In which turkey is consumed

I don’t get off much on the winter holidays. Other than my birthday, it would pretty much be OK with me if, after Halloween, we skipped right to New Years. I don’t associate Thanksgiving and Christmas with love, togetherness, and warm fuzzies. Mostly, it makes me think of being trapped in a tiny house with Mom, Dad, and my sister, all of us wanting to kill each other. Even though I’ve been having pleasant holidays with Scott for over a decade now, the associations remain, and I always approach the season with a sense of trepidation.

This year, we had planned to celebrate with our friends Linda and Robert. Only at the last minute, our plans changed. So did theirs, so we still get to go have Thanksgiving with them on Sunday. But our plan change was so cool that even a holiday skeptic like me couldn’t help but be excited. (Holiday excitement, like hope, is one of those extremely dangerous emotions that typically leads to bad things like expectations. But this time, things turned out OK.)

Anyway, Scott’s cousin Michael, who we haven’t seen since I was pregnant with Caroline, e-mailed to say that his family would be having dinner with his wife Michelle’s family in Duluth Georgia, and to ask would we like to come. Yes, of course we would! Purely aside from the fact that the last time we saw Michael and Michelle, their now-ten-year-old son Devon was a toddler and our now-eight-year-old daughter Caroline was a bun in the oven, we all now have second children.

Also, our second children are all named Sam. Seriously. Our four year old is Sam, and their three year old is Sam. Clearly, the meeting was meant to be.

Of course, we were worried at our end. Holidays with the Asperger’s duo are always a crapshoot. Caroline is prone to meltdowns and Sam is prone to biting. We had contingency plans for what to do when our Sam bit their Sam that involved running and leaving the shoes and pie plate behind. Fortunately, we didn’t need those plans, but it wasn’t because Sam behaved himself. Oh no. Not at all.

We got there at around 11 in the morning, and the two older cousins promptly fell into computer talk. Devon plays several online games Caroline hasn’t previously heard of, and she was more than happy to be indoctrinated. By 11:15, they had taken up residence on Michelle’s father’s computer.

Devon and Caroline conquer the world

And Sam and Sam launched within minutes into a giant game of chase-your-cousin-up-and-down-the-hall.

Sam and Sam prove that parents don't just get motion sickness in cars. They also get it hurrying after little boys.

So things started off well.

We had worried a little about what to wear. I mean, it’s kind of weird to go visit your cousin’s wife’s parents’ house (or, in my case, your husband’s cousin’s wife’s parents’ house)  when you’ve never met them before. Michael had assured us they were a pretty casual crew, but we knew from experience that ‘casual’ has a broad definition and felt concerned that we would completely miss theirs. (We got it fairly right.)

Anyway, Michelle’s parents are very cool, laid back people who enjoy hosting a crowd. They had setup a giant table with room for a dozen, and they were equipped to elongate that for even more. We all settled in and started visiting right away. For two hours, we barely saw our children.

Except for the obligatory "You're not killing each other, right?" checks.
And then it happened. At one or so, right around our Sam’s naptime, their Sam started wailing, “I got a boo-boo.” Oh yeah. That boo-boo involved tooth marks. But it wasn’t a huge big deal. Scott and I are so used to people overreacting to Sam’s behaviors that it was an unspeakable joy to remember that there is an appropriate reaction that doesn’t involve panic and loud voices.

We separated them, and I made my Sam sit with me on the couch for awhile. He said he was tired and fell asleep. In fact, he went ahead and took a two hour nap on the couch. He slept through most of dinner. It was fabulous.

Purely aside from being allowed to eat in reasonable peace, I got to enjoy the food because it was the first holiday meal in I can’t remember how long that nobody has offered to pray about. I did not have to say an awkward “pass”, because there wasn’t a moment where we went around the table saying blessings or giving thanks. We celebrated in secular fashion, and that is absolutely in keeping with my idea of enjoyable.

In fact, we adults held a lengthy conversation about how difficult it is to not be churchgoers in the South. For the record, I think Scott would enjoy it if there were anything like an appropriate place here in Montgomery, but there’s only one that’s even close, and it’s way too small. Michelle’s uncle is a lawyer who spent many years in the coast guard. He and his wife remembered being stationed in Virginia Beach and getting just bombarded with religion. Scott and I talked about how for our first year in Montgomery, everyone we met asked where we went to church, largely because they were just sure we were going to hook up with one. It was so nice to enjoy like minded company who recognized the basic intrusiveness of that question. At the end of the day, we had no idea what religion anybody else at the dinner might have been. How delightful.

Then, Sam woke up, and he was actually un-cranky (often naptime wakeups are evil wakeups), and he and Sam resumed their playtime without any bad blood over the teeth. The big kids settled back onto the computers, and the little guys took over a bedroom to watch TV. Periodically, one of us grown-ups would check in to make sure things were going well upstairs.

And then I went up one time and found this:

Caught red ... er ... faced

The culprits

No. That isn’t lipstick.
It isn’t blood either.

They don't seem to feel much remorse, do they?
The Sams got into Michelle’s mom’s nail polish and went to town. By and large, they spared the comforter on the grandparental bed (though that will never be the same again). But they took great care to decorate their cheeks, and our Sam made sure to take care of his clothes as well. Because, you know, they needed more ‘festive’.

I walked in the room and my nostrils were assaulted with that distinct amyl acetate odor, and then I knew the two little boys on the bed, besides being well decorated, were getting pretty loopy. And in spite of our regular check-ins, they had done quite a job in a pretty short time. I mean, there are two shades on those cheeks. Our Sam did one color per side. Their Sam opted for layers on both sides.

Michelle’s parents proved how laid back they are. They didn’t even express moderate displeasure or concern about the bedspread. “It’s just stuff,” Michelle’s dad said. How delightful. I know a lot of people who would have gotten very bent out of shape about that stuff.

Of course, we’re going to be looking at this

The evidence that keeps on giving

for some time, as all current wisdom suggests that the best way to get the stuff off of skin is to just wait it out.

Later, as we got ready to go, my Sam told me, “I want to paint my face some more, now” like maybe I’d let him just nip back upstairs for another coat.

The best news is that I think we’re going to be able to meet up with Michael and Michelle in Atlanta some next summer, as Michelle and the kiddos come down for several weeks each year. Caroline and Sam are already looking forward to it. So are Scott and I.

All in all, this was one of the happiest Thanksgivings ever.

Take that Charlie Brown.

Train In The Distance

For our honeymoon, Scott and I took the train to Denver, then rented a car to go  in a giant circle, ending in the Mile High City once again. In two weeks, we drove, rode, or slept through thirteen states. (Travel tip? For Christ’s sake don’t do that. Take more time, OK?)

Amtrack from Cincinnati to Chicago was awesome. We took a Pullman and ate in the dining car. From Chicago to Denver? Less so. We were on top of a double decker, and my motion sickness never once relented. My body was sure the train was climbing into the mountains when it was on the flat plains of Nebraska. I slept poorly, we overpacked, and Amtrack will never get anyone anyplace on time ever.

And yet? Magic. When I stepped down and felt myself still swaying like I’d just gotten off a boat, all I wanted was to climb back up and ride on to the next station.

Cincinnati’s Union Terminal is a phenomenal location, and every year I fear the trains will stop running. It was worth a 2:12 AM (delayed from 10:15 PM) departure to be in that building at night, without the buzz of the museum/ event center it has become. Denver’s station is equally compelling.

Our families are railroad heavy. One of my great grandfathers was the superintendent of the L&N Line. Scott’s grandfather shoveled coal to power a steam engine in Vermont. We were both raised dreaming of tickets and cabooses. Steeped in the romance of steam trumpet whistles and train horns.

So that whole trip was like coming home for us. I want to do it again, only without the part where we have to stop riding at the end. Conductor, punch my ticket. Take me home.

Sam Part II

In case you aren’t familiar with my situation, you should probably start here, with Sam Part I. It’s short. But highly informative.


November 2011

I’ve blogged before about how much Sam loves ballet. And about my bipolar disorder. And about how, at its worst, bipolar robs me of the activities I love. Can you already see where this is going? Back at the end of September, Sam suddenly wanted to quit ballet. He went from one week loving it to the next week screaming and fighting over having to get dressed and dance.

It was that fast.

And he was adamant. “I don’t like ballet. I can’t do that. I hate ballet. I want to go home. I don’t want it to be my ballet day.” I suspected, though there was no way to be sure, that his disorder(s) had stolen away his love. And it broke my heart.

It wasn’t just ballet, either. He stopped working puzzles and playing video games. He only wanted us to read to him at bedtime, and even his trains got minimal mileage. He could barely even sit still to watch DVDs. His emotions had been going down the toilet since late May, but he was approaching a nasty kind of rock bottom. At age four. Giving up on puzzles and books bugged the hell out of me. But the ballet was the worst, because it put me in an absolute quandary.

I’m not the sort to force a kid to keep up with an activity whose time has passed. Sure, as the kids age, I’m going to make them stay in to finish out any commitments they have made. But honestly, right now Sam is four, and even a typically developing four year old changes interests as fast as he can flush the toilet. There was no reason to keep him doing something he had ceased to enjoy.

Except I didn’t think he had really ceased to enjoy it. I thought he had become so defiant that he even had to defy himself. He contradicted everyone about everything. There was one whole week that I derived bleak amusement from asking him, “Are you Sam?” just so I could hear him shout, “No! I’m not Sam. I’m SAM!”  And he wasn’t being funny at all.

At school, at his new school, he tried all kinds of attention getting tactics. One day, at snack, he waited for his teacher to look at him, then dumped all his crackers on the floor. She’s pretty cool. She said, “You have a mess to clean up,” in a neutral voice. So he waited until she looked his way again, then stomped the crackers and ground them in with his heel. If he was trying to get a rise out of her, it didn’t work, because all she said was, “Now you really have a mess to clean up.”

So it was no real surprise that our attempts to get him to ballet on time and dressed were colossal disasters as soon as he decided he was done with the activity. Once he got in class, he was sort of OK, but ultimately, we had to start keeping him out because we worried too much about how he might act out.

But then, in direct contrast, at home, he would beg me to hunt up a particular Youtube video of Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo featuring the Colorado ballet. Or else various combinations of “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” and the Russian Dancers from The Nutcracker. He had options on obscure alt rock, well known classic rock, and everything in between. He could have picked The Stones, The Beatles, The Sweet, Beyoncé, or The Travelling Wilburys.  But he chose to watch ballet.  He would look while the dancers jumped and spun, and we would ask him, “Can you do that?”

Though his answer was sometimes a defiant, snarling, “No”, it was far more often a yearning, “Not yet.” And the hell of it was that the real answer is “Yes”. He actually does do powerful four year old versions of nearly everything those dancers put out there. He can do that wicked cool thing where the danseurs jump up straight legged and touch their toes. He can gallop sideways. And when he thought we weren’t watching him, he was still doing those things in secret.

Nearly as soon as I pulled him out, I realized that was the wrong decision, and I worked him back into attending class again. First, I let him just sit and watch for the whole session. Proof that he was still engaged? He sat still the whole time. He didn’t act out at all. More proof? Well, I’ll tell you in a minute. But he wasn’t willing to get up and dance, so we still had a way to go. Then, I made him get dressed, but still let him sit and watch. Finally, two weeks ago, I told him he had to dance.

And he did. With only minor moaning. Part of the reason was that he had started medication and he was finally improving. But part of it was that he had backed himself into a corner with all of the “I can’t”, “I won’t” garbage. After saying he hated it, he needed to be pushed to continue so he could save face.

There was a hiccup last week when I arrived late because Caroline had a doctor’s appointment, and I was the one who had all the dance clothes. Sam refused to dance that week because he sees the world rather rigidly still. One must wear one’s ballet clothes if one is to dance. One cannot plié in one’s civvies.

But. Two nights ago was ‘observation night’, when parents can come in and watch the class face to face, rather than on the closed-circuit cameras that broadcast to the waiting area. Sam was so excited. All the way from school to ballet, he asked me, “Is it my ballet day? Are you going to watch me dance today? I can’t wait!”


There are only three kids in his class. The little girl on the right was totally excited and showing off too much for family. The girl on the left was a little shy, but possessed of incredible grace. She could perform even some pretty complicated maneuvers.

And Sam? Here’s the proof that he was totally engaged even when he wouldn’t set a toe on the floor. Every time the class performed a step, the teacher asked “what does that mean?”. “What’s a tondu?” “How about pas de chat?” “What about sauté de chat?”  Which kid do you think answered her every single time?

Prince Charming

Uh huh. That one.

Learning poise through bean-bag-balancingBalancing the beanbag Sam-style

French is the language of ballet, and most of these were steps learned in his struggling weeks. Not only could he perform them with reasonable grace and four year old accuracy,  but he knew the translations. If his mind had been closed when he was resisting the class, he would not have learned those words, would not have been able to complete the moves so easily. In short, on Tuesday, I learned I guessed right. His emotions were robbing him of his loves.

And also, he may just be getting some of his groove back.

Feelin' Groovy

The story continues here

Beauty and the Beast

Sam Part III

Sam Part IV

Fix You

Sam Part I

Smilin' SamNovember 2011 — I still don’t understand what is going on with Sam. I know we’re looking at Asperger’s Syndrome. There’s never been any real question in my mind that he has the same form of high functioning autism as Caroline, even though it manifests in different ways in sister and brother. But I fear he also shows signs of my Bipolar Disorder. Things fell apart for him so fast this summer. In the space of three months, he went from being my happy little mischief to being violent and angry nearly all the time. I’ve seen some of this coming. I always worried about the biting. I always worried about the way he would hurt other children with almost no realization that he was the one causing the pain. When he realizes he has hurt someone, he invariably feels remorse. But half the time, even now, he gets so caught up in his own needs that he fails to acknowledge the needs of others.

But the sudden descent from basically happy-kid-with-a-few-behavior-issues to anguished-defiant-child-with-viperous-anger happened right around his fourth birthday. I’m told this isn’t uncommon for early onset behavior disorders.  Still, it’s getting a little better.

We found a good psychiatrist who found us a therapist. And then, after two sessions, that therapist died. (Yes, really. He died. He wasn’t an old man, either.  Here is the only name I’ll place in this post or the next one: Dr. John Mark Trent. The man was amazing, and in only two sessions, he made an enormous difference for our son. And we probably suffered less than nearly all his other patients when he got pneumonia, fell in a parking lot, then died due to a brain bleed brought on by a combination of the fall and blood thinners he was taking.)

The psychiatrist has now got us a new therapist. And possibly also a psychologist specializing in autism. And also a drug that may be finally starting to make a difference. The drug is where the majority of my hopes lie. (Though hope is not really the right word. Hope is the most dangerous emotion for me. I try hard not to hope about anything. I cannot prepare for  the worst and hope for the best. I must prepare for the worst and be relieved if it’s anything better. Because otherwise, I haven’t really prepared, and I get caught out by middle ground and think it is worse than worst.) Anyway, the medication is called Tenex, and it used to be used to treat high blood pressure. I’ll blog about Sam’s harmless heart abnormality and our two efforts to keep him strapped to an EKG machine for twenty four hours some other time. (It went better than you might expect). But I’ve started seeing flashes of my little boy under all that confused anger.

His behavior has started to become something we can evaluate on a day-to-day basis as opposed to a baffling maelstrom worthy of a kid ten years older. The biggest change, the hardest change for me, is that from now until forever, we are going to have to approach Sam’s life one day at a time. A good day today will not necessarily be an indicator of another one tomorrow, and hoping for that is unreasonable. (There’s that hope again.) Mercifully, the reverse is also true. Today’s bad day won’t necessarily be tomorrow’s bad day anymore.

I still hold my breath every day at pickup time. And I still live in fear that we’re going to have to pull him out of school until Kindergarten, which would pretty much force me to quit working. But something isn’t going wrong every single day now.  That’s progress. And it’s probably about the most I can hope for, given the circumstances.

Sam Part II,

Beauty and the Beast

Sam Part III

Sam Part IV

Fix You

People who live in glass washers

Yesterday, our friends Linda and Robert, and their son, Kristopher, came over for dinner. We fed the kids first, while we grownups visited in the living room, and then the adults took over the table to eat. Our kitchen table is too small to seat seven, and it works better for us to eat in shifts anyway. If we feed the kids first, then their demands are easier to meet, and they aren’t interrupting the adults.

After everybody went home, Scott and I put the kids to bed, and Scott started a load of wash. As he was getting ready to roll it over to the dryer, I heard him say, “Jessie, dearest?” in a tone that meant bad things.

“I’m already grouchy about work right now,” I told him. “So you better not have anything to say that I don’t want to hear.”  And given that our washer is around the same age as Sam and the dryer older than Caroline, I could envision a lot of things I didn’t want to hear.

“Well,” he said. And by that point I had reached the laundry room and could see the problem.

“Is that glass?” I asked him.  He was holding up the trash can in front of the washer picking white slivers off a set of Sam’s pajamas.

He said “I think we somehow managed to wash one of our plates or cups. See?There’s the rest of it.” And when I peered into the machine, there indeed was a collection of glass plastered inside the tub.

I confess, my thoughts flew immediately to little boys. We had all eaten on paper dishes(getting out the good china for company and all) except for Sam, whose food had to be microwaved. So it was pretty easy to deduce that the blue and white Corelle decorating an entire load of laundry had last enjoyed life as Sam’s dinner plate. The laundry room is just outside the kitchen door, and I thought Sam and Kristopher had thrown it in goofing off.

By the time we discovered the whole thing, the kids were all in bed. So I picked glass shards out of the clothes while Scott shop-vacced out the washing machine. Then, I fired off a quick e-mail to Linda, “Can you please ask K what he knows about the smashed plate in my washer?”

And when Sam got up this morning, I asked him the same question. After some discussion, he actually understood what it was I wanted to know. “Oh. We thought it was the sink,” he said. He hasn’t yet mastered the art of the simple lie, so I think he was telling the truth.

“We who?” I asked. “You and Kristopher?”

“No. Me and Sis.”

Sis, when queried, was too tired to give a cogent answer (she is not a morning person), and by then I had a sense of what had happened anyway and didn’t press her.

I dropped Linda a line, “K is off the hook” and told her what had taken place.

She wrote back, “Why now, after all these years, would they think the washing machine was the dish washer? It’s never been before right? They have never been told to put their dishes in the laundry room right?”

Well, no, but I also know that things that seem obvious to us neurotypical people can be painfully confusing to someone with autism. Plus, I can follow the squirrelly logic of getting the washing machine mixed up with the dishwasher. Mom and Dad put plates in white kitchen machine. White machines are dishwashers. Here is a white machine. It must be a dishwasher [aka sink]. I will put my plate in it.

After the fact, Scott remembered hearing a crash come out of the kitchen followed by quick “everything’s OK” reassurances while the kids were eating. I didn’t notice any such thing, but we were in and out of there the whole time, so it may have come at a time when I thought there was an adult in the room. I do agree with his retrospective sentiment, though. He said: “We just re-learned the hard way a parenting lesson we should never have forgotten in the first place: Investigate all loud noises.”

My Fair Lady

Scott asked. “Are we interested in free tickets to My Fair Lady?

Does a bear shit in the woods?

The last time Scott and I saw a Broadway play together was when South Pacific came to Lexington in January 2003. I remember the date so well because I thought I might be pregnant.

We had anticipated it for several weeks – the play, not the pregnancy scare – and I was wearing this gorgeous skirt and blazer that I had bought for my best friend’s rehearsal dinner a month before. The skirt was black polyester. The itchy kind. It came to my knees and ended in an elegant flare. The blazer was shiny white and probably also polyester, but smooth, not itchy. The play did not match the outer beauty of the clothes. As much as South Pacific has been one of my favorite musicals since I first heard Bali Hai on TV when I was 3 or 4, this production didn’t thrill me. Scott was completely unimpressed and thought it might have been the play that was the problem. I know the story, and I know it was the cast and production.

It left us flat, not the least because I spent the whole show obsessed with my clothing, which had never really fit very well to begin with. The blazer was too tight, and the top button was right across my G cups. I had to wear a giant pin to keep my bra from showing. But it was beautiful, it looked good on me, and it drove me crazy that it felt too tight in January, when I hadn’t gained an ounce since I last wore it in December. It hadn’t fit any better then, but I hadn’t been nearly so uncomfortable.

For most of the evening, I squirmed around trying to get less pinched in my seat. And I kept thinking, “I’d better enjoy wearing this now, because it’s never going to fit me again in my life,” then going into complete emotional shutdown and missing entire scenes. If I was right, then I was only about two weeks along. So I was trying to pretend I didn’t have a zygote burrowing into my uterine lining to make everything fit wrong and
cause my clothes to feel horrible.

We had been married almost exactly three years from the date of one wedding, a little over two years from the date of the other. We had been together around five years all told. I was not ready to become parents.


It’s 2011 now. The zygote turned eight years old a couple of months ago. She takes ballet and sings Beatles songs to anyone willing to listen. I’m not nearly so scared of her now. And Scott did not really say “Are we interested in free tickets to My Fair Lady?” He said, “Would either you or I be up for taking Caroline to see My Fair Lady?”

And I said, “Oh, please can I go?”

Neither one of us thought of going together. Not that we wouldn’t like to. But we couldn’t get a sitter on short notice, and right now getting a sitter is probably a very bad idea in general. Sam’s too unstable. And in any case, both our minds flew to the child who wanders the house singing random snippets of Yellow Submarine (the whole album/movie – not just the title song).

So yesterday, Scott lured Sam out of the house at 6:15 at night, with promises of the mall merry-go-round, and Caroline and I threw on some fancy clothes. I don’t actually own much in the way of fancy right now.  Indeed, I’m soon going to have to go buy something so I look nice at an upcoming wedding and baptism. But limited choices made dressing easy. I tossed my only pair of slacks together with a sweater my Dad got me I think before Scott and I got married, then I stuffed Caroline into her favorite hand-me-down dress, and we were off.*

Unlike South Pacific eight years ago, My Fair Lady was spectacular last night. The Davis Theatre For the Performing Arts has a relatively small stage, and the Big League Productions travelling cast only had a twenty person ensemble. But they also had their own live orchestral accompaniment, and they had amazing voices. Only a couple of things jolted me out of the performance. One of those was that Eliza Doolitle’s father looked younger than she was. But he was also being played by the understudy that night. And the man had the part down cold. I enjoyed his performance as much as any once I got over the young face and dark hair. Similarly, Professor Higgins’ head housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, was clearly a young woman made up to look old, and again, it didn’t really matter, because she could carry the part.

At every turn, the small-scale show recreated scenes as I saw them in the movie. Indeed, as the movie was an echo of the original Broadway Musical, I feel certain this smaller production mirrored its original in everything but set design and stage size. (There was only one full set in use, Professor Higgins’ library/study. The rest were either painted curtains or artfully arranged black space with a single prop.)

Several times, I looked over and Caroline was gazing enthralled. She interrupted just twice to make observations only a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome would have made, such as, “Oh, now I see what a cloak is” and “My friend Katie has a white dress for her Cleopatra costume, but even that isn’t as beautiful as she [Eliza] is right now.”

It’s been a long time since I last saw My Fair Lady. In the intervening years, I’ve read Pygmalion and developed an absolute loathing for Henry Higgins. Watching the play last night, I remembered that even though I never liked him much to begin with, I couldn’t help but root for the man when played by Rex Harrison opposite Audrey Hepburn.

And I couldn’t help but root for him again last night. As much as I hate Higgins, I want him to win Eliza’s heart. I want to think that at the end, even though he comes right out and says otherwise, Henry will soften towards Eliza and become a nicer person.

Caroline, who doesn’t have any of my educated baggage, was horrified when Eliza went off with Freddy early in Act II. And when, near the end of the play, Eliza walked away from Higgins saying “You shan’t be seeing me again, Professor”, Caroline leaned into me and said, “That doesn’t really happen, right?”

“Not in this version,” I said. And luckily for her, I forgot to explain Pygmalion on the way home. She can crush her own illusions at some later date.

My favorite song has always been “Just You Wait ‘Enry ‘Iggins”. I like Eliza best when she’s vituperative. Caroline said her favorites were “Get Me To The Church On Time” and “Quit Professor Higgins”. And she elucidated that the latter was the third in the set of extremely short ditties sung by the housekeeping staff. I knew this. But it was such a small part of the play, and I was tickled that she latched onto it and remembered its timing in the performance.

It was a wonderful night, and one I hope to repeat many times in the future as Caroline grows older. Scott and I will get out together sooner or later. Sooner I think, as we have tickets to Spamalot when it comes to Montgomery in January 2012, and no kiddo is going to make either of us sit that one out as a couple. But on the whole, I wouldn’t have traded last night with Caroline for all the Spamalots on Broadway. She had as much fun as I did, and we can’t wait to do it again.


Caroline is the youngest of five girl cousins, three on Scott’s side and one on my side, and she is the beneficiary of all of their gently used clothes. It’s all gorgeous, and, especially the stuff that comes from Scott’s sisters, is all in great shape. I’ve only had to buy her a few items of clothing in her entire life so far. I hope she never outgrows loving cousin clothes.
Back to the blog body

Dear Lady Gaga

Dear Lady Gaga,

I really like your song “On The Edge of Glory”. It’s got a strong dance rhythm, a memorable tune, and catchy lyrics. The video is also pretty cool. It’s a little different from the large scale dance productions you did for songs like “Bad Romance” and “Alejandro”. I loved the contrast of seeing just you, and I it allowed you to showcase your talents in a much different way.  (And let me say, I had no idea there were so many things one could do all alone on a fire escape.)

But let me get to the meat of my discussion here. I know you’re a busy woman, and I don’t want to waste your time. First of all, just to be sure we’re all on the same page, I think we can all agree that we know what you’re talking about when you say “On The Edge of Glory”, right? I mean, the lyrics of that song don’t suggest any deeper hidden meaning than the one that’s floating along right there on the surface.

The video implies that maybe there’s been a missed connection, but I think that’s misleading. I get the real sense that the connection has been made and the whole affair is really on a very special little brink. So with that meaning granted common acceptance, I’d like to ask you something rather intimate.

I would like to know how in the hell you can hang around on the edge of glory for five and a half minutes and never, you know, fall over it, so to speak. Because if my hubs and I get anywhere near the edge of glory, we’re pretty sure to jump off the fire escape, if you take my meaning. I don’t want to pry, but I wonder if this has something to do with the bridge, where you express difficulty pushing the rush? And, again, I don’t want to seem too forward here, but I think one of Nike’s slogans has some application to your situation. Instead of just dancing in the flames, possibly you should … ah … dive into the volcano.

Just do it Gaga. Don’t stand on the edge of glory, for God’s sake. Get out there and climb up to glory’s peak and see what falls down the other side. Because really, isn’t that what it’s all about?


A Concerned Citizen


a flicker of inspiration at Lightning BugI wrote this some time ago, and I’m hooking up now with The Lightning and The Lightning Bug’s letter writing prompt. I have a second letter, written specifically for the prompt, as well, that I’ll link up here in a little while.

Come Fall

Exhibit A: Daughter with Rake

When I think about this time of year, the period of time between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I think about leaves. Every year’s pictures highlight my children’s growing fascination with rakes and piles made for jumping. They look forward to the slightly sweet, earthy smells and crisp sounds that mark the true end of autumn. Although winter doesn’t formally begin until almost Christmas, once the leaves come down, the weather becomes quickly inhospitable.

Exhibit B: Son with PacifierBefore we lived down south, the great outdoors had been rejecting our company for some weeks before we got around to raking up tree droppings. In contrast, down here, we’ve been known to wear short sleeves. Still, it’s a chore I loathe, and not the least because it involves a Sisyphusian effort to collect all of the leaves into bags while my urchins simultaneously scatter them.

I think my real problem is that leaf raking is  a marker that differentiates my childhood from my adult life, and not in a way I like. I grew up in the country. When the leaves came down, we left them there. I think we sometimes mowed the grass one last time to mulch them up if the weather would tolerate it. But mostly, the only time we raked leaves was when we needed a pile of them for jumping on or for wintering in a flower bed.

But oh LORD, when Scott and I rented our first house, we discovered there are tracts written about the dangers of leaving your leaves. They aren’t good insulators. In fact, quite the opposite, they suffocate circulation and their acid is actually bad for grass. Bad for everything except trees, and then only before they fall off. So every year now since before Caroline was born, we’ve had to go after the leaves in our yard.

As a child, before I started having nightmares about school, I would dream that I was lost in a neighborhood of identical houses with literally faceless occupants whose pale green yards ran on forever. I would walk and walk and never get home. Mostly, I ignore our suburban yard in the spring and summer, now. But raking the leaves makes me so aware of how much our house looks exactly like the house next door to us. How very much we are still living in Levittown in 2011, and how many of the truly unique things in my life I’ve had to leave behind.

And the final exhibit, both children fully indoctrinated in the Stepford traditionIt wasn’t so bad when we lived in Lexington and the city’s aggressive mulching program meant that our efforts resulted in positive things for the environment at least. But down here, I don’t even know what Montgomery does with the leaves it collects, and, given the fate of its curbside recycling program, I hesitate to find out.

It’s no wonder movies and TV shows gloss over this time of year. Purely aside from the fact that advertisers start the Christmas Season before Halloween has even come and gone, the leaves just don’t make for much news. How much simpler to jump from trick-or-treat to turkey feast than to  interject a scene of bored people manhandling tree dandruff.

I admit. I love the fall. I like the cooler weather that allows us to get outside and play more often. It is a beautiful time, when the sun sets early and the trees put on a nature show no science museum can equal. But I hate the shedding, the raking. It makes me feel like winter is coming. It makes me feel cold.


a flicker of inspiration at Lightning Bug

This post responds to Lightning Bug’s Flicker of Inspiration prompt number 23, which asks writers to examine the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving.



Also, Mama Kat asked for a fall piece. I just recently wrote this. So I’m being a cheaterpants and linking up with it.MamaKat

The first run (is the most unkindest run of all)

The Shoes

Yesterday was my first run. As anyone who knows me might expect, I hated it. But once The Bitch has an idea stuck in her craw, it’s only a matter of time until she starts to piss me off with it. In this case, she opted for sooner, rather than later.

First of all, knowing that past runs have left me with pain in my back and knees, I took some precautions this time around. I went out and bought running shoes at a cost of $48 before tax. For someone who never buys shoes, that’s a fortune. I gasp when I have to pay $20 for my kids’. My own footwear consists of several pairs of frequently re-corked and re-soled Birkenstocks mixed in with a couple of pairs of sneakers that cost under five bucks each.

I also got ugly knee supports. They claim to be great for high impact activities. I must assume running is high impact. They suck. They are ugly black neoprene and Velcro, and they still work better than the breast band I improvised out of an Ace bandage. At least they didn’t fall off.

I determined via the extremely scientific method of driving around and paying vague attention to my odometer that it’s roughly one and a half times around my block to get to a mile. SO I decided that three times around the block was two miles. (I later found out I was wrong. That was only 1.35 miles, and you know what? Why would I want to run two miles anyway. The Bitch can have her two miles when I can get to 1.35 without wanting to vomit in the neighbor’s Crepe Myrtle.)

I took Sam and his tricycle and headed out.

On a normal day, my kids can lap me on their wheeled vehicles. Just last week, I read them the riot act for failure to return to my shouting voice. (The garage door keypad died. I had to grab a remote. They did not wait. They could not understand why I was angry.)

But for whatever reason, Sam was going slowly. I passed him and shouted “Catch up,” about a dozen times. At one point, I looked back, and there he was doing the Dawdle Duckling with his trike, zig-zagging around. “You can’t catch me!” I tried. He pedaled faster. For a minute. But then he went  back to zig-zagging.

By the end of the first quarter mile, the insides of my lungs felt icy and thin, while the rest of my body felt strained and hot. I paced at the crossing near the middle of our first lap, waiting for Sam to catch up and trying not to revel in his semi-panicked “Wait for meee”s.

“I AM waiting,” I called back twice. But then, I stopped saying it. Because he wasn’t listening. And if he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention, then let him be on the wondering end for once.

When he caught up, I started pushing the trike, and suddenly I found my motivator. Well, his motivator. I haven’t got one. I don’t want to run, I’m doing it anyway, and I can’t stand gasping for breath while I jiggle down the road.  He said, “No pushing!”

“Good. Go faster. If I catch up, I push.”Of course, he kept forgetting, zig-zagging again, then getting caught short when I seized his handle (yes, his tricycle has a Mommy-handle) and shoving him straight for a few feet.

And then the breast band popped off. The Ace grip didn’t let go. Rather, the whole affair jiggled so hard that it just dropped under the boobs it was supposed to be stilling. I stopped right there in the middle of the neighborhood to hike up my shirt and jerk the damned bandage back into place. (Hey – I had on a sports bra. As pointless as the bloody thing is for its original purpose, it did protect any neighbors who might have been looking from an eyeful) But that left one breast (the right one, actually) wedged into a position of semi-stillness and the other pinched so the nipple and a surrounding collection of fat stuck through a gap in the bandage. I felt like a badly put-together mummy.

And that was just the first lap.

By the time I got home, and yes, I did walk the last quarter lap, I was gasping instead of breathing, and the triker had finally hit his damned stride. He dashed into the house telling Daddy, “I winned sometimes, and Mommy winned the other times.”

Fuck competition. Who the hell competes? But I know he loved it. Competition is anxiety for me. And it’s an anxiety I can dodge and live without. But Sam? Oh Sam the Man cackled when I was chasing him. He loved it. I was furious. I was choking-mad, because I just wanted the damned run to be over with, and here was this little runt treating it like a competition.

And then he came inside all proud and happy, like we’d just done something worthwhile together because winning was involved.

I wanted to say right there, “I am never doing this again.”

But instead, I vowed, “It will be at least a week before I do this again with him.”

I ran again today, this time in an old too-small bra. (It didn’t work either, even layered with the useless sports bra.) I will be out there again tomorrow. And the day after. Until my upper back gives out or the knee braces prove as useless as I fear. I will keep up the running for as long  as I can, because I did not buy forty eight dollar shoes to fucking walk.


Madame Syntax wants her say about the title. She wants you to know that the quotation is not, “The first cut is the most unkindest cut of all”. Rather, it is:

For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel.
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar lov’d him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all
— Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 3.2, 181-83.

I’m sure you can all breathe easier for knowing that little tidbit. I did have to Google the act, scene, and line numbers. But that was just because Madame Syntax is a citation freak even for works in the public domain.


Oct. 31 8PM

Trick or Treat

Nov. 1 8AM

The target

Because every good army has a blue finger-puppet dino vanguard

“Coast is clear. Car pulled out of the driveway.”

Meet our villain

“OK troops, let’s do this.”

This angry bird is not a happy man

“I thought they’d never leave this morning.”

The Wall

“Kids probably ate themselves into a sugar coma last night and couldn’t move.”

Up up up with a birdie

“Less talking, more climbing, troops.”

“To the victor go the spoils.”

This is the moment we wait for each year

“Dig in, baby.”

Oh, yes. I think I'll start here.


The carnage, oh the carnage

“Oh God, I can’t believe I ate that much. I can’t move.”

The humanity of it all

“What will they think when they find us here, your majesty?”

Princess Out

“Your majesty?”

This version of what really happens to your kids’ Halloween candy every year was written in response to this week’s Write on EdgeRed Writing Hood Red Writing Hood prompt, which asked for an under 200 word story describing my version of 8 o’clock in tribute to David Wiesner’s  children’s picture book Tuesday.