Friday, June 27, 2008

Siblings in The Wild

The storyteller came to summer school yesterday.

She told The Mayor and The Rooster the story of the wide mouthed frog, the one where the frog hops around the forest asking all the other animals what they like to eat.

[You know the one.]

After she told it, she asked all the kids what wild animal they were and what they liked to eat.

The Mayor told her he was a tiger.

"Oh! A Tiger!" the Storyteller said. "What do you like to eat, Mr. Tiger?"

The Mayor, taking time to think it through, didn't answer right away.

The Storyteller turned to The Rooster.

"What wild animal are you, Rooster?" she asked.

"A buffalo!" Rooster told her.

"Oooh! A buffalo! And what do you like to eat buffalo?"

The Rooster cut her eyes at her brother,

"Tigers," she said.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Yesterday, when I was driving to my office, I heard a hauntingly melodic song on the radio.

It was in a language I didn’t recognize so I had no idea what they were saying, but I really liked the song.

Unfortunately, the DJ didn’t announce the name of the song or artist before I got out of the car.

Later that afternoon, I stopped at the library to pick up a Dengue Fever CD that I had requested and was waiting on hold for me.

I decided to browse the library’s CD collection.

Always a sucker for those Putumayo world music collections, I found myself in that section staring at a CD with a man in desert boots, fatigues and dreadlocks on the cover.

I had never heard of The Idan Raichel Project. Regardless, I decisively put the CD in my pile to check out.

When I got home I put the CD in my computer and began listening to the first track. I liked it, but something inside me told me to skip to the second track.

It was the song from the morning.

I was stunned! What are the chances?

I looked up and the first thing I saw was the picture of my grandparents that sits next to my desk.

At Our Wedding

My Granny looked incredibly pleased with herself and my Ady’s face was filled with laughter.

The hair on my forearm stood up.

I remembered a while back screaming at this very picture.

After the close-talking, dragon-breathed, evangelical woman tried to save my soul in the thrift store I informed my Granny that if she wanted to send me a message that she’d better do it in a way that I would trust.

Staring at their picture I suddenly needed to know what the lyrics to the song meant.


From deep depths I called to you to come to me
with your return the light in my eyes will come back
it's not finished,
I am not leaving the touch of your hands
The sound of your laughter shall glow here again.

From deep depths I called to you to come to me
the moonlight I will again light your way to me
they're spread out and melted again
the touch of your hands
I whisper, ask in your ears:
Who is it that calls to you tonight - listen
who sings aloud to you under your window
who stakes his soul just for you to be happy
who will lend his hand to build you a home
who lay his life down underneath you
who like the earth at your feet shall live on
who will love you better than all your lovers
who will save you from all evil spirits
from the depths.

From depths I called to you to come to me
the moonlight will shine your way back to me
spread out and melted to the touch of your hand
I whisper in your ears and ask
Who is it that calls to you tonight.

As it turns out, the song is sung in a blend of Hebrew and Amharic.

I thought of the place my grandparents must be and imagined all the languages of the world united in one universal form.

How much they must understand now.

Thankfully, they remain all around me everywhere, showing me the way with and without them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Less Is More

"Mama, which number is bigger eighty seven or fifty nine?"

"Eighty seven."

"How come?"

Lately, The Mayor has been obsessed with this line of questioning and has seemed interested in understanding how numbers work.

Eager to help, I found a container of dried chickpeas that I have owned (and moved from house to house) for the last fifteen years.

put a handful of the beans on the table and asked The Mayor to count them into piles of ten.

He counted out four piles.

I explained that four tens was forty.

Using a pad and a piece of paper, I lectured on the subject of counting by tens.

I gesticulated.

I waved my arms.

I was incredible, amazing, stupendous even!

The Mayor pushed all forty chickpeas into one pile.

"Let's play a different game now, Mama," he said.

"Okay, Mayor."

I put my pad down and gave him my full attention.

"Which is bigger, seventy four or twenty three?"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Merry Melodies

What the [BLEEP] happened to ME?

[I've fallen and I can't reach my keyboard!]

How dare I neglect... THE BLOG!

The truth is... I BRAVELY ventured forth into uncharted territory.

I endeavored to do something I had never done before.

I packed up my two children and took them... without my husband... on a five hour, weekend road trip.

[Ree ree ree!!! Did you see Jason with his mask and knife making stabbing motions over my shoulder?]

I felt nucking futs for planning this solo trip but I was invited to The Casa Fell Swoop and, well... her charms are simply irresistible.

I did not attempt this act of lunacy unarmed, nay.

People, I am the new owner of a portable DVD player.

I, Joy-ra Queen of The Strict No TV Policy took my children from zero TV to a Looney-Tune-A-Thon in one road trip.

[If I hear the Looney Tunes music one more time.... KABLAM!!! My head will explode.]

Swoop's son and The Roo get along famously.

The Mayor and the young Boy Swoop? Not so much.

There's a little TESTASTERONE problem.

"I am the alpha male!"

"No I am the alpha male!"

[And a great thumping of fists on chests ensues.]


If Swoop Boy and The Mayor got along then Roo would be the third wheel. Three is just a hard number.

Anyway, Swoop and I took the wee people to her neighborhood pool for an EXHAUST-A-THON and The Mayor made a friend.

Andrew from Swoopville taught The Mayor how to play "OH, MY GIANT FIRE HOSE."

[Which is, as you know, every boy's favorite game.]

Andrew held the swim noodle securely to one of the pool's jet spray nozzles while The Mayor held the far end of the noodle above water so that "the fire" (also known as his sister) could be endlessly sprayed with water.

Oh. The. Joys.

After exhausting themselves with the spraying, Andrew invited The Mayor to join him for a snack and offered him a fruit flavored tootsie roll.


The Mayor asked my permission.

{Wha? Wow.}

I consented and he ate it.

Next, Andrew offered The Mayor an Oreo.

"Is that another treat?" The Mayor asked.

[Has he never had an Oreo? Really?]

Andrew confirmed that the Oreo was a treat.

"No thanks," The Mayor said. "One treat is enough for me."

This is where I fell off my lawn chair and Swoop had to smack me back to consciousness.

When I came to
there was a little ring of stars circling the air above my head.

I heard birds tweeting and I was confused.

"I tawt I saw a puddy tat," I said.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Time To Stand Up

When K and I got married, we wrote our own vows.

As we wrote them, we were conscious of the fact that some of our wedding guests would watch us take our vows all the while cognizant that they themselves were legally barred from making the same commitment to their own partners.

Some of our friends do not posses the basic right to marry who they love.

Knowing this made K and I both uncomfortable and indignant.

We wrote a prayer into our ceremony asking for the dawning of the day when all couples could enjoy the legal right to wed.

The other night, K came home and wanted to talk about donating money.

"I heard a story on NPR," he said. "The recent California Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage is being threatened by a referendum to amend the state constitution. The
referendum would overturn the ruling and would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman."

[I took a deep, frustrated breath...]

"Money is going to pour into California from conservative sources all over the country. I want to contribute funds to the other side of the fight," he said.

I agreed.

We wrote to a good friend in California who is celebrating his sixth anniversary with his partner to ask where he thought our donation should go in order to achieve the greatest impact.

He recommended Human Rights Campaign.

[HRC also has a petition you can sign.]

K and I are on it.

True love is hard enough to find in this world. I don't understand why we have to make it harder on folks.

First They Came
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent; I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gentleman Feminist

The Rooster, The Mayor and I rounded the corner onto a very narrow sidewalk on a really busy street.

I noticed that The Rooster kept trying to hold The Mayor’s hand. The street traffic must have made her nervous.

“Mayor, Rooster wants to hold your hand. Would you be willing to hold hands with her?” I asked.

The Mayor took her hand and asked his signature question.


“I think the busy street is making her nervous. Holding your hand makes her feel safer,” I told him.

“How come?”

“Because you are her big brother and that’s what good big brothers do… they help take care of their little sisters.”

We entered a shoe store where The Rooster rejected many, many perfectly fine shoes.

[What girl in her right mind leaves the shoe store empty handed??? Is she really mine?]

Walking back out to the narrow sidewalk, The Rooster again grabbed for The Mayor’s hand.

“Thank you for being such a nice big brother, Mayor. You’re even walking on the street side just like a gentleman!” I told him.

“What’s a gentle man?” The Mayor asked.

“A gentleman is a nice man, a good man.”

“Why does the gentleman walk on the street side?”

[Ack! Why did I choose to tell him this? What is the best, most feminist answer?]

“Um… to make the ladies feel safe and protected from the fast cars.”

[The ghost of Bella Abzug hit me with her hat.]

The Mayor held Rooster’s hand and walked her down the street.

As we turned the corner and left the whizzing traffic behind, The Mayor said,

“Mom, I don’t want to be a gentleman. I think I’d rather be a girl.”

Oh, The Sweet Mayor.

While chivalry can be nice, he has no idea what he’d be getting into.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Elephant Clothes

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Forest Mayor who lived in a tree house in the forest with his sister Rooster and his parents.

The roof of the tree house was made of leaves and Forest Mayor’s bed was made of flowers.

Forest Mayor’s best friend was an elephant named Old Mr. Big Ears.

Forest Mayor and Mr. Big ears went on many adventures together.

One day, Old Mr. Big Ears told Forest Mayor that he needed to go and buy some clothes.

“That’s silly,” said Forest Mayor. “You don’t wear clothes!”

“Many elephants DO wear clothes,” insisted Mr. Big Ears. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll show you.”

They set off walking out of the forest.

When they reached the edge of the forest they hitch hiked to the airport.

At the airport, Old Mr. Big Ears bought tickets for the two of them to take a long, long plane ride.

“Where are we going?” asked Forest Mayor?

“We’re going to India, where they sell elephant clothes!” Mr. Big Ears said.

The plane ride was very long and Forest Mayor was uncomfortable because Mr. Big Ears took up too much room in the aisle and Forest Mayor was squished in his seat.

Finally, the plane wheels came down and the plane landed.

When they got out of the airport, Mr. Big Ears and Forest Mayor hailed a taxi cab and asked the driver to take them downtown to the elephant clothing store.

The cab driver was not a nice man.

He took one look at Old Mr. Big Ears and decided he would sell him away to the circus to make a lot of money.

He drove Forest Mayor and Mr. Big Ears to the circus grounds, talked to the head of the circus, told Forest Mayor and Mr. Big Ears to get out and then he drove away leaving them there.

Before Mr. Big Ears or Forest Mayor knew what was happening, circus men had grabbed Old Mr. Big Ears, chained his legs and locked him up in a cage.

“Scram kid!” They said to Forest Mayor. “Get out of here!”

“Help me, Forest Mayor!” cried Mr. Big Ears.

Forest Mayor didn’t know what to do. He was alone in a strange country. How would he get help for Mr. Big Ears? Who could help him?

Forest Mayor found a phone booth and made an extra long distance phone call to his Grandma Seattle.

He explained what had happened and asked for her advice.

Grandma Seattle told Forest Mayor to make sure he wore the right outfit. “Find something that makes you look like a local,” she said. “You’ll want to fit in and not look suspicious when dealing with circus people,” she said.

Forest Mayor went to the nearest clothing store and bought an outfit that made him blend in with the local people.

Next he called Grandma New York to ask her for her advice.

“Make sure you read all the good books on the subject,” she told him.

“You can learn everything you need to know from good books – and even if you can’t – at least you have a good book to read while you’re waiting for things to work out,” she said.

Forest Mayor went to the local library and checked out a few good books on rescuing friendly elephants from mean circus men.

Next Forest Mayor called Pop to ask him for his advice.

“Make a lot of silly faces,” Pop said. If you make people laugh, they will enjoy your company and want to be your friend. If they are your friends, they will help you.

So Forest Mayor walked around the streets of India making very silly faces.

Next, Forest Mayor called Uncle Joe to ask for his advice.

Uncle Joe suggested that Forest Mayor write a threatening letter to the circus men. “Be sure to use proper grammar!” Uncle Joe insisted. “There’s nothing worse than the misuse of grammar!”

Forest Mayor wrote a threatening letter to the circus men.

Dear Circus Men:
Free Old Mr. Big Ears…or else!
Forest Mayor

[He wasn’t sure if it was grammatically correct or not.]

Nothing happened, so Forest Mayor called Aunt Sheila to ask her advice.

“First of all,” she said, “never listen to your Uncle Joe!”

“Secondly, whatever you do, don’t be grumpy. You know the rule… NO GRUMPS ALLOWED!”

Aunt Sheila is silly, but Forest Mayor tried his hardest not to be grumpy.

Next Forest Mayor called Uncle Jim to ask his advice.

“Lie down on the sofa, watch a football game, eat some chips and think it over,” he said. “All good ideas come to those who relax and watch sporting events.”

There was no football in India so Forest Mayor went to see a cricket match.

Forest Mayor couldn’t make any sense of it.

Next he called Aunt Patricia to ask her advice.

Aunt Patricia started a letter writing campaign with Amnesty International and thousands of letters arrived at the circus from all over the world, but still they did not free Old Mr. Big Ears.

Finally, Forest Mayor called his parents.

Mommy, Daddy and Rooster took the next plane to India.

When they got there they rented a car and drove out to the circus to see what was happening.

While the circus men were distracted talking to Mommy and Daddy, Rooster took the keys to Old Mr. Big Ears cage, unlocked the door and snuck him out.

She stuffed him in the trunk of the car.

“Run!” she yelled.

Forest Mayor, Mommy and Daddy ran to the car. They jumped in and gunned it to the airport.

They hopped on the first plane home.

That night, when they were all back in the tree house, The Mayor’s mommy read him three books, sang him three songs and told him a story about another Mayor who lives in a brick house in Georgia.

After that, The Mayor fell fast asleep.

And as for Old Mr. Big Ears… well, he thinks it is just fine if elephants don’t wear any clothes.


K and I invent "Forest Mayor" goodnight stories at bedtime.
This is the first one to be put in writing.
I hope to get around to turning it into one of those Shutterfly photobooks so
The Mayor can see the pictures.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Little Nut Brown Hare

From the backseat of the car, The Mayor said,

"I love you as tall as a redwood tree, Mama."

Oh, the rare moments when I'm not "doing it wrong!"

"Thank you, Mayor! What a nice thing to say. I love you, too."

There was a pause, then he asked,

"Mama, which is bigger, a redwood tree or the ocean?"

"Well, that's a hard one because a redwood tree is tall and an ocean is wide."

"Well, if you cut a redwood tree down and put it next to an ocean which one would be bigger."

"An ocean would be bigger in that case," I said.

"Then I love you as much as an ocean, Mama."

I guess I got some long overdue back pay.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name...


The Rooster summoned me at WHATEVER-O-CLOCK in the morning.

I stumbled into her room.

Seeing me, she flipped onto her tummy and pulled in her knees so that her tiny, little-girl butt was elevated.

She pulled her pajama pants down, effectively giving me a full moon.

"My name is Sleepy Butt!" she announced.

Are you feeling my early-in-the-morning joy?

Oh. The. Joys.

Seemingly endless...

Monday, June 09, 2008


Random people from my past are regularly resurfacing.

Suddenly we’re friends again -sort of- at least we're friends on the Internet.

Sarah recently invited me to be her friend on Facebook.

I think the last time I hung out with Sarah was in eighth grade.

I was new to the Chicago suburbs and the first friend I made was Cindy.

Cindy introduced me to Sarah and Susannah whom she had been friends with since elementary school.

As we all transitioned to high school, Cindy and I drifted away from Sarah and Susannah and made new friends.

Looking back, I don't recall our making a conscious decision to distance ourselves. Maybe Cindy and I were more interested in boys and make-up than they were. I don't know.

Throughout high school, while Cindy and I learned to drink, smoke and otherwise misbehave, Sarah and Susannah stayed focused on academics.

Sometimes, when I am falling asleep at night, I think about how my life might have been different if I had hung tight with Sarah and Susannah's crowd.

I usually shake that type of thought loose pretty quickly.

Admittedly, achieving great acts of stupidity was my high school specialty and it did leave me with a few honest regrets.

That said, I don't regret who I've become.

It's the who I've become part mixed with high school memories that can make drifting off to sleep interesting.

I love thinking about what it would be like to wake up with my forty year old consciousness in my teen-aged body.

It makes me laugh to imagine myself getting out of bed on my own, grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down at my parent's kitchen table with the newspaper.

My parents were in their thirties when I was a teenager.

I like to imagine the look on their faces if the (forty year old) teen-aged me looked up from the paper and suggested we attend a lecture series advertised in the Tribune.

I think about walking the halls of my high school and paying particular attention to the people I overlooked when I was there.

I wonder what could have been different if I had known Guadalupe, dated Bill, or been closer friends with Jamie.

Next, I imagine traveling to New York for spring break, seeking out K's high school and watching his lacrosse practice from the field's edge.

His high school girl friends wonder who I am.

Making their territory known, they give me the stink eye.

I am not phased.

I haven't come to interfere with history.

I don't plan to say a word.

I simply want to witness the boyhood enthusiasm that I know so well in the actual boy.

I see it, I smile and I drift off to sleep.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

You've Been A Friend To Me

When my friend Matthew heard about my Granny’s death and how I was there with her in the end, he wrote me a note that said,

“If, when I die, it is with my grandchild holding my hand, stroking my hair and singing to me, I think that I will have had the best death possible.”

Though I knew what he meant, I couldn’t see it that way at the time.

Nothing about it felt like a good death.

I wasn't at all prepared to stand by her side.

She was stolen from me, too soon.

Oh come ye back
My own true love
And stay a while with me
If I had a friend
All on this earth
You’ve been a friend to me

-- Mary Chapin Carpenter

Today, because he loves it, I cut cantaloupe for The Mayor’s lunch.

This one was ripe and sweet, just right.

Sneaking a piece from his lunch plate, I was immediately reminded of my grandparents.

Though tobacco is the primary crop in the area, cantaloupe also grows in abundance on the farms near my Granny and Ady’s house.

The taste of it reminds me of summers at their house.

I smiled thinking of them both and, in particular, of my Granny.

I still miss her.

Though lately I have come to understand that the act of standing beside her in death was a gift, both from me to her as well as from her to me.

and every day you gaze upon the sunset
with such love and intensity
it's's almost as if
if you could only crack the code
then you'd finally understand what this all means

but if you you think you would
trade in all the pain and suffering?
ah, but then you'd miss
the beauty of the light upon this earth
and the sweetness of the leaving

--Jane Siberry

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Anatomy Lesson

The Mayor spoke excitedly in all caps...


"What, Mayor?"


"That's right, Mayor! There aren't any bones in hair!"

Oh, my brilliant child!



Oh, my brilliant child!