Third person, limited

When my parents moved in with us last year, I expected there’d be adjustments. I knew we’d have to set expectations about how often we’d eat together, how we’d handle shared household expenses, what temperature to set the thermostat. My dad was already ill, and I knew it would be difficult to see the healthy picture I had of him replaced by his sicklier current self. I thought my mother and I might clash occasionally–the last time we’d lived together for more than a few weeks at a time, I was sixteen, and there was plenty of clashing. I didn’t know the half of it.


When my family gets together, we tell stories about when we were kids. They are familiar and funny, but they are not just entertainment–they’re designed to tell us something about who we are to each other. I love these stories and their secret meanings. I love the way they let us love each other through our most annoying spells and most irritating qualities.

We tell about that time at the beach that I licked an ice cream treat straight from the dry ice chest and got it stuck to my tongue. (Translation: book smart doesn’t always mean smart-smart!)

How once, Tracy joined my friends for a  Pictionary game and drew a monster with TWO eyes for “cyclops,” or the time she gave the following clue at Taboo: “Please, sir, may I have some more?….but my leg is broken!”  (Translation: endlessly lovable but not great with the literary references!) Continue reading “Third person, limited”

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Saints, fools, and angels

heart-32834_1280Today, I read about a man in Los Angeles who cares for terminally ill foster children. At a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric is everywhere, it is especially beautiful to read about how Mohamed Bzeek’s work was sparked by his wife’s passion and is sustained from his devout Muslim faith.

This week, a friend shared Laura Gilkey’s blog. Laura’s 9-year-old son Benji is dying of leukemia. Laura documents their journey toward Benji’s death: his bravery, his brother’s stalwart companionship, the millions of medical decisions required to give Benji the most comfort and the ability to be his Benji-est each day. I do not know her, but I read her updates daily, in tears and amazement at how this woman is doing the impossible.

But then, that’s the rub. It’s not impossible. It happens every day: children get sick. They die. Our hearts crack with admiration and grief and sympathy. We comment with disbelief:  “I could never do it.” “I couldn’t cope.” “He is truly one of a kind.”

We think this is work for saints or fools or angels. We think it is someone else’s work. Continue reading “Saints, fools, and angels”

The Long Con

Like most parents, we struggle with the right level of access to all things digital. At our house, all the computers and cell phones have passwords, but we have to change them fortnightly. Nine-year-old Nathaniel is both observant and stealthy, a deadly combination for household password security.

Mostly he just wants to watch hours and hours of other people playing Minecraft. I’m told this is no different than spending hours watching other people play football or golf, but it feels different to me. First of all, these videos involve both the annoying game soundtrack AND a guy screaming “Whooooaaaa! Siiiick!” over and over again until you want to cry.  Second, at least when watching sports, someone breaks a sweat at some point in the process. Not so with the screen within a screen.

Why we don’t just set reasonable limits–a half hour of access a day, or something like that? We have learned the hard way that Nathaniel is an all or nothing kid. For Christmas 2015, I made the shockingly stupid decision to buy him a Kindle Fire, lulled into complacency by reviews that talked about the fantastic parental controls. It “got lost” after about a month because I could not tolerate the constant bidding and begging about getting more game time.  A half hour is merely a toehold from which he will try to wrest an hour or two or three. A half hour is the launching pad for a million negotiations. Continue reading “The Long Con”

Conscientious Objector

co-postcardThis week, someone was wrong on the Internet.

I know. Shocking. I do this sort of masochistic thing where I periodically go look at the comments on the Facebook page of a woman I know who is about as far from my political point of view as you can get. While everyone on MY Facebook page was talking about the uplifting feeling of exercising their right to protest, of standing up for the underdog, everyone THERE was talking about the stupid, ignorant, baby killing, Madonna-loving marchers. Everyone THERE was talking about how evil and wrong and stupid and unattractive all of my people are.

It’s hard not to react. Oh yeah!?? Well, so’s your mom! Continue reading “Conscientious Objector”

Magical Thinking

When we were getting ready to move, my 10-year-old daughter and I walked through the new house just after closing. That day, as we went from empty room to empty room, we talked about where the furniture would go and which walls we would paint. As she left the bedroom that would be hers, she spoke in a voice both hesitant and hopeful: “I think I could be neater here.”

Amelia is congenital pack rat. The most generous way to describe her natural habitat is as creative chaos. Other terms include health hazard and pigsty. But that day, in her imagination, she would be transformed by this new house, morphing her from Oscar to Felix. (It didn’t work out that way.)

So many ways I’ve had the same fantasy! It’s always an outside stimulus that magically makes me better: a great outfit will make me sophisticated and graceful instead of klutzy! (I still trip over air.) The upgraded kitchen will inspire me to cook better meals! (Only sporadically.) It usually lasts for approximately 20 minutes after the purchase has been made, at which point you look around, and there you are. Continue reading “Magical Thinking”

Morning mystery

Last night before bed, I did the usual check on the kids–all three in their rooms, safe and sound–and shut the door behind me on the way out. As the first one up this morning, I was a little surprised to see Nathaniel’s door open. He’s in there, though, sleeping.img_2653

Before I go to bed at night I like to tidy up the kitchen so I’m not greeted by last night’s horror when I wake up in the morning. This morning, all looked well, except the pantry door stood wide open.

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Strange, but not unheard of. I sat to eat and turned to see another disturbance in the family room.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a cereal bandit. He sneaks out after bedtime to watch tv and munch on Cheerios. So brazen that he doesn’t even attempt to conceal the evidence! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen his mug shot:

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Lock up your Cheerios. And probably any candy, just to be safe. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Summer, 1992

In 1992, the summer after 8th grade, I went on a school trip to Germany. We spent three weeks in a small town near Cologne–a place that had developed a relationship with our German department’s lead teacher. Every two years, a group of 8th and 9th graders made the trip with a handful of teachers. Nearly two dozen of us made the trip, all of us having just finished 8th or 9th grade. living with a family, attending school with our exchange partners on some days, touring around to Brussels, Heidelberg, Bonn on other days.

I remember very little about the preparation for the trip. I was thirteen years old–the same age my son Owen is now.

I remember that our German teacher couldn’t or wouldn’t go that year–and so the main chaperone was a math teacher who happened to be from Germany, and her young ad45993ba638cdf9af295c306f00081fc7ult daughter, who had recently dyed her hair black, much to the math teacher’s chagrin.

I remember that nearly every kid on that trip had an LL Bean windbreaker. Every city we visited, we all lined up in front of a landmark for a photograph–two rows of red, green, teal, yellow. A self-imposed uniform. Continue reading “Summer, 1992”