Tuesday, September 28, 2010


So, every night (or early morning), whenever it is that I finally decide to peel myself off the couch, and just before I make my way up to bed, I wander out into the backyard in my bare feet, clapping and stomping wildly beneath the moon and stars.

And before you way-too-easily make the not-so-much-of-a-stretch leap and assume that it's some ritualistic pagan love chant, it's really not. It's the only way I can call our getting-deafer-by-the-day aging dog, Ryce, to come in for the night.

Her hearing's been going pretty steadily for about a year now.  Well, likely much longer than that, but for a few years there I think we just thought she'd had enough of all the bickering and totally tuned us out.

As it turns out, though, it's really just that she's getting old. :(

She'll be turning 12 next month.  And I still remember the day we got her.  The boys that lived upstairs from us in New Orleans found her mother and a brand new litter of mutt pups beneath a house they owned just outside of the Garden District.  They were able to find new homes for every single one of the male puppies, and even the mother, but no one wanted Ryce.

She was the runt.
The only girl.
The one with the least chance of survival.
The one with the broken spirit.
And the one with the broken tail from all her siblings suckling on it thinking it was a teet (which we had docked, so now she's just got a nub).

Next thing you know, she's in my bed.  And that pretty much sums up my life to this point. ;P

So now the old girl's losing her hearing, which, I know, in this family is indubitably a blessing and a curse.  And so, whenever we need her to stop barking at the neighbors, or come in to the kennel, or come and get her medicine, we have to stomp on the ground and clap really loudly, hoping she'll catch the vibrations.  Sometimes she'll "hear" one or the other. Most often, it takes both.  Oddly enough, she still hears the word "treat" just fine. Mmm-hmm.

So, I'm out on the back porch in the middle of the night, stomping and clapping, as the rats and raccoons and God-knows-what-else scurry away in terror. Unable to tell if Ryce is up on the hill, around the corner, or right here next to me in her dog house because the moon is completely enshrouded, I bang on the dog house roof.  Nothing. Then I go over to Reyna's doghouse, which is slightly smaller, and bang on that roof.  Still nothing.  I kick the door slightly, and the whole thing shakes.  Ah-ha!

Bending over, I see her staring back at me with those big, brown sleepy but startled doe eyes.  Trying to focus.  Wishing she was still dreaming of that glorious week she got to spend at that doggie resort while we were on vacation a few years ago.  And I begin to clap in front of her face and point to the garage.

[Clap, clap, clap]

So that she understands.

[Stomp! Stomp!]

That it's time to come in.

[Point. Hard. Again. Harder.]

And she just stares at me.

She used to jump right up, of course.  But, here lately, she's taken to pretty much not giving a shit anymore.  I mean, hell, she's 84.  She's DONE giving a shit. She's over this man's best friend gig, is all ready to retire, and pack up her little bag of snausages and hop a puddle jumper to Maui, man. She's D-O-N-E. Done.

But I'm a persistent polly.

And eventually, like most people, she just gives in because I wear her down.

So, she crawls out of the house with her head hanging low, and slowly makes her way into the garage where I have to keep her at night because although she may look like a tired old grandma at the moment, right around 3am or so, she tends to get her second wind, barks at the mere fact that life exists, and generally drives me insane.

So, I lock the little one in her kennel and point to the doggie bed we've left near, but no longer in the kennel, for Ryce.  And she just stares at me.

I point again. Seriously straining my finger on that last one, I think.  And give her the lay down sign. And she looks at the bed.  And then looks back up at me.

"ugh," I sigh.

But I walk back outside, over to the doghouse, get down on my hands and knees on the filthy concrete floor, and pull out the much fluffier doggie bed, return to the garage, and throw it down onto the floor right next to the other one.

She looks over at the two beds side by side.  And then she just stares at me.

"Oh, forf*ck'ssake, Ryce! What IS it?!" I beg.

She looks at the fluffier bed, then back to me.  And the request slaps me upside the head.

"You've got to be kidding me?!?!" I say, incredulously.

But I take the fluffier bed and pile it ATOP the older bed, aaaaaand...she immediately climbs up, circles a few times, and settles in quite comfortably.

She looks up at me once more, and I'm pretty sure she batted her eyelashes 'cause before I knew it, I was giving her a treat and scratching her under the chin.

Mumbling all sorts of obscenities I don't think I can spell properly under my breath as I head back inside, I stop to turn out the light out and glance back at our poor aged Ryce-a-roni, and my heart melts a little again. Still hanging on after all these years, after all those moves across the country, after all the other pets have come and gone (except for the chihuahua, whom she's convinced is immortal, and probably a vampire), and even after the two monsters came into her life and changed pretty much everything about her place in our lives.

And she's snoring. Already.

All nice and cozy.  Curled up in that perfect fetal position.

All comfy on her friggin' double-layered bed.

While I'm out here, in the middle of the night, my feet and knees covered in dirt, my hands and shirt smelling of dog and synthetic turkey jerky.

And...I think...she's...actually smiling...the beaming satiated smile of someone who has finally figured out exactly how to work the system!!!  The fucker.

Monday, September 27, 2010


It's that time of year again, folks. National Banned Books Week. This is the 29th year. Twenty-nine years. Can you believe that?

That really just kind of blows my mind. That people have been challenging thoughts and ideas and expression and the ability...the magical ability...to be able to put those things down on paper, in a way that makes sense, in a way that makes people think, makes them uncomfortable, makes them confront themselves, question the status quo, recognize that vanilla is not the only flavor in the freezer. And that still -- STILL -- every year the list continues to grow. So...

Here's a list of the books that have been challenged in 2009-2010.

Here's a list of the most challenged books of all time.

Here's a complete list of banned books.

And according to the American Library Association (ALA), the following books are the 10 Most Challenged Books of the Past Decade (2000-2010).

  1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
  2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
  5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
  9. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (See the ALA Web site for the entire list.)

Pretty shocking, isn't it? How society hasn't come crumbling down at the mercy of one little tiny adopted penguin chick is just beyond me.

I can only dream of one day making just one of these lists. :)

Get to your local library this week for ideas on how you can help celebrate your freedom to read whatever you choose.

[h/t Florinda at BlogHer]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A Composite of the
66 Original Covers
Choose Your Own Adventure books!!  Remember these???

Oh, my God, they were really the first video games before the textual adventures on a green screen, before the first graphics adventures in two colors and two dimensions, before Atari's Pitfall.  They were a paperback video game.  A map for the future of interactive adventures.  A programmers literary wet dream.

And I absolutely ADORED them when I was younger.  I don't know if it was just about getting that chance to make it right whenever you made a bad choice.  Or the fact that you really had, like, 28 versions of the same story in one 128-page book, and the writing of that logistically just boggled (and still boggles) my mind.  Or if it was about trying to "beat" the formula, whatever that was.  Or if it wasn't just really about trying to get it right the first time, every time.  'Cause the thing with these originals (that you won't find in the plethora of copycats out there) is that if you made just enough mistakes, one too many bad choices, and just couldn't pull yourself out of your downward spiral, you were dead, buddy. D-E-A-D. DEAD. As a doornail. The end.

So, you'd flip back to the front, start over, try to make different decisions, but not really remember or even really know where you went wrong, eventually rely again on your internal compass, and...POW!...dead again.

It was positively infuriating!!!  And addictive.  And such an adrenaline rush!

And it's not like it was ever completely obvious what you should be choosing either. Sometimes it actually was the riskier option that was the right one. But sometimes the more conservative approach kept you on the right path. But not always. And not consistently. It just didn't seem, to my 10-year-old brain, that there was a way to crack the code.

Clearly, there must've been this fabulous looking process flow document out there somewhere. Taped up on someone's wall in their study. An infinite number of rectangles and circles and triangles, all intricately intertwined within a web of double-arrows and carefully placed diamond shapes in green and red YES and NO questions.

And yes, of course the nerdy side of me has seriously considered plotting the whole thing out on Visio, just so that I would FINALLY know.

Click to Start Your
Twitter Adventure
But that would totally blow the magic of it.

The magic I hear in the kids' voices when they make a wrong choice and don't really wanna turn the page.  When they have to start over because they just HAVE TO figure out how to survive.  The magic in their questions about whether hang gliding or sliding down a narrow tunnel into a pitch-black cave is the better option.  It's. Just. Awesomeness!!

And now there's even a grown-up version, I hear.  Well, two, actually.  One online. And one on Twitter.  I haven't checked them out. I can't really bring myself to do it.  They appear interesting enough, but there's just no way they're anything like the actual paperbacks. And even if they are, I just don't think I wanna know.

Monday, September 20, 2010


What Would Mama Do?
This is just too creepy, isn't it?

It recently came out of my mouth before I could stop it as I was lecturing the kids for God-knows-what for the bezillionth time in a week. Or something.

And as I'm ranting, I can hear myself but really can't believe I'm actually saying,"What you need to start doing is imagining that I'm right there standing behind you, looking over your shoulder, whispering in your ear, 'What Would Mama Do?'"

Yeah. Pretty creepy now that I've said it out loud.

Friday, September 17, 2010



Walking to the truck from school yesterday afternoon, hand in hand with the monsters, gabbing about their day.

I mentioned casually that I'd overheard the announcement by the principal that there was an "incident" in the girls' bathroom with soap and toilet paper that was causing some concern, and had either of them heard anything about it.

Chago was being his typical oblivious self, skipping across the crosswalk, waving at friends, just happy to be him and released from the schooljail.

Saia, on the other hand, piped up immediately, which isn't all that surprising, really, as she tends to be our little Meddling Mary -- keenly observant, insists her Mommy -- but "nosy" is pretty much the gist of it.

So, yes, she explains excitedly that one day last week she'd gone into the bathroom and saw two little girls, let's call them A and B, where A = spawnofthedevil, and B is a relative unknown, throwing "soap bombs" at the walls and mirrors.

"Soap bombs?" I ask.  "What are those?"  And so it begins.


"Well," she says, "it's when you take a whole bunch of toilet paper and put it under the water for a little bit and then add a lot of soap."

"Uh huh..."

"And then you throw it," she finished, suddenly realizing she's probably said too much.

"I see. And you know this because..."

"Well," she wades in timidly, "because A showed me how to do it."

"And you threw one?" which was really more of a statement than a question.

"Well," she dips a toe, "yes, but then I cleaned it right up."

"So, let me just get this straight," I recap. "You walked into the bathroom. You saw what A & B were doing. You thought it looked fun. You threw one yourself. But then...you cleaned it up right there in front of them and then returned to class and told no one?"

She nodded. No words.  Always a sign that we haven't quite gotten to the whole truth yet.

"You didn't actually clean it up, did you, babe?"

She shakes her head slowly and drops her eyes.

"Should we start over?"

She nods.

The short of it is that after she threw the soap bomb, she felt bad and just left. Left the mess. Left the girls. And left the scene of the crime.  The big problem came when A apparently continued to influence and recruit other curious girls on campus for about a week and a half.  The single custodian was up to his ears in soap bombs, and the principal was about to blow a gasket unless someone came forward with information.

"So, you know you need to come clean, right, baby?" I tell her, in a surprisingly calm voice.  "And you'll need to make this right."

"What do you mean?" she said with wide eyes and raised eyebrows.

"What do you think I mean, mama?"

"That I have to tell," she said, and the tears began to well up.


"And I have to apologize to Mr. R," she continued.

"Yes. And..."

"And I have to be punished," and her entire face went red, and the tears began to flow.

"Well," I stopped her, "let's not focus on the punishment right now, ok? Let's focus on the fact that you told me the truth. The whole truth. Even though you were afraid. Even though you knew it was wrong and that you would get into big trouble for it. There is something inside of you, that part of you that tells you you are a good girl, even when you make mistakes, that part of you that understands the difference between right and wrong, even though you may blur the lines sometimes, that part of you that knew you had to tell the whole truth, and your part in that truth, eventually.  And that, my love, is not an easy thing to do. For anyone. At any age."

"I feel really bad about it, Mama," she mumbled through her tears.

"I know, Saia. I can see that. Which is all the more reason for you to take care of this. Not just because Mrs. G needs the information so that she can put a stop to this before someone gets into real trouble or, worse, gets hurt, and Mr. R deserves an apology, but for you, baby. You need to tell the truth for you. If you keep it, it'll eat you up inside."

"Have you ever had to tell something that you did, Mama?"

"Oh, baby, I wish so much that I could tell you no, but yes, my love. We all make bad choices, make unintended mistakes, have impaired judgment from time to time. Nobody's perfect, baby. Nobody does the right thing every second of every day.  But it's how you handle those situations, how you make amends, how you learn from those things, that's what's most important, and that's what'll make you the best you that you can be."

"But, Mama, I don't wanna tell Mrs. G about this," she says. "It hurts my stomach."

"I know, sweetheart, but that feeling...those knots, that lump in your throat..."
She nods. "That tells you that it's absolutely the right thing to do."


So, we talked about what her other options could have been to handle that situation. What she could've done or said in the moment. What she would do the next time. That she should've told a teacher or a parent right away.  How that's different from tattling and why. The differences between being a leader and a follower. And that prolonging the telling of a lie or a half-truth or an omission only compounds it and lessens the value of the truth telling.

And then I told her she had to talk to her Mommy before we could talk to Mrs. G, which she did. And her Mommy echoed and supported everything we'd already talked about.  Praised her for being strong and telling the truth, relayed a few of her own stories, and encouraged her to be brave and set a good example when she apologized and rectified the situation.

So, this morning, she did.  And it was just painful and heartbreaking to watch. She was sick to her stomach, all tied up in nerves and tears and gasps.  She's only 7, for crissakes. And she's still my baby.  And there was that big part of me that just wanted nothing more than to sweep her up into my arms and race her home, away from all of this.  But I held her and told her I was proud of her and promised her that no matter what, we loved her and it would all turn out okay in the end.  So, she sat there and looked her principal in the eye, told her the whole truth, apologized, and offered to make amends.

And I just don't know that I'll ever have a prouder moment as her mother.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

PET CEMETERY TALLY: 5 (Since January. No, really. January!)

Chago, Saia, and the Pet Cemetery
So, as another gorgeous arrangement of flowers began to wilt and whither earlier this week, I went ahead and weeded out the dead and dying, and rearranged the remaining hangers-on.

Saia suggested we add the plants to the beta fish bowls, that maybe they'd enjoy the change in scenery, which I just thought was a great idea.  It never even occurred to me that the plants wouldn't be good for the fish. Fish swim in water. Plants live in water. Very often, they inhabit the same water.

I'm really still not quite sure where it all went wrong.

Saia with Ponyo, Mommy, and Chago with Soske
See, the beta fish the children bought their Mommy for her birthday to go along with the aquarium have been taking up room and board with us until she gets their glass pond all set up at her place.  And yes, of course, we now realize that male betas won't be able to live in the same environment. But they couldn't get her any of the other fish they wanted until she gets the tank set up and the water conditioned.  AND...they couldn't very well leave the pet store WITHOUT any fish at all because what kind of a present would that be, Mom? It's like giving someone the cover of a book with no book inside. Yeah. Ok. So, really, the betas were just stand-ins, representatives, proxies for the actual fish they intended to get her someday, and, clearly their very clever way of manipulating me into getting them another pet. Times two.

So, they named them Soske and Ponyo, from the Japanese animated film PONYO, which they just adore.  And, for the most part, they've been pretty good about feeding them and helping to change out their water.  Until we committed fishicide, that is.  Both of them. On the same day. Like Gena Rowlands and James Garner in The Notebook.

Which brings us to our PHOTO OF THE DAY:

And in case you've lost count, that's two African Dwarf Frogs from Lizzy,
1 lake salamander from Jordan & Sarah,
and 2 male beta fish via Mommy's birthday "gift,"
all since January.  Am seriously considering purchasing
an acre next door...and a backhoe...based on this unfortunate trend.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Filling out their applications
September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month.

And although their Mommy and I, of course, already have library cards to check out books for them, it suddenly occurred to me, as I zoomed past the sign placed strategically along the human conveyor belt in the airport (really excellent captive audience marketing opportunity, FYI), that they didn't have their own.

And I really remember very fondly getting my first library card. Actually, I can't tell you when it was, or how old I was, or what color it was, or even what library it was. Ok, so maybe fondly was a little too generous of a term, but it is a very warm fuzzy that remains with me to this day.

Because I do remember distinctly thinking at the time that it felt like it meant more than money.

Signing his library card
Only it was a currency, just one that I couldn't understand or explain at the time.  There was a power there that I've never ever been able to replicate.  Because there's an intrinsic strength not just in having access to knowledge, which is obvious, but in the autonomy that comes with walking up and down the aisles, touching and flipping through pages, completely unencumbered, of any book, on any topic, imagined or real or otherwise.

There's an unexpected and delightful sense of self-sufficiency -- feeding your own soul, fulfilling your own curiosities, being able to satisfy your own wants and needs.

Then there's the sense of self-governance -- what am I ready for? what is outside of my reading level? what are my emotional capabilities? where am I in my social development?  And the subsequent delicious sense of self-anarchy in the independence and liberation that allow you to begin to define and push your own boundaries, question authority, find and develop your own identity.

And finally, there's that sudden and glorious sense of emancipation...from everyone...everywhere...all the time...telling you exactly what you should be digesting and when.

And, my God...

It. Was. Just. Revelatory. For. Me.

Signing her library card
And best of all, it's free. It's all yours. And it's completely impartial in its dissemination and endowment of power.

And as parents, we typically spend a good 18 years (or more) striving moment to moment to be able to recapture that feeling from our own youth. To bottle it up and pass it on. To not break our kids' spirits and sense of wonder and adventure and inquisitiveness.  To be THE ones who fill our children with all the knowledge they'll ever need and turbo boost their self-worth.  To mold and build them exclusively into the little people we had all those oh-so-high-hopes they could and would someday become. And then, at some point, we stop being so completely narcissistic and learn to let go...a little. (Right?)

But, like most unanswered prayers, it's so often exactly the way it was always meant to be.  And so, what you thought was just a little 2 x 3 piece of plastic, suddenly becomes in the hand of child, a time machine, a magic wand, a tunnel to China, a sword, a pirate ship, a rabbit hole, a monster in the closet, under the bed, inside themselves...

And the words "nothing is impossible" suddenly begin to make crystal clear perfect sense.

Using their own library cards for the first time

Wednesday, September 08, 2010



No. No. No.

This is not okay.

"Bubba," I call as I come up the stairs to ready them for bed.

"Yes?" he responds from the bathroom.

"Don't forget to floss, ok?"

And then...THEN...he does this whistle, click, click thing from Fantastic Mr. Fox.  You know the one. I think he even WINKED!!!!!!!!!


Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Walked up to school this afternoon. Planting myself firmly between their classrooms. The only one standing in the sun. Waiting. Ping-ponging my glances to see who was going to come out first today.

Because you don't wanna miss it. That moment. There's just nothing like that moment.  That look on their little face when, after scanning the sea of parental and parental-figure faces, they finally see yours across the tangle of double helixes, all different sizes, all different shapes, all different colors, but they. will. always. find. you.

And when they do, once they do, their whole face changes color. It illuminates. Entirely.  Like the lights of a vanity mirror. Beaming. Radiant. Brilliant. And their smile just swallows up every last inch of their little faces.

"MAMA!!!!" he yells, as he comes racing towards me, arms and legs flailing, like a rubber monkey, or a disjointed marionette, and I can feel it as I squat down, simultaneously spreading myself open to welcome him in and tensing up as I brace for the crash. This one second is, in and of itself, the very definition of parenthood.

So I take him up in my arms and spin around with him, telling him in his ear while trying to contain his squirmy squirreliness that I missed him and asking about his day.

"I missed you, too, Mama! My day was GREAT!" he says, as he Houdinis out of my arms and runs back up the ramp to grab his backpack. And from there...at least 15 feet away from me with a handful of parents and children and teachers in between, he calls over his shoulder with the biggest smile on his face, "Mama! You know what?!"

"What is it, baby?" I yell back, signaling for him to hurry and come along as his sister's class was finally letting out.

"I smelled you coming!!!" he hollers.

"WHA?!?!" I stuttered, as every single head within earshot turned towards me.

"I caught your scent, Mama," he said. And the world faded to black. And all I could see were his eyes. His enormous, gorgeous, onyx eyes, floating in pools of white light.

"I would know you from miles and miles away," he said, and it sounded like he was right there in my ear. Right there in my head.  Right there in my belly. All over again.

[Oh, my love, that's just the smell of heart.]

[post-pub edition: syndicated on BlogHer]

Friday, September 03, 2010


"Mama?" he says.

"Yes, bubba?"

"Someday...I wanna go on a great big boat."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yes. And I want it to go out so far into the ocean that there's no land anywhere around at all."


"And I want there to be games and a humongous pool with a giant slide and lots and lots of stuff to do while we're on the boat. But then when we stop in the middle of the ocean, we can all jump into the water and scuba dive with the sharks."


"And then we pull in somewhere that we've never been before and they put down the anchor and we all get down to go find a find a new place to eat and then we get back onto the boat when it's time to sleep."


[Sooooo...do ya think he actually dreamed up this idea all by himself, and that it must've been exactly like this for a 7-year-old Albert Ballin, who designed the first cruise ship, the Prinzessin Viktoria Luise, which was completed in 1900, and who later became the general manager of the Hamburg-America cruise line?


Do ya think it was probably just another frickin' Carnival commercial???]

Thursday, September 02, 2010


The G.R.O.S.S. Agenda
Obviously, waaaayyyyyy too much Calvin & Hobbes.

Not that I actually disagree with any of it.

In fact, am thinking of putting it up on my fridge:


And G.R.O.S.S. does stand for something, but he won't tell me what, and now he's hidden the book.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


1st Day of School Treat
"Morning, babies! Up and at 'em!"

[unintelligible grunts]

I lean over her, pull her blanket down, and cover her with kisses.

Pull myself up onto his top bunk, dig through the mess he made of his comforter, sheet, pillow, and stuffed animals, and lean in to give him a kiss on the forehead.

"How'd you sleep, pop?"

1st Day of School Treat
"That was short," he says.

"What was?"

"The night."

[ :( Right there with ya, Bubba.]