Monday, December 31, 2007


The aroma circles my head settling in my breath as I push deeper into my pillow; truly the perfect beginning to the day marking the year’s end. It will be the second to last day that I do not have to push myself out of bed in darkness to start the family rising. In two more days, I will resume the position of First Up, nudging the cold, dark house to life. First Up is the person who bumps up the heat, makes the coffee, lets the dogs out, uncovers the cooing birds and breaks open a new day. Today, I hear that the day is broken already.

I lay, eyes closed but awake, body still in deep relax, anticipating rising after the sun to a warm house and cup of coffee waiting. I breathe deeply the coffee aroma and am happy that my husband is First Up. Brad has always been close to nocturnal, a late night man whose morning skills are sketchy. This morning, however, the coffee is on and all is right with the world.

“Damn it!” I hear him burst from downstairs, a string of mutterings following. I imagine Tyler has finished the last of the OJ, left the freezer door open or some other typical teenage move that has him grumbling. I keep my eyes closed tight, determined to be unfettered by the disturbance. I hear clanking and rustling in the kitchen, more mutterings and I pull the covers up a little higher.

Heavy feet on the stairs and Brad enters our room for a few last items. “Honey, I made a big mess and I’m late and I don’t have time to clean it, I’m really sorry. I laid paper towels down… I love you, Bye.” And he is gone. My body is cooperating under the covers but my mind is ticking; ‘Big mess.’ I wonder exactly how big and will it grow bigger if I leave it for a while?

My old dog begins to pace, click, click, click across the floor. I know this pace. It is the I really need to pee but would never ever disturb you Mom so I’ll be right here when you are ready pace. The little dog pushes out from under his blanket on his bed, shaking his body awake with that ear slapping sound that says, I f I’m up, we’re all up. He begins to scratch rapidly on the side of my bed and I notice the loud cooing downstairs has evolved to squawking.

The chill of the air hits me as I make my way down the stairs and I realize that the heat was not bumped up. Out with the dogs, up with the heat and I lift the cover off the birds. At least the coffee is made. In the kitchen, the island is pushed to one side of the room and a long row of paper towels runs down the center; a brown river following the tile grout line. The coffee aroma fills the room and it is clear the Mr. Morning forgot to put the pot under the coffee maker. A basket of pens and pencils sits on a stack of paper towels and some bills are lying beside the sink. I pick up the wet brown paper towels. Detecting the coffee is still warm, I wonder if the floor is clean enough for a sip. I start a new pot and realize that some people are just meant to be First Up and I am one of them.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


It’s that time of year.

It seems a natural thing for me to do as I am a proficient and diligent list maker. I make lists to shop, lists to do, list of what to read, lists of what to write; I even make lists for my children and husband, which, someday I know they will actually appreciate.

This list, however, I always make grudgingly. In fact, I swear year after year that I will not get sucked into the process and then, when I think I’m not thinking about it, the list starts writing itself in my head. It’s that time of the year when I look deeply and critically at myself and start of laundry list of self-improvement projects; my New Year’s Resolutions!

I look at myself inside and out and methodically calculate every part of me that could be better and there are very few parts that don’t make the list.

As always, the number one top of the charts---I’ll lose weight. No matter the year, no matter my size, Old Faithful is in permanent #1 position. Of course number two is an exercise program beyond my usual walking; one that will shape and mold me into person that exists somewhere underneath the one I see in the mirror.

With those out of the way, I turn inward to examine the things I want to accomplish but haven’t, creating myself a ‘to do list’ that could take several lifetimes.
I’ll organize all of the closets and drawers.
I’ll file all of the papers.
I’ll print and catalogue the bazillion photos stored in my computer.
I’ll make each kid a scrapbook of their childhood.
I'll finish making that Oriental rug.
I’ll paint the trim on the house.
I’ll teach the bird to talk.
I’ll learn to sew…

From there it is a short sidestep over to eradicating bad habits:
I won’t swear.
I won’t lose my patience.
I won’t put things off.
I won’t stuff things in the ‘junk drawer’.
I’ll give up wine.
I’ll cut back on coffee….scratch that…
I’ll stop complaining….

By the time I am finished, I realize that once again I have written the description of June Cleaver!

“Who’s June Cleaver?” Cadence asks peering over my shoulder.

“She’s a mom from the 1950s who is perfect; her hair is always perfect and she is always perfectly dressed and her house is always spotless and her children are well behaved and she is always calm and patient and proper…”

Cadence scrunches her nose as if tasting something sour. “I would never want her for a mom,” she says, “I want a mom who is fun and who isn’t afraid to have flaws.”

A perfect match I think.

“I love you,” I answer, “and I’m rewriting my list”.

And so, this year’s list is about being flawed and being OK with that.


I will be fun. I will laugh at life’s funny moments, even if inappropriate.

I will write, even when the laundry piles up and the dishes need doing.

I will listen, even when I don’t want to hear what is being said.

I will forgive, even when I am right to be angry.

I will appreciate me, even when I do not accomplish the endless 'to do' list or say an off color word.

I will take care of me, even if it means a little exercise or making those doctor appointments...what the heck, throw in a pedicure!

I will appreciate the day to day; the moments that are ordinary.

I will love.


Bring it 2008; I am ready!

Friday, December 14, 2007


This came to me as a forwarded email from a friend today. I do not know who the author is, but I was very moved by it and thought it worthy of sharing.

I'm Invisible

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack
of response, the way one of the kids walks into the room
while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.
Inside, I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"
Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone,
or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing onmy head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.
I'm invisible. The Invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more:
"Can you fix this?" "Can you tie this?"
"Can you open this?"

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a
human being.

I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?"
I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?"
I'm a carto order, "Right around 5:30, please."

I was certain that these were the hands that once held
books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that
graduated summa cum laude -
but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter,
never to be seen again. "She'sgoing, she's going, she's gone!"

One night, a group of us were having dinner,
celebrating the return of a friend from England.
Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip and she was
going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.
I was sitting there,looking around at the others all put
together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel
sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress;
it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed
hair was pulled up in a hair clip and I was afraid I could actually
smell peanut butter in it.

I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to
me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this."
It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe.
I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:
"To Charlotte,with admiration for the greatness of what you are
building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book.
I would discover what would become for me four life-changing truths, after which
I could pattern my work:

No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no
record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work
they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the
eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."

And the workman replied, "Because God will see."

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction.

But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book wentso far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be
built in our lifetime because thereare so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. Then, if there is anything to say to his friend, it could be, "You're gonna love it here!"

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


We are a family of traditions. Some have been carried over from our own childhoods, while others created during the evolution of our family unit. In seventeen years, we have never missed marching to one beat of the tradition drum. If anything, our traditions have expanded and have been embellished by the growing and changing of our family.

This year has required some letting go; some easing of the structure that we built around ourselves. The teenagers have splintered off with friends leaving us to trick or treat with only our youngest. Sports and work consumed many of our weekends this fall so we did not make the annual trip to the pumpkin patch, where I take about 100 photos to acquire that perfect one for the Christmas cards. We are seldom all in the same place at the same time and yes, I am feeling tired.

Returning relaxed and refreshed from a family vacation, we are suddenly thrust over the threshold of the Christmas season and again, I find myself looking to trim away a little of the routine. Do I really need to haul out all of that Christmas stuff? Do we have to put all of the ornaments on the tree? Must I put wreaths on the doors? Do we really feel the need to host a gathering, or couldn’t we just go to someone else’s house? Do we have to trudge to the green with hundreds of others for the official tree lighting, singing carols over the sound of our kids fighting and then searching for the oldest who wandered off with friends?

I wonder if my family would be upset if we just did things a little bit easier this year; sort of a less is more approach. Leave a little of the routine out to keep things simple.

I think about my boys who insist upon a minimum of one hour in the Christmas tree lot, hiking miles to the farthest corner to prolong the experience. I think about Brad who, in spite his eagerness to spend Thanksgiving with foreign food in a foreign place, has set aside this coming weekend for a traditional, albeit belated, Thanksgiving feast. And I think about Cadence, who carries the glow of magic and wonder like a torch. I’m immediately hurled back thirty years to scene that plays my heartstrings like a harp.

It was 1977 and my parents had trimmed tradition for the third year in a row as they hauled out the box containing what was called a “Christmas tree.” “Branches” were extracted from the box and piled according to the color dabbed on the end of their metal stems. A wooden pole riveted with colored holes stood in the living room like a naked Barbie Doll waiting to be dressed. I sulked and my thirteen year old brother complained that it wasn’t the same as a real tree. My parents methodically assembled the odorless giant, claiming that it was easier and far less messy…no need to water, no dry tree, no needles in the carpet.

The tree, finally adorned with the usual lights, tinsel and ornaments, stood perfectly trimmed while my mother sprayed pine scent from a can; in spite of its ease, it didn’t feel like Christmas. Christmas Eve arrived that year with a breathtaking transformation. It was the first “white” Christmas we had seen in a while and pangs for everything traditional welled up in my brother and me. Bundling up and sneaking the car keys, we drove to a place that we had seen from the school bus where trees were sold for one dollar per foot. With rope, a saw and a ten dollar bill, I navigated with great care; a new driver who’s everything would be on the line if this went badly. The tree lot was un-kept and brambled and the sky beginning to grow dark. We searched for the largest tree we could get to. It seemed like it was twelve feet tall, but the old woman who lived there had Christmas in her heart and charged us only six dollars.

With much effort, we stuffed the bottom into the trunk and tied the trunk with the rope, certain it would fall out part way home. We didn’t speak as we hauled our green beauty up to the porch, sticky sap on our hands and the cold aroma of pine in the air. We undecorated the plastic monster in the living room and put it back where it belonged…in a box. We struggled to position the tree to hide the unsightly empty spots, sprinkling snow and needles all over the carpet. It was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. My parents lit the fireplace, a practice reserved mainly for holidays and I knew with all of my heart that tradition was worth fighting for.

Embarrassment consumes me as I open the crawl space behind our bed where Christmas lay neatly boxed. I know it is only November 29th, but I might as well get a little bit started. I pull out the nutcrackers, the manger and the bows. It occurs to me suddenly that my youngest is likely to be in her last ‘believing’ year and I am washed over with sadness. As each of the three boys graduated from believer to Elf, I watched the wonder be replaced by the thrill of making the magic happen; the same drama but a different role to be played. I am so saddened by the idea that this magic will leave us soon and the tradition will be changed forever.

Bing Crosby sings loudly on the stereo as I place bows on the banister and candle lights in the windows. I cannot stop now as space by space throughout the house says ‘Welcome Christmas!’ Cadence bounds in the door, does a spin around and lights up like a candle, “It’s starting to look like Christmas in here!” She squeals.

Indeed, I think, and its feeling good.

The end of the week rushes toward us and we are faced with the official town-wide kick off to the season. Hundreds will flock to the town green for the annual tree lighting ceremony. Holiday events and concerts fill the various church buildings that frame the green and the town joins together like one big family.

“Hurry or we’ll be late!” I warn Cadence as she rushes back to her room to plug in her window candle lights and gather last minute things for the evening. This is her third year dancing in a Christmas ballet and cast call for opening night is within the hour.

“What is that on your window sill?” I ask, squinting my eyes for a better look.

“Oh my G…..” she spins facing me with shock and awe on her face. “Elf Dust!” She pronounces with excitement and horror.

“Already?” I ask, “It’s only November 30th.”

Cadence sticks her finger into the sweet green crystals and dabs it on her tongue. “Yep, its Elf dust alright!” She confirms, reaching for another dab.

“Don’t Cadence! Gross! How many times have I told you not to eat Elf dust? You have no idea where that Elf has been! Do you think he’s still in here?” I ask as I look behind the dresser.

“Mom, the dust forms when they vanish like in the movie, remember?” Cadence grins and then her face falls flat. “Oh my God, Mom! Did you see what I was doing when the Elf was in here? I was in my mirror like this…” she says as she holds a fake microphone, face squeezed like a rock star while she lip syncs and gyrates to ‘Rockin Around the Christmas Tree’ which is floating up from the speakers downstairs.

“This is Soooo embarrassing!” She says, rolling her eyes, hands on her hips. I marvel at how she can seem fifteen and five years old at the same time.

Adrenaline surges through her as we arrive to the set location and she bounds into the costume room to prepare for the evening. “Break a leg!” I kiss her little face, rosy with stage make-up and then wander out of the building. A line of cars stretches for miles on the road heading into town and groups of people move briskly along sidewalk.

“Santa will be mad if you miss the tree lighting.” I hear one father say as he hurries his boys along.

“Oh my God he is so cute! Did he say anything to you?” A teenage girl giggles, huddled with her friends.

I call Brad who says he is fighting traffic and will get there before the show, but not in time for the tree lighting. Tyler calls from work to say he found a ride home with a friend. Trevor calls to say he’s been invited to sleep at his friend’s house after the tree lighting and perhaps he’d see me on the green.

I’m off the hook. Problem solved, tradition trimmed. No need to walk down in the freezing cold alone. It’s the same tree, the same experience; nothing I need to see.

I find myself moving and midway across the green, I button my coat and sink my hands deep into my pockets. The crowd is thick and the green is dark. It is impossible to distinguish faces unless they are within two feet. I walk slowly toward the edge and work my way into the crowd. I feel like I am watching the scene from elsewhere; television perhaps. Announcements and speeches full of recognition and gratitude are followed by Christmas music and warmth rushes through me in spite of the cold.

‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ rises in the air as I look upon a young couple snuggled close. I remember Brad and I coming here, on the threshold of marriage, longing for this infusion of family. A young mother nearby adjusts the blanket around her newborn, snuggled deeply into her neck. I close my eyes and I am back in that moment; content in that all important union. A man in front of me hoists his toddler upon his shoulders while his older bother bounces at mom’s side, anticipating that Santa will arrive just in time for the countdown.

Parents with tweens and teens struggle to keep the peace and to keep track of their brood among the chaos that surrounds them. The setting is all familiar; the drama has played out the same year after year, each year offering a different role. I have played almost all of these parts before. As I look around, I feel strangely undefined. I feel strangely peaceful. I am not the couple, yearning for the coziness of family or the mother of little ones; I am not the referee of chaos or the elderly pair strolling in time to the music. I am simply me and tradition calls me to be here. I understand now that it does not have to be scripted or perfect or the same as before, in order to be honored.

The ballet concludes, a successful opening night. Cadence is still dancing as she dresses for bed. My oldest arrives after we do, arms wrapped around rolls of wrapping paper and gifts. It is his first year with a job and tradition calls to him as well. He slips in the door beaming, having experienced his first independent Christmas shopping experience. I realize that in him, the drum of tradition beats and like his father and I, he will carry some of this with him. He will undoubtedly create new traditions as well as he grows into a family of his own.

As I reflect on that Christmas Eve in 1977 and my solitary tree lighting on Friday night, I realize that improvising is perhaps the best way to enjoy traditions; unplanned, non choreographed and expectation free. This year, the cadence of the tradition drum will be uncertain; we may skip, we may dance, we may even march and out of step is just fine with me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


On behalf of Cadence and her feathered friends, I am happy to announce that the utility company will not…at least for now… be euthanizing the misplaced and thriving colonies of Monk Parakeets. Thanks to a timely law suit on behalf of the feathered refugees, the Utility Company has been under the microscope with Friends of Animals, the Audubon Society and of course, Cadence.

It will not be necessary for my daughter to follow through on her plan to erect human perches beside the bird nests to sit in vigil. The utility company has decided instead to remove all of the nests without touching the birds in hopes of forcing migration; a plan that is simply “stupid” according to Cadence, as the birds have called this place home for over 20 years. They are survivors and will, as people do when faced with tragic destruction, rebuild. They are soaring examples of hope, perseverance and survival.

I, for one, am rooting for the birds.

Friday, October 05, 2007


I used to be a morning person. There is peace in the silence that speaks to me. The earth has a look of youth and innocence when she wakes and the birds sing her love songs. Even on those rare mornings that I am awake before five, I find beauty in the darkness as the bats flitter to their roosts; all silent wings and loud chirping. On one of those early mornings, I experienced the actual crack of dawn; the pause between breaths when the last bat is silent and the first bird sings.

When my children were babies, I would awake at these early hours and be fascinated by the lights glowing in a handful of windows in the neighborhood; Families flipping the switch to a new day. I had this June Cleaver fantasy of what went on inside those homes; moms baking biscuits and serving fresh fruit and eggs to the family gathered around the table. Dads in ties, smelling of cologne, packing briefcases and sipping coffee. Eventually, cars would back out of driveways and children adorn the bus stops, lunch boxes and backpacks filled with love. I could do that. I would do that.


The alarm beeps a nagging, shrill ‘get up’ as I crack one eye wide enough to see the time: 5:40 am. I swat at the snooze button several times until the nagging stops. I wiggle deeper into the pillow for nine minutes of bliss and allow my self to drift away. At 5:49am, the relentless nag starts again and I reach over with both eyes closed for the silencing swat; success on the first try and I slip away again. At 5:58 am, the persistent tyrant announces that the party’s over. This time I force my eyes open and lay awake for two delicious minutes. My sleeping husband doesn’t stir. He’s a night owl, I’m a morning bird. He does not understand why I suffer through twenty minutes of torture instead of setting the alarm for 6:00 and just getting up the first shot with twenty extra minutes of peaceful sleep in my morning. I can’t explain it; it’s a little dance I do that convinces me that I have won the battle.

I slip down the stairs in darkness, ready for the day ahead. I need to run a tight ship this morning as I have a 9:00am meeting with the Dean at High School regarding Tyler’s latest antics, and then a full day on the road that will land me back at home in time to run the after school taxi service for my children. I organized my work the night before and am fully prepared for the day.

Making my way through the den, I see Trevor; cherub face and man’s body sprawled on the couch with papers strewn on the table. He returned home from a soccer game at 6:00 the night before with a migraine and crashed on the couch until 9:00. From that couch, he made a gallant effort at completing homework until 11:00 and then melted right back into it. I am impressed by the responsibility he showed in meeting the challenge instead of taking the excuse.

I make my way to the coffee pot, feel the cool silver that will ease me into the day and listen for the hiss of the shower. No hiss. No Tyler. The beckoning pot is put on hold, as I make my way to the boy’s rooms to wake him. I told them there is no room for error this morning and falling behind is not an option.

I brew the coffee in the dim of the nightlight and once the aroma infiltrates my nose, I can bring myself to flick on the first light of day. On the stove there is a note written in Trevor’s scrawling hand writing.

Mom- Need nachos by 3rd period (starts like 10:10?)
fixings (olives, chili powder, etc.)
-no nut oils in any ingredients (peanut oil, etc)
no nuts in ingredients

He must be kidding!

“I told you I was working today… I cannot bring nachos!” I say while nudging him awake. “Why didn’t you say something yesterday?”

“I did.” He grumbles, rolling into the couch. I back track to yesterday and search my memory for the conversation; book club during reading class…everyone signs up to bring something…

“I don’t have the ingredients and will not be here at 10:10.” I tell him. “Cheese and crackers?” I offer, feeling slightly guilty that I forgot.

“Someone’s already bringing them.” He groans.

“Blueberry Buckle!” I brainstorm, “takes 45 minutes to bake so maybe you can take it on the bus.”

“Fine.” He answers, rolling back to sleep. I go into super-mother mode as baking was not in my plan for this morning. I crack the egg into the bowl and hear the bathroom door shut, realizing that Tyler is just now getting in the shower. The domino of doom has started and he will surly encroach on his brother’s shower time.

No nuts. Is canola oil a nut product? What the heck is Canola anyway? I zip to my computer to google canola, finding that is comes from “rapeseed” which is a root vegetable.

“Mom!” I hear through the walls, “toilet’s clogged!”

“Then plunge it!” I yell, stirring the frozen berries into the batter.

“I’m already in the shower!” he answers.

I scoop the batter into the bowl and contemplate…WWJCD? What would June Cleaver do? Wake up the sleeping husband I’m sure, but no, he worked late and I’m a brilliant multi-tasker. I’ve got this. I can bake and plunge at the same time, I think, sprinkling the cinnamon and sugar topping onto the batter.

Trevor appears at the table and mumbles that he needs to read the ingredients on all of the packages to be sure there are no nuts. “There are no nuts and there are no packages,” I reassure him. “Flour is from wheat, sugar is from sugar cane, milk is from cows and eggs are from chickens…Want to read the shell?” I ask, just a little irritated by his double checking.

“I need to print out my homework.” Trevor tells me when I return from my plumbing duty. “You said last night you would change the ink in the printer.” He reminds me. I wonder if he had all of these conversations with me while I was sleeping. I stick the syringe into the refill bottle and wish I was more frivolous and could simply pop in a new cartridge. I hear the brothers squabbling over bathroom territory and wonder where I am going to fit my shower into the day. Tyler’s bus lumbers by, sans Tyler.

Back in the kitchen, I slap together sandwiches and stuff them into paper bags. As I reach for the cookies, my gaze locks on the little tiny mouse that has just run passed my foot and is sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. I manage a blood curdling scream and run to the den with a mantra of “Mouse in the kitchen! Mouse in the kitchen!.” WWJCD? Well she’d stand on her tippy-toe pumps, lift demurely at her apron and call the hunter out of bed! Okay. Okay. Okay. I can handle this. I can totally handle this. “Trevor, get the mouse.” I direct.

“I hate rodents, I’m not touching it.” He shakes his head, nose wrinkled in disgust.
“Is it Isabella?” Cadence asks, emerging sleepy-eyed on the stairs. Isabella is the presumed wife of Charlie, a mouse who became somewhat of a mascot to Tyler and Cadence. Charlie caused quite the stir when he was discovered and Brad opened a brand new snap trap.

“You can’t kill him.” Tyler insisted, “Do you realize how long that took him?” He asked standing over the thousands of kernels of dog food stashed cleverly on a pull-out cutting board that no one ever pulls out.

“Can we keep him?” Begged Cadence. .

It was a month of Charlie vs. Snap trap Dad and the elusive Charlie emerged victorious. Brad agreed to give us a little time to attempt the ‘have-a-heart’ method, which finally worked late one evening. Charlie was tossed onto an empty aquarium with paper shreddings and snacks to be released the next morning in the woods a half mile away. “I saw two of them.” Brad insisted. “Charlie must have a wife!” Cadence sang with glee, “I’m naming her Isabella.”

In spite of Brad’s certainty, not hide, nor hair, nor dropping of Isabella had appeared since Charlie’s capture. You picked this morning? I think, as Isabella sits, blinking her huge eyes in the center of everything. I tiptoe quietly across the kitchen and open the Tupperware cabinet, scoring an empty clear plastic deli container. I inch slowly toward the frightened Isabella and SLAM! I capture her under the container. Okay, good. This is good, I think, feeling resourceful. Now how to I get a cover on it, I wonder.

“Mommy, her tail!” Cadence wails. “You caught her tail under the container!”

“Put something heavy on the container,” I tell Trevor as I search for a solution. I see a pile of card stock advertisements and grab one; a beautiful, thin, nicely dressed woman leaning against the counter of her new sparkling kitchen. She deserves to have mouse droppings on her, I think as I slide her perfect smile under the container, causing Isabella to dance onto the paper as my skin fills with goose bumps. And….FLIP! Isabella falls to the bottom and I snap on the lid.

“Put something heavy on it,” I tell Trevor, as I peek at the Buckle in the oven.

“Is it ready?” he asks, “My bus comes in ten minutes.”

The oven timer says twenty. “I’ll have to drop it off to you,” I tell him, “Catch the bus!”

“Can you cut it into twenty five pieces?” He asks looking doubtful. “There are twenty five in my class.”

"Does she have enough oxygen, Mom?" Cadence asks, cooing encouragement to the big-eyed mouse.

“Mom! Can you take me now? If I’m late I’ll get a detention!” Tyler says as he grabs his lunch.

“I’ll carry Isabella in the car,” Cadence offers, “We can dump her in the woods on the way back.”

“Printer’s still not printing!” Trevor yells “What about my homework?”

“I’ll email it to your teacher!” I yell, grabbing my keys. I slip on my flip flops and look at my attire. I am wearing my oldest pajamas that recently lost the elasticity in the waistband. I hold my bottoms up on the way to the car so as not to moon the neighbors. We drop Tyler and then pull over to release Isabella.

“Are you sure this is the exact same spot?” Cadence asks.

“I’m sure,” I answer, glad that I don’t have to get out in my sloppy PJs, “See the paper shreddings under the leaves?”

“But how will she find him?” Cadence says, sliding the van door wide.

“She can smell him.” I answer, “Just dump her out and DON”T TOUCH her.”

“But it rained so maybe it washed away his smell,” she hesitates.

“See the breeze blowing?” I coax, “He will smell her in the wind and he’ll be so happy because he’s been searching for all these weeks and he’ll come to get her.”

Cadence squats down low and opens the container on its side. Isabella slowly makes her way into the sticks and stops to pick up an acorn.

“Oh Mommy, look! She found a nut! I think she’s going to like it here.” She says, watching the little mouse make her way toward the woods.

As we make our way home, I wonder if the Buckle is burning. I wonder if I will meet the Dean in my droopy jammies. I wonder, as I pass children adorning the bus stops, if they really had fresh fruit, biscuits and lunch boxes packed with love. I wonder how I ever liked mornings.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Happy Birthday Sweet Cadence! One year ago you gave me you’re blessing to miss your special day in pursuit of my dream. Since then, you have given me unending inspiration. Today we will celebrate together!

posted this time last year…


“Happy Birthday my Grand Finale!”

The ritual is the same with all three kids.
Every birthday.
No escape.

My older children roll their eyes, but I know they still enjoy the ritual.

“Eight years ago today…” I begin and then spill out the details of the day that she arrived on this planet. My youngest takes in the story with a warm grin. “I’m so proud of you!” I gush, “ I can’t believe I made you!”

“Actually,” Cadence points out in her usual style; a perfect blend of the harsh truth and her joyful optimism, “God made me. But you grew me.”

Conceding to her wisdom, I agree that it was God’s recipe and an amazing one at that, but I was the oven that carefully baked the ingredients for 9 months and feel a little credit is due.

“Thanks for baking me Mom.” she smiles warmly, her right cheek dressed in a dimple.

“Anytime, Darlin. The baking was the easy part; it’s the serving you that’s tricky!”

It was the first birthday in fifteen years of mothering that I would be absent on a child’s special day;. weird for me, probably weird for her, too. Weeks prior, dripping with mother guilt, I broached the subject. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. After a litany that ranged from singer to veterinarian, I asked another question.

“Have I ever told you what you should be?”

“No Mom. You tell me to follow my dreams.”

“Do you know my dream?” I ask.

“To be a writer?” she says with a look over the top of her eyes that tells me she wonders if I have forgotten.

“It just so happens,” I explain, “that I have an opportunity for a workshop with an amazing author that will help me to follow that dream!”

“Oh Mom! You have to go!” she clapped and hugged me; my cheerleader. I explained that it would mean missing her 8th birthday. A no-brainer for Cadence. “We can celebrate that any day, Mom.”

With her love, permission and wind beneath my wings, I leave that morning fully charged.

It is all good.

I call her from the car with sudden inspiration. “I have a favor to ask,” I tell her. Eight years ago, you were born and I named you. Today, my writing future is being born and my blog needs a name, so now you get to name me!”

She thought about it and said, “Mom, you said it was easy to bake me and you brought me here, so you are the Easy-Bake Mom!”

And that was that. Easy Bake Mom it is.

Friday, September 28, 2007


“This smells delicious!” Cadences chirps, ladling a small pile of sweet potatoes onto her plate. She reaches for the butternut squash adding a dollop beside the potatoes. It is an official announcement that autumn has arrived. A hint of crisp and dry in the air always sends me fleeing the grill and firing up the oven, roasting meats and boiling root vegetables.

Mashed potatoes, peas, stuffing and gravy make their way around the table as Cadence delights in the menu change; little piles of this and that placed in a circle around her plate. “I’m going to have a little of everything,” she announces, “except for that.” She points in the direction of the roasted chicken lying crisp and spread eagle on a platter.

“You don’t want any chicken?” I ask.

“Vegetarian.” She answers. “Mom, I’m taking this thing seriously.”

“Okay,” I tell her, “but we are going to have to start you on protein shakes or something because cheese and yogurt aren’t’ enough.”

“Fine,” she answers, “As long as an animal doesn’t have to die.” She stares briefly at the victim on the platter.

Cadence’s attempt at the vegetarian life style has waxed and waned over the last six months but is picking up strength and conviction. I think about her passion this summer when she discovered the displaced Monk Parakeet colonies. Driving through a nearby shoreline city, I pointed out the nests on the top of the utility poles on the road along the water; massive sea grass nests like hairy heads on the poles, collectively housing thousands of birds.

“They have been in the area more than twenty years,” I explained, “Some think it started when a truck accident released birds that were in transport to a pet store. They are tropical birds, but somehow have adapted to our northern environment.” This news of underdog survival tugged at the very heart of Cadence, who clamored for more information and a closer look.

I parked the car and we stood beneath a nest on the sidewalk. The small noisy green parrots popped their heads out and cocked them sideways, inquiring as to our purpose. Cousins to her beloved pet bird, Cadence was captivated by them and squawked to them in their native tongue. We watched as one landed on the wire with a large piece of dried sea grass, carefully weaving it into the nest. Cadence fluttered and chirped loudly and I shooshed her, knowing the human residents did not share her enthusiasm. I explained about the power outages and the nuisance the birds posed to the people and utility companies.

“But it’s not their fault that they were brought here! They probably have to work hard just to say alive!” She defended. I continued that while this is true, the utility companies had decided that they needed to remove them. We talked about euthanization and how they came during the night, taking the nests when the birds were sleeping. Cadence was outraged.

“Why can’t they take the nest and drive it to the rain forest back where they belong?” She pleaded; a simple and logical solution.

“I guess because relocation would cost more than euthanization.” I told her as her mouth dropped wide and her eyebrows arched.

“So it’s all about money?” She squealed, pulsing with injustice. “There must be a way to solve this. There must be other people who want to help.” I explained that lots of animal lovers are upset, but so far it has not changed anything.

“We have to do something!” She demanded. She was not deterred by the idea that one voice or a few were not enough. “I need to find a way to build human perches next to the bird’s nests. Then I can get other animal lovers like me to sit there so people will pay attention. We can make signs that say “Relocation, not…what was that word?”

“Euthanization.” I told her, wondering how long it will be until she is spearheading rallies for real.

“Cadence, do you want a leg?” Her father asks from the head of the table, carving the defencless chicken lying before him, oblivious to our conversation.

“Vegetarian.” She answers.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


They say you can’t fool Mother Nature.

You can’t please her either, apparently. I have been in direct combat with the mighty matriarch for nearly three months and she is ruthless! Even bad parents let the kids win once and a while.

Two and a half years ago, the big mama started messing with me. She started poking at me a bit by changing the way my eyes focused. An eye exam early that year scored me 20/20 and I smugly thought I escaped the “old eye” thing my peers in their 40’s complained about; the thing that causes them to hold books a yard from their face or whip out little spectacles muttering about not being able to see a thing.

On my 44th birthday, I settled by the pool with a book and realized I could not read the print on the back cover. Glancing first over both shoulders, I slowly moved the book farther from me, inch at a time until POOF; I could read it! Damn it! I had not dodged the bullet after all.

It was right around that time that she started really pushing me. Little by little, my bathroom scale crept upward, indicating that I inadvertently found an extra pound or two; Water weight probably. No problem. I knew exactly how to handle the crisis. I simply needed to return to the way of eating that allowed me to be the thinnest I'd ever been after my third child was born. High protein, low carbs and I'd knock off ten pounds in a week.

I put the tried and true plan into action and the scale lowered, then bounced up then lowered until it resembled the wavering of the needle on a roulette wheel, settling of course on the higher number. Mother Nature, it seems, had changed the rules.

The slow and steady weight gain continued over two years; up a little, level off, up a little, level off, landing me at a number that I am sure I weighed at full term sixteen years ago, while carrying an extra human in my body.

Three months ago, I declared war. Stricter diet, tape up my bad knee and hit the pavement; two miles a day, rain or shine. Surely I would find success by raising my metabolism with exercise. On the third day, I hopped on the scale feeling healthy and driven and…nothing. In fact, I was up two pounds. Water weight probably. I would not give up. In spite of knee pain and swelling, I worked on my walking; long stride, arm pumping, deep breathing 15 minute miles. At the end of the first week, I hopped eagerly onto the scale and…nothing. I continued my efforts for a month with no progress.

“Perhaps,” my own mother offered in an attempt to comfort me, “You’re just getting your 'grown-up' body.” She is, by the grace of God, still alive and my determination fueled. I upped the walk to three miles, 45 minutes, to no avail. Furious with the results, I decided perhaps I just needed a little boost. I broke down and purchased the latest over-the-counter diet pills; the ones that don’t let fat be absorbed by your intestines.

No Cheating!” Mother Nature insisted, after three days of stomach cramping and making sure not to wander more than 10 feet from the bathroom. “Play by the rules.” She chided as she slapped three more pounds to the scale.

It was time to put on the boxing gloves. Four miles, one hour, every day. After three weeks at four miles, I hopped on the scale to find…what’s this? Three quarters of a pound? Maybe seven eighths even? Oh hell, round it up and take the credit… I lost a pound! It was only a drop in the bucket but a start that renewed my determination. I scrambled into my knee brace and slipped on my pants, ready to push it to five miles!

My husband walked by the bathroom and paused, taking in my topless attire and then said “Honey, I’m really impressed by what you are doing.” His face softened and he said in earnest, “I can tell you’re losing weight, too, because your right boob is smaller.”

By the grace of God and a will power I did not know I possessed, he too, is still alive, although deeply examining the error of his ways. Once satisfied that I had sufficiently chastised his stupidity, I sat with the realization that the only perk enjoyed from gaining weight, moving from an A cup to a B, was being taken back. This is the reward for my efforts? This is the breakthrough I was waiting for? The only good that has come of all this work is that I have managed to shrink one boob? Take the boobs back and leave me the rest? What good are buns of steel if they are covered in padding?

I laced up my sneakers with a vengeance. Mother Nature had upped the ante and I refuse to lose this race. Five miles here I come; see you at the finish line Mama.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


“I’ll pick you up after school. What time do you have to be at work?” I ask my sixteen-year-old, examining the day’s schedule in my mind.

“Say that again?” he responds.

“I’ll pick you up after school. What time do you have to be at work?” I ask again.

“One more time,” he says, “just the second part.”

I look over to see his eyebrows raise and lower, dimple holing its position.

“What?” He says, “I just like the way it sounds….have to be at work…ahhh. That’s right… I’m a working man. Oh yes! Responsible and employed.” He rattles on, head sauntering from side to side above his shoulders.

“You’re still training,” I remind him.

“True, true…” he nods, “but I’m such a good scanner, I’m thinking of asking for a raise.”

I shake my head, wondering how much of his Jim Carey side comes through behind the cash register. “Slow down there cowboy,” I tell him, “Better finish training first.”

“Let me give you a sample of my work,” he says, pretending I have just approached the counter. “Good afternoon, did you find everything you needed? Scan, scan, scan….and your total is….how would you like to pay for that?” He asks grinning. “Then, after they pay, I say Thank you for shopping at YOU SAVE pharmacy and please come again,” he says, open palm moving in a half circle wave.

“Do you say that to everyone?” I ask, suppressing a snicker.

“Indeed,” he answers, “unless it’s a really hot girl and then I say, Have a good night now.” he says, hands at his hips like pistols pointing forward, dimple flashing, crooked smile raised on one side.

“Sometimes if I’m bored, I ask if they would like to become a YOU SAVE member.” he says, face switched to serious. “I don’t really know if there is such a program, but it’s ok, they always say no.”

“But what if they say yes?” I ask.

"I say, Me too," he answers, nodding his slightly tipped head. "Me too."

I wonder to myself how long he will continue as a YOU SAVE Associate.


Apologies to David Letterman and Carrie Link, but the countdown format seemed most appropriate….

The top five ways to know that your life has spun crazy out of control:

5…when you take three steps back from the poster board sized, color-coded calendar plotting the schedule for the family of five and realize that it could double as a colorful, mosaic wall hanging.

4…when you drive through the pharmacy and the woman in the window asks the last name and you hesitate, drawing a brief, but frightening blank.

3…when your middle child walks in the door at 6:30 covered in mud and scrapes from his soccer game and you didn’t even realize that he wasn’t home in the first place.

2…when you are secretly pleased that the trailer full of cows has blocked your car while dropping off your kid's projects to enter in the fair, which will make it impossible for you to make it back to the 7:00 Back to School Night in your daughter’s classroom and you SOS the hubby to say that he is on his own with this one…lingering to pet the goats instead.

1…when guilt overtakes you for not admitting that there are two sessions of Back to School Night and you cave at your daughter’s Academy Award, last child performance of “But I cleaned my desk and left you a note” so you wash the goat slobber off your hands, throw on some lipstick and race to the class, slip into her desk chair in the nick of time, feel around in your purse for a pen, and as you begin to write her a note, realize what is in your hand is a tampon that came loose from its wrapper.

You all have done that before…

Haven’t you???

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Back to School Night is a twelve year running annual ritual that conjures up all sorts of sensations. Sounds and smells, most especially the smells, send me back to my own school days. When my first born ventured off on the big yellow bus for the first time, Back to School Night was like getting to know him from a different angle. His new world, separate from mine, was filled with mystery. Cubbies with his belongings stuffed wildly in haphazard fashion, drawings of his family and the world as he saw it and collections of his “work” allowed me a peek into the window of his day that did not include me.

Needless to say, with my first born now a high school junior, Back to School Night has evolved dramatically. After a warm up by the new principal in the auditorium, I follow my son’s schedule: eight periods broken down into 10 minute sessions with two minutes to move between classes. A swarming school of adults, swimming rapidly through the waters of days gone by with maps and room numbers, attempt a mini version of their child’s experience. By now, three quarters of these parents are known to me, but little time for socializing as we maneuver the school, still searching for a peek into the window of our offspring’s world. The intensity of high school has been raised to a new, high tech level that makes it easier and more difficult at the same time.

My youngest is in her last year of elementary school. It is this school that I know best, as I have had a student here for twelve years. I know almost every brick of the building as well as every teacher, specialist and administrator. Part of me feels very much ‘done’ with room parent, book fairs and field trip chaperones. I have chaired more than my share of committees, events and talent shows. The other part of me is sad to be coming to the end of this chapter.

But it is the middle Back to School Night where I am most intrigued. Eighth grade is a special balance of independence and nurture. The format is similar to the high school; principal lecture followed by the Team 8-1 teachers displaying their power point presentations to illustrate their programs. Hallways swimming with parents attempting to maneuver the corridors in two minutes to follow eight ten minute periods. But sitting in these classrooms, I am energized. I listen to the verbal syllabus and my fingers begin twitching; wishing I had a freshly cracked notebook and pencil.

How much I would love to sit through these classes, relearning about our country and its history, about our constitution, about the planets. I am tingling in sixth period reading class at the thought of working through the classics and by a teacher who is conducting a book club atmosphere with food and drinks and conversation for her budding adult class. I am giddy by the time I am in English, sitting before a teacher who aims to teach grammar by making it come alive, and at the same time, rekindling the tools of understanding the Latin roots to be able to figure out any word.

There is a passion among these teachers that somehow blends the adult expectations and responsibilities of high school, with that maternal nurture embodied in elementary school. Fledglings on the edge of the nest, students can aim to soar in any direction they choose; the sky’s the limit.

As Back to School Night comes to an end, I think what a thrill it would be to do eighth grade over again; a fresh notebook, a sharp pencil and hindsight. Do-over… Team 8-1 please… I wonder if my eighth grader would mind.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Continued from previous post...

Jotting the phone number on a scrap of paper, I hustle Cadence to the car and flip open my phone. It has been nearly five months since that sad day and Cadence’s words flood through my mind as I dial the number. “You can’t put a price on love… it’s not about a bird, It’s about this bird… we were meant to be together…we have a connection.”

I keep my voice ‘poker-face calm’ as I make the inquiry, nodding excitedly to Cadence while she rubs her hands together; sparkle in her eyes. This is indeed the Sky from the New Pet Store purchased in March. The woman on the other end tells me that they need to sell their house and Sky will not fit into their new plans. I tell her I will speak to my husband and call back, asking her name as I ready my pen. The world squeezes smaller as I write, making the friendly connection; she is a school administrator that I know from town.

Several days later, Cadence buckles herself into the back seat of Dad’s car on a mission of destiny. I am happy to let this be their moment, knowing my husband craves the hero stance to wipe away his twinges of guilt. They return two hours later with a plan.

Saturday morning, Cadence hauls her beloved old toys to the curb, while Dad posts the Tag Sale signs. She is careful in arranging her display, falling victim to the call of a few dolls and animals who say they are not quite ready to leave.

She works the customers like a pro; “I notice this one caught your daughter’s eye…” she smiles, flashing her dimple, “If you press right here she talks.” Cadence demonstrates while the young child beside her nods, eyes wide with hope. “I guess two dollars would be fine. Now for this one you will have to pay full price,” she tells the woman looking down at her, as she holds a My Little Pony in her hands, “but you get this one free…they are a pair and they’re meant to be together.” Her words ring in my ears as she adds little by little to her money box, raising nearly half the cost through her efforts; meant to be together.

The day arrives when it is time to bring destiny home. The sky is blue that morning and Cadences dresses the same. She sits with a clip board and writes a numbered list of questions, leaving lines to place the answers or painstakingly making yes and no check boxes.

Sky is more beautiful than I remembered; her long tail feathers formerly chewed off by hostile roommates are now re-grown and regal. The family that loved her for six months spent large quantities of time and money, sending us home with a massive cage, bags of toys and goodies and a sweet bird who knows how to step up, give kisses and is working on “Hello.” Cadence is not the least bit deterred when filling out her clipboard by the elaborate routine that this bird had grown accustomed to.

She prefers fresh fruit in the morning: favorites are fresh pineapple and apples.

She likes fresh vegetables in the evening: prefers broccoli or green beans, lightly steamed.

She showers every other day on a special plastic perch with suction cups holding to the shower wall. Simply point the water to hit the wall above her and she spreads her wings, taking an elaborate tail feather-shaking, head twisting fifteen minute spa treatment.

And, to avoid getting a chill, she is accustomed to the blow dryer afterward; low setting held 6-9 inches so as not to be too hot.

Cadence is thrilled.

Sky adjusts quickly to her new home and family members. Inquisitive and funny, she hops onto our cockatiels cage and works diligently on the door to set her neighbor free. She delights in dropping food items onto the dog’s head and cocks hers to one side watching him eat. He waits patiently, wagging his stubby brown tail while she runs back to her dish to decide what to feed him next. She loves to climb onto Cadence’s head, arranging her hair with her claws and beak.

I look at them and they are beautiful to watch. I remind Cadence that these birds live 30-50 years and that she will likely still have Sky when she marries. “I’ll just tell my husband, take a wife…get a bird free!” She says.

Birds of a feather they are.

It is about love and connection.
It is about a bond and a destiny.
It is simply, meant to be.

Friday, September 21, 2007


April rolls to May rolls to June like the quick spin of a rolodex. Spring takes on breakneck speed with soccer games, dance recitals, band concerts and end of the year activities. There is little time to ponder anything other than checking off the events on the schedule and the end of June feels like busting through the finish line banner, breathless and ready for rest and recharging.

Every June is like this. Every June leaves my children and me ready for big time down time. There is great stress lifted in our new routine of eating late, retiring late and sleeping late. Summer, summer, summer; a welcome guest!


The word conj ours up such delicious images of out door fun: swimming, barbeques, picnics and friends. When I was growing up, summer meant no schedule. It meant rustling up friends and making our own adventure. It meant swimming in the pool in the back yard and shark rides on my father’s back. It meant a week at some day camp making crafts and learning about nature. It meant easy.

We lived in a neighborhood full of kids and had a pool in our back yard. My mother did not work and so going with the flow was easy. My best friend had a horse and we rode everywhere together. We’d walk back and forth to each others houses, sleeping at one or the other and we were inseparable.

My memories of summer are warm.

Summer is the one thing, as a parent, I cannot seem to get right.

It’s the one little part of parenting that sixteen years of experience has not helped me to improve on. In the throws of the spring race while other parents are scheduling their children for camps, I am resistant to schedules of any kind and do not sign my kids up for anything. We will relax, spend time together and explore other opportunities. It never fails to be poor planning on my part to think this way.

In the past, when I did sign them up for camps, work opportunities for me dwindled, causing me to spend money I didn’t have and left me providing taxi service for kids I’d rather be spending time with. Lesson learned, I vowed no camps for us the following summer. Of course work came fast and furious and I spent a fortune on babysitters leaving my kids home with no social opportunities.

No matter what method I attempted, summer has not cooperated. This summer is no exception. I planned a couple of weeks to do nothing and then a three week trip to North Carolina to visit grandparents. A shift in the market has left work scarce for me and our trip needs to be cancelled. This is not a problem for my boys, who are more than happy to amuse themselves around town with friends, but Cadence’s summer is dull to say the least.

In July, work picks up and I do not have much time for her. She is wonderful about finding things to do: messy little science experiments in the kitchen, rediscovering old toys, making a shoulder high spider web across her entire bedroom with yarn and yes…watching TV. It’s the watching TV that pains me. She is happy to lose herself in a world of someone else’s fun. I encourage her to call friends to come over to play while I click away at the computer. She dials through the list, only to find they are all on vacation or at camp. I race through the list of camps, calling each one for a chance opening to no avail.

I stop working everyday in the late afternoon and scoop her up to go to the beach. She plays joyfully in the tide pools, rescuing little fish that found themselves in shallow puddles as the tide receded. She is happy with the crabs and snails and on luckier days, she stumbles upon a friend. She communes with the seagulls and names almost every one in the flock. As always, she bonds closely with the underdog and makes certain that “Old Fella” and “One Leg” get their fair share of animal crackers. The afternoon brings some reprieve to the seemingly endless alone time she is spending.

I feel such guilt thinking about what she will write upon her return to school; On my summer vacation, I watched TV. I ask her to think of something special that she wants to do or to buy for being so patient with the situation. After a great deal of thought, she proposes a guinea pig. Dreading the idea but dripping with guilt, I say “Sure…as soon as I get paid.”

Several days later, my phone rings during an inspection and I check the message when I am back to my car. It is Cadence using her most grown-up, eight-year-old business voice. She reminds me using words like "possibly discuss" and "consider" that I promised the dreaded rodent. I commit to an exploratory research trip at the end of the day.

“Lets first go to Pepper’s pet store to check out what they have, and then we’ll drive over to The New Pet Store,” I tell her, hoping that Pepper’s will have a better deal. We trudge up the dusty wooden steps to the small animal section. They have three guinea pigs, two bunnies, white mice and gerbils.

“Hmmm,” she says, “I thought they would be cuter.”

As we are leaving Pepper’s, we pass the bulletin board where people post pet related flyers. A picture catches my eye and I freeze; it is a Blue-Ringed Parakeet.

Moving… Must Sell…Best Offer…named Sky.

What are the chances?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


“Oh Mommy LOOK!” Cadence scurries past the glass-fronted aquariums and cages to the bird perch. She is fluttering with excitement as a long awaited promise to visit the new pet store is fulfilled. The building is massive and the staff comprised of animal-loving college kids in maroon colored shirts.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO TOUCH THE ANIMALS, PLEASE ASK FOR ASSISTANCE, read the signs posted at every station, but Cadence is not much for reading and reaches in to the birds. I glance at the young staffer to my right and she nods permission. The perch is dotted with noisy, colorful birds of all kinds: rainbow colored Macaws, white Cockatoos, green, orange and purple Parrots and an African Gray. Feisty green and orange Conures take to bullying a quiet bird and Cadence climbs up onto the low brick wall that surrounds the perch to intervene. She scolds the bullies and holds her finger under the belly of the gentle victim. The quiet bird steps lightly onto her finger.

“Oh Mommy she’s beautiful!” she says, bringing the bird close. The bird is the color of the sky on a perfect summer day; round soft head with black eyes and a smooth triangular red beak. She is truly beautiful. I read the signs on the wall to find out what she is and discover that she is an Indian Blue-Ringed Parakeet, appropriately named Sky. “Hello Sky.” Cadence coos and brings the bird close in front of her face. Sky tips her head as if understanding and then walks up Cadence’s arm to find a comfortable spot on her shoulder. They sit cheek to cheek in conversation, as I remind my daughter that we are only here to visit.

An hour has passed and it is time to leave. “Good-bye Sky, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Cadence whispers placing the bird back on the perch. She walks to the car wearing a sweet, satisfied smile. “I saved her from those bullies, Mom. I think she appreciated it. We really made a connection.” she smiles up at me reaching for my hand.

“You sure did.” I squeeze her hand, my own heart feeling the longing in hers.

“Can we come back to see her tomorrow?”

“We’ll see.”

The following day, begging and pleading win me over as we pass the pet store on the way home from dance class and we find ourselves visiting again. “I know I can’t have her Mom, but I saved her from the bullies and we have a bond. I promised to visit.” Cadence walks, almost skipping through the double glass doors.

Past the hamsters and the lizards, past the Guinea Pigs and the rabbits, Cadence swoops in the direction of the bird perch to Sky. Seconds later they are cheek to cheek in quiet conversation.

Inside of me, a dichotomy of voice banters loudly. Please oh please…I’ll take care of her…I’ll do anything, please! My animal-loving inner child is quickly silenced by the practical adult who says, I told you… we only came to visit. We have enough pets and this is too expensive! I allow only the adult to speak outwardly, as Cadence voices my child. “Just a visit,” I remind her, “it’s too expensive.”

Our visits continue following dance classes for the next several weeks; Cadence’s knowledge and attachment growing. One Sunday after church, Brad is craving ‘family time’ and offers the February afternoon to anyone’s suggestion. “Please Daddy, come to see Sky! You will just love her!” The boys are eager to look at lizards and snakes so it is settled.

We hold puppies and pet chinchillas but the main attraction remains the summer blue bird who sits quietly on Cadence’s shoulder. Shoppers stop to admire the bird and Cadence tells them all that she has learned, sounding as if she works in the store. Later at home, she approaches her father, the snap-trap mouse hunter whose love for animals is little, but whose love of this little girl is immeasurable.

“Daddy, I know it’s not my birthday or Christmas or anything, but I will give up all my presents for the rest of the year, birthday and Christmas and everything, and I’ll sell all my old toys to help pay for her Daddy.”

There is a pause.

Not a “NO,” but a pause and a pause means possibility.

Then there is an “If…” and an “IF” is almost a “YES”!

Cadence scurries to her room and begins to pull toys from her shelf to sell at her “tag sale.” The pile of discarded toys grows, along with her determination to bring her new friend home.

Realizing that I am married to a practical man, I decide to research the possibility of locating a Blue Ring Parakeet for less money, knowing that a good deal could be the straw that might very well break him. I discover that another local pet store has two Indian Blue Rings, a little bit younger and a good bit cheaper, so I bring Cadence in to look. The visit is short, her face blank and she is not interested in holding the birds. “Don’t you at least want to hold one to see if you like him? They cost less money so Dad might be more willing to say yes.” She shakes her head no and asks to leave the store.

She is quiet in the back seat of the car, taking her time to let her heart guide her voice. “This is not about any bird, Mom. This is about a special bird. It is about Sky.” She looks down at her hands, twisting her fingers, searching for a way to make me understand. Head up, voice shaky and eyes glistening, “I know these birds are cheaper, but you can’t put a price on Love. We have a connection.” she says in a strong voice squeezing hard at the water in her eyes.

In our subsequent visits to the pet store, she tells the staff and shoppers that her Daddy is going to buy Sky for her when his tax check comes. I gently remind her that he has not actually said yes, and that someone could buy Sky at any time before the tax check comes and she would have to understand. It was secretly the hope of her father that this very scenario would play out and he would be off the hook.

Finally, one Monday evening in early March, Cadence’s persistence wears down her father’s resistance and he consents to putting a deposit on Sky. “Please Mom, can we go right now??” It is 7:30 pm and surely the store would be closed, so I agree to go early in the morning. Cadence is all wiggles and dimples at bedtime, unable to contain her excitement. It has been two month of wishing, hoping, pleading and praying and she doesn’t know how she can stand to wait one more night! I tuck her in with assurance that she will soar in the sky in her dreams this night.

The following morning I am greeted by a staff member who recognizes me right away, as we have spent a ridiculous amount of time here. I tell them I am here to fill out the contract and to put a deposit on Sky. They tell me to wait at the desk and my stomach tightens as I see one staffer speak to another and then vanish. I walk quickly back to the bird perch and am instantly relieved to see Sky among the feathered array. I return to the desk to finalize my daughter’s dream.

“I’m afraid I have bad news…” the manager of the store stands before me. “Someone came in last and bought the bird.”

“Are you sure… Because I just saw Sky in the back.” I ask, unable to believe this could be true.

“Yes ma’am, I’m sorry. They’re not coming for the bird until later today but they paid for it already.” He looked down to avoid my eyes.

“I can’t believe this.” my mind was racing, “My husband finally said yes last night… she’s so excited. I have showed her other Blue Rings that were actually cheaper, but she only wants this one. She said you can’t put a price on love.” I looked desperately at the maroon shirt before me.

“Could it have been your husband that came in and paid for it?” He asked, hope in his eyes. “It was just before closed at 9:00.”

“No.” I answered, thinking back to 7:30 when we assumed the store was closed. Timing is everything. “Who bought her?” I asked, hoping there was still a way to work this out. “Is there any way I could call to see if they would consider a different bird?” I asked him.

“I’m sorry.” he answered and I saw that he really was. “I can’t do that.”

I left the store with my stomach swirling and thought about the weeks of hoping and loving that I would have to look in the eye at the end of the school day.

If we had gone at 7:30…

If we hadn’t said yes at all…

The bus pulled up at the usual time and Cadence came hopping off full of joy. “I’m ready!” She chirped. “Can we go see Sky? Did you tell her that we are buying her? Did you make the deposit?” she asks, flinging her backpack the floor.

I paused and Cadence knew that this time, the pause did not mean possibility. “Honey, sit down for a minute. I have to tell you something.” I said.

She stood rigid before me. “Someone bought Sky.” She said flatly, her eyes filled with horror.

“I’m so sorry.” I said, feeling like I was announcing a death. “I went to the store and she was still there but someone had paid for her already and they’re picking her up today.” She stood motionless for a long moment.

“I need to go say good-bye.” she said through quivering lips, eyes wet with loss. I explained that Sky could be gone already and that if she was still there, saying good-by might be very sad and very difficult and perhaps we should just let her go.

“I need to say good-bye and tell her I love her and explain what happened. I need to tell her this is not what I wanted. We have a connection” She said with a small but certain voice that was succumbing to a sob.

She walked solemnly through the store to the perch where Sky sat with the rowdy parrots. Without speaking, she placed her on her shoulder and sat on the brick wall. She walked in circles and sat again, attempting to explain to her friend that this was not how she wanted it to be. She rolled her lips together and squeezed hard at the tears now forming in her eyes. A shopper stopped with her husband to pet a parrot. “I think something is wrong with that little girl,” she told the staffer, “she looks scared.”

“She’s fine.” I stepped in, “She’s just saying good-bye.” I gave a brief synopsis laced with guilt and sadness, as I watched the painful scene. The young staffers, now invested in the drama, agreed to give me the high sign when the new owner arrived. In what was probably an hour, although it seemed like seconds, the nod came, alerting me that he was there. I began to tell Cadence that the time had come to say a final good-bye and the staffer shook her head and asked me if it would be OK for Cadence to meet the man herself. She said she wanted Cadence to see that Sky was going to a good home, but I think she held hope that the man would melt with the tears of a little girl. I watched from the distance as Cadence bolstered herself, shoulders back and hands trembling.

I could not hear the conversation, but later learned that the staffer introduced Cadence as the little girl who came to say Good-bye to Sky. Cadence stood bravely before the tall man with gray hair, trying to keep the tears from spilling. He did not speak to directly to her, but quietly agreed to take the bird last after collecting his supplies.

It is a quiet ride home. Cadence stared out the window, knowing the first great sadness of her eight years. The manager told me that they were going to be getting featherless baby Blue Rings in April and that if we purchased one, Cadence could be part of the hand feeding. I offer the news as consolation; her silence speaks volumes.

We make several visits to see the babies when they arrive, but nothing tugs her heart strings. Finally, she admits that this is not about getting a bird, it was about that bird.

I recognize my offers of a baby bird are an effort are to ‘fix’ the problem; to mend her broken heart; to smooth her rumpled feathers. I am surprised at her honesty and her truth to self; not settling for the consolation prize.

This was not about acquiring a new pet for the sake of having one.

It was about love and connection.
It was about a bond and a destiny.
Now, it is about a bittersweet memory.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


It is the perfect day.

The air is so dry and clean it brushes my cheek like a feather. Closing my eyes, I breathe in deeply the smell of the salt water. The sound is sea gulls and lapping waves, children’s’ voices muffled and laughing. The sun is set to exactly the right temperature. The sky above is so blue and Grass Island across the water so green that it doesn’t look real.

The responsible voice in my head nags at me to study, to work, to write; I assuage her by stuffing a text book into my beach bag; this is a day too delicious for the computer, for work, for test preparation, for anything else but this. I wiggle back and forth on my blue faded beach chair until the aluminum legs settle snugly into the warm sand, my mind sliding into Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. How is it I have not yet read this book?

I am on a reading binge, sneaking reading in and behind and around all of the other things I really need to do. Reading and writing are normally like breathing; in balance and reliant on one another. Breathe in, breathe out, read and write. I realize from time to time, for reasons I don’t understand, I hold my breath, taking in every bit of mind nourishing oxygen and holding it. Reading is my breath in and I cannot seem to get enough, it has been a long stretch since I exhaled my words, but I give in to the habit without understanding or self condemnation.

My boys are no longer beach happy. The only form of summer activity that appeals to them is biking or boarding with their friends around town, “hanging out.” They are separated from me now in the way of boy-men, tethered by cell phone only. Cadence is still mine for now. Everything to her is a summer activity and she blows in the wind like a piece of dandelion fluff, ready to land wherever the day takes her.

She begins her trek into the tide pools, happy with the receding tide; the ocean obliging by exposing its tiny wonders in the muck and grass. I read with one eye in the book and one on her sun-browned back, spine curved into a C as she squats on the muddy bank to visit tiny crabs, snails and fish. There are two brown Cs now; yes, she has found a friend!

I force myself to be in my body as I read; to continue to smell and feel and listen and glance at the blue and green so as not to miss the perfection of this day. An hour has passed and the tide pool friend is gone. Cadence takes to the other side of our little beach where the crabs are plentiful at low tide and new friends are a possibility. Eventually, a little girl comes to find me with the news that Cadence is crying with a cut on her foot. I make my way too her, hushing the selfish voice in my head that did not want to put down my book.

We make our way to the lifeguards, Cadence with a Broadway performance of the damsel in distress. I know the event was quite satisfying, in spite of the sting, as the young men sat her in a chair, cleaned and dressed the wound and even wrote her name down in a notebook log. We make our way back to the water full of rocks and shells.

“Ow, Ow, Ow, it still stings,” she says stepping gingerly across the rocky surface.

“Do you want to sit on the blanket with me or should we leave?” I see the difficult choice running back and for the behind her eyes.

“No, I’m fine. I want to stay…Ow. Mom? Ow, Ow, I know you don’t like to get wet when you’re reading, but if you just come in right here to your ankles, there are millions of Hermit Crabs!”

My reader voice is annoyed and loud inside my head, determined to get back inside the cover, but I argue that I cannot be really in this day if I am not in this low tide muck full of wonder. “Okay, but where did your leave your sandals? You need to wear them or you are going to get more cuts on your feet.”

“I don’t know, Ow, Ow, I looked everywhere.” she sands like a stork, twisting the bottom of her injured foot up to examine.

“Let me look back at the blanket.” I say, trudging back to search. I stuff my book under my blue, faded chair to hide the temptation and find Cadence’s sandals under the beach bag.

She looks into my face as I hand them back to her, unable to see my eyes through the sunglasses, but she knows she has reeled me in somewhat against my will. Oh, so perceptive, she reels the line in tighter and I take the squatted C formation next to her as she proceeds to point out the difference between the tiny crabs and tiny snails. She shows me little clear gelled eggs beneath the surface that have a dark spot just off center and they roll around in your hand if you hold very still. She scoops up teeny weenie shrimp and fish too small to notice.

“There are Producers, those are the plants that make their own food like this seaweed, and Consumers, like these fish that eat the plants, and the crabs are the Decomposers, they are bottom feeders that eat the rotting stuff. Oooh, look, Mom, the tiniest hermit crab ever!” She holds her water-logged wrinkled palm for me to see the tiny dot racing across her hand.

“How on earth do you know all of that stuff?” I ask, truly impressed with her eight-year-old knowledge.

“School,” she answers flatly, “See Mom? I knew you would like it! And you hardly had to get wet!” Her eyes meet mine over the tops of my sunglasses and I am so glad she pulled me out of my endless inhale. As if she knew what she had done, she added, “I know Mom! You can write about it! You can say…And they finally found her sandals and as she quickly whipped them on she went cheerfully back to finding little sea creatures.”



Thursday, July 12, 2007


I like my lessons to be predicable. This is not to say that I like predictability as a course for life; on the contrary, I am easily bored and thirst for change regularly. And yet, when it comes to being taught, I prefer to choose when to define myself as the student. Control issues? Perhaps. And my student takes many forms.

On Sundays, I sit in the third row anticipating the sermon. Familiar arched wood and stained glass hold me in a space where even my breath feels softened and comfortable. Heart and mind open, I am ready to be enlightened, deepened, and infused with the Holy Spirit!

I arrive early for my appraisal classes with virgin notebook, yellow highlighter, sharpened pencil and large coffee. I slide into the small hard chair in rows of people ready to process conversions and formulas, definitions and concepts.

I slip silently into writer’s workshops, incense and candles float through gentle music. I choose a safe seat, tightly twisting my Kleenex; ready to be inspired, broken to tearful bits and rebuilt; strengthened in my purpose.

I even look for lessons in eight year old girls, baby blackbirds and ants when I am searching for the greater meaning. When I am searching for it. I have a difficult time when my role as student is not clear; when God thrusts a lesson in my lap and it is tightly wrapped and taped and tied for me to peel layer by layer to discover its relevance.

I was unsuspecting as I arrived at the field. It is an annual ritual like no other. Droves of people, young and old, families and friends, make the pilgrimage with varying degrees of preparation. The town fireworks are indeed an event not to be missed. They are set off on the fairgrounds, displayed directly overhead and it is not unusual to leave with a swell in your heart and bits of ash in your hair.

The heat of summer lifts off like a morning blanket at the beginning of day. Folks line up cars in neat rows, setting up chairs, tables and spreads of food; enjoying the preparation perhaps even more than the twenty minutes of flash that is coming. There’s wholesomeness to hunkering down on the ground in a field of cars and neighbors to share a brief and brilliant moment … the ramparts we watch, so gallantly streaming.

Ten years ago we planted our family tree here, its roots now stretching deeply into the soil that holds us; Smalltown USA. We have evolved since that planting and the experience here in the field has taken many forms. Our early ventures here toting squirmy toddlers, strollers and watchful eyes set us many rows back in the field; less crowded, safe distance. We were surrounded by parents like ourselves who were young and fresh to the scene.

The young and fresh parents never forget the sunscreen or bug spray, always have a change of clothes and Band-Aids in the car, and use phrases like “Eyes on me” and “Use your words.” These parents tend to avoid late night events as their children have actual bedtimes, but even they clamor to the field in the dark for the dazzling display.

Moving up in time and in rows, we became parents of middle-schoolers; parents of the “seasoned variety.” Seasoned parents possess a confidence in their Smalltown offspring and extend a retractable, onsite tether to their preteens as they group together to enjoy the social game of cat & mouse. The boys strut, the girls gather & giggle as the parents smirk and shake their heads.

Today, we see parents we have known for ten years. We all embarked on this journey together as “young and fresh” parents; kindergarten room moms and micro soccer coaches. We met through school open houses, play dates and little league games.

We grew together, bearing more offspring and venturing our firstborns into
the real world of middle school. We nervously inched our tethers longer, as
one of our tightly bound unit eagerly pulled for the horizon…for freedom.
We glanced at one another for reassurance and guidance and seasoning.

Now, however, we come here knowing that our older children will disperse and return at the end for a ride home. We decide to come early to enjoy the local talent, as three high school bands warm up the evening. Driving across the bumpy field, our car settles into in the second row. We set up our blanket in front of our car, arrange a small rustic wooden table, two chairs and top it off with a candle in a jar. Brad sets out the coolers and discrete bottle of wine as I sink into my blue soccer sideline chair.

Our youngest sits with us on the blanket for a while, but spies some friends and moves to a different blanket several cars down. The bands play as the crowd thickens and we sit. Row Two begins to fill with groups of teenagers roaming back and forth in a social runway marathon. Girls in clusters flirt and laugh, boys strutting indifference and longing at the same time. We have never sat this close and it is clear now that Row Two is reserved for the youth.

Dusk settles over the field and I am in uncomfortable awe by the scene rolling back and forth in front of me. Some are smoking; all are cursing, most toting cell phones. Brad and I eat our dinner in near silence, commenting here and there about kids we knew as kindergartners.

A group to my left catches my eye and locks me into a stare. There are six of them. They look to be about sixteen and pulsing with rough-edged attitude. They form a testosterone semicircle around a boy of similar age who lacks the “edge.” I cannot hear the words, but their bodies show the pack mentality; coyotes circling a frightened rabbit. The rabbit shakes is head, nods his head, shakes his head again while the coyotes leer, chins forward, fingers pointing, angry words I cannot hear.

Finally, they release their victim who turns and walks nervously in the opposite direction. They proceed to laugh and shove each other, pleased with their victory and they come closer. I hear them clearly now, snickering about the weakness of the rabbit and they change course to follow him.

“Those kids are trouble,” I say to Brad, tracking the coyotes with my eyes. I watched as they moved further, struggling to keep them in view in the sea of teenagers before me. I turned to Brad only to find that he was gone and looked back at the coyotes. Brad was trailing several paces behind. They found the rabbit and again formed a semicircle. “Are you laughing?” they taunted, pushing in closer, “Is something funny?”

Brad spread his arms like wings and placed them on the shoulders of the ringleaders. “Hey guys… How bout leaving him alone and moving along?” One coyote quickly grabbed Brad by the wrist and held his arm up in front of his face. In a second nature move, Brad spun his wrist under and over, now holding the coyote’s wrist in his hand. The coyote shook his hand free and pushed toward Brad, forearm to forearm.

I leapt from my seat grabbing my cell phone and dodged through the crowd, pushing myself in front of my husband and stood face to face with pierced aggression. Sweet and calm words of negotiation would have no effect here. I pointed to the two leaders and told them to take a walk before I called 911. One backed quickly down, eyes cast to the ground. The ringleader began to fire angry words about how Brad approached him. I let him know that I saw the entire scene and again told him to take a walk. “At least I’m not a stuck up, white, rich mother- #@^$%er!” He yelled and I proceeded to open my cell phone. “He put his hand on me first! I know my rights! I have the right to sue him!” He spewed as he turned to his pack and cursed some more.

I’m sure it took every ounce of will power in my normally passive husband not to grab him by the back of his droopy chained pants and hurl his angry little body out of the field. I convinced my husband to walk away with me as the rabbit was safely out of sight. Back in our seats, I kept my eyes on them as they stood in defiance, unwilling to move but no longer threatening anyone. The fireworks display began and I watched with a racing heart. Brad now ooooing and aaahhing at the brilliance in the sky and I hear my youngest screeching with delight. I find little magic in the explosions overhead, as I am fixated on the one that preceded.

On the way home, all offspring in tow, my husband urges me not to let the encounter spoil the evening. “Look at it this way,” he offers, “maybe it kept that kid from getting beat up and at least gave him a chance to get away from them.” My heart was heavy with the injustice. Celebrating “Independence Day” we are reminded of our freedoms through an elaborate display, and yet, the coyotes clearly missed the point. There was a time when a father’s intervention in such an event would have been met with a “Yes Sir” and respect seems to be a lost quality.

For days I hear the angry boy yelling in my head about "his rights." My mother reminds me that bullying is not a new practice. She tells me a story about her family growing up in a city where neighborhoods were defined by ethnic origin. Her large family lived on the third floor in an Irish neighborhood and fighting among the youths between neighborhoods was commonplace. Her older brother yelled something to a car full of boys driving from an Italian neighborhood nearby. The car screeched to a halt and emptied its passengers, equipped with chains and tire irons.

Somehow, my grandmother got wind of the situation and made it from third floor to the street in seconds, marching herself into the testosterone circle. “Don’t hurt the mother!” Yelled the leader. “And just what is going on here?” demanded my grandmother. Not waiting for an answer, she told the chained group to return to where they came from or they would be dealing with her. “Yes, maam.” They answered as they left. She then dragged my uncle in by the ear to the consequence that awaited him for his part in the drama.

The story only served to highlight my frustration. I was not met with the respect given to my grandmother because the young aggressor was high on “his rights.” Later that week, I sat with my son to review the Student Handbook for an art school he will be attending this year. At the back of the book was the STUDENT BILL OF RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITES.

As I read this bill, I understand the lesson to be learned from the night at the firework display. Rights do not exist without Responsibility.

1. Students have the right to be treated with respect, and the responsibility to ensure that others are safe from physical and verbal harm and harassment.
2. Students have the right to seek changes in the rules, and the responsibility to do so in a manner that will not interfere with the educational process.

The other side of ones rights carries a responsibility. Perhaps our founding fathers did not discuss responsibilites in the Constitution because it was inherently understood. Somehow, our politically correct society has created takers, not givers; claiming rights to everything and responsibility to nothing.

We do have the right to use the resources of this planet we call home, and the responsibility to take care of her.

We have the right to freedom of speech, but the responsibility not to harm with hateful words.

I have the right to live in this home, and the responsibility to work to pay for it.

Rights and Responsibilities in balance create Respect. The three R’s.

My lesson is clear and now I must teach.

“Yes,” I say to my son, “You have the right to ride your bike to the green, and the responsibility to call me in one hour."
"You have the right to clean clothes, and the responsibility to be sure the dirty ones make it to the hamper."
"You have the right to have a friend spend the night, and the responsibility to be sure you follow the rules and clean up after yourselves.”

If children are raised to see the responsibility attached to the right, perhaps respect will flourish.
I have the right to be a student, and the responsibility to let God choose the classroom.