Seven Times ‘Round the Sun

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My Dearest Abby,

My sweet Noodle, you are seven today. On one hand, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but looked at from a different perspective, it’s been eons for our family. Your entire life is documented here- from the positive pregnancy test I took at Grandma’s house on a visit to California, through today, where you got up and put on your fancy new dress, your pink crown and your red satin cape and headed off to conquer another day of first grade.

Sometimes I come in to kiss you goodnight and pause to watch you sleep. Don’t worry, all moms do this- and if you’re a mom someday, you probably will too. Your long lashes graze your sweet cheeks, your brow is un-furrowed by the troubles of the day, your dog-eared copy of New Moon Girl fallen on the pillow where you fell asleep reading. My heart swells with love, and I wish I could hold you there, for just a moment, perfect girlhood, so full of ideas and tenderness and brilliance and will and power and idealism.

You are strong and willful in ways that constantly surprise me– on first blush, you seem like a shy, timid girl, but underneath that protective shell is a force of nature, a girl who knows what she wants, and will use her formidable intelligence, vocabulary, and powers of persuasion to get it. And when or if that doesn’t work, you’re not afraid to take on your brothers (or me) and continue to fight for whatever you believe.

I love what a courageous girl you are… I watch you square your shoulders, and ready yourself to meet things that intimidate you. You’re not afraid to articulate complex issues and express your own bewilderment at things that defy your understanding— and therein lies one of your amazing strengths. You continue to ask questions, and you strive to understand, and if I cannot answer your questions, you turn to beloved books and never stop looking.

I know it’s hard growing up with just brothers, and you frequently remind me how unfair this is- I remember, I grew up with just brothers too. But I don’t doubt at all the lessons you learn in communication will serve you well as you move into fields that interest you- science, botany, ecology, and human rights. I am certain, of all my children, that you are going to be the one to try and change the world. I am also certain, without any doubt, that you can succeed.

I love you, my daughter. You have brought with you so much joy, so many lessons and challenges I never would have experienced, and I am grateful every day for you. For your birthday, I wish I could give you an overflowing flower garden with a secret reading nook tucked away, stacked with science books, and a tray of  fine french cheeses and strawberries. I cannot think of anything that would make you happier today.

I Love you,
Mama

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Rage Against the Machine

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Anger is not accommodating. Anger isn’t contained in tidy little packages, it’s not pretty, and it’s seldom righteous. By and large, anger is considered the realm of men- it’s powerful, large and burns not only the one consumed by it, but anyone who get too close. Anger is not… ladylike.

Yesterday, I combusted, was consumed and burnt anyone who dared to come near. It was one of those days, and the emotional hangover has me thinking about anger in general, my own in particular, and the stage on which this plays out. A stage that has been packed and primed with incendiary devices, mercury trip-switches, flints and tinders, and then wrapped in pink-painted barbed-wire with Pinterest-cute beribboned signs that say “Women are Special!” and “Virtue is Power!”

All I wanna do is kick the powder keg over and light up a match…

My daughter told me her shorts showed too much of her legs and she couldn’t wear them anymore. My breath caught in my throat and the rage-monster woke in my breast. But it got worse- she then asked me why her thighs were bigger than the other girls’ thighs. Nothing on earth will convince me it’s coincidental that she learned about “modesty” and began to compare her legs— she previously had never even used the word thigh, just the generic ‘leg’— to other girls. I carefully tried to keep my face calm, but inside the tidal wave of rage was swelling.

I’ve tried to counteract what I consider the warped, distorted and perverted idea of modesty taught at my church— the idea that girls are responsible for the thoughts of others, the idea that crashing body and sexual awareness onto perfectly innocent young girls is beneficial, the imposing of adult ‘standards’ (and I use the term loosely) onto children (because there is nothing praiseworthy or standard about depriving girls of the joy of their own embodiment and tying their self-esteem to how others perceive them). God help me, I have tried to temper, moderate and educate. But they got to my daughter. And now I don’t know what to do, because SMASHING isn’t going to go over well.

I’m tired of playing nice.  I’m tired of pretending the discourse around modesty, young women and motherhood is everything except regressive and harmful. There is good to be mined, but what we cannot seem to see in the ceaseless drumming of “virtue” “chastity” “modesty” and the saccarine-soaked praise is that we are still… STILL… teaching our girls that their value is based on how they look. I’m sure some well-intentioned soul thought she was doing good by telling my daughter what she imagined was appropriate. The problem is, the message is warped and unhealthy, and it’s one with which I not only disagree, but that makes me want to go all Sampson and tear the building down.

There is nothing— NOTHING— wrong with a child in shorts, a sundress, a tank top or a two-piece bathing suit. Not a damn thing. No child is responsible for what any adult may think about their bodies, and I sure as hell do not want my daughter (or my sons) internalizing guilt or shame about the flesh their souls inhabit. Their bodies are marvelous creations, and their innocence is worth protecting fiercely.

Before I joined this church, I never thought about bodies. They just were. Everyone had one. I grew up in a house and a community where I saw mothers nurse openly, breasts were just breasts, and children swam and ran naked through the sprinklers in the front yard. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s, a mother, and a member of this church, and constantly (ceaselessly, unendingly) hearing about modestly that I suddenly became hyper-aware of the bodies of others.  It’s as stark a line as day and night.  And it’s a line those steeped in it, steeped with their entire family, friends, and community, cannot seem to see. We create exactly that of which we are so terrified.

So here’s an idea: What if we stop focusing so much on how anyone— in particular, children— looks, and try focusing on the things Christ taught. Christ didn’t look at the woman brought to him for stoning and ask what she was wearing. He didn’t chastise Mary or Martha for their dress- he corrected them for focusing on the wrong things and invited both women to come hear on the words of God.

People might not be truly capable of righteous anger, the kind Christ showed when he cleansed the temple (we kind of gloss over the fact that not only did he kick tables over, but he was wielding a weapon and seriously kicking ass) but I think a mother defending her children could come close. Personally, I equate the peddlers of ‘modesty’ to be akin to the moneychangers- they are bringing something impure into a citadel that is naturally perfect and perfectly innocent, and doing so under the guise of providing a service. The intentions may be good, but what they are selling is corrupt, and has no place here. None at all.

Meanwhile, I’ll be standing guard. Right over here, on this stage, laden with all the things I’m not supposed to be comfortable with…next to the pile of matches. And where I don’t give a damn about ladylike.

Learning to Cook. Again.

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Do you love Indian and southeast Asian food but are kinda intimidated by trying to cook with ingredients and produce that are new and unfamiliar? Do all those spices and lack of confidence in what to DO with them make you break out in hives?

I’m a pretty decent cook, and not a lot intimidates me— I love love LOVE subcontinental Indian food. Determined to try it at home, I burnt through two or three cookbooks trying to learn the spices, techniques and ingredients to make anything even remotely close to what my local joint easily churned out in a lunch buffet. It was disaster after abject disaster. For a few years I gave up. Then I found this book, and my life changed. It’s more than a cookbook- it’s an encyclopedia of sorts, a culinary history of India, with small side-trips into other close cuisines in Asia.

Raghavan Iyer is a native Indian who learned to cook at his mother’s stove, and who then became a chemist. He knows food, both from an emotional standpoint and from a food-chemistry standpoint. The first part of the book is a primer on Indian food- explanations of flavors, spices and how to tease out the different and complex flavors so distinct and necessary to good Indian cuisine. He gives simple, step by step instructions on becoming familiar with spices not necessarily found in American cabinets, and ways to entice out new levels of taste in the ones we do know well.

By the way ‘curry’ is an anglicized word, and isn’t found anywhere in any Indian dialect. And ‘curry powder”, that yellowish spice jar you might have stashed in the back of your cupboard? Yeah, also doesn’t exist in India. It’s something the Colonizers invented in trying replicate flavors from the subcontinent when they returned to the Isles. It’s basically akin to having a jar labeled “sauce” for American seasoning.

Now if you want to learn how to toast, fry and roast ten different flavors from one spice, and how to combine those spices into something magical and nearly alchemical, this is your cookbook. Garam Masala, balchao masala, ghee, garlic chili paste… all the building blocks that once seemed so mysterious, are here. You can (and should) toss out that old, stale jar of “curry” and learn how to make your own. It’s marvelous, and nothing— nothing!— compares to it! There are also chapters on making Indian breads and dosa, yogurts, and even making cheese- which if y’all have been reading for any time, you know I already make. You should too! It’s easy and fun and the kids love it.

660 Curries, by Raghavan Iyer. Get this cookbook. Make cheese. Fall in love with spices!

Things Not Useful, But Nonetheless True

When carrying groceries in from the car, the gate will slam on you. Ditto the screen door. You will also not be able to push the button to open your trunk because your keys are in the same hand you have your purse, sunglasses, two other bags and your cell phone.

No child will hit the trash can, either kitchen or bathroom, when throwing something away. Ever.

When wearing new socks, you will inevitably step in something gross on your kitchen floor.

PC’s suck, and every time you have to use one, you will be reminded of this fact. Also, your children will constantly need help on their PC.

Scissors and tape both disappear into the same Bermuda Triangle as all the mismatched socks from the dryer. They’re all dancing some sick polka somewhere.

The junk drawer has every single piece of junk you ever were looking for, except for the piece of junk you are looking for today.

If you are an ice-chewer, the kind, type and brand of ice matters. It just does.

When you get the laundry all done, one of your kids will puke from the top bunk in the middle of the night onto the clean laundry basket.

As soon as they fill the neighborhood swimming pool, the cicadas will start hatching and the kids will be too terrified to go outside.

When you’re running late for an appointment, you will get stuck behind a school bus on a single-lane road.

You will always pick the slowest checkout cashier at the store when you are in the biggest hurry.

“Clean up!” to a kid is heard as “Lay around and throw your snack wrappers on the floor and shove the ones you don’t want me to see into the couch cushions!”

Some days you just can’t win. The only think to do is curl up with a cheap magazine and watch reruns of Veronica Mars.

p.s. As soon as you get all ten fingernails grown to the same length, you will break at least three of them down to nubs, all on the same day. It’s the law.

An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

It was a slip up, I get it. We all make faux-pas, and it must suck always having to be on, with reporters, cameras and your every word being recorded.  I know you must not actually equate yourself with a single mother. But here’s the thing- the ease with which you let that roll of your tongue makes me wonder… There are a lot of thing the First Lady of the United States of America can be, but blind to her privilege is not one of them.

When you so casually drop the idea that you’re a single mom, it’s like a gut-punch to those of us in the trenches. This is very sensitive ground, and you are well aware by now- you’ve been taken to task by writers bigger and better than me. I’m not at all concerned for the state of the Obama marriage, as some have suggested, but rather for the flip manner in which privileged women conveniently don the mantle that some of us never get to set down. I frequently hear women I know, in church, in social situations, compare themselves— as casually as you did— to me, in particular when they have a husband with a busy job or who is traveling for business.

Your husband may work a lot. He may travel and be absent from the home for days on end due to career travel. You may be dealing with children, lives, lessons, tutoring, your own work, drama and potty training, and you may be doing it alone while he is gone. But make no mistake- you are not a single mother. Your husband may be away, but he’s earning money to pay your mortgage (in your case Mrs Obama, that might be different, but bear with me) to keep the heat on in the winter, to provide the funds to pay the tutor and for the ballet and piano lessons. You can reach him by phone, text or email if you need to vent, to tell him a pipe broke, or the washing machine just crapped out. You can receive emotional support and there is a date you can look forward to on the calendar when he will return, walk through the door and take part of the load from your tired shoulders.

It might be hard to be without access to your spouse- but you know he loves you and your children and that he is coming home.

Those of us who are really doing this by ourselves? None of that applies. There is not date to circle on the calendar when support will arrive. There is no one to call when an appliance breaks, or the car gets a flat tire, or a kid is sick at school and needs to be picked up. The rent, heat, water and electricity are my responsibility, and the child support check may or may not arrive. Again. Forget the ballet and piano lessons.

I’m not interested in painting myself as a victim. This is my life, and I get up every day and tackle it. I deal with three children and their needs, I juggle career and getting ready for grad-school, I schedule IEPs for my son with autism, and I fight the school district when they don’t measure up to the law in his support and care. I show up at school concerts with a smile and record my daughter singing so her grandma and grandpa in California can cheer with us. I find a way each month to stretch the budget just that much farther, and I do it all without a date on my calendar that any of us can look forward to.

So next time, Mrs. Obama, please be more mindful. You sit in a position of incredible privilege— not just because you’re the First Lady (that doesn’t hurt) but because the needs of you and your children are cared for, met and tended in a million ways every day. Never be so flip as to take that for granted. The rest of us can’t.

Random Crap: So This Is April

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.”–RilkeIMG_0350

This is my current favorite photo of Bean. He wears shooting-range ear-protection in church, and it keeps him happy. He also is dressing like Number Eleven all the time, for you Whovians.

Well, it appears I brought Washington state with me to Washington DC. This April pretty much compares lockstep with what the inland northwest expects of spring: cold and dreary. We’re a good ten degrees below average for the year. They’ve had to put off the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC twice now… because there are no cherry blossoms.IMG_0357This is how I found Abby the other night when I went to tuck her in. Sound asleep.

In news of the gross, evidentially this is the spring for the 17 year cycle of the cicada. According to National Geographic and the Smithsonian, in a few short weeks the little disgusting bastards will be crawling out of the ground in swarms (millions of them!) like little zombie bugs, to shed, molt, mate and die. I can barely think about it— I shudder in revulsion. The tiniest glimmer of hope is that it only lasts about 4-5 weeks. But you’ll find me hiding under the bed during all of May.

I’m neck-deep in a fight with the school district right now over IEPs and BIPs and making sure protocol is followed. There is a fair amount of what looks like CYA behavior, and I’m pretty much on the warpath. Not at liberty to say more right now, but will write it all up as soon as I can. Also, to any educators out there- when dealing with a parent, learn her name. Using the generic “Mom” when referring to her is unprofessional and disrespectful, unless you’re in the odd position of writing an IEP for your actual mother.

General Conference is something I look forward to. Always have. But today was awful. Sometimes—no, often— platitudes and hyperbole and binary thinking push a person away rather than draw them closer to God. Being a divorced mother of three, a convert, a grad student, and… well… me… makes makes it difficult. I will seek for the good, and note Henry B Eyring and Richard G Scott both gave sermons I found valuable.

IMG_0490Speaking of Conference, my children enjoyed themselves- per normal. For this weekend, twice a year, I let them drag everything into the main room and build, while we all hang out. We had a picnic lunch on the floor, and they got treats for paying attention to talks. Unfortunately, I chose “vacuum” as the word of the day…

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Spent last weekend at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Super cool. I wish the camera had captured how incredibly ORANGE these flamingos were. Jeff liked them better than the Panda exhibit, and Bean was much more excited about the wild birds flying around than anything in a cage.

Speaking of some good news, when I was in Seattle a few weeks ago for Mo’s wedding (awesome even that it was) I got to spend the day with my brother and his new fiance. They’re getting married this fall, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them- she’s darling, and he’s super happy. Winning combination. IMG_0406

Auntie Heather came to visit us on Easter!! We looooove us some Auntie Heather, and not only was she our Easter surprise, but she brought her awesome husband and her even more awesomer new baby, James! It’s the first Easter in, quite literally, years that we’ve had family, and I really enjoyed having the house full again. James is darling, of course, and I got some baby snuggles in, but my kids seriously were in love.

IMG_0476I guess that’s about it for now.