Ah, Nature!

Let’s be honest. I’m not the kind of person who looks forward to days my kids have off of school. In fact I circle them in red on the calendar and spend a good amount of advance time in a panic. Like sands through the hourglass so were the days of her sanity slipping down the murky toilet…

To compound my anxiety are those parents. You know them. The ones who post pictures on Facebook of their glorious days making new papier-mache bird houses and baking flax-seed cookies? Yep. That’s so not me. I’m more of a come sit on my lap and I’ll read you stories for hours while waiting for a more responsible party to relieve me of my duties.

Well, today my usual routine wasn’t going to fly. The kids were raring to get out of the house and I could not longer contain them.

So, two peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, a bag of crackers and some grapes later we were headed for Portland’s Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.

The sun was peeking out and the kids were loving being out in nature. We saw ducks, geese, nutria, red winged black birds, scrub jays and a nut hatch. And, of course, amazing rhododendrons of every color.

It really was the perfect day to visit chaos upon the senior bird watching crowd. I think they particularly enjoyed the dulcet tones of my daughter yelling, “LOOK AT THAT DUCK SEXING THE OTHER DUCKS!” Ah, nature. Thank you for your bounty.

In the Museum of Memory

Frogs skim the surface of the green pool in our São Paulo backyard. A different beggar knocks every morning on the heavy wooden door. Brown beans and rice simmer in a cast iron pot. A low dance of voices wind up the staircase. Socks slip and itch. A shoot of sun reaches through the sway of curtain. I sit on the floor and watch dust motes travel the bloom of light. An orange cat sits under the shade of a small white car.

Wool socks and boots and jackets with zippered pockets. Walks to the bus stop while snow falls like cherry blossom petals after a rain. The crunch and slick of a Pennsylvania winter underfoot. The cold finds its way between the fingers of my glove. Children sled past our house. Backyard runs into backyard, white hill becomes whiter sky. In the distance a black dog lifts its wet nose into the cold air. The neighborhood trees are trimmed in lace sharp ice.

Canyons give way to winding roads, houses perch like birds and then there is a sudden plunge of white cap and riptide. Miles of California sand. Wildfires in October, tumbleweeds and stucco on the ceilings. Suntan lotion and black plastic sunglasses. Sandy peanut butter sandwiches. Cut grass, fresh paint, sourdough toasting in an oven. Silverfish dart into unreachable corners. I fall asleep to coyotes singing a cold embrace of night.

On the corner there is a store filled with buttons of every color, shape and size. A mile away, dried fish sold from bins on the street. Pickles in barrels. A man plays drums made out of five gallon plastic buckets in front of my New York apartment. A percussion of heat comes up the pipes. Books and more books from floor to ceiling. Body sways with other bodies as the subway carries us through the dark underground tunnels. In the park a woman reaches up to meet a kiss. I look out the window of a high-rise and see the city return as though through the eye-hole of a kaleidoscope.

One hundred shades of green. Spindly trees, lush trees, white flowering and pink flowering trees. Grinding coffee beans. An insistence of rain. Dark puddles on asphalt pattered, mud softened, wet dog, yellow slicker rain. Children pour warm bubbly bath water over each other’s heads. A cat drinks from a glass filled with water on the kitchen table. I cut the figures of memory from the finest sheet of paper and pin them on the wall as the neighbor starts up his old blue truck.

Traveling always challenges my idea of home. Where is home? Am I in the right place?  Please share what home means to you.

Surround Yourself With Catchers

So, I was just spending time reading one of my newest favorite blogs, How To Be A Dad, when I came across their post called Your Heart Will Throw Up In Your Brain. It includes a YouTube video that shows a man catching a boy who falls 15 feet off an escalator.

What I love about this post is what the writer chose to focus on: This could have been any parent. Maybe they’re oblivious, absorbed in the sale section of some store or junior was lured away by a flashing light. We don’t know. But what we do know, is that some of you are the “catchers” in life, the people and parents doing good deeds because they desperately need doing. Trying. Striving. Catching.

This got me thinking about some of the Catchers in my life, particularly in my parenting life. Catchers come in the most unlikely places, really. And that’s the beauty of it. A good Catcher doesn’t even think twice about it. It’s just in their nature to act, and act in the best interest of others.

My family has been living in a very small Portland neighborhood for about five years now. To be honest, this was not the neighborhood I wanted to live in. I acted like a total Little Asshole about leaving our last house that was in a ritzy-titzy part of town even though it was making us mortgage poor and causing marital strife.

I hated the fact that the house we were going to move into had Astroturf on the front step. I hated the 1980s decor and the cream-colored carpet that would be destroyed by my children. Most of all, I hated the fact that we were moving into a lower-income neighborhood. What would the neighbors be like? What would we do about the Astroturf? Essentially I was being a totally judgmental, entitled jerk.

Within a few weeks of moving into our new house and spying on the neighbors I started to notice that people on our street actually spend time working on their yards (as opposed to hiring a gardener). They plant beautiful peonies and wildflowers. One neighbor grows snap peas in her front yard for the neighborhood kids to pick and eat every summer. These folks are outside, visible, waving to each other. They even talk to each other. Hell, they even know each other’s names! In our old neighborhood this neighborly intimacy was absent.

Before long I met the family directly across the street. I immediately liked all four of them, but I was especially taken by Corie. She has two beautiful, smart girls, a really nice, talented husband and even a great dog (who is the patient recipient of my amorous dog’s sexual fetishism). I’ll admit I was a tad intimidated by her intelligent wit, sense of humor and just youthful cool. She had her shit together while I was feeding a colony of squirrels from the food that fell out of my minivan every time the door slid open.

How To Be A Dad‘s post reminded me of Corie because she has been our Catcher in more ways than one. When a group of juvenile delinquents from across the river broke into a couple of homes on our street, Corie noticed the suspicious behavior and called the police. It is this type of neighborly vigilance that I love. She has an eye out for whats going on in our neighborhood. She is a Catcher. The fact that she lives across the street from me gives me an immeasurable feeling of safety.

One warm summer day when I was out running errands (acting like a crazy person at Target) my husband was gardening in the backyard. He was “keeping an eye” on the toddler who was “helping.” I only know the story from Corie’s point of view because it was Corie who, from her bedroom window, saw our tiny boy making a mad dash away from our house down the sidewalk to the park. I think she said he was “booking it.”

Being the Catcher that she is, Corie saved the day and made sure the runner got back home safely. (And if my memory serves, she may have done this for us twice. But my husband denies this possibility.)

Corie also delivers warm home-baked cookies, meals (like when our baby–the runner–was born), advice about household safety, great stories about waxing (we still need to discuss the FUPA), a strong drink, and friendship when I was least expecting it. I am so lucky that we moved into this house, in this neighborhood and met one of those people who is a true Catcher (and I know she’ll deny it, because that’s how Catchers roll).

I See Your Furlough Day and Raise You One Xanax

An interesting thing has happened to me since having kids. I’ve begun to dread the holidays. It’s not the holidays themselves that I dread, it’s the many days off from school for my children that I dread. Sure I love Thanksgiving, but two full days of my kids at home? Not so thankful. And we don’t even celebrate Christmas, so Christmas break turns into Deck The Halls With Whining Children, fa la la la la la take a Xanax.

Is it really necessary for the kids to miss school for Veteran’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, Presidents’ Day, and Memorial Day, along with furlough days, staff development days and grading days? Sure, significant days should be celebrated and kids should be educated about important historical moments in history, but can’t we just do so on weekends? Have we stopped to consider the number of brain cells turned to jelly during the hours of screen time kids watch when there’s no school? I’m pretty sure it’s enough to kill a small hamster.

Let’s talk about the suffering of stay at home parents (and spouses who get to hear crashing and screaming in the background when they call home to check in). Days off of school can be torture. I can always tell when my best friend’s kids have a furlough day. The phone calls start earlier in the day than usual. Her regular calm hello has a ring of desperation. I can tell by the long sigh after I ask her how she’s doing that she wants to ring someone’s neck. Write about that she implored me. So I’m writing in honor of all the stay-at-home moms who feel like caged animals when their kids are home all day. For the multiple trips to the pantry for Cheez-It crackers, spoonfuls of peanuts butter, Craisins. For the ear-splitting cries of boredom and begging for play dates and outings.

It is on these days that I realize that I could be a better mother. I could be on the floor playing with the kids. I could be creating interesting crafts to do together. There are cookies that could be baked, lessons in culinary arts to relay (if only I knew what to do with a frozen chicken breast), interesting tin foil sculptures to create. But no, these things don’t happen in my home. I find myself on the periphery of the chaos, just trying to make sure no one gets hurt. I toss the kids food as a zookeeper might toss raw meat to the tigers. I sneak into the bathroom to call my best friend. I hide in the laundry room and imagine drinking a big glass of wine as soon as it’s dark enough outside.

There are only so many times a woman can participate in the evil takeover of the doll house by an army of Squinkies. There are only so many times I can discuss the size comparison of the planets. The sight of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? sends me running. And there are only so many times I can bounce my toddler around while singing The Grand Old Duke of Friggin’ York.

Consider the weather when you think about how many days kids are out of school. Portland gets approximately 40 inches of rainfall a year. This makes up about three four-month periods in which four months are rainy, four months have a 50-50% chance of being rainy, and four months are pretty dry. So for about 180 days of the year I can’t boot the kids outside to play. And we have a really small house. It’s enough to make a person very kvetchy.

So, Administrators, I beg of you, when you are planning the school calendar, when you are making time for the Harvest Festival, Muffins for Mom, Donuts for Dad, the Fun Run, Native American Night, and Field Day, please consider the mental health of the parents on those many days our children are missing school. Please, for the love of all that’s good and holy, for the well-being of our future, please stop cutting school days.

Zombie Moms and Other Encounters at the Indoor Play Park

This morning, as I was watched my two-year old bulldozing his way through our rec center’s winter indoor play park (necessary for soggy Portland), I was also taking an inventory of the moms. This is one of my favorite things to do. I inventory other moms to relate, to feel a kindred spirit, never to judge.

Taking inventory is how I met one of my best friends. A couple of weeks after moving to Portland I was walking my daughter (3 months old at the time, colicky) around our neighborhood. I saw a mom on the other side of the street walking her beautiful baby. She looked so put together. How was that possible? Her hair looked amazing. He complexion glowing. She was wearing huge sunglasses. What was she hiding behind those shades? New mom exhaustion? Tears? A drug habit? I had to meet her. Immediately. “HOW OLD IS YOUR BABY?” I hollered from across the street. Lucky for me she didn’t run the other way when she heard the desperation in my voice. Lucky for me she didn’t care that I was unkempt, delusional from lack of sleep, slap-happy.

But I digress. My favorite moms are the Zombie Moms. You can often find them in Target, slowly making their way through the aisles, filling their red plastic carts with toilet bowl cleaner, under-eye circle concealer, Tictacs, Q-tips, pregnancy tests. Zombie Moms are the ones who look, well, like the undead. They frequently wear Ugg boots, or Target Ugg boot knock-offs. They have the trademark Ugg boot shuffle. This is something I can get on board with.

At the rec center the Zombie Mom trails behind her child with a travel mug of Stumptown coffee or some fair trade tea (this is Portland, after all) clutched close to her breast. There might be baby barf bedazzling a shoulder, a crushed Cheerio ground into the soft jersey of her sweat pant leg, and a bit of mashed banana stuck in her hair. And always, always, the smear of snot. It can be found anywhere on the Zombie Mom. It’s like the Girl Scout Badge of motherhood, but most notable on the Zombie Mom. Children of other moms (The Prep School Mom, The Hovermom, The Hippy Mom) seek out the Zombie mom if only to swipe their little red noses along the Zombie Mom’s already snot softened pant leg.

I can relate to the Zombie Mom. Deodorant? A well-balanced breakfast? Social niceties? How are any of these possible when you are dead tired? How is it possible to be coherent on three thirty minute snippets of sleep per night? Zombie moms of the world, I salute you. You show up, and sometimes that is enough.