Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday Wardrobe

Thanksgiving is a hinge holiday.  It's a cornerstone.  Round the fourth Thursday in November, and you're in the homestretch to the end of the year.

My city pulled out its holiday wardrobe while I was gone for Thanksgiving.  Carols sang through the airport, and as we drove home, the boys played their own frantic version of  "I Spy With My Little Eye: Christmas Lights!"

I rode home in a state of numbness, in disbelief over the truth that Christmas is upon me.  I wondered how much of my neighborhood would sparkle and twinkle.  Robb would have turned our lights on days ago, and he would have 'scrooged' everyone who hadn't lit up yet.  He would hate to see our home dark for the holidays, but I just can't bring myself to do anything about it.

"I imagine I can put a wreath on the door.  This I can do," I thought to myself.

We drove up our street, and the boys shrieked with the ultimate 'I Spy.' 

"Our house!  There are lights on our house!"

Sure enough, white icicle lights laced the front of the house.  The pillars of the porch are striped like a candy cane.  Christmas came to our house, too.

I looked at my mom.  "Who did this?  What is this?"

Her face was soft, her eyes glistening.  "Your Tuesdays. They came over with their husbands, and they hung your lights.  They borrowed the lights Robb always hung on our house.  They couldn't let you come home to a dark house."

It is perfect.  Just enough.
I didn't even know I wanted any decorations.  
I cried in my driveway.

Christmas is coming here too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giving in the Thanks

We traveled to Ohio this week for the familiar Thanksgiving traditions deeply rooted in my family tree.  Three generations sat around a table, and I am now considered one of the 'adults'.  With two children of my own, I suppose this is reasonable, but somehow I felt like I should still sit at the kids' table. 

Amy and I commented that we really wanted to sit in the corner and talk, that taking care of all these children really seemed like something 'the moms' should do. 

Oh, wait.  We are 'the moms.' 

And our moms are the grandmas, the beloved matriarchs with treasures in their purses and cookies in their cupboards.  The children played in all the rooms we once scattered, mimicking our childhod games and making up their own.

There is a deep knowing in my aunt's house.  Her sprawling rooms, her wooden floors, her shelved library, and her perpetual pots of fresh coffee.  I grew up here.  In this home, I am every age I have ever been. 

I have hunted for Easter eggs in the bushes, roasted marshmallows in the ravine, introduced Robb to his new in-laws-to-be.  I have been showered with wedding gifts and maternity clothes.  I have passed my newborn from one pair of hands to another as my far away family brought him up close.  This time, I learned the unwritten family technique for a homemade pie crust, in all its flaky goodness.

We have spent perhaps a decade of Thanksgivings apart, this family crew that now stretches to a list of nearly forty.  This week, they showered me with their memories, love, desserts, and laughter.  We are not as many as we were, not as many as we will be.

There is giving in the thanks, thanks in the giving.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Your Name?

My nails were dry and my manicurist was massaging my hands and arms with warmed cream.  (I contend that this is worth the price of admission.)  As she kneaded my forearms, her thumbs came across the tattoo on the inside of my right wrist.

She paused and looked to me.  "Is this your name?"

She is a lovely Vietnamese woman, she will perpetually look 19 years old, she is fluent in broken phrases, and her accent is contagious.  After an hour with her, I think in her voice all day long.

"Oh, no, no, that's not my name."

"Someone's name?"

"It says 'betrothed.'  It means, 'promised to marry.'"

She smiled, clearly unsure of what I meant.

Her thumbs gently massaged the letters. 

"It your name," she said.

Yes, actually, I thought.  In a very real way, you are right.  It is my name.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


"Do you want to be healed?"

These words echo in my mind today.  When gifts I have prayed for come to be, I come face to face with whether I really wanted them in the first place.

Jesus asked this before he healed the man who couldn't walk. 

I wonder if there were more to the dialogue.

You sure you're in?
Because I can fix this.
But a miracle requires mobility in response. 

Sometimes it's easier to expect the worst - and receive it -
than to keep my heart soft enough to acknowledge the healing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Game"

Beloved Buckeyes,

I regret to inform you that I will not watch the Ohio State game today.  I am flooded with annual  memories of this game day, even without your fancy footwork on my TV.

I remember when Robb took me to Columbus for Skull Session, how I got chills as the band entered the stadium, and how badly I wished I had known him when he was a man in that plumed uniform.

When we were engaged, and along with the diamond on my hand, he gave me an Ohio State jersey with 'Williford' streamed across the back.

The time we rented a small theater to host a televised Game Day Party.  Now that was a great day.

When our son was born on September 10, 2005, in direct conflict with the Ohio Sate game vs. Texas Longhorns.  Robb was torn between his allegiance to the delivery room and the waiting room television.  (I'm not kidding.)

Your colors ran through his veins.

Today, my children and I are dressed in our scarlet and grey finest, and I hear that band playing on the sidelines.  I hear them on the TV in the next room, and I hear them often in my mind.  If Robb had ever gotten a tattoo, I'm pretty sure it might have been TBDBITL across his heart.

If anyone in heaven cares about the score today, my husband is at the top of that list.  And I promise you: he can cheer the roof off any mansion.




This dinner was provided by the following sponsor:
a friend who makes real-deal-for-reals-oh-my-word mac and cheese, and she also makes the same variety of sugar cookies.


Tyler ate his and said, "How did she know our names?"

"Love is in the details, kiddo."

"But how did she know your name?"  He paused and then answered himself.  "Love is in the details.  And I name my turkey Bob the detail."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lonely Romance

Wes longed for the winter,
when it was safe to shut oneself away.
He loved waking up and going to school
and coming home in the dark,
the privacy of walking along in a twilit street in the cold,
the lonely romance of winter sounds -
wind whisking at the bare tree branches,
dry leaves scudding along an unswept sidewalk,
the muffling that descends before a snowfall.

What he hated was the summer,
things that were bright and open and shadowless.
He hated waking up in the sunlight,
the skimpy clothes,
the endless hazy twilights
that somehow made you feel less than wholesome
if you wanted to crawl into bed with a book
while there was still a warm, pastel glow in the sky.

~ Jesse Browner,
Everything Happens Today

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wife, Interrupted

 Here is the story by 5280's senior staff writer, Robert Sanchez: Wife, Interrupted.

It has been a beautiful experience, from start to finish.  This man gives journalism a good name.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e. e. cummings

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

5280 Magazine

When I posted this a few weeks ago, I made a publication faux paus by jumping the gun before the professionals had made their debut.  With my sincere apologies to the writers and editors of 5280 magazine, I took down the post.  Today, the story hits the shelves.

5280 has been Denver's magazine since 1993.  They are a classic Denver read with all the best angles on anything happening in the Mile High.

I spoke at an event last fall, and one of the women in attendance is married to the Senior Staff Writer at 5280.  Kristen began following my blog, and when my world ruptured, she shared my story with her husband, Robert Sanchez.  Robert contacted me last summer to ask if he could tell our story in the magazine.  We have met many times over the last six months, he has studied our family with discretion and integrity, and the December issue of the magazine will feature his words.  This has been a 100% positive experience from beginning to end, and I have been honored to work with Robert and his team.  They give journalism a great name.

I met this week with 5280's photographer, Jeff Panis.  We met at Starbucks for our first impressions, and we talked over coffee and a banana.  He said I was a brave woman.  He said he had read my story.  He said I have a radiant smile.  He said the photos would be easy and fun.  He raised his coffee cup to life for the living, a mom who gets out of bed because she loves her kids, and a husband who would be proud to see the three of them moving forward, one step at a time.

He diffused my every apprehension.

He asked if I felt comfortable to offer my home as the site for the photo shoot. 

My first thought: The sink is filled with dishes, there is a layer of dust on virtually everything, and I haven't run the vacuum since June.

My second thought: If I'm going to tell this story, I'm going to tell the truth.  I don't have my act together.  My house is loved and lived in. 

"Let's do it."

We reconvened in my living room ten minutes later, and I made a quick sweep of the toys and string cheese wrappers from the living room floor before I opened the front door. 

Jeff chatted with me as he filled my living room with contraptions and equipment similar to Richard Haney's flight of the balloon boy.  He tested the lighting, the angles, the exposure.  He said photography is 90% preparation and 10% execution, so he had much to do before he really needed me at all. 

He asked if he could slip upstairs into the loft to add the lighting that would shine into the stairwell where I would sit for the photos.  (Sure, if you don't mind stepping over the piles of yesterday's unfinished laundry.)  While he was upstairs, I gathered the flip-flops, wayward socks, magazines, and washcloths that were strewn on the stairs; I piled them all on the coffee table. 

(It's a good thing I never claimed to win any Good Housekeeping Awards.  Otherwise I might have been nervous.  The good news is when you live the truth, you have no lies to remember.)

When he gave me the thumbs up, I took my place in the setting he had in mind: a casual posture on the carpeted steps, my elbows on my knees, my hands relaxed, and my face looking straight into the lens.

Here's the thing.  In family portraits, you want to present your best color scheme and keep everyone still long enough for the shutter to click. 

In personal portraits, you want your best smile, your chin up, your eyes engaged, and your best you.

In this article, they seek to capture the authentic me, the genuine posture and heart of a girl whose husband died ten months ago.  I'm not down for the count, but neither am I ready to lead a parade.

It took me a while to find my groove, to find myself.

Jeff snapped a dozen pictures, and then he sat down next to me to show me the digital thumbnails.

The lighting was excellent, the angle was smart, and he somehow avoided the smudgy fingerprints on the railing and the crumbs on the carpet.  But as I looked at my face on his screen, I was distracted by what he captured.

My eyes were overwhelmingly sad.  I've never seen that girl in a picture before.

He said, "I don't think I've found you yet."

"No, I don't think that's really me."  And yet, I don't know how to change the spirit of my eyes any more than I know how to change the length of my nose.

"Let's keep trying, Tricia.  We'll find you."

Round two.  I kept smiling too much or not enough.  I wasn't real. I wasn't me.

He looked at me over the camera. "Where is the confident girl?  I know she's in there."

Interesting you should ask. I've been looking for her for months.

He was patient.  My heart cannot be rushed.

"Look at me," he said.  Click.

"Now show me the smile I saw when I walked into Starbucks." Click.

"Now ease it back a bit."  Click.

"Now give me that small smile."  Click.

"Yes.  That's it.  That girl right there."  Click, click, click.  Click.

Two dozen shots later, he sat down next to me again.  "Look, Tricia.  Look at this one.  See?"  He beamed with the contentment of sought out discovery.

Photo by Jeff Panis

It was me.  Quiet, reserved, casual.  Gentle smile with a subtle light in my eyes.

I contend that the algorithm of photography is 90% science and 10% art.  But that 10% holds the heart.  Without that, it's only a snapshot.

~ ~

If you're near a newsstand, please pick up a copy of 5280 magazine. It's a tremendous publication, from start to finish.

Haunted Forest

Folded laundry.  Unfolded laundry.  Lists.  Spilling suitcases.  Packing for a holiday.  I unzip a carry-on bag, and I see remnants of one of Robb's business trips. 

Seriously? How have I never opened this suitcase in the last eleven months?  How can there be anything still hiding?  Does this haunted forest never end?

My breath catches in my throat.

"Oh, honey."

I hear myself talk to him. I almost never talk to him.  Not out loud.

I hold his things in my hands.  I look at my mess scattered across the living room.  Oh, how little of this I have needed to do before.  Robb would have had us packed two days ago, batteries charged, DVDs gathered, headphones packed, snacks delineated.  It would have bothered him that my laptop wasn't yet charged and stowed.  He was so good at this.

I just get it done.  Packing is overwhelming.  And overrated.

Pandora plays through the speakers above the TV. 
"How Great Thou Art."

I make myself listen.  I close my eyes.  I rock myself, holding my pieces together.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Lunch

It was the annual tradition of the elementary school's Turkey Lunch.  I packed a lunch for the picky PreK tagalong, and we joined Tucker for a plentiful harvest in his cafeteria. 

What a delight to see him in action, to see him making the rounds to gather his food, choosing his place at the table, and socializing with his network of six-year-olds.  It's a gift to enter his world.

But I didn't see the blow coming - the families sitting with their students, and the dads, the dads, the dads. 

I didn't want to be there alone.  I didn't plan to be there alone.  Robb would have met us there, his company car in the parking lot, his Farmers Insurance logo on his shirt.  He would have folded himself in half to squeeze onto the stool at the little tiny tables.  Later, we would have laughed about the yellow gravy, the dry turkey, and the dozens of children eating only the frosted pumpkin cake.

I finished the lunch, deposited my children in their respective classrooms, walked to the car, and fell to pieces in breathless sobbing.

I saw that Tyler had left his jacket in the car.  I prayed that God would send sunshine or an extra jacket for my little man, because I couldn't bear to go back inside.

There is no medication for the tearing ache of longing.  There are no warning signs for a blow like this.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Wolf! Wolf!"

"Tyler, tell me something you learned about at school today."

"We learned about toilets and eyeballs."


"We really did.  For real.  In real life."  He smiles with that twinkle in his eye, the one that's pressing to see how much I'll believe.

In Tyler's mind, the question, "What did you learn in school today?" translates to, "Please make up a pretend story about anything in the world."

His other answers have included:

"We ate mosquito soup."
"We learned about worms on spaceships.  They went to see God.  He was wearing a red vest."

And he always caps it off with, "For real.  In real life."

I said, "Tyler, let me tell you a story about a boy named... um, what was his name..."

Tucker says, "Tucker?  Or Tyler?  Did he have our names?"

"No," since I think it's better if they learn a fable about someone else now and then.  "His name was Peter.  And Peter lived on a farm with many sheep, and it was his job to protect the sheep from the wolves that wanted to eat them.  If a wolf came nearby, he could shout, 'Wolf!  Wolf!' and his family would come running from everywhere to help him protect the sheep."

The boys listened with rapt attention.

"Well, one day Peter was out in the pasture, and he felt lonely and bored.  He remembered the plan that would bring all of his family to him, so he decided to pretend there was a wolf.  He cried, 'Wolf!  Wolf!' And sure enough, his family came running.  They said, 'Peter, Peter!  What's happening?  Are you safe?  Where is the wolf?'

"And Peter laughed and said, 'Just kidding.  I was just kidding.  There's really no wolf.'  And his family went back to what they were doing, but they asked him to only call him if there was really, truly a wolf."

They were listening.  They barely even blinked.  I continued the traditional story, with round two of the boy's joke, when he cries wolf yet again.

The boys cast knowing glances to each other.  Surely nobody in our family would be so foolish.

"Well then, a few minutes later, a real wolf came!  And he was growling and snarling and showing his sharp teeth, and Peter became very afraid.  He cried, 'Wolf!  Wolf!'  But because he had not been telling the truth the other times, his family thought he was teasing them again.  They didn't believe what he said, and they didn't come to help Peter.  And the wolf gobbled up all the sheep."

I pause for dramatic effect.

"Tyler, what do you think we can learn from this story?"

He pauses.  For dramatic effect. 


"Who's there?" I ask, thinking he may come out with something profound, masked as amateur standup comedy.


"Banana who?"

"Aren't you glad I didn't cry 'wolf'?"

Oh, my word.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Real Event

At times, writing becomes a real event.

It is a remarkable sensation to see ideas and words flowing so easily, as if they had always been there but had not been allowed expression.

Meanwhile, I become more and more aware that for me writing is a very powerful way of concentrating and of clarifying for myself many thoughts and feelings.  Once I put my pen on paper and write for an hour or two, a real sense of peace and harmony comes to me. 

Consequently, I feel much more willing and able to do little routine jobs.  After a day without any writing and filled with only reading and manual work, I often have a general feeling of mental constipation and go to bed with the sense that I did not do what I should have done that day.

It is good to become aware of all this.  This seems to help me to understand quite a few of my bad moods . . . during the past few years.

~ Henri Nouwen

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Tree Stands Alone

My Tuesdays packed up Christmas for me last year.  As I lay sleeping, wishing to hibernate through the winter, they wrapped each ornament, folded each branch, collected each snowman, and stowed the entirety safely in a corner of the basement.

By their grace, I awoke later that day to find that Christmas had been put away.  A silent, profound gift.

I cannot bear to think about those boxes.  The colored lights, the star, the strings of silver beads, the red ribbons.  The lit greenery Robb hung from our bedroom window and over the loft into the living room.  The millions of snowmen.  A veritable army.

The ornaments that tell our story.
Our First Christmas.
Our First Home
Baby's First Christmas.
A Family of Three.
A Family of Four.
Dozens of representations, looped with a metal hook.

(I shall go nowhere near the exterior elements.  They were his realm entirely.  I didn't even give him the decency of a happy, helpful attitude as he asked me to hold his ladder steady.)

All of these will stay tucked away this year.  A hibernation of their own.

I bought new.  It's the only way to do any of this: to start new.

The boys and I went shopping to take advantage of the early-bird, 50% off, pre-holiday sales.

We bought a tree.  Pre-lit.  White lights.  Branches glazed with faux snow.

I claimed a color scheme of silver, white, and red - shimmers and sparkles, please.  And I said yes to everything that caught their eye in the aisle of ornaments.  This tree belongs to us, boys.  As long as it fits the said criterion and color scheme, put it in the cart. 

(Tyler tried with great effort to convince me of his new love for Ariel, The Little Mermaid.  A love so deep that he would like a Chistmas stocking decorated exclusively in all things hers.  I guided him elsewhere.  I'm fairly confident this is a fleeting fancy.)

We chose dozens of ornaments that carry no meaning - except now they will forever be the ornamanets of our first Christmas as a Tricycle.  This tree will stand alone, different from all the other decorations that will stay safely hidden this year.

We have decided to put a picture of Daddy on our tree.  And I am on the lookout for an ornament that is a tricycle.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's Not That I Hate It

I care deeply about the meaning of Christmas.  But that has very little to do with the vast majority of how Christmas arrives in every inch of space around me.  Perhaps I am ambivalent toward the actual day, December 25.  But it's not that I hate it.

This was Robb's favorite time of year.  He came alive.  If his favorite season were summertime, then I imagine I would have these flashbacks and waves of emotion attached to warm breezes and the scent of suntan lotion.  But Robb lit up over Christmas.  Everything about it.  That man could stretch one holiday in to a full two months: one-sixth of the year.

How beautiful is the irony that there were Christmas trees at his funeral.  How beautiful the gift that he got to be in heaven for the real Celebration.

In part, Christmas will forever carry the anniversary of the day everything changed.

And in greater part, the Christmas season will be forever sweeter in my heart because of my husband's full embrace of all things red, green, sparkled, snowy, tagged, and wrapped.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Their Only Parent

I think I feel most overwhelmed with single parenting when I am worried for my children. 

I sit at this coffee shop, and I cry over their hearts, their learning, their impulses, their grief, and their needs.  With nobody to say it to, nobody who will carry this quite as deeply as I do, though few come very nearly close.

I am their only parent.

Today, my heart aches for Tucker, who has always learned differently than other children, absorbs silently, and shows little of his knowledge to the people who need to know.  I ache for the spirit in his heart, the needs of his mind, the wounds in his soul.

I ache for Tyler differently, on different days.  Today, my heart bleeds for Tuck.

And then I am reminded that I am not their only parent.

His Creator knows his heart.
His Counselor knows his worries.
His Father holds him close.

And this is the God to whom I pour my heart today,
that He will allow the world to see my son
only as his gracious Father allows others to see him.

I am his mom. 
I am not alone.
Neither is Tucker.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

He Throwed Up

Tuck woke me up around 3:30 AM.

"Mommy, I think I'm going to throw up.  Will you watch me?"

Watch isn't the verb I would have chosen. Help?  Yes.  Pray for?  Certainly.  Encourage?  You betcha.  Hug?  Repeatedly. 

But watch?  Especially if you merely suspect it's coming, and we need to wait for the premiere?  And it's the middle of the night?

A better mother might have sat beside him and stroked his brow until the sun came up.  This mom hooked him up with a glass of water and a bowl to catch his contents, gave him a strong dose of sympathy, and asked him to keep me posted.

An hour later, he came to my bedside with the bowl in his hands.  Now filled.  (I need not go into further detail.)

He said, "Mommy, look what I have.  I throwed up."

I sat up groggily and quickly took the bowl he thrust my way.

"I'm sorry I couldn't wait for you, Mommy.  I just really had to throw up, and I thought, 'Mommy will be so happy if I throw up in the bowl.'  And so aren't you so happy?"

Yes, sweet boy.  In a very odd, maternal way, I am so very happy you captured this mess in one self-contained place. If vomit must come our way, you handled it well.  Way to be thoughtful, Mr. Top Bunk.

I also told him, since he is now six, that he need not wait for me if he feels like he needs to throw up.  He can handle it on his own, especially if he has clues before it happens. 

It's a big boy thing, kiddo.

For Starters

The boys were sprawled out on their tummies, making a mural with highlighters, stamps, and glitter glue.  I listened in on their chatter.

Tucker said, "Tyler, I want to draw a picture of you, but I don't know how."

Tyler directed him.  "Well, first draw a happy face."

First and above all, Tyler is happy.  It's the first thing he wants you to draw.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Please. Don't Say It.

"It will get better."
"It won't always be this way." 
"You won't always feel this."
"I promise this part doesn't last."
"It will get easier."

I'm sure these things are true.
Please.  Just don't say it.
This is what I feel today.
The promise of sunshine does not stop the storm.
I have to walk through this.
Walk beside me if you want to.
Walk away if this is too much.

But please don't promise it away.
It's where I am.
And it matters to me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paper Lanterns and White Lights

We were a coffee shop couple. 
We spent our Friday nights at the same coffee shop, stuck in a very pleasant and predictable rut.
A smoothie, a mocha, and a deck of cards.
I have decided to come here tonight. 
I hired a sitter.  I have taken myself on a date.
My first Friday night here without him.
At that table, we played Peanuts.
Our standard game.
Two-person solitaire. 
He always beat me.
Except when he didn't.
And then he claimed to lose on purpose
just to keep me interested in the game. 
At that table, the one in the corner,
we streamed Pandora through his smartphone. 
There was a bad signal,
a long delay between songs.
He teased me for humming.
That booth, the one in the back,
that's where we sat on our last date,
the morning before he died.
My feet in his lap.
We texted each other,
things we could have whispered or even said out loud.
He posted on Facebook:
"On a date with a beautiful girl."
That couch,
that's where I sat to receive hundreds -
literally hundreds -
of guests at his calling hours,
his wake.
The night is both vague and vivid to me,
a smattering of images, sounds, and memories.
Tonight there is live music: a guitar and two vocalists.
Playing the best of John Mayer.
Paper lanterns and white lights swoop from the ceiling.
This room is as charming as it has always been.
I ask the baristas if I may give them a picture of us,
my husband and me. 
They smile, teary. 
They will put it on the mantle.
If ever a room tells our story,
this is the room.

Hot Chocolate and Lego Innards

It all starts with a good idea.

I bought a Lego set for the boys last week, in reward (two cheers for external motivation!) for their compliance during an impromptu trip to the orthodontist.  Hooray!  Legos for Everyone!

(I'm not good at Legos.  I never intended to be the spatially-aware engineer of the family.  But I'm improving.)

This Lego kit involved five (count them: five) characters from Cars 2, plus a giant spaceship.  We had put together all of the little guys, saving the spaceship for last.

The box sat in the corner of the kitchen, only enticing the boys with its brilliance when they were either on their way to school or to bed.  So I was forever the villain who bought them a toy and now won't let them build it.

This won't do.

I bought a canister of hot chocolate, 'tis the season, and I planned to foster a Lego frenzy after school.  Bring on the fun: Mommy took her Xanax.

Except it just didn't come together the way I envisioned it . . . does anything, really?

We served the hot chocolate in the souvenir travel mugs from the springtime trip to Disney World.  Someone shook his for extra stirring, or maybe just for emphasis, and it spouted through the top like a blow hole on a whale.  Hot chocolate everywhere.

"Please forgive me, Mommy."

"Of course I forgive you, sweet boy.  Let's clean it up.  Here's a towel."

Another someone took a sip of his, the heat surprised him, and he spit it out on the floor.  Here's a towel.

Someone dropped his next to the couch, so it spilled across the floor, under the coffee table and ottoman.  Here's a towel.

In the cleaning, I repeatedly set the spilled cup on various surfaces, resulting in brown, wet circles on many a flat surface.

They had very sweet spirits about all these little mishaps.  And they were ever ready with the towels, towels, towels.

Just as we had opened all the little bags of Lego parts and scattered them across the kitchen table, we realized someone had misplaced the directions. Now we had a thousand colored doodahs and no map to piece them together.  (I am improving with Legos, but I'm not ready for a build-your-own adventure.  Especially one that must function as a vehicle and match the picture on the box.)

I put all the Lego pieces in one ZipLoc bag.  I secured all the lids on those blasted souvenir mugs.  And I popped Polar Express into the DVD player.

All of those mishaps had been as eventful as successfully building a spaceship.  Let's call it a day. 

Afternoon matinee until dinner.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Snowed-In, Snowy, Snow Day

I always thought my mom was over-the-top thrilled to have us home from school for an unexpected snow day.  In retrospect, maybe my brother and I were just over-the-top thrilled on her behalf. 

The boys were certainly over-the-top thrilled when they had their first snowed-in, snowy, snow day last week.  I was a little caught off guard.  And moving slowly.

I had an apparently romanticized idea of perfectly-shaped chocolate chip pancakes for three.  The shape and texture were far from what anyone expected. Everyone was feeling disappointed or under-appreciated . . . until we tasted them. And then all the complaints were silenced by the lull of satisfied tastebuds. Presentation isn't everything.

We managed the morning with pancakes, Netflix, and Lincoln Logs.  (This is Robb's childhood collection of Lincoln Logs, and a few of them were broken and taped together from the playing of three decades ago.  The boys took turns imagining what Daddy and his brother had done to break them.  I suggested that maybe Daddy and Uncle Jay had tried to use them as drumsticks, just as Tucker and Tyler were doing.  The boys thought this was bunk.  Surely that couldn't be the case.)

My phone rang at 11:15.  My orthodontist: my Invisalign retainers were in.  "Would you like to come and get them?  Let's see... you can come today by noon, or you'll need to wait until the end of next week."

Oh, dear.  "Well, I could come today, I think, maybe.  I have my children with me, though.  They're having a snow day."  The presence or absence of my children didn't seem to change her calendar options.

I haven't taken them many places together with me in the last year . . . I can't imagine the orthodontist would be our best debut.  We're sort of out of our stride a bit in the mid-day adventure department. 

But I'm sort of impatient for straighter teeth. 

"By noon you say?"  It was 11:17.  They were in their jammies.  "We'll be there." 

I reminded myself of a girl I used to know: up for anything.

I hung up the phone and announced the plan to my little jammie boys.  Bless their hearts, they sprung into action.   (This may have had more to do with the joy of walking in the snow with their new boots on.) 

Bundled and ready, we left the house at 11:37.  I wore a messy bun and no makeup.  (If you're going to put your hands in my mouth, I may or may not put on mascara.)  

Throughout our slip-sliding drive, I quizzed them on behavior that is appropriate in a doctor's office.  I let my mind vaguely wander to the truth that I would be the one in the chair and they would be the ones with free will, but I didn't really explore those ramifications.

Instead, I prayed 'grace and peace' at every stoplight.  Please, let the other patients have grace toward them, and please, let there be peace between the two of them. 

We arrived at the doctor's office, and they promptly piled their jackets, mittens, hats, and boots in one corner chair.  The receptionist said, "Hi, guys.  Would you two like a DS to play with?"  Are you kidding me?  Handheld video games for them?  I could have kissed her.

Never mind that they have never played with a DS.  Never mind that they don't really know what they're doing and this might actually call for greater dependency.  Never mind that. "Yes, we would love to borrow two."

When my name was called, I gave the boys one last pep talk about sitting still, not touching each other, no fighting, and the promise of great rewards.  And I started the long walk to a brighter, straighter smile.

I could see them from my dental chair, and I kept snapping my fingers and hissing at them when it looked like they might come anywhere near doing anything I hoped they wouldn't.  I'm pretty sure the tech knew I was slightly distracted. 

"Oh, he can come back here, if you want."

"Um, there's two of them.  Does that change the deal?"

She smiled.  Graciously.  "Not at all." 

Turns out, this hi-tech ortho has TVs planted in the ceiling - the whole distraction sedation movement.  She turned on the movie Tangled, and the boys lay squarely on the floor next to my dental chair.  Except for the occasional kicking at each other, they were brilliantly quiet and still.  Thanks to the provided entertainment from above (and by 'above' I mean the ceiling . . . and heaven).

I have a nine-month plan for orthodontia, and my children have the promise of Legos coming their way.   Well done, little tagalongs.

And to think.  They could have built a snowman instead.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

All I Needed was a Vacuum. And PopTarts. And Aluminum foil.

One thing has always been true of my children: if I don't plan their fun, they will plan their fun.  And their fun won't be fun for me.  I have spent the last five years trying to stay at least one step ahead, or no fewer than two steps behind.

If they get bored, look out.  Consider yourself warned.

Last Saturday morning, when I slept for 20 minutes longer than them, the boys broke the vacuum cleaner.  It was a mission of exploratory surgery: they were sure Woody's head was hidden inside. 

(It wasn't.)

Together and separately, we each tried to put it back together, all to no avail.  I gathered all the separate pieces, tossed them in a classy paper bag, looped the handles over the neck of the vacuum, and put a note on it:

"Dear Goodwill shoppers:  This works, if you can put it back together.  I surrendered."

I went into WalMart today, in search of the new model to keep our floors neat and tidy.  Or, you know, livable. 

(Robb would have neither purchased this small appliance at Walmart nor made the purchase at all without extensive research into his decade's collection of Consumer Reports.  But WalMart's the best I can do, and Consumer Reports isn't literature I can invest my heart in.  Believe me, I would love to have his shopping and research in my corner.  The best I can do is to have learned from observation.  Lots of observation.)

Christmas has exploded in WalMart, by the way.  It is November 9, and it is virtually a winter wonderland in there.  (I am told the same thing is true at Costco, Home Depot - really anywhere.) 

I just wasn't ready.  I didn't see this landmine waiting for me.  Every aisle held a red and green display, a snowflake montage, or the clustered marketing ingredients for the recipe for a favorite tradition.  

And the music followed me everywhere.  Chestnuts roasting.  Santa Baby.   Jingle Bell Rock.  Once I found the vacuum cleaner that was 1) within my budget and 2) 'built to last,' I just really needed PopTarts and aluminum foil.  That's all. 

I left without either.

I have become a force to be reckoned with in situations like this: I am determined not to be bullied away from the places I choose to be.  I try to be determined.  I keep my head high and put one foot in front of the other.  I choose to beat this thing called fear and anxiety.  But they are hearty competitors.

Sometimes a girl has to come to terms with defeat. 

I made it through the express lane (I contend that it's still 20 items or less, even if that one item is taller than my son), to my car at the end of the aisle, and into my purse for an anti-anxiety pill, all before the holiday tidal wave crashed over my head. 

I'm done with this day.  But I suspect this day has more for me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Attached to the Signs

Being thankful is not telling God
you appreciate the fact that your life is not in shambles. 
If that is the basis of your gratitude,
you are on slippery ground.
Every day of your life,
you face the possibility
that a blessing in your life may be taken away.
But blessings are only signs of God's love.
The real blessing, of course, is the love itself.
Whenever we get too attached to the sign,
we lose our grasp on the God who gave it to us.
Churches are filled with widows who can explain this to you.
We are not ultimately grateful that we are still holding our blessings. 
We are grateful that we are held by God
even when the blessings
are slipping through our fingers.

~ C. Barnes

Monday, November 7, 2011


Quantifying is useless. 

Unless you can hold it in your hands or see it on a screen, unless you can physically add and subtract, then the concept of more and less is abstract and relative.

You can't measure emotions.  Joy and grief are siblings in the same house, but their shades can look like contrasting colors on different people.

Unless the feeling is yours, and unless you can compare this to how you felt on another day or in another season, you really can't compare it at all.  And certainly not against someone else.

You can't measure grief.  You can't keep score.  You can't discount your loss because someone else's may seem greater.  Grief is grief, loss is loss, joy is joy.  They are not mutually exclusive, and they can't stand tall against one another.

"My husband died 6 days ago."
"My husband died three months ago."
"My husband died ten months ago."

As the last three words change with time, somehow there is an assumption that the first three words might matter less. 

So, I have stopped quantifying the timeline. 

It's not a bar graph.  It's a kaleidoscope.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Sundays seem so happy, so chattery. 

"Greet your neighbor.  Stand and sing.  Take the hand of the person next to you."

Where can I sit if I really don't have that in me today?

"Perhaps your heart is heavy.  Perhaps you're struggling today."

Yes.  And yes.

I have always loved to worship alongside my family and friends.  There is no greater movement than the outpouring of hearts together, I am convinced.  But now everything seems so happy, so loud, so overwhelming.

I stay as long as I can.  The discipline is good for my spirit, and I have my six-year-old who sits beside me, watching and learning.  In teaching him, I hope my heart will learn anew.

I cry easily in worship.  In other seasons, I cried from the spilling fullness of my heart.  In earlier months, I cried because I could feel the absence of my life's companion beside me, the silence of his voice singing with mine.  Now, if I feel enough to cry at all, I cry because I long for the joy of it all.  I once cried because Robb is not here; now I cry because I am not there.  I no longer want him back.  I want to join him where he is.

I know a new kind of worship, and I find it most inviting when I am quiet and alone with the Alone.  When I join the throngs, it all feels so hard to keep up.

This morning, I praise the Lord who does not demand a pace. 
I praise the Shepherd who will leave the flock to find the lamb who is lost, the one that cannot keep up.

I praise the Lord who has come to me.

~ ~ ~

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"
These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42

Saturday, November 5, 2011


We popped popcorn, filled cups with orange juice, pulled the couch into the middle of the living room, loaded up on pillows and blankets, dimmed the lights, and tapped into Netflix.  I introduced the boys to Annie, in all of her curly charm.

Twenty-five years ago, my brother and I watched this movie on a seemingly endless loop. (My mom thinks she may have watched it once in its entirety.  This blesses me deeply to realize that she had other things to do while we were watching TV.)  The lyrics and dialogue are hidden in my subconscious mind, and they emerged throughout the evening.  Thankfully, the boys don't yet believe this kind of commentary takes away from the movie experience.  They are simply impressed that I seem to know Annie's friends.  And her every word.

We streamed Netflix through the Wii, and the movie sometimes got ahead of the download.  So we had to be patient while the screen paused to 'retrieve.'  Long about the tenth time we were staring at a still screen, I was the one who became impatient.  Surprisingly, the boys were really fine with the wait.

Tyler said, "Mommy, this is not that bad.  You know what's bad?  Touching hot lava.  This isn't that bad."

True.  Thank you for the perspective, four-year-old.

The thing about Annie: she brings with her the word 'orphan.'  She gives us things to talk about.  Questions to ask. 

"Annie misses her mom and dad, because they died.  She wears that necklace because it reminds her of them."

"She lives in a big house for little girls because she doesn't have anyone else to take care of her.  Who would take care of us if Mommy died?" 

There is little safety in promising I won't die, since we sure didn't think Robb would.   So we talk through Plans B, C, and D.

When your world has been torn, it's hard to believe the seams will stay together for long.  It's good to know there's a plan.  They can follow the scenario to the darkest path, and they can still know there is a plan. 

They were captivated.  They woke me the next morning to say, "Mommy, let's talk about Annie."  We have been reenacting scenes all week long, and I will purchase the sound track soon.  Tyler has been marching around the house singing "It's a Hard Knot Life."

They found their due love for her.  Plus, it doesn't hurt that her name is written in the sky with fireworks. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Because I Know What Flowers Look Like

"You must be Maggie," she said, tilting her head in Maggie's direction.  She put one hand on the railing for balance and held out the other one for Maggie to shake.  Blind, Maggie realized, and she shook the woman's hand carefully.  "I'm Corinne.  Come on in," she said, leading the way into a large Victorian house that already seemed scrupulously clean, and precisely organized.  In the entryway hall, there was a stark wooden bench to the right and a series of cubbyholes hanging above it and a pair of shoes in each cubbyhole.  A raincoat and a winter coat hung on adjoining hooks; an umbrella and hat and mittens were laid neatly on a shelf above them.  And next to the empty coat rack was a white cane.

"I don't think you'll find the work too difficult," said Corinne, taking careful birdlike sps from a cup of coffee in a lemon-yellow mug.  "The floors need to be swept and mopped," she began, ticking off the tasks on her fingers.  "I'd like you to organize the recycling, the glass and the paper in particular.  The laundry should be sorted, the dishwasher needs to be emptied, and . . ."

Maggie waited. "Yes?" she finally asked.

"Flowers," said Corinne, and tilted her chin up defiantly.  "I'd like you to buy some flowers."

"Okay," said Maggie.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I want them," said Corinne.

Maggie, who hadn't been wondering, said nothing.

"Because I can't see them," said Corinne.  "But I know what flowers look like.  And I can smell them, too."

~ Jennifer Weiner, 
In Her Shoes

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Battlegrounds A and B

Tyler has chosen two battles today:

a. He will not get dressed.

b.  He believes our earth is really one of two, and we live on this one because the other one exploded.

He's especially insistent on Point B.

A PreK friend of his has proven this contention, and Tyler is holding fast to it.

"It's true, Mommy.  The other earth exploded.  In real life.  It's true."

Well, I don't think it is.  But of the two debates placed before me, I choose to battleground A.  It's really the more pressing of the two. 

I'm willing to relinquish his ideas of celestial evolution, just for today. 

Put on your shirt, kiddo.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Starbucks Cup is Red

My Starbucks cup is red and festive this morning.  I think that officially means the holidays are upon us. 

That makes me nauseous.

I have had a slight reprieve in the six weeks with no major milestones between Tucker's birthday and Halloween.  We made the rounds for Trick or Treat, gathering obscene amounts of candy (kudos to the neighbors for very few choking hazards tossed into the pumpkin pails), and I kept my head in the game. 

I don't love Halloween.  But Robb did. 

I took the boys out in the wagon, traipsed up and down sidewalks and driveways, teaching them the etiquette and the code of the porch light. 

They told people, "We are Batman and Robin.  But we don't punch each other, because we are partners."  Excellent to hear that parenting objective voiced aloud.

I guided them when Tucker said, "Yes, but don't you have any peanut butter cups?"  (Tuck, don't be choosy.) And when Tyler said, "Want to feel my wet forehead?  I'm so sweaty."  (Tyler, don't be gross.)

On our most successful stops, they said, "Thank you, and Happy Halloween to you too!"  Well done, superheroes.

We counted and sorted their candy loot, and I remembered when Robb scooped Tyler onto his lap, commended him on the excellent stash, and told him this is the one night when he can eat as much candy as he wanted.  Eat up, kiddo.  The rules are back to normal tomorrow.

At the end of the night, they shed their costumes and fell into bed, the crash after a ridiculously stellar sugar high.  And now we have entered November.

This is the day when Robb would load his iPod with Christmas Carols.  (I was married to Father Christmas, and he could stretch one holiday into eight weeks, easily.)  This is the day when he would begin scouting his exterior decorative plans, strolling the aisles at Costco for something big and obnoxious to add to the lawn.  This is the day when I would begin negotiating the value of experiencing one holiday at a time, and he would call me a Scrooge.  And he would hang the lights whenever he chose, but I wouldn't concede the actually lighting ceremony until the evening of Thanksgiving Day when Christmas would officially be the next calendar holiday.  The beginning of November faithfully marked the start of a playful banter, a pile of lists, a budget for gifts, and a list of traditions.

I'm in a long stretch now.  The holidays are upon me.

I feel like I'm at the starting line of a marathon I didn't sign up for.  I feel like someone dropped me off the chairlift at the top of a Double Black Diamond slope, and the only way down is bumpy, cold, scary, and out of my league.

There's no way out except through it.  I do not know how I will do this.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why Don't You Cry Anymore?

In my dream last night, Robb asked me, "Why don't you cry over me anymore?"

We had met briefly in a parking lot.  We stood next to the car, and our conversation was easy and casual.  Consistent with my every dream of him, I couldn't get close enough to touch him.

Just before he drove away, he rolled down the window and asked me that question.

"Why don't you cry over me anymore?"

In my dream, I stood outside the car with my arms folded, a defensive stance.

I told him, "Do you think I'm not sad?  Oh, Robb, I need you to know that I miss you everyday.  It's just that I can't cry everyday anymore."

"So you can let me drive away, and you're not going to cry?"

I woke up knowing he would drive away, knowing I couldn't keep him.

Something is happening in my psyche.  Some part of me is questioning me, asking if it's okay that I'm not always crying.  Something in me feels compelled to take a protective, defensive stance against the question. 

I have to remind myself that Robb isn't really the one asking.