Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Teaching Tuck and Ty has a new location.

It's Moving Day!

You know what today is? 

Moving Day.

That's right.  After four years at this address, Teaching Tuck and Ty is moving.

There's no big to-do about the transition, no farewell party, no bon voyage (although I'm sure you were tempted to bust out the streamers and champagne).  I like to think of this as the end of one chapter, and tomorrow is the start of another.  Not even the end of one book.  Just the end of a chapter.  The turning of a page, if you will.

Stay tuned tomorrow as I invite you to the new address, the new title, the new logo, the new newness.

I should send out postcards or something fantastic. 

'Cause this is gonna be great.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I threw up into my Scarf.

We were at a Chinese restaurant. One with arguably good food but a really loud waitstaff.
It's a toss up, really. 

Alli said, "So, my son is really excited about this private school we are looking at. He doesn't even mind the dress code - collared shirt on top and chinos on the bottom."

"Are they uniforms? Or dress code guidelines?"

"Just guidelines. They're allowed seven colors on top, and I think three colors on the bottom."

And then I took a drink of my water. Which turned out to be a perilous mistake.  Because just then, my quick-witted mom said, "I would think its difficult to find three-colored pants."

And there was that millisecond when I wondered if I could maintain my composure. And then there was the overwhelming response from my insides: um, no. We aren't keeping the water, the composure, or your dignity.  I didn't just hold up one courtesy finger and carefully breathe through the swallowing.  I didn't cough just a little.  I threw up into my scarf. 

It's hard to recover a conversation after a situation like that. 

(And I have one question: why are Asian restaurants so stingy with their knives and napkins? Is there some cultural rule against being generous with these meal accessories?  I was vomiting. "Could we have some napkins?" They gave us one.  One.)

I recovered. As did the scarf.

Green, Yellow, Red.

One child dropped off; one to go.
Twelve minutes to get him there.
I see a police car nearby.
I watch my speed, mind my habits,
as all of us do when a police car is nearby.
I turn on my blinker. 
I change lanes.
The police car doesn't follow me.
Well, that's good to know. 
Maybe she's just prowling the area,
keeping us all safe.
She trails me for a couple of miles.
I'm watching the clock, watching my speed, watching traffic.
I know the pattern: I can only make the second light if I'm in the starting position at the first light. 
I'm two cars back. 
I probably won't make the next green light.
But I might.
The light turns green, and we all make the turn.
The next light is green,
then yellow,
I want to get my son to preschool, and
I slip under.
It turns red over my head.
Red and blue lights flash and spin behind me.
I pull into the middle lane -
maybe she needs around me to catch a real criminal.
She follows me.
Well, it looks like I am today's criminal.
"Ma'am, obviously I pulled you over for running that red light." 
"Yes, I see that.  I'm sorry about that."
"License, registration and proof of insurance, please."
I retrieve them all from the glove box.  Robb has taught me faithfully to keep them at my fingertips when driving (although I don't think Mr. Citizen of the Year ever needed to call upon them at a moment's notice).
"Ma'am, are your plates expired?"
I recall the sticker that came in the mail. 
"No, they're current."
"Well, your registration has expired.  This form expired in 2011."
(I wanted to say, and we are roughly 23 days into 2012.  Happy New Year.)
"Well, my insurance is up to date, but I think I forgot to put the new card in my car."
My husband always did that for me.
"Ma'am, your insurance card is expired as well, but I'm talking about your registration right now."
I can't really listen to what you're talking about right now.  Because all I can see is my husband handing me the new insurance card, four months before the old one expired, reminding me to keep both of them in the glove box, just in case.
Oh, how I drove him crazy with my carelessness about such things.  "Robb, it's February.  I don't need that until April."
"Tricia, put it in there, please.  Just... please." 
On day three of my forgetting, he would move it from the kitchen counter to my glove box. 
Just in case.
"Officer, my husband died one year ago.  This is a detail he took care of for me.  It, um, this one apparently slipped through the cracks.  I assure you - everything is current."
"Well, I will need to make sure of that.  Do you know that it is a summonsable offense to drive a car with an expired registration?  I take people to jail for this."
I could practically hear Tyler's eyebrows shoot through the ceiling as she walked back to her cruiser.
He was terrified.
He has one parent left, and this police officer just threatened to take me to jail.
I cried.
Not because of the threat,
not because of the pending ticket,
not because I was pulled over at all.
I cried because I missed my husband.
Tyler asked a million questions. 
"Mommy, why did she take your stuff with her? 
Where did she go?
Is she coming back?
Are you going to jail?
Am I going to school?
Why are you crying?
Are you crying because you're going to jail?"
I'm crying because this is the 'just in case' Robb tried to prepare me for.
The officer returned to my window.
"Ma'am, I called the DMV, and your registration is in fact current." 
(I told you it was.)  I nod.
"But that phone call is not my job, ma'am.  That's your job."
Add it to the list.  Everything is my job now.
"Ma'am, what were you thinking when you saw me behind you?"
"I was thinking, I need to get my son to preschool."
"Yes, but I saw you driving patterns change.  What were you thinking?  Were you thinking you could get away from me?  What were you thinking as you ran that red light?"
And now I am under an interrogation.
"I was thinking, I hope the light stays yellow so I can get my son to preschool."
"Ma'am, I am sorry for your loss --"
and before I can thank her, she continues --
"and I'm certain I don't need to explain to you how precious life is."
I look at her.  I wish I were not crying.
"Certainly, you, of all people, know how quickly things can change."
Certainly, I assure you that I do.
"Ma'am, drive more safely.  Don't run red lights just to get to preschool."
It was yellow.
And it was a mistake.
Add it to the list.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not Every Mommy

"Mommy, who is your husband?"

"Daddy is."

Or, wait.  Daddy was.  Is.  Was.

Damn those verb tenses.

"Actually, I don't have a husband anymore.  But when Daddy was alive, he was my husband."

Yes, love conquers the grave. 

But on a questionnaire, 'Are you married or single?'  I'm single.  He was my husband.

"Do you think Poppa could be your husband, Mommy?"

"No, he's my dad."

"Do you think I could be your husband?"

"No, kiddo.  It just doesn't work that way." 

It's okay, buddy.  Not every mommy has one.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Names Shmames

I really don't remember whose name I said.  I thought I said Tyler's name.  But they heard differently.

Anyway, it went down like this.

"(Insert son's name), would you please get us some napkins for the dinner table?"

"Nope," said Tyler.

I set down my fork.  I look at my youngest offspring.

"Tyler, after I fixed this meal for you, it is respectful to say thank you and to do what I ask you to do."

Tyler says, "You asked Tucker to do it."

"No, I asked you to do it."

My mom whispers from her end of table, "I heard you say Tucker."

"You did, Mommy.  You said, 'Tuuuuuuccker!'"  he mimics in a sing-song voice.  I'm most sure I didn't say it that way.

I then notice that Tuck is no longer at the table, but he is getting napkins for each of us.  Because apparently I asked him to, and apparently he is obeying.

"Thank you, Tucker.  And Tyler, if I had asked you to do it, then you would have obeyed, right?"


Then my point remains.

For crying out loud.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dancing Over Death

When I think about the Lord,
how he saved me,
how he raised me,
how he filled me with the Holy Ghost,
he healed me to the uttermost...

When I think about the Lord,
how he picked me up,
turned me around,
how he set my feet on solid ground...

It makes me want to shout:
Thank you, Jesus.
Lord, You're worthy of all the glory
and all the the praise. 

~ Shane and Shane, "When I Think About the Lord"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I'm sitting on a plane.  I'm flying back home.  Four days away is the perfect amount: I'm in love with my children again.  I can't wait to kiss their freckled faces.

Oh, God, I miss my husband. 

I turn on my iPod.  I listen to Ben Folds sing The Luckiest. 

He sings the same song to me. 
On repeat, as if he doesn't mind at all.
My mind is a stream of consciousness.

I cry and I cry and I cry.

I don't get many things right the first time.
In fact, I am told that a lot.
Now I know all the wrong turns
and stumbles and falls brought me here.
And where was I before the day
that I first saw your lovely face?
Now I see it everyday.

And I know,
that I am the luckiest.

I cry.

What if I'd been born fifty years before you
in a house on the street where you lived?
Maybe I'd be outside as you passed on your bike.
Would I know?
And in a wide sea of eyes
I see one pair that I recognize.
And I know,
that I am the luckiest.

I love you more than I have ever found the way to say to you.

In bold letters, I write on the airline napkin: WIDOW.
If anyone asks why I am weeping, I will not want to talk.
I'll just show them my napkin.
Let the napkin tell the story.

I look out the window, at the horizon line.  The plane soars above the clouds. 

I think of what so many think of heaven,
that it is just beyond the clouds.
And while I don't believe that's true,
I let my imagination wander as if it were.
If my seat in this airplane is at all closer to the man I love.

I cry, silently.  I don't make a sound.  I see my reflection in my laptop screen: my eyelashes are bare, my eyelids are puffy.  My lipgloss shines.

Tears spill.  I spill.  I have never realized the depth of the word sadness.  It's a warm, soft word.

Some friends attended a funeral this week, honoring the death of an old woman who had been ill and wheelchair-bound for more than two decades.  Her husband cared for her every single day, even when her illness stole everything but her smile.

At her funeral, he read a letter to her, and his closing words were, "You loved me enough to last me until I am one hundred.  But one day after that, I'm out of here."

Next door, there's an old man
who lived to his nineties
and one day
passed away in his sleep.
And his wife,
she stayed for a couple of days
and passed away.

I'm sorry -
I know that's a strange way to tell you
that I know we belong,

that I know,

that I am the luckiest.

Someone asked me this week, "Where is God in this?"

"He's in the fact that I'm breathing.  I'm alive."

She said, "Are you talking about all the life you've found in this, the writing, the blessings?  That kind of alive?"

"No.  I mean, I am alive.  I am breathing.  At all.  That's where God is in this."

My husband was a good man.  God, I miss him.

It was a good gig while we had it, babe.
I know . . . that I am the luckiest.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Words Are Things

Words are things.  I am convinced.

You must be careful about the words you use, or the words you allow to be used in your house.

In the Old Testament, we are told in Genesis that in the beginning was the Word. And the Word was God, and the Word was with God.

That's in Genesis.

Words are things.

We must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial perjoratives and sexual perjoratives and all that ignorance.  Don't do that.

Someday we will be able to measure the power of words.

I think they are things.
I think they get on the walls,
they get in your wallpaper,
they get in your rugs,
in your upholstery,
and finally into you.

~Maya Angelou

Monday, January 23, 2012

Forty Years

I am visiting my Arkansas girl this week.  She introduced me to Thera, a woman in her small town.  Thera is lovely, strong and spry.  Her eye makeup is flawless, and all of her seems to radiate in shades of lavender and soft blue.

Thera and I have heard of one another, prayed for one another, but we just met for the first time.

She and I are much the same.  Widows.  My husband died within days of hers. We've each just passed the first anniversary.  Our paths are very similar.

It's just that she's forty years older than me.

My hand fit nicely into hers as we chatted.  My skin is soft with moisturizer, hers is soft with life.

"I have thought of you so much this year," I told her.

"And I, you.  Except I think your journey is harder than mine."

"I'm not sure about that," I rebuttal.  I resist the measurement of one grief against another.

"I am sure.  You have two small children."

This I cannot disagree with.  It's true.  I do.

She says, "But, God says his way is perfect, and you can't get much better than that."

Her careful words rest well with me.  She isn't offering me a bandage for a broken heart.  She is offering me truth that seems safer since she has to lean on it as hard as I do.

"Yes, you're right.  You can't get much better than perfect.  But..." I pause.  I gather myself.  "Don't you just miss him sometimes?  Just plain miss him?"

Her eyes soften; we mirror one another.  Decades mean nothing.

"Oh, honey.  In our later years, I began to think about what my life would be like without him.  I knew he was going to die before me, and I had time to think about it.  But I never imagined the constant, cold, to my core, deep, deep ways that I miss him.  That doesn't go away, does it?"

"No,  I don't think it does."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Land that Drinks in the Rain

Land that drinks in the rain 
often falling on it 
and that produces a crop 
useful to those for whom it is farmed 
receives the blessing of God. 
Hebrews 6:7

"Land that drinks in the rain..." soaking it into its soil, perhaps becoming a soggy, messy mud.

"...often falling on it..." in one rainstorm after another, days and days of rain. 

"...that produces a crop..." of fruit underground that cannot be seen for perhaps many seasons to come.

"...useful to those for who it is farmed..." Is the crop useful to the saturated ground?  No, but the crop may bring nourishment and healing to others, including those who tend the fields, plow the ground, and wait for the fruit.

"...receives the blessing of God."

With both hands, I await this blessing, this promise.

Holy God, pour down your blessing with the rain.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fearfully and Wonderfully

My son is fearfully and wonderfully made,
but this week I learned that he has a learning disability.

What was a delay when he was two,
when my silent boy could not speak,
is a disability when he is six.

Children are most vulnerable to speech and language problems between the ages of 2 and 6.  Statistically, the chance of improvement diminishes after this window. 

My son is six and a half.

Way back when, way back then,
he couldn't find his words.
The same is true now.
It's called anomia. 
We all have it to a certain degree.
It's when  you say, "Can you give me that, um, that.... um..." and you snap your fingers until you remember the word pencil.

This happens to my son in his every sentence.  For all of his life, he has understood every word anyone has said to him.  But he often cannot retrieve the language to reply.  He knows what he wants to say, and his words fail him.

He is smart.  Every expert has agreed: oh, there is knowledge inside that boy.  Deep knowledge.

Yesterday, he said, "Mommy, can you write my name on my football so it doesn't get lost?  And can you write it on the red part, because if you write on the black part, then... then... then... (insert long pause)... then the letters will ... will be... (insert second pause) ... be camouflaged."

He is an expert at synonyms.  He couldn't think of the phrase "won't show up," so instead he danced around the idea until he found the word 'camouflaged.'

Two days ago, he said, "Mommy, can you please explain to me why I can't hear God's voice?"

My son is a thinker. 

If you're patient,
if you listen without distraction,
if he knows he's not rushed,
he'll talk to you.

My son has a long history of learning differently than other children.  This week, we enter our second jaunt down the path of the Individualized Education Plan.  The experts, the collaboration, the diagnostic testing, the signatures, the puzzle pieces and building blocks to help my son to communicate.  I couldn't ask for a better team of advocates who know the laws, the systems, the assessments, and -- most of all -- Tucker.

I've done this before.  But there's a difference. 

Last time, at the end of the day, when Tuck was nearly two and we learned there was a reason we hadn't heard his voice, Robb said, "Hey, babe?  He's smart.  We know he's smart.  Let's show the world what kind of smart he is."

I miss my partner, the one who knew this boy as well as I do.

I signed my name.  Yes.  Test my son, in every way you deem best.  I trust you.  And I know him.  And he's about to blow us all away.

My son is fearfully and wonderfully made. 


Thursday, January 19, 2012


The boys played at the McDonald's playland.  A family spread their Happy Meals across the table next to mine.  They keep pulling up chairs - there seem to be so many of them.

"Where is the ketchup?" the little boy asks.

"Mommy went to get some," his dad responds.

Mommy went to get some. 

Why did that sentence make my throat tighten and my eyes sting?

These drive by emotions don't catch me off guard quite so often, but suddenly I was nearly a mess.  Over someone else's mommy's ketchup.

I still can't make sense of it.

But I think it has something to do with the husband and wife working as a team. 
Something to do with him holding down the fort and passing out napkins while she covered one more detail.
Something to do with him knowing where she was.
Something to do with the fact that young parents call each other Mommy and Daddy.
Something to do with a family on a lunch date, instead of a mom in survival mode.
Something to do with a family intact.

I don't know.  But I cried over ketchup.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In This Room

When we first moved into this home, this room was the first one we changed.

When I was about two weeks pregnant, we redecorated in a soft blue and yellow theme.  I painted puffy clouds on the ceiling (with good ventilation so we wouldn't damage the baby's growing neurosystem).

It suited us well.  It was Tucker's room, and then it was Tyler's.  Until we sold the crib and bought bunkbeds.  Then they became roommates down the hall.

Then, what to do with this powdery blue and yellow room that suddenly was so whimsical it made me nauseous? 

It became The Office.  Earth tones, greens and browns.  I think the wall color is something akin to 'butternut toast'.  We transformed the room on a dime, borrowing tricks from Trading Spaces.  The monstrous oak desk  migrated in here.  The 'changing table' became a credenza.  We made it work.  A shared space for the two of us: the filer and the piler.

But now, though, what to do with this space, now? 
Now that it's all mine. 

I kept the earth tones.
I kept the credenza.
I added bookshelves.
I added a reading corner, complete with a small table, a cozy (red floral) chair, and a reading lamp.
I took out the monstrous desk,
and I replaced it with a streamlined work space
just big enough for my laptop,
a picture frame,
and a bud vase.

With a daisy.

I knelt to the floor tonight, my face to the carpet.
I pictured dozens of clips from the many scenes in this room.
I rocked my babies, when they were sick or well, sleepy or not.
I wrestled many a boy into a fresh diaper.
I worshipped in here,
silently or loudly,
most often late at night.
I have journaled a million words.
I have danced in here,
alone - in praise,
with my boys - in silliness,
with my husband - in love.
I received the call from the coroner's office in this room.
I slipped away to this room many times on the day I became a widow, just to say that word to myself again and again.

Tonight, I dedicated this room once again.
"God, may you fill this space.  I give this to you, along with every word and thought that will come through this room.  May words land on the page.  And may you receive the glory."

Before we changed anything at all when we first moved in, Robb splattered 'R loves T' on the biggest wall, in splashy blue paint.  Beneath all these earth tones, there's a love note written to me.

I believe I can work in this room. 
I believe I will write a book in this space.

Monday, January 16, 2012

This Competitive Spirit

How can Tucker hold his fork just like Robb, when he hasn't seem him do that in over a year? 

He just looked at me exactly like Robb would have.  I just said something to which the answer was obvious.  He knows that look already.

We play a marathon of MarioKart; Tucker will take the liberty to not only prepare the game's setup, but also to choose the characters and vehicles he knows we each prefer, so all we must do is pick up the controls he has arranged on the coffee table in player order. 

He's pretty sure that he thinks through things more thoroughly than I do.  He may be right, on occasion.  He raises his eyebrows in the same way that Robb did, the expression that says, "Betchya didn't think about that, didya?"

He is his daddy.  Through and through.

And I understand his growing personality because I studied his daddy's so closely, because I loved him so much.

Somehow, each of them is less a puzzle to me as I learn to know them more.

Tucker has a highly competitive spirit.  He does not get this from me.  I wish I were remotely competitive; I think this may come in handy.  But I'm not.  Robb was. 

This competitive spirit has begun to get the best of Tuck sometimes.  A darker side of him emerges when he's losing at something - either against someone else or himself.

I carefully chose my timing to talk about this.  I learned when I was married to his dad: timing is everything with such topics. 

"Hey, Tuck?  How come it's so important to you to win?"

"Because I just like to."

"But what happens if you don't win?"

"I don't like it."

"What if somebody else wins?"

"Then I want to play again so I can win."

"Hey, buddy?  You know who else was like that?  Daddy.  Daddy loved to win.  And sometimes he loved it too much.  He had to work really hard to be kind when he really wanted to win."

"Daddy liked to win?"

"He did.  And sometimes he didn't win."

I didn't go into great detail, especially with regard to the ramifications in our home if his beloved Buckeyes took a hit.  But I assure you: Robb had to work really, really hard to be kind when he wanted them to win.

I see Tucker's shoulders soften with this new knowledge of how he is like his dad.  It could be easy to memorialize Robb in a shrine of perfection, and the boys could grow up thinking they live in the shadow of a man who had it all figured out.

I just needed Tuck to know: Daddy had a hard time with that too.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Loaded Word

I completed a registration card for Tyler.


But then they swept in with some left fielders at the bottom.

Does the child live with both parents?
If not, then with whom does the child live?
Why?  Please explain.

The child lives with one parent.
I am his mother.
My husband died one year ago.

(This was the first time I had written this sentence.)

I realized too late that such a question really only needs one answer: "Widow." 

Such a loaded word answers it all. 

There are no custody issues.
There isn't a divorce.
There was a death.
And now it's me.
He lives with me.

So many answers hidden in just one word.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Respect the Artist

This may come as a surprise, but the industry of words is as varied as any. 

There are people who pride in mass production, and there are those who specialize in the handmade tapestry. 

There is grape KoolAid, and there is fine wine.  There are apples, and there are oranges.

There are dozens of websites that offer a quick frantic look at your paper the night before it is due, making sure your capitalization, punctuation, and grammar meet the minimum standard.  You will pay minimally for these.

There are those who can critique your manuscript, think like a publisher, read your story, and guide you to market the words you've given life.  This is neither editing nor writing, but it is critiquing.  You will pay differently for this.

There are wordsmiths who practice the art of language, who will craft your message in the most effective, efficient verbiage without losing your personal voice in the writing.  You will pay more for those.

Proofreading is a practiced science. 
Critiquing is an expert opinion. 
Writing is a crafted art.

Respect the artist: the craft isn't cheap.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dinner Party Girl

I hosted a dinner party.  The first one in 13 months. 

(Did you know I'm a dinner party girl?  'Cause I am.  I'm a dinner party girl.  And I can set a lovely spread on a table, if I may say so myself.)

I **love** hostessing.  Name the party, give me the guest list, let's create the menu, and let's do this thing. 

My mom is the ultimate hostess; her sisters are the ultimate hostesses; my grandmother was the ultimate hostess.  The girls in this family had no choice but to learn the art, because it was instilled as deeply as doing the laundry and changing the sheets. 

This.  Is What.  We do.

Here is what I know, above all else, about hostessing:

There's always room for one more.
There's always room for dessert.
There's simply always room.


My home need not be spotless, but my home must always be gracious.

It's really that simple. 

* * *

"... Not that I like Martha Stewart, nobody likes Martha Stewart, I don't even think Martha Stewart likes Martha Stewart.  Which actually makes me like her."

~Samantha, in Open House, 
by Elizabeth Berg

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Meat in Heaven

"Mommy, is there meat in heaven?"

"Yes, I think there probably is."  Probably.  I'm not really sure.  I instantly think of a dozen arguments either way.

"Will we eat?" 

"Yes, all the best foods.  The Bible talks a lot about the dinner parties.  They're so great in heaven."

"Is there poop?"

"No, I don't think so."  I do think the whole idea of waste management in general is a product of the fall.

"Does Daddy have any clothes to wear?  Because he left them all here.  Like that red shirt that he wore when he died.  I liked that shirt."

He was wearing a red shirt.  I remember this, too.

"I bet Jesus had all new clothes for him, buddy."

"When will I die?"

"Probably not until you're a very old man."

"Like Poppa?" 

"Even older than Poppa."  Tyler's eyes grow wide with wonder.  Even older than Poppa.

"I don't think Daddy will remember me."

My heart catches.  I have worried that the boys wouldn't remember Robb; I had not thought to worry about their worries that he wouldn't remember them.  The worries multiply at an astounding rate.

"Oh, Tyler, yes.  Yes, he will remember you.  No matter how old you are, no matter how old he is, as soon as he sees you, he'll know you.  You're his boy."

Tyler smiles his bashful smile, the one that says, I don't really want you to know how happy that made me just now.

"Will I get to do whatever I want in heaven?"

"Well, the good news is that you'll only want to do what God wants you to do, so yes, you'll be allowed to do anything you want."

He smiles bigger.  This place sounds better and better and better.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Some Things Right

Last week, I read Open House, by Elizabeth Berg.  (And I'll tell you right now, I'm in for everything she's ever written.)  In the first chapter of the book, the heroine is trying to convince her husband to stay, and in the second chapter, we find her on the first morning of their separation.  Ultimately, the story tells how she finds herself on the other side of marriage.

Our marriages ended differently, this heroine's and mine, but I identified with her on many levels.  Especially when she couldn't set the table without crossing paths with yet another wedding gift from the life she had once lived.

Anyway, she doesn't like her mother.  (I assure you, non-lovers of books and therein book reviews, these paragraphs are going somewhere.)  Her mother is shallow and ridiculously happy always, never willing to go anywhere near real emotions, and keeps everything an inch deep at all times. 

In a fit of rage, the heroine asks her mother, "When did you ever let anyone get close to you?  I mean, really close.  To the real you."

And in a page of brilliant writing, we see a crack in the mother's facade of happiness, and we readers realize that she has chosen to appear happy all along, thinking it was best for her children to never see her life's pain.

I stare at my mother's carefully made-up face, and suddenly I see that same face many years ago, shortly after my father died, when she came out of the bathroom after having been in there for a very long time.

"Now!" she said.  I was sitting in the hall, spinning jacks, and I looked up at her.  "I think that style is much better, don't you?" She showed me some modification she'd made to her hairdo, and I nodded, then returned to my jacks.

What occurs to me now is that what my mother had been doing all that time was weeping.  With astonishing quiet.  And that when she was done, she'd washed her face, fixed her hair, put on lipstick, and then gone out to the kitchen.  She turned the radio on low and made dinner so that it would be ready when it always was.  And then she smiled and chatted empty-headedly or fussed at her daughters all during dinner, preempting any kind of real conversation, preempting any questions, and then she put her daughters to bed, still smiling, still dispensing random advice about this and that, and her daughters squirmed and rolled their eyes and felt their love lessen year by year, eroded by embarrassment, by a terrible, defeating kind of resignation that told them she would never be different.

But what did she do after she put us to bed?  I wonder now.

And I imagine a mother who took a mask off her face, then pushed hard into a pillow to weep for the loss of her husband, for the loss of the life she was supposed to have, for the only man she ever -- I gasp, thinking this now -- loved.

And it comes all at once to me, it comes at this instant, that my mother simply lost too much and repaired herself in the only way she was able; that, in fact, she is continuing to repair herself, hour by hour, the pendulum of the cuckoo clock swinging in the light and the dark of all the days that have passed since my father died at this same brown wooden table.

I found such comfort in these words, in the idea that I'm doing the right thing by looking this in the eye, by talking to my children about the canyon that could have swallowed us whole, that I'm not preempting their questions and mine, that I'm not hiding behind a mask of any kind -- lipstick or otherwise.

I don't show them everything.  Because they shouldn't have to see it all.  But there's nothing I'm afraid of, no question they could ask that I wouldn't be willing to wade into.  And they can mention his name as easily as anyone else's.  Because he is as real to us as anyone else is.

It's great to read something and realize I might be on the right track, doing some things right.  That my boys won't look back and wonder who I was all these years.  That maybe I'm giving them the chance to know me all along.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nothing to Filter

Bereavement and depression wear matching clothes, sometimes.  A good doctor can see the difference.  A good doctor can treat the depression and let the bereavement run its course.

A good doctor has the courage to say, "Yep.  That sounds about right.  What you're describing is normal.  There isn't a drug for that."

So the good news is that I am on track, I'm not regressing, and these hills and valleys are predictable on the invisible map.  The bad news is there is no way around this.

I think sadness is beautiful.  It's so pure.  There is nothing to filter - no anger, jealousy, deceit, insecurity, wrongful hurt.  There is simply sadness. 

It's a rare day when she travels alone, but the purity is worth the brief visit.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pillow Talk

"Tyler, you are so great."

"Mommy, you are so great."

"Tyler, you are so much fun."

"Mommy, you are so much fun."

"Tyler, I'm so glad you're my boy."

"Mommy, I'm so glad you're my girl."

"Tyler, you're a great four-year-old."

"Mommy, you're... a really big four-year-old."

Friday, January 6, 2012


Robb carried a handkerchief in his pocket.  He rarely needed it; it was largely for me.  He married a teary girl.

When I needed it, in church or in a movie, he had one handy for me.  I needed one recently.  (Tears are fresh and plentiful these days.)  I couldn't find it.  I groped blindly in my handbag, wishing upon wishes for something to dry these streams of mascara.

And then something prompted my mind to travel down a linear path:

I took it out of my purse when we traveled to Ohio,
I wanted it with me on the plane,
I put it in my red bag,
my computer is in my red bag,
my red bag is sitting at my feet in this coffee shop. 

I reached into the big pocket of the red bag.  Sure enough: the familiar, worn linen of his handkerchief, monogrammed in the bottom right corner.

It was as if he had handed it to me once more.

"Thanks, honey," I whispered, seemingly to myself, but not to myself really at all.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Backward Encouragement

Ice skating is our new hobby.  We love it.  And I promise you, a couple of times now I didn't even have to lace up my own skates - they were on their own.  With some ups and downs, naturally.

But, I happen to know that everything is a little more fun when someone wants to do it with you, so sometimes I join them.

"Ha-ha, Tucker's falling down more than me-ee."  Tyler says this in that teasing, sing-song voice that seems to be innate to the four-year-old learning curve.

"Tyler, in our family, we are kind and encouraging."

"What is encouraging?"

"It means you say something nice, like good job."

"And what if I'm not encouraging?"

"Then you can hurt someone's feelings."

"I can hurt their heart?"


"And what if I'm not encouraging to myself?"

"Then you can hurt your own heart."

He looks down at the zipper of his snowpants.  "Sorry, heart."

"So, I say, 'good job?'  That's encouraging?"

"Yes.  That's a great start."

"Okay."  Pause for thinking.  "Tuck, you are really good at falling down.  A lot."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm Here.

I lay down next to Tuck sometimes as he's falling asleep.  Nighttime gets the best of him sometimes... of both of us, really.

He closes his eyes, almost asleep.  Then he opens them slowly, pulling himself awake again, just to make sure I am still here.

I am still here.

He wants to go to sleep; he is so very tired.  But his imagination mocks him, telling him that if I am out of sight, then he has lost a second parent. 

He starts to roll over with his back to me. 

"Mommy, when I say your name, and then I don't say anything else, can you just say you are here?"

"I can do that, buddy."

He rolls over.  He tests me.  "Mommy?"

And then nothing else.  That's my cue.

"I'm here, Tuck."



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

All Exhaustion Is Not Equal

Yesterday was a rough go.  So many things went wrong.  And by wrong, I mean they changed unexpectedly.  I can vary from a plan, but I like a little notice.

For starters, Tyler didn't have school.  I thought he did.  This was nearly catastrophic for me, on the emotional realm.  All you show-offs who read every bit of paperwork that comes home?  This is your moment to shine.  I will hide in your shadow. 

So, I took them out for coffee.  Or, in their case, juice smoothies.  I really thought I was going to get some work done, except I forfeited my laptop so they could stream Netflix and I could have a few minutes of silence.

Then I thought we would give Monkey Bizness a try.  The one for big kids, the one my boys have been asking for with deep longing.  Except we got there and they herded us into this waiting room and put us on their wait list, since the play area was full.  I get this, if there is indeed an end to the wait.  Forty minutes later, we were still waiting with no movement on said list, I was out of snacks, and we had watched nearly all of The Happy Elf, streamed through Netflix on my phone.

(My Netflix subscription is nearly worth the same to me as my anti-anxiety prescription.  They serve different purposes, and yet much the same.  Hooray for mobilized technology.)

We went to the mall for lunch.  We went to the Lego store for ideas.  We went to Apple for the kid Macs.  We went to Barnes and Noble for the Lego and train table.  Enter stores with kid displays for my children to explore and enjoy endlessly?  Guilty as charged.

By the end of the afternoon, I begged my mom to take them to her house for dinner.  Please.  I'll provide the food, beverages and children, if I can just have a bit of time today.  A bit of time to catch my breath.

She said yes.  Hours later, she brought them back, fed and in their jammies.   'Cause she's so cool like that.  If I am ever a grandmother, I will do many things as she does them.

(While they were gone, I fixed my double chocolate cherry cookies (and by fixed, I mean repaired), I made grilled asparagus for a party of one, and I mapped out my post-graduate course plan.  Path for the next three years: Check. 

It wasn't exactly wasted time.

There's a reason why I write about all this: to describe the kind of exhaustion.

It was single mom exhaustion.  It wasn't widow exhaustion.  And there is a difference.

I felt the kind of tired I would have felt if Robb were in the middle of a long business trip and I were on my own for a long, harried day.  The kind of tired that would have prompted me to send him some snide text about how great his traveling business life must be, and please bring me something great for managing the homefront in your absence.

But I did not feel the kind of heart weariness that comes from thinking through fog, from wearing the wet blanket of depression, from crying without explanation, from tying a scarf around me just to hold myself together.  It wasn't that kind.

I am thankful others can see this difference and speak it into my life. 
I am thankful they see victory, when all I can see is tired.

There's a difference.  I can feel it.

Monday, January 2, 2012


The smallest things matter most.

Small signs of friendliness can create so much joy,
while small interpersonal tiffs can cause so much distress.

My friend Henri said, "The great events of the day, the newspaper headlines, the things happening across the world, these things rarely touch me as deeply as the smallest gestures that create my world.  An unexpected note from a friend or the passing remark from a neighbor can make or break my day emotionally."

What is easier than writing a thank you note,
sending a card to say hello,
or shooting an email to see how things have been?

Still, every time someone says,
"Thanks for writing that, Tricia,"
"Your words helped me today,"
"Let me tell you something I remember about your husband,"
"I appreciate you,"
it seems that I can feel the sun shining directly onto my broken heart, mending my seams.

How amazing that, in God's grandeur,
he still created the smallest things in life to change my heart so much.

The path to the heart is quiet and gentle, sacred and precious.  These are the linchpins of life. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Good morning, 2012.

I think New Year's Eve is overrated.  It's my least favorite holiday.  It's possible that I have written about this before in the archives of this blog's five years, but I don't really feel like checking.  I just feel like saying I don't like New Year's Eve.

It's so high pressure.

First there's the dating scene.  If you're married or with someone, then you're supposed to have some fine, exquisite plan to ring in the new year, something memorable and remarkable.  Something to tuck away so you can later say, "Remember New Year's Eve 2007?"  And you can knowingly smile and nod.

Then there's the resolution scene.  What do you wish you could do better?  What do you wish you would do more of, less of, and ultimately what might make you a better person?  If you're not the type of person to ask yourself these questions on a daily basis, then really, why wait until it's time to buy a new calendar?

I woke up somewhat cynical this morning.  Perhaps you can read it in my tone.

Dear 2011:
You have taught me much.  I had no idea how strong I could be, how complete I truly am.  I didn't know a heartbreak could last so long, that joy could mean so much.  I didn't know.  You taught me.  Together we learned.

Of all of my years, behind and before, I am confident I will never, ever forget you.  Even though now, I barely remember you.  I think your pieces will come together in my mind.  On the timeline of my life, your numbers will be thick and bold.  Remember that year?  It was thick and bold.

I finish your last page, but I don't really close your book, because you seamlessly spill into today, a new year.  (Plus, I went to bed at 8:15, long before your official farewell.)

And that brings me to you, 2012.  Twenty-twelve.  Look at you, already with the two names.

I imagine you have a thing or two to teach me.  Please don't give me a bulleted, itemized list.  No syllabus.  It's better if I don't know.  Just, please, be kind.  And most of all, be patient.

Let's try a million recipes this year.  Let's become good friends with Betty Crocker.  Let's see what else there is out there besides chicken.

This will be my year of the baked goods.  I already have the ingredients for double chocolate chip cookies (with dried cherries in them - how about that?  We'll see.), a strawberry pie, and a coconut cream pie.  Let's bake.  And let's love people with what comes out of the oven.

Maybe we'll write a book together this year, you and me, 2012.  I've gotta tell you: 2011 and I have a solid start.  But I welcome your insights.

January 1, 2012.  Let's do this thing.