Thursday, May 30, 2013


A plow combs the beach lifting winter’s refuse and readying piles of driftwood for bonfires that will not be lit until Independence Day. The kids race around the grumbling machine in a game of chicken. Carcasses line up to tell a story of a long winter. The kids love this part. They carry big sticks so that they can ‘touch’ dead things. Here, a fish with a mouth full of teeth- wide and sharp enough to take off a child’s leg. Here, the skeleton of a feline meowing with each lap of the waves through its delicate jaw. “He was hunting out on the ice for birds. But he didn’t know the ice was too thin and he fell in,” the girls tell me, sadly.

Our parents bought a cottage in a neighborhood which is a few strides from the beach. In their youth, my parents spent summers along the waters of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. They wanted to give us the gift of summer cottage memories- sunspots dappling the water, swimming with determination to the horizon line; building sandcastles and digging through to the other side of the globe; hunched over beach glass scavenging. 

I have a love hate relationship with the beach. I love it at 6 am with a dog on a leash and a long stretch of wet sand without a soul around to speak.

I hate it when on the day we are visiting, the local newspaper prints the first of a 5 part series about the quality of Lake Erie’s water. On this day, the title reads, Heavy rains turn Lake Erie into a toilet. It’s not a feel good report. But, oh is it validation for my killjoy hampering of my children’s desire to be fully submerged in subtle sewage.  I’m instantly reminded of the Labrador retriever who came joyfully bounding up to us in the water many years ago only to squat and drop a deuce.  While the problem concerning our water quality is much more serious and overwhelming than dog poop on the shoreline, from that day forth, my mind would forever regard the Lake as a lavatory littered with bobbing Labraturds.

For me, the beach is not a destination that I aspire to reach. Rather, it is an idea that I daydream about. It’s lucky that the cottage is not on the water. It leaves some mystery about what truly transpires there. But dead fish and cats on the shoreline do not lie. They caution of tempestuous weather, of thin ice, of pollution. But most of all they tell us, ‘Dude, look at me! I’m dead and my flesh is rotting off right where your little Susie is setting up to construct a sand replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.’I wish, just once, something really cool would wash up on the shore after the winter thaw, like a message in a bottle or a pirate ship. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

one of the small pleasures in life

Today is a glorious day! It's the Motherboy of all days. Every thing that happens today is a means to an end.That end being- firing up Netflix later tonight, gathering the kids together and basking in 15 new episodes of Arrested Development. Happy Commencement of a New Season of Arrested Development Day!

Friday, May 24, 2013


I hold the sun browned, slender, softly muscled, soccer ball kicking, crazy-dancing, scooter riding, bird chasing, lazy- around- the- house leg in my hand. She patiently stands in the tub as I run the pink razor through the strawberry scented lather. Gently, tentatively I make tracks, lifting the downy hairs, her child’s fur. I demonstrate how much pressure-how to position her wrist-how to rinse the razor. The pajama clad little one wanders in claiming to have to use the potty. But she just sits atop the closed toilet lid- mesmerized by this unusual display of grooming in our bathroom. “Someday, when I’m big, you’ll show me?” she asks-eyes wide with promise. Her big sister is less enthusiastic about this rite of passage. She approached me with reluctant readiness to perform this ritual of young womanhood. Her classmates had been running around with smooth legs for a while.  She was beginning to worry that someone would make fun of her naturalness.

Just the night before, she fell to pieces on my bed questioning what it meant to be a girl when you do not fit in with the norm of your pink, shiny, boy crazy peers.

“It’s not fair that I was born a girl. Boys don’t have to worry about all of these things,” she wept- squeamish at the suggestion that she is developing and needs to wear a bra every day.

“I am not a girl. I am not a boy. I don’t know what I am.” She held a striped sundress in her hands, the one distinctively girlish item picked up to appease me on our shopping trip earlier in the day. She looks effortlessly gorgeous in a dress. But, dresses are straight jackets that suffocate. She is apologetic for her lack of girlishness. I felt awful for making her feel that she needed to be sorry for who she is and for not celebrating  her girl-uniqueness more. I pulled her onto my lap.

“I know who you are,” I said smoothing her hair. “You are cleverness, brightness, creativity and innovation. You are beloved sister, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, niece and friend. You are lover and caregiver of animals.  You are effort at 110%  You are persistence and sometimes manipulation (to this she smiles). You are athleticism. You are musicality. You are the artistry of illustration. You are imagination, dreams, childhood, innocence.  You are stubbornness. You are frustration. You are love. You are just you. It does not matter if you are a boy or a girl. Or if you wear dresses or a suit and tie. We love you for all of you.” Her body softened as she exhaled letting go of some of her worries about acceptance in her world. 

As we stand huddled in the bathroom she is stoic about this reminder which defines her gender -which sets her apart from her boy pals. But, as I run the razor tenderly over her legs, I ache at another reminder of the shedding of childhood. I hold my breath- wishing to pause this moment where her safety and security are still in my hands.

Monday, May 13, 2013

for h on his 14th birthday

When I asked Henry what kind of cake he wanted for his 14th birthday- he answered, 'Just white.' And did he want me to decorate it? 'No. There's something about a plain, white layer of frosting that makes me happy.' Simple enough. Like me, Henry is introverted and often misunderstood because of his quiet tendencies. He prefers to spend time thinking rather than being in the thick of doing. He likes to keep things simple, not fussy. But beneath the sober exterior, there is a depth and capacity to feel, understand and connect with people and ideas which surpasses that of his peers and even some adults we know. Plain, white frosting inspired a plain,white birthday card. Just a piece of paper folded in half. But because he is so much more than simple and plain, this is what is on the inside:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Think before you post

I received a phone call from the kids' assistant principal yesterday regarding something First Born Son posted on his Twitter Vine account- a 20 second video berating the First Lady for new mandates about school lunches. There was an expletive or two thrown in as well. The assistant principal stumbled upon the video while patrolling his own daughter's Twitter account. He just wanted me to be aware. He spoke to my son as I would have spoken to him- reminding him of the proper way to conduct oneself through social media- and in life. While it sucks to get a phone call about your child's indiscretions and it feels awful to realize you are still so much in the dark about the way he presents himself to the world,  I am grateful that others care enough about him to help reinforce the values we try to teach at home. It was another opportunity to reiterate our expectations with him. Parenting in this technological age- in the waves of social media and cell phones- often feels like a losing battle- even when we are firm and vigilant. This was another reminder that while teenagers are smart enough to know what the right choice is to make, they are still stupid enough to make the wrong one. The following is a letter I gave to both of my sons.

Dear Children,

Chilean author Isabel Allende wrote: Write what should not be forgotten.

Freedom of speech is a precious thing. It is a privilege too often taken for granted and abused. In this age of technologic instant gratification, it’s too easy for your generation to exercise your freedom of speech. But, you do so without the social conscience of the implications of your words.  To spout off at the mouth, to type that sentence, to post that 20 second video, to share that picture without consideration for the legacy that you leave- cheapens the gift you have been given.

There is no courage in spewing words haphazardly. It takes fortitude and integrity to act with restraint, respect and reflection. It is not as easy to sit down and take your time to collect and compose your thoughts, words, arguments, sentiments with awareness. It is not so easy to offer a thoughtful solution to a problem and to work toward that change. It is not as easy to lead as it is to follow.  But the extra bit of effort and the simple act of pausing and reflecting not only on your thoughts, emotions and views but on those of others- makes you a better person, makes you a leader and helps to make you practiced in sound decision making. It helps to shape you as a human being that leaves a positive legacy.

Write what should not be forgotten. Do not litter the world with hurtful words and weak declarations.

There is no soundness in the defamation or degradation of another’s character or name. There is no integrity in the celebration of poor social behaviors and dangerous transgressions (such as the promotion of videos which highlight drug and alcohol use among your peers). There is no honor speaking without substantiation. In that moment when you are riled up, itching to share-close your mouth and open your eyes. Be receptive to the answers which will keep you on the path of uprightness.

Write what should not be forgotten. What will the words you leave behind continue to say about you long after they have been written, spoken, posted?

Your character, your trustworthiness and reliability are hinged on the impulses you have or have not chosen to temper. In the expressions of yourself that you choose to share with the world- everyday speech, pictures and videos, social media platforms, academic and personal essays and prose- be not careless with your words. Write only that which leaves a moving impression- broadening the the understanding of the human experience, compelling others to join the cause for positive change and inspiring others to think and act with courage to remain incorruptible in values and judgment. It is dangerous-the impetuous act of speaking whatever opinion you fancy in a fleeting moment or posting that sentence, that picture, that video. Those fleeting disseminations are bound to you for eternity- for others to stumble upon. Those in the position of power to grant you opportunities for higher learning, employment, and enrichment will form the wrong impression of the person you truly are. Before you post, consider Is this truly important to say? What message does this convey about my character? Would I want my family, my teachers, my future employers to read this? While moderating your words and practicing an economy of speech does not yield the immediate virtual thumbs up of your peers, the satiation of acceptance- it leaves your path clear and the palette of opportunities more full and plentiful.

Friday, May 3, 2013

love like a niagara

Princess Commando is going to embarrass me in front of our neighbors. At ten years old, she is practiced at manipulating my emotions especially the unpalatable ones I do not want to entertain on the first sun soaked, supplely bloomed day of spring. I am not going let her bring me to the brink of losing my cool. I just want to get her to where she needs to be.

“But my throat hurts so bad,” she sobs bolted to the railing on our porch in her soccer gear. Shoulders slump, a reluctant ponytail hovers over the back of her neck, salty streams lay white tracks on her cheeks.

I don’t doubt her. I can tell when she speaks there is dragon fire in her throat. But she has already missed so many practices and she is trying to earn a roster spot on the team she has been training with for the last 6 months. I am sympathetic to pain, but I know that this is not just about discomfort. It is about fear of failure- the anxiety of not being able to perform optimally when she is under the league's scrutiny.

“Come on. Your dad and sister are waiting in the car.” I put a tense arm around her, practically lifting her feet off the ground and forcing a smile as  neighborhood children scoot by.

“No, no, no,” she protests in moans which threaten to take a turn for the hysterical.

I nudge her into the backseat. Her pout is punctuated by a brusque stomp of a foot on the floor.

Her practice is 40 minutes away near Niagara FallsNY. I catch a glimpse of my sullen girl in the rear view mirror. Forehead pressed against the window, a scowl creasing her face into an ugly etching. I know that when we arrive at the campus, she is not going to leave the car willingly. We are once again in a position of questioning how far to push. If we press harder could this be the time when it clicks-when she feels empowered to make a good choice? If I just work through this discomfort, I will feel so much stronger and relieved knowing I tried. As she curls up in the back seat, recoiling at the extension of her father's hand offering to help her out of the car, we know we’ve reached the threshold of coercion. There is no sense in getting angry. Princess Commando  knows what's at stake if she misses practices.  Maybe she's just not ready for this high level of competitive soccer.

Since she entered 5th grade in September, our relationship with her has been challenging. It’s not her fault, really. It’s middle school. Middle school has a way of making tenuous the bond between parent and child. In this in- between time of giving up child’s play and longing still for the reassurances of childhood, there is so much working against them. Personalities are changing, bodies are changing,  standards and expectations are changing.

We try to reassure her that she will one day regard the afflictions of middle school with appreciation for having made her stronger, wiser and, hopefully, more compassionate. But, truly, middle school is less about a wealth of experiences and more about a series of multiple vexations that need to be endured (by both parent and child).

We’ll hold our breath- until it’s over. We’ve been through this before with the boys. It is my only consolation- knowing that there is an expiration date. 

On the way home, we decide to take a detour to Niagara Falls. The air is warm and tender, stirring our souls to stretch. We park in the shade, offering to let Princess Commando stay in the car with the windows rolled down, but she trails us on the path to the American Falls. Violet has never been there. I anticipate the sparkle in her eyes when she notices the wide veil of mist rising off the water.I have been there so many times but it never loses its wonder. 

I set my eyes on the patchwork of visitors pressed against the guardrails-the colors and textures of their skin, their clothing, the mist lighting upon their faces like millions of cool, wet kisses. The hairs on my arms stand up at the sight of their collective expression of awe. There is a tingle in the back of my knees, like being too high on a ladder, as I watch The Mr. bring Violet to guardrail at the edge of the Falls. One cannot deny the supreme power of the cataract raging before us. My maternal fear conjures a vision of my baby being swept away.

Princess Commando walks off in her soccer gear, wisps of sunlit hair- delicate dancing strands of silk- on her forehead. She looks pale and pensive as she beholds the raging water. A tour boat bobs like a child’s bath toy below the Falls.

She looks so vulnerable. She wraps her girl’s hands around the guardrail- as she also wraps her hands around so many changes, clinging to small reassurances. She does not trust herself to be strong. I feel that tingle behind my knees again. She has been swept away in the rapids of a growing year and that tenuous thread between us tugs abruptly.

In that moment, my love for her which has been tried and tested is like a Niagara flowing powerfully, freely. It rages and roars at the tribulations of growing up.  It topples the tiny twigs of doubt, discontent, and disappointment. As I wrap my arms around her, she leans into me letting it flood her. There is time for her to become the river flowing freely. But for now she is the boat and I am still the tide delivering her safely back to the shore.