Tag Archives: Vivi

This Isn’t About Me. It’s the Penguin.

Sooooo…Vivi is at sleep-away camp for the first time ever in her whole entire almost nine year life. Yep.

camp vivi

I’m fine.

Seriously. Totally OK.

But I’m concerned about Pengy.


He stayed like this the whole ride home.

He doesn’t look like he’s OK with this AT ALL. I think he thinks that she’s growing up so quickly. I bet he thinks that he’s not quite sure what to do with himself without her. I can just look at him and tell that he’s wondering if she’ll ever come back and if she’ll still need him then.

I’m fine, but the penguin is struggling.

Pengy and Vivi have been inseperable since she was about 18 months old. We met Pengy on a trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Since that day, there’s been no other friend for Vivi. He sleeps under her chin every night. He snuggles under her elbow while she’s reading a book. He even sits beside her at the dinner table some nights.

Pengy has been to many cities and a couple of countries. The rule is, Mommy carries Pengy while we travel. We have lots of rules about Pengy–Pengy stays in the car if we go out running errands. Pengy stays home instead of riding to school in a backpack. Carlos is not allowed to touch Pengy.

And she’s gone for a week. Who is Pengy without his Vivi?

When she first started talking about sleep-away camp, the question of Pengy came up–would he be safe in the woods? Was he too old to sleep in a tent every night? Santa brought Vivi a Siamese kitty, which she named Artemis and declared to be her second favorite friend. Artemis went to camp. She’s young and strong and not afraid to sleep in the woods at night.



Things change, right? Kids are supposed to grow and move on to other stages in life and sometimes we put away childish things. Pengy will always be #1, the original beloved. Nothing can take the place of Pengy. Still. It’s hard.

So yeah. I’m fine. But the penguin is lonely for his girl.

Look At the Sky

When I got home from Pilates class last night, Vivi was standing in the middle of the den with her  pajamas already on and her hair dripping wet.

“What’s up? Why’s your hair wet?”

“I washed my own hair! In the SHOWER! Daddy said I could.” She threw her arms around me with such joy. I kissed her on top of her head.

“Good for you! Did you rinse it really well?” Ever the Quality Control Inspector, I took a long wet tendril between my fingers to test for slippery conditioner. She had done a really good job.

“Well, if you’re going to go to sleep-away camp, you have to learn how to take a shower. I’m proud of you.”

And I was. But my heart broke a little bit.

G and I have been washing her beautiful curls her whole life and now she can do it on her own. She wants to do it on her own.

When Vivi was really small, maybe three, I was bent over the tub trying to get all the bubbles out of her hair while she played with a family of floating plastic penguins. She didn’t like the water going in her face, so I told her to look up before I rinsed. She kept her head tilted down but rolled her eyes into the back of her head. “No, baby, look up with your whole face…point your chin to the ceiling.” She twisted her face into a grimace with her chin stuck out, but still didn’t tilt her head back. In growing exasperation, I said, “Look at the sky!”

It worked. She turned her whole smiling face straight up to the sky. And ever since, I’ve been saying “Look at the sky” when it’s time to rinse her hair.

Will I ever get to say that again?

What’s the next gentle thing that will go? Something I’ve been doing for her that she’ll learn to do herself? How will I tend to her as she learns to take care of her own body and her own heart? She fixes her own cups of water and pours crackers in a bowl for a snack. She is already dressed in the morning before I come out of my room. She reads herself to sleep at night.

I am learning the lesson that all mothers learn as our children grow into themselves. As my children rely on me for less, I’ll have more time for myself.

I’ll have my turn to look at the sky.

Marin County, October 2014.

Marin County, October 2014

I Tiptoe Into Your Room at Night

November 8, 2014

November 8, 2014

I tiptoe into your room every night, and it’s never to whisper, “For the last time, untangle your underwear from your pants legs before you put them in the laundry basket.”

Just before midnight, I stand beside your bed and not once have I come there to say, “Did you put something down the toilet again? Because it is clogging up and I sweartogod if I have to replace another toilet it is coming out of your college fund.”

In the soft glow of your night light, my finger reaches out to trace the perfect curve of your cheek and I don’t ask, “Why are you so sticky?”

I tuck the covers around you without saying, “You’re not even supposed to have Go-gurts in your room. We don’t want ants.”

I push the dark curls off your forehead and it’s never crossed my mind to take this opportunity to say, “Cough into your elbow!”

And every night, every single night of your life, I stand there in the dark and whisper, “I love you sooooo much.”

Every day I tell you that too. But at night, I tiptoe into your room to remind myself what a miracle you are. And how lucky I am to be your mother.

But honestly, what is that smell?

The Meanest Thing I’ve Said to My Daughter, So Far

Sunday night, just before bath time, my last nerve ran out into the street and threw itself under a car. About 45 seconds after that, I made a simple request of my daughter. About a minute after that, I said the meanest thing I’ve said to her….so far.

Image courtesy morguefile.com

Image courtesy morguefile.com

Vivi was supposed to be getting ready for her bath. I looked over and saw a stack of orange peels and other snack detritus on the coffee table in the den. From the couch, I hollered down the hall, “Come get your dishes and put them in the sink!”

She thundered down the hall, running wide open through the den and straight into the kitchen, right past me. Then she wandered back into the den.

“What are you DOING?” I asked.

“Seeing if I could outrun the cat.”


She meandered over to the coffee table, picked up a book that had been left open there earlier in the afternoon, and started to read. I gave it a few seconds then said, “DISHES.”

“Oh, right!” She came very very very close to the dishes, but then the cat walked by again and she pounced on him.

“Leave the cat alone and just take the dishes to the sink!” By now, she had the cat draped across her left arm like a dish towel and ignored me when I repeated, “Put the cat down!” With the cat wiggling to get free, she stacked her water cup on top of her plate. Teeter totter sway and wobble…y’all can see where this is going, right? I’m not sure if the cat knocked the cup over or the cup fell over and the water landed on the cat, but all of that happened at once and now we had a bigger mess and water all over everywhere.

And that’s when I blurted: “Why can’t you just……BE NORMAL….for one minute?”

I meant to say, “Why can’t you focus on this? Why will you not listen to me? Why can you not leave the goddam cat alone? Why can you not remember to clean up after yourself? When will you learn to respect the laws of physics? Especially where cats and water are concerned???”

Instead, I said “Why can’t you be normal?” And I’m still beating myself up for that.

She paused for a moment but didn’t answer me. I hope she was too busy dealing with the mess to register what I had said,

After the mess was sopped up and thrown away and Rufus had escaped to the backyard to recover his dignity, I should have apologized to Vivi for that word. She was already giggling in the tub. “Normal” is the last thing I want her to be. I want her to be clever and kind and free and confident and courageous and content. I want her to be herself, authentically and unapologetically. I also want her to put her own damn orange peels in the kitchen trash can. Not the wastebasket under the desk that only gets emptied every few weeks–the KITCHEN trashcan. And I want her to do that the first time she is asked, while bearing in mind that cats and water and gravity are all fickle fellows. I want her to be a centered individual who knows how to live in the world with other people.

Normal. Ugh. My daughter isn’t normal. But I didn’t need to remind her of that.

I’m beating myself up about this slip of the tongue. Worrying that this one thing will become the inner voice that she hears. Wondering if this was the straw that broke the daughter’s back.

The mom guilt is strong on this one. Was this my big mistake that wipes out every positive thing I’ve ever done for my girl? That’s what I worry about with EVERY mothering decision. I guess that’s….oh what’s the word?


At Loose Ends

We had a kindergarten tradition at Flint River Academy. Every fall, Mrs. Nina Lemmon (yes, with two ems…and it’s a long i in her first name, not a short i) taught her students to tie their shoes.

shoe lace practiceShe cut out dozens of little shoes from yellow construction paper. You end up with a lot of yellow construction paper when you are a school teacher named Mrs. Lemmon. She wove one white shoelace through each, and labelled them with the names of her new students. The shoes hung on the wall inside her kindergarten classroom with their laces loose and dangling.

Every few days, Mrs. Lemmon, who was an angel of patience, gave us a chance to practice tying our shoes. If you did it right, your shoe was moved out into the hallway under construction paper letters that shouted: “I CAN TIE MY SHOE!” If you couldn’t get it to work, your shoe stayed in the classroom and waited for you to solve the magic puzzle that brought the loose ends together into a neat bow.

I wasn’t the first to get my tied shoe moved out to the hallway. Or the second. Or third. Each day, as we walked in a rambling line to the lunchroom or the library, we passed the parade of neatly tied shoes outside Mrs. Lemmon’s classroom.

It had started to worry me–yes, my neurotic little five-year-old self was already worried about measuring up. What if mine was the last shoe added to the line? What if I never managed to make the rabbit go around the stump and into the hole?

No kid got out of Mrs. Nina Lemmon’s kindergarten class without learning how to tie her shoes. NOT A ONE. I should have known that she wouldn’t let me miss out on this important piece of knowledge, but I wanted to be done with the hard part of learning and on to the celebrating. I wanted my shoe in that hallway for everyone to see. So they would know that I was smart. That I was capable. That I was OK.

One crisp October morning before sunrise, I sat on the living room floor in our trailer and I worked on tying my shoes. It wasn’t happening. I remember my dad’s boots stopping near me (boots–that could be my Plan B if I never figured out the laces!). He squatted down and showed me again. Maybe it was the angle or maybe something clicked or maybe I was just ready, but IT WORKED. I tied one shoe and then I tied the other. I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Tigner to pull up in the driveway and honk the horn on her brown station wagon so that I could get to school and show Mrs. Lemmon that I knew how to tie my shoes!

A couple of weeks ago, G took the kids shoe shopping. Vivi came home with a powder blue pair of sneakers…with laces. Oh boy. That’s when it hit me. My kid is in third grade (gifted, no less!) and still doesn’t know how to tie her shoes. Thanks, Velcro. What would Mrs. Lemmon think?

Every morning, when I had to tie her shoes for her, I added “teach Vivi how to tie her shoes” to the running list of things in my head that I have to do or someone will find out that I’m an incompetent mother. It’s overwhelming, that feeling. That dark gray shadow in my mind that says, “What have you forgotten?”

loose ends

We sat down last night after dinner with no distractions. I took one blue shoe and held it in my lap while Vivi sat across from me with the other.

“OK. Before we ever start, let me just tell you–you’re going to mess this up about 20 times before it makes sense…OK?”

She got it after seven.

After she tied the laces correctly a couple of times, she was ready to quit and go watch Pokemon on Netflix. When I insisted that she sit there on the rug and tie her shoes at least 20 times, she moaned and groaned.

“Hey, Viv. Watch this.” I closed my eyes tight and tied the shoe. She marveled. I took the shoe with loose laces, put it behind my back, then brought it back tied neatly.

“Whoa! You’re a magician!” she laughed and grabbed for the shoe to try it herself.

“No, it’s just that I’ve practiced this since I was in kindergarten. Once you’ve practiced it enough, you won’t even have to think about it. You won’t even be able to remember the time when you couldn’t tie your shoes.”

Ah. When I find myself at loose ends, I have to remember to keep on practicing. Even with mothering, or forgiving myself or breathing through the hard stuff. Eventually, it gets easier. Eventually, I won’t even remember that there was a time when I didn’t know how to do this.

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:


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…


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.


The Last Thing In Pandora’s Box

1559524_10204893052519112_4120998935743024941_oLittle did I know that the 2nd grade play, “Pandora’s Box,” would leave me with much to think about all afternoon. But that’s the gift of great theater–it stays with you. Even when the actors are quite wiggly and need to speak up a little.

We all know the story of Pandora’s Box, right? Or we think we do. Pandora’s husband tells her not to open the box so, naturally, it’s the only thing she wants. He hides it from her–she sneaks around looking for it. He falls asleep, she opens the box and unleashes every awful thing out into the world. Curiosity leads to misery and suffering in a world turned sour. Sounds a lot like the apple, the serpent and a certain unclad couple in paradise, amirite?

That’s the story I remembered, but the play Mrs. Corbett’s class put on today was far more nuanced. Turns out, it was a fix from the start (this next part is stolen from the program):

Zeus summons Hephaistos to make a beautiful woman, whom he named Pandora (which means all-gifts). Zeus sent Pandora down to Earth and gave her as a bride to Epimetheus. Also, Zeus sent Pandora with a little box, with a big lock on it. He said not to ever open the box, and he gave the key to Epimetheus. Pandora was very curious about what was in the box. She begged Epimetheus to let her open it, but he always said no. Finally, one day, he fell asleep and she opened the box.

Oh! Out of the box flew every kind of trouble that people had never known about before: sicknesses, and worries, and crimes, and hate and envy and all sorts of bad things. Pandora was very sorry now that she had opened the box. She tried to catch the bad things and put them back in the box but it was too late.

That box filled with demons could be my own mind. While I sat there in the school cafeteria waiting on the play to begin, I struggled with envy (Mary was sitting beside me and she’s so pretty and confident looking). All the other mothers are so young and vibrant. I struggled with sickness, snurfling and snorking with allergies. I had worries–next on the agenda after the play was Carlos’ 4-yr-old doctor visit, with lots of vaccinations to spring on him. And speaking of vaccinations, I struggled with anger because are we really having to worry about measles and shit again? But I digress.

Pandora. Engraving, based on a painting by F.S. Church.

Pandora. Engraving, based on a painting by F.S. Church.

Above all, I struggled with letting my kid be herself. While the other actors were saying their lines, there was a strange amount of commotion emanating from behind the curtain where my daughter was standing. She was bumping and twisting and smacking the curtain (and the massive white paper column attached to it) with such gusto that Mrs. Corbett had to climb up on the stage during the performance to shush her. That’s my kid. Yup. She was playing the role of Anger, and she did a great job! She had fun with it and projected back to the cheap seats. I guess “Commotion” wasn’t a role or she would have been a shoo-in.

Like Pandora worrying over the box, sometimes the best solution for me is just to LET IT BE. Parenting Vivi can be like that.

So there I sat, recording the whole show on my phone because G couldn’t be there, and wrestling with my own demons inside my head. Then something lovely happened that I didn’t expect.

After all the awful things had flown out of the box, announced to the audience who they were (through the authentic Greek masks they had made) and exited stage right, Mary’s daughter flitted out onto the stage wearing a pair of fairy wings and a peacefully sweet expression. She danced around the broken-hearted Pandora and announced: I am HOPE.

It was such a delightful surprise for the play to end on this note, but I was surprised to see a fairy pop up after all that misery. I checked my program:

But the very last thing to fly out of the box, as Pandora sat there crying, was not as ugly as the others. In fact, it was beautiful. It was HOPE, which Zeus had sent to keep people going when all the nasty things got them down.

Warwick Goble, "Pandora and Her Box"

Warwick Goble

That was the part of Pandora’s story that I had forgotten. Along with all the misery comes just enough hope to keep you going. I almost cried, right there in the cafeteria.

So thank you, 2nd Grade Spectrum class, for sharing what you’ve learned about ancient Greece. Thank you, Mrs. Corbett for putting up with my daughter’s commotion. Thank you, young spirits, for teaching me something I might have known once but had forgotten.

Thank you, Hope.