Sunday, March 09, 2008


There is nothing more exasperating and endearing than the thirteen-year-old boy, although to be honest, I think this human version of the pupa stage might have been an oversight on God’s part. The butterfly, a perfectly magical creature, is equipped to go through its awkward and delicate change from its childish caterpillar self, under cover and protected. Caterpillars shed their final layer of skin to reveal a pupa. The outer skin of the pupa hardens to form a chrysalis, which shields the amazing transformation that is taking place inside. The same is not true of the thirteen-year-old male human. He sheds his final little boy layer slowly, exposed and vulnerable.

This human pupa resorts to creating an invisible shell, a fierce and arrogant demeanor intended to ward off attention to its delicate transformation. He is often guarded, pushing away affection and kind words, ready to battle on any front. Like the caterpillar, he eats tremendous quantities of food in order to fuel his massive growth, shedding layers of his younger self in the process.

As I pull my car in to the middle school driveway on Friday afternoon to pick up my pupa, he is surrounded by a pack of similar creatures; all trying to act nonchalant as he “Oh-so-subtlety” asks to bring them home. He is five foot eight with size thirteen shoes, baby-faced with braces and teenage complexion. I watch, as they attempt to appear unaware of the request being made.

“Hmmm,” I pause, silently counting heads. Trevor looks all ‘sad puppy’ at me and raises his eyebrows. “Boys, do your moms know that you’re coming to my house?” I ask.

They all validate that this has been run by all five other mothers and affirmed as they duck, one by one, under the slider door and into the van. The van rocks back and forth as they push and shove each other, laughing with pupa jokes. I shoot Trevor a sideways glance over the top of my eyes, letting him know that his attempt at subtly gaining clearance from me was a transparent plan since they had already cleared it with their mothers.

“Thanks Mom!” He barrels in next to me.

“Put your seatbelt on.” I tell him, trying to look stern, but he knows me too well.

“Oh, beep at those girls!” They beg as we pass a pack of female pupa. I toot the horn and all six boys wave wildly, chortling amongst themselves. Pulling into the driveway, they tumble out as gracefully as they barreled in; twelve giant skateboard shoes are kicked into a pile inside the front door, six back packs beside. They swarm to the kitchen, looking for fuel and I let them know that I will bake chocolate chip cookie bars in a few minutes. “Awww, your mom is awesome.” One says as they retreat, “My mom would never bake us something.”

They move from the house to the yard in a noisy cluster, pushing and shoving with playful affection. “Mom, I think some of us stepped in dog poop.” Trevor announces, handing over several giant skateboard shoes. “I tell him to leave them outside and shoo the pack into the family room, later investigating to find only muddy sneakers.

The chocolate chip cookie bars vanish before they can cool and slowly, one by one, the pupas yell “Good-bye Mrs. R, Thanks for having me!” as their families arrive to retrieve them. Finally, only two remain and they are calmer now playing video games.

“Are you guys going to spend the night?” I ask, before Trevor has a chance to ask.

“Sure, if that’s OK.” They answer.

“Is it OK with your moms?” I inquire.

“Yeah, they said it was fine.” They answer, falling into the trap again. I look over my eyes once again at Trevor to let him know he has been caught.

“Thanks Mom!” He says in his baby man voice, looking much more like a caterpillar than a butterfly.

*photo by

Friday, March 07, 2008


We have a long standing family addiction to American Idol. Perhaps it is to do with the lack of programming that will not only entertain, but be appropriate for all ages. Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel and American Idol pretty much exhaust our repertoire of family viewing. Perhaps it is fueled by the fact that we have talented musicians in our family; Cadence, with amazing nine –year-old vocals and love for the stage has definite plans of going toe to toe with Simon Cowell when she reaches the minimum age requirement. The rules for watching Idol are strict, however. First of all, there is no talking permitted during the singing, or during the commentary from the judges. Secondly, commercials are muted in order to discuss our own opinions; a difficult task for the remote hogging husband who happens to love commercials.

“Daddy, turn this up!” Cadence urges as a Geico commercial fills the screen. The Gecko chatters on about auto insurance, Cadence listening attentively.

“He’s cute, isn’t he Cadence?” Brad asks her, “Don’t you wish you could have one of those for a pet?”

“Actually,” she answers, “I’d marry him. I can’t explain it, but I am strangely attracted to him.” She says in a voice much older than nine.

Brad breaks into a fit of laughter, telling her how funny she is, while her brother tells her she’s a freak and leaves the room. But with remarkable clarity, I know what she is saying and share a story to let her know that I can relate. The gecko is smart, witty and full of exuberance and, on a strictly superficial level, has that hot Australian accent.

The next morning, in keeping with my commitment to my family, I beckon Cadence’s permission to blog about her strange attraction to the Gecko.

“NO.” She answers, slightly embarrassed. Brad once again is consumed by laughter and tells her it was one of the funniest things she ever said.

“That’s not what I want to write about it for…not to make fun of you; just the opposite, actually.” I explain.

“Mom, it’s not that I’m attracted to a reptile. It’s the man playing the gecko!” She clarifies.

“But you’ve never even seen him.” I remind her.

“I mean his voice, what he says, his sense of humor, who he is.” She explains further. “I’m attracted to what’s inside the gecko.”

“My point exactly.” I tell her. “You see straight through the package to the heart and soul. That’s a good thing. So….can I write about it?”

“Fine, but only if you include that you admitted you were also strangely attracted to the Cave Man.”

As promised, I hereby admit that I do find one of the Cave Men attractive; in an adorable hairy sort of way.

PS: It is important to note that as of this post date, Cadence is NO LONGER ATTRACTED TO THE GECKO!

*Photo by

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Riding in the car alone, I vacillate between silence and music and news on the radio, depending on my mood. Last week I was scanning through the channels when two buzz words stopped my hasty fingers. “Balanced Life” caused my sensors to zero quickly in on the words vibrating through the speakers, as this is a subject that I struggle with more and more.

The radio announcer did not offer a magic solution. In fact, he was advertising for a service that allows a person to view their PCs desktop from another computer. I reached to scan some more, when he stopped me again by suggesting there is no such thing as a balanced life anymore, but that we can live an integrated life. No need to sit late in the office finishing work; go home, be with your family, snuggle with your kids beside you doing their homework while you work from your laptop with access to your office computer. The idea stirred strong negative emotions and left me with a vision of parenting half way; of being home but not present; of faking it.

I shut the radio off and drove with the idea swirling irritably in my head for a while. Must we be always working? Does sitting shoulder to shoulder with our children while our heads are elsewhere count as quality time? Does 'no excuse not to work' technology give us an excuse not to parent?The more I thought about it, the more I realized that our lives have become overly integrated. Nothing is compartmentalized anymore.

“I think God creates the spirit and gives it a body, and then He picks the parents that sort of look similar, makes sure they would be good parents of course, and sends them that spirit as a baby.” Cadence tells me, while drizzling too much syrup over her pancakes the next morning.

“Hmmm, could be.” I tell her as I stuff her lunch money into her backpack. I sign her “pick up note” and slip it into her backpack as well. “I always thought He created the baby spirit, then chose the right parents and made the baby to look similar to those parents.” I tell her, reaching for the bird seed to silence the noisy, feathered ones calling for breakfast. “But what’s really cool is how I got picked to be your mother. I mean, of all of the jobs on the planet, how the heck did I get the best one?” I ask, opening the cage door to fill the seed bowl.

“Well, I could have gotten any mom and He gave me the best one, that’s for sure.” She counters. “He must have known you’d be the best mom for me and I am sure lucky. Of course I did get those brothers though.” She laments, guzzling a glass of milk.

“Well, it is sometimes hard to live with boys but God must have planned to teach me something by being their mother, too.” I tell her.

“Guys are just so different from us. They don’t think the same. What was God thinking?” She asks through pancakes.

“I think He did have a plan.” I tell her and proceeded to explain. “In very early times, there were no grocery stores or places to go to get what was needed to live. God equipped us with what we needed and gave men and women different natural gifts. Men were made a little bigger and stronger to hunt for food. He made them with minds that stayed in a straight line so they could stay focused on that one thing; feeding their family. I think, maybe, he also made their hearts a little harder because they needed to be able to go out to kill that animal for food. Looking at that animal’s face and then killing it wouldn’t be easy with a very soft heart.” The vegetarian in Cadence was about to interrupt, but she pushed back in her chair, seeing that I was on a roll.

“Women in early times had a very different job. He made them soft and gentle so that they could care for babies and gave them minds that could whiz back and forth between caring for the children and making them clothes and growing their vegetables. The woman was known as the Gatherer and the man as the Hunter and their jobs were very clearly different.”

“But now we have stores and cars so men don’t have to hunt and women don’t have to stay home to grow vegetables and sew clothes,” Cadence points out, the wheels of her mind turning behind her eyes.

“Actually,” I continue, hardly aware that this is a conversation anymore, “we’ve really muddied the waters.”

“The waters?” Cadence asks, seeing I have gone off track.

“Well, over time and with the invention of things like stores and cars and technology, we realized that the jobs can be done by both men and women. Women do not have to stay home and sew and are smart enough to do the jobs men do; Smarter even,” I wink at her. “And men, while they still like to make a way to feed their family with their jobs, are capable of doing the home things that women do. We have crossed over into what was the other’s territory and it is no longer clear. While women are still expected to be the gatherers and juggle a million things, they are also expected to harden their hearts sometimes to compete in the work world. And men, who are still expected to hunt for the family with their jobs, are expected to take their straight thinking brains and bounce them around being gatherers.”

I pause for a moment, coming to a very clear place in the muddy water. “That’s it! That’s the problem!” I look directly at her. “You helped me solve what I have been struggling with. The problem is that we are expecting each other to be able to cross over and to do it well. We are expecting each other to be capable of everything. We are expecting there to be no difference in how men and women do the same thing, but there is a huge difference and we need to accept that! It is expecting clear sailing in muddy water that leads to frustration. Thank you, Cadence; you have just helped me sort out a big life problem!”

“Okaaay,” Cadence looks at me like I’ve gone completely mad, “I don’t know what I did, but you’re welcome.” She answers and reminds me that the bus will be coming any minute.

I send her off feeling a sense of accomplishment. I know that I would not be happy to go back in time. I know I would never trade places with my grandmother, and I am sure today won’t be any more balanced than yesterday. Tossing the last of the laundry into the washer and pushing start, I grab my briefcase and coffee to head off for the hunt.

For now, some integration will have to do. It’s OK with me that I do not have any solutions to the problem. Sometimes, the answer comes in just being able to identify the problem; to accept that the water is muddy, and to navigate with compassion.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Recently I read a post by Waking Up in Portland that resonated deeply. Being hurled into the full-time work force, she reflected on her previous view of her time with her children, “I gave myself permission to miss moments because I knew that another one would be coming along right behind it and I could just grab that one.”

It has become very clear to me lately that these “moments” become fewer and farther between as our children get older. When my boys were little, I worked nights, giving me the freedom to grab so many of these moments; the scheduled and the spontaneous. The choices were mine to “get things done” or to leave them “undone” while taking the afternoon to pick apples or look for colored leaves. I made time for Chucky Cheese and play groups with moms that I enjoyed being with. I scheduled special dates for concerts or to slip away to the ceramic studio that offers pre-made pieces for painting and firing. I do not remember the obligations that were left undone in those days or whether or not I got the cleaning and chores done, but I do remember those moments and so do my boys.

I am in a very different place as a mother now. Each and every day is overloaded and bursting at the seams with obligations. My career is based on accepting the work as it comes and adhering to daunting deadlines. My teenagers, more independent than their previous little boy selves, require more supervision than ever. The mother who reveled in “moments” seems almost unavailable to her nine-year-old daughter, who has never set foot in Chucky Cheese or the ceramic studio.

“Let’s you and me go to that ceramic place this week.” I tell Cadence on the drive to school, “And how about we go to Chucky Cheese this weekend?” I ask. She squeals with delight and bounces out of the car, racing to the double doors, eager to share the news with friends. I feel relief, knowing that I still have time to create these moments with her. As for the boys, our time for creating moments is running short and opportunities are limited; I mentally commit to seeking them out.

“But people don’t have blue hair, Tyler. Not unless you count the old ladies.” I look at the determination on his face and know that I am headed for an argument.

“I’m not people, Mom. I’m an individual.” He states, strumming the guitar which is almost a part of his body. “I’m expressing my creativity. Besides, you always said you didn’t care about how we wore our hair. What about that?” He asks, calling me on my own proclamation.

I think about the art high school where he spends the second half of each day. I remember thinking at open house that my son was the only one with hair-colored hair and no facial piercing. These creative youth, in their attempts at self expression, stand out in the world, but become almost conforming within these walls.

“What about the prom?’ I ask, knowing it is only months away.

“You think I care if I have blue hair at the prom? I want blue hair at the prom. Besides, I only want the bangs blue.” He says, holding a chunk of long blonde hair out for examination.

“You will look back in the year book and say, what the heck was I thinking?” I tell him, hoping to hit a hot button somewhere.

“You’re supposed to look back at high school and say that, Mom! That’s the whole point!” He says, strangely beginning to make sense.

“Ask your father.” I tell him, knowing that when all logic fails, the shoe drops there. Of course I am spot on with this tactic. Dad’s paying and says his obligation stops at the haircut. He will not finance blue hair.

And then I saw it.

This was a moment.

There aren’t very many left.

I agree, under very strict terms, to help him express his individuality.

First: it must be of the temporary, wash-out variety.

Second: he is sworn to secrecy; he must not tell anyone that I helped him, lest they thing I approve of blue hair.

Third: it cannot cost more than ten dollars.

Six dollars and ninety-nine cents later, we sit at the kitchen island with the shocking blue box. “You know you will look like a cartoon character when we finish.” I tell him, brushing the bleach on the spiky ends on the back of his head and painting his long blonde bangs.

“Aren’t you going to read the directions?” He asks, tapping his fingers on the counter.

“Nah.” I tell him. “Bleach and I are old friends.”

“How long does it need to stay on?” He interrogates, not confident in my abilities.

“Till it’s done.” I tell him. “Not to worry.” Worry spreads across his face, bleaching it faster than the goop on his hair.

We rinse the bleach after a brief lightening and I marvel at the incredible highlights. “Please just leave it like this.” I urge, “It looks amazing;!” He agrees, but is committed in his mind to shocking blue. I realize glancing at the clock that I might have to leave before it is finished, but his impulsivity is raging and he insists we forge ahead.

“You are going to look like a Smurf.” I tell him, surprised at how blue this stuff really is. The tips of the spikes go on quickly with a brush and I disregard the direction that encourages covering skin with Vaseline to prevent staining, as we are going nowhere near his skin. Things get a little messy, however once his long bangs are coated with blue dye, as they fall repeatedly against his forehead.

“It’s on my skin!” He yells, full of panic like the wicked witch about to melt. I tell him to relax, as I try clipping them to the top of his head.

“Okaaay….” I say in my most calm voice, “There is some on your face, but we’ll take care of that.” I say as I wash my hands to get the blue off. The blue does not come off. I grab a towel and scrub my fingers to no avail. “Oh boy.” I say.

“Oh BOY??” He yells, in full blown panic. “Tell me it’s not really on my face!”

I bite my lip, both amused and horrified at the vertical blue stripes that run down his forehead and onto his nose.

“I’ll get some bleach.” I tell him.

“BLEACH?” He screams, running to the bathroom. “OH MY GOD!” I hear, collecting myself and hoping that he really does enjoy being an individual.

“Try some face cream.” I yell from the kitchen.

“FACE CREAM? What’s FACE CREAM?” I hear him thrashing around in the bathroom closet. “Is it called, SORRY... I PAINTED YOUR FACE BLUE AND IT WON’T COME OFF Cream? I don’t see any of THAT!”

Slowly and careful, I bleach his face clean and tell him I need to go pick up his sister. “ARE you kidding me? You’re leaving me NOW?”

I smiled, realizing that I had, in fact, created a moment.

Remember Chucky Cheese?

Remember the Raffi Concert?

Remember painting ceramics?

Remember when I painted your face blue by accident?