All That We Don’t Understand

 What’s nice about the writing life is you’re never really alone in it. Yes, you may start out alone carrying your armful of fuel down the road in the form of the images you use and the stories you tell, but then suddenly here comes this nice other person who offers to help you carry the kindling all the way to the hearth, as fuel for your ‘fire.’ 

What I’m trying to say is that that person is your reader, and your reader meets you halfway on any road, coming with his own fresh take on things. He or she sees what you’re trying to say, sometimes more clearly than you see it yourself. I think this is why telling what happened to me, telling what ideas burbled up in my mind can act as such an antidote to loneliness, leading me forth out of the stuffy closed room of my mind.

I wrote the other day about how my young grandchild seemed to have somehow lodged himself inside the Play Place structure at McDonald’s and was sobbing inside it.

I had no clue what to do and that was the story I thought I was telling here Tuesday.

It wasn’t until I got to the end of my telling that I suddenly saw the whole event as a metaphor for parenthood: Our kids go where we can’t follow and so on. And ll of that was me carrying my fuel alone on the road. But the everything changed when this one reader name ‘met’ me on the road and added his own interpretation. In the comments section here he wrote, “Perhaps [your little grandson] was not so alone in that tube but rather quietly listening to another guide, in addition to you of course, who pointed the way back to you.”

‘Another guide’! Another Capital ‘g’ Guide! See? A wholly fresh take on the same event. 

My little grandson’s  predicament had suggested just two ideas to me. (1) I fall short as a caregiver and 2) We can’t go before the children we love, taking joy in their joy and quelling their fears. The time comes when they will go where we can never follow.

But now here was a whole look at the event, that acknowledged  what else might well be happening in this world every day, in fact, realms and realms beyond the understanding of  us bossy grownups, who are so smug in our belief  that we are the ones who move the world. Another Guide indeed! Thanks, fellow traveler. Thanks for helping me see that this child will never be alone, truly.

Gluttons & The People Who Envy Them

That scowling cat was just too cute to pass up yesterday but you have to realize what happens inside your head when everyone around you is heaping thirds onto their plates and you can’t have a second tiny glass of wine. You just feel like pinching them hard on the fat of their thighs, these people with their Sweet and Spicy Doritos and their special darn beers and those shiny marconi almonds that come all slippery with oil right? I mean, right?

Eh. Not really. All that passes pretty quickly, to be replaced by immense delight that just for today as people in recovery say, you are patrolling your borders and not tipping whole refrigerator shelves into your giant maw of a mouth.

I started Weight Watchers when I first started to date Old Dave “Dude, your hair’s out of style” I told him about a month in, when it seemed safe to offer a little constructive criticism.

“Yeah well you’re a little FAT!” he said back with a merry smile and maybe that’s why I liked him. While there has never been any cruelty, there has never been any of the old BS either. The man doesn’t lie.

SO ….. I began on Weight Watchers and went from 146 to 125 and that lasted until after my first baby, when I went down to 118. After my third baby I hit 112, if only briefly and these many decades later have evened out at around 132 – though of course now much of the muscle has gone to that something like you see in those bags of fluff you buy to stuff pillows with. And of course here in the waiting room that is Osteopenia, my bones are like Sponge Bob’s bones.

 It’s OK with me. The men in my life eat their fried egg and bacon. I eat my banana on plain Shredded Wheat. They have a Coke with their meal. I have sparkling water, pepped up with my special mixture of mint tea and no-cal lemonade. And yes sometimes I get to put a splash of red wine into this mix and boom! Sangria! And sometimes I put in a splash of whiskey and boom again! A whiskey sour!

But mostly I am able to abstain from these little extras because of the great satisfaction I get out of the fact that JUST FOR TODAY I am not ending the day by strapping on a feed bag drooly with Ben & Jerry’s best.

And that, ladies and gentleworms, is a victory all by itself.

Darn DIET!

This is how I feel lately.

I have a giant boy living  here who can sit down in front of a bird like this and have most of it gone in 30minutes.

I also have a man excellent at batting cleanup.

I’m the cat in the picture, always on a diet, always scowling sourly away at what others are feasting on.

Maybe I’ll just stab it with one bacteria -laden claw and hope they both fall sick.

Where Do They GO?

I watch young children and am amazed at how skillfully their parents manage their small storms of frustration, their major meltdowns.  How is it done again? First you show empathy, then brightly serve up some new distraction? And didn’t I once do that too? I seem to remember that special cooing tone you take as you talk your four-year-old out of going to school with his superhero underpants worn OVER his regular pants. I remember how you learn to rig the game ahead of time by offering your child only the choices that YOU can live with. “Should we have the bath first and then read the story?” you say, cleverly leading them to believe that in all the universe there are really just these two alternatives


Once I could calm any baby, talk down any young child. Couldn’t I? Sudden mood swings, accidents of either the Band-Aid or bladder kind, I could handle them all.

It’s a whole other way now, as I learned with my little grandson on the day I took him into the play space at the home of the Golden Arches. The Play Place at McDonald’s is this whole extra room filled with interconnected plastic tubes and pipes, into which kids whose heights are appropriate can crawl and slide and tumble for wonderful long intervals while you their ragged grownup suck on coffees and watch.

Except you can’t watch really because they disappear INTO these pipes and tubes.

That’s what my little guy did anyway: He disappeared up into that gizmo and stayed there. Then, after about four minutes, sounds of a struggle ensued, followed by a loud yelp.

Then three other people’s children popped out the bottom of the final length of tubing, which is fashioned into a kind of covered slide.

Where did they come from? Hadn’t HE entered the maze first? “We climbed over him,” they said before I could ask.

“But is he all right?” I all but shouted as the sounds of his sobs echoed from inside this bright plastic caterpillar. “Oh sure,” said one.

“He sort of kicked me,” said another cheerfully.

“He wouldn’t talk to us.”

I called to him in my most cooing voice but he wouldn’t talk to me either.

‘What will I DO?’ I fretted. Try sending in a massed phalanx of kids to more or less push him through? Go in myself?  But I’m a good foot-and-a-half taller than the posted height limit and I weigh 135 pounds. If I got stuck in there they’d have to do a C-section on the whole apparatus to get me out.

In the end none of that was necessary. Within four minutes more his sobbing had stopped, and he was down and out and asking for a chocolate shake – leaving me to ponder this truth about parenthood:

Where our children go we can never ever follow. All we can do is cheer from the sidelines and hope that they come out all right in the end.

What The Babies Are Doing Really

Babies make simpletons of us all, even of old Ralph Waldo Emerson, who I fell in love with all over again yesterday morning on reading what he had to say about his own little ones.

It’s funny because you think of Emerson as this very grave man, with his  great nose and his sad wise eyes and those sloping shoulders you see in every portrait and bust ever done of him;  but when he brought that careful attention to his babies’ doings, something so delightful emerges, I just had to jot some of it down here.

For example, he recorded that at four months old  his baby “studies Manipulation, and Palmistry and Optics.”

Wh-a-a-a- at? I thought at first – until I realized that of course! Those are exactly the topics all babies are puzzling about on first coming awake in the world.

Optics: ‘Well it’s certainly much brighter here than it was in my old apartment and things appear to be more ‘layered’. I mean here’s my terrycloth bunny that seems much larger than that that chest of drawers over there. Yet the chest holds all my clothes!’

Manipulation: ‘And what are these two waving appendages that go wherever I go and can I get either one of them into my mouth?'”

Palmistry: ‘Ah yes, here’s one now, right near my mouth and almost in it, a knotty-appearing  thing that opens and closes like a day lily with five smaller and more wiggly appendages attached. Hmmmm.’

A few years later when a little sister came to Emerson and his wife, he wrote that she “slept incessantly – hands up, as for defense.”

Later, as she was learning to walk he wrote of “little balancing Nelly, moving with forthspread arms and smelling as delicious as a cake pan.”

Delicious as a cake pan:  I love that. I love that he said his little son was ” as handsome as Walden Pond at sunrise.”

And I really love that I live just 20 minutes from Walden Pond and drove past it at 7 last night – past its deep waters, and the  exiting pilgrims who had come to see where Emerson’s great friend Thoreau built his cabin and lived deliberately; past the train tracks whose shuttling commerce back and forth from Cambridge to Fitchburg at first so alarmed the denizens of sleepy Concord.

I was returning from a family event where our own new baby herself kept busy studying Manipulation and Palmistry and  Optics. I felt so glad of my morning reading, which let me look at this first granddaughter with a whole new set of eyes, and isn’t that what a good writer does for us every time.

Maybe little Callie will write one day herself. What fun to see if what SHE has to say! What fun to learn of any new person’s ‘take’ on the world !

The Sun is Up and the Air is Cool

The sun is up and the air is cool. My mate got up at 5:30, disappeared downstairs for 20 minutes and came back into the bedroom muttering.

“It’s freezing out!” he said and fell back into the bed in a sort of spiraling pirouette, like Holly Hunter does in The Piano after that meanie husband of hers cuts off her fingers with an axe.

It’s not freezing but it is just 60. And we had every window in the place open last night against all that humidit,y which made the air feel like the breath of an overheated dog.

Dave is asleep even as I write this now, at 9am. Needless to say, the teenage boy staying with us for these weeks is also asleep and will be until at least noon if the past weekend days are any predictor.

All of which I find pretty great because here I am with the morning all mine; the sun streaming on the windows of the screened-in porch mine; the day mine too, well at least for the next hour or so when I have to go buy a pork loin and giftwrap big enough to cover the box that fills the whole back of the Red Dragon, as the teenager calls my sweet elderly van.

To celebrate this sunny Sunday feeling I just drew from the shelves a book about Ralph Waldo Emerson.

 I remember the day I bought this book. My kids were 6, 11 and 13 and it was the first day of summer.

In my ever-flowering optimism I actually thought I’d have time to read this 600-page tome about the life of one of my heroes.

I also recall vividly how I was walking through the mall parking lot already greedily paging through it when – wham! – I walked right into a bundle of two-by-fours protruding from the back of somebody’s pickup truck. I saw stars just like they do in the cartoons.

What does it mean? I thought at the time though I found out soon enough. It meant with kids 6 and 11 and 13 and no school for them to go to because school wouldn’t be in session again for months my future probably did NOT include a whole lot of lounging around reading the words of Emerson.

All that seems like it was just a second ago but it happened in 1990. Now, 22 years later, I pulled out the book and here in its pages are the sweetest little accounts the man wrote about his children as babies. I had no idea he had such a tender side.

I can quote some of them here tomorrow. For now, I can’t stop reading, because you know old Holly Hunter in his sweatshirt could get up any minute.

Someone Did What in the Pool?

Under the simmering sun yesterday, with a hundred hot people in their bathing suits, the big pool’s bright blue cube of water was suddenly still, and as empty as a mirror in an abandoned house.

“What’s this? Adult swim or something?” I asked, on coming out of the Ladies Locker Room where I had been holding a baby who, having only lived on the planet for 15 weeks, was definitely NOT happy about the heat.

Then five people at once said “Someone pooped in the pool!”

Not just the five-year-old walking beside me and the 12-year-old we were walking past but two 50-year-old moms and somebody’s grandfather.

And the lifeguards were confirming it.

In just that language.

It’s a new world, all right. In the old days no one dared refer to such events. There were euphemisms for everything. Why, when I was a little kid at summer camp, the counselors would ask us every night if we had had a ‘B.M.’ It took me years to even figure out what that was, and once I DID find out, I lied about it. What ten-year-old wants to divulge that information? (Hmmm though as I think of it now no wonder the camp nurse was always coming at me with the enema kit!)

But there were fake, cutesy names for everything then. Evasions. Circumlocutions.

One lunchtime at this same summer camp, two horses began wildly mating in the horse-riding ring, which was no more than a football field distant from the wide-windowed, screened-in dining hall where 75 young girls sat happily belting out the words to “Bingo Was His Name Oh”. On the camp director’s immediate hissed orders, six counselors leaped to their feet to bang the shutters down –

Which only made us kids think a kind of murder was being enacted.


I guess it really is better to call things as they are, and someday I’m sure I’ll get used to the word ‘poop,’ much as it makes me blush now. Anyway it’s better than the cruder alternative.

You Know It’s Hot When….

You know it’s hot when your candles faint dead away, pooling waxily on the tabletops.

You know it’s hot when the  freckles melt right off your face

You know it’s hot when you can’t really walk right and ambulating at all feels like wading in the ocean when the waves are really surging.

You know it’s hot when your body forgets it’s hungry so busy is it sending telegraphing “Get water!  I need more water!”

But you really know you’re hot when your very eyeballs start coming to a boil, start sort of shimmying like a couple of peeled eggs getting poached.

Then you can’t even see.

Yesterday with my silverback gorilla of a mate off on a business trip I thought I was going to die in this ancient house with its horsehair plaster. We do have three little AC units but not one of them was installed and that’s no job for me in my new starring role as Mrs. Osteopenia.

Also, one of the units had on it a Post-it note in my handwriting. “This AC is a horrible disappointment. August 2011,” is what it said.

Soooo I went to Sears and bought another, fourth AC for $109.

And when this young houseguest came home from wrestling camp with his long strong arms we installed all four of those babies.

Old Dave came home at midnight and cheered.

Now he and I can sleep.

And the young houseguest can sleep.

And that houseguest soon to fly in from Atlanta can sleep

And  most important –  for me anyway –  I can once again work in my office, writing this deathless prose. 🙂 Thanks Rayvoughn!

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Still Married After All These Years

I’m having an anniversary today, though not really, with the groom in Chicago for a few days.

It’s  OK I guess. We don’t mark days like this the way the greeting card people would have us do. Giving someone a card just because it’s, like, Grandmother’s Day seems to me like forcing a person to tell you he loves you: all the real feeling drains right out of the thing.

On our first anniversary in the great era of Bobby Orr Boston, we took ourselves out to celebrate at a joint set up in the old Allston Depot, designed by the great H.H. Richardson.

We couldn’t afford much but we ordered a drink apiece and some appetizers. The Clams Casino turned out to have a piece of glass in it so the manager gave us two more drinks, on the house.

That made us sure-enough giddy, kids that we were. I could almost forget I had to teach five classes the next day. David could almost stop remembering he had that crucial paper do for ‘gradual’ school, as one of Garp’s kids calls it in the John Irving novel.

Fun to think back and isn’t that  the beauty of a blog! The way I can just write what I feel day to day.

It’s so much fun I sometimes feel I’m running some sort of scam here –except of course I don’t charge for it. I don’t have ads or links to the Aren’t I Great page that embarrasses me every time I look at it.

I tried to make it a writer of books but I was just one person.  Now I don’t care about  all that.

I guess if we’re lucky we kind of turn back into the simple people we were at the beginning.

On those early anniversaries we were kids still, still  jumping out from behind doors to scare each other, still throwing cups of icy water onto the other guy in the shower.

I guess we still do some of that, come to think of it. My own favorite trick is still to sneak the shower door open when David is in there and just sort of stand there – not IN the shower stall but just outside it. Just stand there, expressionless.

He doesn’t know I’m there for the longest time because he has his eyes squeezed shut against the sting of the shampoo– until suddenly he opens them and there I am with the zombie face.  He jumps a mile, every time.

So here’s a picture of us on  Anniversary Number 25. That night we ate at Legal Sea Food with my sister Nan and my cousin Eleanor, both visiting from out of town.

Our children gave us two kittens who made things lively around here for the next dozen years.

That dress was from Costco and cost $19.95. I still have it around here somewhere.


Sometimes I’m clairvoyant myself, speaking of people having visions of things not right in front of them as I was here yesterday: One time our baby’s stroller went missing and after two whole days of frantic searching I suddenly ‘saw’ where it was.

“It’s behind the Hootchiecootchies’ house!” I exclaimed, though of course that wasn’t their name.

I walked over there, slipped around back and there was the stroller, half-submerged in the shallow stream at the edge of the lawn.

It wasn’t like I knew it.

It wasn’t like I figured it out, using ratiocination, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fave word for that he used for his guy Sherlock.

I just saw it and there’s no taking credit for that.

The gift of discernment: don’t we wish we had that every day?