Friday, July 29, 2011


My sister is visiting from Las Vegas with my nephews, Gus (3) and Lu (14 months). Ahh, it is such happiness to have my family all together.  We have been fantasizing about what it would be like to have the 7 cousins together, especially the toddlers. We shared a vision of them falling into play- kindred spirits- dancing side by side to the Yo Gabba Gabba theme song. The theme song played, they took turns dancing-just not together. They are toddlers. They do not play together. They play beside one another- only crossing into the other's space or consciousness if the other has food in hand. 

 Last night we all gathered at my home. Gus and Lu found the toys without too much trouble and it was as if The Baby was seeing these objects for the first time (hello, they have been in the corner of the living room in plain view. We have been trying to get you to play with them for months). There were little bodies running to and fro- bumping into furniture and each other. "She knocked me down like a bowling pin!" Gus declared when The Baby collided with him. Oh how I long for my sister to move back home (The ball is rolling, she is applying for teaching positions here). I long for the title Aunt Amy to truly mean something to Gus and Lu. I need someone to spoil (especially since The Mr. and I are devoted to working diligently to un-spoil our overindulged children). I don't want Gus to only remember me for my ripped leather couch (that our late dog, Oscar shredded with his claws in fits of anxious pacing) which pinched his leg. "Aunt Amy, I hate this couch!"  He exclaimed. Me too, Gus. 

When their energy could no longer be confined within the walls of my home, we set them loose in the yard. In our quick set ghetto pool, Gus and Lu demonstrated their newly acquired swim survival/ self rescue skills ( I could not find an exact link to the program they use, but you can Google Swim Survival Academy). 

The toddlers briefly waded in the inflatable whale pool. The Baby was sly. She helped Lu into the pool. She enticed him by crouching down low in the water, swirling her hands in a hypnotizing manner until he started to drift under her spell. And then she popped up and splashed him in the face. 

Fool him twice and he's outta there. But, not before she christened the back of his head with water.

We have a little more than one week left with them here. I know that it will go by quickly. And that is okay as long as my sister receives some glimmer of a job offer and we can welcome them back home for good. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011


It finally rained today. Just as we had yearned for the sun after the cold hold of winter, we were thirsty for even the tiniest spit of rain. It has been a very dry July save for the thick humidity that slicks your skin in 95 degree weather. Last week was oppressive. The air was so thick it felt like breathing through a dry sponge. I was certain that my face was sliding off and would land on my feet. We were melting- a living homage to the Persistence of Memory.  My flowers had begun to lose their plump waxiness. There were fatalities in the window boxes- crispy, brittle wisps where once colorful petunias bloomed. The grass was burned on bone dry ground and it hurt to even tiptoe on it with bare toes. When I turned on the hose to fill The Baby's wading pool, chickadees gathered to lap up the drippings and bathe in the barely there puddle I'd left behind. I'd forgotten about them, that they might be suffering too. We left bowls of water- a meager offering- in the garden for them.

The Baby's energy slowed down. She learned the meaning of the words 'hot' and 'cold.' Hot no longer meant an admonishment to keep her hands away from harmful things (the stove, electrical cords). Hot was a state of being. When she walked in to her bedroom on a particularly stifling evening- before I could turn on her oscillating fan- she exclaimed, "Hot! Hot! Hot!" And she learned that cold remedied hot. She also learned that there are wonderful, colorful cold things that are stored in the freezer- freezie pops, Popsicles, juice bars, ice cream. Now that she knows where and what they are, there is no getting anything past her. She wants her share, too.

We broke down and bought a window air conditioner unit for our bedroom. And, we realized on the first night in our cooled room that there is a price to pay for relief from heat. Our air conditioner is the most clamorous apparatus we have ever owned. As it shut down abruptly to accommodate the energy saving mode, it startled us awake. And then again we were ripped from sleep at odd intervals as it popped and rumbled back to life to cool the room. Also, the kids moved in. Our space began to look like a tenement. Air mattresses, extra pillows, blankets, toys, water bottles covered every surface of our room. They slept soundly- so happy to be curled up in blankets- while we were kept awake by the incessant rubbery squeaking the air mattress made every time someone rolled over (and our kids roll over A LOT). Is it a testament to our getting older that we are less tolerable of the heat or have the weather patterns truly changed? I just cannot remember ever feeling overwhelmed by summer heat as a child. A fan was sufficient for cooling down. And now I pant and break a sweat just crossing from one room to the next.

My office does not have any sort of air circulation. I was banned from writing and illustrating. My brain was too mushy to string together words any way. But, my heart was truly aching to sketch out some sentiment, some vision or experience. Anything that may have pricked my creative soul then has now melted and evaporated. Today we had a reprieve with enough rain to allow us to skip watering the garden for one day. Today we had rain to slick the shingles of zinnias, to dampen the feathers of sparrows, to soften the sting of the sun. There is a steady shushing sound floating in from a breeze moving through the trees. And although the humidity still hangs heavy and fashions my curly hair into an afro, the air is comfortable enough to breath without fans or air conditioning.  Still, I long for one day- just 24 hours of non-stop rain when I have no other place to be but home. No, not just rain-but a torrential down pour. The kind of storm that is rambunctious, that throws lightening bolts and leaves your skin buzzing with electricity and anticipation. I still have to wait for it. I will not wish for it to rush in. Just like thoughts, words, inspiration- it will come when it is ready.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Morning in the Sisters' Room

Today, on the way home from picking up the middle children from their summer art camp, Princess Commando entertained The Baby in the back seat by repeatedly throwing a stuffed animal at the ceiling. The Baby sounded like she was about to burst at the gut with her deep belly laughing. "Oh, Violet, I am so happy to have you," cooed Princess Commando.

Violet has been a good thing, for sure. She is a glue which bonds the other siblings in a singular commonality- an adoration of their littlest sister. The boys were always mortal enemies- always swapping the position of being on the defensive or offensive. Never content with each other's company. Never appreciative of the potential of their brotherhood. Contrarily, Henry and Princess Commando are like twins birthed 3 years apart.  They share many of the same interests, the same humor, vices, the same annoying secret language, and even a bedroom for a year. They value one another's company and find comfort in breathing the same air. With 8 years separating Princess Commando from her baby sister, we worried that our hot and cold Princess would have difficulty stepping out of the role of Baby. We could only hope that there would be love between them. And there is.

Since we have been in this house (which has been three years), we have disarranged bedrooms, bodies and belongings numerous times, mainly to accommodate the youngest member of our family. In planning for Violet's arrival, we always knew that we wanted the girls to eventually share a bedroom. It happened more quickly than we had intended. I wanted to wait until Violet was out of her crib (which I expected to be next summer). But, in June, on the first day of their summer vacation, Princess Commando requested that she be moved out of the third floor bedroom (which she had been shuffled into a year ago with Henry) and back into her old bedroom with Violet. It has worked out much more favorably than I could have imagined. I believe that the new arrangement has given Princess Commando a stronger sense of kinship with her little sister. And Violet seems much more content now that she has a room mate.

My new favorite vision is of the girls in their room in the morning. I will hear Violet "talking" which has always been my cue to retrieve her from her crib. But when I open the door, I find that the conversation is no longer one sided. Princess Commando is either draped over the railing of the crib holding her sister's hand or she is groggily answering back in whispers from her own bed. I cannot make out what they are saying- but their voices are sweet and soft and I imagine their first few moments awake to be like this:

Thank you to Princess Commando for drawing a vision of pterodactyl kittens and lizard turtles for me. Photographs were snapped while the girls were still groggy and the lighting was not quite right. I've altered them heavily in Photoshop, with many layers and my favorite smudgy finger tool.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Christmas in July

I remember the days leading up to my brother's birth. I was nine years old and so excited to welcome a baby into our home. I remember feeling him kick the palms of our hands laid upon our mother's swollen belly. We spoke to him, urging him, "Come out soon. We can't wait to meet you." We knew that he had arrived in the middle of the night when we tiptoed downstairs to find my Nana asleep on the living room couch. To make sure we weren't mistaken, my sister and I went into our parents' room to find my father asleep, alone. "Is he here? Is he here?" We shook him awake. "Let's call your mother and find out," he said. Mom was at the hospital and she confirmed that, yes, our baby brother had arrived. We were a family of five.

My parents waited until we had the chance to meet our baby brother at the hospital to finalize his name. They were stuck between Jordan and Christopher. They asked us which name we thought suited him better. Christopher. He was, he is a Christopher. We were in love with him from the moment we first laid our big sister eyes on him. He completed us- our sibling unit. As he grew, we would find boundless amusements in his antics, in his play. Like a little mommy, I was so proud of his every accomplishment- so proud to introduce him as "my brother." Above all of the bits and pieces, the numerous adventures and experiences that have built his person- I am most proud of his talent to connect with people, to engage people/ strangers in conversation- to make all feel welcome.

I will never forget the day that my mother brought Christopher, then 12 years old (Henry's age) to visit me in my new apartment. I was pregnant with First Born Son, soon to be married to The Mr. and we hadn't yet told Christopher that I was pregnant. He was still so young, I was young- I worried about how he would feel about me. He was seated next to me on my couch, " I have something to tell you. I am going to have a baby." His face lit up, "I'm going to be an uncle?! Yay!" It was this singular expression that brought me the greatest sense of peace and comfort for the journey I was embarking on.  And, he has continued to be supportive, gladly accepting, supremely thoughtful of each nephew and niece that has entered his life.

In December, he announced that he was going to be a father. At the time, his relationship with his baby's mother (whom we all respect and love dearly) was uncertain- his life was far from "settled." We worried how a baby would impact their lives. I worried as a mother worries- experienced in situations that are challenging to the spirit, wanting for her young not to repeat the same struggles that she had endured. But, at the same time, with an open heart, open arms, we were all ready to embrace them, support them, catch them if they stumbled, and rejoice with them.

On Saturday, July 9th, my family members paced the floors of our respective homes. My nephew was coming into the world. We sent strings of text messages between our houses- buzzing with anticipation. It is so difficult to be separated from my sister who lives in Las Vegas with her family. I longed for her to be here- to hold my hand, to dance with me with nervous energy, to celebrate. My mother held off on going to the hospital as long as she could for fear of intruding. But the labor was so long. And "any minute now" became a marathon of hours. It was troublesome for my mother- she had been in the room for the birth of First Born Son, she knew how to support her daughters through the hardship of labor. But, this was her baby boy. My mother could hear in his voice that he just wanted his mother near, if not in the labor room- certainly in the same building. She sent updates- which I relayed to my sister. And we both ached to be there. The Aunties sending love, hope, wishes of peace and comfort from both coasts of the United States. And then finally, a text from my mother, two words, "He's here!" followed by a text from my brother, one word " Rowan!" and the most beautiful picture of a smushy- faced newborn boy, a little Christopher. My nephew.

My mother holding Rowan, her 7th grandchild, upon our first introductions to him.

Having gone through the recovery process four times before, I knew that those first days are precious. You are exhausted, you are bonding, you are learning how to nurse. A steady stream of visitors disrupts the quiet that is so essential to connect. I wanted to be conscientious of their abbreviated time in the hospital. But, an invitation to meet my new nephew was extended and I could not resist. To feel the weight of this boy in my arms, to inhale his new baby smell, to take in all of the familiar features of his face (he looks, of course, like his parents, but I see all of us in him) is to feel pure joy. Rowan Audio (the middle name an homage to my brother's love of sound, of music) melts my heart. To see my brother, a new father with his baby fills me with a warmth I never could have imagined. It has been like Christmas in July. Just as Christopher made us feel complete as a family unit- Rowan is that missing piece which finishes our circle.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


We celebrated the Fourth of July at my parents' cottage in Hanford Bay, NY. Before we left, I stuffed the truck to the gills with backpacks, beach bags, towels, pillows, and snacks (those 45 minute drives are almost unbearable without nourishment). It looked like we were setting off for a two week excursion. But, really we were going to only be gone for the day. The part of me which is constantly needled by anxiety, worries that the children will actually go through five outfits in an 8 hour period. The Mr. scoffs at my laundry piles as he hands me his two contributions: swim trunks and jeans (to help keep the mosquitoes away at nightfall). But, as we were leaving the cottage to walk to the beach, The Mr., who had been holding The Baby on his hip, stopped in his tracks. "Why am I all wet?" Apparently swim diapers are great at keeping water from getting into the diaper but not so great at keeping pee from escaping the diaper. He was dumbfounded,"I only packed one shirt. I asked myself, 'Why in the world would I ever need to change my shirt?'" I pointed to a ground in blob of yogurt from The Baby's lunch that graced the strap of my tank top. I always assume there will be a need for an extra shirt.

Perhaps a more essential item to me than spare clothes is my camera. It (or one of its predecessors) has accompanied me to the beach for the past 8 years, arresting moments I worry may flee my memory. I am not by any means a great photographer. But I do enjoy collecting images of my family. What is not worthy to print- is saved for my illustrations. Last year, with an infant in my arms it was almost impossible for me to capture a steady shot. The result was 100 pictures that could induce vertigo on even the most stable vestibular system. This year I learned that with a toddler in tow, I needed two hands, quick reflexes and a husband at the ready in case she toppled into the surf. Which she did. With great enthusiasm.

Immediately after I took this picture, a wave bowled her over. She begged for more.



I always have my camera- Princess Commando always has a bucket for beach glass and interesting rocks.

Sometimes when I am behind the camera, I forget to indulge the rest of my senses in the occasion at hand. I neglect to acknowledge the tactile memories created by slippery rocks under bare feet, wet sand laced with finely crushed zebra mussel shells between my toes, or even the incandescence of the sun on my skin. I forget to take slow, deep  breaths  to appreciate the air- much more pure than the urban ozone I am accustomed to. I forget to be a player in the experience instead of just an observer- through a lens. There is a time and a place for that. But, I recognized yesterday as I regarded The Mr. creating new encounters for the children (showing Henry how to throw a football on the beach, creating a moat around The Baby and filling it with water for her to splash in) that I was not being fully present. So, I made the decision to put my camera away when we returned to the cottage after dinner.

It felt uncomfortable, unnatural at first. I wanted to capture the moment when The Baby was encountering my cousin's fiance, a lovely young man who approached her with great tenderness. She appraised him with what appeared to be hesitation. But, The Mr. and I exchanged a knowing look. She was starstruck. She thought that she was meeting DJ Lance Rock from Yo Gabba Gabba. She was waiting for him to say, " Fourth of July isssss Awesoooooome!" But, that moment like so many other small moments of the evening is imprinted on my brain. The vision of the children decked out in their neon glowing jewelry ( including glow glasses) chasing each other on the beach; the sight of the sliver of the moon hanging low and spilling a trail of milky luminescence on the water; the dramatic exhibition of 9ft tall bonfires burning down the length of the beach; the spectacle of fireworks; the fantasy-like scene of hundreds of paper lanterns, mini hot air balloons embarking on a journey through the sky; the view of The Baby clapping gleefully at each sonorous boom- have all left an indelible mark on my mind. I felt, for the first time in a long time, fully immersed in the experience.

With my hands free, my arms were open to envelop Henry who was starting to feel the chill in the air (you can pack them a hoodie, but you can't make them bring it to the beach). Next summer, he may exceed me in height. But last night he tried with great diligence to curl in my lap like a St. Bernard curling into the bed of a shih ztu. He let out a sigh, looked up at me through his goofy glowing glasses, flashed me a grin and said, "I could stay here forever." Ahhh. No photograph could ever replicate the incredible sweetness and peace I felt at that moment.

Friday, July 1, 2011

this was supposed to be a blog about independence day

I came across these pictures from 2006 when I was looking for inspiration for an Independence Day post. What a lovely bunch of smiling faces. It's comforting to know that some things never change

And, how did I get them to agree to wear matching shirts? As they are settling into their roles as creatures destined to one day be independent of their parents, their wardrobe choices have certainly become an expression of their individuality. If left to her own devices, Princess Commando would parade through life in Pokemon t-shirts or anything that resembled pajamas (not a matching set, mind you). Henry wants to be plain, unassuming- and would have embraced the Catholic school uniform many of our neighbor's children wear if we offered it to him. First Born Son is finally buying pants which allow the prospect of providing us with grandchildren one day (16+ years from now). I believe his skinny jeans (a trend that lasted way too long) were finally getting to him. It cannot be comfortable to have the family jewels constricted in that manner.

And look, they were trying back then to get Princess Commando to cooperate for the camera.
"Smile or I am going to kiss you with my Kool Aid and Cheese Doodle stained lips."

"Smile or I will claw you to pieces!"

As determined as Princess Commando was to hold onto that pout, Henry also tried to maintain the same pose through out the ordeal- ready to flash his beam of cooperation when we said, "Say cheese!".

But, everyone has a breaking point. And, Henry's came when he heard that dinner was served and he was still sitting there waiting for his sister to amiably participate for one stinking picture. "Turn your damn head around and smile  so that I can eat some sausage!"

Princess Commando was more than willing to oblige us when we relented and told her to "Just do whatever you want."

Who is that little girl in the picture below holding on to her Daddy's hand? Who are these little people tiptoeing into the water? I hardly recognize them. It takes my breath away to imagine that five years from now  I may be looking at pictures from this year's 4th of July celebration at Hanford Bay- wondering how it got to be that The Baby is already in kindergarten.

You blink and one of those little boys with sandy feet and garish swim trunks is all of a sudden sitting far away from you on the beach admiring the tanned skin and barely there bikinis of teenage girls. When you are holding your newborn in your arms and you have that look of the walking dead in your face, those who have traveled the same path before you advise "Enjoy this time. It goes by so quickly." In that moment, you think they are insane. Having had 14+ years to let it sink in, I know that they spoke the truth. And with all of the challenges that we've had becoming a family of 6, I try to remind myself to stop my lamenting about how difficult it all can be and just enjoy the time I have with The Baby. Soon enough she will be one of the teenage girls on the beach with her bare skin defended by SPF 1000; wearing an adorably modest, long sleeved bathing suit (because my wishful thinking tells me that she will be the only one of my children who will truly want to please my tastes); and the widest brimmed hat you have ever seen in your life (because she will truly care about the longevity of her life and will do anything to prevent getting skin cancer because she knows that she will be the one out of the four kids saddled with the responsibility of taking care of us in our old age). And through all of the layers of sun protection, she will catch the eye of a boy her age and oh, those suh- uh-mer ni- ights. See, how it does go by so fast?

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! May it drag on and on in the most delicious manner.

P.S. To Melanie @ Be Wild (a fabulous blog filled with gorgeous photography and even more gorgeous insights), this last image is for you. These are the kinds of images I get commissioned to create. Happy Canada Day!