Friday, August 26, 2011

child wrangler

The universe knew what it was doing when it turned our oldest son into a teenager the month before we welcomed a newborn into our family. It knew that there would be days when wrestling with a greased pig would be exhausting for harried parents. And, in would swoop the tireless strength and energy of youth to brace the wild beast so that we could make dinner or do a load of laundry.

Okay, well maybe the energy is not tireless. But, we have been able to borrow it for a brief respite from time to time. Looking ahead to the start of the school year, I am filled with the brand of dread you might feel before an impending major surgery. The older children have been such a great asset and have more than proven their worth this summer. It's been so nice to have an extra set of hands or two to wrangle The Baby. I wonder if I will ever be able to go to the bathroom alone again before three o'clock.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


If I Should Lose You, Music by Ralph Rainger, Lyrics by Leo Robin

Because I can never find a card which sums up my sentiments- I feel compelled to create my own. This isn't much of a card for a 15th anniversary with it's confusing girl & dog expression of love. I'm finding myself at a loss for words. When I am in that place where my words seem so trite, music speaks more clearly. On the night that I unofficially met The Mr. among a group of my friends who were meeting to go out to eat, I had been listening to Nina Simone (a Compact Jazz compilation). Her rendition of If I Should Lose You slays me every time. The tone of desperation ' If I should lose you, the stars would fall from the sky,' the rawness of the vulnerability of love and loving and investing your life into another's- it's all so dramatic. I will always associate her music with him- even though we really did not say more than two words to each other or pay each other any mind that evening.

 I don't think about it enough- what would happen if 'I should lose him?' It stops my heart to think about that possibility. It is maudlin and morbid to let the scenario run through your imagination. But, sometimes, for me, it is important. It is a wake up call. It makes me realize how much he means to me and makes me assess my performance and actions as his partner. I am guilty of taking our time together for granted. I am guilty of complaining, snapping, being impatient and anxious. But, my patient husband with his still waters running so deep, deserving of much better, has not been scared off- has not given up, has never lost the strength to be supportive even when he finds weakness or discontentment in himself.  15 years is a great accomplishment. We arrived at this place through mutual hard work and willingness to learn from each other. We are a work in progress. I know there will not rest until we reach my grandfather's age and fall into that place where our short term memories are fuzzy but we can recall with clarity that which in our younger days we had let get swallowed by clouds of responsibility- our love for each other.

*Songs, Lyrics from the Birds illustration: So Lonesome I Could Cry, Hank Williams; Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen; How Soon Is Now?,Steven Morrissey, Johnny Marr

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

a birthday (slipping through my fingers)

School bag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning.
Waving good-bye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that I'm losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I'm glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Princess Commando was the first girl child. There was concern that she would come too early-that she was too small. On the morning of August 22, 2002, after months of bed rest, and only one week before her due date, she let me know that she was ready. I went outside, wrapped in the peace of early morning and sat on a lounger in our yard, riding out the first swells. First Born Son, oblivious to my laboring, tiptoed outside and snuggled beside me. "Isn't this a wonderful day, mommy? Don't you want to do this every day?" He meant, of course, to sit outside before the others woke, listening to bird call in the treetops. But, if I were to be sentenced to labor every day of my life for eternity, that is how I would want it to go. Welcomed by bird song on a clear summer morning; swift (albeit intense) and uneventful labor and delivery; centered in myself-in the world- as I pull the weight of a slippery new life to my chest; falling in love with a little face, the face of a stranger I know so well; whispering the words, for the first time, "My daughter."

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what's in her mind
Each time I think I'm close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

We wondered, after two rough and tumble boys, if she would be softer, more demure. She was "quiet as a church mouse," so the labor/delivery nurse kept remarking. But she made up for the initial silence as soon as we brought her home and it became apparent that she would need to compete for time and attention. It is a primal defense- to make the loudest noise, a sonic boom to assert, "I am here. I know what I want and I will not compromise." Or, "Back the hell off!" It almost always works to make her brothers retreat from their taunting. She has a tender side- but she is not too soft. She has been a daredevil and a heart attack- from a broken collar bone at two years old to an adventurous climb to the top of her brother's chest of drawers. She toppled the drawers onto her own chest- walking away stunned but without a scratch. The drawers, however, did not survive, she managed to split them in half.

 Sleep in our eyes, her and me at the breakfast table
Barely awake I let precious time go by
Then when she's gone there's that odd melancholy feeling
And a sense of guilt I can't deny
What happened to the wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
Well, some of that we did but most we didn't
And why I just don't know

For so many years, in my illustrating, she was my muse. Her play, her poses inspired characters and stories. She, too, is an artist. At four years old, she drew a detailed picture of me (curls, glasses and all) with a little person (all ten fingers and all ten toes) inside my belly. A little Annalee- remembering her amphibious days. The time when we two were one.

She is as comfortable carrying a stuffed animal as she is a toy gun. On the day this picture was taken, the moniker Princess Commando was born. What I could not capture in this series of pictures from Halloween 2004 was the elusive little girl in a frilly princess dress chasing elementary school kids with a hefty fallen tree branch.

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what's in her mind
Each time I think I'm close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

We bid farewell to the days of eight this weekend. It was a long good bye with  a visit to my parents' cottage on Saturday where she sat with a friend on the beach and dug trenches under cloudy skies and then hula hooped in the woods as the sun went down. On Sunday, we took our only family trip this year-an overnight stay at an indoor splash park in Pennsylvania.  Our girl confirmed that she was growing up with her request for an iPod for her 9th birthday. Part of growing up is learning how to save money for what your heart desires. This has been a challenging lesson for our impulsive girl. But, she is keeping up her end of the bargain and her prize is now within reach. I feel a twinge of sadness at the thought of her giving up her stuffed animals for gangsta rap and krumping.

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze that picture 
And save it from the funny tricks of time
Slipping through my fingers...

I scroll through pictures of my girl at different stages- a toddler self, a pre-schooler, elementary school age; and, shake my head in disbelief. My girl is nine. I glimpse ahead at what is to come as her teenage brother saunters into the room reeking of AXE- and I want to stop time. I want to preserve her- the girl who finds charm in  her baby sister calling her 'Anna-mal,' the girl who is still so innocent, so creative and resourceful (she asked me the other day- after a very premature lesson in feminine hygiene if she could use untouched tampons to create craft animals), the girl who still wants me to call her 'My peanut, my honey, my sugar pie, my poopernutter, my lovey dovey, my AnnieBananie.' The girl who still wants to curl up in a ball on my lap (she still fits).

How is it that this little sprite...

...turned into this young lady in what seems like the blink of an eye?

 Slipping through my fingers all the time

School bag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning.
Waving good-bye with an absent-minded smile...
-Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus lyrics

Oh ABBA, why did you have to go and write a song that would make me get all choked up and emotional?

Monday, August 15, 2011

How the Maestro Soothed the Savage Beast

The Baby was exceptionally choleric this weekend. Her voice transmitted in a steady whine- following us throughout our chores- a drone which filled the rooms. She laid her ill temper upon all of us until it settled with a burdensome weight on the last nerve. She continually pawed and groped at us to perform for her- to amuse, engage, entertain, distract. The five of us took turns running through our catalog of diversions- setting up her toys, drawing with crayons, dancing, playing music, taking a long walk, taking her to the grocery store, reading books, singing songs, giving her a bath.  We pleaded with her to speak English so that we could understand what troubled her- especially during the hours between 8PM and 1AM when she should have been asleep but instead howled like a wounded animal until we came to rescue her. She was fine. She just wanted to be close to us. And  then, Princess Commando came into our bed at 1 AM with a head ache. We were too tired to send her away- despite the painful understanding that she likes to sleep the short way on the bed- making an H with our bodies and forcing us to the edges of the mattress.

On Sunday, we were dragging- heavy, sore, irritable. And we were trapped indoors by a dark curtain of rain. The Baby woke without the slightest acknowledgment of the acrimonious behavior of the prior night. She powered through the morning- climbing over our half dead bodies which fell about the living room floor. Fortunately, she was agreeable to the offer of an afternoon nap. Her little body must have known it needed to catch up on sleep because she slept for 4 hours. Our own exhaustion urged us to succumb to the radical idea of allowing her the extended siesta which encroached upon the dinner hour. We knew full well that we would pay for it with a delayed bedtime. And pay for it we did when she woke in a renewed state of vexation. The Mr. who had been working on a freelance project through out the afternoon was beginning to peter out at 7:00. He began to mumble incoherent and inappropriate responses to my simple questions.

 Me: "Do you have any laundry that you want me to do?"
The Mr: " Potatoes."
Me: "Oh, no, you don't. You are not abandoning me now, Mister! We are in this together. As long as she is awake, we are awake!"

We needed one last diversion. The television had been quiet all weekend. In order to make it through the next hour, we needed to arouse its magic. "I can't listen to Yo Gabba Gabba tonight," The Mr. pleaded. We opened the cable menu. The Public Broadcasting Station was highlighted. "Hit select," I instructed. "No. Really? No, " he responded in disbelief. And, then his wheels were turning, too,"Okay, if you think it will work."

The wholesome images that filled the screen, the corniness, the garish costumes, the circus peanut and cotton candy colors, the squareness, the champagne music- it was almost too much to bear. But, the proof of its hypnotic power was sitting on the couch between us. The Baby stared at the screen-subdued, mesmerized, bewitched by, of all things, Lawrence Welk. Her little shoulders- as if possessed by some otherworldly entity- rocked back and forth to the big band. And when the first song had ended, she looked at me panicked, "More? More! More!" Yes, there was more. 59 minutes more. She tap danced between us to Arthur Duncan's enchanting routine. She rocked back and forth to Jo Ann Castle's ragtime piano (it was so dirty, it was spectacular). She was entranced by the Lennon Sisters old time-y skit. And, at one particularly odd moment, The Baby leaped off the couch and ran toward the screen, head thrust backward, to get a better look at the tenor saxophonists decked out in their tangerine suits. She applauded after each and every performance- a gracious audience. She was reformed. The savage beast had been tamed by the Maestro. And it was Wunnerful!

The hour flew by too quickly. We too, were floating in the bubbly music, swept back to a time where the dancing couples resembled the figures of my grandparents in photographs from that same era. It was all so... pleasant. It dawned on me that this is what is lacking in modern entertainment- pleasantness. I often shun the honorable, the clean- in favor of crass, raw words, songs, images and sentiments. But, nestled into our couch with The Baby between us (and though, he probably won't admit it, First Born Son was there too), I felt a new respect begin to bloom for those who choose virtuousness over vulgarity. I am not a religious person; but, I am certain this was a spiritual moment for us. Is there a Temple of Lawrence Welk? I think I might want to convert. Or I might just be really tired.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

mamalode lovin

Photo by Chris Chapman for Mamalode Fall 2011

The Fall 2011 issue of Mamalode magazine (Letting Go) has been distributed and is available for purchase here.  I am so honored to have been included in the issue. I am completely blown away by the caliber of writing that my little piece (which the editors re-titled, Princess Commando) is nestled between. Growing up, the women's magazines that my mother subscribed to made me feel alienated. When reading them, I felt as if there were only certain molds that a woman should fit into. And I didn't feel that I was pliable enough to make myself fit into the molds. As an adult, I made the choice not to subscribe to the popular parenting and women's magazines that had been strewn about my childhood home. But, it left me longing for fresh reading material that helped me broaden my understanding of the human experience while at the same time helped me to better understand myself. Mamalode fills that void. While their tagline reads "For the Whole Mother,"  it could read "For the Whole Woman," as not every story or essay is about being a parent. The layout and design work is gorgeous, as well. Obviously, I'm smitten :-) I hope that you will all take the opportunity to, at least, visit the website (the regular contributing bloggers are quite talented).

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

parting words

My sister and the boys left yesterday. There is a giant empty space that only their bodies can fill. Our family felt complete-balanced even in the chaos of cousins clamoring for each other's attention. I know that my sister and brother- in- law want to move back here. It will happen. Hopefully sooner rather than later. As we shed our parting tears yesterday, the sky opened up and it began to pour. Henry nudged me, "It looks like you wished for the wrong thing, Mom."
"How is that?"
"You wished for rain the other day, when you should have wished for Aunt Bug to stay forever."
You can rest assured, that the only wishes that will spring forth from my heart (besides good will to all mankind) are wishes to bring my sister and the boys back to Buffalo forever.

Some images from their visit:

They were sharing a snack, hence the fingers in the mouth in all of the illustrations and in this picture.

The 7 Cousins

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Toot- it's not just the sound that is most frequently heard coming out of both ends of the creatures (2 and 4 legged) whom dwell within our humble home. Today it is the sound of me blowing my own horn. My essay Both Sides, originally posted on this blog in February 2011, is featured in today's Life and Arts section of The Buffalo News  Click The Buffalo News link to read the version I edited for the paper.

It the midst of scrubbing cat yack bombs and trying to extinguish the acrid smell of cat pee from a rain dampened basement, I received a phone call from an editor at the paper. She said that the essay had touched them because the song which inspired it had been so much a part of their lives. She had sung the song to her children when they were much younger and now sings it to her grandchildren. She also said that they would be sending a photographer over to our home to photograph me and any of the children who happened to be around. As I was still holding a spray bottle of bleach in my hand- I panicked at the thought of a stranger coming in and having the tang of urine be their first impression of me. I imagined that under my picture it would read,' The author and her children in their home which smells like animal excreta.'

By the time the photographer arrived, I think we aired out a bit ( but, it was also the eve of garbage day and our tote was quite ripe). Anyway, it was quick and painless. Henry, Princess Commando and The Baby posed with me for some of the shots ( The Baby had just woken up from her nap, so she was bewildered by the presence of the stranger in our living room). And then the photographer took some pictures of me standing alone. I didn't know what to do with my arms, my hands. At best, I must have looked painfully awkward and insane (as I tried to keep from blinking against the flash). The testament to my suspicions is that they opted to print a photo of me with the kids (where I felt most natural). I mean in our daily lives how often do we stand against a wall alone with our arms crossed over our chests in a haughty gangsta rap stance?

Photo taken by Sharon Cantillon, The Buffalo News
The Fall 2011( issue 9) of Mamalode Magazine is off to the printers. My essay, R.I. P. Tooth Fairy will be featured in it along with excerpts of Princess Commando's hand written letters to the Tooth Fairy (she receives a credit for her work as well). Visit Mamalode to find out how you can order your own issues of the magazine. I received my first issue a couple of months ago and I fell in love with the magazine. It is not a typical parenting or woman's magazine. The writing is so moving and the photography is so gorgeous. It is a collection of beautiful perspectives which celebrates all of the pieces that make us who we are. I am so honored to be a part of this collection of work.

For me, that is the greatest sense of accomplishment as a writer- to be able to connect with others at the heart of our humanness where the soul or spirit stirs. That is what I seek in the essays that I read of other writers- that sense of perspective which is at once both familiar and new; an offering of solace in not being alone in one's thoughts and views; the sense of alliance in navigating through uncertain territory especially when we feel most vulnerable; and, a sense of humor which brightens and lightens the places inside of me that I tend to let shadows grow. The community of writers I have connected  with through blogging (you all know who you are) has inspired me, humbled me, comforted me, enlightened me. The writing I follow has helped at the most unexpected times to make better sense of my puzzle and figure out where the pieces fit in order to see the bigger picture. I am so grateful to all of you who continually put your hearts out there in the open for all of us to behold. And, I am so grateful for all of you who continue to stay on board with me, finding in my own writing something that you connect to.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Always Wear Flip Flops

I should know better- having been unpleasantly caught off guard numerous times before- than to ever walk around barefoot in my own home. This morning felt full of promise, with a steady hissing of rain soaking the earth and spraying the house. I had been hoping for a day like this- a day to hunker down and just chill out with the kids. I gave Princess Commando and Henry the option of skipping Art Camp today. They both took me up on the offer. They rolled back over in their beds to catch the last golden threads of their dreams and I went downstairs to make coffee. While standing at the kitchen sink, my foot sank into something- I don't know how to put it eloquently- chunky. I retracted my foot in the same manner you would if you had stumbled upon glass, hot coals or, in this instance, cat puke.  I hopped on the clean foot to the cabinet to grab a disinfectant wipe for my sullied foot and then scraped the cat yak off the floor. The morning had been so full of promise, but cat puke (in two separate locations) made me feel beat down.

More frequently than I would like, my mornings have been unfolding this way. There is invariably a cat gift bestowed upon me at the breaking of dawn. Typically it is cat pee on the basement floor- just a few small kitty steps from the litter box. If you have never smelled cat urine before, I envy you. The overpowering smell of ammonia is enough to take your breath away and knock you over. They are not sick- we've had them checked and re-checked. We scoop the boxes several times per day. They have their own room- with privacy- where no child or other creature can get to them. Nothing much has changed in their lives to warrant this deviant thinking outside of the box. It is such a defeat to have a house that smells like cat. When looking for a home, we passed up many solid and handsome structures because the smell of cat had permeated the walls and floors.

Every day, The Mr and I assert at least 20 times "When these cats die, there will never again be a cat in this house!" Who am I kidding? These cats are never going to die. They will still be around when I am in my 90's hovering at the threshold of death's door. One of them (probably the curmudgeon-y Siamese) will be more than happy to 'humanely euthanize' me by taking a geriatric catnap on my face when I am too weak to move her (she has been vying for my throne since we moved in together 15+ years ago).

They do have their fine points-but, I can't recall any right now. I am too unhappy with them at the moment to give them credit for this morning's reminder to be wary of falling into complacency. It is when you become too assured that you end up stepping off the ledge into a deep expansive valley or into cat puke. So, remember to always wear flip flops in the house (and be mindful of where you are stepping).