important. I can accept that you prefer to stay at home and watch TV or that you don't want to fly to Rome. Those are personal choices you make each and every day. I don't have to like them and I don't have to agree with them, but as long as you aren't hurting anyone, I can't say much.

But if you don't even try to help yourself or change your ways so that you refrain from hurting yourself or others, well then, I can say something. I should say something. Some might argue that I am morally obliged to do so. And once I've said something, I might even possibly do something about it.

So I'm willing to try to be more accepting of you. To understand that you are who you are, and that nothing is going to change that. But the minute I find you hurting yourself or others, I'm going to come down so hard, you won't know what hit you. And sadly, with several circles in my life, we're almost to that point.

Of course that, my friends, is for another post. Or a novel. We'll see.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Three Small Words

It came down to an issue of salt and pepper. An issue so minute, really, but one that summed up their lives in three small words.

"Do you see any salt and pepper?" the woman asked. Her furrowed eyebrows and pursed lips spoke of her displeasure. "I like salad with salt and pepper." She stabbed her fork into the lettuce leaves and moved the onions away to the side of the plate. Her tired eyes scanned the table, once, for the seasonings. Not finding them, she clucked her tongue while her fork resumed its assault on the salad.

As she started on her own meal, the woman's daughter stared in horror at her mother. What was her mother thinking? Could salt and pepper really make or break a salad? Did something so trivial, so petty, truly ruin the meal, as her mother's countenance would indicate? The daughter met the eyes of her sister, who mouthed, "What ever happened to eating what's put in front of you?" Good point, the daughter thought. Good point. She then glanced toward her father, seated at the head of the table. He had no concern about the lack of salt and pepper. In fact, he ate his salad with gusto because, salt and pepper or not, what did it matter to him? He was hungry, and was happy that something--anything really--was on his plate. As the man lifted the fork to his mouth and the mother huffed one more time, the daughter made a decision.

Without a word, she placed her napkin onto the tablecloth, scooted her chair back from the table, and stood up. She moved with confidence toward the alcove to the right of the restaurant's dining room, where she could see a stack of extra glasses and napkins. With luck, she'd find what she was looking for. The daughter peeked her head in, and one moment later (one moment!) her eyes spied them. On a wall shelf stood containers full of salt and pepper--lined up like a gaggle of fraternal twins. Enough seasoning to use on the mother's salads for the rest of her days and then some. The daughter plucked the shakers from the shelf, walked back to the table, and--saying nothing--placed them in front of her mother.

"Oh, thank you," the woman said, and proceeded to shake the pepper, then the salt, onto the salad in front of her.

"You're welcome," the daughter replied, as she sat back down in her chair. She placed her napkin onto her lap and picked up her own fork, hoping to find that the irritation within her would soon dissipate. She looked at her husband, who flashed a rueful smile her way, and then again at her mother, who happily ate the once-offensive salad.

Task accomplished, the daughter thought. Deed done. How hard was it to ask someone to find shakers of salt and pepper, or like she had just done, go get them yourself? But in that one moment (one moment!) the enormity of the situation hit the daughter like a sledgehammer. It was hard--no impossible--for the woman to do it. She'd lived her life full of fear and discontent, and it was easier to complain about the lack of salt and pepper than it was to find the courage to get some herself. In that way, the accountability still stood with the unknown perpetrator, the one who didn't place the shakers of seasoning on the table in the first place.

Accountability. It was a word the daughter was becoming more and more familiar with as the woman and man got older. It was a word she realized held so much more meaning than she ever thought. The daughter shook her head as she went back to enjoying the dinner. She vowed to be accountable for her own life, insofar as she could. And, those three small words--salt and pepper--would be the daily reminders.

Friday, September 12, 2014

All of You

I write about so much here. What started as a let's-keep-the-family-informed sort of blog has now morphed into an outlet for my creative self. And I hold back very little. I've told you about my extra long facial hairs, how my pubic symphysis feels, and that Tim has had a vasectomy. I've revealed that I'm not a very good Catholic (and I would have said that before Tim had the vasectomy) and that I want to publish one of the novels I've written. I've spoken about death, life, and maybe even the after-life (I'll have to check on that). All topics are welcome here, I think, although there are still some personal subjects that I don't believe are appropriate to touch in this forum.

The girls, especially, like to read the blog. Sometimes, I let them, sometimes, I don't. I still haven't allowed them to read the post from my 41st birthday. I lied to them, and I'm not proud of it, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. So when they ask to read some of the blog, I point them in the direction of the posts that concern them. I usually find them twittering to each other, smiles pasted to their faces, hands over their mouths. "We said that?" they ask. And they continue reading with wide, eager eyes.

I'm glad the kids like to read the blog. It entertains them--gives them a good thrill and a chuckle. But what I am most glad of, is something that won't happen until later on...down the road, when those kids are older and wiser. At that time in the future, they'll be able to look at this blog, remember so many moments, and get to relive those times of their lives--over and over. They will remember what they were doing in November of 2012 and the details of Melina's birth back in 2008. The silly events that occurred and the maddening circumstances that arose. How we all survived the monotony of too-hot summers and the chaos of rainy falls and arctic winters.

And I'll be honest when I say that I'm glad that, because of this blog, they will remember me. They will hopefully understand my beliefs, my morals, even my quirks. They will know that I really do love to run and write and how important both of those are to my life. They will get to read about my feelings on illness, the media, novel writing, and their teachers. They'll know more about me than I knew about my mom, or that my mom knew about her mom. I'll have completed a simple, informal history, if you will.

But what I consider most important for them to learn from the blog is this: I hope they will understand that my role, my most important role, was as their mother. That I am fiercely loyal to them. That my love for them runs deeper than the deepest ocean. That I'm their best cheerleader and the one to whom they can come any time of the day or night.That they are never a bother and truthfully, they are the best things that ever happened to me--hands down. That even when I'm tired and crabby and want to go to sleep, a tiny hand or a quick hug or a smooch on the cheek is the most wonderful minute of my day.

My mom used to say, in moments of extreme stress, "What do you want from me, my blood?" It became a catch phrase in our house when I was younger. I understood it to mean that she couldn't give us any more...she was done and we needed to be happy. But everyone is different, and for me, right now, that phrase means so much more.

Kids, I'd give you my blood if you needed it. I'd give you my life, if necessary. And if you remember nothing else from these blog posts, remember this: I love your hair, your eyes, your arms, your cheeks, your toes, your stomach, your heart, your personality, your spirit, your strength. I love you. All of you and every one of you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering

Every year since 2001, I wake up thinking about the Twin Towers. Even now, 13 years later, I clearly remember where I was on that day, what I was doing, and what I was wearing. I remember the warm breeze of early fall in Michigan and the blue skies that spread across the region. I remember Krystyna, the histologist, coming into the lab all in a dither. I had been struggling to tie a mouse muscle onto the force transducer, but I knew, just by looking at her, that my problem was the least of our worries at that point.

Krystyna's voice trembled as she told Cheryl and me what had happened. We all looked at one another, our eyes wide with amazement, and decided to close up the shop for the day. We scurried back to our computers to try and find more information on what was happening. I even left my own lab to check in on a friend at the dental school. His cousin worked in one of the towers and hadn't been heard from. A short while later, we found out the cousin was safe, but only because he's chosen not to go into work that day.

As I walked across the medical campus back to my apartment, I remember thinking to myself how completely fragile life really was. That something so heinous could have been planned and executed, and for what purpose? Simply to hurt people? I shook my head as I made my way through the doors of the apartment and into the living room, where Tim sat with the television on.

That day, we couldn't get away from the images of the planes hitting the towers. The event played on a loop that repeated--over and over in the news, and then again in my imagination. I clenched my eyes shut to help keep the images at bay, but nothing worked, so I gave in and fell onto the couch. I was torn between wanting to know any and all information the broadcasters could give me, and wanting to shut off the news and walk away. I chose to stay, but alternated my gaze between the television screen and my belly.

You see, I was 18 weeks pregnant on 9/11/2001. I had no idea at that time that there were two babies housed inside my uterus, but that day, as I sat there watching the news broadcast with a burgeoning belly in my lap, I thought long and hard about life and all that goes along with it. I moved my hand over the small swell between my pelvic bones and wondered if it was a good idea to be bringing new life into such turmoil. How could I? I thought. How safe would the child be as he or she grew up? What atrocities would he or she experience during a lifetime? And what would that lifetime look like? I knew after the events of the day that life would be different for all of us, on many levels. But how different? And would it still be worth living?

As I watched in horror at the ash and iron strewn across Lower Manhattan, I suddenly felt my baby kick. It wasn't the first kick that I'd experienced, but up until that moment, it was the strongest movement I'd had. And in that single instant, my somber mood began to dissipate. In the midst of pain and devastation, I had experienced a glimpse of  joy and hope.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 2

On today's installment of Tell Me How You Really Feel, we're talking Common Core. Specifically, Common Core Math. Now don't be afraid, FRN. I'm not really talking math today because the Common Core guidelines have a funny way of making math not really about math. Truly, I jest. But sometimes you look at how that information is being taught and it's no longer about solving the problem. It's about recognizing that the problem even calls for math. Think I"m nuts? Google Common Core Math examples and see what you find. And don't even get me started on matrix math and bar models. (I guess I should add at least this little tidbit: I think math should be understood and liked by more people, and because that is what the Common Core is attempting to do, I commend them. I just think that sometimes, you shouldn't fix what isn't broken.)

But what I want to tell you about are the worksheets the Common Core provides, one of which Aaron came home with this week. The title of the worksheet was Multiplication (Vertical). I looked at the sheet and tried to decide what was so vertical about it. I quickly realized that the creators of the fine piece of paper meant that this multiplication worksheet (3 digit X 2 digit) could be done by the traditional method--the process that we probably learned when we were kids. Wonderful! Aaron went about his homework, and I checked it when he was done.

Imagine my surprise when I made my way to the bottom of the paper and saw this:

1-10
95
90
85
80
75
70
65
60
55
50
11-20
45
40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0
 
Yes, that is a table the teacher can use to easily access the grade of the student. My problem? That sort of math--knowing that if you have twenty questions, for each one wrong you deduct five--is something that every child should eventually know. That every teacher should know already. Without a table at the bottom of the page!

If the Common Core expects for our students to learn and comprehend different ways of computation--from the traditional methods I grew up with to bar models and relating division to multiplication--than I think we can expect that the teachers who teach these students KNOW that a person who received a score of 18/20 gets a 90%. They should not have to consult a table at the bottom of the page.

We're all about teaching our children to think, so is it too much to ask to require our teachers to think as well? And that, my friends, is how I really feel.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Different Sort of Rejection

My index finger clicked on the mouse, causing the drop-box to appear on my screen. Once I found what I was looking for--the bookmark for where I teach--I wrinkled my face up in fear as I clicked on its site. My fingers keyed the password in quickly, although I was in no hurry to get to the actual destination.

My silly reaction is because I proctored my first test yesterday. And to say that the results weren't pretty is truly an understatement. Including a freebie question, my mean was a dismal 56.5%. Yes, you're seeing just fine. The average score was, indeed, a failure.

I had promised the students that I would post their scores yesterday afternoon, but after seeing that score, I had to amend that promise. I had to write a quick email and tell them that I needed to really peruse the scores and see what had occurred at eleven o'clock in the morning on Monday, September 8. Because in my mind, something supernatural must have happened. Maybe a load of aliens inhabited my students, maybe a tissue-eating virus gorged on their brains. Maybe, just maybe, the fairies were at it again. I don't know the reason, but the scores on that first exam indicate that my students weren't all there for that test. In fact, it seemed, that no one besides me was actually there.

I've seen this before, back in the Fall of 2012. I think my seeing these sorts of scores is what made me bail on my class last fall. There is only so much I can do in my quest to see my students succeed, and truthfully, I feel as though I've done it. I've posted the material, I've given them time to ask questions, I've slowed down when asked, and I asked straight-forward exam questions. And yet (and yet), they still get something as fundamental as the characteristics of phopholipids incorrect.

Now before you get all, "It's A & P and that's a hard course" on me, I have to tell you this. Many of my exam questions can be pulled from my notes. They aren't exactly written verbatim, but a section of notes that speaks about what a phospholipid is and what it looks like? The answer is there. In the notes. For the student to understand (and at the very least, memorize). I didn't hide the answer. I showed the students what a phospholipid looks like, that it has a water-loving head and a water-hating tail. We discussed its structure and compared it to other structures. And I bet even you can tell that these two molecules look slightly similar. (Top is phospholipid, bottom is triglyceride, courtesy of this page.)



Now I haven't given you the true, full question, but if I compared these two structures to say, a steroid (show below), which one thing is not like the others?


(Yeah, see? Even you can succeed at A & P!)

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. And since I don't feel like complaining and this isn't a Tell Me How You Really Feel day, I'm just going to say this. We have work to do. All of us. Because I can't expect my students to magically understand everything, but they can't expect me to spoon-feed them the information. I'll keep encouraging them to study hard and apply what they know. I'll help them to analyze and critically think about the question, the situation, about life. I'll do my best to be patient and get as much of this information into their heads so that by the end of the course, they'll look at me and say, "Thank God she's not teaching next semester."

And then, maybe I'll take the semester off. Somehow, it's easier to be rejected by faceless literary agents than to be rejected by the students.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dog Days, Part III

"You want to hear something crazy?" I asked Tim the other morning.

"Crazier than finding a dog on Craigslist?"

"Okay, that's not crazy. We found a babysitter that way, why not a dog?"

Tim flashed a stern look my way. I knew what it meant: We did find a fantastic babysitter via Craigslist. The dog, not so much.

Maybe it wasn't my finest moment. Maybe Toby didn't show us his true colors when we went to meet him. Maybe the planets were not aligned properly. (Maybe it was those damned fairies again.) The bottom line is, we're having trouble with this dog. Or more specifically, Shadow is having trouble.

Here's how a day in the life of Toby goes:
I think I'll sleep. Oh wait, I need to eat. Here she comes with the food...the woman who found me and brought me into this heaven of a house. And there is is again. FOOD! Oh glorious FOOD. I can't wait to eat you all in one gulp. Yep, there it goes. Let me see if I can go steal from of the other dog's food. He's too big anyway. Uh-oh, I guess not. She doesn't want me to do that. I can tell from the sound of her voice. That's okay, I have my tail. I'll chase it. No, let me chase the other dog's tail. His is better...more hair. I like to get my teeth on that hair. RAR. He doesn't seem to like it...look at those sharp teeth. But I like it. I'll do that again. RAR. Now, she doesn't like it either. RAR anyway. And I'll do it again, and again. and again. Okay, okay, I get it. I'll stop now, and try again later. What to do? Do I have more food in my bowl? Oh rats. No. And neither does he. Huh. I'm so tired, I guess I'll sleep.
And sleep, Toby will. Until he finds the need to go after Shadow again. But sadly, he doesn't stop with the tail. Sometimes, Toby goes after Shadow's bum, other times, he chases a leg. For some reason, the growl of an 88 pound dog does nothing to Toby. He's simply not afraid. Which can only mean one thing: Toby is a bully.

So the question is, how to deal with a bully for a dog? (I could insert a pun here, with respect to a bull dog, of course, but I'll spare you.) We're taking a class, where he's learning that he can get all the treats he wants for 45 minutes each Monday night. And I think he may have learned the sit command. However, I don't care if the dog can sit or stay or jump up and change a light bulb, for that matter. I only want him to leave the dog (and anyone else he cares to nip at) alone.

Which means, I'm calling in the reinforcements. I've asked a trainer to head over next week. If she can't whip this guy into some semblance of shape, it's off to the farm with Toby.

"Farm? That's a euphemism, right?" says Tim, a wicked gleam dancing in his eye.

"No, it's not." I'm sure I can find a place around here that would be suitable for Toby. He's got a lot about him to love.

Plus, the way I see it, Tim crawled out of the sand, and look at him now. If I can manage to teach that old dog some new tricks and good manners, I should be able to do so with Toby.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Little Saturday Reminder

If you have a dream, you cannot simply talk about your dream. You must do anything and everything within your power to get you to that dream. Even if it means going outside of your comfort zone.

Friday, September 5, 2014

When In Doubt, Blame the Fairies

"Toothpaste belongs on the brush," I tell my children in an earnest voice. I hold up a sample toothbrush, the sort someone received from the dentist ages ago. The bristles stand tall and the plastic is smooth in my hand. A perfect example of a toothbrush. I go through the motions--all of them--slowly. Opening the cap of the toothpaste, squeezing it onto the brush, and then replacing the cap.

"The tube goes back into the cabinet." My voice is monotone to my own ears and I'm sure my expression holds nothing but boredom in it. "You brush, then rinse, then replace your brush back into the cabinet. If follow those steps," I pause and look at the four beasts in front of me, "you get clean teeth and you don't get toothpaste on the walls. Got it?"

The twins roll their eyes and move back toward their chairs, where their books wait for them. Aaron looks at me with a protest on his lips, but knows better than to even try. He shakes his head and exits the room, too. Only one head, that of Melina, nods up and down. She's my rule follower and will take my demonstration to heart. If I give her a wet paper towel, she might even go around the bathroom and remove the offending toothpaste from the walls, the cabinet edges, and the cracks in the floor.

But I have to wonder, really, how in the heck the toothpaste reached such destinations in the first place. Every morning, when I head into the half-bathroom off the kitchen, I am astounded at the amount of toothpaste clinging to the green walls. It doesn't matter that I've wiped the room down the night before. The white crust of the toothpaste-that-was lays at the bottom of the sink, a glob of bright blue goo adheres to the top of the toilet bowl, and a minute smear of aqua, almost imperceptible really (like it's trying to hide), is right next to the light switch. And I have to ask myself how.

Because if the children simply put the toothpaste on the brush and stand in front of the sink and brush and spit and rinse and return the utensil to the cabinet, there is no way that toothpaste should end up spread around the room. There's just no way. So I must be looking at this all wrong. I must be thinking that my children brush their teeth the way I do, when really, they don't. Maybe their toothbrush becomes a microphone, or a conductor's baton, a measuring tool, a chopstick, or a whole host of other things of which I am not aware.

Or maybe it's the fairies again. They've been known to cause a ruckus before.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

With Apologies to William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon

the minute
protons

aligned by
magnets

inside the
scanner

(MRI scheduled for next Tuesday. In the meantime, still no running.)



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 1

I think Wednesdays are going to be Tell Me How You Really Feel days...posts where I tell you how I really feel. I know what you're thinking. Something like, Shoot, all this time, she's not been telling us how she feels? She kept the truth from us? She's pulling the wool over our eyes with each post? You might feel like you've been hoodwinked (great word, no?), but it's not true.

You see, I tend to bob like a cork in water with posting. Some days, I feel like a poem needs to come forth. On other days, I have a strong urge to complain. And sometimes, I just feel like I learned a lesson and I need to share it. And since I always worry that I don't have much to say (stop laughing at me right now), if I have a regular topic for one day of the week, maybe I'll put a little less pressure on myself to produce something, anything, for this blog.

And so (drumroll, please) today's Tell Me How You Really Feel is directed at (can you guess...) a literary agent. Who shall remain nameless. Who needs to get my query letter. Who is the best one for my fairy tale. Who can, with the single click of her mouse, crush my hopes and dreams.

But here's the thing. I Really Feel that I can do this: I can become a published author, with multiple books to my name. I can write and revise and find readers who will like my stories. I can fling two middle fingers up at the naysayers and shout, I told you so, suckers! I can. I can. I can.

And that's how I Really Feel. It might be too Little Blue Engine for you, but for me, it's a great feeling.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mind Over Matter

When I was in the last stages of my pregnancy with Melina, I was convinced that I would deliver her at 38 weeks. Not during the 38th week, but at 38 weeks, right on the money, just like everyone else to whom I'd given birth. So when 37 weeks and 6 days came around, I figured that I'd wake up the next morning and labor would begin.

But it didn't, and I wondered why. So I looked around my life, and realized that there was no way I could have a baby come into the world at that moment. The house was a mess, the laundry had to be done, we didn't have the pack-n-play set up in the living room, and most importantly, I hadn't found someone to come take care of the kids while I headed to the hospital.

It was clear to me that I had work to do, even though work was the furthest thing from my mind at that point. But I toiled to get everything done. The mess cleared away easily as we progressed into 38 weeks day 1 and day 2. Tim set up the pack-n-play on day 3 of that 38th week. I moved about life, lumbering really, wondering when the child would arrive. Day 4 went by and towards the end of it, in the late afternoon, I think, I received a phone call from a sitter we had used for several years.

"I'm all done with class, Chris," she said. "If you need me for anything, call me. Doesn't matter what time it is. I can help with the kids."

Apparently, that's all the urging my uterus needed. For that night, I went into labor and in the wee hours of the morning, on week 38 day 5, Melina was born. I think about that time often, about how it was almost as if I willed my uterus to stay shut. Because I didn't have someone to take care of the kids, I couldn't go into labor. It was a significant detail that my mind would not get past. And when that problem was solved, well, the baby could come.

I'm a believer in that sort of thing--mind over matter. I think we can make almost anything happen, if we truly believe it. On the flip side, I think we can also keep things from occurring when we simply don't believe, or aren't ready to believe. Looking for misfortune around the bend? Don't be surprised if you find it. Because, as the old adage goes, We can be our own worst enemies.

For some of you, a simple reminder to treat yourselves right and focus on the positive will be enough to open you up to everything that actually can be in your life. For others, it will take a little more work to get past a lifetime of negativity. It's worth a try, though, so take a chance on truly living, on finding joy in your heart and in your life. It's amazing what your mind can do for you.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Most Important Thing I've Learned From My Dog

That no matter how many times I stop, breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, count to ten and then back again, I have a very long way to go until I can state, with honesty, that I possess enough patience to deal with my dog.