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!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Old Lady Gangrene Face

In the building where I work, there's a skills training area for people wanting to pursue a job in a health-related or caregiver field.  The area is basically two small room off a kitchen.  Inside both of these rooms are basic medical equipment used for demonstration purposes, so we have there a hospital bed, a wheelchair, bedside table with chair, and I'm not sure what small items. 

It's hard for me, or anyone, to catch glimpses of small to medium sized objects thanks to the two huge, life-size old-lady dummies in the rooms.  These ladies have been around a while.  They had to have originally been from the Discount Medical Dummies Emporium and have not aged well. They are scary as shit. 

One is always laying on her back in the far back (definitely haunted) dark room.  She doesn't get out much.  She has scraggly grey, used-to-be-curled hair that now sticks out in mangy patches.  The worst part is her face.  Oh that face.  I drew a picture of her tonight to show my son, and my daughter hid her eyes the whole time.  She looks like gangrene has taken over her skin, and one eye is bulged out, about twice as big as the other. 

She's the one who startles everyone who comes through the office because she isn't static.  Old lady girlfriend is mobile.  Here's what ends up happening.  I'm walking through that area of the building to go ask a coworker upstairs a question, and notice something in the corner of my eye.  I turn and see her sitting upright in her wheelchair, eye bugged out, and I swear for half a second that it's a real person sitting there in the semi-darkness watching me.  My heart rushes to my throat, and gasp in fear every single time. 

There's construction going on in the building lately, and it's been fun to see the construction workers getting their introductions made to Old Lady Girlfriend With Gangrene Face and One Bulging Eye.  No matter how manly the construction worker, OLGWGFaOBE freaks him out.

Today, my daughter's girl scout troop came to my workplace for a tour and to give their donated cookies to our public relations/donations person.  It was a nice morning of learning about refugees, immigrants, geography, education, culture, and languages.  I also introduced them to Old Lady with Gangrene Face, which I am certain is going to be the only thing they remember about today. 

I know this because my daughter wrote her first letter tonight to her first pen pal and chose to write about meeting the dummy at her mom's work.  In her very first letter to her very first pen pal, she drew a picture of Old Lady with Gangrene Face laying in her hospital bed just waiting to come slit all of our throats. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013


It hit me tonight seeing myself in the mirror as I vacuumed that our children mark us.  The reflection looking at back at me had most of the hair pinned up but one long strand hanging down in a messy braid over my left shoulder, a craft made by my daughter as we read our nightly chapter of Prince Caspian.

What was most remarkable though was the perfectly round, purple hicky on my forehead, earned last night by my daughter as she smacked and pulled on my face over and over (in the same spot) a suction cup she'd found. 

The round purple bruise has lasted a full 24 hours.  I covered it up this morning with concealer that wore off by the afternoon, so I got to explain to others at a St. Patrick's Day party what I was doing with a forehead hicky.  It was a huge hit.

Our kids mark us.  They age us.  They bedraggle and stain us with their energetic selves.  My favorite brother-in-law looked me square in the eye as I flipped pancakes this morning to tell me not to cover it or explain my bruise.  As he laughingly said, "It's life!"


Saturday, March 16, 2013

To Bed

After tolerating for too long squirms, whines, pokes, jabs, and all forms of general squirreliness during our nightly reading of Prince Caspian, I finally sent my son up to bed before the chapter was finished.  He cried the whole way up but immediately got quiet when he hit the bed.

Less than ten minutes later with the chapter finished, I came up to his room and told him to scootch over.  He snuggled into me, and I asked him what was going on, why he was being so annoying to everyone downstairs.

With his thumb in his mouth and snuggled into me, he shrugged and said, "I don't really know.  I was even irritating myself."

Sometimes we just need to be put to bed.  He asked me to lay next to him until he fell asleep, which I did. 

Friday, March 15, 2013


Five years ago this week we met our son in person for the first time.  I didn't realize it until I was in the shower at 10:30 am.  Why was I in the shower so late on a weekday?  Here's how today played out.

Our daughter started running a fever last night which spiked up to 103.6 at one point today.  We knew at bedtime she wouldn't be going to school, but when I woke up at my usual 7:15, I decided both kids would stay home.  She was still asleep, so when my son woke up at 8ish, he crawled into bed with me, and we spooned in our old familiar way for another half hour.  One of my favorite things about him is that he's, like me, also not a morning person, so we're cool with spooning for long stretches in quiet first thing in the morning.

My husband had a morning meeting, so I had to delay my work day until afternoon.  I made grits, eggs, bacon.  At breakfast we talked about the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water.  My daughter quickly agreed that she would be fire, and my son said he would be jello.  This succinctly summarizes who both my children are more than anything I could imagine.

The kids watched Doc McStuffins in our basement.  My daughter was miserable and spaced out.  Her body was working hard to fight off whatever ick was attacking her.

In the shower, I realized the anniversary and decided we should celebrate somehow.  After having to tell him 'no' to Disneyland and Legoland, he decided he just wanted us to surprise him, so at 5pm, home from work, we made a plan.

Both kids were outside shoveling in the front yard by this point, my daughter's iron-clad immune system seeming to have done its good work, so we hopped on bikes and rode to our son's favorite restaurant for dinner.  He was thrilled and thought that was the end of his "anniversary" as he kept calling it.

We told him there was more as we biked back home.  We went to one of the last movie rental stores in the U.S. to get The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and a Michael Jackson concert.  I grabbed rolos, now-and-laters, and starbursts from the $1 bucket at the register.  We stopped to hug one of my five brothers-in-law at a brewpub and ended at my husband's studio space to watch the movie. 

He sat next to me the whole time holding my hand and then sitting on my lap.  He covered his eyes when Aslan was being killed and during some of the battles, later admitting that the movie was "not scary at all."  All four of us shared the candy.

On our way out, he skipped his way to the car and said, "This was the best anniversary ever."  I'm so glad he hasn't realized that last year the extent of our celebration was to take a picture with him, and I think the year before I may have just given him extra hugs. 

He's at the age now that he may remember this night.  I hope he does.  We're his, and he is ours, and I feel so lucky.  I hope he does too.  That was my goal for tonight.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

MJ vs. Caspian

Something I want to remember.

Last night our kids were watching segments of a Michael Jackson concert from Munich in 1998 online.  Both were singing and dancing along, my daughter agreeing that the frequent crotch grabs were weird and "inappropriate" (a new word she learned at school this week, used to describe the English version of "Gangham Style").

I realized the time and told them they could either watch one more segment of the concert or read the next chapter in Prince Caspian.

Both whipped their heads around with shocked expressions, and my son yelled, "Naaaarnia!!!"  Coming from a screen-addict, this means a lot.


My son brought it up with little fanfare last night at dinner. 

"Mom? Did I tell you about what happened yesterday at recess with C?"  He told me the story with a shrug of the shoulders, a no-big-deal telling.

During the long "lunch recess," a kid in his class came barreling towards him on the playground, crashing right into him, knocking him down with such force that my kid started to cry.  I'm sure it was done on purpose, as I've seen this kid do similar things on the playground after school.  Here I go getting all 'judgy-judgy', but one day several weeks ago after school, this kid was playing with his best friend after school with a rope, one holding each end and running at full speed into people to "catch" them, even adults.  The kid's friend's preppy, Talbot's-wearing mother was on her cell phone the whole time and never dealt with it.  You can bet I did though.

My son then told me that C started crying too, out of fear that he would get told on.  So they're both sitting there on the playground crying, and my son just walked away.  When I asked why he never talked to a teacher about it, he shrugged and said, "I just wanted to deal with it myself."

Nobody wants their kid to be a weakling snitch, so I felt pretty proud of him last night.  But then the following happened.

Last night before bed, both kids wanted to pick out their own clothes for today.  My son ended up choosing a sweater I'd just bought that was two sizes too big. 
He explained that he wanted to wear it so "it'll make me look like a big kid." 

This morning, while asking for a second bowl of cereal, he was complaining about a stomach ache, saying he had it all night long.  He asked to stay home from school.  He snuggled into my shoulder, thumb in his mouth (he told me last week that whenever he sucks his thumb, he's not scared).  The inside corners of his eyebrows kept turning up.  He was definitely not himself.

After brushing his teeth, when it was time to head out the door, he clung to me asking to stay home.  I asked if it had anything to do with what happened yesterday during recess.  He said, "maybe."  He quietly admitted to being scared about recess.  Talking to the teacher about it was not an option for him, so he felt stuck.  The same kid who all school year has claimed recess as his favorite thing about school was now lamenting how long it is after lunch. 

His big sister stood behind him during this conversation putting a braid in my hair.  She listened.  I felt a knot in my stomach, one of the worst fears of a mother coming true, that of sending my baby out into the world where bullies hurt him and make him cry with no adult to intervene.

 I hugged my little boy while his dad made the very good point from the other room that this should be a lesson for him about name-calling and tough-guy stuff on the playground (habits he started last year in preschool from a group of boys who got away with it every day).  Dad has a point.  I do hope this teaches him to stop the tough-guy act.

As we all considered this point, my daughter jumped in the conversation.  She told her brother to come find her after lunch.  Thankfully, they have the same lunch schedule.  At the beginning of the school year, my daughter assigned herself the task of lunchroom clean-up assistant, which she has faithfully done every day, collecting brand new pencils from the lunchroom ladies every Friday as payment.   She loves this job but told her brother that she'd not do it today so that she could go outside with him during lunch recess.  Anyone who has play-wrestled with our daughter knows that she is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to raw, brute strength.  She is made of steel.  She's a good ally to have.

Of course I emailed his teacher even though he asked me not to talk to her about the situation.  I'm left wondering where he gets this stoicism.  It's not a bad trait at all, but I wish he knew how big that mother-love drive is in me to keep all pain from him.  Maybe he does know which is why he wants to deal with it himself.  Who knows? 

Today, I'm off-kilter and really thankful for my daughter.

Monday, March 11, 2013


In my son's class, there is this tall blond kid with huge blue eyes and a crooked smile whose birthday is today.  He has always been out of town every year until this one, so a week ago, his mother asked him what he wanted to do on his birthday.  His answer was to invite our whole family over for dinner.

This is pretty much the cutest and sweetest thing I've ever heard.  We don't know this family well at all.  My son and the kid aren't even the best of friends.  His mother suspects that it might have something to do with our daughter based on how googly-eyed he gets when she's around.

At pick-up from school this afternoon, he had this adorable, knowing expression on his face when he saw me.  He knows we're coming to his house.  I asked him what his favorite movie and color are so we could get ideas for a present.

We walked down the street to a local bookstore to look around, and our kids brought with them their own money for buying a gift.  Generosity comes easy for our daughter.  She is giving by nature, plus currently has little grasp of numbers and money, so she is happy to blow through her cash for the sake of others' happiness.  Our son, on the other hand, understands math more, plus tends to think of himself more than others, so he's pretty tight-fisted with money.

He spent a long time looking at a Star Wars book, and I suggested he get it for his friend since he had the right amount.  He went back and forth about it the whole time we were there, lamenting over and over that he'd be "wasting" all his money by buying that book instead of a smaller one.  I just kept telling him that it's not wasting money if you're buying a gift for a friend.  It's a hard concept.

At his friend's party over the weekend, we thought it would be good to give him this little Goofy-dressed-as-Darth-Vader that I'd just found that week at a thrift store.  It was awesome and funny, and my son loved it.  He also admitted that his friend would love it too, and after loooooong conversations about how good it feels to give someone a gift that you would like for yourself, he agreed to wrap it up. 

When his friend opened the box, the reaction was perfection.  He did the classic eyes-bugged-out, hands over mouth, small squeal, hug the present, hold it up, and laugh.  The look on my son's face was classic too.  He felt happy for his friend.  It's hopefully the beginning of generosity.

"When you love somebody, you sacrifice for them" is how we explained it later.  He's still talking about having "wasted" his cash on this book for his friend tonight, but I'm looking forward to seeing the look on his face when the gift is open.  All on his own, he decided to buy a box of his sister's girl scout cookies to share with his friend.  He even wrote both their names on the box.  I think he's getting it.  Maybe.

March Blues

Despite daffodils being in bloom, I still have the blues on gray days in March.  I'm thankful for friends who understand.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Over the weekend, my son's best friend had his birthday party that we all went to.  It was a "pajamas for peace" party with breakfast for dinner and plenty of alcohol for the adult attendees.  Someone turned on the music for dancing, and  "Smooth Criminal" came on.  This was the song that first drew our son in to love of all things Michael Jackson, so we all started cheering him on to dance.  It was a mistake.  He felt put on the spot and disappeared upstairs to play legos with his friend. 

I found him upstairs upset, so I picked him up and we talked a bit.  Our host came up and said she'd turn on whatever song he wanted, and he picked "Thriller" but still wouldn't go back down.  He held on to me, and his friend said (sweetly), "Abe just wants to be with his mom."  Cue the 'tough guy' act.  He pulled away from me, and said, "That's not true!" 

His friend said, "But that's okay! Sometimes you just want to be with one person.  I feel that way all the time."

"Yeah, well, it's not true."

"Well, if you want to be with your mom, that's okay. We all feel that way sometimes."

What an amazing kid, right? 

Later in the night, his friend put on a Michael Jackson costume (black shirt, hat, dark glasses) and gave sunglasses to my son so they could match.  In disguise, they made their way back to the dance party which had moved on to "Gangham Style" and "Intergalactic" by the Beastie Boys.

I sat next to a few of the grown ups, one of whom started talking about a conversation she'd had earlier in the night with my son about the song "Man in the Mirror."  He talked to her about how it's now his favorite because "it's so emotional."  I think he must remember the time I cried through an explanation of its meaning. 

I'm happy he finds it his favorite.  I have a short video of him singing along to it, emoting the hell out of it.  My kid is such a winner.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


My husband's day was infinitely more interesting than mine was.  Someone told him in an email (among other things), "You know you give someone named spider that's over the age of 30 the benift of the doudt, and it just blows up in your face."

Glimpse of the past

Last night I went to lay out my kids' clothes for the morning like I always do.  My daughter reached out and grabbed at my arm from her top bunk so I let myself be caught.  She was half-asleep.  I suddenly thought of her as a toddler child in her bed in Ethiopia with a cold, in the dark, needing her mother's arm to be near, needing to feel the solid rock of a parent.

She was so small, fragile, sick, in the dim room.  I often forget her fragility because of the iron toughness of her, produced after suffering more than little children should in the years before I met her. 

She whispered, her head still on the pillow and not even looking at me, "Mom, can you come lay with me in my bed?"  So I did without hesitating.  She draped her arm across me to anchor me down, and she felt like a two-year-old, not tough at all.  It made me love her more. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Big Fat Basketball Adventure

Our plan since first snagging eight donated tickets to the Blazer's game last Thursday afternoon was to meet at a well-known train stop at 6pm to go together to the arena.  I knew going in to the evening that things would not go perfectly smoothly, but I had no idea how entertaining it would end up being.

At 4pm, I started getting calls from one of the Ethiopian seniors wondering where I was.  He doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Amharic or Oromo (well, beyond more than a few words); nevertheless, he kept calling me.  I arrived to the meet-up point ten minutes early.  Three of the men quickly found me, and we began our wait for the other four who were supposed to be coming.

Twenty minutes later, it was still just the four of us, so we started calling.  One of the two Eritrean seniors, H, had begun power-walking to keep warm, despite being wrapped up in multiple coats and a fuzzy coat with sunglasses (it was dark out).  D, the two-hours-early senior, called his friend M, an Oromo woman who doesn't speak Amharic who was traveling to the meet-up with another Oromo friend, S.

No matter how well the phones work, D yells at the top of his lungs any conversation on a cell phone, and this was no exception.  I found myself standing on a dark street corner listening to D scream to his friend M about where the hell they were as H the power-walker did jumping-jacks as commuters passed by him.  B, the gentle Italian-speaking Eritrean had the good sense to take the phone from D and talk to S in Amharic about where they were.  The only thing they were telling him was that they were "near the big picture of a black man."  This was all we had to go on.

Rather than stand there anymore and to keep H from wearing himself out with jumping-jacks, we began walking towards the arena, hoping to run into a large picture of a black man, and hence, our two women.  After four train stops, we found them...standing on a corner next to a large billboard of running horses (maybe B knew the word "mare" in English, and I heard wrong?).

We hugged, laughed, scratched our heads, and walked the rest of the way to the arena.  Lynette, an acquaintance of mine my mom's age from my home state of Mississippi had agreed to meet us inside since she's a regular attendee and knows the ropes.  The metal detectors were going crazy as we walked through with our cell phones and bags, but the guards seemed to safely assume that a group of elderly African immigrants weren't too big of a threat on a Monday night.

Lynette showed us the bathrooms which S decided to go ahead and use.  Granted, it wasn't easy to tell, but I though she might have noticed all the men walking in with her.  I had to chase after her, going all the way into the restroom to get her attention since yelling her name from outside wasn't working.  After safely getting her into the women's restroom, we got settled into our seats (pretty decent ones too) where the fun really started.

I realized last night that one has not truly lived until chaperoning a group of elderly immigrants (a few from very rural areas) to a professional sports game.  Holy cow.  I was as interested in their reactions to the lights, noise, and fanfare as I was in the game itself.  Every time a crowd would stand up to fight over envelopes falling from the car blimp circling the arena, dignified B would shake his head.  Every time a group of break-dancers or mascots came out to do their thing, I'd look over at M, and she'd crack up belly-laughing.  When the group of cheerleaders appeared ten rows in front of us to do a loud tumbling cheer, the whole group's eyes bugged out.  I mean, the women were wearing hardly anything and shaking it around in front of a group of five conservative East Africans.

I sat for most of the game next to D who told me the score every time it changed, which happened every couple minutes.  Each time, he'd poke me to tell me the new numbers.  I drew the court on an envelope to explain the three-point line.  During the third quarter, he figured out that the huge screens were showing up close what was happening on the court.  This made him extremely happy.  He brought both of his cameras but told me, "camera finished" and shook his head sadly.  I took one from him, saw that his memory card was full and started deleting the many photos he'd taken of the floor of his bedroom.  He was so happy to have it working again, slapped me on the back several times, and ended up taking the following photos: one of me giving him a thumbs up and several more of the scantily-clad cheerleaders.

With four minutes left in the game, we left to get in line for the train.  Despite making sure the three who live in the same apartment complex were situated at the train platform waiting for their train, S still started following me as I left to make the walk to my car.  I walked her back to her friends, and we were set.

I took B home first, thanking God the whole confusing way for my phone's built-in GPS.  The drive from B's house to D's  house was about fifteen minutes on weird unfamiliar back-roads and a stretch of freeway.  Even I was discombobulated, but I realized how seldom D must get out at night-time by his utter confusion about where we were when I arrived at his house.  I'd dropped him off several times before, and he always pointed to where I should go.  This time was completely different.  He had no clue where we were, and when I stopped the car in his driveway, he continued to sit quietly staring out the window.  He turned to me in confusion about why we'd stopped.  I told him, "D, this is your house."  He looked around, got out of the car, and slowly realized where he was.  He acted like I'd performed a magic trick by getting him home.

He directed me as I backed out of the apartment complex.  He motioned for me how far to back up, when to stop, to turn my wheels a certain way.  It wasn't a tight fit at all, but I made sure to listen to his advice anyway.  I rolled my window down and we waved goodbye.

It was was one of the funnest nights I've had in this city.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Purple Notebook

Brooke Shields sent me and a couple of others to get a purple hat and purple notebook from her desk.  We ran over to the storage unit and jumped onto the elevator before realizing that we had no idea what floor her desk was on.  We decided to try for the fifth floor and work our way down in the search.

The elevator moved slowly upwards, and we watched the gap between the machinery.  I felt a little queasy.  We turned and looked out the window at the city scape getting smaller and smaller as we made our way up.  It was beautiful.

We stepped off the elevator into a dim 'storage unit' full of people's personal things.  All were centered around desks and home offices.  There were dozens.  We began our slow search for the purple hat and notebook, enjoying the voyeurism of looking at all the interesting furniture, clothing, photos, books, random items belonging to unknown people. 

There were no doors to separate each space, so we walked freely.  The walls were floor to ceiling windows from which we could look out at the city.  Some opened onto tiny balconies. I was called out onto one by another searcher, and we stood there in the dawn light admiring the view.  I pulled out my camera to snap a photo, but a garbage truck pulled into the frame, ruining my shot.

I went from balcony to balcony, seeing the East River, then the Hudson, then the Chrysler building and other beautiful buildings I didn't know the names for.  I found my oldest friend's storage space with a bunch of items he'd been saving for his baby, like silver sequined shoes and rock-band onesies. 

We descended beautiful marble stairways to the next floors, eventually finding the purple notebook and hat on an unremarkable desk. 

It was a really cool dream, a moment I wanted to remember.