Sid, the Christmas Kid

Yesterday, when I picked up Carlos from school, a little boy named Sid came tearing up to me. He leaned in close and whispered, “I bwought a secret present for Carlos. It’s a book.” Then he held his finger to his lips and said, “Don’t tell him!” Sid has twinkling brown eyes, an elfin face, and a brown bowl of a haircut. He seriously could be an elf.

I promised him that I wouldn’t tell.

Their class is doing a Secret Santa book exchange on Friday. As luck has it (or maybe clever teacher planning), Carlos got Sid’s name in the drawing. The only thing I know about Sid, apart from his cuteness and enthusiasm, is that he dressed as Superman for Halloween. How do I remember that? Because Carlos did too and the two of them sat next to each other at the party. Super Duo.

So I bought a couple of Little Golden Books–one about Superman and one about Spiderman. Tonight, after the kids were asleep, I got out the wrapping paper and the tape and the scissors then got to work. The first gift wrapped this year!

10854498_10204502848964267_7232412303449048479_oWhen the red bow was tied, I stepped back and felt my heart crack open with gladness. That feeling of knowing that the gift will be appreciated. That the wrapping paper and the big bow will delight a small person.  I enjoyed the moment when all the bustle and to-do lists of this season turned into joy at the chance to delight one tiny boy who took such delight in having a surprise for my little boy.

I hope Sid likes his books. The instructions for the Secret Santa swap said to label the present for the kid who will receive it. Didn’t say anything about putting the name of the kid who is giving it. Sid won’t know these books are from Carlos and he certainly won’t need to thank me next time I see him. But I wrote this to thank him. Thank you, Sid, for sharing your secret with me. For sharing your excitement. For giving me the chance to give.

And this whole Secret Santa thing? It’s like having a secret identity. Like Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne.

By day, the kid knows me as Carlos’ Mom. But by night, I am Baddest Mother Ever!


Carlos Ate the Driveway

934876_1004365842912945_5823730810623982525_nMy mom came over this weekend so G and I could get our shopping done. We snuck off on Sunday morning and left her with Vivi, Carlos…and A Project.

When we returned a few hours later, Vivi met me at the door with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face.

“Carlos ate the driveway.”


“Carlos ATE the DRIVEWAY.”

10372134_1004136566269206_4083028438181455718_nGrandma’s gingerbread village kit had been a huge success–until it turned from art project to “pile of frosting and candy sitting within arm’s reach of a little boy.”


G and I never saw the little house looking like this. See the colorful little candies that line the path to the front door. Carlos ate the driveway, like she said.

Each red gumdrop–“volcanos” as he had called them–that dotted the top of the roof? Gone.

I assured Vivi that she had done the same thing with our first gingerbread house, five years ago. I protected that thing from her as best I could and it still ended up with a looooot of white space. Every night after lights out, I would hear little feet sneaking into the dark dining room and nibbling the shingles off the roof. 10846030_1004365269579669_3488541587998234951_n

Who WOULDN’T eat a pile of frosting and candy that was right there in front of you?

We’ve put the gingerbread village on the table, on the mantle, next to the Elf who’s supposed to be keeping an eye on things…no luck. Carlos doesn’t wait until lights out. He saunters through the den with a shed in hand, gnawing around the brittle snow on the roof to get to the one last green jawbreaker that’s wedged in there. And I don’t even bat an eye anymore. Even Vivi has given up complaining about it.


Making gingerbread houses–or traditions or homes or families. It’s not so much about the end product as it is about the joyful work we do together.

Learning to hold the walls together with a little sweetness and patience, just like Grandma taught you.

Letting kids get messy, even if it means cleaning sugar frosting off the windowsill, the bunkbed, a couple of rugs and somebody’s bangs.

Accepting that what we create isn’t going to look like the picture on the box.

Being kind to the brother who eats your driveway. Because you used to chew the roof yourself.


The Teacher Gift Taboo–What’s So Wrong With Cash?


It’s the most wonderful time of the year–the time when we parents find ourselves just a teensy bit busy with all the holiday to-dos.

I mean seriously–it’s the holidays, the end of school term and the time to use up that money in the flexible spending account. This week my schedule contains 2 potlucks, a wreath decorating contest, a school sing along, one trapeze show, a teacher conference, a dentist appointment, a parade, the elf on the shelf, a tree to water, cats to knock out of the tree, a broken oven, one head cold, a neighborhood happy hour… Plus my full-time job and the three kids, one of whom won’t talk, one of whom talks too much, and the other one just wants to text.

So here’s one place I make things simple for myself: teacher gifts.

I write a sincere note. One year, for Vivi’s teachers, it went something like: “I appreciate all you do to make Vivi’s days fun and interesting. I know she can be a handful so I’m guessing you could use a drink. Have one on us!” Then I slide in some folding money. Gift = done.

When the Cool Kids were discussing teacher gifts and I confessed this, a couple of eyebrows went up. (Libby had to put down her glue gun and glitter holster to clutch her pearls.) Cash? That’s so…not Pinteresty.

I admire people who have the time, skill and creativity to knit a scarf, fold it to look like a cupcake, wrap it in cellophane, print a thematically colored and personalized tag in a festive font, find a hole punch shaped like a snowflake and punch that bad boy right in the center then tie it all up with locally sourced organic raffia…but that’s not my forte.

Card, pen, $20. DONE.

Why not gift cards instead of cash? Well, gift cards are limited. What if they don’t LIKE Panera or Chipotle or Fatz? What if I give a Target card to a Wal-Mart shopper? What if Kroger is too far away?


There’s always origami if you insist on being fancy!

Cash is flexible–you can spend it on a book, a pedicure, a bottle of champagne. Or something more practical. A few years back, I got a note from one of Vivi’s teachers, who told me that the money we gave her paid for a tank of gas that meant she could afford to go home one extra weekend. I will never forget that.

So what do you think about cash gifts? Too tacky? Not enough thought behind it? Or is it the way to say “Treat Yourself to What YOU Want?”

I’ll be over here smacking the cat out of the tree and warming up for the sing along with my freakishly white teeth. Discuss!

Love Dares You to Care

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week now: a little bit of Freddie Mercury, a dash of David Bowie, Michael Brown, Alexander the Great. I couldn’t get my head around it until, just like when I was a kid, Mr. Rogers helped me understand.

We’re big Queen fans in this house (and queen fans, in general, but that’s on a case-by-case basis). I wish I could have seen Queen play a live show–Freddie Mercury commanded arenas with his electric stage presence and four octave voice. A force of nature, he died from complications of AIDS in 1991. He died one day after telling the world that he had the disease.


I know you’ve heard “Under Pressure”…right? It’s been called the greatest bass line in rock and roll history (and this is the part where we spit on the ground and curse the name of Vanilla Ass for sampling it and not giving songwriting credit until he got sued, sued baby).

Anywho…As G and I were clearing the table the other night, I played this video for him of the isolated vocal track of “Under Pressure.” Please take a moment to listen:

I’ve known this song for 30 years but hearing the simple power of their voices apart from the instruments knocked me back into my chair. I sat at the crumb-covered table and listened to the words like I was hearing them for the first time. That echoing call: “Why can’t we give love just one more chance?”

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

I couldn’t help crying, for it had been less than 24 hours since the announcement that there would be no indictment in Ferguson. So many people, crushed by the pressure.

While the noodles boiled for dinner, I had been reading news reports. Vivi lay stretched across the top of the loveseat behind me with her book. She put her chin on my shoulder to look at the headline on my screen. “What’s rack-i-seem?” It took me a second to realize what she was sounding out–“racism.”

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!

“Well, race is the way people tend to be grouped by how we look, like the color of our skin. Racism is the idea that one color of skin is better than another. What do you think about that?”

She screwed up her face and shook her head. “Skin’s just skin.”

Oh, honey. True…but. But we’ve added so much to it over centuries and centuries.  Now there’s a Gordian knot of history to unravel.

Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why, why, why?  Love

gordian_knot-260x238So slashed and torn. A Gordian knot is a metaphor for a problem that seems to have no solution, something so tightly entangled that we can’t even find the end to begin pulling the knot apart. It comes from an ancient Greek story of a cart tied by this complicated knot. Whoever could untie the knot would conquer the east. After struggling with the knot, Alexander grew tired of the delay, drew his sword and slashed the knot in two.

Is that what’s happening to our Gordian knot of racism?

Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?..

For days, I’ve felt helpless and sad. It’s such a huge problem. Now, #icantbreathe. We’re cracking. How do I explain rack-i-seem to my second grader? She’s lucky enough to be on the side that can choose to learn more. As my friend, Bryndis, put it a while back, whites can choose whether to learn the ways of other races, but people of color have to learn to navigate the white world in order to survive.

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? I got some courage back today, thanks to Mr Rogers:


Love. Struggle.

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves

Love dares you to care. How do we care for the people on the edge of the night? The people who are quietly lying down in the street, on bridges, in shopping malls–lying down to become visible. To insist upon being seen and heard. I can listen. I can see. I can add my voice.

Racism has to become OUR problem. Freddie Mercury died of AIDS back when most people thought AIDS was someone else’s problem. Thousands of people fought like hell, lay down in the street, to get America to notice AIDS. Like ebola or climate change or marriage equality–we won’t make any progress on these Gordian knots until we recognize that they aren’t just other people’s problems.

This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure


A Chain of Causation

I haven’t written in over a week, but it’s really not my fault. I’ve been trying. I even stuck my head in the oven but to no avail.

There’s a legal concept called “chain of causation” by which a person who appears to be at fault can prove that a chain of events lined up to create the situation…thus removing the fault from the individual.

Here’s what happened this weekend when I tried to write a post.

Last month, I got a copy of 40th anniversary update of “The Moosewood Cookbook” from a publisher in exchange for an honest review. And you can’t review a cookbook without trying some of the recipes, right? So I found the recipe with the fewest ingredients, one that barely took up half a page. French Onion Soup. YUM.

I bought the onions…last month.

Then life happened.

A lot.

So by the time I got around to trying the recipe, the onions had started to pursue their dream of starting a family, sprouting green shoots that were heading for the sunny window. OK.

So I picked a different recipe…something bakish because I actually had yeast. Again, I checked for a recipe that had fewest ingredients, short instructions, no trips to Williams-Sonoma for special equipment. Focaccia! YUM.

But baking….problematic. Lately, anytime I try to get the oven over 300 degrees, the smoke alarm goes off (thanks to some apple pies, pizzas, and malaise).

I can’t have the smoke alarm going off because my baby hates loud, sudden noises.

By this point, how can I write a blog post without putting my son’s emotional stability at risk? Time to clean my oven.

Historically, I only clean the oven when I’m moving and the security deposit depends on a shiny oven. I’ve lived here since 2003. You do the math.

Soooooo…instead of using the self-cleaning function, I got myself some Easy-Off to really tackle the grime.

I tackled the hell out of that grime. Housewife Scrubbing Oven Clean

Spent so long cleaning the oven that I ran out of time to let the dough rise…so no focaccia. (Am I even spelling that right?)

BUT!  Progress. Clean oven, week ahead of me…surely I can knock out some focaccia.

Turn the oven on Monday and it makes a strange beeping noise and flashes F4 on the panel.

After a little Googling of “Kenmore oven F4 error message,” I discover that I’ve got a broken temperature sensor.

Ohhhh…that’s what that long spiky thing was that I was wiggling around while cleaning the grime. Ah.

See how long this chain is and we ain’t nary closer to focaccia or a blog post?

This is why nothing ever seems to get DONE around here. Set off in one direction with a plan and pfffffffffft. I trip all over the great Chain of Causation.

P.S. – While I was cleaning the oven, someone clogged up a toilet and that cost us another $403. I would drown my feelings in carbs, but…FOCCACHIT.


Oh, We Rioted Too

I stepped onto an elevator at work today and caught the end of a conversation:

“…and now that they’re burning down the businesses in their own neighborhood, they’ll have to go even farther–with their hands out!…Hey, Ashley!”

I was ashamed of myself. In the trip between one floor, I couldn’t think of what to say to these caregivers. Yes, I work in a place where kindness is the norm and we treat everyone who walks in the door in need of help.

I couldn’t find my voice in that instant to call out what I had heard.

I saw the same comments on Facebook that you did, the ones asking, “Why are they burning and looting? What good will that do?” One commentor even stated, “White people didn’t riot when OJ was acquitted.”

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Yes, yes we did.

The difference is, we had a nice safe place to express our rage. White people owned the media outlets. We raged and rioted on TV so much that we created the 24-hour news cycle.

That’s the thing I have learned about rage–it will be expressed through whatever means are available to you. If you have the microphone, the chair, the podium, there are plenty of outlets for your rage. If a stone is the only means of power available to you, you will use that.

A Palestinian boy doesn’t throw a rock because it is photogenic. A lone man doesn’t face down a Chinese tank with a grocery bag to be poignant. A furious man in Ferguson doesn’t tip over a car because a camera is there to capture the shot. Those are expressions of simply not being able to take it one second longer. Looking around for something that translates fury into power. And using it.

Do I think it’s right? Of course not. But sometimes it’s the only tool at hand.

Nailed It


It’s not really “home” until you hang stuff on the wall, right?

I spent a few hours today at my friend’s place, helping her hang stuff on the walls. She’s one of the Cool Kids. It’s been a rough year. Hanging pictures had been her partner’s task for fourteen years. Now it’s not. So the Cool Kids showed up, like we tend to do.

This wasn’t like the last Cool Kids operation where there was serious back-breaking work to get done. This day was about making an apartment into a home–finishing touches and being present. Susan brought the dog a ball. Nicole arrived with homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs, even a little bag of freshly shaved Parmesan for topping. Libby made a cake…with a nipple, but that’s a story for her blog. It sure made the birthday girl laugh. I brought prosecco, disposable champagne flutes, and a laser level. Erica contributed the hammer. Even Heather, who couldn’t be there in person because she was driving home from her father’s memorial out of state–Heather supplied a chocolate stout and sent pictures from the highway.

We sat on the floor with glasses of wine and listened to the ones with freshly broken hearts talk it through. We cried. We laughed. There was a lot of nodding and dabbing of the corners of the eyes. I rolled the ball across the floor for the dog. She brought it back. The dog wasn’t possessive of her mama, like she is when they come to my house. I think she knew Mama was safe. We are all in the same pack.

When it was time to get to work, we asked our friend how she wanted her home to feel. Where should the cowboy painting go if it’s her favorite? What should she see on the wall when she walks in the front door? What does she want to see while she’s lying in bed? How about this lamp here? That bookshelf there? What if we moved the couch to this wall? OK, what if we don’t.  Do you want something in the hallway or should this go in the kitchen?

She wasn’t 100% sure. It’s so hard to go from us to me. From we to I. To have to put that favorite picture in the desk drawer so it doesn’t hurt. I thought of the Michael Feinstein song “Where Do You Start?” that goes, “Which books are yours? Which thoughts and dreams belong to you and which are mine?” I sang that song over and over when I spent a day separating Fartbuster’s books into neat white banker’s boxes.

Hammering a nail into the wall is tough, because it’s a decision. It’s saying, “This is where I’m going to be.”

cowboyLibby whacked the first nail. Turns out that she and I have divergent approaches to hanging stuff. While I scrounged around for a measuring tape, stud finder, level, pencil…she eyeballed it and WHAM. Picture hung. Next!

And it worked. (Well, after I scooched it just a smidgen to the right and three inches down.)

I was the one who did the math and the measuring and the hammering when it was time to hang the cowboy painting, but it was Libby who took it one step further and hung our friend’s lasso and favorite cowboy hat on the facing wall to complete the tableau. I put the lamp in the logical place and she came right behind me and put it in the beautiful place. The place where it lit up the painting and brought it to life.

It all worked.

When you have a tribe, a pack, “your people,” you don’t ever have to face things alone. You get your tall friend to mark the wall and your short friend to hold the painting and your logical friend to use the level and your friend with panache to add the finishing touches.

On our own, we were afraid.

Together, we nailed it.