Friday, February 29, 2008

Since You're Gone

Catherine and Tracey asked me write a flashback post on this theme:

"How (The Smiths, Nirvana, Debbie Gibson, *insert band name/artist here*) Changed My Life." Pick whatever band, performing artist, one-hit wonder - even just a single song, if you want - and write a post about how it moved / rocked / utterly transformed your adolescent / teenage / young-adult self.

I struggled with what to write about.

Like most teens, my musical taste was sort of a membership requirement for my social clique, but did it actually change my life?

I wanted to give up on writing on this theme, but I kept thinking.

I wandered around in
the memories of my adolescence and found myself locked in my parent's car on a hot summer day feverishly journaling about a canoe trip I had returned from a week earlier.

In July of 1982, my friends Tom and Andre invited eight kids from our high school freshman class to join them on their church youth group's trip down the Wisconsin River.

I found four legal pad pages covered with tiny writing on both sides tucked between the pages of my "Official Preppy Secrets" diary just where I remembered hiding them so long ago.

In the journal entry, I painstakingly recounted even the most insignificant details of the canoe trip.

It seems I recorded everything, not sure at the time which details were important and which were not.

This trip, in its own way, was life changing and because the ten of us listened to the same songs over and over again, it is set to a soundtrack in my memory.

It's a long account that ends in tragedy.

I was fourteen when I wrote it.

Here it is...


August 1982

For all of us who went and understand...

Everyone met at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Friday, July 23 at 1:00.

We somehow managed to get all the gear in the few cars we had and begin the three hour journey to Sauk City, Wisconsin where our trip started.

We were all paired up and lined up in our fine canoes.
Mike I. and Mike K. were partners, Debbie and I, Tom and Andre, Steve and Pat and, finally, Lisa and Cindy. There were other people on the trip but the ten of us stayed to ourselves. We sat waiting for Erik, the leader, to say we could go.

Finally, we pushed off. Lisa traded canoes with Debbie so that she and Cindy could both paddle the first stretch with someone who knew how to canoe.

Steve and Pat had to stay behind for an hour and a half waiting for a car to bring their cooler.

Lisa and I successfully got under the first bridge and were met by Mike and Mike, then Tom and Andre.

We tied the three canoes together and waited for Cindy and Debbie.

Debbie was supposed to be experienced at canoeing but for some reason she and Cindy could only move the canoe in every direction but forward.

When they finally reached us we tied their canoe on and drifted in our four canoes.

The canoe became "Cary Canoe" because of "Gary Gnu," a newscaster on a children's show.

Mike and Mike had to go to the bathroom so they jumped out and swam quite a ways to the shore.

When they were swimming back we realized for the first time how strong the Wisconsin River current could be.

Mike K. got caught in it and was swimming desperately against it.

I remember being very scared that he would drown.

Tom was ready to go in after him if he had to (as Tom is an important part of the varsity swim team,) but Mike got out of it and both Mikes got back in the canoe.

Because of the fact that four canoes tied together don’t go anywhere, we split apart two and two.

Lisa and I were with both Mikes. Cindy and Debbie went with Tom and Andre.

For awhile our two separate vessels drifted down the restful river. The sun was beginning to set and we were surrounded by the blue-green river, thick green trees, the soft tan sand and the orange-yellow, glowing sun.

We had gotten ourselves about half an hour behind the 18 or 19 other canoes and Steve and Pat were nowhere in sight.

With no warning, we found ourselves swarmed by a huge flock of birds. We were sure we’d be the victims of birds going to the bathroom, but we all came out clean.

We decided to paddle so we might have a chance to set up and eat before dark. Debbie got in with Andre and Tom climbed in with Cindy but then, they separated their canoes so it was our double and their two singles.

We Hawaii 5. 0.’d it the rest of the eleven miles we had to go that night.

I remember the sun going down behind a big hill and it was just out of sight when we finally reached the sandbar where our group was camped.

We four girls and the four guys set up our two tents far away and facing away
from the others.

As soon as we had the tents up and the charcoal going it was getting really dark and Pat and Steve got there. They set up their tent in pattern with ours forming a 3three sided square facing away from the larger group. Mike K. fixed hamburgers while Lisa, Cindy, Tom and Andre ate their chicken.

By the time we had all eaten it was very late. It was a good thing that earlier, when we could still see, we girls had walked half a mile down the sandbar to pull off our pants and pee.

We searched the brush and found enough wood for a small fire, but we were called away for devotions.

A guy with black hair named Brian led the devotion. It was about how God had created everything and everything was different – like every grain of sand. He also said that this wasn’t a retreat, it was a vacation and that we should all just have a good time. During this devotion, Mike and Mike were eating Nutter Butters and Pinwheel Cookies. I had pretzels. Pat and Steve had Fritos or something and so on. It’s lucky I was able to hear devotions! When they were over, the ten of us went back to our own “resort.”

Since we were on the sand, the fire was in a hole that we dug. It was a little weak so Lisa and I went down to Fable’s tent to get a log out of their fire. They gave us one and as we were leaving (after returning their shovel) they were screaming, “We love you!” and such. Lisa yelled back, “Are you near sighted?” and we ran back to our set up laughing.

We all sat around the fire and made s’mores and listened to Mike K. and Pat sing Bruce Springsteen. It reminded me of those Pepsi commercials where a group of teen-agers are having a fire on the beach. The fact that we were all together was all the really mattered.

Interrupting our Utopia every five minutes was one of the counselors. They must have thought we were having an orgy or something. They’d even stand in the shadows and just watch. Finally Erik told us it was time to hit the sack. Every one of us, at the exact same time, without warning, hit the ground with their hand. Mike I. laughed all night.

We did all go in our tents. The guys raided the girls and then we raided them as The Goodnight Kiss Patrol. All of a sudden there was Erik at the tent door. We girls hurried back to our own tent. Erick said to us, “I notice it’s the girls in the guys tent, not the guys in the girls.”

“Now he thinks we’re whores!” we all groaned.

Just as we were about to go to his tent to explain how all of us were JUST FRIENDS he came down and apologized. He said he just didn’t like us in there and said that two had been in “prone” position.

(Cindy and Andre!Ha ha!)

Erik is definitely strange!

Earlier when we had just put on our pajamas, two of us in surgeon scrubs, two in sweat suits, Erik told us, “These guys don’t need the excitement of seeing you girls in your pajamas.”

They guys found it pretty funny. Since when are surgeon clothes and sweats arousing?

After Erik talked to us about our raid we settled down to go to sleep.

Lisa hyperventilated twice.

I was like a maniac screaming, “DON’T DIE!!”

Cindy told Mike to get Lisa a bag to breathe in so he got her a plastic one!??!!

After that I slept for about an hour and woke up to Cindy and both Mikes talking. I joined them outside with my sleeping bag.

Mike I. was worshipping Cindy’s legs and toes and Mike K. was insisting that my thighs could be food.

We were joined by Pat and Andrew and we started having modeling contests. We modeled our noses, our big toes, etc. Pat always won because he showed his parts in the most “professional” ways.

After that we buried Andre in the sand. It was about 4:00 a.m. and a counselor came and yelled at us for having kept him up all night.

We walked down to the river and crossed to a sandbar island.

Mike K. wrote “Dino the Dinosaur was here.”

We watched the orange, yellow, violet and red streaks of sunrise stripe the sky.

At around 5:00 a.m. the ten of us were all up and the brilliant yellow sun rose against the bluest sky.

Mike K. cooked bacon and eggs rather unsuccessfully while Tom ate like a king with Cindy, Andre and Lisa. Debbie and I had crumb cakes.

The funniest thing was Steve and Pat -- they had cold pop tarts for breakfast. The entire lot of food they brought consisted of seven boxes of pop tarts, two loaves of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, a jar of marshmallow crème, some doughnuts, cereal (no milk), a bottle of strawberry soda and a few other things. The rest of us had steaks, eggs, fruit, etc. It was pretty funny.

We had all our stuff packed in the canoe by 7:30 but we weren’t leaving until 9:30.

Steve and I had a sand fight and were both totally covered in sand. When we had cleaned ourselves off, we joined everyone else in their search for minnows. They’d even made a private swimming pool for the ones we caught.

The sky looked like a baby blue backdrop for a big yellow spotlight as we left our first camp.

Debbie and I tied between the Mikes and Steve and Pat. Cindy and Lisa were tied to Tom and Andre. Right away we got ourselves about a mile behind the group.

We got hot and swam in the river which was about 80% waist high. The current was very strong in all depths of the water.

We gorged ourselves that day. Steve and I ate a whole bag of cherries. We tried to find out if the seeds would sink or float. They sank.

The whole day the other two canoes stayed away from our three. We were swimming and they were sunning.

Over and over we listened to “Since You’re Gone” by The Cars, “Going to a Go-Go” by The Rolling Stones and “Take it Away” by Paul McCartney on the mixed tape that Tom had brought on the trip.

We came to part of the river that was almost silver looking.

Tom, Lisa and Cindy had stopped somewhere for more intense rays.

Andre joined us and we all swam and pulled the canoes behind us.

The guys all took off their shorts and were letting the river carry them nude.

Mike and Mike were doing dolphin dives and teaching the rest of us the chorus to "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen and some Jethro Tull song. Mike and Mike sang the songs all the way through and we joined in when we could.

“Boom Boom Out Go The Lights!”

So anyway, we were swimming along in waist deep water and all of a sudden there was a drop off and the waist deep water was twelve feet deep.

We were close to the bank but the water carried us pretty far before we realized the current was way too strong for us to be out there.

We swam to the side and grabbed onto trees. Steve, Mike and I were all hanging on one tree limb and Debbie and the other Mike were on another.

Andre and Pat were able to reach the canoes.

I was holding onto Steve. The current was so strong that our bodies were being pulled up onto the river's surface, pointing straight down the river.

Pat and Andrew got Steve, Mike I. and I, but we couldn’t get to Mike K. and Debbie.

Mike I. got in the boat and put on sweatpants, he had never put his shorts back on when he was in the water.

A motor boat picked up Debbie and Mike K. They were hanging on the side of it and the motor cut up Mike’s foot.

Mike got in and Debbie was hanging on the side of the canoe.

I was brushing my hair.

Mike I. was laughing at Mike K. whose shorts were thrown at him by the motor boat people.

Mike was cussing and screaming.

None of us really thought about what was going on.

When we were still in the water, Steve had jokingly said, “Oh, No! We’re drowning!”

Suddenly Debbie was back on a tree grabbing desperately onto branches that kept breaking.

We got her back into the canoe and a ranger got us off the log we were stuck on.

Mike K. got us all in life jackets pretty quick.

The ranger said to be careful because someone had just gone down.

Our rope was stuck, but we just cut it and left.

Around the bend we saw a lot of motor boats along a sandbar talking to people from our group.

We beached our canoes and learned that a kid from our group named Bobby had been swimming with his partner when he went under.

He never came up.

People who knew him were crying and we were just shocked.

Mike K. was by himself crying out of anger at our stupidity. He was punching his hand and maybe even cussing. I don’t know.

All I remember thinking was how unfair it was that we could fool around and act like assholes and live while an innocent kid drowned.

The counselors told us to take our canoes around to the other side of the sandbar to set up camp.

This sand bar was all hot sand, no brush hardly, nothing.

When we got our canoes around to the creek, (a small part of the river) Cindy, Tom and Lisa showed up. They had gotten themselves about a mile downstream and had to walk back up.

We unloaded our gear and then the entire group met.

We formed a huge circle, held hands and prayed.

We voted to continue the canoe trip and we went back and set up.

Mike I. and I washed our hair in the river while Steve played frisbee football with a lot of the youth group members.

We ate dinner early.

It was so hot on this sandbar. Lisa, Mike and I got towels and our pillows and laid down for awhile.

There was a helicopter looking for Bobby now and they were dragging the river.

I can’t stand the sight of those boats that drag the water.

We were all so hot and confused.

All you could really think about was night coming for cool air and sleep.

There was some comic relief.

Since there were no bushes on the sandbar, we had to canoe across the little part of the river to an island to go to the bathroom.

It became known as Excretion Island.

I was over there with Tom, Steve and Andre. I was sitting in the canoe listening to what they were saying.

Tom was laughing so hard and playing “Name That Shit.”

“Look at that one! That’s gotta be Joel’s!” he said.

Tom wanted to make a buried treasure map.

While they were there they took Molly Hatchet (our axe) and got some wood for a fire.

That night was very different from Friday night.

Things were funny, but not that funny.

We had devotions and Erik read some things to us. He told us that God gives us everything and sometimes he takes things away. It was Bobby’s time to be with God, he said. He also asked us if it had been us would we have bee ready. Would we have gone to Heaven?

Cindy and I were scared by that.

The ten of us laid our sleeping bags around what Andre was trying to make into a fire.

“Keep the fire burnin',’’ we sang.

Steve and I were sharing a pillow. The last thing I remember about Saturday night was talking to him about God and looking at the stars.

The next morning I awoke to a symphony of farts courtesy of Tom, Andre and Mike I.

We all got up and ate, then packed up, sat in the canoes and waited.

There was a final devotion by Sharon who read something from the Bible reassuring you that God is by your side.

Then we left, each girl in a canoe with a guy because the object Sunday was to go the final five miles fast and to be done.

We finally reached Spring Green, our destination.

We unloaded the canoes and had a long wait before we were leaving so we went swimming in what would have been a great swimming hole except for all the rocks.

The guys were jumping off a tree into the water. Mike and Pat were swinging on a rope singing “Give Me a Mountain, Give me a Dew!”

I cut my baby toe really bad on something. Erik fixed it up. A lot of people were crowded around -- to see the blood of a toe, I guess. Mocking the whole thing, Mike I. came rushing through to see and for his efforts he got handed my bloody paper towel.

We all kind of sat down and relaxed listening to the same songs over and over on Tom's tape.

I rode home with Tom’s parents and Andre.

Tom's parents were more than upset by the death, they were hostile. After their lecture, Tom and Andre had flashbacks about going to school at Immanuel Lutheran. They got so excited talking that they were spitting on me but I was so dirty already that I really didn’t care.

When we got back to the church, we found out that Mike had come careening into the church parking lot full of grieving, upset parents with “Limelight” by Rush blasting on the radio.

We had just missed a prayer and a lot of people were crying.

When I got home, I told my parents and went to my room.

I just cried and cried. Not only for Bobby’s death – I didn’t know him, but I cried because I realized how much we all grew up on the trip.

I can’t explain how I feel to anyone who wasn’t there.

I needed to write this all down so maybe I’ll understand things better.

God bless us all.

Reading about that trip these many years later I can see my young self so clearly.

I was a girl with one foot planted, deep as bedrock,
in childhood while the other foot desperately searched for a toe hold on the mystifying path to adulthood.

Throughout the journal entry I bounce back and forth between being a child at play and a young girl becoming conscious of her blooming sexuality.

I knew the trip was important, but couldn't quiet put my finger on the way that coping with this death nudged us all forward on our journey to maturity.

On July 24, 1982, Bobby Heinze drowned in the Wisconsin River.

I can't help wondering if his parents ever recovered.

I imagine they still miss him every day.

Bobby, you helped the ten of us grow up a little.

I hope you are at peace.

This song, played over and over again on that trip, is for you.


You can find more on this theme at these blogs:

Her Bad Mother
Oh, The Joys
Mrs. Flinger
Girl's Gone Child
Available Light
Red Pen Mama
Outta the Coop

Look for these bloggers next week:
Motherhood Uncensored


Anyone can participate in these Friday theme posts. All you are asked to do is copy the list of participants and add it to the bottom of your own post -- don't forget to add yourself!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Dao of Joy

On the ride home from school The Mayor asked me what was for dinner.

"We're going to the market restaurant, Mayor."

"With who?" he asked.

"Just us, Mayor."

"No! I want someone to come with us!!" he screamed.

"You know, Mayor. Fretting over what we don't like is just a lot of fretting. What if we spent our time being happy and grateful about the things we do like?"

He was quiet.

I imagined my maternal wisdom soaking in and felt all pleased with myself.

But not being one to leave well enough alone I said,

"What do you think about that, Mayor? Should we spend our time appreciating the things we like?"

To which he responded,

"Um... Mom, why do dogs bark?"

Oh, how he sponges up the delicious gravy of my wisdom!!!

I am so Yoda.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

15 Minutes

A while back I complained (repeatedly) about The Mayor’s tantrums and one commentor wrote to me about the idea of “special time” – - specifically finding a way to give your child at least 15 minutes of your undivided attention each day.

Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like a lot but, admittedly, it’s been hard for K and I to figure out how to do this.

Work days are a mad rush out the door in the morning and then when we get home at night we're in a desperate hurry to get dinner made and eaten, short and loud people washed, jammies on, stories read...

Sound familiar?

Yesterday we decided to try the “special time” thing but we didn't
explain what we were doing to The Mayor or The Rooster to be sure we didn't set up expectations we can’t consistently fulfill.

[Kind of like our commitment to meditate on a regular schedule. Har har har!]

When we arrived home we dropped our stuff and started the clock.

The Mayor led K in a complicated game of his own design which involved a t-rex, pirates and the Melissa & Doug wooden play food in our kitchen.

The Rooster and I decided to color.

I was not expecting coloring with The Rooster to be such an intense form of Anti-Anal Behavioral Therapy.

I’m an organized person.

[To a fault.]

When presented with a coloring book I stay inside the lines and choose sensible colors.

Working in The Mayor's Diego in the Jungle coloring book, I meditated on the fabulousness of
the varying soft shades of brown I selected for coloring the monkeys.

Oh, my color coordinated satisfaction!!!


Every time I had my jungle scene in good order, The Rooster would lean over and say,

“Lemme hay-ulp you.”
[How did my daughter get a southern accent??!!]
“Mommy, lemme show you this color… it’s rilly MAGIC!”
Leaning over my arm, The Rooster scribbled a garish red HORROR across my forest and into the swamp.

The hairs on my inner Virgo stood on end.
Thankfully, my inner Mommy whispered,
“Breathe deeply this special time is for your daughter, YOU ANAL FREAK!”
You know what?

The coloring was really nice and o
ur dinner was only fifteen minutes late.

[Okay twenty minutes late, but I had to finish my Diego in the jungle masterpiece, people!]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Home On The Range

Violent, powerful storms blew through my town so suddenly this morning that 100,000 people lost power.

It was hilarious, in its own ironic way, to try to complete the morning routine – getting the children dressed, groomed and out the door- by candle and lantern light.

But we did it.

Actually leaving the house on time I felt a bit smug and thought,

"This afternoon I'll churn my own butter and then shoot a rabbit for dinner!"

Easy peasy.

[I look fat photoshopped in buckskin. Who knew?]

Monday, February 25, 2008


Because he's been having such a hard time, K decided to spend some one-on-one time with The Mayor this weekend and take him to his first I-Max movie.

The two of them arrived before the theater opened so they wandered around in the garden and peered into the fountain.

The Mayor was curious about the coins in the fountain so K explained about wishes.

He handed The Mayor a penny and told him to hold it tightly.

"Now close your eyes," K said. "Concentrate really hard on what you want to wish for and then you'll throw the penny in the water."

The Mayor squeezed his eyes shut and K could see his intense concentration by the lines across his forehead.

"Have you thought of your wish?" K asked.

The Mayor nodded.

"Then go ahead and throw the penny in the fountain," K said.

The Mayor dropped the penny in the water.

"Dad," he said, "can I tell you what I wished for?"

"Well, they say you're supposed to keep it a secret."

"Will it come true if I tell you?" The Mayor asked.

"I don't know, Mayor. It might be better if you keep it a secret just for yourself."

"Well," The Mayor wondered, "can I tell you that it was what I wished for after it comes true?"

"Sure, Mayor. When it comes true you can tell me."

"Okay, so when I turn into a polar bear and than back into a boy you'll know it came true."

K grinned.

"Okay, Mayor."


Update on The Mayor's busted arm --

I took him to the surgeon's office this morning.

They took off his 450-pound cast and x-rayed the arm.

He's about 70% healed (apparently) so they pulled out the pins (which took The Mayor's breath away and made him nauseous) and gave him a new, much smaller cast.

We have a new pain medication regimen to try and the doctor was doubtful about nerve damage, though he wasn't able to be sure about the thumb and pointer finger so we'll have to wait and see.

I'm hopeful that the smaller cast, the absence of the pins and the new pain meds will improve things.

Fingers crossed and wishing on all my pennies...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Up From The Soul's Basement

Even though his surgeon said he’d be out of pain and wouldn’t need further pain medication after a day or so,
ten days later The Mayor continues to suffer.

Mornings are the worst and nights aren't much better.

[We slept more when he was an infant.]

The Mayor wakes up screaming throughout the night.

One night he screamed so violently that we lifted him out of bed to comfort him but this only made him angrier. He started throwing punches with his good arm and kicking us in the shins.


When K took him to his check-up the Doctor said that everything looked fine. He even suggested that The Mayor might be able to have the cast off earlier than expected.

Something just doesn't add up.

When the Doctor briefed K and I about the surgery he warned us that nerve damage was a possible complication. He said that if nerve damage occurred, it would be quite painful for The Mayor.

“How will we know if there is nerve damage?” I asked him.

“He’ll have shooting pains down his arm and numbness in his fingers.”

What I didn’t think to ask was,

“How will a three year old articulate something that specific to me?”

When The Mayor yells that he is in pain I feel particularly helpless.

What he says is,

“Ow Ow OW, Mommy, it HURTS!!!”

“What does it feel like?” I ask him.

“It’s…it’s…it’s like hot sprinkles!”

Hot sprinkles.

"Show me where it hurts," I say.

The Mayor sweeps his hand from his shoulder to his fingertips.

"My fingers hurt more than anything in the world," he says.

Desperate to ease the pain but clueless as to how, I called the surgeon’s office again.

I was told he
is away until Monday.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked the technician.

“Give him some of the pain medication,” he said.

“It’s finished and besides, the surgeon said he wouldn’t need it this long.”

The technician seemed less helpful than the receptionist. I could hear his vacant eyes blinking.

I was frustrated and starting to boil.

“The surgeon mentioned the possibility of nerve damage,” I explained. “How will we know if my son has this and, if he does, how can it be treated?”

“Uh… I’ll have to ask the Dr.,” the tech replied.

The boil increased and I started to bubble over.

Look,” I said as the beast in my soul's basement pulled against its restraints, “here’s what’s going to happen... you will call my pharmacy immediately and order a refill of my son’s pain medication. On Monday, the very first person the surgeon sees will be my son and we will plan to remain in your office until the cause of his pain is both identified and resolved. Do we have an agreement?”

“Um, yes. Of course, ma'am.” the tech cowed.

People of the world, hear this!

Do not mess with The Mayor’s Mama.

There's a beast in her basement and you don't want to meet it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nonsense & Dancing with Jewels at the End

Waaaaaaaay back in the olden days, I was in a dance troupe with some wimmins you might recognize from the blog-o-sphere.

We were, like, rilly, rilly good.

We like totally toured and stuff.

Bossy, Lotta, me, Izzy and Amanda had a terrific number called "Jeepers Leapers" which was a total crowd pleaser.

Casey the Moosh, Redneck Mommy and Ruth Dynamite had a show stopper involving silky scarves...

Mimi, Sage and KC took jazz hands to this crazy, modern, Twyla Tharp-ish place...

Midwestern Mommy, Mamma Loves, The Blogess, Slackermom and Debbie performed a phenomenal Thai dance... (no ping pong balls were involved, you smut head!)

Canape, QT, Pundit Mom, Lawyer Mama, Kristen, and Y had the hula LOCKED and LOADED.

I, Asshole and I had this crazy 1970's revue number where we actually kept a disco ball pinned between our stomachs the whole time. It was really groovy...

Chicky and Chocolate... well... Chicky and Chocolate are just going to KILL me and that's all I have to say about this:

Those were the days!

They were good times, good times.

All those rehearsals and performances...

We were on the road so much, and so tired all the time, that Bossy used to routinely fall asleep in really expensive bowls of soup.

But it brought us close together.

There was one member of the troupe, a beautiful woman named Lotta...

She was not just automatic... or sys-to-matic... or HIGH-DRO-Matic...

Why, she was...

After we all hung up our dance shoes and went our separate ways, Mom-O-Matic started making her own jewelry out of vintage glass buttons. She sells her work at her etsy shop.

Because she and I go WAY back (and because we feel the BIG love)...

...she asked me if she could send me a little jewelry token of her love.

Oh, but THE YES!!

She told me to go to the etsy shop and pick something, but I couldn't decide.

How could I choose?

To help, she sent me a box full of loot. She said I could touch it and then decide what to keep and what to send back.

The thing is... I still need help.

What should I pick?

The Wonder Twins Activate ring?

The Lawn Mower Hair Pin?

The "Button, Button Who's Got The Button" Ring?

Photo by Olan Mills Studios


The Button Bracelet?

(Which, I discovered, you can also put in your hair...)

(Or do THIS... if you're into that kind of thing... which clearly, I AM.)

What do you think? What should I pick?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Beaver's Mom Saves The World

My next door neighbor Rusty is a music producer.

He has wild, rock-n-roll hair and he wears hip clothing.

His two sons, who are eight and nine years old, are super-cool, long-haired, skateboarder dudes. They are both delightful.

I tease Rusty that he is the human version of the sea turtle dad in Finding Nemo.

[Because he is all "WHOA-AH" and then you are all "WHOA-AH," dude.]

Last weekend I saw them all out at our neighborhood park walking their Great Dane.

I was busy chatting with other neighborhood parents while our kids ran amuck.

We were on the cusp of figuring out who would be in charge of bringing a giant box of coffee to the playground next weekend when Rusty joined the conversation.

Someone must have asked, “How’s business?” because the next thing I knew the normally super-chill Rusty was off on a wild rant about the downfall of the music industry.

“People think music is free these days,” Rusty moaned. “We can’t meet our bottom lines! EMI announced they’re laying off 2,000 people… it’s ridiculous!!!”

Because I know in my heart that there's a conspiracy to track my every move on the internet, I purchase all my music online through iTunes, you know, legitimately.

[Oh, the honest and ethical joys!]

So while Rusty was bemoaning the music industry I was thinking about my little iTunes habit and piped up with,

“What about iTunes, Rusty? Isn’t that business model working?”

He looked totally aggravated and muttered something about "only .99 cents."

“You know who uses iTunes?” he spat with contempt. “The ONLY people who buy music from iTunes are housewives!”

Um... Hello.

[Okay, so technically I'm a work at home mom, but still!]

The internet has changed human behavior in a way that's bringing an entire industry to its knees.

That's pretty intense.

Personally, I think it’s kind of fascinating.

[Which I recognize is a luxury not afforded to someone whose livelihood depends on the music business.]

What will happen?

How will the industry re-invent itself to respond to the changing environment?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In An Emergency, Sip Tea!

There was a weird sort of siren wailing in the distance.

“That’s an odd sounding ambulance,” I thought, "it sounds like it's standing still. I wonder why doesn’t it seem to get any closer or further away.”
My mother and I continued sipping our tea.

All the blinds in the house were open and we chatted away without really noticing the heavy rain.

All of a sudden lightening lit up the house. The thunder chased after it, rolling its heavy body across the roof and shaking the windows in their frames.
“That was close!” my mom said, taking another sip of tea.

The wind howled angrily and then suddenly the world became strangely quiet.

The sky outside looked oddly green.

When I
answered the ringing telephone it was K calling from the library where he had gone with the kids.
“We’ve been sequestered to the library basement,” he said.

“What?” I asked, confused.

“There’s a tornado warning, Jess. You and your mom may want to go down to the basement or at least turn on the radio to find out how long the warning is in effect.”

“Huh? Okay.”

“The kids are really anxious,” he said. "I’ve got to go."

My mom and I turned on the television only to find that the tornado warning had just expired in my county.

The threat of the storm had passed.

Maybe next time there’s an emergency and I hear that "odd sounding ambulance," also known as MY TOWN'S EMERGENCY SIREN, I’ll go down to the freakin’ basement.

Oh, my disaster preparedness!

Monday, February 18, 2008


For K’s 40th birthday, Grandma Seattle gave him a weekend pass for two, meaning she offered to fly in for the weekend so that he and I could go away for two nights.

Two. Nights.


We chose Valentine’s Day weekend and made some fancy schmancy (non-refundable) reservations at a B & B in the mountains.

Grandma Seattle was all set to arrive last Friday afternoon.

But then The Mayor’s arm broke.

Neither K nor I felt comfortable simply walking out the door without making sure Grandma knew all the routines that had quickly developed around his arm. We didn’t even know if she could lift him in and out of bed.

Once everything was in order, we finally left town on Saturday afternoon.

Our fancy schmancy B & B turned out to be fancy only in terms of the price. It was nice enough, but our overall response was,


After a totally random prime rib buffet meal at a nearby mountaintop inn without a liquor license, we headed back to the B & B where, for some inexplicable reason, I at an entire piece of German Chocolate Cake.

[Which is odd because a.) I don’t particularly like German Chocolate Cake; 2.) I haven’t eaten any cake in, like, two years; and c.) oh. my. got. THE POINTS.]

There was another couple in the B & B’s common area and the four of us began the obligatory small talk though I secretly wished myself to my room and my bed.

“Do you have kids?” I asked the woman politely.

“Yes,” she said. “I have two – a nineteen year old girl and a thirteen year old boy.”

“So,” I came back in fun, “how were those teen-aged girl years?”

“Actually,” she said. “They were pretty horrible.”

I started to laugh, but stopped because she kept talking.

She really meant it.

“My daughter found herself going down a bad path and, ultimately, we had to send her away to a therapeutic school.”

“I’m sorry," I said, "I’ve never heard that phrase before. What does it mean?”

“Most kids that are sent to therapeutic schools have to be escorted out of their family home and taken away. The kids start by spending time on an intensive wilderness program where everything is stripped away and eventually they start school and participate in rigorous individual and group therapy. My daughter was there for the better part of two years. These days she says it saved her life, literally. While she was away several of her friends died of heroin overdoses.”

K and I listened as though she and her husband were shamen from the future imparting specific parenting wisdom in case we ever needed it.

“If your daughter were here right now,” I said, “what would she say, looking back, caused her to go astray?”

“That’s a good question,” the woman said. “I’m not sure I know the answer... maybe my divorce from her father. She was twelve and unhappy in her school, unhappier than we even knew. We transferred her to a public school and she was eventually expelled.”

She and her husband, the girl's step-father, talked for a long time about how much work they had to do with their daughter and how much it cost them – both literally and figuratively.

“Once she left we found out about horrible things that had been going on. Besides the drugs there were men – grown men – old men – from the internet – that were traveling to our town to be with her. She was just fourteen.”

The woman became a little tentative. Perhaps she wondered if K and I would blame her. Maybe she wondered where we fell on the nurture vs. nature spectrum.

“I am not the kind of person who blames the parents,” I said. “Still, I imagine that as a mother you probably can’t help feeling guilty or having regrets. If you could go back in time and do anything differently, what would you change?”

She thought for a while.

“First, I would insist that she hand over her cell phone at bedtime. Teenagers don’t need cell phones in their bedrooms at night. That is how all the internet activity got organized.”

She paused.

“Secondly, I would take back all of my reactions to her intense emotional outbursts. Her tantrums would fuel my own rage and she gained power over me that way. In retrospect, I should have remained calm and let her know that it was okay to have intense feelings, but that her behavior wasn’t going to change the rules or my behavior. I shouldn’t have allowed her to wield so much power over me.”

She sighed.

“It’s more easily said than done though. They have such a way of pushing your buttons.”

Today her daughter is a successful freshman at a highly reputable college. The girl's main frustration is the college party scene. Her roommate, despite having a boyfriend, gets incredibly drunk most nights, has sex with many different men and doesn’t remember anything about it in the morning. It disturbs this woman’s daughter to be near that kind of behavior after having fought as hard as she did to escape it.

“It was the hardest work I’ve ever done,” the woman said, “but now I am close to my daughter in a way that I didn’t know was possible between mothers and daughters. She and I are real friends.”

The four of us sat by the fire in the B & B's common room and talked a while longer.

Finally K and I stumbled soberly to our room wearing this story around our necks like a talisman.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What's the Difference?

Years before my friend Bee divorced her husband she met a guy named Cary who became her workout buddy.

They spent loads of time together biking, running and otherwise training for races.

At the time, Bee confessed to feeling attracted to Cary but she assured me that they were just friends.

[I done told y'all that jest ain't right!]

It's been about a year since Bee's divorce and when I saw her last week she told me that she and Cary were dating.

"Oh, that's a SHOCKER!" I laughed.

"What do you mean?!" she balked.

"C'mon, Bee. You've always been attracted to him. This was inevitable... just a matter of time."

"I don't know," she said.

She paused.

"He told some of our mutual friends that we're dating and I was surprised that he said so, I mean, there's not much difference between being his friend and dating... if that is what we're doing. We're both seeing other people too."

"Well," I probed, "have you been kissing Cary? That would make it different."

She blushed and so I couldn't resist...

"And...? After all this time? After all the build up? How was it to [cough] kiss Cary."

She laughed.

"It was good," she said. "It's great."

"Well then," I told her "I don't think your current relationship is the same as it was before, not if you're... you know... kissing. You're not just friends. Maybe you're friends with benefits."

"What's the difference between friends with benefits and dating?" she asked.

I thought about it.

"It seems like dating implies that the relationship might be headed somewhere while friends with benefits suggests the existence of a tacit agreement that the relationship specifically ISN'T going anywhere."

Bee and I laughed and moved on to talk about other things.

Later, when I was telling K about my conversation with Bee, he said,

"I've never understood the whole 'friends with benefits' thing. I mean what is it?"

I remained quiet thinking about some slutty, slut bag ho' activity of yesteryear and tried to decide whether or not to answer.

[It's not like I'm the FOREMOST AUTHORITY on 'friends with benefits'.]

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Have you ever had a relationship like that?" he asked.

[Chirp, chirp. Do you hear the birds singing? Hey! Look over there!]

"It doesn't seem real," K said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Friends with benefits is never
real. It's not true. One person inevitably wants the relationship to somehow progress and that defeats the whole purpose of the arrangement."

Hmmmm.... I've been
wondering if he's right.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Stinky Kind of Love

When I picked up The Rooster from school all of The Mayor’s friends crowded around me.

“Where’s The Mayor? Where’s The Mayor?” they chirped.

I told them that he broke his arm and had to stay home for a little while.

“Tell him I am missing him!” one shouted.

“Me too! I am missing him, too!” another joined.

The next thing I knew I was waist deep in a sea of munchkins who were all shouting,

“I am missing The Mayor! No, I am! NO, ME!!”

It was kind of awesome!

This morning The Mayor came to school with me to drop off Rooster but he was feeling too protective of his arm to stay.

Taylor, a curly-haired classmate ran up to him yelling,


More awesome!

Finally, in a burst of morning tenderness, K knelt down in front of The Mayor, moved in close and said,

“Mayor, you have been so brave. I am so proud of you and I love you so much.”

In response, The Mayor said,


Which is, of course, the most awesome!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Kind of Knitting

“This is an emergency,” she said. “You have to come right now.”

I ran to my car and backed down the driveway but I live on a busy street and the traffic was relentless.

Panic rose in my chest and I screamed at my car windows.

When I finally reached the school, The Mayor was sitting in his teachers lap sobbing.

“He was running on the playground,” she told me. “He fell and his friend fell on top of him. His arm is hurt, but I can’t see it through his shirt and he won’t let anyone touch it.”

My panic, visibly increasing, led another teacher to take me by the arm and, in her most serious and stern voice, say,

“You need to stay calm.”

I took a deep breath and righted myself.

The teachers helped me get The Mayor into the car and I headed for the emergency room.

Every time the car went over a bump or I slowed down for a traffic light he wailed in agony.

“Please, Mama! Please make it stop hurting!”

I had to self-park in the ER parking deck (WTF?!!) and carry him to the elevator. He sobbed and sobbed.

Every movement I made hurt him.

Why hadn’t I asked the school to call an ambulance?

When I reached the check in desk with my arms full the attendant said,

“Sign in, please.”

“Wait here please.”

Finally, FINALLY, they took him to triage and gave him some mild pain medication and eventually morphine.

The x-rays almost made me throw up.

The bone in his upper arm was snapped clean apart just above his elbow.

“He’ll need surgery,” they said.

Hours later, The Mayor was pieced back together with two steel pins and a cast from his shoulder to his swollen fingertips.

Once we had The Mayor home and settled K and I held each other in a state of profound humility and gratefulness. Together, we silently acknowledged the perspective that spending any time at a children’s hospital will provide.

As awful as it was to see The Mayor in such pain and to feel so helpless, he will heal.


Yesterday I asked for perspective on boys as babysitters.

In response, an astounding number of people shared very personal stories with me. Some left their stories in the post's comments, but far more sent me a private e-mail.

I feel like I have a responsibility to acknowledge and appreciate the leap of faith that so many of you took in sharing your experiences with me.

I promise to hold your words in trust.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Can Boys Baby Sit Your Daughter?

: This post goes to a dark place…

Months ago my friend Elke and I purchased tickets to a modern dance series at a local theater.

I was excited because, like me, Elke likes modern dance (unlike K who, when forced to attend, fidgets.)

K agreed to be in charge of the short and loud people on the show nights, but after things were all set K was invited to a surprise 40th birthday party for his best friend. It was to be held in New York on the night of the first performance in my dance series.

Because K and I are of the mind that in life and friendship it is important to show up for the big stuff, we decided that he would go to New York and I would get a babysitter for the night.

At the last minute, my babysitter cancelled leaving me twenty four hours to find a replacement or miss my show.

I frantically called around and left messages with all my sitters.

[I have never been rejected so much in a single day!]

Then, miraculously, a friend suggested her son.

I don’t know her son well, but I have met him and he seems like a very personable and responsible kid.

I was a little nervous because he is fairly young, but I kept reassuring myself by thinking of how young I was when I started babysitting. Besides, my friend/his mother assured me that he baby sits her younger son and daughter regularly and takes the job very seriously.

My friend lives in my neighborhood and went as far as to offer to stay home so that her son could call her if anything went wrong.

I trust this friend. Everything was going to be fine.

I was going to go out! Hurrah!

And then… The Mayor threw up all night long the night before the event.

On the morning of the show I called my friend and cancelled her son’s baby sitting services.

“If The Mayor starts throwing up again you'll get stuck dealing with it and I don’t want to do that to you.”

I resigned myself (albeit grumpily) to missing the performance.

Late in the afternoon, after a vomit-free day, a teen aged girl that lives behind us called, apologized for returning my call so late and said that if I still needed a baby sitter she was available.

"Oh, what the hell," I thought and
accepted her offer.

Later, after listening to me drone on about the mundane ups and downs of finding a baby sitter, a male friend said,

“Aren’t you worried about a boy babysitting your daughter?”

“What?” I said. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

He was talking about the potential abuse of my daughter.

See my innocence smashed to bits there on the floor?

Honestly, nothing like that had occurred to me.

Nothing that disgusting had even crossed my mind.

In fact, my biggest concern was that my friend's son might not know how to work our stove to make a frozen pizza.

I was immediately enraged and then depressed and despondent.

I think it is important to be clear that the person who questioned trusting male baby sitters with little girls has never met my friend's son. The comment was in no way meant as a personal attack.

But still.

Is it a reasonable fear?

Can teen-aged boys babysit my daughter?

I HATE the idea of living my life bought into a manufactured “culture of fear.”

I want to be someone who says,

“How the hell are young boys supposed to learn to be caring and nurturing if you suspect them of being child abusers before they’ve even reached puberty?!!”

I want to believe in the best possible version of everyone I meet.

And, at the same time, of course, of course, of course, I want to protect my daughter.



Saturday, February 09, 2008

A while back I mentioned feeling ashamed and embarrassed about having engaged in a shouting match with my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving.

A few weeks later I wrote her an e-mail that said,

Dear Jane:

I wanted to write to tell you that I regret that we fought at Thanksgiving. It is not my intention or hope to have anything but a good relationship with you.

It would mean a lot to me if we could find the time to talk openly about some ground rules for co-parenting during holidays or other family visits. By ground rules I mean parenting rules that we can all agree to follow together consistently with our kids.

Parenting is such hard business and each of us has to do what works best in our own homes. However, when we’re together, I think we need to compromise.

It seems to me that if we are going to be close to each other and each other’s children, we have to find a way to be comfortable when our children are in the other’s charge and know that they will be cared for in a way that we can both live with and accept. This is why I am suggesting we establish some ground rules. Had we had them before Thanksgiving, we might have avoided our argument.

For example, we may disagree about how to arbitrate fights between our children and when or why a toy would get put into time out, but we could perhaps set up a ground rule that standardized the response the kids would get in that situation regardless of whether it came from you, me, K or Jim.

I think the reason I got so angry with you was that I made a parenting decision as the adult in the room with The Mayor and Jackeroo when they fought. I felt like you did not respect the action I took and, in so openly challenging it, you undermined my authority in front of the children. If we had some ground rules for working together at parenting our children and nieces/nephews together then this wouldn’t have happened.

I hope you are open to talking about this further.



I didn't hear anything back from the e-mail I sent, so I printed the letter out and sent it to her in the regular mail.

Another month went by and because I didn't hear from her I wondered if she planned to ever speak to me again.

I decided to call.

My brother answered the phone and said that Jane was sleeping.

I paused and finally decided to ask,

"I sent Jane a letter... did she mention it to you?"

She had not.

I told my brother about the letter and asked him if he would be willing to ask her about it.

The next day she called me.

"You gave me the silent treatment when we were leaving," she said. "That really hurt my feelings."

"You're right. I did do that," I said. "I knew it would hurt your feelings when I did it. I owe you an apology and I am sorry."

She paused.

"I didn't agree with the way you handled the fight between The Mayor and Jackeroo, but the way I yelled at you in front of them was wrong," she conceded.

Though I like Jane very much, she and I haven't had a particularly close relationship.

Our conversation made abrupt starts and stops and it was awkward at times, but we were trying.

She talked to me about how hard things had been for their family these last few months. My brother works in new home construction and the market has been very slow. He's been anxious and his worry has bled over into their family life.

"I'm sorry," I said. "That sounds hard."

"It is, it is," she said. "It's very hard for him."

"No," I said. "I meant it sounds hard for YOU."

"You're worried about ME?!"

I thought she might weep.

"Of course," I said.

"I'm sorry, it's just that with the three kids and him home all day I'm the one that worries about everyone else from the time my eyes open until the time they shut. I don't have any time to myself and no one worries about me."

"That doesn't sound sustainable," I said.

She sighed.

"It's hard," she said.

"It sounds like it," I agreed.

"It's just been so hard since your Granny died," Jane said. "I really miss her. I really loved her."

I wasn't expecting our conversation to go in this direction. I choked back my own tears.

"She's the only person in your family that really saw ME," she said. "She understood what I go through. She appreciated me. She liked me. She made me feel special."

I was glad I was sitting down.

"She was the matriarch," Jane said. "She made sure it all fit together and that there was a place for everyone. Now that she's gone, I want to play that role... but that doesn't seem to work."

As she was talking I thought about my mom, my Aunt Nancy, myself, my cousin Shannon... the women who are, by blood, part of my family. I admit, it did sound odd to me to think of Jane adopting the role of matriarch in my family.

Jane and I talked for a long time.

She shared her experiences of various family gatherings, expressing - maybe for the first time to anyone besides my brother -- her frustrations.

I listened.

We didn't get to talk about common ground rules for parenting, but we agreed to talk about it before the next time we were together.

Near the end of the conversation, I said,

"I realize there's a lot for us to work out, but I want you to know that it's important to me that our families are close and I want to do that work."

"I think it was good that we fought," she said. "We're having this conversation because of it."

Before we hung up she confessed to being a reader of this blog and asked me if I was going to write about our fight.

"No," I said. "I try not to air my dirty laundry on the internet."

"I want you to," she insisted. "Promise me you'll write about it."

I felt stunned and confused when I hung up. I wasn't sure what to make of all that was said much less know what I might write about it.

I decided to let it sink in for awhile.

A few nights ago I found myself in the space between dreams and wakefulness, the place where you are aware of your thoughts, but not certain about where reality begins and ends.

In that moment I saw Cindy, my best friend from high school.
“I know you know this,” she said, “but things would probably feel a lot better if you would just talk to your Granny.”

I eyed a photo of my grandmother.
“Well,” I said to Granny's image, “at least this time you sent a messenger I trust and not some crazy lunatic!”

As I became increasingly lucid, Cindy faded from my mind's eye.

I slowly understood that I was at home in my bed and Cindy was thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest.

I thought about what Cindy said in my dream state.

“Ugh!!! I know she’s right,” I thought.

I had trouble knowing what to say though.

I asked the friend who originally suggested I talk to my Granny's spirit,

"How do I talk to her? What do I say?"

She said that all I had to do was ask,

"What do you have to say right now, Granny?"

She said I'd be surprised by the response.

Days passed and I wasn't making any progress on the conversation with Jane or on talking to my Granny.

I decided I must be emotionally and spiritually paralyzed... until yesterday when I started talking to a friend over lunch about the conversation I had with Jane.

In retelling it, I found myself talking about her suggestion about playing a matriarchal role in my family.

My family.

Oh, there it is.


MY family?!


No wonder she feels frustrated with me.

Clearly I have maintained an unspoken boundary defining my brother as true family and Jane as something else. Merely his wife?

Oh, I am such a giant ass.

I can be so self-righteous sometimes (- oh my letter! -) when really I am the guiltiest.

This family of mine is of course hers also.

It's my responsibility to make sure that the way I speak, act and think conveys that to her.

I have to make sure I respect her equal rights, voice and contributions in OUR family.

[Why am I such a slow learner?!!]

Since I was making break-throughs anyway, I decided to push for further success on the car ride home.

"What do you have to say right now, Granny?" I said to the windshield.

The response I heard, was...

"I'm proud of you for understanding about Jane."

Jane was right. It is good that we fought.

May it be an important step on our journey to being truly close.

My Sister-In-Law, Jane