To Gillian on Her 14th Birthday

Posted on 10/20/2014 04:00:00 PM
Fourteen years.

Life goes on and with one thing or another, fourteen years have passed.  

Is that even possible?

Your father and I have been married seventeen years.  In other words, if our relationship was a baby, that baby would be able to vote in federal and state elections next year.  That hardly seems to be possible either so I guess anything is up for discussion.

Some people say that losing a child makes you stronger.  It makes you appreciate your blessings more.  You don't take life and other family members for granted.  As I look around my life today, I wonder, Is that true?  

I don't know.  

In some ways, it's as clear and sharp in my mind as Japanese steel. If I think on it too long, it will cut me.

In other ways, I have to work to remember the date - on the date - instead of absentmindedly letting it pass by and noticing later because I've become so caught up in work and a thousand other things that need to be done. I have to remind myself that life is precious and wonderful and each one of these children that are running around in my living room, driving me nuts with their incessant chattering and making noise under their breath and disgusting habits at the dinner table, they are miracles which should be treated as such.  Even now, one of them is currently moping in the other room after a lost colored pencil and I really should get up and cheerfully help her find it, but I just want a minute or two to finish this thought.  I have to remind myself to be grateful.  The truth is, I don't always know if you've made me a better person.  I wish I could state the affirmative with more confidence than that.  Sometimes I think I have a different perspective on the world and I'm maybe more compassionate because of what you've taught me, but sometimes I'm not entirely certain.  

I think mostly people endure the pain of loss because they have no other choice.  And so people who don't understand that Loss look at them from outside of It and say, "Wow, he is so strong," and "I could never handle that like she has," but the reality is you don't get to choose and you don't know how you'd handle it unless you're handling it already.  It just happens and life goes marching merrily on and you don't get to say "Stop," or "I don't want to do this," or "Uncle."  It just is.  Yes, I know people can choose how they face a situation but the reality is life continues whether or not you want it to.  And so do we, with a few drastic exceptions.

I guess the fact that I'm not one of those drastic exceptions says something.  I'm not an alcoholic or a drug addict and that might say something small about me.  The fact that your father and I are still together... we didn't drive each other away and are relatively happy after all this time makes us part of a small percentage.  The fact that we still retain some personal faith and spirituality might shrink that percentage even more.  But it also might just speak to the fact that we're just poor and too lazy to make any real changes or examine our lives too closely.

I know I've posted this before, but I've never come across a more appropriate description than this: 

Becca: Does it ever go away?

Nat: No, I don't think it does. Not for me, it hasn't - has gone on for eleven years. But it changes though.

Becca: How?

Nat: I don't know... the weight of it, I guess. At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and... carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you... you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and - there it is. Oh right... that. Which could be awful - not all the time. It's kinda... [deep breath] not that you like it exactly, but - it's what you've got instead of your son. So, you carry it around. And uh... it doesn't go away. Which is...

Becca: Which is what?

Nat: Fine... actually.

It's still as true for me today as it was when I saw that movie five years ago.   

Loss becomes something you just carry around as one of those pieces of yourself, stored by accident in the dark recesses of the couch.  Something that others only see when they're close enough friends to look under the cushions one day while they're helping you move. It's always there, informing the comfort factor of the couch in some small way, but only a few really know about it.  It's what you have instead of your child.  Which is... fine... actually.

My thoughts: 

Let Her Eat Cake

Posted on 10/18/2014 05:00:00 AM

Clearing off a few photos from my hard drive and I found this series of shots.  If you scroll through them quickly, you can pretend you're in an old timey picture show.

My thoughts: 

All I Want for Christmas

Posted on 10/17/2014 04:00:00 PM

The first one went missing a couple of months ago.  Then the second one just started migrating away from the others.  Either that or it's a drunk as she looks.

Until we started calling her Nanny McPhee.

It finally came out the other day and we learned that when we are out of town, the tooth fairy still finds us, but in other cities, she often brings paper money.  Probably because she didn't pack anything else.

Next up, get her to learn to whistle when she sings that song.

My thoughts: 

And So Begin the Tween Years

Posted on 10/15/2014 11:37:00 PM
When my daughter inevitably says to me one day in the heat of an argument, "You never loved me!" I shall show her these pictures of when I let her have a sleepover for her birthday party to prove my love for her.
Yes, I'm aware it says "APPY BIRTHDA."  That's eleven candles.  
You don't get extra.  Them's the rules

How awesome would it be if my GPS system could be replaced by a tiny piñata, telling me where to turn?

A sleepover was the only thing she really asked for and I feel like I say no way too much of the time most days, so as much as I hate the idea of sleepovers, I acquiesced and told her she could have a sleepover with three friends.  One couldn't come and that was just fine with me.

When all is said and done, eleven year old girls are pretty fun. We forced them made the suggestion to watch The Princess Bride, mostly because one of them wanted to watch The Fault in Our Stars and I kinda thought a movie about teenagers who get cancer and die might put a damper on the evening. (Also, I really didn't want to deal with questions about cancer, death, and teenage sex from two children who aren't mine.) [Also, because I read that book when I was trying to decide if it was appropriate for The Dormouse to read and it made me... feel things.  Which is clearly unacceptable.]  They watched the entire movie while lying like this on the couch: in rapt attention, but cuddled together, holding hands throughout.  It's like looking at an adorable puppy and I cannot relate to this in any way whatsoever.

I love her friends; they are great kids.  Smart and funny and self-assured and full of life.  But honestly, having all three of them in the house?  It was deafening.  I do not remember squealing that much when I was an eleven year old girl.  I do not remember having that much to squeal about.  I do not remember being an eleven year old girl when I was an eleven year old girl.  It was like watching a caricature of a stereotype.

After the movie, we set up a tent in a room downstairs, gave them sleeping bags and threw some glowing balloons into the room before shutting the door. I think they slept, but I have no evidence of it.  

The next day, we took two of them to a mall and let them troll the aisles of my second least favorite store, the Claire's, which is like the Justice, in that it still looks like a unicorn barfed glitter all over the store, but it doesn't look like the unicorn ate a sweater first.  

Because we are gluttons for punishment.

And also it made for an opportunity to film when when they were not looking and we are evil people who need good blackmail fodder for when they are older.

We had a good weekend.  

This year started junior high school.  We have a whole new set of challenges, but in a lot of ways, it's easier.  The routine of changing classes agrees with The Dormouse, probably, as I told her when she worried about it over the summer, because she only has an hour with each teacher and if that teacher is a pain, then just wait an hour and you get to go to a new teacher who's a pain in new ways.  I think the teachers do better with this format too.  I've only emailed the Principal once so far this year and I waited until seven whole weeks into the school year before doing so, which I think is a record.  She's taking Spanish and is really excited about that.  So much so that every time we go into a Mexican  restaurant, she insists on ordering in Spanish and but first I have to announce to the waiter (in Spanish) that my daughter would like to order in Spanish - to prepare them - and then she spends the first ten minutes sitting at our table, practicing under her breath the words she will say and double checking the grammar with us.  So far, all the waiters and waitresses have been incredibly patient with this.  I had to live in South America before I became comfortable ordering in a restaurant, so I think that's pretty cool.  She auditioned for county honors orchestra last month and got in, which I'm told, is pretty unusual for a sixth grader (but maybe less unusual for a viola player).   She also confided to me this year that she likes a boy, which is simultaneously wonderful that she trusts me enough to tell me that stuff, but also like a knife slowly plunging into my heart. 

I need to work on talking to her more.  We've paired down our lives as much as I can right now, but I still feel like our entire day, every day, is just moving from one quehacer to another and there's never any time just to sit down next to her and talk.  That's my goal for age eleven.  To hear her more and talk at her less.  It's not always easy because I really believe that my eleven year old, brilliant, capable daughter should be able to eat a meal occasionally without putting her fingers directly into the mashed potatoes and washing them off in her glass of juice.  Or use a fork to bring food to the mouth rather than placing her open mouth near her plate and shoveling food into it by tipping the plate while her hair drags through the food.  Or perhaps she could remember that she needs to get dressed AND brush her teeth AND put on shoes all before it's time to meet the school bus with oh... only three reminders instead of twenty-three and a handful of threats. When do those caring about how you look and act genes kick in anyway?  I'm gonna be pretty happy when that happens, but it'll probably just mean giving up a bathroom for the next eight years.

But even given all the tugs of wars, it's still pretty awesome getting to see her grow up and figure out who she's gonna be one day.  I think we'll keep her.  Appy Birthda, Dormouse!  Maybe next year, you get an H.

My thoughts: 


Posted on 10/12/2014 07:51:00 PM In: ,
We had a gottagetoutta town weekend and spent it in the bustling metropolis of Harrisburg, where we stopped by to see the capitol building before meeting up with some friends.

The fountain outside was died.  The KoH and I guessed it was red for Halloween, but The Dormouse, way more wise and logical than the rest of us, guessed it was in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month.  

We looked it up on the Knowledge Box.  

She was right.  

My kids have officially surpassed me in pragmatism.

But you know what they haven't surpassed me in? Fun ways to use the panorama setting on my smarty phone.  I'm still the queen of that.

You might need to click to enlarge this one.

I'm not sure what I would do if there were four of her.  Perhaps drown myself in that pink fountain.

My thoughts: 

Minutae, Photo Edition

Posted on 9/29/2014 06:09:00 PM In:
Time to clean off the photos on my phone.  

But before I do that, a joke:  Why did the turtle cross the road?

Probably in some sort of dangerous hazing stunt wherein if he caused a white Subaru to run off the road and into a ditch while trying to avoid flattening a turtle, he would get into the turtle gang.

On the list of Reasons I Could Not Cook Dinner, I bet you'd never expect to see "Kitchen blocked by blanket fort."

Now to think up an excuse for the other three hundred and sixty-four days more. 

How do you make a log more convenient to carry home and put in your fireplace?

Or maybe it's a toy, who knows?

I desperately want this t-shirt.

Just too cheap to lay down $20.

When someone tries unsuccessfully to unlock my phone, it takes a picture and emails me a "possible theft alert."  Everyone be on the lookout for a serial phone stealer, because I've received this picture half a dozen times in the past month.

This summer, I got to watch this man improvise a piece for symphony orchestra on stage, then I got to hug him afterward. 

 Sometimes I really dig my job.

What's for lunch?

I don't know, but it's being prepared by an extremely creative sushi chef.

My thoughts: 

That Took a Dark Turn Rather Quickly

Posted on 9/25/2014 07:37:00 PM In:
Caterpillar: "Momma, what happens when you pamper a cow?"

Me: "I don't know.  What happens when you pamper a cow?"

"She gives spoiled milk."

"Ha! Did someone tell you that joke?"

"Yes.  But now I wanna tell you some jokes that I made up."


"What goes up a hill and then eats the hill?"

"I don't know."

"A goat.  They eat everything."


"What flies in the air and always falls into the sea?"

"I don't know, what?"

 "That guy? Whose father was a genius? And he made wings? And he made them out of wax? And then the guy tried to fly up to heaven and it worked and he flew and then he got really near the sun and the wax in the wings melted and he started to fall and he fell into the sea, whatwasthatguy'snameagain?"


"Yeah, Icarus."


"What tells a person to jump off a cliff?"

"I don't know, what?"


My thoughts: 


Posted on 9/24/2014 05:53:00 PM
 The Caterpillar turned seven this weekend. 

We took a trip to Pennsylvania to meet up with some friends and eat dinner at an Indian restaurant and attend the Renaissance Faire.  It's what she wanted to do.

I mulled over things to write about the Year of Six in my head all weekend and I couldn't really come up with a lot.  I really liked age six; it's been fun.  She's been able to do so many more things.  Like me, she's an early riser, so she gets up in the morning before the rest of the house comes alive and sits next to me on the couch and we have these moments, these great conversations about spirituality, philosophy, the way the world works, why That Guy did That Thing on the tv, or just the latest jokes going around in school.  Plus, she is funny as hell, which makes life so entertaining.  

I said to her on her birthday, "You know, I don't really know if I want you to be seven.  I liked age six so much.  I don't know if you're going to be as nice when you're seven."

She looked up at me and gave me one of those Patient Looks parents reserve for their children when they ask ridiculous questions like, Why do I get wet when I put my hand in the pool, and said, "Mom," *heavy sigh,* "You haven't seen me at seven yet."  

We've been having some battles about homework and classroom behavior lately because she can't focus long enough to get it done in a timely fashion.  I worry about this because she is the youngest in her class and we are already starting to have some of the issues The Dormouse had at her age.  Her focus is on the short-attention-span-theater side -- probably due to being a little less mature than the other kids in her class. She talks a little too much in class -- probably due to having a little less impulse control than the older kids.  I'm wondering if I should have made her wait another year to enter school, but then again if I had, she'd be bored as all get out with the curriculum right now.  I know she can do this work, it's just a matter of will her teachers get that and be patient enough with these issues to be able to see it? and....  Sigh...  Same story, different kid. 

Probably because I'm sensitive to this, I've been riding her - perhaps a little too much - about sitting down to do her homework when she gets home and focusing until a task is done.  Twenty minutes of homework stretches into three or four hours when you can't sit in your chair for more than two minutes at a time.  It's exhausting because Momma gots stuff to do!  And because if she can't do work at home in a quiet house with no one else making noise, I know she isn't doing it at school with twenty-eight or so other kids in the room to serve as ready distractions.  We've had, ahem, a few arguments about this recently.

Today, I noticed that after about fifteen minutes, I didn't see her face back in the living room after I'd told her for the third time to sit back down and focus and I hadn't hollered at anyone in awhile.  It was quiet.  Too quiet.  I walked past and found her intently writing, so I leaned down in this quiet-for-the-first-time kitchen and whispered, "This is what I'm talking about.  This is how you focus and finish your schoolwork quickly.  Good job," and I kissed her on the head.  It was only then that I realized she'd written a full-page of whatever assignment she was working on (a lot for her - she tends to half-ass her answers because she doesn't like to write much) and she asked me if I wanted to read it.

They've been reading the Judy Blume book Freckle Juice in class.  Something I read when I was her age.  Here was the assignment:

Dear ______________, Freckles are the best thing in the whole world!  I had to have them, so I paid sneaky Sharon 50 cents for her secret freckle recipe.  I made it exactly like her recipe said and waited for the freckles to appear, but NO FRECKLES!  She had done this on purpose to trick me.  She knew it would never make me have freckles like Nicky Lane.  Do you have freckles and love them?  If you don't have freckles, do you want them just like me?  What would you do to get freckles or get rid of  them? Your friend, Andrew
They were supposed to write a letter back to Andrew. Cute, right?

It was her response back that I was not quite prepared for:

Dear Andrew,

I don't have freckles.  I don't want freckles.  I just want to be just like I am.  You should feel like that too.  You should like the way you are.  You know every body is fine the way they are.  Every body should have something special in them. You should be happy the way you are.



This.  This!  This is what doesn't get counted on school tests.  This is what doesn't show up on behavior reports and green card and red cards or clip-ups or clip-downs.  This is what I want my kids to learn from school more than anything.  I want them to grow up healthy, whole individuals who think for themselves and are brave enough to make decisions and stick by them when they know they're right and change their minds when they realize they've been wrong and who like who they are and who have opinions and don't apologize for them.  These are qualities that everyone knows will serve them well as adults, but man, teachers sure don't appreciate those qualities in kids who happen to be in their classrooms.

I'm never sure if I've gotten this parenting thing right on any given day.  Most days, I'm pretty sure I'm nowhere near the area of Good Mom and the fact that I don't forget to feed them for more than a single meal at a time is maybe all I have going for me.  But this homework assignment lets me know that sometimes I'm at least in the vicinity.  Also that This Caterpillar that we invited into our home seven short years ago?  She's pretty fantastic.

My thoughts: 

Fall Ombre

Posted on 9/15/2014 10:39:00 PM

It's all the rage right now.  That's probably why my tomatoes are getting into it as well.

My thoughts: 

Teach a Kid to Fish, She'll Show You Up in an Hour

Posted on 9/13/2014 08:11:00 AM
Last week, The KingofHearts decided The Shortlings needed valuable education in the art of feeding themselves in case of a Zombie Apocalypse, so he schemed with another guy friend we know to create a local fishing trip when they were off school on Labor Day.

The are some nice little fishing holes within thirty minutes or so of our house and while you can't necessarily bring in a ten pound bass there, it is a good place for little ones to learn.  Most of the fishing here, unless you have access to a boat and can get out in deeper water, is catch and release because the fish you can find are too small to keep.  But that was fine for our purposes that day in the gorgeous weather we got.

We brought our fishing gear, small poles for the kids, some lawn chairs, lunch and met the friend who said he "liked to fish" at the lake.  What I didn't realize is that his "like to fish" is different than most people's and he showed up with a giant tackle box, four fishing poles (for himself) and serious philosophies about fishing and how fish think.  And he'd only brought the bare minimum of his fishing gear for that day.  It turns out he takes fishing very. seriously. indeed.

We spent the first few minutes of the day showing the kids how to cast.  Eventually, they settled into their own rhythms and techniques.  The Caterpillar's preferred casting method was to lie the pole down on her chair, open the reel, then grab the end of the line and wade out thigh deep into the water.  Then she'd throw the bobber at the lake with all her might and walk back to the chair.  It's probably not a surprise that she didn't catch anything that day.

The Dormouse picked it up quickly - as she does most things.  Then she tired of it quickly - as she does most things.  So she walked over to our friend who "likes to fish," who had moved from casting to a large fly fishing rod and was working his magic with that.  She began asking him how that all worked.  

I looked over a minute later and realized he'd pulled out his second fly fishing reel and had given it to her.

"That's not gonna end well," I muttered to The KoH, and mentally prepared myself to smooth over his misjudgement and untangle line for the rest of the day as a good faith effort of friendship.

Now, I have wanted to learn to fly fish for decades.  I've spent a lot of days sitting by the lake in my lifetime and I feel like I know what I'm doing with a traditional fishing pole, even if I admittedly have a different philosophy about it that the KoH. (I dislike chasing the fish.  He wants to change locations every ten minutes he doesn't get a bite.  I want to sit on the bank and stare at the sky with a line in the water and maybe read a book or just think a lot, while I'm waiting for the fish to come to me.)  But in the matter of fly fishing, I've never been in a place where I both have someone to tell me how to do it and access to the equipment.  It's never ended well when I've experimented with it and I've never even tempted a fish to try to nibble on my bait in this fashion.  But that little snot pulled two fishes out of the water with that fly fishing reel ON HER FIRST DAY. 

On the one hand, I'm happy for her.  But on the other... come'on!

My thoughts: 

Just a Perfect Blendship

Posted on 9/07/2014 08:34:00 PM
It's so great to have a best friend.  Not sure I really ever knew that feeling when I was her age.

My thoughts: 

This One Shall Be the Death of Me

Posted on 9/05/2014 03:30:00 PM
We met some friends at the park a few days ago and the kids found this piece of playground equipment, which is basically an elevated, more dangerous version of a merry-go-round, that staple of our youth that caused us all to throw up at least once.  Kids hang from it, someone else spins it and their legs go flying out horizontally in a sort of half centrifugal force experiment, half stunt from the movie Jackass.

I didn't think you could actually make it more treacherous, but this piece of playground equipment hadn't yet met The Caterpillar, who immediately scaled the thing, turned herself upside down and hung by her toes while the other kids spun it around like their own personal Gravitron.  

I don't have an actual photo of it because just after this was taken she let go with her hands and went spinning...

...and a certain mom on the playground nearly dropped the camera when she began yelling at her to hold on with her hands and chanting DON'TFALLONYOURHEAD. DON'TFALLONYOURHEAD. DON'TFALLONYOURHEAD.

I'm not sayin' who it was, but I have three more gray hairs now.

My thoughts: 

Gig Number 2

Posted on 9/04/2014 11:12:00 PM
We went to say goodbye to our Cuban friends before they headed back to their home country and it turned into The Dormouse's second public gig of the summer.  They were singing in a local Cuban restaurant (one in which I way spend more time than I'd like to admit) and we popped in for dinner because she had kind of missed saying goodbye on the last day of camp.  They pulled her up and gave her another opportunity to sing.  Crowded restaurant.  No microphone.  Loads of strangers.  She was more relaxed this time and way more comfortable, so she actually performed that song and had fun with it.   I suddenly had a vision of her at age 20, singing in seedy nightclubs to make rent and college tuition and given my own experience in college, I'd have to say, it sounds pretty great.

My thoughts: 

The Inner Workings of Alice's Brain

Posted on 9/03/2014 04:13:00 PM
We got a new postage machine at work and while the technician was giving us the quick version of how to use the machine (Hint: you put the mail in one side and then hit the "start" button), my mind began wandering off and I started to wonder why there were Egyptian hieroglyphics on the sticker on front of the machine.  My brain allowed me to ponder this for an embarrassingly long period of time.  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind not to ask out loud because a short time later my brain smacked itself across its metaphorical cheek and said to itself, "No, dumass, that's not an Egyptian bird, that's a picture telling you not to put your fingers in the machine.  Geez!"  

The sticker as it appears.

The sticker as my brain chose to interpret it.

My brain did not, however, alert me to the fact that pointing this perception out to my coworkers later was probably ill-advised, so now the machine has a name.

My thoughts: 

Clearly Not Canadian

Posted on 8/22/2014 07:20:00 PM
I think they might be hip to the fact that she's not one of them.  What do you think?

My thoughts: 

Bye, Wallboy

Posted on 8/21/2014 10:15:00 PM

Completely aware that 98% of the people reading this won't get the reference (here's some context if you're interested), but I just learned of Bill Thompson's death last month and I couldn't let the moment go unnoticed by this Arizona girl. How many hours I spent with this man, I do not know.  How many days he accompanied me in getting ready for or coming home from school, I do not know.  How grateful I am to have known him as Wallace, well... that's something I can say: a lot.  

Thanks Wallace, say hello to Ladmo for me.

My thoughts: 

All the Flowers Would Have Very Extra Special Powers

Posted on 8/21/2014 12:42:00 PM In:

I've driven past the sign for the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens hundreds of times and every time I think to myself I should go in there but I never stopped to check it out, so this week the kids and I, in a fit of see-what's-in-your-own-backyard-itis, decided to see what it was all about.

What it's about is feeling like you just wandered into Wonderland.

Seriously, there is no way to do it justice with the camera phone I happened to have, but some of these stalks were six feet tall with blooms bigger than my head.  The leaves would have made a chair suitable for The Caterpillar, as she pointed out, and I then discouraged her from attempting.  If I had known it would be as awesome as all that, I'd have packed my real camera out.

The gardens were created by Walter Shaw in the 1800s, who loved aquatic gardening (not sure I even knew that was a Thing before) so much that he bought a whole bunch of worthless swamp land, then dug it out to make it even more worthless and swamp-like, then planted the likes of these:

This bud was larger than my hand.

When Walter died, his daughter Helen took over the gardens and managed to get Congress to help support saving these wetlands from the industry along the Anacostia River that was destroying it.

We had a great time walking along the boardwalk and the pathways and checking out the wildlife.  We saw and eagle, and osprey, a great blue heron - animals I didn't even know lived in the D.C. area - and this guy who followed us around spied on us in between catching a few fish here and there.

And this guy, who tried to keep up on the boardwalk, but eventually tired and dropped off into the tall grasses.

Very cool place. Highly recommend.

My thoughts: 

Good Morning, Baltimore

Posted on 8/20/2014 09:45:00 AM In:
I climbed up the non-steps side of Federal Hill (yes, that Federal Hill) with my kids yesterday because they thought "it would be fun" and because I hadn't done anything like that in some time so I guess it was high time I nearly broke an ankle.  Note to self: next time you decide to scale the wall of an embankment, three year old thongs are probably not the most appropriate of shoes. 

It was kind of worth it, though, because I managed to get this great panoramic shot on my phone.

click to embiggen
Word of the day: sacrifice.

My thoughts: 

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Washington, D.C. Metro, United States
Married, 40ish mom of two (or three, or four, depending on how you keep score) who stepped through the lookinglass and now finds herself living in curiouser and curiouser lands of Marriage, Motherhood, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.

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