Friday, December 23, 2011

From Grinch to Golden Rings, Happy Holidays

There were so many times this week that I wanted to wrangle the thoughts running wild through my head and horse whisper them into a composition and take a sleigh ride through the winter wonderland of my holiday brain. But my creative reserves were spent on arguing with cookie recipes (' How can you call yourself The Best Damn Sugar Cookie Ever? You taste like a mouthful of sand!); and then  returning to the recipe with my tail between my legs after realizing that I had muffed up. ('But, seriously, how can one keep count of how many cups of flour is being dumped into the bowl when there is a toddler looming over all of the ingredients, with her fountain of drool threatening to defile the dough- while she stands on tiptoes on the edge of a chair- which shouldn't even be called a chair anymore because it really only has 3 working legs?'). Then the rotten plague befell our house- heating the children into mewling, whimpering stupors- grasping with each swallow at their swollen, scratchy throats. Realizing that the miserable events kept growing instead of shrinking like a paper chain counting down to Christmas-I became more Grinch-y and cursed the blasted holiday of joy, peace, and blah, blah, blah, and life's not fair.

And then the Universe spoke and said, 'Oh, no! Things are so out of balance here. I'm so sorry. I was trying to follow the Best Damn Sugar Cookie Ever recipe. I will set things right again.' And she gave a gift, a very unexpected gift, a gift that will keep on giving for the next 20 years and beyond to the students of the Buffalo Public School district.The Universe said, 'Say Yes to Education will partner with business leaders to provide free college tuition to any SUNY school to any child who has had continuous enrollment (at least four years) in the Buffalo Public Schools. And, Say Yes to Education will adopt a neighborhood (a zip code) in one of the most impoverished areas of the city- to help provide healthcare, guidance, resources, a partnership with families to ensure children in those neighborhoods are receiving the supports they need to work toward the goal of becoming college bound.' If ever there was a glimmer of light during uncertain times, this must be it. Of course my children benefit from this tuition guarantee as they all attend Buffalo Public Schools; but, without this gift, we still would have found, through what ever means necessary, a way to ensure their passage to college. The thing that strikes me the most, that which I am most grateful for in this wonderful news announcement, is that someone finally realized that it truly takes a village to raise a district of children. They realized that the problems with our schools do not lie in a lack of educational opportunities or lack of qualified teachers; but, the problem lies in a lack of support for the large population of students whose families are socioeconomically burdened; and, the problem hides in a lack of compassion or willingness to try to understand- on the part of those who would rather criticize another human's circumstance then take a risk in shifting the perspective. We have witnessed over the years, students from our disadvantaged neighborhoods arriving in Pre-K without even a spark of motivation and hope in their eyes because somewhere along the generations before them it had burnt out. I am hopeful that this promise made by Say Yes to Education and the business leaders who have signed on as partners will light the spark in children who for so many years have had that ray extinguished. I hope that this incentive will galvanize others who have talents and resources to become more involved. 

And then, if that was not enough good news, the universe spoke again- through the words of Family Circle's Executive Editor, Darcy Jacobs. She said, 'Amy, Congratulations! I wanted to personally let you know that your story came in second place in the 2011 Family Circle Fiction Writing Contest.' This was the story, Red Raspberries, that I shared last month (I have since taken it down from the blog) about the boy on the bicycle looking for his lost grandmother. I'll share more details about it all when I learn when it will be published (it will be online). But, I feel so incredibly honored that my work was chosen.

So, now that I've shed my itchy, Grinchyness, I can say that this was truly a good year. Challenging, of course. Exhausting and troubling, at times. But, it has been so filled with support, new perspectives, new opportunities, new enlightenment that I will carry with me into the new year. 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and many new and exciting opportunities and a fresh perspective in the New Year.

Our Christmas card (from Snapfish):

Monday, December 19, 2011

free your mind and disk space will follow

I wanted so desperately for this holiday season to be filled with a steady infusion of joy and light. I intended on administering to my own spirit an IV drip of warmth; tradition; love for life; amity; creativity and the driving force of altruism drawn from the holiday world around me. But this year, more so than any before it, has been fickle, changeable which has led to an overbearing, disconcerting sense of disappointment. It began with the loss of music (which stings especially badly when your heart longs for Christmas songs) and continued on with little inconveniences like a newly unreliable connection to the internet (caused by a sudden incompatibility between our particular router and the internet provider we subscribe to); an irreparable and obtrusive series of scratches on the surface of the Wacom tablet I rely on for illustrating ( which now makes my lines and edges look like my two year old drew them); two strings of burnt out Christmas lights which were absolutely not written into the list of expenses for this pay cycle and without which make the house look gloomy; a printer nearly drained of its ink (also not in the budget to replace- but, it is something I am in need of); an on demand exercise channel I use to find fitness inspiration is magically gone from my cable line up; an absence of computer disk space which was eaten by the boys' gluttonous downloads and applications (and which keeps me from saving any of my work); the wallet which was stolen; the copious flow of green snot spilling from the girls' noses; the realization that this is the first year I have not made any money and I will not be able to take my husband out for his birthday dinner after Christmas; the realization that once again, another year has nearly come to a close and our dang piano still has not been tuned and the front stairs are still crumbling, and the sink in the kitchen is still backing up and the dog's hair is woefully overgrown. I need to make the list- the list of crappy things- because when I read over that long- run-on- sentence I realize, once again, I am foolish to believe that I have it bad at all.  I make another list of as many tragic and devastating occurrences that could have easily been swapped out for any one of my complaints. I keep the scary list in my head because I am too superstitious to share- for fear of those horrible possibilities actually befalling my family.

It's just that I placed too many expectations on the season without taking the time to map out the route which would best help me arrive at the feeling I wanted to hold onto. I forgot that sometimes a rosy outlook takes some effort. I forgot to take stock in the one constant I can rely on- on any given day:

Oops, that's not it- although there is a steady supply of laundry in our house. This is what I am talking about:

Love. When I let the crappy things stick to me and make me reek of lugubrious grossness, all I need to do is watch from another room as Henry and The Baby reunite after school. He willingly- happily brings her downstairs from her crib, where she has just woken from her afternoon nap- calling, "Henny! Anna! Max!" He fills a bowl with a snack which he generously shares with his drooly, droll little sister. Love. It's in this house- in varying degrees every day. We take our turns riding the fluctuation of moods, the waves of pride or disappointment. There are moments (sometimes aplenty) of anger and frustration which threaten to tear down the house- but, love has taken up residence here-sometimes flickering in a corner, sometimes filling a room-gently prodding me to let go of my crestfallen condition and make something better of it. I may not have music in the traditional sense. But, all of those years of listening to Christmas songs, have committed them to my memory. So when I catch Princess Commando in just the right spirit, I can get her to sing along with me. We fill the house with a clamorous rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas (with strong and blaring emphasis on 5 Gold(en) Rings) which draws the boys into the room gradually until we are all butchering with glee a favorite holiday carol and driving The Mr. out of his mind (but, I've seen him smiling around the corner). And if there is a half glass full collation for computer disk space- it is that I was able to find 62 MB of free space to create the two illustrations above and a holiday card for Princess Commando's bus driver and bus aide. We will be stepping over the threshold of a New Year very soon. There will be plenty of opportunities for crappy days, I'm certain. But attached to them will always be the opportunity to see the circumstance as the glass half full. Or as I like to look at it- a disk with 62 MB of free space.

Friday, December 16, 2011

borrowing from my kid

My thoughts on the season have been muddled this week and it has been difficult to find time to put my sentiments into words. So, I thought I would borrow the words of someone quite close to me. The following is a poem written by my 12 year old son, Henry, which I am sharing with his permission. It is a poem for two people. There are lines that both readers recite together and then there are lines which the readers take turns speaking. It is titled, Christmas of Two Brothers by Henry Wojtasik. He was generous enough to allow me to illustrate it.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy 15

It's First Born Son's 15th birthday today. He has been the greatest gift day in and day out. His humor, his kindness, his endurance, his ideas, his great taste in music- all qualities worth imitating. I feel so fortunate to learn from his perspective each day. But, it has been an exacting task trying to find a suitable gift for him since is tastes have shifted. (By taste, I mean that he finally has some. Hallelujah!) And the siblings have struggled as well with the formidable task of finding a worthy present for their older brother. But, I think they rose to the challenge.

Happy Birthday to you- if it is your birthday, too! And if it isn't your birthday, A Very Merry Unbirthday and a Joyful Friday to you! I am also over at Mamalode today. They have been kind enough to share my essay, The Glimmer,  from last Friday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

It's raining. 
It's pouring. 
The ground isn't even frozen yet; 
we're shut indoors
and it's getting pretty boring.

The highlight of our Monday was watching squirrels from our kitchen window as they frantically gnawed through rotten pumpkins.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

a glimmer

There were a few years when the three older children knew
that Christmas held magic
that the lights from the tree also lit a spark within them
that nutcrackers (especially the Viking nutcracker) came to life while you slept
that John Denver and The Muppets sang the best renditions of favorite Christmas songs
that all was bright, all was calm

There were a few years when all three of the older ones
thrilled at the jingle of a bell outside their window on Christmas eve
which let them know Santa was near
and it was time to go to sleep
or else he would skip their house completely.
And, they would claim they stayed up all night waiting for him.
But he came anyway

There was the year when the Spoiler-
sandwiched between my boys on a ride home from school-
whispered in first born son’s ear
‘I have a secret only grown ups know.’
Although we love the child who blew the whistle on Christmas,
when recalling that moment- we say her name as if we’ve eaten lemons.
First born son was ripe and ready
to be plucked from the tree of ‘all-believing.’
But his younger brother, only six, fell hard
when the Spoiler pulled the rug out from beneath him.
And no amount of back pedaling
could  undo the damage to his faith.

My heart hurt
as I watched him question
everything and everyone
What is really real?

There were many years after the boys had stopped believing
that they remained supremely respectful
of their younger sister’s steadfast trust in all things Christmas,
where they all still found enchantments in raising the tree
and arranging the nutcrackers on the mantel.
They spoke of Santa as if the 'secret only grown ups know' had never been uncloaked.
They created their own tradition, the sibling gift exchange-
designating the morning of each Christmas eve
to give each other gifts they bought with their own savings.
Early morning gift trades eased the agony of Christmas anticipation
with which their sister was so clearly afflicted.

This year the sister’s faith began to waver
as she tried to shake off the chatter of school mates
who had crossed over to the other side.
She, like her oldest brother, was ready
although it stung a bit more when she heard the words from her mothers lips
which answered the questions running through her mind
and confirmed the worst for her-
she was growing up.
And this holiday season, her first since letting go of her Christmas dreams,
is peppered with a hint of bitterness
as she 'bah hum bugs' every image of Santa that passes before her eyes.

This is the first year where all three of the older children are
old enough to choose where their Christmas magic comes from.
This is the year when the baby builds a new vocabulary
drawing from the living room-
bedecked in holiday regalia and transformed into a Christmas tableau:
Charlie Brown
Each song
each adornment
each story
a stepping stone,
a new hook on the tree of 'all-believing.'

This is the year when mother and father are
stitched between those children who think they understand-
and, yet are unsure of what expectations to hold for the holiday season-
and the child who is just learning
but none-the-less, marvels each day
at each new introduction
and accepts it all as magic.
We grow backwards,
once we know.
We work harder for the magic to keep its dominion over the season.
We flip the lights on the tree-
the memory of Christmases past illuminates their eyes.
And, spark begins to glimmer again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

thanksgiving thankfulness

Happy Thanksgiving to all! May your Thanksgiving be filled with a bounty of table scraps and overflowing with 'fresh' water.

Friday, November 18, 2011

oh snap!shot

If I pause to take a mental snapshot of a moment in my life, sometimes I get lucky and I capture images like the one below. Pure sister sweetness. No explanations necessary.

But, most of the time if I pause to commit a moment from the here and now to memory, I capture images like this one below. Explanations required- along with refereeing. Yep, my life is typically (After) Dinner Theatre of the Absurd.

Have a great weekend! May you steer clear of fart blasters.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

the black sheep of bedrooms

"Why did you give me this hoodie to wear to school?" Henry stood in front of me- eyes still puffy from sleep- pinching a navy blue hooded sweat shirt between his thumb and pointer finger- holding it as far away from his body as his arm would reach.

"I gave it to you because it is a perfectly good hoodie. And, it's plain just the way you like your clothes."

"I won't wear it. It smells like Max's room." I snatched it from his hand and brought it to my nose. I had to fight back my gag reflex. It indeed carried the scent of his older brother's room. And like the acrid whiff of cat markings- this aroma was resistant to multiple cycles in the the washing machine- making my efforts to deceive my younger son with his brother's hand-me-downs impossible.

The room in question has been a lesson in letting go- for me. It's obvious that it has been easy for Max to let it go. It is not just the constant haphazard clutter, the scribble of shapes and wrappers on every surface, and the abuse of our heirloom furniture that gets to me. It is the distinct tang that permeates the air which sends my head reeling. There is the pungent, malodorous smell of ripe soccer cleats and cheddar Goldfish crackers festering with undertones of sweetness (presumably from the bubble gum that decorates the interior of his garbage can). And then there are the oily traces of teenage hair and sweat absorbed in his bedding. On a hot day, the stench is of third world waste water, of the vinegar of feet, of the entrapped human grease of hippie dreadlocks. It is the tiniest glimmer of an episode of Hoarders.

Still, last year, with the responsibilities of freshman year looming over him, I decided that the state of his room was not a battle worth fighting. We lived through the rancid wafts and the general disorder. That was until the smell became so overpowering- we thought we were having a sewage problem in our upstairs bathroom. "You've got to do something about Max's room!" the middle children pleaded. I entered the hazard area to institute an emergency deterge of the chamber only to find him standing at the head of his bed-body pressed against the walls-eyes wide. He appeared to be quivering. "What are you doing?" I inquired.

"There is a fly behind my window blinds. I am waiting for it to die."

"You're afraid of a fly?"

"They are gross. And, somehow, they find me. No matter which bedroom I live in." This was true. When we moved into this house three years ago, Max was given the third floor. And, shortly after he began to get cozy, the space was infested with houseflies. And in the year that he has dwelled on the second floor, there has been a resurgence.

"Maybe you need to take the hint. Have you ever seen how flies are attracted to cow pucky? Well, your room is a veritable dung heap. It's time to clean it up." I left him with a list of written directions, an arsenal of cleaning supplies and a fly swatter. I told him I'd come back to check on him in an hour.

When I entered the room to inspect, I could immediately see that the majority of his time had been spent  rearranging pairs of shoes and emptying the waste basket. There was still a mosaic of items littering his desk and night stand. I mumbled disgruntled words under my breath and beseeched the gods to give me strength to carry on. "Here," I said, lifting a permanent marker from the nightstand."This has a place and it is in your desk drawers." I pulled open the top drawer and a cry of consternation escaped my lips, "Sweet Beatrix Potter! What the f@#$ is this?!" If it had been drugs or Playboy magazines- I might have been okay. I had those speeches written when the kid was in utero. But, a drawer filled with moldy refuse: a chicken wing, chewed gum, fried cheese puffs, melted chocolate, used napkins and tissues- what does a mother say to that?

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" He shrugged his shoulders and began to clear out the drawer. "No, wait! Your father has to see this." I called The Mr. upstairs. "Look at what your son has done to my grandfather's desk!"

"My god! What is wrong with you boy?!" The Mr. shielded The Baby's eyes from the vile image of rot in a mahogany drawer. "I can't stay in here. It is too disappointing."

After firing off a litany of rhetorical questions about his state of mind and his future, I left him to clean-to really scour and disinfect every inch of his room. And, when he was done, the muddle was gone and the only scent that filled the air was the heady fragrance of Murphy's Oil Soap.

I tried to think back to when I was a teenager. I recalled my room- my sanctuary. I cared for it and tended to it responsibly. But, I took liberties, too-without the consultation of my parents. On the walls, I drew with pencil a life size replica of U2's War album cover. Only I replaced  the boy- with the likeness of my little brother. My parents never said a word to me about it. Perhaps they took comfort in knowing that it was a safe way for me to express myself- without altering my appearance or my behavior.  I realized that I owed Max the same silent respect my parents had granted me because, for now (and hopefully forever), it was not drugs or a manifesto to destroy the Earth that was stored in a drawer. While I doubt that harboring old food  is Max's vehicle for self expression- I can appreciate that his lack of attention to housekeeping may have been his way of asserting independence. 'This is my space- where I can live without the constraints that my parents place upon me in the rest of the house, in the rest of my life. This is my space where I can choose the details I will worry over- and let other items of business fall where they may. This is my space where I can dream of my future space where I will have invented a robot to dispose of my garbage and who will destroy flies with a zap of his laser beam eyes.'

Friday, November 4, 2011

Like, I'm So Popular

Last week, The Baby stopped calling me Mama. Now I am Mommy. Correction, now, I am MY ma-ME. She has become extremely possessive of me around the other children. No one is allowed to speak to me or touch me without her blessing. So far, she isn't doling that out generously. The other day, my nephew, Lu was spending time with us during nap time-or, as I call it 'the Precious.' The Baby was already asleep by the time Lu arrived at our house. My sister asked me to try to put him down for a nap in our bedroom in the portable crib. But, Lu was too nervous to be left alone in our unfamiliar house and he began to whimper, "Mommy? Mommy?" This woke The Baby up- just enough for her to echo a cry- "MY ma-ME, MY ma-ME," asserting, just in case there was any confusion in the matter, that ain't no one gonna claim her mama as his own. It makes me feel so tangled and anchored in one small harbor so adored, so popular.

The following is a scene which occurred earlier this week between the dinner clean-up and bath time hours:

As I write this, she has insinuated herself between me and the monitor. She is yelling at the images of herself on the screen. 'No Violee (that is what she calls herself)! That's MY ma-ME!'

Wishing you all a Happy Friday!

Monday, October 31, 2011

4th Grade Halloween

Ah, Halloween. 'Tis that joyfully spooky time of year when little ones masquerade as pirates, ninjas, wizards, the odd banana, princesses, or in Princess Commando's case, a Pokemon Trading Card- appealing for treats with their utter adorableness. Or, if they are in fourth grade at Princess Commando's school, they parade in the spirit of creativity... as vocabulary words. In fourth grade, the highest level of learning in an early childhood center, the students no longer join the rest of the children in the unfettered pageant of Halloween shrouds. As the oldest children in the school, they must partake in an innovative endeavor to bring to life a vocabulary word of their choosing. Years before his sister was to display her mastery of the English language- Henry, too, walked the halls with his classmates, illustrating his chosen word. He folded an old bath towel in half, cut a hole in the fold for his head, and glued dish sponges to the towel. He became absorbent

As I had already invested a great deal of time and effort into Princess Commando's Charizard Pokemon Card costume- which I painstakingly drew and colored by hand- learning way more than I ever wanted to know about the design of such a trading card, I demanded in no uncertain terms  wished for her to choose something that would be easy and inexpensive to assemble. "Let's do something that is like the word 'soft' but bigger than that word," she suggested. I handed her the thesaurus and she settled on a word which afforded minimally time sucking construction. She helped me hot glue 200 cotton balls and hunks of pillow stuffing to a white long sleeved t-shirt. I stood back, my fingers freshly blistered from unruly hot glue, satisfied with my handiwork. And she gave me the seal of approval- 'Yeah, it's fine.' But, I made a critical error in not having her try on the costume earlier than the night before her school Halloween party. Before her hands were even through the arm holes- the pillow stuffing began to shed and what was worse, she did not look at all like the embodiment of the word she had chosen. If I had not known already what she intended to be, I would have guessed she was 'bloated' or 'pissed. '

I took liberties, of course, with the illustration above. Her real costume was not even nearly as 'cushiony.' It was more mangy. And, I apologize in advance, to the lovely Mrs. F, Princess Commando's teacher, for not creating a reasonable likeness of her. I did not have a picture of her from which I could create an illustration. So I had Princess Commando take pictures of me posing and I reconstructed my face and hair and made myself into a generic teacher.

Below is Princess Commando's 'real' Halloween costume. I can't wait to watch her try to navigate the sidewalks and our neighbors' porches in full body- laminated poster board. Have a Safe and Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Monday, October 24, 2011

winds of change

Last week I had to force myself outdoors. I had allowed myself to grow accustomed to the inertia that endless days of rain bring. I had forgotten how to properly acknowledge the sun- to get outside and bask in it. But, when I took The Baby out for a walk, the wind pressed relentlessly against us- strangling the trees and shaking them of the last leaves determined to hang on. It nearly lifted The Baby's stroller from my grip. I did not quite have the perspective to embrace the challenge of facing the gusts. It had been a trying couple of weeks. I had to make a critical decision regarding Henry's education which led to transferring him from his position in one of the most highly coveted academic programs in our city to a program of less fame but of much greater nuturance. I hoped that with the change, he would learn to smile again. I was already wound so tightly- worried over my child's well-being. I had beaten up my heart, my head, my chest in trying to defend my decision to choose in the best interests of my son over choosing to keep him in an elite program. It had consumed me. I needed justification to allow myself to also be battered by the wind.

I almost turned home as soon as we made it to the end of our street; but, I remembered the sticks Princess Commando wanted to collect to complete her longhouse project. The Baby was not befuddled by the gales which sucked her breath away. She was only concerned with following the moon which floated in a clear morning sky. So, I grudgingly continued onward, bending every few feet to pinch a brittle branch from the sidewalk. I filled the basket of the buggy with discarded frail limbs; but, it felt like it would never be enough. How many branches are needed to make a longhouse? I was propelled with the most overcoming heat and desire to scour the whole neighborhood for every last felled sprig. I imagined the mound of black and grey twigs I could build in my driveway. As I walked on, the wind spoke to me in bitter currents. It gave names to my nerves: school, expectation, doubt, achievement, worth, perception. Each one, a twig I harbored in my basket. I decided that my basket was full enough. It was time to leave some of them behind.

It comes with the change of seasons- this longing for closure before the shift occurs, before we are no longer in a state of transition and become settled into the reality of the season. There is a need to reconcile plans left by the side of the road- a piano still out of tune; stairs still crumbling and vulnerable to the abuse that winter brings; personal growth which is not as expansive as I had wished for in my January resolutions. Along with taking inventory of my children's winter boots, coats, hats- those items which we still need to acquire before the snow falls, I inevitably take inventory of the strengths and resources I need to replenish within myself before I head toward winter-toward a new year. That, invariably leads to a feeling of being unsettled- of questioning my decisions, my purpose, and, once again, my place. Upon catching up with one of my favorite people, my Uncle Mark, on his recent visit home, he asked me who I was, "Are you Amy,' the mother of four children'? Or, are you Amy, a woman with interests, talents, goals and needs who just so happens to have four children?" I had never really considered that there could be a distinction. And it made me realize how easy it is to become one dimensional- with one purpose: caring for the needs of one's children. Caring so much so- that it absorbs you fully until there isn't any room left for anything else. But, I am not sure I truly understand how to be the other version of myself. That requires a level of balance which scares me. How is it that it has become easier to sacrifice everything- rather than to try to hold back bits and pieces for myself?  

I'm coming to understand that filling up a basket with prickly regret and doubt and trying to re-purpose the pieces only perpetuates stagnancy. I know that I need to challenge myself outside of my comfort zone- set fire to that mound of twigs I have collected. I have to walk into the wind and let it rattle every last leaf off of me in order to feel that steady IV drip of creativity that I need to carry me through the winter. I have to learn to stop looking down at the sidewalk and instead do as The Baby does by choosing to follow the moon- accepting the expanse of sky before her without fear of getting lost in it. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

ten o'clock crazy

On Wednesday, this house-which usually gets crazy at three o'clock- got a head start on crazy when my mother delivered my nephews to me for a couple of hours in the morning while she attended to critical business. Mama was getting her hair did. The Baby was overjoyed to be back in the company of her cousins. And, my wish to spend more time with my nephews-who had, until two weeks ago, lived thousands of miles away-was fulfilled.

When toddlers congregate, they seem to multiply, quite rapidly. They are omnipresent. They grow 8 tentacles- and stretch said appendages to reach all four corners of a room. At one point- all three kids broke out into a hybrid tribal/ zombie dance- to music only the three of them could hear. Visiting toddlers are the best child safety experts- they are quick to point out the little spots in your home which leave a toddler vulnerable to danger and leave your home exposed to a toddler attack. They ask for things you have no possible way of producing for them- like 'teeny tiny little giraffes and hippos'- which I later found out might have meant 'crickets and grasshoppers' in Princess Commando's terrarium. Toddlers, also, give your IKEA Tullsta armchair the most action it has ever seen in its 8 years of existence.

But, then they sucker punch you with some divine sweetness. 
These two dragged the blanket up to the armchair, scooted underneath it, made a little nest and just smiled at each other for 15 minutes straight.

Happy Friday!

I was trying a half tone treatment on the toddler illustration. Not sure if I like it for this type of illustration. But, I was pointed in the direction of the online tutorial months ago and I've been meaning to try it. This is the first tutorial I've managed to sit through from beginning to end without scrapping the project-and which yielded the result that I expected. If you are interested, you can find the tutorial here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

it all began with a dog and a baby

One year ago, my blog was born with an illustration of a baby (The Baby) and a dog (our Ruby). Actually, its birthday was last month; but, like all things that end up on my calendar, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not the notations in the little boxes are going to make their way into my memory. When I started blogging, I was at a place in my life where the daily grind of being home with an infant was beginning to grind me down. I missed illustrating and writing so terribly that it hurt. It had been many, many months since I had last been creative- my biggest creation having been The Baby. I had something in mind- I wanted to illustrate anecdotes about my family. I had a style in mind- I wanted the posts to be in a sort of graphic novel format. But, it was apparent from the first post, that it was going to go in a different direction. I am happy with what I have been able to accomplish through writing- in the very least, I have created a collection of stories for my children that hopefully will not be looked back upon as the root of their damaged adult psyche. And, I've been able to glean a much greater understanding of the human experience through my connection with other writers and readers.

In honor of my belated bloggy birthday, I am re-posting my very first post, Dog, What Every Woman Needs to Keep Her House Clean. It's rife with run-on sentences.
The baby has just turned 8 months old. She has been practicing self-feeding with finger foods for a few weeks now. Generic crispy rice cereal seems to please her greatly. I only use them when I need a few minutes to prepare her "real" meal. I sprinkle a bit of crispy rice on her tray and she busies herself with her little pinchy fingers- picking at the individual pieces with precision and bringing them to her mushy mouth. For every one in the mouth, ten get brushed to the floor. I've never worried about the stragglers. We've always had a dog or two underfoot to lap them up with relish (yes, sometimes there is relish on the floor). Today, the baby seemed disinterested. She has a new high chair-one that she can lean over-one where she has a terrific view of the dog. And, the game has begun of pinching the food bits off of her tray and nonchalantly, deliberately dropping them for our dog, Ruby, to catch. 

Today, Ruby, also, seemed dispassionate in helping the baby finish her pre-breakfast. Instead of sitting by the high chair- at the ready, she was laying on the living room rug reluctant to budge. I called her over and pointed at the crispy bits on the floor. She sniffed and backed off. The only other time Ruby refused meals or snacks was this past July when she was ill with a horrendous case of diarrhea and depression as she mourned the loss of her companion, Oscar. So, I turned to Ruby,"What is the matter, dear?" Ruby promptly crossed the threshhold to the kitchen and stood before her water bowl. Dry as a bone. I seem to remember seeing it in my periphery last night-less full than usual- as I went about washing and drying the parts to my evening shackle (I mean, my manual breast pump). I made a mental note to fill the bowl before bed. But then my brain farted and knocked itself out. And my poor dog went thirsty. I filled the bowl to the tip- top with cool, fresh water. And, apologized for my neglect. She stood lapping it up for two full minutes and then joined us in the dining room where she effortlessly swiped up the crispy bits with one sweep of her purple tongue. 

In that moment, I realized how very grateful I am for Ruby. Without her, I would actually have to use the broom that spends more time hanging in our kitchen closet than it does on the floor. But, she is so much more than a four-legged Hoover. I feel safe(r) knowing that she is around. For years, the Mr. worked from home. I never worried about armed robberies during the daytime because I knew that I could fend off the burglar while he snuck in the other room to phone the police. But now that my hands are so often tied with baby matters and there has been a recent wave of thievery in our quiet neighborhood, I know that my enfeebled arms have no muscle memory for fighting and my flaccid brain may forget the three simple digits to call for help. I rely on Ruby to be my first line of defense. By physical appearances she looks like something wild. Her muttiness has been construed as both an homage to Muppet Theatre and also something to be wary of. I am certain I have heard more than one stranger mumble,"We don't know what she is, or what she is capable of- we should probably cross to the other side of the street." She alerts me to the changes in the rhythm of our neighborhood. As much as I would love to believe that this Chow Chow/ something mix would protect me- viciously warding off whatever enemy breaches the peace of our home, I know that she would just wag her tail and fold in on herself at the slightest attention from a stranger, from even the evilest of interlopers. She would not hurt a fly, but her high pitched, excited whining, would let me know that a fly has entered the house. Maybe that alone would give me enough time to find the fly swatter-arming myself against the intruding insect before it has time to take stock in our valuables and poop on the bananas we leave out on top of the microwave. 

Having animals reside in your life is expensive to both the financial and emotional pocketbook. When we made the decision to put to sleep the senile creature who barked to go outside and then would forget why he was out there, who then would come in and poop on the floor, and would have intense anxiety attacks even if he thought we had left him alone making him go out of his mind enough to gnaw on the metal support posts in our basement- we felt the blow to our chests. It knocks the wind out of you to walk into the veterinarian's office with this animal who has spent 12 years in your home and to walk out alone( this time the poor Mr. took on the death duty) . I know we will experience that with Ruby, as well. I don't want to think about that now. Our relationship has been symbiotic- we rescued her from the probability of a short life due to abuse and neglect at the hands of her former owners, and I believe that every day she rescues us- possibly from the dangers that would enter our home if she was not here. But, most definitely, she has rescued me from an exhausting Cinderella life (pre-glass slipper)- constantly mopping, always sweeping. What more could I need from her?

Friday, September 30, 2011

super family fun time

When I was fourteen years old, I grudgingly endured my final family outing. My mother and father had planned a day trip to Chautauqua Lake (somehow my sister escaped the torment via a friend's invitation to do something  fun). It was the tail end of summer - which was the beginning of the off season for events and attractions at the Chautauqua Institution ( a 300 acre historic community in Western New York which provides a summer residence for fine and performing artists). Without the small consolation of people watching the trip became more unbearable. My parents tried to engage me by pointing out the whimsical architecture of the cottages and storefronts nestled within the community. My father tried to break me with humor by standing underneath a sign which read 'Normal' and posing in a very non-normal stance with one hip up, butt out, and face twisted moronically. Because I was forced there against my will, I refused to acknowledge their attention. Instead I chose to sulk in the car for three hours while my parents and younger brother traipsed through the shuttered grounds.

Upon our return home, my mother, having been forced put up with my miserable countenance all day, announced that I was emancipated from family outings henceforth. I vowed aloud that I would never be so inconsiderate or unfair as to force my future teenage children to suffer through family excursions. What was the point? Once a teenager is set on being obstinate, it becomes family bondage not family bonding.

I was so adamant about being a compassionate parent- accepting and respectful of her child's developmentally appropriate need for freedom- I thought I would have been in tune with the subtle signs that my oldest son was outgrowing the fun of family pleasure trips. Our photographs from his final attendance at our annual excursion to the apple farm depicted the truth I could not see in real time. While the photos of his younger brother and sister captured images of children gleefully climbing apple trees and frolicking along the fence line chasing cows in the orchard, the images of First Born Son were a pictorial record of a child in utter torment. His face was drawn tight, eyes squinting to shut out the embarrassment of having to see us and be seen with us. His shoulders were high and stiff, turning his body into a splinter with the intent to prick us if we even stepped one foot into his body buffer zone. "It's too soon," I thought. "He's too young to want to be in any other county than the one where his family is merrymaking." But, he was only a few months younger than I had been when I brooded in the backseat of our car at the Chautauqua Institution-wishing for an assignment to a labor camp to keep from having my family forced upon me.

While we still always extend an invitation to the oldest child, his absence has become customary. With one child missing, we have become a family of six masquerading as a family of five. It felt all wrong at first. But, I will admit that our outings are more congenial without the low hanging cloud of a sullen teenager bearing down on us. And our relationship has become less strained from the decreasing number of battles fought.

Last Saturday, when we made our annual trek to the apple orchard, we lost another one. Henry sheepishly requested that he be allowed to stay behind due to a brewing Fall cold. Normally we would have postponed the trip. He was always such a willing participant who valued tradition and ceremony; we did not want him to feel excluded. I was surprised when he so bravely encouraged us between sickly sniffles to go without him, "I think I'll be fine." He paused thoughtfully, "Do I need to be there in order to eat the apples or drink the apple cider you bring home?" Of course not, dear sick child. "And will you still bring home a bag of their homemade caramel popcorn?" Yes, my most loyal son. "Well, then I definitely don't need to go anymore." Anymore? That was it?

We are now family of six who, while on outings, masquerades as a mother and father with only two, young female children. The sting of losing a second child has been quickly replaced with the exhilaration of dreaming up adventures that can be had with only two girls. Adventures that only require our Subaru sedan which comfortably transports the four of us instead of grumbling along in the SUV which seats 8 and never feels like enough room. Adventures which are less logistically challenging and which require less refereeing. Hooray for family togetherness!

I realize that these brief separations- these moments of freedom and independence we are granting the boys- are only just setting the stage, helping us prepare for the day when they decide to fly the coop. Even then, an invitation to join us for day trips will still be extended. And even then, we will make sure we have a vehicle which carries 6 passengers- just in case they all surprise us one day and take us up on our offer. Maybe we will venture to Chautauqua; and, maybe this time I'll actually experience it from outside of the car.