You Get What You Need

Still snuggled in the pre-dawn warmth of my cozy bed, awake, but only sort of, my reverie was blown clear to hell when a roaring clatter of wailing children tore down the hall chasing two escaped parakeets on suicide missions. Bean was clapping with glee, the likely culprit for having set the birds free, Abby was screaming at her brothers to not step on the birds, and Jeff was bawling that he’s already buried three dead parakeets, if Bean causes any more to die he’s gonna kill him. The birds, having bird-brains, immediately flung themselves against the giant picture window in the front room, and lay stunned on the couch, which made Jeffrey turn his fury on Bean, sure his last birds has bit the dust.

I’m pinballing down the hall trying to pull my clothes on so the whole neighborhood doesn’t get a scary dawn peepshow while I examine the poor stunned birds. When I reach for them, they pop back up and take off again, and the whole fun circus starts again. The sun wasn’t even up.

It was noon when we finally caught them both.

Then I got a call from my home-teacher. I’ve ben trying to sell my Suburban on Craigslist (talk about another circus) and have had a running cavalcade of people coming to look at my giant gas-sucker of a beast. I’ve had several offers, but I’m not idiot enough to give you my bullet-proof suburban for your 14 year old whooptie with 200 thousand miles on it, thank you very much. (No, not even if you give me extra money. Go away. No.) Last week a couple came and looked at it and they were nice, and normal and offered me a fair price. We shook on it, but I told them I needed to find something before I let them take it.

I had until 6 p.m. today to find something. At four, my HT called and told me he had a friend with a collision repair shop, and he just happened to have a car that I should go drive. A few hurried phone calls, and I headed out in search of the the shop. The couple wanting my Suburban met me there, and they handed me the cash for my car, and I turned around and handed it to the shop guy. Within mere moments, I had sold the Suburban to a very nice family, and I had a new-ish car.

Because the man is old friends with my HT and because the man had recently remarried, and because his new wife had been a single mother for nine years, he gave me a screaming deal, patted me on the back, and wished me luck. I got a 2004 car with only 50 thousand miles on it for the same price I sold my 1997 Suburban.

The kids have already had a fight over who sits where, and Jeffrey is disgruntled because he liked the gas-sucking giant (I did too, truth be told, and might have teared up the tiniest bit when it drove away). But this car is perfect for us, and gets almost triple the gas milage that I was getting- and it has a radio that works. The ‘burb’s radio died about two years ago. So when the kids started fighting? I just turned the radio up, and let the Rolling Stones serenade me about not getting what I want, but sometimes getting what I need. I smiled, held my hand out the window in the rushing summer air, and took the curves on the road home a little too fast, singing along.

I need more days like today.

Random Crap: High Summer

Something clicked in me very recently and I finally feel like an adult. You’d think with all the flaming crap I’ve been through in the last five years it would have kicked back around seven bends ago, but no- not until now. What did it? Showing a guy looking at my Suburban where to check the oil and how to put the snow-cables on. I know. Weird.

Little House is clean! I’ve spent the whole first week of summer vacation (thank you sucky weather!) cleaning and clearing. It feels so good to have the kids’ rooms all sorted and spiffy, and to know where everything is. My stuff too. Took a big pile to Union Gospel Mission to donate, as I keep shrinking. Not complaining.

Jeffrey found my old tattered copy of Watership Down and is already four chapters into it. I’m tickled and a little sentimental.

One of the coolest side effects of no long being is a constant state of histamine overload from gluten is that things that used to make me loopy no longer do. Scents used to make my airway close up and I couldn’t breathe- now? No problem. For the first time in my life, I’m enjoying scented soap, dryer sheets, and even- gasp!- perfumes! I’m in love with Philosophy, and my two favorites are Amazing Grace and Field of Flowers. Previously the only perfume I could wear was Clinique Happy- which I still love.

Speaking of things that smell good- Mrs Meyers soaps in Lemon Verbena. Oh. My. Stars. I would lay in a pool of the stuff if I could. Mercifully, my ex-MIL likes it too, and she brings me some. I’m grateful. It almost makes doing the dishes fun. Almost.

Abby has moved from picture books to actually reading chapter books. Yeah, I know. Dude. I caught her with “How to Train Your Dragon” the other day. SHE’S FIVE! Girl is gonna outstripe her mama in no time flat… I’ll be cheering her the whole way.

I finished a painting this week that had been haunting me for longer than I care to admit. It’s such a relief to be done with it- and be done in a way that I’m satisfied with. It’s been a powerful lesson for me- painting pictures of people’s pet’s that have passed on is insanely difficult, and I don’t plan on doing it again.

I have some really super neighbors. One of them has an ASD kid Bean’s age, and it’s so fun to go there to play. I don’t have to worry about explaining things, and she’s just sweet and easy to be around. Our kids ignore each other beautifully and be weird all afternoon, and it’s awesome.

Someone mowed my backyard this week, and it took me all week to figure out who. All the usual suspects were ruled out, and it turned out to be my X’s uncle who came over and knocked down the jungle. What a nice surprise.

I was supposed to go to a writers retreat this coming weekend in the hills outside of Salt Lake City, but life has just not worked out for that to be possible. Sad I’m gonna miss seeing so many friends, but I know something else will open up.

Craving baklava lately something fierce. I don’t think gluten-free philo exists, alas. Perhaps I’ll make a pan of the golden manna from heaven and deal it out to all the people who love me and the kids so much. It’s kinda the least I can do.

Ran into my old yoga instructor in Fred Meyer today and had forgotten how much I love her. Maybe its time I got my butt to a class again- I could use some core work and some increased flexibility. You never know when that might come in handy!

I’m liking this whole free time thing. I mean, I have a laundry list a mile long that I need to start on this summer, but it’s a whole different animal than having assignments due all week long. I have to take the Praxis test and the GRE. Anyone have any experience with those? I have until Sept 1 to get everything done, but looking at the calender, it’s gonna go fast, I can tell already.

Congratulations to my friends Ray and Michelle- they are in Seattle this weekend picking up their missionary son as he completes two years of good service.

71 days until school starts… not that I’m counting.


Thunder and lightning are rocking the hot night sky. My daughter lies curled against my side, her soft lax hand resting on my leg, now calmed and sleeping through the angry skies that brought her to my room. In the window the soft hum of the fan carries the tang of ionized midnight air and the smell of damp cut grass. Bright white flashes illuminate my room and make me smile. I love electrical storms. The unmitigated, unfettered power. The wild upswells of wind and hot air, the booming cracks of jagged lightning that thunder through the air, hotter than the surface of the sun and swallowed by the night. Hello summer nights. I’ve missed you.

Tipping Point

The year just tipped. Did you feel it? With the solstice, the sun has now achieved its greatest zenith for the year, and from this moment forward to the winter solstice, we are in a season of the sun in flux. It’s a beautiful and timeless dance, and one that has not changed for all of human history. The sun still rises in the same place on the solstice, shining its beams through the lintels of Stonehenge and the rocks of Machu Pichu, regardless of the millennia that have passed since those monuments were laid in place by our ancestors.

Harmony and beauty outside of time, as we spin through the vacuum of space on our little blue sphere of heaven.

In my own world, that observance came quietly, as I sat on my front stoop in the late sunlight. The pink sky and warm air draped over my shoulders, my eyes taking in the beams of light that are my children as they frolicked on my emerald green lawn. The blades of grass were freshly mowed into catywhompus stripes by a nine-year old boy giddy at finally being given the responsibility of a power tool. He was followed closely by his copper-haired and equally shaggy seven-year old brother, slurping on a purple popsicle and kicking the fallen piles of grass with glee. Their sister sprawled on her belly next to me on the warm concrete walk, inspecting ants and dripping popsicle puddles for the ants to feast upon- their own Solstice treat.

For a few brief moments, all was well in the world, and like the planet in her place in heavens, I felt perfect balance. This is as close to heaven as we ever get here. And it was beautiful.

Sunday Morning Sweetness

Abby’s room is connected to mine by a Jack and Jill bathroom, and she almost always leaves the door open in the middle of the night. This morning, I am woken by loud whispers; I can hear Bean explaining that if she insists on sleeping with the covers over her head (she’s done this since she was a baby) it will kill her. He’s very concerned. She explains to him that the blankets crocheted by grandma have enough holes that she can breathe plenty of fresh air, leaving him satisfied that she isn’t in mortal danger.

I smile and roll over under my own warm covers.

He climbs into bed next to her, and begins to explain how vultures barf up their food to eat it twice, and that vulture barf is the same color as the pink on one of her blankets. Now I’m stifling a giggle. Abby, bless her patient heart, listens to him attentively, before tactfully suggesting they read The Very Busy Spider. She sleeps with a pile of books in her bed, and Eric Carle is always popular. Bean nestles in next to her, and she starts to read aloud to him. The cadence of her tiny five-year old voice sounding out the familiar words is sweet and lilting, and I cannot imagine anything I’d rather hear at that moment than my daughter reading to her big brother.

Bean interrupts her every sentence or so to tell her some fact about spiders, and she listens patiently before picking up the thread where she left off. They finish the spider book, and she begins to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but Bean is making her laugh too much now and they dissolve into fits of giggles.

Writing About the Color Red

Writing about fatherhood and fathers is like trying to describe a color I’ve never seen. The hard truth is, I have no idea what it feels like to have an affectionate, loving father.

My biological father took off when I was three months old, screwed up on drugs after a tour in Vietnam. My mother remarried when I was two years old, and my step-father started the process of adopting me- the biological signed over the papers- but somehow they just never got around to filing the final papers. All this happened when I was very young, and I didn’t know I wasn’t my step-father’s natural child. Two sons were added to the family, and I felt like an afterthought. I don’t say that to be cruel, but at no point in my life can I recall my dad ever showing any affection, hugging me, or even offering praise. He wasn’t mean- he would correct me if I was misbehaving- but that was the extent.

I think I was about eleven years old when I found the adoption papers, and I can still remember the ice water flooding my veins as I sat on the floor. I shoved them back in the cabinet and went to my room. Why didn’t they tell me? I said nothing until I was at my grandma’s house that weekend, and I asked her. I can recall her face as she told me it was going to be okay, reaching for the phone to call my mom. I hid under her dining room table, playing with the lemon yellow fringe on the linen tablecloth as I listened to the conversation with my mother.

Heading into my teens, I looked at my step-dad with new eyes. To my mind, this explained why he didn’t care for me. This also began a decade-long dance of tension trying to get him to love me, and trying to establish contact with the biological. Neither exercise ended well.

When I got married, I was determined to break the cycle and provide my future children with a good father, one who would love them and be all the things I had lacked. That exercise didn’t turn out so well either. After ten years of marriage and three children, my (now ex-) husband, abdicated all of his responsibilities to us and left us to see what he could find in the bottom of a bottle of pills. Now the sole parent to three children- two sons and a daughter, I am clueless how to even begin to address the chasm left where a father should be. I have no blueprint, no frame of reference, and feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Enter the Church. As painful as the discourse on the perfect families can be for someone on the outside, there is not shortage of good, decent men who are reaching out to support and love my children. Our Home Teacher, as I have written about, is an honest godsend to us. He takes my kids fishing, he comes by several times a week to check on us, he makes sure I have gas for my mower and string for the trimmer, he planted a garden with the kids, and he’s just a really nice man. Is this what it feels like to have a dad?

We have good scout leaders, teachers, and friends. We are wonderfully cared for, and I am so grateful that my children, while missing their own father for certain, do have a multitude of examples of men being caring, kind and thoughtful.

So this Father’s Day, I would like to tip my cap (if I wore one) to all the men out there who are doing it right. The men who show up everyday and who make sure their children know they are loved. The men who take the time to check in on families who are missing their own dads- whether that be the children, or even the mother who never knew hers. Thank you for helping to heal wounds you did not cause. Thank you for showing my sons and my daughter what good men do, and for showing their mother that you are more than unicorns and fairy dust. Happy Father’s Day.

Fifth, Second and Kindergarten

In one-hundred and three minutes, my children will be out of school for the summer. Dread does not fill me as it did last year at this time- I think I’ve got my sea-legs as far as being a single-mama now, and I know I can totally do this. Now, can I do it well? That remains to be seen, and ultimately my children will be the judges.

This week, my first off school in more than a year, has been about clean-up. There was smoking wreckage all around me from the benign neglect of mama cramming to finish 17 units (4.0 babies- I did it). In the last four days I haven’t left the house much- which is fine because the weather has sucked lemons. All the closets are cleaned out, all the laundry is done, all the clothes have been sorted and all the stuff too-small is in piles to donate. The winter coats are pulled and boxed, and the shorts are in power rotation. Swimsuits are in drawers and sandals have replaced snowboots in the shoe basket. Now if only the sun would come out. 52 degrees and raining. Damn Washington.

I’m ready. I can do this. I’m hoping we can sneak in some fun this summer, despite our limitations. I’m scheduled to speak later this summer again, so there might even be a chance for me sneak away for a few days on my own. That’d be heavenly if it works out. For now, I’m sipping a cup of chai, and enjoying the peace and quiet of my clean house. One last carpool. 97 minutes….

C’est Fini (for now)

You may not believe me, but earlier this term I really thought I was going to have to drop or take a zero in two of my classes. I bit off a huge piece, taking four classes for 17 units. Most of you probably know, but 12 units is a full-time student. Plus, this time all four of my classes were level 450 and up. Tonight, a mere six hours before the deadlines, I submitted my final paper of the term. In the last week I wrote more than 10 papers. None of them were monsters- the largest was seven pages- but still, that’s a whole wheelbarrow of writing. My poor kids are feeling pretty neglected, and I won’t even tell you about the laundry situation. Clean socks are a hot commodity, that’s all I’ll say. Monday is the first day in more than a year where I don’t have an assignment looming, or something to register for, or reading to plow through, or some something that needs me.

I did it. One full year down. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with myself. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Oh, wait… yes I do. Laundry! But for now, I am going to sleep and sleep and sleep.

A Question of Pink

In the bath last night, Abby was playing with her Polly Pocket mermaids, and called to me as I was buried in homework at the kitchen table (the kitchen table is five feet from the bathroom- that’s how we roll in Little House).

“Mom! I want pink hair like my Polly mermaid and like Marissa…”

Looking up from my paper on leitmotifs in musical theater and film, I can see her in the tub, bubbles piled to her shoulders and her prized Polly in her hand hanging over the edge of the tub and dripping into a pool on the floor. Tread carefully…

I have found, as I get more experience at this parenting thing, some of my knee-jerk reactions are just that- reactions that I have assumed to be mine, but are actually holdovers of childhood and beyond that belonged to someone else, but that I assumed as my own. Reactionary decisions and reasoning that don’t come from my own thought out points-of-view are something I wish to leave behind me, and I caught myself from blurting out “No, you can’t have pink hair, you’re five!”.

Because the truth is? I don’t really care. Despite what some people might think, I cannot believe haircolor (or length on boys) really has any bearing on the character of the person. Not only is Polly Mermaid beautiful with her long pink locks, so is my best friend Mo with her short choppy hot pink spikes. How could I possibly have any credibility if I were to tell my daughter that pink hair was unacceptable? It might be unusual. It might require maintenance to look good. It might not be to everyone’s taste. But the truth is, for all of Abby’s life, a woman I love- who is like a second mother to her- has pink hair.

To Abby, pink hair is normal.

I also cannot fall back on the platitude of ‘little girls don’t get to dye their hair’ because she’s seen Mira with pink ponytails more than once, and Mo’s boys with blue locks repeatedly. So what do I say? And really, how do I really feel about it?

It kind of shocking to look at yourself and realize something you thought you believed isn’t really true at all. Especially if you realize that what you are caring about is perceptions about you, and the kind of mother you are. I have insisted my boys keep their hair short, in military cuts- mostly because I prefer the way it looks. But they’ve been bugging me to let it grow for the summer. My reluctance was not based on any real reasoning- it was based on a holdover from my own childhood that boys with shaggy hair had bad mothers. It was based on snippy comments and not wanting to be judged. So my perceptions of what my children should look like was actually based on my own desire to appear as what I had been told was a good mother.

Do I really think my parenting is tied to the length or color of my kids’ hair? No. I don’t. Am I going to go buy some Splat Raspberry and give Abby some hot pink locks? No, I’m not. But once she is old enough to manage  and maintain it herself, will I freak out and demand she conform? No. I won’t. I’ll put some gloves on and call Mo and have her talk me through how to do it right. Because if my girl is gonna have pink hair, she’s gonna rock the pink hair.

A Game of Clue

She sinks down on the edge of her bed and idly kicks off her flip-flops. The hem of her worn jeans tickles the tops of her feet as she stretches her legs out and lets her head fall back. The smell of baked potatoes from dinner lingers in the house, and through the open window comes the tinny far-away refrain of  The Sting  as the ice-cream truck circles the neighborhood. The wind picks up and carries the thin melody away and the rustle of leaves from the big elm in the yard takes over. She rubs her neck and closes her eyes.

The wall clock ticks of the seconds, giving an odd comfort and cadence of permanence to what has otherwise been a day of chaos. A timed final took up much of her morning at the university, and without a sitter, her five-year old had played Angry Birds on her phone while she tested. She was thankful for professors who were also mothers and understood. Her scores were good enough this time- skirting the edge of where she wanted to be, but no longer the perfect 4.0 she had last year.

Two more papers waited being written when she went downstairs to swap out Angry Birds for Alice in Wonderland. Poor child. One more week, and then she could be fun mama again. The little girl was perched on the edge of the spinning desk chair that had been drug from the office to the TV room, and the woman stopped in the doorway. The room swam before her eyes. Grabbing the doorframe she felt sick. The thick navy leather of the sectional was split open and eviscerated piles of fluffy white down and poly batting littering the floor like snowdrifts. The little girl is watching her intently, “Bean did it, mama.”

She sinks to her knees, and the tears well and drop on the floor as she gathers the fluff and batting. Two of the five cushions are gutted, the leather cut, and her sewing shears are there on the floor. Mr Bean did it, in the TV room with the scissors. Her mind mines the thinnest thread of humor it can pull; if she doesn’t, she fears might shatter like a hot dish dropped on cold concrete. The tears come anyway, but it’s better than breaking.

It’s good the boy is at school. By the time she picks him up, she can be calm and logical with him, instead of emotional and reactionary. Whatever her gut reaction is as a mother, autism forces her to almost the exact opposite. She wishes to grab him, but instead folds her arms. She wishes to cry, but instead meters her voice. He knows as soon as he sees her that he is in trouble, and starts to cry.

He hides in the closet and honks in misery, but she insists he must clean up what he created. Insisting with this boy means a quiet stance and a lack of emotion, which allows him to calm himself, and when she leaves him alone, he rights the room into perfect order. Her other two children are in their rooms, as she starts the potatoes for dinner, and fills the dishwasher. Lemon verbena soap suds cover her hands and  smell like spring. Small things make her happy on days like today.

She still hasn’t started the papers that are due on Friday. One is for a class on identifying and protecting abused children and the other on modifications to IEP’s for teens with ADHD. She may not have her MS yet, but she feels like she could teach these classes with her eyes closed. She idly outlines her paper while the kids eat dinner and she nurses an ice water in a tall mason jar that sweats a ring into the old wood table.


“We’re out of ice”, she thinks, still sitting on the edge of her bed looking at the now almost empty jar in her hand. She chews ice the way some people chain-smoke or gnaw their cuticles. It’s ice for her. There’s a lot she misses about her old life some days, but she thinks it might be her stainless steel side-by-side fancy icemaker she misses most. That, or the hardwood floors. It might be a toss up.

The light has changed and the wind died. How long has she been sitting staring out the window? Sounds of the kids, happy and quiet, float up from downstairs, and she flops back on her bed. The papers can wait until tomorrow. She’ll get up early and get a jump on them before the kids find their way into her room and the day starts all over. Maybe tomorrow things will be… whatever they will be.