Catching Them When They’re Perfect

Last week was that one week out of the year when the Yoshino cherry trees bloom. It’s like one day they’re just bare and wintery trees and the next day they wake up as pale pink clouds skimming the earth.

The blooms don’t last long. A stiff wind will take them down, or a heavy spring rain. Even if the weather cooperates, the blooms don’t hang around–they are soon pushed aside by the green leaves that will keep the tree fed for the rest of the year. As Big Gay explained it, “The blossoms are there to set the seed pods.” There’s work to be done, the work of keeping that tree going year after year.

There’s a flurry of Yoshinos at the bank in my neighborhood. I drove under them one morning after cashing a check and felt compelled to stop the car. I swerved over to the curb then opened the sunroof. I turned my face straight up and felt their pink softness smile upon me. It was so beautiful that I took out my phone to capture the perfection…but the camera refused to work (because I have about 5000 pictures on there that really should be organized somewhere).

I promised myself that I would come back and get that picture.

But the next few days were gray and gross. Then I got bogged down and started to crack up. Every day last week, I came home with another piece of bad news about how my kid was behaving and I curled up in a ball on the bed. One morning, I did manage to pull into the bank with a camera that was cooperating, but the sky was a flat gray nothing that sapped the color from the cherry blossoms:

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Wednesday, Carlos gets sent home from daycare. Thursday, we have Vivi’s teacher conference and she’s being….a brilliant challenge. Thursday, Carlos comes home with a sternly worded note. Friday, he gets sent home from school AGAIN. Luckily, G got the call because I didn’t have my phone with me at lunchtime. But I was dragging pretty low by the time I finally got to leave work at 5:30 and get Vivi.

“Mama! I was on blue today!” That’s the best color on the stick–and it erases one of those reds that she had the day before. We stepped out of her school and headed towards the car…which happened to be parked right across from a small Yoshino cherry tree. And what do you know–the sky was blue, my camera was working, the blossoms were tossing around in the breeze.

I finally had a chance to catch perfection.

I asked Vivi to pose in front of the tree, but all she wanted to do was show off a penguin finger puppet. Again, my rambunctiously creative daughter was messing up my idea of perfection. And there was a limb bumping right where I needed her head to be…

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That’s when it hit me. Just like the cherry blossoms, my time with my kids is passing quickly. These years are the tender pink blossoms that will be pushed aside by the green growing leaves soon enough. There will be days when the sky is gray or the stick is on red or the boy gets kicked out of school. I can’t sit around waiting to catch them being perfect. They’re beautiful messes, just like the rest of us, and that is a miracle in itself.

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Cracking Up

egg-100808_1280Y’all. I need to talk about something and I don’t know if it’s to vent or moan or ask for help or what. But I swear it’s cracking me, and not in a good way.

Trying to be a mom with a job…can we talk about that?

I got to work yesterday and had just hit my groove when my phone rang. It was Vivi’s teacher. He was worried about her because her entire upper arm was bright red. He even texted me a picture. She had a weird red virus a few months ago, so we were both worried that it was that again. I dropped everything and went over to her school with her special eczema lotion. By the time I got there, she was on the playground at recess. Her arm wasn’t even PINK. Child had just been scratching to scratch in class. I put a little cream on it and got back to work just in time for four hours of back to back meetings.

So today. I dropped Carlos off at daycare. He was in a delightful mood. When I left him on the playground, he was gleefully waiting in line for the swing. He blew kisses. My step was light as I walked to the car because I knew my boy was happy.

An hour later, I’m at my desk and gettin’ ish DONE. Phone rings–daycare director. She’s calling because Carlos pitched such a fit that included hitting his friends, his teacher and banging his head into the wall. She put him on the phone and his little angelic voice chirps, “Hi, Mommy! I calm down now.” I proceeded to talk to him about making good choices and being kind to his friends and never using his hands on other people. “OK, Mommy.” I told him to apologize to his teacher and friends.

Back to work….and the phone rings a few hours later. Carlos has become so disruptive that the day care is asking me to take him home for the day. I totally understand. Drop everything, go pick him up. But by the time I get there, he’s sitting in the office, BEAMING at me. “Hi, Mommy!”

He points to my I.D. badge and says, “What’s dis?” I said, “That’s my badge from work–where I’m supposed to be right now but I’m here to find out why you’ve been kicking your friends.”

Here’s what’s making me nuts–he doesn’t do the behavior in front of me. He’ll pitch a fit at home and I deal with it. But when I get a call about behavior that has already happened, I can’t punish him for it. I can’t even talk to him about the specifics of how it started, how he could have made it go differently, etc.

I am losing my mind over this Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde junk. Some days, he’s fine. Others, he loses it. We thought it was triggered by his transition from one school program to daycare. Then that got better…then it got worse…then it got better. Some days it’s at nap time, some days it’s music time. Some days he sleeps fine and others he comes home singing little songs about a shark.

I feel helpless on days like today. I need to work and I need my son to be OK and I need to know what’s going on in his head and I need to let him grow out of this.

Anyway…he’s not a bad egg. But I’m cracking up.

100 Words About Happy Things

(Casey at “Life With Roozle” issued a 100 word challenge…here’s my answer)

drop-556895_1280Spent some time crying in the car today, in the rain.

But Heather and Pete took a baby home from the hospital. Anna brought 3 Sumos to my front door. There were doughnuts and Spiderman Legos and a new book from the $2 table. Erica bought herself a bracelet and Casey brought flowers home. It’s Andrew’s birthday and Nicole loves him. Pam sent a picture of blue sky over Springfield to prove that it does happen. Carlos in his bathrobe with slicked down hair. Vivi chose a purple shirt for picture day.

Some days there is crying. But there’s also all this, everything.

Going Places

I’ve been in Springfield, Missouri for the last 30 hours and WHAT FUN! I love going places. If you haven’t been in Springfield, MO for the last 30 hours, here’s just a taste of what you have missed:

  1.  Folks in Missouri are friendly, but you can keep your yoga pants in your own damn parking lot. We don’t want your patchouli smellin’ stretchy pants up in here, thank you very much.11080409_10205180175817015_1207847801974418780_o
  2. My hotel is hosting the Professional Outdoor Media Association conference and film festival (most of the short films that were showing in the lobby tonight have scores by Bob Seger or AC/DC). During breakfast, I sat next to four guys who talked about chiggers and deer ticks for 25 minutes straight. It was me, the outdoor media dudes, and the North Dakota State basketball team fighting it out for the breakfast buffet. Those suckers never saw me coming and I left with ALL the honeydew. 11070108_10205180176177024_577964643176630744_o
  3. This is my friend from all the way back in college, Dr. Pamela Sailors. She is a philosopher who specializes in the field of sports ethics (which means that our lunch conversation included topics like whether/when you are obligated to rescue a fellow climber on Mount Everest). She is my favorite kind of person: smart, funny, genuine, and interested in the world.11080308_10205180176537033_6232986941661935303_o
  4. We had lunch at Cafe Cuzco in the revitalized downtown district. This restaurant is the creation of a chef who liked the food in Peru so much that he decided to bring it to this neck of the woods. Along the way, they restored a defunct pharmacy building. It has a pressed tin ceiling and wooden booths imported from Peru, so it’s beautiful AND you get food that is healthy, fresh and delicious. I had the yerba mate (green tea) and a chicken aji verde that was sublime. 
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  5. While we were eating this sublime food, the sounds of classical guitar swirled around us. I didn’t even realize the music was live until we got up to leave. I thanked this man for sharing his gift. What a beautiful sound on a gloomy gray day! 11079996_10205180177537058_2513801032847963695_o
  6. When Pam listed some local tourist attractions, she mentioned the Bass Pro Shop. I assured her, “Oh, we have one of those in Georgia.” Ha. This is THE Bass Pro Shop, the one that started them all. It was so much fun! I almost bought me some jelly worms. I got G a little can of shredded up beef jerkey that looks like a can of Copenhagen. How perfect is THAT?  10379473_10205180177817065_3496000441032756092_o
  7. This is a bronze statue of a whitetail buck, 15x life size. Look how shiny it is! 10603971_10205180178217075_6237605206013174341_o
  8. This grizzly reminded me of the time that Daddy borrowed a lake house from a client of his who was a big trophy hunter (gross). Right in the entryway of the house was a 10 foot stuffed grizzly, just like this one. We told the nephews, who were little boys at the time, that they weren’t allowed to touch these taxidermy pieces that were scattered throughout the house. The next morning, I found them all clustered behind the grizzly bear. I asked what they were doing and Jackson said, “Trying to find his butthole.” 11060022_10205180178537083_601292825915523298_o
  9. I got to give a talk for Women In History Month. I put a lot of work into it and the work paid off. I told stories, asked people to think, tied ideas together, and got a few laughs. It meant a lot to me, because as much as I’ve been in front of audiences, I felt like this was the first time I was there as a Writer. 11034350_10205180178977094_7757958567080325868_o
  10. And then there was beer, and it was good. 1900661_10205180179817115_7530389651993740343_o
  11. “You go through St. Louie, Joplin Missouri, Oklahoma City looks might pretty…” We cruised down Route 66! (Even if it was only for a mile or so). I’ve always wanted to see Route 66 and now I have! What a surprise. 10999865_10205180180337128_6352332042109551612_o
  12. This is a hotel where Elvis stayed in 1956. Their digital sign says, “Elvis Slept Here….Pets Welcome!…Free Wifi.” 475516_10205180180617135_2145954506772130903_o
  13.  Once I’ve rested a bit, I’ll post parts of the talk. I learned some cool stuff while putting it together. It felt so good to feel people listening, to see people nodding their heads at the interesting parts and laughing at the funny parts. 10869748_10205180175657011_3354801227045631841_o

 

 

So, to sum up my first trip to Missouri: no yoga parking, chiggers, yerba mate, dear friends, guitar, jelly worms, grizzly butthole, writer, get your kicks, beer, Elvis Slept Here, nodding and listening.

And that’s the day that makes me grateful to be going places.

Family Phrasebook

owl-297413_1280Carlos: “Mommy, put my cold milk in the foodgerator.” (Refrigerator)

Vivi: (while standing in front of our side-by-side refrigerator) “If this side is the fridge, is this side the erator?” (No, dear, it’s the freezer.)

Carlos: “Mommy work on her punkcuter.” (Computer)

Vivi: “Can I drain the spaghetti in the…in the…noodler?” (That’s the collander.)

Victoria: (from many years ago) “Daddy is from Brasil, they speak porkacheese.” (Portuguese)

Victoria: (naming the 13 colonies) Georgia, Virginia, Delaware, North California, South California, New York, Connecticuts, Vermont, New Hamster…

It dawned on me today, after talking to Carlos’ teachers about the progress he’s making in communication, that the days of these sweet garbles are passing by quickly. I remember my Grandmama Irene once showed me a yellow legal pad where she had written down some of the funny things that my mom and Aunt Dixie had said as girls. Aunt Dixie liked to use the ruler “to inch stuff.” (measure)

My baby is inching on up there.

What were some of your favorite expressions that you’re kids created?

A Sumo and a Sparrow Meet In a Grocery Store

Kroger is turning into my meditative place, like an ashram with a deli. I seem to have a lot of epiphanies there–about peaches and crushes, parking lot rage, or canoodling in the pasta aisle. This week, I cried a little in the produce section after I made three loops and realized that the Sumo mandarins are gone again. Maybe FOREVER.

About a month ago, in the grayest gray of February that ever dared to gray, I got annoyed during a traffic jam in the produce section. You know when people just leave a cart in the middle of the aisle instead of parallel parking it? Grrrr. As I waited in my cloud of righteous indignation, an Asian grandmotherish woman waited for the produce manager to peel an orange and give her a sample.

“See how easy they peel? They don’t look like much but they have a great flavor. Real sweet.” He held a half of the orange in one gloved hand and offered her a wedge. As soon as she put it in her mouth, she began to smile and nod. Her husband got a plastic bag from the roller and started pawing through the bin of oranges. And still, I waited for them to move.

sumoBecause I was forced to wait, the aroma had time to get to my sniffy little piqued nose. Dang–that DID smell good. And it sure didn’t smell one bit like February. I grabbed four of the knobbly oranges with the weird sumoesque topknot thingy aroung the stem.

The next morning, I plopped down like a dirty snowman on the couch at the beginning of another gray day. As I peeled the Sumo, Carlos climbed up beside me and we shared bite after bite. I swear that orange kept me from crying that day.

At night, the oranges stopped me from snacking on sweet stuff. In the morning, they started my day off right. For a glorious week, I ate them morning, noon, and night.

The next week when I returned to Kroger, they were gone. I asked the produce manager if they had any in the back. I NEVER do that. He returned with the news that the Sumos were gone and they probably weren’t getting any more. They had been too hard to sell. Too many people looked at the ugly outside and passed them up for a dependable old navel.

I cried, y’all. I stood right there in front of the lunchbox sized apples and sank into a citrusy funk. My inner monologue was pretty much, “Oh, RIGHT. I forgot that I can’t have ANYTHING nice.” Yadda yadda February yadda.

I moved on to Cuties, but it wasn’t the same.

Then the next week, like magic, the Sumos were back. I spent scads of dollars on two bags and hid them in the car and in my office so the kids wouldn’t gobble them up. I know, that’s pathetic, but you do what you gotta do to make it through February. I stretched the Sumos until the calendar rolled over to March.

Maybe this weird new hybrid fruit was catching on! This week, I had my hopes up that Athens had seen the true path and the demand for Sumos would carry us until springtime.

Nope. They were gone. Again. I made three trips around the piles of grapefruit, tangelos, mandarins, lemons, ugli fruit…nope.

Dammit.

Before I could get to feeling too robbed, I heard an outside sound there inside the Kroger. Chirping. Up in the steel rafters, right above the produce section, a tiny sparrow flitted overhead.

I’m sure someone (probably the produce manager) thinks of that bird as a nuisance. I don’t. Sure, it’s gonna poop on something eventually, but there’s a narrow chance of getting pooped on just about anywhere you go.

That little bird cheered me up. It really doesn’t give a damn about whether there are Sumos this week or not. It makes a meal of whatever is left over or dropped. Imagine the plentitude it has foundinside that store! No cats, no hunger, no wind, no rain. Always warm and dry. We could look at it and think, “Poor thing is trapped in here, away from its natural home.” Or we could look at it and think, “Dude…Jackpot!”

It reminded me of that little bird in Bermuda that I wrote about in A Life Made of Crumbs. Gimpy, we called him, due to his little twisted leg. Every afternoon at four p.m., he hop-wobbled around the terrace at tea time, making a feast from the crumbs we dropped from our scones and cucumber sandwiches.

Well, this story has gone on so long, it’s the middle of March. So I guess I made it out of February, Sumos or not. Jackpot!

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Whatever You Polish Will Shine

I’m working on a new opportunity that is exhilarating and terrifying.

I’m going to talk to a group of people.

Live. In person.

So you might be thinking…”Girl, whut? You talk to people all the damn time. What’s the big deal?”

I do. I talk to big groups about Wesleyan. I talk for a living. I tell stories on the internet. I read a story in front of all those people at BlogHer last year. I love the feel of a podium and a mic.

This talk feels different. I’ve been invited to Missouri State University as part of their Women in History Month programs. This year’s theme is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” I get to talk to some college students about the vital role of telling your own story.

SQUEEEEEE.

And YIKES!

I’ve been working on my ideas for weeks and weeks, but I ran into a big wall of fear every time I tried to get them down into images to go along with my talking points. Petrified. And guess who comes to live in my head when I say YES to some new challenge: my inner critic. That voice that croaks, “See? I told you you couldn’t do this. Your ideas are stupid. No one is going to listen to you. Why would they? What’s special about you? I’ve never heard such arrogance.”

Jasmine of Just Jasmine gave me some great words of encouragement yesterday when I confessed to the same old struggle with the same old shit:

That critic voice is a protective mechanism we develop to keep us from starting so we never fail and never have to face whatever is on the other side. Often, as I am sure you know, when we push pass that voice we find we are far more capable than we’ve ever imagined.

Ain’t that the truth? This fear, this critical dance is a habit. I sat my ass down in the chair tonight and pushed my way past the critic and roughed out my talk.

And I loved it. I got excited about it. I found just the right way of expressing my thoughts. I am looking forward to the interchange with new people in a new place. One big ball of YES, rolling on its own once I got it moving.

While I was searching for some free license images for the talk, I came upon this haunting picture of a Chopin statue:

Chopin

Chopin

While looking at Chopin’s nose, I thought, “Whatever we polish will shine.” Normally, a bronze statue left out in the weather will take on that beautifully thick green patina that we see on the rest of this statue. But so many hands have reached up to pat, caress or tweak Monsieur Chopin’s nose that the constant polishing keeps it shiny. After a while, the nose leaps out and becomes what we notice about the entire statue. Whatever we polish shines.

Whatever we keep touching on, that’s what stays in the forefront. I polish the fear when I let that critic voice run rampant. If my heart travels back to fear over and over again, that’s what shines. If I point it towards courage and YES, that’s what shines.

Here are two other memories of shiny statues that I encountered in adventures and both of them made me smile.

This little dog sits at his master’s knee in a bas relief bronze plaque on the Karluv Most (Charles’ Bridge) in Prague. For hundreds of years, passersby have been unable to resist giving the dog a little pat:

karluv most dog

See how he shines from all that attention!

Here’s a funny one from Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Journalist Victor Noir was killed as a  second in a duel by the great-nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. Noir is memorialized in bronze, in such a realistic style that he seems to have fallen down (his toppled top hat often fills with flowers brought by tourists). Well, as you can see from the photo, certain…contours within the statue are remarkable. Over the decades, Noir’s crotch has risen in myth to a fertility symbol, so visitors to the cemetery give it a little polish for some extra luck in the baby-making department:

victor noir

(I gave it a polish myself…et voila, deux bebes! Tres simple!)

Jeez…How did this talk wander off into rubbing a French reporter’s crotch in a graveyard? I hope this doesn’t happen at Missouri State. Rein it in, rein it in….

So polishing. The power of polishing doesn’t come from force–it’s in repetition. It’s a gentle, consistent alchemy.  I’ve spent years inadvertently polishing the voice of the inner critic. Now I’m keeping my hands off of it and using them to gently pat the head of courage, who sits at my knee and looks lovingly at me, to remind me to give Yes a try.