Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Crazy Mom

I spent most of the Labor Day weekend on the sidelines with the rest of the parents of The Storm's soccer team, while the girls competed in tournament. They're a good bunch of people and I was just reflecting on them, when an alarming thought occurred to me.

You know how there's always one crazy mom in every group? The one who is totally over the top? She either rides her kids too hard or talks them up too much. Or else she completely coddles them. She might have them set on twelve foot pedestals. Whatever it is, she's usually pretty easily identifiable because she goes on and on, completely oblivious to the fact that her behavior pretty much horrifies everyone else.

Anyway, it just occurred to me that we don't have one of these in our group. Which means....


Oh my God..., I must be her! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fighting Words

Yesterday found us at Target buying Hollywood some new school supplies. Weeks ago we purchased the girls' things but, just recently, Hollywood has also decided to return to public school.

He left middle school, last January, when the bullying became unbearable, and he's spent the last eight months doing an online homeschool curriculum that was terrific, in that it taught him academic independence:

While I was always around to help him, often I would need to research subjects for myself, before I was any good to him. Hollywood soon figured out that by removing the middleman, me, he could get his work done twice as quickly. He began looking things up on his own, rarely turning to me at all, in the last few months. He learned to teach himself and think for himself--a fabulous thing to be sure.

But, he's been lonely. A 14-year-old boy needs other 14-year-old kids around, friends who speak his adolescent language and like the things he likes, video games, Nerf guns, cannonballs. So, he's returning to the public school system, again--having grown older, stronger and wiser to the ways of the world and the treacherous terrain of middle school.

"Keep your head down this time," I've warned him several times. "Try to fit in," I've said, in spite of myself. In spite of him, too.

Two binders, two packs of college-ruled paper, 24 pencils, a protractor, a science calculator and three other large bags of Crayola and Mead supplies later, we met up with Balthazar and the girls for dinner and a late movie, grabbing as much last minute summer fun as we could before school starts up again.

We saw The Butler, a movie that caused some mid-film seat shuffling, in order that Balthazar and I might field the questions that continually arose. It was early in the movie that The Storm leaned over with her first.

"What does that mean?" she asked, referring to the N- word.

"You've never heard it before because it's a very bad word," I said back, before I explained to her, as best I could in brief and whispered theatre tones, the word in its historical context. 

Then, settling back into my seat and reaching for another handful of popcorn, it occurred to me that I certainly had heard the N- word, and quite regularly even, by the time I was ten, and what a great thing it was that she hadn't yet, and what that said about society's progress. It was a line of thinking that the movie, opening up in a cotton field and concluding with the election of President Obama, went on to confirm.

The best thing about art, the thing that makes me so passionate about literature, beyond the prose--I'm crazy for good prose!--is not the story so much as the conversation that the story inspires, the bigger thinking that culminates.

"You know," said Hollywood, on the way home. "I was just thinking about the word gay."

"Ya? " I said. It was just us in the car. The girls were riding with their dad.

"Well, kids should find another word to use as an insult. It's not right," he said. "Like, when they called me gay, even though I'm not, I was offended by it."

"Hmm," I said.

"It's because of the way they said it. They said it in a mean way. But I don't think there's anything wrong with being gay." He paused. "Still, I was offended. I don't think kids should use that word that way. Like when something is uncool, they call it gay. Like being gay is bad thing." Another pause. "I think a person's sexual preference should be up to them and nobody else should care."

"I agree."

Then he said, "I think maybe I should try to change the way kids use that word." And my alarm bells started clanging. 

Part of Hollywood's problem, in middle school, was his intolerance for bullying. He couldn't let it happen to anyone, without speaking up. I remember teaching him, years ago, that this was the right thing to do. Now, I realize, I set him up: In defending the bullied, he became the target.

"I think maybe I should say something when kids use that word, that way," he said, while I scrambled for the right response.

"Maybe," I finally said. "But remember, middle school is a rough place. Remember you were gonna keep your head down?"

I want him to do what's right. I want him to be true to his strong, always dead-on accurate, moral compass. But, more than this, I want him safe. I want him happy. I want him to fit in.

Because it's so much easier.

But..., this isn't my decision to make.

"You know how, in the movie, and in history, the people who stood up for what was right were persecuted? How they were beaten and jailed and even killed? How hard it was for them?" I said.


"Well, you just have to know if you're gonna stand up for something, if you're gonna fight for something, well, you're gonna be in a fight. You've got to be ready for that. You've got to consider whether you want to take that on. And if now's the time," I said--because although he's bigger and stronger and wiser than he was eight months ago, and his confidence and self-esteem have been replenished, it was only eight months ago.

I didn't add, "For God's sake, please, keep your head down, my sweet baby boy."

Although, I desperately wanted to.

"I guess I need to think about it a little. Maybe there's something else I can do to make people stop using that word that way," he said.

"And remember, change doesn't happen over night."


We were quiet, in our own thoughts, for the remainder of the ride. He, thinking seriously about how to best make the world change for the better. Me, wrestling with my own moral compass; with my desire to tame the good in him, to make him better fit in a not-so-good world.


When we were at home, later, while he played on the floor with our miniature schnauzer, he asked me another question. Although, I now suspect, he already knew the answer.

"Mom, what's a mutt, exactly?"

"It's a dog that isn't a purebred. It's a mix of different breeds."

"You called Shadow a mutt, once, when you were mad at her."

...Point taken, my wise young man. Point taken.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Haphazard Truths Manifesto

I haven't blogged in awhile--it was a conscious decision. The truth is I stopped blogging for several reasons, some of which were practical--I won't bore you with the details--but one of the reasons, the main reason that I stopped sharing here at Haphazard Truths is because of different things that some people have said to me. Small things. Hints, really. Judgment, most definitely. Words that spelled out their disapproval of my oversharing and questioned my ethics as a parent.


So, as I re-enter my Haphazard Truths practice (for it is a practice,) after a long sabbatical during which I ruminated and meditated often on this very thing, I've collected several counters to the accusations that, in  blogging, I am robbing my children of their right to privacy.

Here goes:

1. I'm not a private person. I never have been. When I pull myself up to any given table, I lay out all my cards and, as I do, my heart (and probably far too many other organs,) pinned there to my sleeve, flaps about for all to see.

I've never been very good with secrets, particularly my own. I'm more comfortable, I feel more secure when the truth, ugly and as uncomfortable as it might be, is laid bare, alongside all the cards, for everyone to contend with and dispute and, well, I believe, make truer still.

This isn't to say that I insist, or even believe, that my children should be the same. They certainly, like everyone else, have a right to the degree of privacy that they choose. I understand this.

2. While my readers know, or at least I hope they know, that I care deeply for them and that I do my very best to be as honest as I can, they also must recognize that my priority is my children--at least the content of my posts should point to this.

My three darlings give me an abundance of material to think about and write about all the time, but some of it, and some of the meatiest, frankly, is very personal to them and so, of course, I won't write about it.

Occasionally, some very personal thing or other that we are contending with does inspire blog post musings, in which instance I simply ask the darling in question, "Can I write about this?"

And for every Yes and Sure, there are also the shocked and emphatic No!'s. And I don't. Case closed.  

3. Writers write. It's what we do. And my family is by no means the first, nor will they be the last, casualties of an earnest writer. My God, just watch the rapid speed with which the memoir shelves multiply at your local library.

Still, I understand that there needs to be a balance between my needs as a writer and my obligations as a mother, and I make every effort to ensure that there is. (Revisit #2.)

4. While the truth is that I would prefer to be writing fiction, my life, as it is--regularly and predominantly consumed by my responsibilities as a mother--doesn't leave me the time that I would need to concentrate on my fiction (yet.) But still I must write, as others must run or cycle or climb. Or breathe.

I know this to be truer than ever, since my Haphazard Truths journey began--when, with that first post, I felt I'd gulped a huge breath of air for the first time in a long time. Writing completes me.

And the material available to me, the only material available to me for the last 15 years is the material available to a mother who's abandoned career and pretty much self to dedicate her world to her children and family. What else would you suggest I write about?

5. Finally, and this is a pleasant if unexpected benefit of blogging: Haphazard Truths makes me a better parent.

In writing about my children, my responsibilities to my children and my relationship with my children, I am forced to deeply consider all of this. And this deep rumination; the contemplation and sorting necessary to thoughtfully express in writing what they are experiencing, or what I am experiencing as a result of their experiences, or what we are experiencing together, leads me to have deeper understanding of it all, leading to more informed and, thus, better parenting. 

And taking time from our very busy schedule to observe my children, even if for the purpose of discovering blog material, has me, at least, taking a beat to observe my children from a different angle. And every now and then I'll notice something, I might not have noticed otherwise.

It's a little like snapping a selfie--because, of course, my self is inclusive of them.
Anyway, studying them forces me to consider things like why Sunshine might have snapped at me over breakfast, and inspires me to make sense of her behavior, when it would be so easy, during the busyness of our day, to let it go, knowing it will pass or to brush it off as the natural behavior of teenagers--which by the way, I don't take much stock in: Teenagers behave like teenagers, for the most part, because they're treated like teenagers..., but this is a whole other topic for a whole other post.

Anyway, all of this is to say: I'm back. Big hug. I missed you!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Worry

My worry for Sunshine needles like a thorn underneath my rib. I can't reach it. I can't tend to it.

I must suffer it.

Each day, my teenager inches further into a world where I can't protect her. She's making her own decisions, setting her own standards, calling her own shots. And I'm afraid for her. I'm afraid she'll make mistakes..., of course, she'll make mistakes.

This realization pokes deeper still.

My worry for Hollywood is different. It is a wounded lamb I carry across my shoulders. All day. Everyday. For months on end. It lays atop my chest at night. In the dark, I listen anxiously for its every belabored breath.

Hollywood hit a rough patch in middle school....

That's an understatement. I'm not ready to get into it.

One word. Bullies.

At his guidance counselor's recommendation, Balthazar and I have removed him. He's homeschooled now, and the change in him feels near miraculous. Already, he's regained much of the confidence they took from him.

As if nothing more than a school lunch!

Sometimes, I lay down the lamb, in a patch of soft, cool grass, to sharpen my staff on the nearby rocks. I raise it above my head like a spear. I could kill with it.

Other times, I hold the stick, with one hand, by the hook, turning paranoid circles. My other hand gripped tight to the lamb's paws, at my shoulder.

I will not drop him.

I've not been worried for The Storm, this week. It's a welcome reprieve.

My baby is doing just fine. She's happy. She's healthy. Her grades are good. She's bonding well with her siblings. She's playing well and often with friends. She's smiling and laughing. Even in her sleep.

To make me smile, too.

And breathe, ah..., easier.

Yes, this week, The Storm is being easy on me.

...Except when she goes outside to ride her bike. The cars come fast up our street. And she's a little daredevil. When The Storm goes outside to ride her bike, my fret is a heart murmur.

Probably nothing to worry about. 

But, I will anyway.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Of Big Dogs and One Little Dog

Hollywood's growing up. He's two inches taller than he was six months ago--meaning he's already taller than I am, and he'll probably be taller than Sunshine next week. Maybe taller than Balthazar, next year.

All this growing he's doing makes it hard for a mama to keep up:

"I need new running shoes," he said, about a month ago.

"Ok," I said. Then I stored it in that corner of my brain where I was keeping The Storm's request for science project breads. He didn't get them.

"I need new running shoes," he said, again, when I asked him to join me for a jog around the block, a week or so later.

"Can you wear your old ones?"

"I guess."

This sort of thing went on all month. Then, last week, when I suggested, once again, that he wear his old shoes, he said, "I can't. They really hurt my feet."

We hit the mall.

"What size are your old shoes?" I asked, in the shoe department.


"We'll need a size seven," I told the salesman.

Too small.

"Seven and a half," I said.

Too small.

"Wow, Hollywood, you're really growing! Sorry," I said to the salesman, while the boxes piled up around us. "Can we try an eight?"

Too small.

"I'm a really sorry to bother you, again," I said to the salesman, who was doing his best to avoid us by then. "We'll need an eight and a half."

Too flipping small!

No wonder his feet hurt! He's been squishing his size nine dogs into shoes three whole sizes too small him, for over a month.

Speaking of dogs, Shadow's also giddy for the new shoes.

Since, they mean hand-me-downs for her: "New chew shoes! Arff!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Failed Science Project

The data collection portion of The Storm's fourth grade science project is due tomorrow. The objective of her project is to determine which bread molds the fastest. She has predicted that the pumpernickel loaf will mold more quickly than the others (rye, wheat, sour dough and white) because she believes that darker, denser breads mold more quickly.  She also means to test whether the breads mold at a different rate out in the sun, versus in a dark cupboard. And she is curious as to temperature's effect on mold, so the fridge will become a science lab, too.

Notice I said "will"?

In December, a week before Christmas, when The Storm chose her subject matter, I knew immediately that this could go wrong. You can't grow mold overnight. We would need to be prepared, start early.

I  remembered science projects of previous years: the time Balthazar and Hollywood stayed up all night making crystals to present to the class the very next day; and another time when Sunshine and I drew color wheels and mixed food coloring in egg cartons until long past her bedtime.

"Remind me to buy your breads as soon as the holidays are over," I told The Storm.

She did.

I didn't.

In fact she reminded me several times, and each time she did my heart skipped a beat with worry.

"Yes, shoot, we need to get on that." But each time it was early in the day, hours until my next grocery trip. Or late at night, when I would say, "I'll buy them first thing in the morning."

Then I would forget all over again.

Anyway, here it has arrived, the day before her data collection portion is due and I've yet to buy her breads to mold. I've screwed up.

"Don't worry," I said, to calm her tears this morning. "I'll write a note to your teacher. The actual project isn't due until February. We'll make it work."

Here is the note I would like to write:

Dear Ms. Fourth Grade Science Teacher,

Please excuse The Storm for not submitting her data collection today. I forgot to buy the bread. Or rather, I forgot to remember to buy the bread.  

It would seem a simple thing, the purchase of a few extra loaves of bread--for a woman who visits the grocery store almost daily, in order to feed her family nutritious  homemade meals. However, alas, I did not remember.

It seems odd, doesn't it, that I could continually forget to remember to purchase the bread to mold? When I never would forget the bread to eat? Nor the many tasks that needed to be done to earn the bread, to buy the bread to eat, or mold?

In fact, everyday, since the science project was assigned, I was able to remember the thousands of things necessary to manage the lives of the five of us in our family: the cupboards were filled; the laundry was done (the blue and black soccer uniform for Tuesdays, the orange and white for Thursdays, the white game jersey for weekends); the kids were always delivered and picked up from school and their various activities; there were presents under the tree at Christmas; and multiple feasts set at our table to accommodate our holiday guests; orthodontist and dentist appointments were kept; as were the dog's grooming appointments (although my own roots were let to grow); the kids received the help they needed with their daily homework; and the chastising they needed to ensure they themselves tended to this work; I read to them; I counseled them; I scrubbed behind their ears; I pulled countless ponytails through colored elastics; I kept the house clean enough to fend off mold (in hindsight, this was perhaps an error in judgement); I smiled pleasantly across the table for business associates; I bandaged knees; and served up spoonfuls of medicine this flu season; I wrote several articles; and edited just as many; I checked regularly for lice (a paranoid habit, perhaps); I flipped at least 360 pancakes since the science project was assigned (both wheat and white--I should have let these mold); poured juice; spilled juice; cleaned spilled juice; mopped floors; changed sheets; reminded them to cough into their elbows; I've cheered on the sidelines and cried on the sidelines of soccer fields; and life; I've pulled my son out of the middle school where he was being badly bullied to implement a new homeschooling curriculum (free of science projects, for now); I've had several serious conversations with my 15-year-old daughter about sex, and trust, and the dangers of peer pressure; I've made New Year's resolutions; new family budgets; new schedules for 2013; replaced four faulty appliances and a car; negotiated with two car salesmen; answered to six different editors; I've made countless lists (some even included "buy breads"); and reminded the kids to write lists, keep track, get done all that they needed to get done; "Do you have a sweater?"; "Where's your lunch?"; "Did you take your vitamins?"; "Make good choices out there,"; I've hugged them; stroked their heads; patted their backs; wiped their tears; and tucked them into their beds at each day's end; I've locked the doors and set the alarm; and I've lain awake making more lists. I've even cleaned cupboards and tossed into the trash molding breads (that had not been properly observed or recorded)--but for the life of me I could not remember to buy the damn breads to mold! 

I thought temporarily of helping The Storm to falsify data for submission, and would have had no problem doing this myself, as a young student in dire straights--it would be easy--but I'm a mother now, and my priorities are completely changed: 

Growing strong, healthy, good and honest children is my primary objective.  So, I won't be teaching The Storm to cheat, this week. 

Instead, all I can do is beg for your mercy, and an extension. How long does it take to grow mold anyway? That's how long we'll need..., assuming I remember to buy the breads this time.

Yours Truly,

The Storm's Mom 

But that isn't the letter I sent. Instead, I wrote this--

Dear Fourth Grade Science Teacher,

The Storm is still in the process of collecting her data on molding bread. We would be grateful for an extension of approximately two to three weeks.  

--with this quote, from J. D. Bernal (a well-known scientist of the last century), in mind:

"It is characteristic of science that the full explanations are often seized in their essence by the percipient scientist long in advance of any possible proof." (Or mold!) (The Origin of Life, 1967)

I'm hoping The Storm's teacher is a percipient scientist!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Lesson Called Angelica (Revisited)

Early into the new year, as I struggle with new schedules and all the 2013 resolutions I've set for myself--toward improving me, my life, the life of my family, and the world in general--it seems an ideal time to revisit this lesson I learned (and wrote about) a few years back:

  A Lesson Called Angelica  
This posting finds me running around Target on a Saturday, grabbing things I would have picked up weeks ago, if I was a more organized woman.  It’s been one of those days, so I haven’t showered; I’m wearing yesterday’s t-shirt—it was right there—and no make-up.   I’m hungry, because I didn’t get any breakfast, nor have I had any caffeine.  But, I’m so late that I don't have five minutes to grab a cup from Starbucks—which has me a wee bit cranky, on top of it all.  Oh, and it’s been one of those years, too, so I’m all but busting out of my fat jeans—to my own thorough disgust.

I’m having just this horrid sort of morning, when, low behold, I see her: The woman I would be, if I could just get it together.  I always see her when I’m having a bad day—although she arrives in various forms. 
Today, she’s tall in a pair of sleek black leather boots--to make me feel even shorter and dumpier than usual--when I step into the checkout line behind her.  She’s thin and fit; she could be a dancer.  Her jeans are the expensive kind, made to look old, except the elaborate stitching on the pockets assures me they aren't.  Her hair is long and dark and smoothed.  On her face--a very pretty face--there rests a serene, almost sleepy, expression—a hint of smile, when she begins to unload the items from her cart. 
There are no children with her, but, as well as Christmas decorations, she buys a pair of tennis shoes—a boy’s size six—and various other things to convince me that, despite her knockout body, she is the mother of at least a few children.  I imagine them at home with their father.  It’s a big, beautiful, clean house—organized a la Pottery Barn, and the children are dressed for the day, although it is only ten in morning.  Perhaps they’re decorating a gingerbread house, or playing a board game—of course, they all get along.  There would be a dog, too, a golden lab probably, resting lazily at their feet.  Classical music plays softly in the background.      

I watch the woman I would be—if I could just get it together—as she, almost in slow motion, sips coffee from a travel mug monogramed with a curvy swooping A.  And on this morning, standing behind her--feeling old, sloppy and inadequate--a thought that has never occurred to me, suddenly does: A is a much better letter than C—not only is it a much fancier letter, it’s the very first in the alphabet. 

This is an irrational thought, I know, but, nevertheless, here and now, on this miserable morning—when I just can’t seem to get it together—it does occur to me, for a split second. 

Then an announcement from the overhead speakers interrupts my thoughts:“If there is an Angelica in the store, could she please come to the customer service desk?  Angelica, please come to Customer Service.”
She looks like an Angelica—she looks like an Angelina!--she could be Angelica, I think.  I watch for her reaction.  There is none—except, maybe, yes, she blinked.  She definitely blinked; a slow controlled blink of registration.  Maybe?  Maybe not. 

I watch A load her bags into her cart.  They are the environmentally friendly canvas bags, the same ones that I have forgotten in the trunk of my car—again! 
Why, oh why, can’t I get it together? 
The announcement sounds again.  A doesn’t blink this time, doesn’t even seem to hear it. 
I'm still watching her when she leaves, curious to see if she’ll go to Customer Service.  Her strides are long, but her steps are patient and composed.  Her black boots sound off delicious clicking noises.     
When she passes the exterior doors to move towards the service desk, I am satisfied—I knew I saw her blink—Angelica is a suitable name for the woman I would be--if I could just get it together. 

I check my watch.  I'm really late.  My frenzied state returns.  I bite on my thumb nail, as if this might speed up the cashier who's working at a snail's pace.

The voice is loud and guttural and mean.  And it isn't mine. 

It’s Angelica’s.
She’s marching, fast and furiously, now, out the door, screaming over her shoulder at a boy who is approximately eleven and rushing behind her. 
He's flustered, panicked.  He wants to obey, needs to obey, but he keeps glancing behind him.

“C’mon,” he calls to another boy of about seven. 

There’s terror in his eyes.   
Angelica is outside now. 
“C’mon,” the boy calls again to his brother, and the younger brother moves more quickly.  But he, too, keeps watching over his shoulder.
Another boy appears. 

It's a toddler.  He's following about ten steps behind the seven-year-old, who is five steps behind the eleven-year-old, who is almost out the door—although still looking back with that pitiful and panicked expression. 

Angelica is long gone. 
Then so is the eleven-year-old.
Then so is the seven-year-old.
Then, after a few brief seconds when he is alone in the store, so is the two-year-old.

And so is my notion of the perfect women, the women I could be, if I could only get it together