Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Less Than

Every night we take turns reading to the kids.  

I read to The Rooster when K reads to the Mayor and vice versa.

Without fail, The Mayor is always disappointed when it is my turn to read to him.

He prefers his Father and he is not shy about making that clear.

Tonight, after I read our customary three books to The Mayor (and then some), he said,

"Dad will read to me tomorrow night, right?"

I looked wearily at my son.

"Mayor, why don't you like it when I read to you?" I asked in earnest.

He studied my face.

"Well," he said.  "I do like it a little bit when you read to me."

"What don't you like about it, Mayor? Am I doing something wrong?"

"No... it's just that when Daddy reads I like it a little bit better."

"What does he do that you like better?" I asked.

The Mayor paused, studying me. 

He seemed to measure his words.

"Well, I just love him a little bit more, Mama."

The color must have drained from my face.

"It's just a tiny bit more, Mom," he said gently.

Reaching up as high as he could, he said 

"I love him this much." 

Then he lowered his hand some. 

"And I love you this much." 

I pushed everything down and back and under.

"Time for bed now," I said.

After I tucked him in, I had to lie on my bed and cover my head with my pillow.

The squeezing sensation in my chest felt like someone was trying to fit my heart into a box much too small to contain it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Our Hero

K and I were talking in the front seat while The Mayor and The Rooster prattled on in the back.

As my conversation with K wound down, I overheard their conversation.

"I will crush you in half with my power!" The Rooster said to her brother.

"I am the strongest and I will fly away!" The Mayor responded.

"Are you guys playing Superheroes?" I asked.

"Yes!" affirmed The Rooster.  "The Mayor is Batman and I am Bad Story Reader."

Bad Story Reader?

I was previously unfamiliar with the superhero known as Bad Story Reader, but the more I think about the character, the more I love it.

"I will overpower you with by reading another bad story!" she yelled.


Do not try to defy Bad Story Reader!

You will teeter on the edge of the cliffs of insanity from over exposure to Harold, his purple crayon and the resulting existential hell!

If you are able to resist the sure madness usually induced by Harold's crayon ... Bad Story Reader will utilize her ultimate, super weapon...

An enormous stack of Mrs. Frizzle and her Magic School Bus books!

[Fie on Mrs. Frizzle and all her evil little friends at Scholastic Books who try to pass their educational tomes off as narrative!  The literature major in me curses you all! Fie! Fie! A pox on your house! A fart in your general direction!] 

Bad Story Reader will torture you further by reading Richard Scary's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go over and over and over again until you are nothing but a simpering, gelatinous, wad of goo.

Go, Bad Story Reader, Go!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Secret Signals

Recently, there have been a number of episodes where The Mayor has lost his mind.

Poof! Mind = gone.

Without warning, I have found myself in THE TANTRUM ZONE taken completely by surprise.  

In the epicenter of these storms I noticed that The Mayor seemed to want to interrupt his fit and fall into my arms.

I somehow got the impression that the fits were about him craving affection without knowing how to communicate his needs. 

The Mayor isn't very effusive in general.

He's a totally affable guy, but he's not much of a cuddler.

Contrarily, any time I ask The Rooster for a hug or a kiss she comes running, happy to deliver.

The Mayor often watches Roo and I giving each other the sloppy love.

I sometimes think he looks wistful in those moments... as if perhaps he would like to have that type of relationship with me, but doesn't know how to negotiate it.

The other night we were lying on his bed at the end a hysterical fit.  

He was snuffling through the tail end of his tears.

"Do you ever feel like you want everything to stop and wish Mommy would cover you with hugs and kisses?" I asked.

He nodded, sucking in deep gulps of air.

"Is it sometimes hard for you to figure out how to tell me that is what you want?"

He nodded again.

We lay still for a few minutes.

"What if we had a secret sign?" I asked him.

Curious, he rolled over, out of our spoon, to face me.

"What if we had a hand signal that you could make that would let me know that I needed to stop everything and give you hugs and kisses?"

"I don't know," he grumbled.

He turned away from me again.

A few days later he took me wholly by surprise by saying,

"I thought of a sign, Mama."

He held his hand up with his palm facing his cheek and the back of his hand facing me.

"When I hold my hand like this, it means I want hugs and kisses."

He turned his hand over so his fingers pointed towards the floor.

"When I flip it over like this, it means I want you to stop."

"I like it," I said.  "Let's use that!"

He practiced turning my affection on and off at different speeds and felt well-satisfied with himself and his control over my behavior.

He's been using the sign ever since.  Not much, but some.

I think it makes him feel secure just knowing the sign exists.

I am on the look out, ready to respond whenever I see it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adults Are Boring

Last night The House of Joy went out to dinner with my husband’s ex-girlfriend Emily’s friend Linda and her man Tim.

[Did you get all that? Things move pret-ty fast on this-a here blog so keep up.]

We went to a reasonably nice restaurant, the kind that usually qualifies The Family Joy to wear giant signs that say:

“Oh, HAI!  We’re THAT family.”

But last night?  

The Mayor and The Rooster sat quietly and ate their food.

They were well behaved, decent children the likes of which one only witnesses in films from the 1940's.

Shockingly, K and I were able to have a long and delightful, adult conversation with Linda and Tim.

We were happily talkingtalkingtalking, grown-up talking when The Mayor finally said,  

“Excuse me, Mama.” 

[Oh, the BEAMING mother!!]

“Yes, Mayor?” I said.

He beckoned for me to lean in closer.

He whispered in my ear,

“Are you grown ups making speeches?”

The Mayor was making reference to his book “Are You Going To Be Good” by Cari Best in which Robert, the main character, goes to his first grown up, night time party only to be disillusioned by the incessant and boring talkingtalkingtalking done by the grown ups. 

"Is that all there is?" asks Robert.

He’s ready to go home until someone says, 

“It’s time to dance!”

[And then all hell breaks loose, man.]

“Grown ups are boring, huh?” I whispered back to The Mayor.

He grinned in appreciation and nodded vigorously.

If only there was dancing...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Live In Your Season

My friend Megan left her professional life after her oldest child was born.

She told me once that she used to worry about it. 

"Will I ever get back in the game?  Will I excel again?  Will I be a success?"

On one occasion when she was fretting about it, her mentor told her to “live in her season.”

“Now is your season of motherhood,” she said.  “There will be plenty of time later for you to focus on your career.”

I think about that a lot… about living in my season.

I haven’t been particularly focused on my career since I became a mother.

Consequently, I’m not winning any awards for my innovation or influence in my field.

[I did win Mom of the Week in blogland once though...]

Instead, I’m doing what I can at thirty hours a week and at the same time, taking the short and loud people to the doctor and prioritizing family life in general.

As a result, I've established a good work – life balance.

That feels important... and worth it.

But sometimes I still have moments where I worry that I should be trying harder professionally.

In those moments I try to remind myself...

"Live in your season, friend."

Now is my season of motherhood.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Whenever I hear that song it reminds me of the time he was locked up in the hospital.

They found him naked on the top floor of one of our high rise student dorms preaching about starting a new religion.

He was taken away and locked in the psychiatric ward.

I had known him since eighth grade. We were in drama club together and even dated briefly, innocently, when we were sophomores.  Over time, we became true friends, always able to be genuine with one another. 

We enrolled in the same college, a big ten school in the heart of the Midwest. We didn't see each other as frequently at college but a loyalty existed between us. There was mutual certainty that one would be there if the other needed something.

He loved the band U2 and was forever air-drumming along when their songs played.

A certain song never fails to remind me of visiting him in the hospital and I heard it this weekend when I was cooking and listening music.

I remembered how nervous I was about going to see him.

After I passed through the security clearance, they showed me to his room and I found him sitting on the edge of his bed.

His upper lip was hitched up and stuck on his upper gum oddly exposing his teeth.  

The backs of his hands rested on his jittery, bouncing knees and his palms faced upwards.

His eyes were rolled back in his head which was thrown all the way back. 

He was muttering to himself... or maybe to God.

He scared me.

I plugged in the tape player that I had brought with me to the hospital and pushed play.

The song I had queued up before leaving my apartment began.

I had always heard that the song was about a heroin overdose.  I remember thinking how ironic it was that it was one of his favorites and so it was the one I chose to play for him.

They told me he was suffering from an overdosed himself - though in his case it was LSD.

I remember sitting in the hospital room, listening to the music and watching him.

I loved him, this friend of mine.

Towards the middle of the song, his body relaxed and he looked at me, seeming to really notice I was there for the first time since I had arrived.

"I know what you're trying to do," he whispered.  "Thank you."

He looked at me for a moment more and then his eyes rolled back and upwards again.  His legs returned to the uncontrollable bounce and the muttering picked back up.

It would be a long while before he was well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

After Dinner Pan

"Let's be a pirate crew!" The Mayor suggested after dinner. 

"I'll be Captain Hook," he said.

"Daddy, you can be the crocodile and Rooster, you have to be Smee."

Then the Mayor looked at me and saw that I was doing the dishes.

He sighed.

"Mommy, I guess you'll just have to be on auto pirate."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Headbangers Ball

On Sunday, I celebrated my birthday with a few friends and the six children that we collectively parent.

K nearly burned down the backyard uh, blackening, no, grilling lunch for everyone.

[Which was delicious.]

Afterwards, Raffi [who is five] came to ask his mother when we would eat the cake.

“We don’t have any cake,” I told him.
“But it’s your BIRTHDAY,” he said with an incredulous look on his face.
“I know, so we have a key lime pie because I like that.”

I swear he would have flipped me the bird if he knew how to. He was furious.

WHAT? No freakin’ cake? The NERVE!

[Believe it... and no goodie bags either, Mr. Mini-Chump.]

Ah, well. I'm all talk.

We caved, gave the little people popsicles and then released their sugar filled bodies into the wilds of our mosquito infested backyard.

Then we thanked the tiny, baby Jeebus for the quiet.

The Zen-like peace led us to a deep, transcendental discussion...

...about the classic rock songs we each secretly loved.We gathered around my computer, calling up songs and lamenting the decline of the 1970's "wacca-wacca" rock sound.

We nodded our heads to the beat and shook our wild, rock hair while playing air guitar.

We bit our lower lips and squinted our eyes, achieving that tough rock n’ roll look.

[The really tough and cool look that only greying people over the age of forty-one can attain.]

When we finally went to check on the children, we found the older ones playing a sort of beach volleyball on two sides of our backyard fence.

The little ones were cheering them on from the where they stood on the roof of our car.

[Parent-of-the-Year Awards -- for all my friends!]

There were greasy, little hand and foot prints all over our windshield but it was totally worth it, dude.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Forty One

You say it's your birthday?

It's my birthday, too.


[insert  annoyingly familiar guitar lick]

I'm 41!

Oops...   Not that 41.

This forty one.

Yay me.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Come From A Family of Heroes

This blog is usually just your run of the mill mommy blog with stories about The Mayor, The Rooster, butts, poo, and my own joys, grief and idiocy.

I am not usually political. (Unless it's about touching Al Sharpton with my boobs or something idiotic like this.)

But yesterday my friend Jen Cole sent me an op-ed piece that she submitted to her local paper in Nashville.  

I asked her permission to share it here and she said yes.

I think it is an important perspective to consider.


I Come From A Family of Heroes
Jen Gilligan Cole
Nashville, Tennessee

I come from a family of heroes. Both my grandfathers enlisted in the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930’s and began building trails and bridges and roads as part of the New Deal. They then moved into the Army and Army AirCorps during World War II. One received a purple heart in North Africa fighting with Patton; the other stayed in Germany to help with reconstruction. My husband’s grandfather James Madison Lee died during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. His daughter was 6 months old and he never met her. My father enlisted at 18, served during Vietnam and retired from the USAF. Nearly every male member of my family since the 1940’s has enlisted and served active duty—from Army stints in Korea, to naval aircraft carriers in the Gulf. Our latest hero, Specialist Robert Cole (USMC) returned last week from his third tour in Iraq. He has missed the birth of both of his children. The women married to these men have endured the worst—from raising their children alone to constantly changing jobs with military moves to the tragedy of the DOD telegram that no one wants to receive. In my family, we know about heroism. 

My grandfathers, my father came home to turn their sacrifice into opportunity. They fought years in the service of our nation only to find themselves struggling for a leg up. They worked two and three jobs as house painter, a night watchman, simply trying to make ends meet. My father spent 21 years in active duty at the end leading 200 men and women; but he had to take on a second job as a juvenile detention center guard just so my brother and I could go to college. My dad is a hero and he joins millions of others who teach, walk a police beat, or drive a bus. He lives each day with a DNA-level belief that freedom means that work begets reward and that the lives of our children should be richer and more peaceful. That is what our family drawer of medals and purple hearts stands for. 

John McCain spent years in unimaginable pain and mental anguish in Vietnam. For that he has my respect. He returned to this country under a banner of praise, swearing to stand up for my dad, my grandfather. He has not. A compelling personal chapter doesn’t create a hero. Since 1999, John McCain has voted 3 times against the minimum wage, no to funding for children with disabilities in schools, no to funding for higher education loans, no to broader protection for victims of hate crimes. What’s worse—he was simply a no show vote (absent or unwilling to weigh in) on Equal Pay, Medicare Reform, the GI Extension bill, expansions on Child Health Insurance Program, and on Alternative Energy Incentives Bill (votesmart.org).  This man hides behind his personal story of sacrifice but didn’t even show up to vote on accepting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission or on renewing our ability to collect foreign intelligence or to reduce dependence on foreign oil by 2025. Yet he’s stood up for billionaire bankers in Savings & Loan bailouts, voted yes on no-bid contracts for Halliburton and yes to domestic surveillance on your telephone and my library card. He’s picked a running mate who has earned a claim to fame on a few high profile tussles, but who, for the most part has chosen to champion things like book censorship rather than health care and quality education for working families. 

It is time for the truth. Heroes go to work everyday to make a change, a difference for those who can’t. Heroes generate ideas and move people to move with them. You aren’t qualified to lead the free world if you don’t show up on issues that matter to everyday people. John McCain has spent 20 years systemically working against issues that matter to the Americans I know.  He has driven a thousand holes in the American Dream my family has fought hard to preserve. Your record stands for itself. John McCain you don’t get to tell me or my family about sacrifice, freedom or struggle. Your word is your bond and your word is smoke and mirrors—a nice story spun to make half a life time of weak or non-existent choices look red, white and blue. It’s time to drop the story and get to work. 

Barack Obama might not have the years of service or the tragic war yarn, but I’m willing to give him a chance. Why?  Because in the time that you’ve been a “maverick” more jobs have shipped overseas, college has become less affordable and I still make 78 cents to every dollar my husband does. Because I wake up each day wondering how I can send my child to kindergarten next year to a public school that worries more about worksheets and keeping guns out than it does inspiration and learning. I wonder how the continued cuts to VA benefits will affect my mom as she ages.  I wonder how Mr. McCain plans to stand up to terrorists, dictators and oligarchs if he can’t even be bothered to show up and vote. Obama has ideas and what’s more he’s inspired legions of every day Americans to mobilize. I owe it to my grandfather, my husband’s grandfather to take a chance on ideas and possibility rather than broken promises. I’ll hedge my bet on the new chapter of heroism that Americans and Obama can write together. John McCain you can keep your war story, I have plenty of my own. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Love You From Right Here

This morning at the breakfast table, The Rooster was inventing games to play with her sliced strawberries and buttered toast.

Normally, this would irritate me as it flies in the face of the timeline we employ to execute the House of Joy's morning routine with signature efficiency.

But today, feeling  a fondness for the whole essence of my daughter, I relaxed.

"I love you, my sweet Roo," I said.

She glanced over at me, grinned and said,

"Nanny nanny boo boo. You-oo can't catch me."

"I don't need to catch you," I said.  "I can love you from over here."

She gave me a blank stare.

"I can love you from the living room or the kitchen."

Still she stared at me.

"I can love you when I'm at work or away on a trip."

"I love you from right here," I said patting my heart.

She stared at me for a few more seconds.

"Nanny nanny boo boo, " she said. "You can't catch me."

The little minx.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Talk To The Animals

The Mayor and The Rooster were already asleep when K found Rooster's favorite stuffed duck on our bed.

He picked it up and took it to her room.

I noticed that he held the duck close to his face and seemed to be muttering to it.

I must have been looking at him oddly when he returned because he explained himself.

"I talk to their animals," he said.

"I whisper to them."  

"I tell them it's their responsibility to keep the children safe." 

"I mean, they're right there, sleeping beside them."

I love that man.

Monday, September 08, 2008

That's Entertainment

Spiderman came to the birthday party that The Mayor attended this weekend.

I should clarify that and say more specifically that Skid Row Spiderman came to the birthday party.

He arrived wearing his faded mask and badly fraying costume.  Behind him, he dragged a beaten up rolling suitcase.

No matter! Fifteen four-year-old jaws fell in awe... 

Spderman is HERE!  

He is among us! 

All hail, Spiderman!!

The rough and tumble Spiderman began his kiddie show with the oldest magic tricks in the book and then moved on to toddler Karate lessons.  

He told the worst jokes imaginable and promised to make balloon animals for the grand finale.

His repertoire struck me as odd.

I wondered about the man behind the mask.  

His oddness didn't seem to matter to the kids.

The Mayor hung on Spiderman's every word and took him literally when he said that each child who mastered the karate moves would be guaranteed a position at Super Hero Training School. 

[The Mayor is so earnest.]

Not all the kids took Spiderman as seriously as The Mayor.

Like a heckler from the back of the crowd, The Mayor's friend Zoe yelled out a direct request, 


Her father fell into a severe coughing fit.

After he recovered himself, he laughed and said,

"So now you know what kind of parties go on at our house."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Thursday Afternoon

The Mayor bugged me  about the dress for a week.

"You promised you'd show it to me," he reminded me again yesterday afternoon.

I don't know what made him interested in my wedding dress, but he demanded that I show it to him.

After I fetched the dress from the far reaches of our cedar closet and untangled it from its many wrappings, The Mayor asked me to put it on.

The Rooster joined the action too.

"Put it on, Mama!!"

[How odd to slip into one's wedding dress on a Thursday afternoon...]

The dress is too big for me now, but every detail about it reminded me of my wedding day.

I stepped into a pair of high heels so the dress wouldn't drag on the floor and then I paraded past K.

"Will you marry me?" I asked.

"Gladly!" he said with a smile.

The Mayor and The Rooster sat on either side of me on the couch while I showed them our wedding album and told them stories about the day.

They had never seen it before and were fascinated for a whole... oh... five minutes or so before they grew weary of the activity.

[Where is every day the same? Oh, yeah. That would be right here.]

As the children scrambled off the couch leaving me halfway through the album, The Mayor stopped and turned towards me.

My too-big wedding dress slid off my shoulders awkwardly.

The Mayor gave me a long look.

"Mom," he said, "I can see your boobs."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

What B is For

"What letter are you studying this week at school, Rooster?" I asked.

"B!" she told me.

"Oh? What words start with the letter B?"

"I know," shouted The Mayor. "Baby!"

"That's right!" I beamed.

"Balloon!" yelled Rooster.

"Ball, bat bottle, bag...!!!" cried The Rooster

"Book, blue, bib, bone...!!!" added The Mayor

[Oh, the proud!]

K, who had been listening from the other room, came to join us.

"What about THIS?" he said, turning and pointing at his rear end with both pointer fingers.

Both children screamed with delight,


For the rest of the evening, The Rooster repeatedly whipped around, thrust her backside in my direction, emphasized it with the double pointer finger treatment and yelled,

"What about THIS?!!"

I just know her teacher will put me in time out when I pick her up today...

"Ms. Joy, may I have a word with you please?"

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Surface and Dive

Last weekend was the final hurrah for our local outdoor pool.

At one point, I stood at the shallow end mesmerized by the site of The Rooster straddling her father’s back in the deep end.

K dove and surfaced like a dolphin while Rooster clung to him, her arms wrapped around his neck and her legs around his waist.

Suddenly, I was transported back in time riding my own magical sea dragon.

My childhood pool materialized before my eyes and I could see the diving board, the lifeguard stand and the kids playing Marco Polo in the shallow end.

I became myself as a little girl hanging on to my own father’s back.

I was not yet capable or confident enough to swim in the deep end on my own, but on my father’s back I felt safe.

At the time, I knew for certain that my father was invincible, infallible, indomitable.

He was my hero.

On his back, I didn’t have to be afraid. I could simply enjoy the thrill of the water and the adventure of its depth.

Shifting back to the present, I watched The Rooster experience her father the same way and smiled.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Seven Years

Today is our anniversary.

The Rooster woke us up at four a.m. and kept us awake for awhile.

Consequently, when we finally decided it was OFFICIALLY morning, we were grumpy.

[Squabbling happened.

Still, K and I made up for it in our own way.

"Seven years," I said, "Do you have the Seven Year Itch, K?

K reached down and scratched himself like an ape.

Then with a grin of total self-satisfaction, he said,

"Not anymore."

[Oh, the ROMANCE!]