Monday, December 16, 2013

A Reader

Tonight, my son read all of Ezra Jack Keat's A Snowy Day by himself, and I would like to mark the occasion.

He didn't want to do it.  He fussed and complained about it being too hard, but before he knew what was happening, he was laughing when the snow fell on Peter's head.  He confuses "was" and "saw" and also compound nouns don't come easy like "somewhere," but he's getting it.  I felt proud.

A good friend brought us our Christmas gift early, a hand-made quilt using retro fabric.  It is beautiful and made me feel very loved.  I carried her thrashing 3-year-old out to her car and strapped her in as she arched her back and wailed at not wanting to leave.  I kissed her forehead. 

I sat under the quilt with both kids as we read chapter nine of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, feeling very warm and loved.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


My son's teacher got sick during school so a sub was brought in.  When I picked him up this afternoon, the substitute asked me, "Oh, he's yours! Could I please take him home with me?"  She said this with a sigh and conspiratorial look that showed that she had not had the easiest of days with this class.  My heart swelled, and I picked him up, holding him close.  I answered, "He is pretty wonderful isn't he?"

Tonight at bedtime after we finished reading aloud the last two chapters of Ramona the Brave, I picked him up again to tell him how happy I felt when the sub said this because it sounded like he had been a help to her.  He nodded and told me how he got more points than anyone, even the kids who normally get more than he does.  He showed a quiet and slightly shy pride at having done the right thing at school and being commended by a teacher. 

I thought back to his rough transition into kindergarten last year and asked him if he remembered an incident on the second day of school with one of his best friends, an incident that got him in a little bit of trouble but that revealed what a tough time he had those first few weeks.  He nodded, but tried to downplay it.  Because he has changed so much since that time last year, I thought it was safe to tease him.  It wasn't.  He angrily dropped out of my arms and started to cry.

I took him into the other room away from his sister where he cried and told me I embarrassed him.  I tried to explain that I thought it was safe to tease him but that I was wrong and could he forgive me?  Seeing him cry in embarrassment was the last thing I'd wanted to do.  I'd hoped to build him up after his very good day with a substitute but instead I'd done the opposite.

This is the worst feeling as a parent, not when others hurt your child but when you yourself do it.  I'm so glad he agreed to forgive me.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Letting the Outsider In

The very dark skinned man from Eritrea with the curving deep scar across his forehead reminds me very much of my own father.  They are almost the same age.  He came to this country as a refugee earlier this year, and his stipend has run out leaving him with no resources for survival.  It was my privilege to connect him with resources over the last month or so.

The story of what it took to keep him from homelessness is a story of red tape, beurocracy, kindness, ignorance, and tenacity.  It is winding and twisting, often frustrating, sometimes boring with minutae and thus not worth detailing here.

The end of the story happens tomorrow when I get to help him move in to his new apartment.  What led to his point was a roller coaster.  He admitted to me today that he never slept at all last night after the stressful meeting we had with a very kind apartment manager who did not understand the intricacies involved in immigration.  It was a heart breaking point in a very long meeting that my client refers to now as "the storm."  All was well until the storm of ignorance and confusion descended.

The storm came at closing time of governmental offices, so we had to wait until this morning to procure the documents being requested.  As I obtained each one, I took jpeg photos and emailed them via my phone "just until I can get to my office fax" to the manager so she could have them before our 2pm deadline.  Turns out that even though I faxed them in time, what appeared in his folder was a printed copy of my smart phone jpeg, my pink fingers in the shot.  Noticing this pleased me immensely.

Also calming the storm was a well-timed phone call by the manager of my nonprofit branch directly to the apartment manager explaining, in the voice and words of an African, what I had been telling her over and over the day before.   She and her boss were convinced, and I got the call several hours later that he could move in.  I ran as quickly as possible to him to tell him the news via thumbs-up, huge smiles, and "it's okay!"  He took his hat off, covered his face, praised God.  What relief.  He is so happy.

In the midst of the storm this morning, I had a conversation with the African manager of the nonprofit where I work about the anger I found overcoming me as I drove home last night from the apartment manager who was denying us (or at least withholding approval).  My anger wasn't directed towards her; it was directed towards the greater society in which we live, the one where the majority of people out enjoying the beautiful weather were oblivious to the suffering and struggle of others right in their midst.  It was a beautiful warm fall day with the changing colors right at their height of beauty.  Nice people were out throwing frisbees, drinking over-priced artisan coffees, raking the leaves in their perfect lawns surrounding their perfect houses.  I had the urge to yell at them to wake up to the struggle of the alien in their midst, to welcome these good people, to help them and have their own lives enriched and made better by their presence because that is exactly what has happened for me.

My manager smiled and nodded as I told him this.  I'm not certain what he was thinking.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

This Moment Now

This very moment right now.  Husband and daughter playing cards at the dining room table as with the cardboard cut out of Michael Jackson looking on.  The sound of Italian-ish accordian movie music coming up from the basement as my 19-year-old niece watches a library-obtained copy of Eat, Pray, Love downstairs.  My son already in bed, upstairs rather than in his own bed due to a moment of weakness promise last night at midnight that he could sleep up there tonight.  He had to go to bed earlier than his sister due to a lie told this afternoon about a broom.

The house is clean...ish.  My husband oversaw this yesterday since the delegating of the chores stresses me out too much.  All the (seven!) loads of laundry are put away.  The lunch of Ethiopian-spiced cabbage with chicken apple sausage has been cleaned up.  So has the dinner of boxed mac-and-cheese (organic!) with a can of tuna and some frozen peas thrown in.  It was the regular summertime lunch my sister and I ate as kids whose parents worked full time.  Tonight was the first night I made it for my own kids.  They gobbled up this low-brow food, and I was reminded that sometimes tasty food does not have to be time-consuming. 

Now I sip this low-brow savignon blanc as Julia Roberts speaks Italian in the Eat portion of that horrible movie.  I shouldn't judge since I haven't seen it.  I'm judging based on the horrible book.  Can't bear to watch it.  I love Italy too much.

I space out for a minute, a street in Prague skeedaddling through my consciousness.  My daughter plays solitaire as my husband walks the dog.  My nightly popcorn sounds nice about now.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Falling Slowly Mango Candies

It was the end of a long week, not a bad week but certainly a long one.  There were unexpected work events that had me in long meetings with a phone translator and stuck in downtown traffic.  Not my normal work life.  There was homework to oversee at night which went surprisingly well thanks to amazing teachers.  Through it all, I managed to squeeze in the assembly of a deep dish lasagna and peanut coconut soup as well as the finishing of a book for my book group. 

On Friday afternoon, my son got his flu shot right after school, and my husband and I then told our kids that we had to have quiet time.  We asked them to stay only in the house or the backyard while mom and dad rested.  We both fell asleep within minutes upstairs and woke up forty-five minutes later to a silent house. 

I came downstairs to find a note at the bottom of the stairs from my son.  It said it was his experiment.  It had "I love you" written on it with "mom" on one side and "dad" on the other with arrows pointing to two small bottles of wedding reception bubbles on either side of the paper.  I have no clue what the experiment was, but he seemed excited to show me.

A picture of outer space was left on the computer keyboard for us.  They asked if they could play outside. 

We spent the evening driving through an odd part of town, stopping in for our first trip to the huge Asian supermarket, which we all found to be fascinating.  We bought fortune cookies, mango candies, noodles, red curry paste, etc.  We ate pho and had lessons on using chopsticks.  We stopped by a big box store to redeem a birthday gift card.  We came home with a box of pirate toys and a bow-and-arrow.

We read Snow White at home, and our kids performed the song they worked on while we were napping, "Falling Slowly" from the film Once.  They'd written down the lyrics as best as they could remember them. My son's voice is angelic, pitch-perfect, and he sings from his gut when he feels safe.  I could only smile and fight tears, so proud of these creatures in my house who quietly leave us surprises while we nap on a Friday afternoon and then sing us a very grown-up song before they go to bed.

It's now after 10:30, and they're in their room listening to the soundtrack from Once, trying to really learn the words. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Recurring dream.

I have a recurring dream about the neighborhood surrounding my maternal grandparents' house.  Back when the house was built in the '40s, it was an upper middle-class area that seemed to peak in the late '80s with the onset of "white flight" to the suburbs.  When too many break-ins and armed robberies happened in their neighborhood (even at their church), my grandparents sold the house they'd raised their children and grandchildren in to live in a garden home in a safer area to the east of town.

When I go home to visit, my sister and I often end up driving around the old neighborhood, sometimes parking in front of the house our grandparents helped to raise us in, the one where we had our weekly Sunday dinners with its many cream puffs, jello molds, and casseroles. It was the immaculate house that always smelled like soap and coffee and that we always knew we were free to be our full selves in.  The house was the brightest spot of my childhood.

I have dreams, like the one last night, about trying to get to the house but finding it difficult for various reasons.  Usually it's because the area surrounding the house is so derelict.  Once, the area was a third-world slum with a triage hospital down the street treating drug addicts and patients with missing limbs. 

Last night, the area was a marshy swamp of fallen trees and mud.  I was in a boat, trying to get there but finding it hard.  I pointed to an area where the local park used to be but was now just a cavernous area of muddy trees and fallen statues. 

In my dream last night, I never got to the house that nourished me as I grew up.  I never made it there.  I just woke up.

A Sunday in 2013

I will, I will, I will reclaim the habit of these moments.

I woke up today having slept ten hours but with an escalation of the cold I'd had since Wednesday.  The extra sleep was from the second and third grade girl sleepover I'd hosted Friday night.  They were awake until 12:30 and up again at 8am.

For my own mental and physical health (and maybe the health of others I might encounter), I stayed home while my family went to church.  Shower, yoga pants, no make-up, laundry, Irish tea, my seat next to the front window to begin my book club's October assignment, Brooklyn, a book I've had for years and nearly given away but then kept through premonition of this moment.

The family comes home and life escalates, as it should I guess.  My son's best friend was outside, and eventually the gaggle of neighborhood kids ended up in our yard and the back of our pick-up playing.  As I cooked a pot of spiced lentils with chickpeas and quinoa, I kept hearing chantings of "Ready? Steady? Go!" through our open windows.  There were a lot of ninja costumes outside.

 I heard crying at one point, a neighbor girl who was at the sleepover with a cut finger.  A fair amount of blood as I washed it, rinsed it, put antibiotic cream and a band-aid, redoing it once to situate the flap of skin in the right place as the big sister told her to be brave and squeeze her hand as hard as she needed.

My husband and I went on a solo trip to look at couches, since we've been living without one since the first of the summer.  We stopped by a cool liquor store on the way home and spent a little bit of money, then on to the grocery store together, a trip to buy food and booze with no children.  It felt a little like a date.

I made a very large pan of lasagna to keep in the fridge for later in the week as I talked on the phone with my dad who told me all about my sick uncle.  We talked a lot about family drama and how Southerners are better at community support than folks on the west coast.  When my father-in-law died last month, he and my sister sent two huge boxes of sweets from a favorite bakery with a heartfelt note attached explaining the significance.  The note made me cry and the family here gobbled the Southern-style cookies.

It eventually started to spit-rain but the kids remained outside on front and back porches which was handy since I'd moved on to cleaning.  As my kids came in, I reminded them that I'd asked them to help with nothing around the house and to "just remember that."  They put their laundry away and, on their own, swept and mopped the basement.

We sat at the dining room table, my son eating lentil stew and my daughter eating leftover breakfast oatmeal, reading the book Why Should I Help?, found at a library sale the day before by our pastor's daughter who was spending the day with us post-sleepover.  We took turns reading page by page, my son very proud to have read large chunks on his own.

We all unloaded the dishwasher together as my son ate huge bites of cold oatmeal from breakfast.  I made their lunches for tomorrow as I told my husband how much I loved this mug I saw on fb that said, "World's Okayest Mom." They got in pajamas and settled in to bed.  I poured a glass a my favorite savignon blanc, and my son only got out of bed twice to tell me that he couldn't sleep.  Now my gray cat Bang Bang is purring on my lap as I nibble sweet potato chips and finish my glass.  The dog Gus Gus growls behind me, curled in sleeping position but senses atuned to every dog walking past our house.  My husband watching Newsroom in the basement, kids well on their way to sleep. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013


The film Once came out serendipitously just a few months before we took my father-in-law to Ireland to visit the area his family came from.  He became obsessed with this movie, going so far as to frame the LP cover in his office.  When we walked the Temple Bar area of Dublin a few months later, I pointed out a flower stand similar to the one in the film, and he told everyone thereafter that he saw the actual stand used in the film.

It made sense then that the family spent an afternoon this summer at my husband's studio space watching their dad's favorite movie.  Judge me all you want, but we let our kids watch too.  I figure the strong Dublin and Czech accents kept them from understanding the "inappropriate" language.  At first, my son had a bad attitude about watching it.  He wanted to watch a "kid movie" on the laptop, but I insisted he sit with the family.  On a bathroom break, he admitted that the movie was "really good."

This weekend as I organized our house, I found our copy of the Once soundtrack, given to us by my father-in-law.  My son's reaction to being handed the disc was similar to Christmas morning.  He hugged it.  He did a little jig.  He ran downstairs and put it in the computer to play it on the big speakers.  My kids had been singing "Falling Slowly" for the last couple of weeks, and now they were so excited to get to listen again.

I got a short video this afternoon of my kids sitting at the computer singing their hearts out to their grandfather's favorite soundtrack.  My son loves most the songs where the man is angrily shouting-singing.  He expressed awe at how "great" the singing is.  My daughter asked that "Falling Slowly" be put on her birthday CD and we had a conversation about which song is my favorite and why ("Gold"). 

I hold the CD sleeve in my hands just now and cry.  It was a final thing of beauty passed down to my kids from their grandfather, in the week of his death no less.

The need for grief

Bit by bit, we are reclaiming normal life through the completion of stalled house projects involving minor construction to the reorganization of drawers and closets.  Most people did this stuff before their kids went back to school.  For us, that wasn't impossible, but certainly wasn't a palatable option when faced with the choice of spending rich time with family.  And thus, the irony: I say that we're reclaiming our life when really the rich stuff of life happened in the chaos of this summer.  On my deathbed, I won't be thinking about how organized my linen closet was in my 30's. 

That being said, this weekend we're currently on the downward slope of has felt a bit like a recharging of batteries, at least a beginning of a recharge.  We're all very aware that true grieving has not happened yet, the sort of healthy grieving that lets you move forward. 

On Friday, I had a work lunch that happened to be at my father-in-law's favorite restaurant, one that we had tried to take him to on Father's Day this year, just a short three months ago.  As I walked into the restaurant on a remarkably similar sunny day, I remembered acutely how I stood with him next to the artificial rock facade of the building while my husband parked the car.  He was very wobbly on his feet and leaned a great deal of his body weight on me as we approached the restaurant.  At one point, I remember going in to ask the hostess something and gave my kids instructions to keep an eye on their grandad while I was gone. 

This memory propelled me towards a funk that lasted well through the rest of that afternoon.  As I sat through the work lunch, I found myself spacing out as I remembered the time a few years before that my family had sat at the neighboring table with my father-in-law.

While we took long weekends away in the woods, we never took a proper vacation all summer.  We never had that kind of uninterrupted string of not less than five days of sitting still.  During our scheduled vacation, we were in the week of the funeral. 

This post needs to end.  The ensuing ones should be shorter, truer to the reason for this blog.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


It makes sense that I stopped writing around the time my father-in-law fell and broke his hip at the beginning of the summer.  Today my kids both went back to school, and since three of us were up off and on all night with food poisoning (that was great timing!), I took the day off to recoup.  Part of that for me is relaunching this blog.

Our summer ended up being about two things.  A house in the woods we purchased as an investment property and the quick decline and eventual passing of my husband's father.  My children did not take a single class or swim lesson.  They saw a small smattering of their school friends but plenty of family.  I don't think either of them would say that their summer was bad.  In fact, by looking through the photos I faithfully took, I think they will remember the summer of 2012 as being about adventures in the woods and day after day after week after week spent with their huge extended family.

As my father-in-law declined, his children came to visit.  Our house became 'home base' for the comings-and-goings, something I was thrilled to be able to offer.  I adore my husband's family and loved knowing that they were around so much, despite the difficult circumstances. 

There are countless untold moments of crying, of laughing, of arguments, of whispered conversations to the side, of incomprehensible ramblings of a man standing on the doorway between this life and the next.  I wish I had written them all down.

Though then again maybe I don't.  Though this summer seemed like a blur, a whizzing past of faces that look just like my husband's mixed with the scent of wild desert sage and blackberry milkshakes, it also seemed like the longest summer I've experienced in years.  The purchase of the house was finalized the same week as the onset of my father-in-law's illness, and this week feels like ages ago.  For once, in a scurry of activity, life slowed down all on its own.  The things my family experienced this summer are seared into our memories, no need for a catalog of images on this blog.

We also got the renter set up in the house in the woods the same week of my father-in-law's funeral.  This tied up the summer.  I know I haven't taken the time  needed to grieve this passing.  There hasn't been time with all the hosting of family.  But as the days grow shorter and the rains begin and my kids go to bed again at a reasonable hour, I am hoping for time to say goodbye to my favorite old man, a man who was already old when I met him ten years ago.  He was one of my best friends, and I know his absence is going to make itself known as I read books I want to share with him and can't.

Oh Ed, oh Ed, oh Ed, what are you doing now?  I think of you every day.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I'll Be There

Tonight when I kissed my baby boy asleep, his hair smelled like injera and berbere, the same way the tips of my fingers smell from feeding him gursha-style bites of dinner a few hours before.  I breathed deep this smell of rich Ethiopian spice and heard in the glow of his dark room at 11pm the refrain of my son singing "Look over your shoulder, honey...ooh!" from the song "I'll be there" by  Michael Jackson. 

I'll be there for you, honey. 


Monday, July 15, 2013


My father-in-law broke his hip two weeks ago, so it's been a rough go of things in the family since then.  A lot has been going on.  My sister-in-law on the east coast is here for a couple weeks visiting and has been working her magic on the stubborn old man who had gone on a hunger strike upon being put in a rehab center.  She goes out every morning to eat breakfast with him and bring him whatever he needs from the store or his condo.  She gets there by riding my bike.  Today, they watched The Hustler on AMC, and I made a mental note to watch it myself. 

When she came home this afternoon from her morning with her dad, she gave us the rundown on the day.  Out of the blue, her voice cracked and she couldn't speak.  She told us through tears that he'd talked today about how much he wished he could be around to watch our daughter, an amazingly gifted runner, compete in a track meet. 

Tonight we all went to see him while my husband taught his night class.  He had just finished his dinner in his room, no longer at the front door trying to make his escape, no longer on a hunger strike.  We flipped the channels and found Little House on the Prairie.  We watched the episode when Laura and Almonzo get engaged.  When Opa got changed into his pajamas, we went outside and picked blackberries from the huge bushes in the parking lot.

Two Ethiopians are taking care of him in the afternoon/evening shift.  Tonight, they both chatted with my kids after they got my father-in-law ready for bed.  I felt proud and relieved to have these two sweet souls caring so kindly for my favorite old man.

Warm Fart Water

It had been four days since my kids had bathed.  My daughter showered but my son decided it best to hang out in a bath of his own filth playing with little green army men. I sat in the bathroom cutting my nails, my daughter talking beside me.  My son picked up an empty shampoo bottle and started pouring the bathwater into his mouth, mostly for effect but surely swallowing some of it.

We both let out a bunch of 'ewwws!' with my daughter letting him know what all is in that bath water.

"There's dirt from your feet, your earwax, boogers, just all kinds of disgusting stuff, and now you're drinking it."

Right on cue, her brother let out a man-sized fart into the water and added, "Don't forget farts too."

He put his face right in and laughed his head off. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

a Longing for Justice

Tonight, the verdict was read, and I immediately wanted to throw up.  My family came home from grocery shopping, and I had to leave the house to keep from crying in front of my kids. 

I walked around my white neighborhood in the safety of my white skin for an hour.  My emotions that had started with shock morphed into intense anger for about twenty minutes, and I walked the pristine neighborhood with a tightly clenched fist, nails burning into my palm.  I understood a little bit the emotion that incites a riot.  I wanted to punch something or set something on fire. 

On my walk, I'd stop to check fb on my phone and see other expressions of grief, shock, and anger.  I stopped on a public staircase and cried. 

I posted a status update saying "No one in this country prays harder than the mothers of black sons."  I was, and am, at a loss at how this could happen.  I fear for my baby boy, the one who still wants to be picked up by his mama, the one who pats my back as we hug, the way he did at the age of nine-months, the one who often wears hoodies and will be seen as a threat once he reaches puberty.  He'll probably still pat my back when we hug.

After an hour, I decided to go home and bake cookies with my kids.  I let them open the butter, scoop the sugar, crack the eggs, turn the mixer on and form balls of dough to be plopped onto the cookie sheet.  My son came down to the kitchen/dining room with his CD player from his room and a CD of old-timey radio shows from the '40s that a friend from college made for him when he was two.  It's how he usually goes to sleep at night these days, listening to old-time radio hour shows about Pecos Bill and Robin Hood.

 He laid on the floor tonight and listened to the same stories that children during the second world war listened to at night.  He rolled on the floor sucking his thumb, singing along at certain songs he's learned.  He's a night-owl who listens to these sometimes after everyone else has gone to sleep.  I was surprised to hear him singing along to songs that I don't even know.  In between batches of cookies being put into the oven, he wanted me to sit with him and listen, safely on my lap.  It was exactly what I needed: a night in the safety of our home where he is in my arms and untouched by the trigger-happy racists of this country. 

No one in this country prays harder than the mothers of black sons.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Things Found In My Dryer 2

Part 2: Three tiny animal bones (bottle cap for size reference).  These treasures brought back from the high desert of Central Oregon, perhaps remnants of a coyote kill?

Love Your Children

I am hoping that the thing that stands out more than anything from our last five days in Central Oregon is not the night I spent vomiting.  I have only barfed four times in my entire life, so each episode is rather memorable.  The first: the backseat of my mother's blue Chevrolet Nova after eating orange soda and cheetos.  I said, "Mom, my throat feels funny" and then let it loose.  Second: a week after botched eye surgery when the pressure spiked so high in my eyes that I let loose the In-and-Out burger I'd eaten half an hour before.  Third: middle of a sleepless night after eating local Ethiopian food and French chocolate cake.  Fourth: two nights ago, inexplicably, while at our high desert cabin where no one else got sick but me.  I was up all night and am still recovering, not able to eat anything beyond the B.R.A.T. diet (bananas, toast, apples, tea).

The reason for the recounting of My Life in Vomiting is because of something that happened this afternoon with my kids.   They had been given the big task of unpacking their stuff and cleaning up their room (which never really got cleaned after having two friends sleep over for four nights in a row last week).   My husband was doing the bulk of the cleaning while I unpacked and did laundry, with frequent breaks to lay down due to light-headedness and residual nausea.  After one of my ten minute breaks, I found my kids downstairs in the basement bedroom practicing magic tricks with their uncle who is here visiting from Germany.  I took a deep breath and waited before the lecture.

The lecture came and went, and they were sent to their room with instructions not to come out of it, "not even for water or the bathroom" until it passed my inspection of cleanliness. Forty-five (or so) minutes later, after a solo trip to the store for kefir and bananas (all I can really manage to keep down), I came up to check their room. 

They stood together at the door whispering.  My son said the apology out loud and my daughter read to me this note:

"Dear mom sorry for not lisining to you when you told us to do a chor and we are so so so sorry that we disobayd you mom. Love your children."  Big pink heart at the bottom. 

My son immediately spoke up at the end of the reading to say, "It might be confusing to hear 'love your children' because it doesn't mean that you should love your children but instead it means, like at the end of a letter, 'love, your children'."

Maybe it's just me, but I found this hilarious.  I love the idea of my kids signing a letter to me with the reminder that I really ought to love them.

Things Found In My Dryer

My dryer won't always be so clangy and bumpy, so in an attempt to find the whimsy in a normally frustrating part of my weekly household chores, I present a new series called Things Found In My Dryer.

Part 1: Tiny plastic chicken.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Kindness from Stranger

As we walked through the aisles of a store, I had to break the news that my daughter had missed a birthday party of a friend of hers last weekend because we'd gone out of town.  It came up because she'd wanted to get a gift while we were there.  Her reaction was what one would expect from an almost-eight-year-old girl who'd missed out on a birthday party.  The tears flowed.

I asked her not to cry and said I was sorry she had to miss it.  She was still quietly crying as we got to the check-out line.  I put on the conveyor belt candy, flip-flops for my son, and a deep treatment conditioner for both the kids' hair.  The young black lady working the register had noticed us as we walked up, and as soon as she finished with the customer ahead of us, she turned our way and asked me, "Are these your adopted kids?"

She then turned right to my daughter as she rang us up and asked why she was crying.  Getting no quick answer, I explained that she'd just found out that she had to miss a birthday party last weekend.

The cashier nodded, never taking her attention off of my daughter.  I was a bystander.  She pulled out a container of stickers and gave her one.  She told her, "Boy that's disappointing to miss a birthday party, but I can tell you as someone who has lived 24 years on this earth: there is always another birthday party.  Another one will roll around the next year, and you won't miss it, and it'll all be okay."

My daughter nodded, her face still wet with fresh tears.  I was so thankful.  I told her so.  She brushed it off and handed me my back.

I want to call her manager to give her commendations.  I want her to know that I appreciate the attention she gave my "adopted daughter."  I, of course, couldn't help wondering what her story was, if maybe she herself wasn't also adopted.  Maybe she just has a big heart for children, but I couldn't help finding it strange (not in a bad way) that she focused so much attention on my daughter.  Maybe she saw me as the negligent, ne'er-do-well white mother screwing up yet another adopted black child.  It's possible.

No matter what, I was thankful her message to my daughter helped her feel better.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

One degree of separation

Tonight at dinner, all of us, but especially our son, got to hear an amazing story.

An old friend and her fiance were over to share a meal at our house of Ethiopian food.  It was his first time having it, and I was so happy every time I saw him reach and reach and reach for bite after bite of injera with about seven kinds of 'wots'.

As we were finishing up and getting ready to go for a walk, our friend started to tell us a story about when she worked at Disneyland in the early '90s.  She was a host on the Fantasyland ride, the one you enter via boat through the huge gaping mouth of a whale.  It was a packed day at the park with every boat full, and she was baffled when a group of only three people were allowed on her boat which usually holds many more.  The group on her boat was a man, a woman, and a child.

She sat next to the man who was dressed in dark glasses and a baseball cap.  He had a goatee.  He was soft-spoken and chatted with her about her job.  She told him a story about she'd fallen off the boat and into the water the day before.  All three on her boat were friendly and quiet.

When the ride was over, he waved at her, smiled, and called her by name to tell her goodbye, even though he'd only heard her name once.  She called her manager on her headset to ask what that was all about, why these three people had been allowed on the ride by themselves on such a busy day.

It turns out the soft-spoken man was Michael Jackson.  He was there with friends in disguise so they could enjoy the park anonymously.  She'd had not the slightest clue who it was.  She caught a glimpse of him walking away and immediately saw the truth based on his body shape and the cadence to his walk. She admitted that she was glad she hadn't known who he was because she certainly would have acted differently.

As our friend told this story tonight at dinner, my son sat at the other end of our dining room table with his thumb in his mouth, eyes completely bugged out.  He smiled and smiled.  He blinked hard.  He'd look from her to me, then to his dad, then back to her, smiling, eyes huge.

How silly is it that I felt thrilled for him to have heard this first-hand story about one of his heroes?  My husband and I watched transfixed as his daughter publicly mourned him at his funeral.  Our son was too small to remember, but he was with us in the room.  I couldn't stop crying and eventually "unfriended" people on fb for making snide, tasteless jokes about him.  Say what you will about the man, I have always loved Michael Jackson and do so even more now that he is this special to my son. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Extra Set of Kids

It's ridiculous how much I've let these postings slide.

We have two extra kids with us all week, same ages and genders as ours. Tonight I remembered sleepovers with my friends and cousins when I read the bedtime story.  It was such an incredibly cozy feeling to be sitting on the floor in the middle of my kids' room with two extra kids in sleeping bags on the floor.  We'd brought the basement couch cushions up for them to sleep on as pallets, and the small room was lit with small lamps and small string lights hanging in the window.

I sat on the primary colored alphabet rug and read the story about the crying woman who poured perfume on the feet of Jesus.  It ended with a line about the rule-followers hating Jesus so much they'd kill him.  When I mentioned that this was sad, the eight-year-old in a sleeping bag said, "Yeah, but it's part of his plan."
Her father is a pastor and mother a kindergarten teacher, so she's good at knowing the right answers.

She's so well-behaved and mature that I felt relieved tonight when she laughed her head off at my son saying, "We should watch the Buttcracker ballet!"  Her little brother mumbled, "That's not inappropriate," getting his negatives all jumbled up, and my son laughed, "Yeah, well, it's still funny."

The little brother has a demeanor that screams "tough guy" even though he's a cherub with long curly hair and dimples.  A few times tonight, he sauntered into me for a snuggle or took my hand.  He's still so small.  While watching 101 Dalmations with the other three laughing, he passed out asleep and needed me to carry him upstairs.  He woke up briefly on our way up but laid his head back down, and the feel of those curls on my face, heavy and soft body in my arms, reminded me so much of my own son. 

It's only day one, but today has been lovely.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Searching for the Lost Grandson

I am using my old blog to try to find the man's grandson.  You can find it by clicking here.  Please feel free to share the post as much as possible.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lost Grandson

For the last month, he's been bringing me a stack of photos every week.  Through very broken English, he's shown his son, his grandson, his daughter-in-law and his son's grave.  His daughter-in-law died too.  I'd mistakenly blamed his insistence on showing me these photos every week on his old age and loneliness.  Today I found out that I was wrong.

A friend I work with had a few minutes this morning when he came in again with the photos to explain that he is looking for his grandson, the baby in the photos he has.  After being fully orphaned, he was adopted by a family in Canada, and his grandfather is desperate to make contact.

He uses a cane and has terrible eyesight.  When he came in this morning, I wasn't expecting him since it's not a normal program day with any formal activities going on.  I welcomed him to sit down near my desk, and as the all-important words "adopted to Canada" hit my ear, it all made sense.  This is why he kept bringing them in.  I really need to listen better.

I looked down at him, and he rubbed his eyes, burdened by the weight of this  lost grandson.  He explained that he doesn't want to take the boy back; he just wants contact.  He wants to know that he's okay.

I am an adoptive mother myself, and here I am on the other side of things.  What if one of my own children's grandparents was out there trying to reach out to them?  This thought makes me ache and desperate to help him, to find that lost grandson, the tiny boy celebrating what looks like a second birthday, standing beside his mother with a loaf of honey bread and a plate of oranges.

Around twelve years ago, that family was ripped apart, two scattered to the grave and another two westward, one landing in my office today.  I now carry his burden.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why on earth?

Right before bed on Sunday night, they were wrestling like maniacs on our hard-wood floor.  They had bathed, in pajamas, hair-caps on, teeth brushed.  I don't know exactly what was happening because I'd been cleaning up from our weekly Sunday afternoon potluck. 

I heard a loud 'thunk' and whipped my head around to see my son laying on his back, hands over his face and my daughter crouched beside him.  He screamed at the top of his little lungs, "WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME?"

He screamed and screamed, and I couldn't help finding it so very funny that he took the time to wail this question before truly letting loose the tears.

He wouldn't sit with his dad and sister for a story, wanting only to be with me. 

"I want mama."

So I sat with everyone on the couch as he calmed down and the bump on his head got bigger.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Small Moments

Both of my kids have had the same kindergarten teacher, and both years during her writing lessons, she has focused on getting the kids to write about "small moments" that happened to them.  Rather than the default, "I played with my friend after school," she gives them time to think in silence about a small moment.  When they have their moment set in their minds, they keep their heads down but put a thumb up in the air.

Our son has taken a turn for the better in school this last month (so much so that I am very conflicted in my feelings about the year ending...I hate the idea of losing such great momentum that he has going now), so I was amazed today when I watched him focus for at least ten minutes on a 'small moment'.  The teacher had them write a beginning, middle, and end to their moment. 

My son came over to show me his work.  The story goes:

I so a algatr. lisrd.
Next, I got a neklis.
Finally, I wit to the popup kapr.

("I saw an alligator. Lizard.
Next, I got a necklace.
Finally, I went to the pop-up camper.")

It was a story about a walk he took with his dad at the bluegrass festival we went to last month.  As he told me about this story, I got to thinking about the many small moments that make up our lives and how my kids are at the age where things are happening to them that I'll probably never know about, like the moment when he saw the lizard crawl into a sewer at a bluegrass festival.

It was a strange realization.  We think we do so much to form the childhoods of our kids by exposing them to art, music, learning, sport, but what they will probably remember about certain experiences will be something like a lizard crawling into a sewer.  Well, at least when they're five. 

Of course I started thinking about my own small moments of childhood and how so many of them my own parents probably don't know about, mostly because they were unremarkable things not worth bringing up.  But I remember them still.  Small moments. 


Last night my daughter chided me about how messy my hair is when I go to work.  She asked me to show her how to do flat twists like I do on her hair, so after a brief tutorial, she took off.

 I hadn't yet looked at myself in the mirror when she asked if she could do my hair for work sometime, so I gave her one of my 'maybe's.  After she was in bed, I looked at my hair and discovered this style:

This morning, I decided to let her do my hair for work.  At 8am, I sat down for a call to my boss about a work project, and my daughter climbed up on the back of my chair to do my hair.  As I talked, she stood behind me, carefully and brutally flat-twisting my hair. 

Several people asked me today who did my hair, and I proudly told them that it was my seven-year-old.  It was a little loopy here and there, but certainly better than the mess I apparently go to work in.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lock down

Of course it happened on the day that I was too busy to kiss my kids goodbye before they left for school.  The lockdown, that is.  The one that was not a drill but the real thing, the one that had my kindergartener closed in a coat closet with his classmates and teacher.

My final physical therapy appointment for the broken elbow was scheduled for the same time school starts, so my husband was taking the kids this morning.  By the time I got myself to the door to go, the kids were already in my husband's car. As I watched them drive off, I told myself that the lack of a proper send-off with the usual hugs and kisses was okay for one day since I'd be there at the school in a few hours for volunteering.  It was just a few hours.

I'd had a terrible night's sleep with worries about a work event scheduled for tonight, so I sat through the final talk with my physical therapist in a daze (even after two cups of coffee).  I arrived to work in a horrible mood, which did not bode well for a clean-up project we were working on.  I was grouchy and irritable and frustrated with things not going my way.  I wasn't very nice.

Late morning after I'd gotten back home, I got a notice through a parent-group for my kids' school on fb that the school was in lockdown due to a suspicious package being left near the school.  A parent had posted something from the twitter feed of a local news station.  It's hard to describe how I felt in that moment.  The best summation might just be: nausea.

I immediately felt the overwhelming urge to throw up.  My head started swimming.

I decided to call a couple of parents who are typically in the know about things related to the school, but neither of them had heard anything.  One lives in walking distance of the school, so she ran right over there and told me that "the school is crawling with police."

The first time I tried calling the school, an answering service said that the school was not available to take my call.  I wasn't sure whether to jump in my car and run over there or wait by the phone.  I called right back, and one of the secretaries answered that time.  The lockdown had just been cleared.  Kids were resuming a normal day.  The police were leaving.

As of now, there are no official reports of what was in the suspicious bag.  I heard a toy or stuffed animal.  Maybe a tightly and carefully wrapped school project.  Who knows?  It doesn't matter.

Here is what does matter:

My children are surrounded by men and women who would lay down their life for them in a heartbeat.  When the word came to my son's class about the lockdown, his teacher and the student teacher calmly had them leave their work and go with them into the coat closet.  She closed the window blinds and shut the closet door.  She told me that she had never talked so much in her life.  She was keeping them calm.

After five minutes, someone told them to move to another teacher's classroom since it was further away from the suspicious package that the police were investigating.  One of the girls in the class told the teacher at the end of the day that the reason she was covering her face with her hoodie during that walk is because she was so scared.  Her teacher commended her for being so brave, saying that she hadn't even noticed her doing that.  She was so proud of the girl for following directions in spite of her fear.

They waited in the other classroom for an hour.  They kept the lights off and just hung out.  They got permission to take it easy and just lay on the floor, which my son did.  He was tired today, so I can easily see him rolling around on the floor sucking his thumb.  Kindergarteners can get away with this.

My daughter was in music when word came about the lockdown.  Her teacher had them hide behind a wall in the auditorium, and eventually they just hung out for the whole hour.  She said she wasn't at all scared because "I knew we were safe."  I love this about her.

Once I heard from the secretary that they were out of lockdown, I relaxed.  I willed myself to think about other things and talked about my  morning with my husband.  But when I got to the school less than an hour later, I found myself hugging every staff member I could.  One of the first grade teachers, my daughter's reading group teacher, was standing on the playground when I arrived.  She is so professional that she has been accused of being cold.  I asked her how she was doing and thanked her for taking care of our kids.  I then hugged her hard, telling her through a tight throat and tears that I experienced a school shooting during my student teaching so am sometimes a little raw when it comes to these things.  She softened and looked at me with surprise.  Right then my son ran up to me for a kiss.  Her expression softened even more.  I put my hand on her arm, squeezed it, and told her thank you again.

In the office, I hugged both of the secretaries.  The younger one stood for hers, and when I walked towards the stereotypically surly older one, I said, "You can't get out of this no matter how hard you try" and I hugged her in her chair.  She smiled and laughed.  As I walked out of the office I told them, "We love y'all."

Walking down the hall, I hugged the assistant principal, the one my daughter idolizes.  I thanked her too for being there.  The head principal saw me coming, said 'hi' to me by name, and we high-fived.  I told him 'great job today'.

I hugged the teacher for the kids in my son's class with special needs.  I adore her and her sense of humor and warmth.  She is there for my kids just as much as anyone.  I didn't hug the school counselor who came in for a lesson while I was there because she was very busy teaching about using nice words.

It's strange to think that my kids were in no real danger today, yet it feels like we escaped something.  I guess we did.  These experiences can shake us out of our surliness, our bad moods, our irritability, our meanness, our apathy.  This is what I escaped today. 

 I was yanked out of the illusion that I can count on having at my disposal the next few hours of my life.  I will never again let my children leave the house without a kiss from me.

If you see anyone who works with children tomorrow, hug them.

I went back to work tonight with an openness that I was lacking this morning.  I was more generous with people.  I smiled more.  I was very tired but did the hard work of preparing for a big work party with energy that was missing earlier.  As I filled shopping carts with food for the party to honor our volunteers, I felt the fatigue of sleep deprivation and a stressful day, but this weakness in my body somehow made me appreciate the task I was working on. 

The community room was quickly filled with staff and volunteers, people who mentor African refugee youth and give up their Saturday mornings to teach young refugee mothers.  Four of my own program's volunteers were there, one of whom I had the joy of honoring with a rather expensive "Volunteer of the Year" plaque for his desk.  My children came, and I was filled with pride as I watched them scoop injera and doro wot, then listen quietly during speeches and later belly laugh with two habesha college graduates who made up an imaginary friend named Steve, whom my daughter ate.

We stayed past their bedtime.  I didn't rush home, despite it being a school night. It's best not to disrupt belly laughter.

You wouldn't believe the sunset on the way home.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


When I'm an old lady, I hope I get to live in a quiet wing of one of my kids' houses.  I want to have the hub-bub of an active house available but then also have my wing to retreat to.

Today was one of those days in which I hardly sat down.  The whole thing was a flurry.  My Portland bff texted at 8am to say "good morning sunshine, I miss you" which I replied to by explaining how much I hate mornings and that I had just screamed at the top of my lungs at an idiot driver barreling down my block.  I taught my kids on the way to school that it's okay to say "idiot" in reference to someone driving so fast down a residential street that they could kill someone.  I also told them that if I'd had a brick in my hand, I might have thrown it at the car.

There was a full work day (I am lucky enough to truly deeply love my job) and an evening of homework oversight, dinner, trying on a new Michael Jackson costume, and pop-in visits from neighbors.  It was so much activity.  If I were an old lady, I'd have retreated to my wing.

On my way home from work, I stopped in to check on my rapidly-aging father-in-law (who lives three blocks from my office).  I found him sitting quietly in his quiet apartment, not reading, not listening to music, not watching TV.  He was just sitting there in the quiet.  He agreed to come home with me for dinner, and he spent the next couple hours planted on our couch. We made him strong Irish tea, the same kind we drank together on our trip to the west coast of Ireland, his place of origin.  He was disappointed that we didn't put honey in it.

He ate a big dinner on the couch and read a book to our son as part of his homework.  It was a story about a girl with the biggest feet in the world.  I think she ended up saving her friends during a blizzard by being able to walk on top of snow drifts. Something like that.  He read the book very slowly, stopping once to sing to my son "When you wish upon a star," including strongly the message about it making no difference who you are.

I drove him back home while our kids worked on their cardboard box playhouse/rocket ship with two of the neighbor kids.  Earlier in the day, he'd cried when telling me about the conversation he'd had recently with his sister (18 months his junior) in which she said that she was too tired to even go to mass, that she would really rather just go.  He's not doing crossword puzzles or reading, two of his favorite activities, and I wonder if he wishes he had his own quiet wing of our house.

He called me over the weekend to read me a quote from Parade magazine about how "complicated" it is to be sandwiched by family.  He said, "I'm a loner!"  I kept thinking about that when I watched him read a book to our son.  Yes, a loner.  So am I.  He can give up his crossword puzzles, but I'm so thankful he's not yet giving up his family.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Wiz

One of my graduate school professors had a theory that any average, mainstream American will encounter at least one reference to The Wizard of Oz per day, so he kept a little spiral notebook in his back pocket at all times to tally each one he encountered.  This weekend, we led our kids down the yellow brick road.

We had already shown them clips from the movie and The Wiz, which our son was excited about since Michael Jackson is the Scarecrow.  Friday night, we found The Wiz on netflix and watched the whole thing.  I saw it when I was maybe five or six and found parts of it to be pretty scary.  Our kids seemed to be fine with it.

Since it was rainy today, we went to my husband's studio around lunch-time to let our kids watch from start to finish The Wizard of Oz.  Our daughter cried when Dorothy saw Auntie Em calling out for her in the crystal ball.  I hope it wasn't a mistake to show these two movies to our kids.  One of the funnest things about them getting to the age they are is the chance to introduce cultural icons to them.

All afternoon and evening, they sang "Ding dong the witch is dead," spreading the tune to a friend down the street who also sang it during her dinner. 

Don't you carry nothing that will be a load. You got to ease on down, ease on down the road.

Mama's boy

All I remember about the circumstances surrounding this small moment is that there was a lot of activity.  There were kids running around, coming in and out of our house, and I think it was a Saturday.

My son was wearing his favorite white tank-top with a race car on the front, the one his best friend has a matching one of and that they wear together sometimes.  He ran into the house, approached me, stuck his thumb in his mouth.  The second I picked him up, he became my baby again.

He wrapped his legs around my waist, rested his head on my right shoulder and wrapped his arms around my shoulders to where his favorite thumb could make its way into his mouth.  He immediately began humming "go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep little baby..."

My husband looked at us and said, "He knows who mama is." For me, it was a completely delicious moment.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy Monday

We're not sure if it's spring fever or the student teacher having run of the class, but our son's behavior took a turn for the worse a couple weeks ago.  He was getting his name on the board every day, sometimes with checks.  It's mostly been for squirreliness, such as playing in line, then falling on the floor, and rather than getting up and walking, deciding it would be hilarious and fun to crawl down the hallway.  That sort of thing. The driving force in our son's life is fun, and he looks for it in all circumstances.

Every time he came home with a bad report from school, we've given him a special job at home such as cleaning the stairs, scrubbing the tub, or windexing the windows.  To help him at school, we've reminded him that the best way of staying out of trouble is to, "Keep hands to yourself and look at the teacher." 

Something good happened today.  It started with my asking him to leave his sweater on all day, the sweater he doesn't like.  I never spend more than $5 on hooded fleeces for him because he inevitably loses them.  The latest, his favorite that I got for $1 from a consignment store last summer, got lost last week; hence, the sweater today that he doesn't like.

When he came out of school at 3pm, two things happened at once: his teacher gave me a thumbs-up for the day he'd had, and he still had his sweater on, even though the afternoon had become warm.  It felt like such a relief that he could follow directions, something that needed to be rewarded.

His sister was off to play at a friend's house, so he and I started by stopping by his old preschool to pick up something I'd won in a raffle and to visit with his old teacher.  It was so fun to watch him reminisce as we made our way into the classroom.  He kept pointing out all the things he remembered, and he acted so grown-up and shy around his old teacher.  He did give the perfect answer to his hippie-dippy granola teacher when asked what he's learning in school: "How to take care of the earth."  She was thrilled.

From there we went to a very old-school (and not very good) bakery his preschool did a tour of last year.  He picked a chocolate cupcake with a Tom&Jerry plastic ring on the top and never ate a bite of it, saying to me, "Mom, I like it so much I don't want to eat it."  He put on the ring and put the cupcake in a box to take home.  It's still in our fridge. 

We then stopped by the grocery store for a couple things, and he carried the basket for me until it got too heavy with popcorn and cans of evaporated milk. 

I love my kid so much and felt so proud of who he is becoming.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Future Leader

My daughter's teacher is leaving the school after just one year there.  It took me until almost the end of the year to realize how special she has become to our daughter.  It seemed that a lot of the school year, at least through the first few months, was spent handling discipline issues with other kids.  My daughter came home most days upset with how the day had gone, frustrated that her classmates wouldn't pay attention and that privileges got taken away from the whole class so much.  It frustrated me that our first grader already didn't like school.  I loved school at that age.

Then some change happened.  I'm not sure of the details, but it seems that our well-behaved, rule-following girl started getting special treatment in class.  She started hanging with her teacher during recess, the two of them creating their own games and language with each other.  Around this same time, our daughter took it upon herself to be a cafeteria helper, standing near the compost and trash at clean-up time to help the cafeteria workers.  Every Friday, they gave her a pencil for her help.  No one asked her to do this.  It's just a thing she started.

She also attached herself to the new assistant principal so much that she got the nickname "mini-me."  She'd see the assistant principal and grab her around the middle in a hug. 

Last night the school had a special event to celebrate cultures around the world, and while there, I found out that even more how close our daughter has gotten with her teacher.  They act like buddies who've always known each other.  There is a familiar ease between them.  It suddenly made me really sad that the year is ending, that our daughter will have to say goodbye to this special friend.

 One of the second grade teachers brings her puppy to school every day and lets the kids play with her during recess.  I found out yesterday that our daughter is the only one who has gotten to take her out for walks by herself.  It's another special privilege that has come with good behavior and helpfulness.  It was a huge secret so as not to make the other kids jealous.

It made me so happy.  I was the same kid, especially in middle school and high school.  There were a few administrators and teachers who took me under their wing and let me do things other kids didn't get to do.  They would pull me aside and say that I was 'special' or a 'leader' and then give me some task the others didn't get to do, one that came with responsibility.  It was incredibly formative for me to be trusted by a trusted adult at school, and I am thrilled that our daughter has already had this experience this year at school.

Her teacher sent me last night a photo of our daughter as she took the coveted puppy out for a run.  I am so thankful for teachers who bring puppies to school and for ones who trust my daughter with them.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I like you

This afternoon at school pick-up, I saw a familiar face standing against the fence waiting for her son's class.  My daughter is in the same class, and I felt happy to see here there since she's a neighbor I know decently well.  We've hung out, watched each others' kids and get along.  It's comfortable to stand next to her.  I like her.

As I walked her direction, another face came into view, this one less familiar.  I know her but not even marginally as well.  She smiled at me.  I smiled back.  We nodded and had this odd moment of not being sure if we were going to stop to talk or not.  We said a brief "hey" and in a split second, I decided to stop myself from going to the comfortable place by the fence with my comfortable neighbor.  I turned towards the less familiar face, something that does not come easily for this introvert.

She asked how I was, so I answered honestly. 

"I woke up pissy today, and at work someone had stolen all my desk candy over the weekend and someone else was smacking gum close by, so my pissyness just got worse."

She laughed and ended up talking about her own work anxiety and how it expresses herself.  I said, "Well, I don't know you very well, but there's ways of helping with anxiety..."

She thought I was talking about booze when actually I was talking about anti-anxiety meds.  And other things, which I shall keep secret.  The point is that it ended up being this really great conversation, and tonight right after I'd put the kids in bed, I got a text from her starting with, "I like you!"

 How often do we adults actually hear those words from another adult, I mean, unless you ever met Fred Rogers?  I found it to be utterly endearing and wonderful.  And it only happened because I managed to make myself uncomfortable by talking to a less familiar person.  For an introvert, this can be painful, almost literally so. On the inside, I'm feeling a pull in my stomach, an anxiousness saying "Aw man! Do I really have to talk to this person? It hurts my head to do it! Don't make me!  My stomach hurts too! Can I just go stand over there by that fence?"

Glad that today I didn't.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

On Friday, the first grade had a special program for mothers.  There were talents on display, poems read, songs sung.  As each group of kids stood up, I noticed each one craning their neck to find their own mother.  My own daughter did the same as her class sang a short song about mothers.  The song itself I don't remember.  What I do remember was the feeling I had when they sat down.  I watched my daughter turn to look at me, to check in that I'd been watching her, to smile at me. 

My thoughts immediately turned to her first mother, the one on this earth no more, the one our shared daughter has blurry memories of, all good ones.  I sat there in the warm auditorium and cried, not for long, but there was no holding it back.

Can she see me?  Can she see us?  How did it happen that "my" daughter looks to me for approval and support?  How can I possibly manage to honor the first mother, the one who carried the little one on her back and taught her to make injera and how to grind freshly roasted coffee beans with a mortar and pestle?  The one who planted the seed in our daughter's heart for love?

Tonight we had a group of folks over for a potluck dinner and ended up talking a lot about parenting.  I explained that we want very much to hold to the Ethiopian manner of parenting, that of the values of hard work, respect, tenderness with the young and elderly, humility.  A married couple with children in high school listened but said, "Isn't that too heavy of a burden to carry?  I mean, these are your kids now."

I don't fault them for their question.  It came out of concern for us, not wanting us to set ourselves up too much for failure.  But what I know in my gut is that we can't lower the bar.  We want our children to stand tall in their Ethiopian identity, beyond the realm of knowing the music, food, and snippets of language.  For the sake of their first families, we long for them to carry within them the pride of their roots: tenderness, hard work, responsibility, community, and hospitality. 

We carry this burden with joy in our hearts.  My children made me a mother.  By God's grace, I will honor their first families if it's the last thing on earth that I do.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


The first was a guy in line at a 'fast food health food' place I was at for work.  When I see him on the playground at my kids' school, I always think it's Tim Robbins.  I went to him in line and found out he heads up some fancy masters program at the city college and bikes the thirty (or so) blocks to get this food.  His students have a display at a local museum about civil protest/vandalism being works of art.  Or something.  Though we were on a tour of local galleries, we skipped this one at the end of our day in favor of having ice cream by a fountain.

The second was the lady scooping ice cream.  It took me a second, but I quickly made the connection that we see her sometimes at our favorite dog park (on the other side of town!).  She's probably fifty, and I assume owns the place.  As the group of nine African elders made their order, I introduced myself again.  It felt like a small town.

While waiting for ice cream, one of my son's best friends came in with his huge smile, his dad, and his grandmother.  The charming grandmother complimented my hair.  We stood in the sunshine as the streetcar went by, and my son's friend, as always, said little but smiled at me nonstop.  He's one of my favorites.

Three people I didn't expect to see, I saw on the opposite end of the city.

Tonight we sat at a friend's house on our end of the city with several other people.  One was a doctor.  One was a barista who had funny things to say about frappucino happy hour.  Another was a seminary graduate who had a lot to say about raccoons.  One was a physician's assistant.  Another was a nurse who sat quietly in the corner and told me quietly at one point how much she likes Captain Crunch cereal, like it's a big secret.  There were others there too.  And within the group was a former prostitute with a lengthy criminal record and another who admitted to a years-long separation after physically abusing his wife.  We told our stories and talked about what it means to "love stronger because family matters."

I'm not sure what my point is besides laying out the day I just experienced.  It's good to be out there experiencing this world.  It's good to walk up to the person you recognize in line for a health food fix.  It's good to take photos of African elders standing in front of a city fountain, the Eritrean couple holding hands in a rare show of affection.  It's good to be family in the community of God, to confess our hidden secrets, the things that weigh us down, to accept forgiveness, to make ourselves vulnerable, to make mistakes in front of family because we know it's all covered in grace.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Warm nights

It's unseasonably warm right now, so last night at 9pm, long enough for my husband and I to settle ourselves deep into conversation on the front porch with a bottle of chilled wine, one child came downstairs and stuck her head out the window followed by the other five minutes later.  They claimed to be too hot to sleep.  Both had stripped down to underwear and made room for each other to sit knees up next to each other in one of the windows. 

I sat on the porch swing in the dark, my husband in the rocking chair, both kids in the window.  It had just gotten completely dark and bugs were starting to swarm.  They stayed for fifteen minutes or so listening quietly to the night, stolen moments on a school night.

This morning when I woke them up, the first thing my daughter said was, "Mom...Dad didn't go..." and she made arms-swinging-back-and-forth motion.  She was disappointed that she hadn't been woken up for an early morning run.  She might be the only seven-year-old I've known who is sad about not getting to exercise before sunrise. 

Our son took much longer to get out of bed (as usual).  His reaction to my raised voice (after ten minutes) was, "Me dreaming about at-at walkers! Can't get up!" 

This last month of school is not going to be easy.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


It's the kind of evening as a parent that leaves you wrung-out with one kid telling a lie and another in tears because some neighbor girls down the street were running, towels in hand, to a pool party at 8pm on a school night.

So I try to put it behind me and remember things like how beautiful and warm it was today, that feeling during church this morning as the group of four black women and one mismatched white man sang about how the hold of God is stronger than we dare to hope or dream.

I'll think about how happy I am that my sinus infection has moved to my chest on its way out of my body.  How I don't mind the coughing at night as long as I can breathe through my nose. 

And that moment last night when at bedtime my daughter wanted to kiss me even though she was running the risk of catching my germs.  She kissed me and then said, "If I get your cold, does that mean you don't have it anymore? Cause I want to take it from you."  And she would.  If it worked that way, she would.  I was left crushed by this generosity.

I'll enjoy my clean floors, the first time I've done them myself since the big elbow break.  Our windows are wide open in this warm spell, and I have also open a very European-looking bottle of rose wine, the looks of which give me that itch to set sail again somewhere but knowing that in this period, I can't.  I look at that bottle and imagine beautiful architecture, unusual flavors, and the sloping reach of an indecipherable language.

Tomorrow morning it's a new week.  Today I stocked the kitchen and sharpened the pencils.  Here I am.  I understand most everything, and for now, this is good.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


A trip to the rural east coast with spotty internet connection.  A monstrous head cold brought back to fuel the sleep deprivation that started with five nights of camping.

So I have not written.

The first night back in our house, having walked in the door at 1am, my daughter in her bed quietly told me that she was scared.  She didn't know how to explain it, but I knew.  Our routine had flown into the winds of airports, sleeping in pop-up campers with no official bedtime, missed school, haphazard meals caught here and there eaten on a grassy hillside or in a rainstorm, tumbling around on huge lawns with just-met cousins as blues or bluegrass played. 

It was fun, but for a girl who's still not even in this country for two years, disconcerting...scary.  Extra hug, caress on the forehead and a "it'll feel normal again tomorrow."  She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Late Start

My son had a dream last night that "rocket people" landed on the patio furniture in our back yard and started coming after him and his dad.  His sister and I were on a trip somewhere and not in trouble like him. This morning, he crawled into bed with me and whispered this dream.  His face was still contorted from the trauma of it. 

We didn't have to be at the school until two hours later than usual, a monthly 'late start' our district has.  These mornings have become a favorite thing of mine this school year.  We are all night owls in our house so the morning rush to get out the door is my least favorite part of each day.  Even our early-bird daughter has adapted to our ways and is currently still awake reading her Junie B. Jones book and picking a scab on her face.  I just put a band-aid on it.  9:30pm.

There is something exquisite about being able to lay in bed on a Wednesday morning.  My kids played in my bed while I made coffee.  They colored together in a Peter Pan coloring book as the coffee brewed.  I heard one of them say, "Isn't mom a good colorer?  It's like she's an artist."  As the coffee hit my system, I made eggs-on-a-raft for breakfast, along with thin slices of the leftover rhubarb pie.  They got ready for school and watched ten minutes of a Mister Rogers episode before leaving. 

All this on a morning in the middle of the week, to be fully rested and fully caffeinated. 

Monday, April 15, 2013


The forecast said rain so it's been an unexpectedly beautiful day in Oregon.

A new friend has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and wrote me at 1:00 am last night that she was awake very scared.  Today she had to tell her boss, coworkers, daughter.

I sat this morning alone at home before my second orthopedic doctor visit post-broken arm and wrote a post-placement report on one of our children. There is a small chance we could make connection as soon as next week with a first family, and the weight of this is...heavy.

The news out of Boston. A friend was there today in the crowd to cheer on her sister.  When I saw on fb that she was okay, I cried.

A parent at my kids' school told me today about a service she went to this weekend to memorialize a nine-year-old girl who died of lymphoma, having battled it since age four.

A church in the area that is dear to us is going through a confusing shift (at least to us), and the burden weighs.

On Friday night, I fell asleep crying as I thought about the reunion of my favorite Christian writer with my favorite Christian songwriter.  The former passed on out of this life Friday.

A man in my program at work who I've been trying for three years to get into an employment program made a mistake that cost him his spot.  A job had already been lined up for him that was a perfect fit.  On Friday when the case manager called me with the news, I was heart broken and angry.

A single mother sat in the lobby of my work site today holding her 3-month-old girl.  She was there seeking energy assistance.  An African refugee with a shut-off notice and an infant.  I leaned in close to engage the baby who ended up cooing at me for a while.  They smelled like cooking.

My kids read Frog and Toad out loud tonight after working on homework.

It rained at sunset, and everyone was instagramming shots of the rainbows.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Little Princess

Saturday night on the purple couch in the basement watching A Little Princess, the 1995 version, while dad was out talking about life with friends.

You, daughter, sniffled through the whole thing.  For part of it you brushed my hair, but sniffled and cried while doing so.  There was just so much sadness.  I remember this when I saw this movie the first time.  I cried the same way.  I couldn't stop.  In many other ways, we are so different, but in this way, we're the same.

At the end, when the father still didn't recognize his Sarah as the police began to drag her away screaming "Papa! Papa!", son, your veneer of bravado and silliness fell away and your face took on panic and grief.  It's every child's worst nightmare, right there on the screen.  You gasped, briefly wailed and turned your face into my arm, and I realized my mistake in showing you this movie.  It was a terrible moment for me.  My heart was being pulled out of my chest and stomped on as I saw the fear in your face.

Within five minutes (or less), you both were okay.  The trauma had passed.  The father was reunited with his daughter and added another daughter to the family. 

Oh how I love you so.  Your heart is my heart.  Such deep grief exists in this life.  You know this already.  I can never do it perfectly, but I promise to always be here as you experience it.  Let out your wail, whether brief or long, and whether broken or not, my arm will be here for you to hide your face in.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Gentle Neighbor

A few years ago, a couple we know was looking to buy a house and ended up seriously considering a property on a nearby island that consists of mostly farmland.  The house on the island was owned by a couple of artists who were looking to move closer in to the city.  The deal never went through, though the two couples liked each other a lot and found a connection.

The first couple ended up buying a house down the street from us and quickly became a fixture in the social fabric of our very active block.  They loved having the many kids with them to hang out on their front porch as they sipped afternoon wine.  Everyone loved them, and we were sad when their jobs took them to Arizona.  Rather than sell, they decided to keep the house for their retirement years and rent it out in the meantime.

On a whim, they placed an ad on craigslist, and the first people to show up to view the house were the folks from the farmland island, the ones whose house they'd almost bought a few years ago.  It was a crazy connection, and the artist couple ended up renting the house down the street.  Everyone talked about this weird coincidence for a long time.

The renters are probably in their fifties and take frequent walks around the neighborhood.  Several months ago, my kids started a "game" with them where one kid will stand in the middle of the sidewalk with both arms outstretched, demanding a password for the privilege of using the sidewalk.  I was worried about this game being an annoyance, but the couple insisted the kids play it and even seemed to get a kick out of it.  Thus, a friendship was born.

My kids adore this couple.  They run down to their house when they're out, calling their names in loud greeting.  Last year, the couple went on a trip to New York City and mailed a postcard to my kids with amazing artwork on the back, illustrations of their journey on the Staten Island Ferry, a trip we ourselves have taken several times.  This postcard stays taped to my kids' bunkbed.  It was a beautiful, whimsical thing.

We found out a few weeks ago that the Arizona-dwelling homeowners have decided to stay for good in the desert and are selling the house on our block.  The renters have to go.  They found another house just a few blocks south of us, but it won't be the same. 

Tonight, our neighbor pulled his easel out into the edge of the street to continue his small painting of another neighbor's house.  My daughter stood beside him for a long time watching what he was doing and telling him all the details he was missing.  The black and white block-owned cat came scrambling up the tree next to the easel, and we talked about the last block-owned cat, the one everyone hated and who now lives elsewhere. 

I looked for a minute at the new poem they posted in their poetry-stand in front of the house and then told him how much we're going to miss them when they move at the end of this month.  He turned to face me with the sun going down behind his back, and I saw tears in his eyes.  He swallowed hard, nodded slightly, and said how much they're going to miss our block too.

 I was incredibly touched in that moment by this gentle man, the one who quietly brings his easel into the street to paint and talks to my daughter the whole time, the one who holds his wife's hand as they walk down the street for donuts, always stopping to let my extroverted children entertain them before continuing on their way. 

Really we hardly know them but there's a sadness in me anyway as I think about their move.  We were so blessed to have this kind gentleness touch our family for a few months, and I hope my children always remember them and still demand a password when they try to pass on the sidewalk.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Tonight, my son had to go to bed "early" for collapsing in an over-dramatic fit of tears upon being told it was time to come inside at 7pm.

We sat upstairs so he could read to me, his sister reading books downstairs on the living room couch.  We're trying to be more disciplined about our kids reading every day for fun.  Discipline and fun in one sentence?  We are parents.

He had picked a Little Critter Christmas book to read, and I was amazed at how he made his way through it with very little help from me.  This is not what I was expecting.  At school, his teacher has him reading very basic sentences with mostly 'sight words' and short three-letter words.  Tonight, free of distractions, he was reading "Merry Christmas." 

Earlier tonight, I found the video of when he took his first steps (on the set of the tv show My Name is Earl, in an interesting foot note for my son's biography).  I found my stomach clenched in anticipation of those tiny size 6 feet moving forward on their own, keeping his rotund S-shaped form balanced and upright for three steps. 

I don't know what my point is here besides something about the passage of time.  It passes. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It Happens in the Mundane

I've been reminded lately how life happens in the mundane moments, the ones we're not necessarily paying attention to.

If we stop paying attention, stop being present, we stop living.

Thursday is always my longest work day of the week, and when I got home, I laid myself down on the couch for a moment's break before leaving again for a church meeting.  My husband left to pick up our daughter from a friend's house, and my son started asking me to work a puzzle with him.  I didn't want to.  Laying sedate on that old, gross couch felt blissful.

So I had a choice, and I got up from the couch.  This is not always the choice I make, but on Thursday I got up.  We worked the Boba Fett puzzle, the same one that is currently in "toy jail" to my left for being left out for too many days.

This weekend, I was overtaken by one of those intense streaks of needing to rid our house of clutter.  I focused my energy on my kids' room and started throwing things out.  The dog had pissed on my son's bed twice in one day, and I was disgusted by the whole thing so was tearing through the room throwing things away and bleaching anything that could be bleached.  I was doing all of this with a fractured elbow.

At one point, I heard myself say, "Kids, you better put your stuff away before I get to it because if I get to it first, it's going in the garbage."  Granted, I was throwing out the plethora of random items like neglected bags of birthday party favors and broken bits of plastic, but my daughter took me seriously.  She got upset.

At one point, I asked her to put away a new pair of shoes, and instead of putting them away, she left them in the hallway next to the closet where they belong.  I got upset by this sloppiness and started lecturing.  She reacted by rolling her eyes at me.

She rolled her eyes at me.

I got more upset at this oh-so-American mannerism that she has learned at school and sent her to her bed so I could cool off.  She cried, and cried, and cried.

I came back in her room a few minutes later, and we never quite talked about it. I was too busy.  We sort of got over it, but not really.

So tonight before bed, I asked her how she felt on Saturday when we got so mad at each other.  She shrugged and said, "That you wanted to give me away."

Our daughter is on the surface so secure with our family.  Everyone remarks on this fact of how well-adjusted we all are.  I forget, I forget, I forget.  She hasn't been with us that long.  Under her iron will and muscle, she is fragile.  She worries I will want to give her away.

I tell her it's not true.  I made her look me in the eyes tonight so I could remind her that we will never give her away, not ever, that we love her and are so proud she is our daughter.  She seems unconvinced, so I ask for hugs.  I use my broken elbow as an advantage, telling her that I can't squeeze hard and need her to do most of the hugging.  She squeezes me, and I rest my cheek on top of her head.  I kiss one cheek and ask to kiss the other since it is so "nice and squishy."  She lets me.

She and I need to put together our own Boba Fett puzzles.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Can and Can't

Things You Can Do With a Broken Elbow:

Make two quiches in advance for a group dinner in which you're providing the meal.

Drive a car.

Scoop dry pet food into bowls (but not open a can).

Apply a band-aid to a kid's finger.

Load a dishwasher.

Type, with the customized, removable brace that everyone says is stylish.


Open a jar of spaghetti sauce.


Using teeth, help a kindergartener open a sticky glue stick.

Carry a cup of tea, bagel, and cream cheese with one hand.

Shop for groceries.


Things You Can not Do With a Broken Elbow:

Open a bottle of wine.

Tie Shoes.

Dump a pot of boiling water and pasta through a colander.

Put an uncooked quiche into the fridge.

Stack chairs.



Scrub dishes.

Cut onions.

Peel potatoes.

Put your hair into a ponytail or style it in any way at all.

Zip shut a lunch box.

Hook a bra closed.

Hold a baby.

I also discovered today that I can't stand upright doing stretching exercises in occupational therapy without passing out and having to lay perfectly still with elevated legs for half an hour.

All things considered, it's not so bad.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I was fitted today for a brace that I can remove to do stretching exercises.  That scares me, but so does the word "surgery" that the doctor used today when describing how my particular injury is often treated if things are misaligned just a couple milimeters more.  That sent a cold chill down my spine, and my heart sped up. 

For now, occupational therapy once a week, and the best thing is that I can type with two hands again thanks to the new brace.  Also, nice perk: I can't do dishes, mop, sweep, or any other 'heavy' cleaning.  Good thing I'm so bossy.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Time to learn how to type with one hand.  My cast was spit on today by one of my favorite elders from Ethiopia.  I fractured my elbow yesterday at work, forcing a slow down.  slowing things down.  my kids are writing me get well notes and learning to cut vegetables and fold laundry. Six weeks in a cast.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Old Lady Gangrene Face Revealed

 You enter the room to this.
The unfortunate lady whose desk is in this room
admitted to me this morning that she keeps the lady
 covered up when it's only her in the room.
 The patient patiently waits.  For you.  In hell.

Good night and sweet dreams!