Monday, April 30, 2007

A Happy That Can't Be Held Down

Last evening, after first desserts (because there were seconds), Finn and I headed outside for a game of pretend baseball. We have a "real" bat and a "real" ball (both made of some kind of foam-y material that only hurts bad, instead of emergency room bad, when Finn whacks me on the head with it), but Finn prefers this game of pretend pitching and pretend hitting. I think it's because he can hit the ball, bounce it off the moon, and catch it.

My child, the imaginative micromanager.

Before we got to the pretend baseball field (a stretch of sidewalk in front of somebody's house who I'm sure has issued the crazy on us), Finn got stalled in some butterfly giggles in our yard, giggles that stopped me in my tracks. And as anyone who knows me well can testify, I am a victim to my own momentum. I am Newton's first law incarnate. So to have a mere giggle stop me and turn me around. Well, you needed to hear that giggle.

It's hard to describe it without resorting to cliches: it was like tiny silver bells, it was like warmth and innocence and pure joy, it was unrestrained, unrehearsed, unexpected. It was as if he had been filled up with pure happiness and just a few drops planned a last minute escape over his edges, like champagne bubbles floating up and then skipping over the edges of an overpoured flute.

(I thought that analogy would go over better than the heady beer image I'm really thinking of.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Today, Vivian is fighting for her life. And that's very good news.

She was pulled off her ventilator two days ago. Her parents and friends were at her bedside, thinking that this meant goodbye.

She's five.

Vivian was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just five months old. She underwent treatments and her leukemia went into remission. When she was four years old, her leukemia relapsed. Her parents, friends of ours from graduate school, started a fundraising effort to get Vivian CAM treatments, offered in Europe. Again, she underwent treatment and seemed to respond well to it. We had been getting e-mails about how that was going, how she was fighting, how she was improving.

But last week, she took a turn. And last Thursday, her parents decided to remove the ventilator that was helping her breathe.

Vivian is, well, vivacious, and, as I hear it, just a little stubborn. That puts her in a class of preschooler I know all too well.

We--Bear, Finn, and I--met her when she was about a year old, I guess. Finn was five months. He bobbed his head around in curiosity, watching her run around the living room and eat pretend food off her lap.

We've only met her the one time, but she's a hard girl to forget. Her soul, like her laughter, fills your heart.

This is my very little way of putting her in the hearts and hopes of others. I'm not much into prayer circles. I really can't say that I know what those are. But if you have one, please add her to it.

"Vivian" means life. And whatever happens, she'll always be a giggle, a steady glow, and a reminder of what's worth fighting for.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wherein I Get to Blather on about Books and Such Because Someone Actually Asked Me to So There

One of my students recently asked me for some book recommendations. She walked away some 30 minutes later (maybe dazed, possibly overwhelmed) with a bit more than she was asking for.

Silly girl, to ask such questions without a working knowledge of their potential implications. It's a bit like baiting a preschooler with candy before breakfast. Not done. (Unless, of course, he starts screaming.)

I toyed with giving her a rundown of what's on my bedside table: Zadie Smith's White Teeth, Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, Matthew Collings' This Is Modern Art, Julian Barnes' Arthur & George, Ms. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (oh my God, did you read this? do you know? oh my God), Miriam Moss's Smudge's Grumpy Day, Mercer Mayer's I Was So Mad . . .

The titles at the end are the books at the top of the stack, re: most recently consulted.

I start strong.

That's what I could've done. But how do explain Mercer Mayer? On my bedside table? When we read to Finn in his room?

So instead, I started at 17 years old and gave her the Books by the Ages impromptu lecture.

Oh yes, I did. In rough order:

Heller, Rand, Morrison, Nabokov (which she hadn't read? what?), Garcia Marquez, Robbins (which she'd started. People still read that.), Jackson, Plath, Camus, Sartre, Bulgakov, Gogol, Turgenev, Lermontov (my Russian phase), Moore, O'Toole, Forester (which, if you'll remember, Finn has a head start on), Pynchon, Auster, DeLillo, Eco, Irving, Chandler, Austen . . .

(Are you seeing a pattern? Yeah, I saw it, too. Apparently not only do I have anger management issues (see bedside table and Russians and Camus), I also gravitate toward snarky white men.)

So that list took me to about 23, roughly and with some edits--and some lingering questions. If I had it to do all over again, would I do that much Kerouac? Would I even go near Gertrude Stein? Would I skip John Updike's "moral rectitude"?

But the point, I think, came from my realization that, like, everyone reads Ayn Rand at 18. That Plath (and Thompson and Miller and Nin) are definitely the reading material of weetwentysomethings. That I've met a lot of people who go through their Auster/Eco phase in their mid-twenties. Which got to me thinking, what would a book list look like for a midthirtysomething. What am I ripe for?

So I pose these two questions to you, dear reader, the very first questions I've posted to the blogosphere: What are your literary regrets? What should be included on a midlife reading list?

(And if you mention anything with babies or toddlers, it better be damn good. Damn Good. No Operating Instructions. No Little Earthquakes. No ZuZu Petals.)

(Don't make turn this blog around.)

Because I Get My Literature Off the Boob Tube

From Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address:

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

You Suppose They Have an Adult Undergarment for That?

John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate, in an interview about Sen. John McCain's presidential announcement: "He's not as controlled as other politicians because he can't be. He's constitutionally unable to control himself."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Superiority Complex

Finn: "Hey, momma, look at these ants!"

Me: "Yeah. And look at that one. It looks like he's taking some snacks home."

Finn: Stomp.

Finn: "That one will never get home now."

Friday, April 20, 2007


Finn's standing, tilting to one side. He squints and scratches his waist: "Momma, my edges itch."

Soundtrack to the Anal Probe. Humor Me.

I've known, ever since I scheduled it, that some report of Monday's colonoscopy would have to go on the blog. Really now, how do you pass something like that up?

But what to post, pray tell? A play-by-play of the procedure? A description of the day-long starvation and hours of colon prep? Or do I just go with a photo essay?

Uh, three rounds of, No thanks.

So, to get down to business, I must ask myself (because you're not really helping out with the comments box): if I were on the receiving end of the colon post, what would I want to know?

Ah. Yes. Of course. How obvious. The question that burns so brightly . . . scroll for it . . .

What does one dial up on the iPod when preparing for The Probe?

You know, when I popped those ear buds in, I actually thought about it. I really contemplated and weighed my decision. No shuffle. Couldn't just follow instincts. You have to consider that whatever song you choose will forever be linked to That Procedure.

So not just any song will do.

Not just any band can take on that level of responsibility, can hold up against the Anal Probe.

Nothing too cheery, bouncy, or titular connected to the colon, so Fischerspooner's "Megacolon" (three strikes) was out. Because you must not laugh in the face of colonoscopy. That's just not allowed.

You could tear something.

And honey, I'm thinking that's the last place you want a leak.

So I opted to go Hippocratic, and tap into the melancholic, the calming, the weighty. And it appeals to my literary sensibilities to be able to quote the four humors as I'm about to be scanned, to be so sonorously connected in time and tune.

And so, I chose Cold Play as the band I will forever associate with my colon, with my melancholy, with my uncertainty, with my expectation, with my tender hope and overwhelming hunger. As if I didn't before. And as if that wasn't exactly what you were thinking.

(I wonder how it feels to be the band colons choose?)

Friday, April 13, 2007

The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest

Sol LeWitt died on Sunday. Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday.

And as I write those two sentences and think about the first time I read Vonnegut (Bluebeard, not Cat's Cradle, something like 10th grade) and the first time I saw Sol LeWitt (yummy art candy, probably my junior or senior year of high school on one of those many occasions when my sister made me choose art stumping over my biology final--and thank you, by the way), I question my own tact in mourning two relative strangers on my mother's 70th birthday.

What's up with that?

I could pretend to know. I could even write some stuff and maybe figure it out. But that's not going to happen. Instead I share this, by way of remuneration (a word I was doomed to misspell had I not just looked it up):

My mother lives in unassuming landmarks.

The high chair by the telephone, where she smokes her cigarettes, talks on the phone, drinks her orange juice, coffee, iced tea, coffee, water (in that order) and makes her holiday lists in stitchy, small and now nearly illegible letters. The chair used to be fashionable avocado vinyl, once upon a time, when my dad used to sneak up on her and plant raspberries in her neck, to crescent-scrunched, close-eyed giggles (my most treasured inheritance). She traded up for a tall wood chair, often caressed by small hands begging for a piece of her Hershey bar. The kind with almonds.

The left cushion of her plaid couch. Always the left one, always plaid, with tissues tucked in the cracks. Me or my sisters would sit on the right cushion and drape our short and then very long legs across the gap between us and my mother's lap. She'd tickle our feet with her long nails, until we tucked them, like her tissues, in the space between her back and the sofa's.

The chair on the right side of our oval kitchen table. My sisters would sit at the heads of the table. My dad and I shared a bench opposite my mother. It was probably covered in plaid. Or roosters. My mom has a thing for roosters. We'd inhale her pork chops with rice or her enchilada casserole or my dad's overcooked hamburgers, reaching for seconds, dropping scraps for the resident dog, reluctantly taking the dishes to the counter, fighting over who had to wash them, and rushing to watch Love Boat or Dukes of Hazzard, leaving my mother still eating, bite by excruciatingly and seemingly inhuman, slow bite.

The right side of the bed she shared with my father, accompanied by a pile of John Grisham or Patricia Cornwell books on the bedside table and one, open and face down on her chest as she sleeps, gently snoring. (She never could compete with the bear rattle of my dad, although she seemed to unconsciously try.) This is where I'd come for comfort, after pushing out of a nightmare , and this is where I found her, sitting up, her head in her hands, the night my dad died.

The porch. Or the sidewalk. Or the driveway. And for some reason, always in her slippers and robe. She's one of those people who believes a nightgown by itself is too immodest. Anywhere. Even in the house. She doesn't take more than two steps from bed without being more suitably, if not fully, dressed. And yet, she'll stand almost in the street and wave goodbye in her robe and slippers as, over the years, we have driven farther and farther away, to Austin and now to Kansas City. And as we pull out of the driveway and onto the street, she keeps waving, never leaving her post until we turn the corner and disappear.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My Hubbin Is Truckin

I don't know what that means. I'm hoping the euphemism goes my way.

Anyway, Barry's in the news: check him ow-ut

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

There's a Reason Why They Put Tax Season in the Spring

How's this for a retirement plan: dying.

I really hate this time of year.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pock That!

Every year (well, the past two years), we trek over to Kansas to celebrate Easter Saturday. And every year (again, just two), we dig out the plastic eggs, fill them with sugar, and drop them in our friends' yard to the joy and ferocity of youth. And every year (count 'em, one, two, stop), we engage in the age-old (much more than two) tradition of Egg Pocking.

Yes. Egg Pocking.

When we joined this tradition, we had no idea what the h-e-double-g pocking was. Barry and I come from the lofty traditions of egg rolling, something involving eggsand spoons, egg-smashing-on-heads, egg eating, egg deviling, egg fertilizing (not a public sport, but you should've seen the typo I had on that).

But what and whence the pock?

The pock starts with a NCAA-styled playoff chart (and if you know me, you know I love charts, which means that pocking must be a good recreational fit): opponents listed down the side, inwardly cascading playoff matches, to a final four, and dynamic duel (I know, I made that up), to an exuberant win.

I suppose it doesn't have to start with a chart, per se. That could just be my reading. It could just as easily start with the bowl of hard-boiled eggs.

Each pocker, then takes an egg from said bowl, holds it like you would a fat dart, faces off against an opponent, and then taps or smashes the egg into the opponent's egg in an attempt to pock it, or avoid pocking it.

(Is "pocking" the act of trying to pock or being pocked? This is where I lose the thread.)

Nonetheless, the objective: to be the last uncracked egg standing. In a weird and inexplicable play of physics, only one egg will be pocked in any egg-to-egg standoff. (Yes, you're right. In completely explicable play of physics, eggs can't stand. It's a figure of speech, folks.)

If you're lucky, you'll make it through the rounds to stand Egg Supreme, and maybe, if your hosts are generous, you'll win something like this.

Which now adorns our buffet because, yes, our offspring matched youthful ferocity with wisdom and skill to rock the pock.

And if you're really lucky, you'll have a Harry in the game. You know, so you can call him Harry Pocker. (Oh yes, I did.)

We are that lucky.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Freaky Friday

I'm not saying our leaky faucet is leaving Madonna stains or that our fiberoptic Jesus has recently escaped the cupboard we keep him in. No miracles. No bold strokes of divinity.

I'm just saying how gosh-golly fun it is when life imitates art--

--and how large our son's head is.

This Is a Metaphor-Free Zone

I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning, realizing that I had crashed out on Finn in the middle of What Is Easter? and Spring Easter Bugs, two appropriately seasonal gifts from his Godma K.

What was supposed to happen? I was supposed to read the books, have a nice chat and song (usually one I have adapted from my favorite Shakespeare play. I know. Complete goob) and then get up, brew myself some Tibetan Eye of the Tiger, and work diligently on one of my client's projects until I hit epiphany or insanity. Often, I can't tell the two apart. I don't know that you necessarily should.

That didn't happen. Not so much.

Instead, I found myself at 3 a.m., with a book in my ribs, one in my calf, and one in my ear; with drool (I'm not absolutely sure whose) in my hair; some kind of heavy, round object (oh, that's a head) on my foot; and a few panels on a brochure left to write.

I can tell you, that was a bona fide extrication, my friend. I can tell you that with complete confidence, but, uncharacteristically, without metaphor. (Yes, me, at a lack for metaphor.)

But I can also tell you, again with complete confidence, that I love my job.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Yes, we've taken to spelling things out for Finn.

"Hey Barry, how about a m-o-v-i-e?"

"I think I'm feeling like a little p-i-z-z-a. You?"

"The c-h-i-l-d is throwing a holy f-i-t. Shall I t-h-r-o-w him down the laundry c-h-u-t-e?"

Of course, because we're new to this, every spellout requires a couple of beats (okay, minutes) for our brains, ironically well educated, to compose letters into words we think we recognize, sometimes to interesting miscalculations. But that, my reader, is a blog for another time.

The high-scoring spellout for this past week has been d-e-a-t-h. I'm not sure what specific occasion sparked this word in this particular week. Last summer, we had to put our cat to sleep. We kept Finn out of it. While Barry talked to the vet, I distracted Finn with a walk across the street to the pet store. That led, in a subsequent visit to our fish, who died last winter. Finn, then a few months older and we thought more mature to handle the life cycle, was brought in for the "funeral." He didn't seem upset, didn't question.

But for some reason, this week, Finn's been questioning the life here and after.

It started in the library with a book called Josefina, based on the real-life clay sculpting of Josefina Aguilar. It's supposed to be a counting book. You know, Josefina molds three clay houses, six babies and the six mamas that hold them. When we get to eight, Josefina creates eight calaveras (skeletons). Finn asked about the skeletons, what they were, who they were, why there were, where they were. And then, will I die? will you die? I don't want to die.

And so, we initiated the d-e-a-t-h spelling policy, unless directly confronted.

So tonight, Finn started asking about my grandparents, and, according to previous agreement, I took him on. Where are they? Where did they die? How did they die? Where are they now?

Where's heaven?

Is it by the pet store?

Such Great Heights

I just got back from a client meeting, and decided to grab a six pack of cupcakes on my way home. You know, I was in the neighborhood and all.

Well, near enough to the neighborhood.

Okay, it wasn't that far out of my way.

Whatever, it was worth the trek across town.

Now, dear reader (well, hi there!), you already know my downright passion for the cake that comes in cups. Beskirted and besugared, what other glory can there be? (A rhetorical I should probably be careful of casting since I live pretty much under the buckle of the Bible's belt. And since I just came from a sketchy side of town. Double the double entrendre. I think I should back away now. Fast-like. New paragraph, please.)

And yet, today, I have reached new cupcake heights. The dreamsicle cupcake with cream cheese frosting. It's dreamy, it whispers of the popsicles I used to eat when I was eight, that used to drip down my freckled cheeks and down my arms and onto my Smurf socks. But the dreamsicle made manifest in a cake is fluffy, not so sticky, and comes with these little orange and yellow sprinkles.

I won't call it perfect. That would be going too far, but, I will say this:

I have licked sunshine, tasted the newly budding spring, and I'm here to tell you it's good.

Monday, April 02, 2007

From Whence Chicken Broth, Father?

We're making lunch and Barry's concocting some of his famous jasmine rice. He sautes onions, then the actual rice. He then adds some rosemary and soups it all up in chicken broth, instead of water. A flavor sensation.

Finn likes to help in the kitchen and because he is three and a human, likes to ask questions. Today's chicken broth stumped him.

"Is that apple juice?" he asks.

"No," Barry answers, "that's chicken broth."

"What's chicken broth?"

I can field this one. I hand Finn an apple and jump into my lecture: On Being and Juiciness.

"Chicken broth is like apple juice," I start. "Apple juice comes from the juice of apples. You mash the apples and the juice is what's left behind. Chicken broth," I can already see my mistake, but forge on, "is the juice from chickens."

Thankfully, Finn was too busy choking on his apple to come up with a retort.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Joss Whedon Is My Master!

Barry, to Sarah: "I met with Ben and Josh today to talk about our project."

Finn, interrupting, per usual: "Ben is Violet's dad."

Barry: "Yes, Finn."

Finn: "And Josh sounds like Joss."

Barry: "Who's that?"

Finn: "You know, poppi, Joss Whedon, Buffy's dad."

In the Wake of Books

Maybe it's time to describe Finn's book fetish.

First, our bedtime routine, and this well incontrovertibly reveal what smashing good parents we are:

1. We brush teeth.
2. We potty. Everyone. Modeling is important.
3. We read books.

And that's where our good parenting ends. Because as any good parents knows, you want your child to become more than you are. So they can pay off your lavish Ikea debts in your old age.

Tonight's selections: The Little Giant (with Angelo de Gianti and Osvadlo di Curti) and No More Monsters for Pets. Or some such. We like to read two. And keep it to two. Ours is a child who will keep us reading until the wee hours, if he has his way, and that's just, well, bad. Too much book learning can hurt your eyes--and your brain. You just to need those nip book smarts in the bud. That's what we say. Often. And loudly. And even in public to, oddly, very few snickers.

But we do compensate our illiterate ways by letting Finn take books into bed. Not the best idea we've ever had as far as finding a happy, restful toddler in the morning, but we're thinking if he stays up late reading, then we can stay up late drinking and everybody is equally cranky when the household awakes to the blazing sun in our east-facing house at, now, 6 a.m.

So, it's all strategic. Yes, that's what it is. Strategic.

By books into bed, I'm not talking one or two. I'm talking sixteen. Yes, Finn pilfers through some sixteen books, maybe more. We find books stashed underneath the covers when we change his sheets. Comics, fairytales, picture books, Frazier's The Golden Bough, E.M. Forestor's Aspects of the Novel (one of his recent favorites). He doesn't discriminate.

For someone who doesn't "read"--and he's the first to admit he can't, but I seriously doubt his self-asessment--he likes him some serious literature. He'll spend a good hour or two or three flipping through books and talking his way through pictures or not. He'll even call us, hours after we've thought he's been dutifully asleep, to fetch a David Foster Wallace that's slipped behind his headboard or to ask us what "bawling" means.

We started this enterprise, this child rearing, wanting to develop our child's love of stories. In the parlance of pedagogy, we've developed a print-rich home, magazines piled on the coffee table (that's now buckling under the weight), magazines filling a bucket by the toilet, amply stocked bookcases and backseats, cookbooks that line every inch of counter space, comic books gingerly spread on any available flat surface.

We've got books, granted many that go unread between the hours spent blogging and watching Heroes and BG and calling KiKi and Alan to discuss the aforementioned. Oh, and work, too. Yes, we work. But we do have books, lots of them, to fill the time should cable and Sprint Nextel networks give out.

But now, despite our best efforts to promote books as decoration or hypocritical claims to culture, we can't get the kid to go to sleep because he wants to "read." I've taken to given him an extra 30 minutes to "read," and then I literally have to unscrew his light bulb. (Which is immediately followed by a click-click-click and a lamenting, "Poppi? Poppi?") I have become the Evil Witch of Lights Out, the one who has to tell my son that reading time is over.

Our child is now doomed to become an artist or a writer or a pursuer of multiple advanced degrees, despite our best efforts to get him to follow in someone else's footsteps.