All You Need

wine for the mom a sweater for the child

Leading up to a snowy New Year’s Eve like this it’s all you need: a glass of wine for yourself and a little sweater for the baby.

This girl on the left is my first child, born the last hour of the last day of that Big Bicentennial year. It’s her birthday today.

She came with me to an Elton John concert in July of that year, though she was incognito at the time, just the mere suggestion of a person, hiding under my ’70s style floor-flower-child dress.

She has come with me on many adventures. I stopped teaching just a week before her birth so she came with me through the whole alphabet and all the songs on both the Sesame Street AND the MisterRogers albums. She was practically reciting the Preamble to the Constitution before it dawned on me that really I wasn’t actually in the classroom anymore so we could probably take things a little easier than I had done in the years of the lesson plans.

She came with me when we joined that food co-op the summer she I was a vegetarian. and immediately got lost, clumping off in her little white baby shoes and tucking herself under this vast plastic rice bin mounted to one of the walls, I remember that like it was yesterday. I was so traumatized I never went back there again.

The years passed. I started learning what codependency was when she was 14 and told her everything I was learning as I was learning it. It was the end of a long period in my life when I was always trying to save people, save the whole known world, but thank God a friend clued me in on the fact that there was a name for this behavior that appears so predictably in children who grow up in a house where an alcoholic parent figure reside, (or in my case had resided. The friend was actually one of my former students, by then in recovery himself, who explain to me how all this worked and when my eyes opened they opened the whole way, so wide that one day in the car I said to this 14-year-old, “Carr, I’m afraid I haven’t modeled very healthy behavior for you with all my crazy rescuing attempts.

“It’s fine,” she said kindly, acknowledging in that small sweet way the truth of the matter. “I think I’m turning out OK.”

And she was fine and she did turn out OK, more than OK, in fact  Even now, anytime I need a quick refresher on boundary issues, she provides it for me right quick.

I may not see her on this her birthday – as a mother of  three young children, she’s pretty booked today; but I will surely think of her: the way she looked as a baby, and the way she looked as a six-year-old below and wish her many great years of looking after her own dear ones  when the days are warm and coming into the room when days are cold with  a glass of wine and a tiny sweater.

carrie at 6 in a chair

carrie on the dock

Good Haul

visible-womanI’m as happy with what I didn’t get for Christmas as what I did.

  • I got a white high-neck long-sleeved nightie. Psych!
  • I got a book by Jonathan Kozol one of the last of the American heroes. Psych again!
  • I got four sherbet glasses from the early 1920s that I’d fallen in love with at an antique store in November. They cost $25 for the set and are the color of a peacock’s wing. One has a chip in it and what could be nicer than that?
  • I got a camera from Old Dave. I got this only after I found out he thought we were no longer exchanging gifts after all these years. No longer exchanging gifts! When I had just finished wrapping three sweaters and a new bathrobe for him since the old bathrobe has under the left arm something resembling a hash tag – you know, the symbol for number – only it’s 8 inches around. Pretty drafty for the cold nights when the wind is up. When he saw my face he said “Poor T! Go buy yourself something!” (This reminded me of when an old flame of my sister Nan said of her ironing that it certainly didn’t look like any shirt his mother would have ironed. Her response: “Does this meat cleaver that I’m about to bury in her your head look like anything of hers?” ha ha. ) So I did “go”, right to Best Buy where the clerk told me they no longer carry the Nikon D-90 that I have been burning to own but she looked it up on Amazon for me, she was that nice. She found a reputable seller, made sure it was a new one and not a rebuilt one and had me email the link to myself. Two hours later I had ordered thing and sometime next Monday it will land on my front porch.
  • I also got a funny little cube of a radio with that little slot-like mouth into which you can set your iPhone so you can wake up to music OR news OR your own playlists and podcasts. Joy! This came my way only when because one of my kids asked for it as a gift and when I saw its awesome properties I asked for one too. (Well that’s not QUITE what happened. In the pre-Christmas chaos I ordered the darn thing twice from Amazon and so talked myself into wanting since an extra one was coming to my house anyway.)

I was happy about all these things and happy too that I didn’t have to talk myself into wanting a bunch of stuff I never heard of before, like a belt you can wear that gives you periodic electrical shocks to reduce your love handles or some such.

So a nightie, a book, some glassware from the old days, a clock to mark the passage of time and a camera to record it with. It was almost as good a Christmas as the one when I got that model of the naked lady AND the see-through frog… And really Dave is a pretty good guy. Anyone who reads this blog knows that. Here’s a picture of him that I’ve always really liked. (And now he even has a decent bathrobe :-))

dpm when dcm turned 3

WHAT are we thinking?

from liz to angelinaI was looking at this ad here for People Magazine and all I could think was WHAT has happened to our standards of female beauty?

Look at Liz with those creamy shoulders and collarbones that just barely show under that satiny drape of flesh.

Then look at Angelina whose whole rotator cuff is on display, never mind just her clavicles.

Look at the difference in their upper arms!

I don’t know about you but I’ll be happy when the pendulum swings the OTHER way a bit.

Here is Angelina in evening wear. You could slice cheese with the blade of that humerus – right through her skin!

skinny arms on angelinaAnd here is Liz dressed the same way. Who looks better to you, hmmm? And who would you rather get a hug from?

liz taylor zaftig

Couldn’t Say it Better Than This!

from brian's siteI’ve never met Brian Moloney in person but we ‘see’ each other every day through our blogs. He sure says it all today, just in the first paragraph of The Freelance Retort:

If Christmas eve is like floating on a calm see, peering up into the stars…and Christmas Day is like a rogue wave that knocks you off your feet and envelops you into a deep dark sea of confusion…then the day after Christmas is like sitting in a puddle, on a muddy shore, picking sea shells out of your bathing suit. Beat up, tossed around… recovering from a thrill ride, all at the same time….

And as I say, that’s before he even gets to the stuff he illustrates with the above cartoon. You can check out the whole piece here. Every day he brings me a smile!

Now back to picking up after our own fun yesterday, blurry as it was…..

screens & rabbit ears xmas night

blurry post-opening funFinally, here’s a video taken when mischievous little Mr Rabbit Ears was a baby himself and mystified by all the hub-bub.

Happy Times! Here’s OUR Holiday Card

This year I decided MORE PICTURES, FEWER WORDS. I also decided to give my kids a break and not make them appear in the holiday card. Just David and I and the little ones I figured. So first I created the thing, which took like days, and then I had it printed – only I didn’t get enough so I reproduced the whole thing in a handmade kind of way to send to that last page o’ people on my list.
This is Page One you see here with the funny joke about Dave’s hair.

xmas card page one007

Then there’s a Page Two which makes mention of the dear one we lost this year. Then there’s a Page Three with even more pictures of the little ones (And another pic of Dave holding little Callie)… And finally a Page Four.

I just finally finished the last 20 cards last night – Whew!

The first 180 people who got the thing got a much handsomer version which I drop in below as a PDF. At least its printing isn’t all crooked. Still, there’s something endearingly sincere about crooked printing, isn’t there? I’m counting on that anyway! Warm thoughts to all on a day special to so many the world over !

2012 card as a PDF

Anxious & Greedy Santa Letters

choosy kid w santaAh the profit motive! What else could call forth such literary output? Our kids could be getting so they can’t read the big white letters spelling “JIF” on a jar of peanut butter, but you wouldn’t know it now: the Post Offices are all swamped with Letters to Santa.

Last year, one newspaper decided to print such letters, written by real-life kids. Taken together, they represent an outstanding effort, spelling errors and all. And, they come in several categories.

  • First, we have the out-and-out Grabby Letter: “Dear Santa,” one begins. “How are your elves? I would like a new computer with, a new hard drive and the fastest Pentiu processor out there! Also, a Lazor printer, some Power Ranger action figures, and a dog (a real one). Also” – and here he moves into What-the-Hell-Ask-For-the-Moon-Mode – “a bigger bedroom, the most advanced watch there is, and a police car.”
  •  “And” – now we’re really moving way PAST What-the Hellville, “my own sattalight in space for clear TV, a homework pass, and some friends.” “Oh, and make sure you bring batteries,” he winds up. And my own cat.”
  •  While it may be hard to beat that one for naked greed, other interesting  categories appear in other letters. For example, we also have:
  •  The Peer Pressure Letter (“Dear Santa: I want Power Wheels and a bike and my friends want it too. I know lots of kids that want a watch. I want one too. I know lots of kids that want Brain Quest. I want it too. People want baseball and basketball and football shirts. I know lots of kids that want cool tools…”)
  •  Then we have the Yay For Brand Names Letter (“Dear Santa: I want Baby Tumbles Surprise, Wedding Barbie, Stroller Fun by Mattel, Baby  So Beautiful Dolls, Baby Looks So Real, and Patty and Her Play Pen.”
  •   Of course there’s also The Kiss-Up Letter (“Dear Santa: I like you, Santa! I like my Parents. Santa Claus is a good Santa, because he gives lots of presents. Santa, Don’t forget me. Santa is the best!”)
  •  And the This is a Test Letter (“Dear Santa: I want a jacket and a hat. I want a sterio. I want that tape, you oughtta know which one.”)
  •  There’s the Don’t Ask Letter: (“Dear Santa. I want my own movie theatre. Also a  Junior Rector Set and a Vacuum.”)  I say you take a vacuum, a rector set, and a proscenium arch, and all the world’s a stage, by golly!
  •  And the No, REALLY – Don’t Ask Letter (“Dear Santa: I want a Baby Tumbles, a Rosie Doll, and a sheep. I want to tell you a secret about going in the park.”)
  •  There’s the Throw Myself on the Mercy of The Court Letter  (“Dear Santa: I am trying to be good this year. I am trying not to fight with my sister or my friends. Again, I am trying to be good!”)
  •  The If You Play Your Cards Right Letter (“Dear Santa: I hope you give me a workbench so I can make things and My Size Barbie. I love you and I might give you a present.”)
  •  And last but not least the This Kid is Really Out There Letter (Dear Santa: Can I please get the Power Ranger Zord? Not the Blue One, the One with the Red Arm. HI!!! And my olives, just like last year.”)

Poor Santa, trying to check off a planet’s worth of lists like these. Poor the-whole-lot-of-us, as my ancient Great Aunt Mame used to say, trying to help him do it. But no time for that now! The sheep and the rector set and the olives await us. Because it’s almost Christmas – and anything is possible!

Death in December (Lighting Their Way)

parents cradling their newbornOn this one-week anniversary of the killings in Newtown comes this  last meditation, which appeared all  around the country as my column for the week. Peace of mind and rest to us all on this day of Solstice. From here on, more and more light, we pray…

The weather has been warm for December, though the lilacs are huddled down in my yard as if bracing themselves for what New England has taught them to expect of winter.

At this time of year, all growing things bow earthward, their heads tucked under their wings, so to speak, in preparation for the assault of killing cold.

Yet still the assault has held off. The other day the air felt so moist and forgiving the branches of the forsythia began swelling into life.

It reminded me of a winter day like this when our friends welcomed a baby into the world.

The delivery had been normal, and the child was a beauty. All seemed well – until his color changed a few hours after the birth.

He was X-rayed and CAT-scanned, hurriedly placed beneath the microscope of modern medicine. It turned out his heart had not developed properly—not in the early months when Nature means for a heart to grow whole—and not later either.

He could not live, our friends were told. He might not last the night. His small pump of a heart could not sustain the effort necessary to keep him alive, the doctors said.

But this is not just a story of loss.

It is a story of love, and what love can do.

The baby lived four days. His mother kept him in her room at the hospital. Grandparents arrived from out of state, and his two-year-old brother was brought in to meet him.

They rocked and talked to their child. They greeted him like any family would greet it new­est member.  They said,  “Here you are, finally!” They said, “It’s us: the ones you have been given to!”

They held him and said their hellos. They held him and said their good-byes.

They took the short time given them to love this child, and  put it to good use.

Without ac­knowledging the darkness ahead, they sunned him in the light of their love and it was easy for them to do so.

Why?

Because he was here today. Because that’s the most any of us can be sure of: that we’re here now, for a while, to carve out a bright place in the surrounding darkness. To connect with one another, just as these grieving families in Newtown are doing now.

Like that doomed newborn, their children surely had felt love in their time here. And I don’t doubt that in the place where they now reside, they hold in their immortal souls the memory of how rich a thing it is to dwell upon this earth.

It is a memory given them by their families and their community,  families and a community dissolved now in grief.

To bury a child is a crime against nature, they say, a cruel twisting of the natural order.

It can only feel strange and unnatural, like warmth of days on winter’s threshold.

But winter is winter and death is death. Children do die, and the earth dies too and the grass turns to brown. The book of our lives is shot through with sad chap­ters such as these.

Yet death is not the story’s title. And death is not the chapter’s close.

It’s what is done in the face of death that makes the tale worth reading. It’s forsythia buds swelling in December. Or people like the parents we grieve with this week, lighting their children’s way, with their candles and their prayers.

Holiday Surprises

Things aren’t going that great around  here. We began having the kitchen painted the Monday after Thanksgiving and as of this past Tuesday all the kitchen stuff was still in the dining room. Holiday decorating!

merry xmas pull up a chair

My little guys came over a week ago and put all the fake-dripping-wax 1980s-era candles in the windows but the rest of the project stalled.

I didn’t even buy the tree ’til last Sunday, in the pouring rain and dark, and failed to notice at the time that it has a kind of giant goiter of branches on one side only. Hence it falls over.

Twice it careened onto the ground and once, when we turned it goiter side in, it fell into the wall behind it , which made the front half of its base life right up off the floor

Last night just before dinner was the last time it fell. We heard that telltale whoosh and then a sort of muffled thud as of a heavy person sitting down on the floor. We hurried into the living room and there it was.

There it is I should say. It’s there as I write.

Another complicating factor in my week was my last-minute opportunity to go with all the ABC scholars I love, and their Resident Academic Coordinator Mario Paredes, into the Boston State House to meet with the Honorable Deval Patrick , Governor of the Commonwealth.

What a lovely man he is, who made these eight feel how much he has in common with them , having himself left home at 14 to be an ABC student at Milton Academy.

I was too shy to ask for a picture of me alone with him but everyone else got to do that as the official photographer snapped away.

This picture is one Mario took as we first sat down together at the table in that jewel of an office in the old Bulfinch building.  Look at these happy faces! How glad I am that Mario arranged this and the Governor agreed to give us 30 minutes!

at the table with governor patrick

It’s a lesson to me: nobody cares what the table looks like at most gathering, as long as everyone can find a seat at it.

And we’ll get there on the house preparations. Today we’re lashing the tree with wire to hardware on the two windows that flank it. The show must go on!  🙂

whoops tree down

Here’s the tree after its third and most recent  fainting spell. ( Sigh.)  At least there aren’t any lights or ornaments on it yet. 

Ladders

the ladder upSome years ago, when riding home in the family car from her grandmother’s house, my little girl sat up front, making the most of time alone with me her Mom, as that noisy baby slept in the back. She looked at the sky.  “If I could make a big enough ladder,” she said pensively, “I could climb there.”

Time keeps slipping for me this week. I think of the cold night earlier this month when I found myself in a florist’s greenhouse. It was near suppertime, but the shoppers there seemed reluctant to depart this damp Eden with its glass walls and ceilings all misted over with moisture.

Then time slips again to a long-ago night: Our then six-year-old had gone to bed. Downstairs, his father was playing his weekly bridge game with his pals. Elsewhere in the house, our other kids attended to the night’s homework. Then here came suddenly a sound of weeping, faint at first, but building in despair as it built in duration.

Our six-year-old appeared suddenly at my bedroom door. It was he who wept so. What was it?, I asked rushing toward him. A bad dream? He shook his head no. A pain? No again.

He sat on the edge of our bed and, after a long time, did his best to convey it: “I was thinking about death,” he finally whispered. “How when you die  you just have to lie there. Forever.”

“Ah but most people don’t believe that. None of us has been there of course, but most people picture Heaven.”

“I don’t want to go to Heaven!” he burst out. What would I do there? What do people do when they’re  there?”

I remembered an image that had comforted me once. “Well, they say it’s like a big party and everyone you ever loved is right there in the room with you –  and your old pets, and the toys you lost and thought you’d never see again…”

“But even a party can go on too long.” He shook his head sadly. “And what if there is no Heaven and you just…..end?”

“I don’t think it’s like that,” I said, hugging him now and swallowing back my own tears. “Why don’t you stretch out here a while?”

And so he did, as I busied myself nearby. Thirty minutes later, he was still curled in a tense ball.  I went over and lay down beside him; buried my face in his little-boy neck. “Listen!” I said at last. “Can you hear all those sounds? Daddy downstairs with his pals? Two kinds of music? Your brothers and sisters all talking and moving around?”

He nodded his head without opening his eyes.” Always you will have that: other people all around you. No one is alone, you know.”

“I know,” he whispered, and gave a final shuddering sigh.

He had looked over the edge into that terror. Most people look there exactly once, then get to work building a structure against it, whether you call it belief in the hereafter or faith in one’s fellow men or That Which Does Not Die.

I can’t say if  that youngest child of mine began building his then and there. I can tell you that as far as I know he never wept like that again.

In that wintry greenhouse, I watched the clerk wrapping a plant against the cold with all the care of one easing a baby into a snowsuit. So. I told myself, there is this care, then.

There are the long bars of sunlight, winter or summer.

There are the voices of others as you slip into sleep.

And then there’s that ladder, which, built of strong enough stuff and fastened with Belief, may let us climb it upward after all.