Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

May all of your Christmas DREAMS come true and may your Christmas REALITY be wonderfully crazy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

the bubble

I was driving First Born Son home from school on Monday and we had a conversation about local repercussions from the horrific massacre that occurred on Friday in Newtown, CT.

When the world darkens
and the sharp objects of tragedy, fear and gut wrenching woe
pierce the collective human spirit, 
can I encase you in a bubble?
Or carry you by the scruff to my bear's den
and stow you away until you are old enough, wise enough
with claws sharp enough
to fend for yourself?

Probably not
You protest attempts to shelter and safeguard
You despair with the rest of us 
but you question
What has really changed aside from a deeper well of sadness?
You recall the night we were driving in a dicey neighborhood
and heard the unmistakable pop
and recoiled at the lightning flash
of gunfire
panicking to turn our car
in the other direction
We weren't in our neighborhood
but we were near your school
you knew it was close enough
it was real
it was always a possibility 

When your Superintendent
orders the mandatory waving of the security wand
over each and every high school student 
entering a Buffalo Public School building
You tell me how even the most brilliant and balanced junior in your class
carries a knife to school
That he threw the knife in the bushes when he heard of the security wands
and fretted all day about reaching the end of the day
when he may not be able to find it
and what he might encounter on the way home

You show me once again that your empathy
has stretched achingly wide
beyond a tragic event that afflicted a nation
you acknowledge your fellow students
who live with the burden of  fear daily
because their neighborhoods 
more unstable than your own
are always shrouded 
in dark shadows
where the threat of violence looms over them 
on a bus ride home from school
a walk to the corner store
across the threshold of their homes

You tell me that to beef up security in our schools
as an answer to the question
How do we prevent what happened in Newtown from ever happening again?
seems as futile as trying to buttress Earth
to prevent an act of nature from inflicting harm and damage
The ideas of safety and security are a thin and fragile veil- 
so too are the membranes of a bubble
I realize that you are old enough, wise enough
with claws sharp enough
But, I will always feel like I am throwing you to the wolves 
each day you walk out that door

Monday, December 10, 2012


There is warm infusion of euphoria
which softens the sensibilities of a new parent
You marvel at the little baked potato bound tightly in your arms
no limbs flailing
no legs running
no mouth spouting off words to counter back on your requests
Only a perfect full face
as close and  familiar as the back of your hand
as distant as the face of the man in the moon
Do not matter
The grandparents, aunties and uncles descend upon the baby
and exhale sentiments which drift carelessly around your head
'Just you wait until he's a teenager'
'Enjoy this time. It goes by so fast'
You caress the words off of his forehead
There is so much space between this moment
the next milestone
You carry with you an idea of what certain numbers will mean
within the context of this new life
At one there will be walking and words
At two there will be tremendous growth, potty training and tantrums
At five there will be kindergarten and the first of many moments of letting go
At ten there will be middle school and a muddle of hormones and new independence
At 16 there will be wheels
But 16 is     so                    far                   away
In those first wee moments
time has stopped
You have a handle on it all
You will never blink
and open your eyes to find
a man standing before you
as close and familiar as the back of your hand
as distant as the face of the man in the moon
Yet there he is
and he's saying something about the car keys

Friday, December 7, 2012


These have been days of getting nothing done
My heart is twisted into a Gordian knot
tangled in needs vs wants
pining for light
and jolly- merry
holiday cheer
yet soaked in
a stickiness
which strangles a sigh
'bah humbug'

My little mouse was curled upon the couch
so uncharacteristically still and silent
Worried that she was falling ill,
I checked the forehead
the belly
the chest
the ears
the throat

'Mommy, I'm fine.
I just want to snuggle you.'

The pinch in my tangled heart
leaned toward the inclination to remain
the thief
stealing more time
Just one more minute.
I'll be there.

But they do not wait
They stretch and grow
and no longer fit
into the wee corner of the couch
When mother beckons
they serve just desserts
I'll be there in a minute, Mom.
I'm busy.

I looked at my little mouse curled upon the couch
I folded a blanket around our bodies
She put her little arm around my neck
her copper head on my shoulder
sighing sighing sighing
in a way which made
all the lights on the tree
come into focus
The Gordian knot began to unravel

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chriftsmas Craps

The Baby is a glue junky. It started with the innocent discovery of a single stick of purple tinted Elmer's Washable School Glue and ended with one last broken promise, "I will make somefin' this time, really! I promise!" I was an enabler. I knew she had a problem, yet I kept finding more glue for her. The evidence of her addiction was painted all over: rough shreds of construction paper covered her face like a mask in carnival season; ten plastic barrels, skillfully emptied of their entire contents and discreetly tucked into the corners of the couch- without proof of an actual art project anywhere in sight; smears of "washable" purple  imprinted on the walls. I cut her off cold turkey and hid every last glue stick. 

But, I had illustrating projects that I was working on and I needed her to be occupied. So, I bought a container of bulk foam snowmen with hats, sparkly carrot noses, stick arms, scarves and just enough tiny foam circles to form the eyes and mouths. The pieces came with sticky backs, so, there were no worries of igniting old vices. 

She loved her little snowmen. But they didn't fulfill all of her needs. "More? Crabs, please!"
"Sure, we can go to the store tomorrow and look for a crab to make."

She looked at me quizzically. "Not crabs." She paused and spoke louder and more slowly this time. "C  r  a  b  s."
"Oh, do you mean crafts? It's not crabs. It's crafts."
"Yes!" Her eyes brightened. "Crabs."
"No, say it like this: C-r-a-f-t-s."
Oh, no.
"No, no. C-r-a-f-t-s. Crafts."
"C-r-a-p-s. Craps. I want more Chriftsmas craps."
"Never mind. I'll get you something tomorrow."  

The next day, I went to the store and found a host of holiday foam delights. I decided on a charming little Christmas cottage with Santa and reindeer on the roof. 122 interlocking and sticky backed foam pieces. I knew she was too young to assemble it on her own. It would be a nice chance to pause and get into the holiday spirit with my little one. 

But it wasn't. She has inherited from her mother the displeasure of following directions. From the moment the pieces were dumped on the table, it became a lesson in futility. The interlocking pieces were cut irregularly so that nothing quite fit together and the little house kept collapsing in on itself. Before I could take an inventory of the stick-on pieces, she had begun to pull off the backs and adhere them to the sides of the house. Santa's jolly cheeks adorned a window, an amputated reindeer antler stuck out of the bushes and a random shard of white foam jutted out of a reindeer snout like a giant fang. This was supposed to be smooth; but, there I was swearing like a sailor at a stubborn Santa who would not stick. After 15 minutes, I gave up trying to construct the house so that it resembled the creation on the packaging.

Chriftsmas craps for sure.

The Baby continued to remove the sticky backs and smash them onto the little shack. She brought the dilapidated house to me, "Mommy do you know what we need?"

"What, kiddo?"

A wry smile washed across her face, "Glue."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Coin Toss

 And Heads it is.

Whether you are heads or tails, red or blue, we wish you peace and positive change over the next four years and beyond. 

A special thank you to my 13 year old, Henry, for painting a picture in my mind of the candidates tossing a coin to decide the election.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


There had been talk of closing school
as a precaution
for violent winds
scheduled to hit land 
The hurricane was national news
No one wanted to take chances
after what happened in NYC and NJ
Like the song goes,
if it can make it there,
it’ll make it anywhere
surely in a smaller city famous for inclement weather
caught in the same path 

The kids prayed for the winds to come
for the lights to flicker
for Mother Nature to spit, hiss, spew, howl
And despite the district making the call
and the kids rejoicing
the storm spared us
only rattling the last leaves from the trees

As the children enjoyed being more vegetable than animal
a package arrived for their father
It came in a large box, as tall as the ten year old
It wasn’t particularly heavy
They took turns guessing its contents
It turned out to be nothing exciting at all
But the girls claimed the empty box for their shelter
from monsters and older brothers

As they huddled under pillows and blankets
the television screen behind them
illuminated a city devastated by that
which only whispered against our windowpanes
Of fire and flood, of life and loss
I looked at the girls- and thought
how fortunate that the only shelter they need
in this moment
against monsters and older brothers
is satisfied by a flimsy cardboard box

Friday, October 26, 2012

a view from a window

Occasionally, The Mr. likes to send me pictures of the view from his desk- a view which overlooks an idyllic corporate campus.

I, in turn, share pictures of the view from my desk which is now located in the front room of our home.

Fridays are trash and recycling pick up days. With my desk tucked away in the back of the house for the past four years, I never knew how many interesting people passed through our street on Fridays. There is the well dressed older African American gentleman with his smooth jive walk and tidy cart- confidently strutting down the street with his aluminum can booty. There is the tall, long grey pony-tailed guy who wheels his bedraggled lady partner around in their cart- loading it up with salvaged loot until only the top of her dusty, curled head peeks through. And then there is the guy above- so determined to get that last plastic water bottle on the bottom of our recycling tote that at one point he had his entire body in there- feet pointing straight in the air. I'll take these characters any day over the corporate campus.

What does the view from your window look like? I would love for you to share a picture and, perhaps some words to go with it for next Friday's post. If you would like me to share your snapshots on this blog, please email me: amycappelli@gmail.com. Include your name and the name of your blog/ website, if you have one.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Henry approaches me with animated eyes and a tight, bothered smile- his tell that he is agitated about something.

“ Are migraines an excuse to miss swim class?”

Ah, there it is-the topic my children find to be most steeped in dismay. The impending swim component of the school's Phys Ed rotation.

“Um, unless you are having a migraine attack, you are fit to swim.”

His shoulders slump in disappointment.

“What about mitral valve prolapse?”

I shake my head.

“Irritable bowel syndrome?” he asks hopefully.

“Nope. Short of breaking your arm or leg- I think you are stuck with swim.” His eyes light up- the calculating wheels turning.

From the other room, First Born Son offers encouragement, “Do it, Henry! Jump off the second floor roof! There’s a kid at school who did that and got a concussion and broken arm and missed, like, a year of gym and swim.”

But, my children love to swim. In the summer, when given a pool, they dive, breaststroke, freestyle, cannonball until their lips turn blue and their skin begins to prune. 

“I don’t want to change for swim. I don’t want anyone seeing my flab. I don’t care if it means I fail Phys Ed.” Despite having rapidly gained inches in height and shedding his pre-adolescent softness, the lens with which he views himself is grossly distorted. He balks at my suggestion to wear a swim shirt claiming it will give him boy boobs.

“I don’t want to change for swim either,” Princess Commando chimes in. “I finally perfected my method for changing for gym (wearing shorts under her pants and an athletic cami under her shirt). I don’t want to be naked in front of anyone!”

It troubles me that my girl is so consumed with locker room anxiety-obsessively devising ways in which to escape from one outfit to the next without exposing a slip of skin. I worry that she will begin to wear cut-off denim shorts in the shower á la Tobias Fünke. And, it wrecks my heart that my boy would rather injure himself than participate in swim class. I empathize with my girl’s inclination toward locker room ‘never- nudity’ honoring her preference for decency over lewdness. And, I offer truthful reassurances to Henry that his body is normal- better than normal. I go so far as to step over my own line, pointing out other people in his class who are clearly not in shape. But, neither child is comforted.

Princess Commando's mind races through the options that would best protect her modesty. “I know! I can just wear my swimsuit to school and then put my clothes over it afterward.”

Henry dissuades her, “You’ll be soaking wet for the rest of the day.”

“Then I don’t know what to do!”

As a grown up working through grown up concerns such as ensuring that First Born Son gets into college while also securing a spot for The Baby in a choice preschool; untangling our complicated financial situation;  and soul searching at the bluff of mid-life, issues like changing for swim seem, at first, inconsequential. 

Then I recall the 8 year old version of myself- conveniently falling ill each swim day, sitting on the bleachers fully clothed- melting in the humidity of the pool room, getting mooned by Marcus the Stripper, who clearly had no issues with modesty.  I am reminded, once again, that in the realm of experiences children have had and of the things they understand to be true, every worry is BIG, every worry is real for them. 

And changing- whether out of clothes or into new milestones can be intimidating. But, I think I've got one of them 'covered.'

You can call it a burqini, a modesty suit, a Duggar's day at the pool. I call it spectacular.
 With it's quick dry fabric, she can wear it to school- both in and out of the pool. 
But, can I actually get her to wear one?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

no child left behind (in our bedroom)

The house is warm and fragrant
the scent of rosemary and mint shampoo floats through the rooms
Sleep and solitude are so close
We make the nightly rounds
First The Baby and one more song and never let mama go
and the door left open, just a crack

Then the oldest boy in the room next door
binders and books splayed out on the bed,
wracking his brain to recall lessons learned earlier in the day
Too focused to acknowledge my shape in the doorway
with anything more than the rise of an eyebrow.

The second son, tucked away on the third floor, is so quiet
we sometimes forget to check in
Lost in his thoughts, in the importance of everything, the fairness of nothing,
rushing to get someplace but not knowing where to go
in the narrow corridors of his grey matter

And the girl, who says things in daylight hours like,
‘I want to spend more time with you,’
shuns the time I offer
Don’t interrupt, she is soaking up each second until ‘lights out’
Her notebooks and pencils occupying our bed as she has nowhere else to go

Do you need anything? Are you okay? I ask each one.
They are engrossed in their drawings, drudgery, daydreams
Too busy for small talk, they exercise an economy of words
 No. Yeah.

The older ones are too old to smooth the wet, ruffled, after-shower hair.
Too big to read a story to
But wasn’t it just last year when we all got sucked into that popular series?
Stretching the bedtime hour to read the next chapter
And the next.

Since nobody needs me, I settle my head on the pillow

But the girl, sensing stillness, feels an itch to stir the calm
She has to show me something, ‘It’s so awesome!’
Instructions for a homemade hamster hammock
‘Wouldn’t it be great for Pepper?’
She must make it Now! or it will never happen
So in her last allotted minutes, she rips the sleeves off a t-shirt and sews a pouch.
And of course the hamster must try the pouch Now!
So now there is a girl with a hamster in a homemade pouch on the bed.

As the hamster escapes and scampers across my lead legs,
the second son meanders into our room.
He stands quietly beside my bed
But he doesn’t need anything
He makes sure to tell us so when I look at him quizzically

‘Can I get anything for you guys before I go to bed?’ he asks.
‘We’re fine.’ We answer. But he has not moved. There is something else.
‘Okay then.’ He is still standing there
‘Are you okay?’ I ask
‘Fine,’ he looks away as if embarrassed to ask,
‘But can I just sit here with you for a little while?’
We fold him under the covers, this boy now taller than me.

As his younger sister shuffles the hamster,
who keeps wriggling out of the pouch,
from hand to hand,
we all giggle at the absurdity
which draws the oldest boy in
He just happened to finish his work and found a video
And it’s ‘so friggin funny’ and ‘you have to watch it’
So we do
And we all laugh
And from the other room,
‘Hey whatca all laughing for?’
The Baby in her pj's and floppy hair and wide eyes,
interpreting the No Child Left Behind act to mean something else,
climbs onto the bed

Suddenly they all remember that there were things they needed to say
Of things that happened and grades they received
Of teachers they love or hate
Of lunch and the bus
Of sports and death and lost calculators
These children who do not want to have anything to do with each other
now poke each other’s ribs and shake the bed with laughter
piling up in the center, limbs entwined
They do not realize how much they love each other yet
For now we just  float on our own island.

Friday, September 28, 2012

my little barometer

Years ago at the end of my pregnancy with Princess Commando, I sat in my midwives office expressing my concerns about pressing my luck with a 3rd child (and first girl child) after having been blessed with two easy going boys. She recalled the challenging infancy of her own daughter, her first child- telling me that her daughter's colic was so bad that she would have given her to anyone who offered a nickel. I felt fortunate, in that moment, that I had never been driven to the desperation of wanting someone to relieve me of my child. 

But then, 8 years later, Violet came along. I was a seasoned mother, but I found myself in uncharted territory. She was colicky, inconsolable unless wrapped tightly in a cocoon adhered to my body which was forced into a monotonous rocking dance. For three months, her mouth was permanently drawn into broad ‘O,’ letting loose banshee wails- the soundtrack of our nights. My enervated eyes longed rest upon a peaceful face. 

During one of her cloudy days, The Mr. and I ran an errand to our local butcher who affably asked if we were exchanging our 'adorable' infant daughter for a cut of meat. We replied in bone-tired unison, ‘Yes. Please take her.’ Our frank response took him aback. But we were so weary.

At 2.5 years old, she has outgrown her colic. But being very much in the throes of her second year, she is possessed by that gremlin that occupies two year old bodies. She slips into orneriness all too naturally. She is a tornado. She is feral, fickle, contradictory, petulant. She is masterly at knowing which buttons to press and when to press them- crossing my wires, until I short circuit and become the nasty robot mommy.

This week we had one of those days- a truly sucky day. A day when No!, Stop!, Don’t! was our only discourse. I had the rare opportunity to work on an illustration. For money. I knew it was going to be a challenge to try to complete it in the company of a 2 year old; but there are only so many hours in the day when my creative state and my dexterity align, producing quality work. Violet had other plans. From the moment she woke up (at a super special 6 AM), she was ON- deliberately dumping cereal (the kind that requires the big vacuum), ripping books, breaking crayons, demanding things we did not have (green juice! purple juice! Indian food!) unfolding freshly folded laundry, spitting her chocolate milk on the couch, dismantling her sister's bed, sneaking candy, flooding the bathroom sink, bringing back the banshee wail, trying to ride the dog or ‘snuggle’ the hamster, pooping in her pants, pressing every button, challenging me to the edge of the allegorical cliff.  And that was all before 11 AM.

‘I don’t like you. You’re not my parrot!’ She yelled. She meant parent and she was right- in that moment I was neither her parrot nor her parent. I was convinced that I should resign, that there was another woman, a better mother out there who was the proper fit for Violet's puzzle piece. I was ready to take an ad out in the paper to find her.

‘I don’t like you much right now either.’ The response was almost involuntary.

‘I am not really listening,’ she admitted shamelessly. ‘I’m not very nice to you.’

When she demonically laughed in the face of the most sacred of hours, naptime, I lost it in the confines of my own bedroom and dissolved into tears. I began to cringe at her sticky, angry voice demanding, ‘Mama!’ Guilt buckled over my ribs, my heart ached to be filled with compassion and patience because all I wanted to do is sell her to the gypsies. 

It wasn't until the last ‘Mama!’ faded into the bedtime hour that there was space for quiet. And then there was clarity. She had been trying to tell me something all day. I was the one who needed to be bartered to the gypsies for my sour behavior.

I have been on edge the last two weeks. There has been stress in the house. The Mr. has been working on a project which has left me to parent alone many days from sun up to sun down. We have been facing a difficult decision regarding our financial health. It has lead to many heated discussions.  My anxiety and self doubt have inflated monumentally. I am unsettled. I am guilty of wearing my emotions on my sleeve. Violet is a sponge. She soaked up my frustrations and vexations and poured them back on me. Violet was only acting as the barometer for the muddle I had been grappling with out in the open.

With the consciousness of my behavior awakened, I could make the choice to try better, do better, be better. While I tend to ferry the insecurities, worries, and regrets of days past into the next day, every morning is a fresh start for Violet. When she woke the following morning, she danced down the wooden stairs with her ruffled, flame colored head and sought me out for a hug. She sighed ‘Mama’ into my neck with warm breath. It was infused with love, faith, promise. How could ‘Mama’ have ever sounded like anything other than a melody? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Still Coming into Focus

Mamalode has been so kind to me-especially when I have not been kind to myself in measuring my worth as an artist and writer. Today they are running my poem Coming Into Focus, originally posted here in June. Please click here to read the poem on Mamalode's website. More visits/ hits to the page result in a paycheck for me:-) So please feel free to share the Mamalode published piece with others.

Never has the sentiment expressed in Coming Into Focus chimed with more truth than today as I bear witness to Princess Commando shedding the last traces of young girlhood. She entered middle school this year. I want to revert back to the coddling exclamations, "Wow, you're a big 5th grader now!" as we did when she was entering kindergarten or 1st grade. But, she would scowl at me- not just for the implication that we thought she was a baby needing a boost but for the fact that she is clearly not BIG at all. In fact, she is facing a new vexation as one of the youngest members of the Frederick Law Olmsted School at Kensington and also having the distinction of being one of the smallest in stature. She has fallen victim to relentless, but well- meaning head patting. "My head hurts. I am going to start to wear a jagged crown."

To be fair, for two years, our 5-12 program was split between two different buildings due to an extensive renovation in our permanent building. This is the first year we are all back under one roof (hallelujah for not having 3 kids in 3 different buildings!) The upperclassmen have not been in the presence of the "little kids" in quite some time. It is so tempting to squeeze unblemished doughy cheeks, pat little silken heads and squeal, "Aww, look at the little 5th graders. They are so cute!"

"I am not cute! I don't want to be cute!" Princess Commando asserts. I try to remind her that it is better than the alternative. But, if this is the most severe annoyance of 5th grade- I'll take it.

 And then there are boys. They change in middle school, you know. She has always operated with such ease in the company of boys. She speaks their language. She has older brothers and all-boy cousins and a troupe of fantastically boyish, wonderfully inclusive neighborhood boys. She is not shy or awkward around them. And up until September 5th, her male classmates had regarded her with the same comfort and ease. But, now boys sit with boys in lunch. And girls sit with girls. By choice. But, not Princess Commando's choice. So lunch is filled with a longing for friendships that are fading before her eyes.

We had prepared her for this in a lecture titled, What to Expect When You are Expecting to Survive Middle School- which included, among other topics-Those are not mosquito bites, those are boobs; How to defend yourself in a knife fight (did I mention that our kids attend public school in an inner city school district?), and, of course, Boys are muttonheads (Before mothers of boys take offense,  I have two teenage sons- I love them, but it's true- even of the best of them). We tell her that it is truly nothing personal, it's just the natural development of the social dynamic in middle school. I think she knows that this is true; but it doesn't make it any easier-especially when she attempts to engage one of her male friends in conversation and the rest of her classmates take turns taunting her for her breech in the social norm. "Haha, you like So and So."

There are times when I feel like I have it all figured out- motherhood, counseling. All the light bulbs turn on. Creativity, critical thinking, problem solving kicks into high gear. I am actively contributing to their growth, helping to steer their ships, offering up valuable wisdom. But lately, I am all a tangle- often forced into the role of spectator- holding my breath throughout the game- crossing my fingers, praying to the universe that they make the right play, that they rally, that they put their best foot forward, that they learn how to win and how to lose. I am split between standing at the top of the mountain- encouraging them upward and onward and anchoring myself at the bottom ready with the net in case they stumble. My wise mother tells me- to get used to it- it never changes even when our babies are 37 with babies of their own. With that in mind, I think I am due for some new mountain climbing shoes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

first day of school

In the still new hours of the morning
in the still fresh breaths of September
down the stairs, to the corner
with burgeoning packs on their backs
like little beasts of burden
The older brother
the younger sister
her first year in a new school
but, he's got it all under control
He won't tell her that he cares
but he won't let her get off at the wrong stop
he won't tease her today
like he taunts her within his brother's rights at home
The bus groans and swallows them whole
They are growing up
but their faces still look so diminutive behind the glass
Their mother watches them shrink to little smudges
until they could be anyone's kid on the bus
She thinks of the first day of pre-kindergarten
when they were still small enough to carry
It always feels funny to send them off into the world
and find faith that they will honor and be honored
they will be nurtured
they will be safe
they will learn
they will return
She holds the hand of the littlest one
too young to be at the mercy of other teachers
too young to understand why her siblings have abandoned her
She asks to ride the bus tomorrow
Someday, someday
Soon, soon
Mother and little one sit in a quiet house
the day is drawn out slowly
like the measured steps of a tortoise
until ache of absence slowly dissolves
into an embrace of the clamor and hubbub
of 3:00, the hour when they return

As I write this, the house is devoid of all drumming, squawking, disquietude except for the steady whirring of the oscillating fan in the other room and the intermittent sighs of The Dog on the floor. The Baby started her first day of daycare today. It had become increasingly apparent toward the end of the school year that she needed a little bit more than what I could offer her during the day. She said to me once, in a fit of frustration, "You are mean. You don't know how to play with me." She is in the best hands- she is in a lovely home next door to my mother's home- with three other children for company. Aside from my final semester when I was finishing my undergraduate work, I have never put my children in daycare. It is only two half days per week but I feel a little bit guilty about it as I do not have a good reason other than The Baby and I needed a little break. And my guilt is more inflated by the fact that she cried and screamed when I left her, " Don't leave me here!!!" I know she will be fine. She will be home soon enough.  I just need to get used to the sound of my own noise in a peaceful house.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Her birthday card. Because she loves hamsters.

Today is a big day.
Today my little
Lovey Dovey,
Princess Commando
enters into the double digits.
Soon I will blink
and she will be
driving ME
to Target.
But for now
she still
can jump up
into my arms
and I can still
carry her.
I think,
I will always
be able to
carry her
even if
by the power of
some magic
hidden genes
she grows
to tower over me.

Friday, August 17, 2012

this is why I'm tired.

Princess Commado left her hamster, Pepper, in our room.

At 2:00 AM, we wake to the disconcerting sound of rodent teeth gnawing on metal. My brain is thick with sleep and I think Pepper is trying to escape; but she is only drinking from the metal arm of her water bottle. I am too foggy and heavy to get up and bring her back into Princess Commando's room- so I resolve to put up with the noises- the gnawing and the exercise wheel spinning. I have dreams of  hamsters darting across the bed.

Then, in the still cloaked hours of the morning- a thunderstorm. It would have remained a rumble in my periphery if that little voice wasn't calling  from the other room. It speaks with an animated clarity which my sleep fuddled brain interprets as a frantic call. I involuntarily bolt  upright to respond.

"Hey, guys! Ya hear that lightning! Ya see those big lights?" It repeats again and again- louder and clearer each time.

Her little eyes are wide and sparkling- igniting with each lightning flash and thunderous punctuation. She isn't scared. She is thrilled. "Hear that lightning, Mama?"

"Thunder makes the sound, Baby. Lightning makes the flash. Are you scared?"

"No!" She answers quickly. But, then she ruminates. She knows there is an opportunity nestled in my question. It could lead to her favorite place in the world, Mommy and Daddy's bed. She twists her face in mock fright. "Oh, yes. I'm very scared. I sleep in Mommy's bed."

I scoop her up and curl around her under our covers thinking there are still a few more hours left to rest.

The hours are there- but not for rest.

Each achromatic flash enlivens her more. She shakes the sleep out of me with a recurrent question: Ya hear that lightning?

Then the thunder thins and the sky is dark again- morning is slowly creeping toward the first alarm. Her breath becomes heavy, followed soon by toddler snores. Finally, hopefully-forty minutes of rest.

But, no! It can't be! Another rumble. An industrial belch. An iron groan. Garbage trucks. Men's voices calling back and forth. Big eyes pop open on a little head. "Ha!" She exhales abruptly as if she hadn't ever fallen into a snoring slumber a minute earlier. "What's that?! Garbage trucks? Garbage trucks! I love garbage trucks! Do you like garbage trucks?"

Not today. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

swampy brain

For weeks my mind was like this:

running, running, running. I had a creative explosion. It felt good. It felt like I had direction. An example of my direction- illustrations for a picture book that I've been holding onto for three years. I had the words- which were alright- but it wasn't until the pictures came into focus that I knew where I wanted to go with it.

But, then the temperature started to rise and stick around 90 something degrees with air that felt like breathing through a dry sponge. My fibromyalgia started to flare up so that each joint felt as if someone was turning screws. I was a wooden door swelling against its hinges and frame. When it gets like that, the pain embogs me and renders me bootless. At its worst, which was this past weekend, I laid down in front of a box fan which sputtered out the only air circulating in our living room. Eww, I was crabby and stuck. I wanted to shoot something.

 And my brain got all swampy, slimy, gross. 

I challenged The Baby to a whine off. I won.

Today weather has loosened its oppressive hold. Slowly the screws in my joints and muscles are loosening. The doors aren't sticking. Hopefully, opportunity will be knocking on them soon, and I will be able to walk right through. 

Please enjoy 20% off of Annie's Beach Rocks and your entire order at Lulu.com. Click here to be taken to Lulu's homepage. You'll find a savings code on the homepage which you can enter at checkout to receive your 20% discount. The offer ends, August 10, 2012.

Annie's Beach Rocks follows a little girl, her Daddy and her brother on an excursion to the beach to collect rocks. While she is there, Annie learns about the many ways people use rocks in everyday life. She uses all that she learns about rocks to create a special gift for Daddy at home. Available in soft cover, eBook, and through the iBookstore:

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

fish are jumpin

Sometimes I get a song stuck in my head and the only way to get rid of it is to draw it out.

What bad parents letting their baby wander off toward the water. Good thing her Daddy is Ninja fast.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

my boys

Summertime used to yield the most colorful renderings - the most accurate depictions of the essence of my children. Their little selves caught in various states of summer through the camera's lens. Their creamy skin gloriously offered to the sun- kissed to a roasted peanut glow. Their hair a little bit more wild. Their grins wide enough to count each bumpy tooth, each gap and gum. Unbridled beams of joy glinting from the caverns of their mouths. They still hadn't grown into their ears- little satellites picking up each chirp, croak, sigh, breath, whish, rush, rumble, hush- marvelling at the stories told  by nature, by their neighborhoods, by the sky, the open air, the streetlights, the stars. Their willingness to learn, let go, live- it was all so vibrant, so boundless. Days were a sweet sigh. And then, another sigh- until the ropey tendons released.  Until we set our canoes on lazy rivers- no urgency for direction- just surrender.

And now, they are teenagers whose summer lives are no longer intertwined save for (in their minds) the unfortunate fact they share the same house and the same blood. They are elusive. Aloof. Apathetic. Immune to the gilded beckoning of the sun. Heavy with humidity, they are no longer willing to humor their mother with a smile. Openness to the world's offerings is replaced with an earnestness to while away the hours racking up sleep mileage (and dirty dishes). Their days stretch out along a comatose river- too slow to get anywhere. The stagnancy is almost too much to bear- I want to stir their static waters with a loud paddle. Remember the days when the little moments were strung together to make a beautiful story of us? Marvel, again, dammit!

Instead of summer sighs, I hold my breath-waiting for them to shed the affliction of their ages.

In pictures, palms replace faces. 

I was standing hopeful that I was about to capture my oldest boy- steadily, gently assuming the features of a man. He stood in a pensive pose while helping to shuck corn at his Nana's cottage. A serene softness lighting on his fine cheekbones. Finally a picture for the family album-a picture worth printing.

Then, my eyes scanned lower- over the image in the viewer of my camera-all the while his eyes were watching my expression. Then I recognized his strategic placement of the corn whose husk he had just peeled away- a prosthetic corn penis shooting out from his shorts. I should have known better.

My squinting, pinched eyes scanned upward, s  l  o  w  l  y,  meeting his. His playful boyish gleam- a satisfied smile. I love you, he cloyingly offered. But I will never cooperate for a picture. 

Summertime still yields the most colorful renderings, the most accurate depiction of the essence of my children. And while I pine for the days when the most pressing decision was who to give the last root beer flavored popsicle to, I wouldn't have them any other way than who they need to be today. They are here. But one day, in the not too distant future, if we've truly done right by them, they will get in their canoes and paddle away from here. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

old habits die hard

The middle kids discovered a stash of neon color chenille pipe cleaners that I had been harboring as a rainy day distraction for The Baby. They begged permission to tear into the slender sticks of crafty wonder proclaiming, "There is something we REALLY want to make!" It wasn't raining but the kids were booo-ored. I agreed to let them go crazy with bendable chenille-ity with the stipulation that they clean up every last pipe cleaner when they were done. Princess Commando is known for leaving a trail of evidence of her existence around the house. They vowed to not leave any trace of their amusements and set about making wobbly three dimensional turtles and World War II Tallboys which Henry kept dropping on his sister's head.

After 30 minutes, I heard the rustling of the pipe cleaner bag and the kids pattering off. After a quick inspection of the table, I gave satisfactory marks for clean up.

But an hour later, as I bent down to pick up a sock that had tumbled from the laundry basket, I spotted a yellow pipe cleaner glaring out from beneath the table, then a sorbet orange strip in the middle of the kitchen floor, and a circa 1985 green poker under the piano. I yelled up to the kids to come down and finish cleaning. They arrived before me baffled. "We did clean," they protested. They obediently gathered up the crafty stragglers and went on their way.

Another hour later, as I straightened the toy room, I found two more pieces huddled together under The Baby's activity table. "Did you take these out, Baby?" 

"I not play with cleaners!" she insisted. But she was the only one around and evidence of her cunning work- the glitter aquarium stickers trimming the walls- abounded. I told her that if she was not intending on creating a chenille replica of the Chrysler building with them, then she had better put them back where she found them. Through a piercing scowl, she picked up the pieces and carried them back to their home. 

As we ate dinner that evening, we heard the thumping of our ancient Siamese cat, Mooshie, as she descended the wooden stairs. She announced her arrival with an low, long voweled Siamese Mer-roooow. But it was more muffled than usual- like she was talking with her mouth full. 

She insinuated herself at the table and spit out a electric purple pipe cleaner. Her action educed a memory- of a time before kids- when there was just Mooshie, an abandoned kitten we adopted in spite of the fact we were both terribly allergic.

 "Remember when she used to do this at the apartment?" The Mr. called to mind Mooshie's artfulness of standing on her hind legs behind his desk to push open the top junk drawer, jumping to the top of the desk to snag a pipe cleaner, then pushing the front of the drawer closed as she hopped out of sight. At nearly seventeen years old, frail and unable to jump up on the counter to reach her food bowl on her own, she wasn't quite lit with kitten spunk but she was enlivened with her own memory of spry days. 

The kids were impressed with Mooshie's ability to get them all into trouble that day. 

"But, Mom, what does she want with pipe cleaners?" asked Princess Commando.

The real, raw truth is that our old cat has always had some vices.

Friday, July 13, 2012

friday the 13th abstract expressionism

This morning, I sent The Baby upstairs on a Big Girl task to wake up her teenage brother on the 3rd floor. I told her to make sure that she jumped on his bed- to stir him. She proudly but 'slowly, Mama' marched up the stairs.  I was lost in my work on the 1st floor for 10 minutes before I realized that she had not returned and that it was unnaturally quiet upstairs. I am typically not a superstitious person. I've stepped on cracks, walked under ladders, owned a black cat, used a broken mirror. But after the horror of my discovery today, the devastation, the gruesome stains on the carpet, I honor the spinetingling apprehension of Friday the 13th.

On the 3rd floor, I found my son still sleeping.  

And, The Baby was in plain view.

Eerily entranced.

Painting a self portrait. 




She was covered from head to toe in craft paint- the kind that comes with cheap wooden model kits and whose little snapped lids are impossible to open-though apparently not for a 2 year old. She was streaking her hair when I found her. The carpet around her had the saturated marks of tiny fingers- dots, dabs and streaks embellishing the fibers.

Each of my children as infants and toddlers had that one outfit which became my favorite but which was habitually soiled within minutes of wearing it so it never truly saw the light of day. I would scrub, stain remove, and launder the article. It went back on the kid again only to survive 30 minutes without the blood of cranberry juice or the smear of an unidentified source emblazoned upon it. As of this morning, I know for certain that this season's clothing casualty is The Baby's jaunty yellow t-shirt with a rainbow calico fish appliqued on the front. 

The paint had been tucked away, hidden from view for over 4 years and it took her less than ten minutes to zero in on its location and recreate Jackson Pollack's Shimmering Substance. Luckily it came off of her skin and the carpet without much effort; but the yellow t-shirt was not so lucky. I've learned in the past 15 years of parenting not to get too attached to material goods or to deem preciousness upon things that are not truly sacred. I reserve those designations for my iPhone (which does not have a protection plan) and my secret stash of candy.

Oh, and the kids too.
Of course.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

summer family va-caca-ation

I am like a popsicle stuffed in the glove box of a car on a trip to the beach on a hot summer day without air conditioning. I do not travel well. Yet there we were-the six of us- with the truck stuffed with items to answer almost any ‘what if X happens?’ We were headed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for First Born Son’s last soccer tournament of the season, the Mid Atlantic Cup. This would be my first experience at an out of town tournament.

It was also the first time we were travelling our two year old. I didn’t have much time to prepare as we had only decided to make the event a family ‘vacation’ the weekend prior. I filled a canvas bag- a bag of diversions for The Baby- with random small toys and crafts I picked up at a discount store.  We borrowed my sister’s DVD player and filled the feedbags. I put The Baby in disposable training pants- even though she had been 90% potty trained- to ease undue anxiety about super soakage. We were good to go. But, I issued a disclaimer that travelling would not be any fun and that I would not enjoy it one bit. ‘I may not survive, so take care of the house and one another as I would take care of you.’

For the first time in our history of being a family we were on schedule. We drove out of New York State where even the hilly farmland seemed flat compared to the lofty panorama that ushered us to Pennsylvania. Corn and grain swayed on undulating hills which unfolded perpendicularly from our road. Houses grew fewer and the numbers of cows nestled in trees grew greater.  The whimsy of a reindeer farm inspired a yearning The Mr. and I shared aloud- to live on land- with grass that is not crabgrass and prickly weed. We carried on through valleys, along lakes- with mountains swelling toward the sky. The clouds grazing the treetops, dappled the broccoli bushel hills resembling primitive patchwork.

As we drove through the Tioga State Forest, the kids were lulled by the arresting scenery- on their iPods. And the only sound from The Baby was a snuffled, rhythmic breathing. She had been asleep for most of the trip. Not once had I resorted to cracking open the DVD player or scrambling through her bag of distractions. For all of the agitation she incites in her normal waking hours, she was mastering the art of travel by dreaming away the miles.  I fell in love with her a little more and my heart soared with gratitude.

I would have to recant my negative statement about the fate of this trip. It was going to be all right. First Born Son, knowing that this was the first trip without my MP3 player created a playlist of palatable tunes for me. He introduced me to Family of the Year and I said, ‘Son, we are Family of the Year.’ 

Oh, but good fortune is a double- crosser. It was 98 degrees outside and Saturday was going to be 102 in open fields. Even though we had the luxury of air conditioning, the kids wanted to swim in the outdoor pool. As I was undressing The Baby, I encouraged her use the bathroom. And without a grimace or a grunt, she exploded. She didn’t complain of a stomachache. There was a chance it was nothing- that maybe the ride had unsettled her. But, there was a chance of having to scramble out of the pool with Baby Ruths trailing behind us. So I opted to stay back in the hotel with her where she merrily ran back and forth between the adjoining rooms. Customarily among our children, incessant merry running is a precursor to being knocked down with the flu. Despite a restful sleep, I suspected what lied in store for me the next day.

The Baby woke with a raging fever, her bottom lacking discipline. Suffice it to say I was grateful for the decision to bring disposable training pants. And extra garbage bags.  Despite having made it to Pennsylvania and finally having the opportunity to watch my son play a game he is so passionate about, I would be spending the day sequestered in the hotel room with a sick two year old.

She was so small-her burning body pressed against mine, her voice quietly croaking for ice water. She was colorful with her slapped cheeks and her fiery hair against the white hotel linens.  She fell in and out of sleep and it was the closest to stillness that she has ever assumed during the daylight hours. While my heart hurt for her discomfort, I reveled in the gift of the moment of enveloping her and being able to gaze upon her face while she slept. I felt trapped between sweetness and suffocation as we spent the whole day in bed. But, as much as I yearned to care for her in the comfort of our home, I knew there was a reason that her sickness coincided with our trip. While the other members of our family, fought keep their wits about them in 102 degree weather, we were caressed by the icy tendrils of an air conditioned room. The perfect climate for snuggling.

The weekend was not all lost. The Baby rallied on Sunday morning in time to catch the final match and witness First Born Son’s team win the Cup. The sky was overcast and a breeze sputtered in my ear, ‘No regrets. No regrets.’

We still haven’t fully recuperated from our va-caca-ation.  It is true what has been said about getting there being half the fun. What they don’t tell you is that getting back is the other half of the fun. Back through the rolling hills, winding around the lakes, through the forest,  along the cornfields, to the roads where the number of cows in trees grows fewer and the number of houses sandwiched together grows greater, past the familiar street signs, up the front steps, over the threshold. Home.  

The other Family of the Year:

Monday, July 9, 2012

target: the tenth ring of hell

I wrote this last week and did not get a chance to post it. Since then we went on a family 'vacation.' More on that later:-)

I had been barely clinging to the end of my rope. I was grappling with an old foil. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Once limited to school and social situations, it had now begun to pervade the mundane elements of my days. My chest filled with a hive of bees at the thought of leaving the house or interacting with people- even my extended family. I suspect it began to awaken as I tussled with the Ground Hog’s Day loop of house routines, dodging the throes of The Baby’s mounting exasperating two year old demeanor while fighting to no avail to nurse influenza of the psyche. I was bone tired from a deep internal aching for something more, something different. I hoped it would hush itself soon.

While I gave each day the old college try- hitting the reset button for a fresh start, the wires often crossed.  I found myself feeling more fragile at each trip up- wanting to fade into the background of my own life. The Mr. recognized this and suggested that we visit the nursery to buy flowers for the garden. I had been longing to fill patchy spaces which left the beds yearning for the closure of a finishing touch.

An afternoon in the sun gave promise for a stronger spirit. I felt more able. More steady. More clear. I accepted The Mr.’s suggestion of taking a family road trip the following weekend. And I agreed to run errands later that afternoon with him and The Baby to gather supplies for the trip. We serviced The Baby- she was fed, rested, pottied.  And, we headed to Target.

I wish I had been standing in wet sand- clement water washing over my feet, a balmy breeze tangling around my ankles. Instead I stood in an aisle where picked-over, discounted, seasonal overstock items await retirement at Target. The Mr. and I stood there trying to console our irascible two year old who had only moments earlier been pleasant enough to deceive us into thinking she could handle a quick errand. She thrashed boorishly in the cart under the grips of possession. She angrily yelled attention grabbing things like, “Go away! Be quiet! I want my mommy!”

As I inched the cart toward a more inconspicuous location, grabbing a hideous glittered fairy off the shelf to distract her, the dam broke. Hot, acrid pee- a Niagara flowing from the child seat- drenched my sandaled feet.  Torrents flowing, flowing, flowing. It splashed backward into the cart. Luckily the only item in the basket was a bucket of sand toys. The Mr. lifted the bucket- confounded by the volume and force of our child's stream. "Well, we have to buy it now," he said, tipping the liquid to the linoleum. I tried to mop up our trail with one measly tissue. 

Anxiety gripping my lungs and still stinging from The Baby's urine bomb, I sped to our SUV- sandals intoning fast wet farts against the tiles- while The Mr. paid for our new piss pot. In the parking lot, a compact vehicle had sidled up to our SUV leaving mere inches to open the door. The passengers were still inside with the windows rolled down. I graced them with a deluge of involuntary, colored locution. So much for remaining unassuming. I lifted the sopping toddler and held her at arms length. Now she was happy. "We're going to the car. We're going to the car," she sang loudly.

 As I tried to maneuver in the impossible space between the vehicles- hovering her waterlogged body over the seat, another splash of magma fell upon my bare toes. I looked down to find my foot dressed with curdled white matter. I looked up at The Baby, thinking that she had puked. She had not. If I had a hacksaw I would have held that wet child in one arm and amputated my foot with the other because at that moment the thought of stepping in someone else's vomit made me want to give up right there in the middle of the Target parking lot. It is a feeling that The Mr. expresses on every trip to Target.

My body assumed the bone structure of a hamster as I squeezed into the sliver of space on the floor behind the driver's seat- hanging my upchuck dripping foot out the door, wrapping the toes of my other foot on the handle to keep it from hitting the other car, holding The Baby by the back of her shirt above the seat with one hand, while searching for wipes and a change of clothes in her emergency bag with the other. I started to sob silently. The Baby, suspended above me, looked down and asked, "Why you sad Mama?' 

"Mama's a mess,” I answered. "And, you peed all over the place."

"You're a mess. And, I peed. Oh, I peed!" she merrily, nakedly chirped back. 

There were not enough wet wipes in the universe to insure that my foot was clean. When The Mr. joined us, he assured me that I had only stepped in milk which exploded from a carton left to fester and curdle on a 90 degree day in the sun. He may have been just trying to appease me as he could clearly feel my duress. We headed home to the solace of a bleach foot bath and relief of the clock ticking down the daylight minutes.

What doesn’t kill you at Target, certainly makes you stronger. While the sunny outlook of my new day turned soggy, for once in a very long time I did not feel defeated by a set back. That’s the thing about days- they eventually end. And there is always another chance to start again- this time with a cache of new skills highlighting your endurance and agility and putting into practice a valuable lesson: Always wear closed- toe shoes.