Be

In my inner world, I fight dragons. I take on armies and villains, triumphing over any challenge with wit and courage. Did I mention this was a fantasy?

In the real world, I've wrapped myself in the notion that my dreams are the result of an active imagination. Lately, though, as I look at my life and the things I haven't achieved or the real demons I've been afraid to fight, I've come to an uncomfortable admission. It's not just the inner triumphs that are fictional. Everything in that world is imaginary – especially the courage.

Before thirteen-year-old Thing1 was born, I never thought of myself as especially kind or patient or even steadfast. When he came into our world, however, right away he needed me to learn all of those things and, for him, I did. My kindness or patience still wouldn't win me any awards, but because of him I learned to keep trying when the breast milk wasn't flowing right away. I learned to stick by someone who was screaming in my face and to put someone else's needs before my own.

Right now we're navigating the first year of adolescence with all the pitfalls I'd expect and some I didn't. And even though he's getting stubble on his chin, I still look at him and feel the same powerful push to be better. He needs me to be brave now. So, not just for him but because of him, I will be.

 

Leave the Cape, Pack the Pretzels

I saw the homework folder neatly tucked in the backpack and decided it was safe to zip the big pocket. The sound of merging metal teeth brought seven-year-old Thing2 flying out of his room and into the living room.

“Wait!” he shrieked. “I left something in there!”

“What is it?” I ducked, trying to avoid his flapping arms.

“It’s going to snow today!” Thing2 unzipped the big pocket an pulled out his red satin cape.

“You’re not taking that?” I scratched my head, not even remembering seeing it a few minutes earlier.

“No.” Thing2 now unfurled the cape on the couch and then extracted his army green third-hand snow pants from the same pocket.

“Of course I don’t need it now.” Realizing I still have a lot to learn about the fashion rituals of the average rainbow-wigged superhero in the country, I popped the lunchbox into the front pocket and zipped entire the pack closed again.

“Well then,” I said, “leave the cape, but pack the cannoli.”

“Huh?”

“The pretzels,” I said, “pack the pretzels.”

“Obviously I was taking the pretzels,” he said trotting out his favorite new adult buzzword and demonstrating once again that I have am achieving true wisdom because when it come to the inner working of my youngest child’s mind, I know nothing.

 

When in Vermont

Ski jump

Last Sunday we took a much-needed family stay-cation to Brattleboro for a ski jump competition. We chose the destination because it’s been a stopping point for many Olympians, and, in the forties, for the Big Guy’s dad.

The temperature was brisk, and the sun was out. Food vendors and tailgaiters created delicious grilled odors that bouyed the four of us on our climb up the 150+ snowy steps that lined the jump hill.

Twenty feet of snow-covered hillside and path separated the top of the stairs from the wall that bordered the jump area. We staked out a spot just below the jump-off just as the first round of jumpers whooshed past us.

Seven-year-old Thing2 watched a few jumpers and then, his awe subsiding, focused on the consistency of the snow and it’s suitability for sliding and ammunition.

The first round ended, and he began begging for permission to slide down the massive hill next to the steps. Noting the abundant opportunities the hill afforded for an impromptu ambulance ride, I naturally said, ‘No’. Thing2 pouted, but kept his silence.

The loudspeaker announced a break in the action, and we decided to move to a lower part of the hill for a different view of the action. The Big Guy and I began navigating down the hill towards the stairs. Half-way down, I turned around to offer a hand to Thing2. Still standing at the wall, he grinned at me.

“Mom, I want to slide down here!”

I hesitated for a minute and scanned his intended course for any objet d’injury.  Noting the incline leveled enough near the bottom for him to stop himself, gave my permission. Thing2 sat on his snowpant-covered butt and slid.

“You are a true Vermonter,” I told him as he coasted to a stop at my feet.  He is.

Despite the Big Guy’s deep roots in Vermont (from his father back to a time before “Vermont” existed) and Thing1’s maple syrup-steeped childhood, Thing2 is the only “real” Vermonter among us (I’m a recovering nomad). Local tradition confers the label only on those born in-state. The smile on his face as he sat in the snow, however, proved his status better than any birth certificate.

The path had been packed down, and Thing2 decided it was another slower sliding opportunity. I inched along behind him, keenly aware of the aging tread on my boot.  

Finally, the eternal adventurer in me decided that since we were in Vermont, I should do as my native-Vermonter had just done. The slippery path was much more easily negotiated on my butt. The path from nomad to settled Vermonter is one Thing2 will be showing me how to navigate for some time.

 

White Noise

 

Snow angel

Tuesday, we were looking forward to another  snowy night and day.  Like most northern regions, it takes a lot more than 6-12″ to get Vermonters flustered, but, to be perfectly honest, it’s not the snow that rattles my nerves, it’s the snow day.

I work from home.  Most of the time it’s a good racket – especially when Thing1 and Thing2 get the unexpected day off.  It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, however, especially when Thing1 and Thing2 get the unexpected day off.   They’re good kids, but, try as I might, I have not found the trick to getting them to sit quietly with their hand folded over their laps while mommy deals with customers online (if you’ve found it online somewhere, send me the link).   But, as I found out over Christmas break (almost two weeks of expected days off), silence isn’t always golden.

Seven-year-old Thing2 – already plastered to the ceiling in anticipation of Santa’s visit – had spent the morning migrating from lego projects to torturing his brother.  At one point, he managed to combine activities, causing a crescendo of ‘MOM!’ from thirteen-year-old Thing1’s room.  Thing1 had ‘accidentally’ knocked Thing2’s lego sculpture out of his hand.  The ruins of his engineering masterpiece were strewn about the floor.  One of the witnesses to the ‘accident’ was red faced, the other was in tears. I was chatting online with several customers at once and decided there wasn’t time to call in CSI to determine if the destruction was accidental or premeditated, and I ordered Thing2 to the living room for a cool-down on the iPad.  

Lips pursed, arms folded over his chest, Thing2 marched to a corner of the couch after retrieving a blanket from his bunk. He stood on the couch, arranging the blanket just so and, when he had created his cave, grabbed the iPad from the table and retreated under the patchwork tent.

Thing2 has loved the iPad since it emerged from its sleek white box.  Like most kids, he knows more about it than a seasoned software engineer, and I’m ashamed to admit that it plays babysitter too often on days like this.  

The next day, each Thing retreated automatically to his own corner.  One was in his room working on a computer project with a friend in Maine.  Two was under his tent with headphones borrowed from daddy.  For most of the morning, the only sound came from my keyboard.

That night, I finished work on time and, with a small break in the depression that had been amplifying for months, I thought an after dinner post was in order.  But as the Big Guy took up residence on the couch for his winter’s nap and I began loading the wood stove to cook dinner, I noticed that it was still very quiet.  The dishes clanking were the only noise. 

Thing2 was still under the blanket and headphones, his legos and sketchbooks gathering dust.  There was no new dance routine to watch and animate.  There was no impromptu party waiting in his room.  And suddenly I was scrambling for something to write.  

Like a nagging housewife driving her husband to the arms of a lover, my quest for quiet had silenced my inspiration with electronic lithium. 

Cousins arrived the next day, and neither child was interested in anything electronic as we celebrated Christmas.  

The Monday after the family left, the silence was deafening, but the iPad was nowhere to be found.  Thing2 emerged late in the morning, dragging his tent.  He looked for his digital drug, but, not finding it, deposited his blanket on the couch and padded over to the Christmas tree where his latest Lego project was still sitting, the remaining 500 pieces sorted into empty ice cream buckets.

For the rest of the morning, he delivered a muted monologue of the building of his new starship.  Occasionally, frustrated tears punctuated the chatter and interrupted my work.  I broke up a few fights, but, when dinner time rolled around my inspirer-in-chief joined me in the kitchen to show me his latest dance moves.  And, oddly enough, the noise made the work day better.  

I didn’t write that night, but Tuesday morning, that probable snow day got me just rattled enough to get out of bed early and start tapping.   

How a Bad Cat and Stinky Feet got Me Back to my Beat

Drummer boy

I was still embroiled with work the other night when grandfather clock counted a single chime, reminding me that it was 5:30 and time to quit. The soft din of homework-related questions had waxed into a blurred chorus of “Moms”, so when the words “stinky feet” permeated my brain, I didn’t know if seven-year-old Thing2’s smelly socks had prompted the thought or if someone was actually singing the words.

I looked up from my computer and glanced toward the den. There was Thing2, wearing the smelly socks and singing as he hunched over his sketchbook and writing.  

“He wanted to write a song,” explained the Big Guy. Seeing Dad’s guitar emerge from storage, Thing2 had been inspired.  No one had ever told that only he could not write a song, so he decided to try it.

At dinner, the Big Guy extolled our offspring’s achievement. “He wrote a song,” he said over and over again. I was proud, but, still frazzled from the day, I didn’t offer the encouragement I normally do.

Thing2 is creativity personified.  He sings and dances.  He has littered his desk books he has written, illustrated and assembled.  He lives for art, and this song was just his latest expression.  

I grew up hearing the phrase, “Do what you love.”   I repeat it every time I see him fly through the air or ‘publish’ a new book. That night, however, I wondered how I tell my youngest child, to chase artistic dreams when, lately, I have increasingly surrendered mine, partly to depression but mostly to work?

“Dad, I want to write another song,” he said the next night after homework.  This single was called Bad Cat. The Big Guy played back up on guitar while Thing2 drummed on a book and sang lead.

“Bad Cat, Bad Cat, sitting on the counter,” it started. There were three more verses on the sins of our chubby black cat.

I started the video camera on the iPhone, and Thing 2, sensing a hit, launched into another chorus.  My feet began to tap.  My youngest was inspiring me in spite of myself.  Most of my best posts start with antics authored by Thing1 or Thing2, and, last night every beat of his drumsticks generated a new idea.

Thing2 was reminding me of what he knows instinctively.  Art isn’t a dream, and it’s not a living.  It’s life.  When the song was over, I gave his newest opus the reception it deserved.  

“You keep doing what you love,” I said with a tight hug free of doubt.  

Last night I set the alarm for 4 AM again, and this morning, for the first time in ages, I didn’t hit the snooze button.  I had homework – to practice what I preach.  Completing the assignment quickly reminded me how much art, for me also, is life.  

Thing2 may be a bit unorthodox, but he’s turned out to be quite the teacher.

It’s In My Job Description

IMG 3126

I'm trying, with limited success, to work three jobs. I got the one that pays the bills for 40 to 50 hours a week. I've got the one I took on when the Big Guy and I decided to become parents. And I've got the one that I'm still auditioning for – The one I get up at – still early, Buddy, don't you want to go back to bed? – 4AM to scribble in my notebook and doodle in my sketchbook for.

I slept in today. It was 5 AM when I finally dragged myself out of bed and into the shower, but I figured I had enough time before the rest of the house was awake – Stop that, kid – to get through a story revision – No you cant have the remote when everyone still asleep.
Thing2 usually does his own figuring on Saturday mornings, however. Like most seven-year-olds he has a sixth sense that tells his body clock when it's a school morning and went to get up early. Today the body clock was working perfectly, and as I sat down with my notebook and a short story I'm updating, somebody padded out in his jammies and socks.

Now, I'm sitting on the recliner with my story in my notebook and no daylight or molecules between me and my seven-year-old. i'm still editing and writing. I don't know if these are the kind of working conditions that Louisa May Alcott had to suffer through when she was an aspiring writer, but I figure scribbling away with a giggly seven-year-old – Cut it out! wrapped around my writing elbow is in my next job's description.

I can get used to that. The pay isn't so great, but the benefits are hard to beat.

 

Priorities

IMG 3126

 One of my less attractive qualities is an obsessive-compulsive need to schedule every half an hour of my day.  However, as more of my waking hours have been surrendered to supporting a new release at work, extra dentist appointments for the kids, and an impending influx of guests for Christmas, I’ve begun arranging my day by the quarter hour.

 Last night, as I stood at the kitchen island, my rear end facing the red hot wood stove and my iPad calendar open, seven-year-old Thing2 came to rest his chin on one of my arms as I rearranged my work day for today. I got my writing at 4 AM, email at 6, kids to the bus at seven, fitness at 7:30, dinner preparation at 8:30 so we can eat at right at 5:30 or whenever I actually sign off work. 

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“Just prioritizing my day,” I said.

“What are prior-ties?”

I thought for a second and then answered, “They’re just important things on my to-do list.”

Then I scrolled to Saturday. Writing got a nice chunk of the morning while the family was still in bed.  I had a block for work, but moved it to the end of the day.  There were blocks for running and breakfast at Bob’s, cleaning and  grocery shopping.  I was moving my blocks of to-do’s from one hour of Saturday to another when Thing2 held my scrolling arm tight and said, “You don’t have any time scheduled to cuddle with me.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Where should we put it.”

“Let’s do it right before we go to Bob’s for breakfast,” he said.

I added a one hour block after writing and running and right before Bob’s to sit on the couch and snuggle.  Thing2 gave me a big hug and said, “I think we got the prior-ties in order, Mom.”

Cursed

Cursed

   Seven-year-old Thing2 and his thirteen-year-old brother Jack take turns sitting next to me when we go to Sunday breakfast at Bob’s Diner in Manchester, VT.  Thing2 is still at the age where he’s easily entertained by shiny objects and it was my wedding ring caught that his attention the other morning.

Waiting for our drinks to arrive, Thing2 grabbed my hand from the table and began inspecting the rings, twist and turning my finger.  The Big Guy told him the story of the stone (they came from his grandfather’s ring) and then of his own gold band (also owned by his grandfather).  

Thing2 tried to pull off my ring for close inspection, but I stiffened my finger and the ring would not come off.  It would twist, but it would not move up my finger.

“It won’t come off,” exclaimed Thing2.   The server had now brought our drinks.

“It’s not supposed to come off,” I said.

“What is it.. cursed?” he asked turning to ancient pop culture and Ringo Star’s ruby ring in the move Help to explain the phenomenon on my finger.  Even Jack had to laugh at the question. Our server took our order and walked away giggling.  

Thing2 was now wedged between my arm and body.  Sun flooding through the plate glass window bathed Jack and the Big Guy on the opposite side of the table.  It was just an ordinary Sunday with nothing planned except wood stacking and hanging out around the homestead.  I had his answer.

“It’s not cursed,” I said.  It’s blessed.

 

A Sharp Dressed Man

Brothers in arms

Seven-year-old Thing2 was invited to a movie with a friend on Sunday.  An hour before it was time to go, he doffed his t-shirt and, wearing only his camo pants began rummaging through the closet looking for his only button-down shirt and tie.

The Big Guy and I long ago adopted the Vermont uniform of good jeans for going out and regular jeans for everything else.  Thirteen-year-old Thing1’s fashion priorities are comfort and cleanliness – in that order.  I don’t know where he got his sense of style and panache. It’s always been clear, however, that Thing2 didn’t just fall very far from our family tree, and he’s not content to put down roots for his own tree.  He’s starting his own orchard.  

The funny thing is, I know we’ve done somethings differently as we’ve guided Thing2 through infancy and the toddler years, but for the most part, the Big Guy and I like to think we’re pretty even-steven with our two boys. Despite sharing genes and parents, however, the two of them are completely different personalities, and we’re often left wondering where nurture ends and nature picks up.

The real puzzle for me, the one I am happy to consider indefinitely, is how the Big Guy and I can have two such completely different little boys in our life and still experience the same powerful love for each of them.  It’s a puzzle, but it’s also a bit of a miracle.

 

The Bookmaker

BookMaker copy

Last Saturday, to much fanfare from my family, I clicked an upload button and published my first short story.  Fifteen minutes later, I had my first sale and, somewhat hesitantly, added the moniker of ‘author’ to my Facebook profile.

Hesitation has been the hallmark and stumbling block of my short writing career.  

I’ve wanted to write most of my life.  Only in the last year and a half – on joining the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project – did a professional writing career seem like a realistic goal.  

Over the year as I’ve sketched and posted, seven-year-old Thing2 has written and sketched with me.  He’s filled 5×8 notebooks with trees and robots and star systems.  He’s pilfered printer paper to produce his illustrated, staple-bound paperback stories.  

The weekend before I published my story, I mentioned his endeavors as I was standing in the living room of a friend and writing mentor and his wife.  I had been working on their computers, and my friend was taking the opportunity to harangue me for my hesitation, even enlisting thirteen-year-old Jack to keep me on the hot seat until I hit ‘Publish’.  

“I think you’re scared,” said my friend’s wife.

 “You’re right,” I said and pointed to Thing2 who was hanging on my friend. “You should see the books he makes,” I said.  Thing2 smiled shyly.  I thought I was off the hook, but my friend’s wife smiled, apparently knowing her husband would not be so easily distracted.  “He’s really talented,” I said.

 “And I bet he doesn’t doubt himself,” said my friend.

 “No he doesn’t, I admitted.  

A week later, we were at Bob’s diner.  I was enjoying the glow of seeing my first royalties.  

Jack and Thing2 quickly put my accomplishment in perspective as they setup a game of table hockey, complete with salt-and-pepper shaker goal posts  and a straw wrapper puck. Fulfilling the requirements of my primary job title, I did the mom thing and barked a reprimand.   

Thing2 asked for my notebook, and I gave it to him. 

“Are you starting a new story?” I asked.  He grinned and nodded, staking out the back 10 pages for illustrations.

“Mommy,” he announced, “I want to write a book just like you when I grow up.”

“You’ll be a great writer,” I said.  There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind or voice.  The Big Guy concurred with the same confidence he expresses when he’s encouraging me.

That’s when it hit me.  Thing2 and I have the same dream.  I see his innate talent, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have his hills to climb.  Each of us will only succeed, however, if we don’t start (or in my case stop) worrying if we have the right stuff and just climb. 

Cause or Effect

Photo

A few months ago I got on the Pill.  Not the one that keeps little surprises from happening in a marriage but the one that was supposed to help keep my demons away.  After a few weeks of trading the demons I’d known all my life and gotten used to (even if I don’t really like them) for a terrifying set of new demons I didn’t know, I went off the pill.

The move wasn’t just bravado, although there was some involved.  A summer return to a regular fitness routine power a good part of my swagger, and for the last few months I’ve been on a more even keel.  My demons have been relegated to the periphery.  

They never stay there, however.  When I tire, they get stronger, as they did Sunday.  From their darkness, they beckoned me to stay home from my run and retreat to my fantasy world – just for a short while.  There were seven miles ahead of me, and the temptation was strong.  Ultimately, I got out of bed, deciding this was the perfect time to test the effect of endorphins on depression.  

It always takes me a mile or two to get warmed up and start enjoying the exercise.  It’s the point where the world melts away.  Stories are written on those runs.  Problems are solved.  At the three mile mark, however, my demons were right beside me, and every muscle was exhausted. 

At the fourth mile, Boogie Wonderland came on the mp3 player.  My stories were interrupted by images of seven-year-old Thing2 be-bopping in his rainbow wig and cape, and my pace quickened.  As the air cut around me, I could feel the wind unfurling my own cape.  For the rest of the run, every step took me into the stories I’m writing and away from the darkness. 

Looking back, I’m still not sure if the endorphins were the causes or the effects.

Sunshine Good Day

Halloween happy

Jack was born in the summer.  By default, our summer travel routine and the vacation plans of most of his classmates made most of his birthday celebrations quite a bit smaller and tamer than the circus-like orgies of cake and presents that are depicted as normal and desirable in movies or ads.  His birthdays are often spent with family doing something special at the beach or going to a favorite museum.

We knew that  six-year-old Thing2’s October birthday made the more traditional kid birthday party more likely.  He’s seven today, and we planned his birthday over the weekend.  Watching Jack’s interest in traditional kid birthday parties (even when we offered) begin to fade when he was around nine, I know there won’t be many of these left.

Thing2, the Big Guy and I decided he should invite his classmates, and a few weeks ago, I filled his backpack with his homework, lunch, and seventeen invitations.  Knowing that not everyone RSVPs for kids’ parties, the Big Guy and I got the house ready for a halloween-themed party on Columbus Day Weekend. 

Three kids and their moms showed up.

At first I was a little nervous about Thing2’s reaction to the dearth of kids (and presents, of course), but he didn’t seem to notice.  For two hours, the kids cavorted in the sun and the leaves for two hours.  They beat apart and divided the treasure from a piñata filled with candy for 16 kids.  There was no pin-the-tail on the donkey or other party games.  Instead, they screamed and laughed as they chased each other through and around the house.  The Big Guy in his Herman Munster costume and I as Lily Munster sat at the table with the three other moms getting to know each other a little better than we do at the bus stop.

Thirteen-year-old Jack’s own memories of these few traditional kid parties are often impressions of sunny days, the details blurred by distance.  I know this day will blend into the collection of parties we’ve thrown for Thing2 as well.  But I’m hoping that his memory is marking that, while a larger party would have been fun too, sometimes less really is more.