Friday, December 10, 2010

Good News

I passed the Praxis I exam!

This is a big deal. I had some high anxiety regarding the Math portion of the test. But alas, I did it. I passed. I took the test after a crazy week in the aftermath of the penalty phase in the murder trial on which my husband served as a juror. News vans and reporters were at our front door and calling our house with more persistence than creditors. I was so grateful to have the test to prepare for that week. I needed a diversion from the circus surrounding the trial.

So a few Saturdays ago at 7AM I arrived at a Yale classroom on Hillhouse Ave, sharpened my #2 pencils and sat down for four hours of testing in a room full of people all younger than me by at least a decade. I apprently did not get the memo, as I was the only girl--uh, woman--not dressed in a North Face fleece jacket and Ugg boots. But I rocked the test. And now I get to apply to grad school for my MS and certification in special ed.

I had originally wanted to blast through graduate school as quickly as possible. But I don't think that's how it's going to play out. I have a full-time job and two children. Two boys who are familiar with friends' parents who are also taking graduate classes right now. "Does this mean you'll never be home?" they asked. "Does this mean you won't have time for us anymore?"

Absolutely not.

I'll have less time, but I will still have time. Lots of it. Those boys are my priority in life. Period. Nothing (except my own sanity) comes before them. Nothing. So I've decided not to pursue my degree in typical Moira Burn Out fashion. I'm going to do something I am only now learning to do at 37 years old. I'm going to pace myself.

I used to run track in high school. I was a distance runner. My time wasn't all that great, and I didn't even really love running all that much. But on some level I enjoyed it--especially the fact that I was really racing against myself.And I loved the riddle of it all. In pushing myself too hard and too fast too soon in the race, I inevitably had worse time than if I just paced myself. I've remembered that lesson when I've picked up running on and off in my adult life. Now I hope to apply it to the marathon of higher education.

But first I need to apply to school. And get accepted. And then get adequate loans and grants to cover the cost of my books and classes. I have no choice but to accept that it's going to take a while, right?

Part of me still wishes I could apply to nursing school, but as a full-time working mom whose salary is an absolute necessity to our household budget, there is no way I can take on the courseload (especially the labs) of nursing school right now. It would require me to be in school full-time. And I think teaching is ultimately a better fit for me, anyway. I guess time will tell.

For now, it's back to the business of being crafty for Christmas. We're getting our tree tomorrow. I cannot wait to unbox the ornaments and trigger memories I had forgotten.

xo

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Well, Hello

I haven't written in three months. I've let most of the fall slip by without a word. It's not that I had nothing to say. Instead, I was hesitant to say anything about anything. My husband served as a juror on a terrible murder case from September through November. Media was off-limits to him, and I had to limit my exposure to things as well. It seemed like a good idea to stay away from sharing any thoughts during that time, lest my words be misconstrued to somehow indirectly reference the trial and result in him being removed from the jury--and compromising the case.

But I am not here to write about that. The trial was his experience; mine was being his support at home. And that is a story I don't feel much like sharing right now.

So instead, I'll share with you the few things that have been on my mind lately. Like the cricket I heard on a mid-November walk with my pooch, Cee Cee.

The air was still, the trees were mostly bare. The sky was dark with a smattering of stars. And while we stood quietly on a pretty tree-lined street in my neighborhood, we heard what might have been the last hold-out of the season. One little cricket, sounding as if his batteries were wearing out, chirped a slow stutter from somewhere in a patch of myrtle. Like a little goodbye, it sent me and Cee Cee out of a season of warm nights and heady sunsets and on our way into evenings of cold moonlit walks led by the ghosts of our exhales.

I used to not enjoy evening walks. I was all about the morning or afternoon constitutionals. The evening, especially in winter, was for people far hardier than I. People who enjoy the cold. People who endure the cold.

But I guess I'm one of those people, because now I can't wait to slip out into the quiet night with the dog, hearing nothing but the distant hum of highway traffic and pouting train whistles. My neighborhood on the east side of our small city might as well be its own island on nights like the past few. So still. So peaceful. The trees are not swaying with leafy life. The earth is frozen and doesn't yield underfoot. But for the first time to me, nothing seems dead. It truly seems dormant. Asleep. Resting in the most mysterious stage of nature. All except for the osprey that returns to our yard each day, waiting for mice to unsuspectingly wiggle under the fence.

I'll take the dormancy. I newly appreciate this cycle of things. I've stopped fighting winter, no matter how much I love summer. The warmer months are sweeter because of the grey emptiness of these days. The cycle is not complete without this time. A time to become quiet in the garden. Quiet in our minds and hearts. And right now, around "the holidays", it's a festival of light everywhere I turn. In the darkness, lights twinkle from windows and bushes in the spirit of Christmas, Hannukah, and the Winter Solstice. Some lights actually blind me or threaten to send me head-long into a seizure, but that's okay. The kids love driving by the homes of those cracked-out light displays. And I love it, too.

So I'm feeling a little quieter lately. More reflective. More appreciative of this gift of life and parenthood--and more keenly aware of its fragility.

Last night Cee Cee and I were stopped again in front of the same patch of myrtle. The crickets chirps were long gone. But in the cold stillness, we could hear the sound of laughing children carry across neighborhood.

I look forward to tonight's walk. Right on schedule, I'll be bundled up with my dog and heading out into the darkness. It's so funny how for years we convince ourselves that we can only feel a certain way about things. Then, when we're not paying attention, how we feel about something changes. And with that change comes freedom.


xo

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Auspice

We meet every Saturday morning at 9AM on the beach in my hometown. Autonomously, loosely under the auspices of the town rec department, as many as 30 or more of us gather each week to practice yoga in the spirit of giving. One by one, we arrive with bags of non-perishable items for donation to the local food pantry. Some prefer to donate cash. Either way, it all goes to the same place.

It's been argued that there is no such thing as true altruism--that no one does anything for someone else selflessly, because even the good feeling drawn from giving to others can be seen as a selfish motivator. I can honestly say, all of us who meet on Saturday mornings are totally and absolutely selfish in our generosity. We bring a few canned items in exchange for a gorgeous setting in which to do yoga. The trade-off seems rather lopsided, if you ask me. But I'm not arguing with it.

The beach was quiet this morning. The water was still and clear, a departure from last week's tempestuous waves as tropical storm Earl spun away from the East coast. Last week's waves were an unusual sight here on Long Island Sound. But watching the seagulls sit atop the water and calmly ride those waves inspired me as I balanced in tree pose, the sand quickly shifting beneath my weight, testing my reaction and attitude.

More than the water was calm and still this morning. The very pulse of the beach itself has slowed now that we are in the second week of September. Sure, one or two diehard sun worshippers from the neighborhood are still fixtures on their beach chairs. But overall, it's quieter now. The tide was going out, the seagulls were clustered on the rocks and jetties. The sun was a little bit lower in the sky at 9AM than it was a month ago. And most of us arrived wrapped in sweaters or hoodies.

It's the ninth anniversary of 9/11 attacks, so it was no surprise to me when our lovely instructor began the class by having us stand in tadasana (mountain pose) and be grateful for simply being alive. We do this each class, but today it was especially poignant. "You woke up today!" she reminded us. "You didn't have to. But for whatever reason, Creator has given you another day. Be grateful. Count your blessings." She talked a bit about war and about how lucky we all are to fall asleep each night and wake up each morning without a hail of mortar fire in our neighborhoods. Who can disagree?

A few minutes after 9AM, around the time the second tower had been hit nine years ago, we began our practice in earnest to some music. Maureen, our instructor, does not always play music during our practice, since the beach provides its own soundtrack of sorts. But today we started off with Gregorian chants and tolling chimes. Not bells, really. But chimes, like a pretty call to wake up and pay attention to the life we'd been graced with for another day.

While throughout the country people watched the roll call of the fallen at the WTC memorial broadcast, our little group of yogis and yoginis floated together into Warrior III, like a flock in formation. The sun was warm. The breeze was just enough. It brushed against the leaves of the trees, which sounded like the swishing of cheerleader pom-poms. A cormorant popped up from the water and looked around for a moment, before disappearing again for several yards under the surface.

The anniversary of 9/11 is sad and emotional for most Americans. Predictably, my eyes completely welled up as the Gregorian chants ended and Celtic pipes and drums began to play from Maureen's iPod. I thought of the 343 firefighters running up the stairs of the towers while everyone else was trying to get down them. I thought of the sheer tragedy of that day and all the lives lost. But instead of feeling sad, I felt hopeful. I cried not because it's all so depressing--which it is. But instead, my eyes were brimming with tears because as the Celtic drums beat out a rhythm etched deep into this McTalian's DNA, we arched back into Reverse Warrior--a pose of strength, balance and surrender--and I saw the dragonflies.

There had to have been 20 or 30 of them just hovering above us as we revolved into the reverse angle of the pose. Reaching up with with our left hands in a basic chin mudra, they seemed to be as in awe of us as I was in awe of them. I had seen a few here and few there throughout the morning's practice, along with a few butterflies and, of course, seagulls. But to look up and see a whole fleet of them against the sun was just stunning.

Their busy wings glittered gold, and the dragonflies seemed to hold their own with the breeze. Occasionally darting up or down, they appeared to use the wind rather than fight it. For the rest of our class, I couldn't take my eyes off them. I followed their cheerful, bouncy, graceful flight until it was time to go our separate ways.

xo

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All Things Big and Fall

It's 85 degrees out there for the boys' first day of school. And despite the current heat wave and the fact that we enjoyed our last day of summer vacation much like we enjoyed the first--with the neighborhood kids at their pool, I'm still hoping for an excuse to bust out a cardigan sweater.

I've recently developed a serious fondness for sweater guards (or sweater clips, depending on what you want to call them). Thanks to Etsy, I now have a cute little brass/rhinestone/celluloid one. And while they seem pretty easy to make--some alligator clips, a chain, embellishments and glue are all you need, really--I prefer the vintage ones. Of course, I've been scouring Etsy for vintage beads, chains and other supplies to make ones that are vintage "inspired". But first I have some knitting (and sewing, and Praxis studying) to finish.

The resurgence of sweater guards' relative popularity might have something to do with Glee--and Emma Pillsbury.



Not surprising, then, that I'd dig it. Especially given how much I love Glee--and Mad Men. I also loves me some Sons of Anarchy. I guess my fashion inclination (because it certainly can't be called sense) lies somewhere in middle of all that.

So now I need to pick up one or two new cardigans worthy of my little guard. I really like this pretty little thing.



That, plus the cute single strand of vintage (faux, glass) pearls that I picked up will have me feeling very bookish. And on the cheap, too. Thanks, Etsy.

xo

Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting Back into It

Acorns keep hitting the tin roof of the neighbors' shed. Bang! Crack! Bang! Everything has been two weeks ahead of schedule this hot, dry summer. The acorns are no different. I wonder if it's going to be a hard winter.

But that's getting ahead of myself. Tomorrow is the last day of the boys' summer vacation, and I'm savoring it! I took off yesterday and today to hang with them, enjoying several hours at the beach followed by a bike ride to the tennis courts, where we lobbed the ball around for an hour before a nice long bike ride prior to heading home. I love that we can enjoy these things together. The fact that we can do it all in our own neighborhood is icing on a sweet cake.

The boys dig pretty much every sport (except soccer--my kids seem almost allergic to it in any organized format). And our outing to the Pilot Pen tennis tourny last week rekindled their affection for that sport. In less than 24 hours we had taken two trips to the courts. The COURTS. Not the field, as it was referred to several times when we went there after dinner last night. We all slipped with that one. We are a baseball-minded family, after all.

Tomorrow the regular, old routine begins to settle back into our home--and bones. We'll take to it easily. After orientation at school, we have a whole lot of front porchin' and back yardin' planned for the day. That's it. The kids need some serious mellowing-out time tomorrow. We'll pack their school backpacks for Wednesday's return to classes. Maybe I'll bake up something special for the boys to enjoy for breakfast on Wednesday. I'm not feeling overly ambitious. Although I do have some more ideas for swiss chard, my latest favorite green. Swiss chard, sweet corn, and heirloom tomatoes. I have lived on those things this summer.

Summer flew by. I feel like I was more "in the moment" with it this year, though. Maybe I was more aware of how short summer really is, so I seized the day as often as possible? I don't know.

The farmers markets won't wind down for weeks. The one I frequent goes right up until December. So while we'll happily return to the normalcy of the school year, I can keep my summer market routine right up until the holidays. The sweet corn will be long gone by then, right in time for my cravings to yield to roasted acorn squash with a little butter, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon. Sweet potatoes will replace tomatoes. Homework and special projects will replace extra rounds of hoops in the driveway after dinner. Scout hikes and apple picking will take over for swimming and berry picking on the weekends. Potted mums will replace the impatiens on my front porch. And we'll all look forward to Christmas, a new year, snowboarding, and ice skating.

I have a tendency to want to rush through the fun moments of the year's darker, colder seasons, if only to make spring and summer arrive that much faster. But maybe if I stay present through each raked leaf and falling snowflake, I'll find less to miss about summer and more to love about simply Being. I'm already nesting for the colder weather, anyway. I picked up some "real" yarn--sweet, soft, beautiful baby alpaca--to start a new knitting project. (I've finally picked up the knitting needles again, and it feels pretty awesome.) Acorns have been falling for weeks, ahead of schedule. And I've purchased some expensive, quality yarn. I really do wonder if it will be a hard winter...

But again, I'm getting ahead of myself. Blueberry or chocolate chip muffins for breakfast Wednesday? Or that amazing French toast bake that the kids love? Yes! That's it.

With Connecticut Maple Syrup from the farmers market.

xo

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Staycation, All I Ever Needed

Summer so far has been sweet. August has a habit of sneaking up on me, but I really don't mind this time around. This season has been so hot and sunny that I don't feel cheated like last year, when we had a soggy, cool July and August.

It might be August, but Summer is not over yet. We still have a few weeks before school begins again. My vacation week just began yesterday, and I'm enjoying some time off with my boys before they spend their Annual One Week with Dad. We are having a bonafide "staycation", complete with a host of day trips, adventures, and plain ol' hanging around time. Much ice cream has already been consumed, and it's only Day Two. Good times. The boys will enjoy more of the same with their dad next week, as well as the following week when Ian takes the week of to be with them. I don't know if it takes a village to raise children, as Hillary Clinton has suggested. But it definitely takes at least three parents.

With all the good times so far this Summer, I feel like I've launched into a new head space. Life still continues to present its challenges on one front or another, but I have a newfound sense of peace with it all--at least recently. Maybe I've reached a new level of acceptance of the things I cannot control as well as greater confidence about the things I can control. Or maybe I've stopped holding so tightly to memories and expectations of the future. The more I relax about things, the more I enjoy the ride. And isn't that the point?

So while (most of) the school supplies have already been purchased, I'm going to savor the sweetness of each moment this season until its last drop--swimming in neighbors' and friends' pools, splashing the kids in the ocean, amusement park rides, water slides, fried dough, fireworks, the occasional front porch beer with my neighbors (good friends, all of them), long walks with Cee Cee by the seawall, taking all three dogs to swim at Black Rock Fort, Italian ice from Libby's, the Saturday morning farmers market, yoga on the beach, seeing A-Rod hit 600 at Yankee Stadium, extra time spent with my mother, brother and sister, lunch on Granmda's back porch while the cicadas buzzed, butterflies everywhere, bike rides, state parks, a growing seaglass collection, new books, old books re-read, happy hour with some close friends, movies, arcades, board games, concerts on the green, festivals and carnivals, lazy afternoons in the backyard lounge chairs, bocce and basketball games with the kids, native heirloom tomato salads, boat rides and berry picking.

And that's just what we've done so far.

Thank you, Summer, for your heat and sunshine that forces us to slow down, switch off the autopilot in our lives, and use our five senses again.

xo

Friday, July 23, 2010

Toss Up

When my boys imagine the future--the careers they will have, the places they will go--I'm sure they don't imagine the kind of days I've had at my job the past few weeks. Thanks to my boss "loaning" me to another department for "some help" with a project, I've been working with OT drive during regular hours, trying to balance priority deadlines of the project with those of my "normal" job.

Today the project officially wrapped up--until next week, when changes will undoubtedly need to be made, and I will once again have 11th hour requests thrown my way.

Believe me, I'm happy to be gainfully employed by a decent company. I have flexible hours, an acceptable salary, and some pretty awesome coworkers. But when I listen to my boys talk about the grand plans they have for the future, I'm pretty certain they don't have admin detail in mind. I know I didn't when I was eight years old and thought I was going to write for a living. (Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...)

I suppose I could quit my job, go for the gold, and hope to be published. Or I could make an actual effort to create more time for writing. Or I could just do what I like doing best: Be mom. Get crafty. Enjoy the outdoors. And sometimes write about it all here in this decidedly low-profile space.

What my kids will grow up to accomplish is a story that is currently writing itself. I love to listen to their ideas about what's in store for them. Nolan claims he really, really, really wants to be a police officer--or FBI agent. I'm not entirely certain if donuts are the primary motivator here, but I have a hunch. Regardless, he likes to run around practicing Tae Kwon Do moves and telling random family members and friends to "freeze" while he points sticks--I'm sorry, pistols--at us.

And while it's a bit cliche for American boys to dream of being a major league ball player someday, it's not something with which I will argue. Nolan and Sean don't actually talk about joining the big leages, but they do love baseball. Nolan, especially, can usually be found outside these days, tossing the ball up in the air and catching it in his glove. When he's not tossing up a baseball, he's practicing catching with his lacrosse stick. And more recently, he's been spending a lot of time under the basketball net in the driveway, shooting hoops and even sinking shots--when he's not practicing his dog-whispering skills and drawing.

Sean is no less interested in sports. He adores baseball, and he loves to play catch with me, Ian, or his brother in the back yard or up at the school yard not far from our home. He is really into riding his BMX bike, and he loves shooting hoops, playing tennis, swimming, and running. This summer, though, while his brother dribbles the basketball (zang, zang, zang, zang) in the driveway, Sean can frequently be found lying on his bed inspecting the engineering of his latest Lego airship creation, or trudging around the yard observing bugs and birds. Sean, much like his younger brother, is fascinated by the natural world. And he's intent on designing fighter jets someday and flying them in the Air Force. It honestly wouldn't surprise me one bit if he grew up to do just that. He's "that" kind of kid. I honestly think he really does know what he wants to do, and he's going to work hard toward it. And if he changes his mind, I'm sure he'll choose something equally challenging and awesome.

My boys' lives are theirs, not mine. Their dreams are theirs, not something through which I will live vicariously. Whatever career paths they choose someday, I will love and support them as always. But for now, they are simply children, tossing balls, inventing things, and dreaming. They don't need to know about the long dull days of project assistance that might cross their desks some day. As long as I raise them to do their best, be good to others, have a good attitude, and see the big picture in life, they'll do well at anything they choose. I really believe that.

As for me, it's time to schedule that Praxis exam for September and begin in earnest the process of applying to graduate school for my masters in special ed. I was at Target tonight, wistfully looking at teachers' back-to-school supplies. Teaching is something I am drawn to. It's creative. It's productive. It's paying good things forward. It, too, will have dull and frustrating days, no doubt. But at the end of the day, I will walk out of the classroom with a good understanding of how my efforts impact the world. I will be inspired to do better on days that don't go well. Right now, I'm not certain how my current efforts impact anything, except the wallets of a few executives. And bad days aren't exactly inspiring me toward anything except out of corporate America.

If I encourage my children to pursue their dreams and believe that anything is possible for themselves, while nudging them to give back to others along the way, shouldn't I walk that walk I'm talkin' about? It's never too late to be what you might have been, right?

This mom can sink baskets and catch pop-flies too, you know.

xo

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Green, Green Grass

This town.

I suppose it's the same all over. All politics is local. And everything local is political. But I've not been at all happy with the way things have been managed in this city as of late.

So Friday I escaped, if only for a couple of hours. I didn't go far. I worked just a half day and then took off to enjoy some sunshine by the shore, but I opted out of going to the beach at Lighthouse Park in New Haven--in my back yard, really. Instead, I drove 15 minutes to the tiny, quiet beach in Stony Creek, a charming little section of Branford and the place to which I really want to move someday. I craved being away from New Haven for a couple of hours. And I craved some anonymity with my beach-going. I didn't want to run into anyone I know, knew, or want to know. I needed a couple of hours of nothing but sunshine and my own breath.

I plunked down my chair, bag, and towel, and I sank in to the sand. It was HOT. But the water was clear, cool, and the tide was going out. I took a dip and then thunked face-down on my towel to dry off in the sun. My week at work had been awful. The town I live in feels like it's falling apart sometimes. Other areas of my life are rife with uncertainty right now (more so than usual). I listened to the birds chirp and to the gentle lapping of the water, and I had a serious moment of regret: Why, oh why, didn't I just rent a little place in Stony Creek with me and the boys a couple of years ago instead of jumping into the married, home-owning life in Morris Cove?

That's not to say I'm unhappy being married or that I don't love my husband, my house, my neighborhood, my neighbors. It's just that with any decision, there are sometimes moments of regret. If we accept that, it's easier to deal with the regret when it comes. And then it also more easily goes. The grass sometimes appears a lot greener on the other side of the fence, but you can bet those neighbors have a higher water bill than you, right? Besides, the truth is that when I had my beautiful post-divorce apartment with water-views near Lighthouse Park, I couldn't wait to OWN my own place again. I loved my apartment, but I was eager to put roots down and get some equity (eventually) out of a home.


I let thoughts flow and ebb, ignoring the clock and feeling the sun on my skin. After some time to myself, I headed home feeling spaced-out from the heat and totally relaxed from letting my body just float in the water and melt in the sun for two hours. Later that night, Ian and I went downtown and grabbed some ice cream from Ashley's. We wandered around Broadway in a circle, sucking down watermelon sherbert (him) and Heath bar ice cream (me). Coffee Oreo is usually my first choice, but not at 9PM. Tan lines, flip flops and ice cream. What's better than that?

Saturday was more of the same summer fare. We dodged raindrops on our way back to my car after scoring a ton of fresh goods at the Farmers Market in Wooster Square. The rain poured, but when we returned home we found our neighborhood to have been spared the worst of it. We could have used the rain, but like with many summer storms in our area, the Cove didn't see much of it. Instead, the sun was shining. I guess it always shines in the Cove. We have the best sunsets, too.

We also have some great little hidden spots in our neighborhood parks. In fact, New Haven has lots of special little places in is parks. When I lived in the Westville section of town, I loved the hidden corners and secret shangri-las of Edgewood Park. I feel the same way about Edgerton Park, perhaps my most favorite park in the city. Edgerton was the place to which I ran and sat, alone, the day my first marriage imploded. It's the park I've wandered with my grandmother, looking at flowers. It's the place where Patrick climbed the Shakespeare stage at lunch one day when we were dating and sang Elvis' "The Wonder of You" to me in its entirety, to the applause of other picnickers.

Back at home yesterday, Ian and I walked the dogs down to East Shore Park, where we cut through the dune grass and let the dogs off leash to swim in the rocky waters that flank the Coast Guard base. I love escaping to that little beach, or to the beach at Black Rock Fort, which is a real treasure just steps from my home. A revolutionary war battle site between the Coast Guard and the Army and Marine Reserve bases, the fort has some really cool places for the boys to explore, some great little hills for them to practice BMX tricks, and a beach that, despite being neglected and littered, is still such a special little retreat from the throngs at Lighthouse. It's not at all an ideal spot to swim or catch some rays, but taking the dogs swimming there is just one of my favorite things. Foxes and coyotes bunker down in that park, and the dogs love to chase scents and tracks there, especially in winter. And since it is largely an untouched spot, there is a wealth of old sea glass to be collected there, too.

I love Stony Creek. Maybe some day I'll be able to move to a little tiny house there and enjoy a cup of tea at the Stony Creek Market every day. But until then, I'll treasure my little moments there as they come. And, even more so, I'll cherish my own little corner of the world, come what may. For a long time, I was so attached to Westville that I literally had nightmares about houses being sold and vacated by our neighbors, to whom I was close when I lived there. And yet it was I who put up the for sale sign and left. Life didn't end then, either. It was just beginning for me. I've had similar dreams about my new neighbors since becoming attached to my little block in the Cove. To have been given the gift of a strong neighborhood community three times in my life--as a child at my grandmother's, in Westville, and now here--I am triple-blessed. But still, who knows what the future brings. I'm open to it all.

Before leashing the dogs to go home from the beach last night, I stumbled upon a piece of sea glass that had "New Haven, Conn." inscribed on it. Still sharp and shiny, it wasn't ready to be pocketed and added to my collection. I tossed it back into the water and followed Ian and the dogs up the dunes to the soccer field, toward home.


xo

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Freedom (or something)

This...




+



+





+




=

Happy 4th of July!



And read this.

I could use this space to talk politics today. But that article speaks for itself on so many levels instead.


To my cousin Joey serving with the Army in Iraq and my cousin Patrick (Cap., USAF) who is headed back to Afghanistan this summer: Thanks, boys. <3

One more:





xo

Monday, June 28, 2010

Look Twice

It's steaming hot out there today. Few people love this weather the way I do. I scooted home at lunchtime to check on the pups and refill their bowls with fresh water and two trays of ice cubes. On my drive back to work, I enjoyed some of Van Halen's "Panama" with the windows rolled down, and the sun and hot wind on my face.

I'm not interested in wishing away summer. The all-star game is in a couple of weeks. The World Cup is still in full-swing. The Tour de France has yet to start. The US Open is later this season. We've got fireworks to enjoy, amusement parks to visit, beaches to dig in, oceans and pools to swim in, day trips to take, overnights to plan, quiet moments on the front porch to savor, more post-dinner bocce games to play in the back yard.... But I can say this: I'm looking forward to season three of Sons of Anarchy.

Eager, yes. But the trade-off means summer's end. So I can wait as long as it takes.


And since we're talking about SOA, here's a little PSA for ya:

Remember that motorcycles really are everywhere, so look twice and please don't ever cut one off. Keep extra stopping distance between you and motorcycles. And if you're going to ride, for the love of God please wear a helmet.


My boys on Ian's bike, July 2009




xo

Sunday, June 27, 2010

PYO

We went strawberry picking was last weekend.



Thank you, Bishop's Orchards.


This weekend kicked off an earlier-than-usual start of the PYO blueberry season. We haven't made our way to the orchard yet. Maybe next Saturday, to pick some blueberries for Independence Day treats to share with friends at our BBQ.

There is nothing like native produce in season. Berries are flavorful and juicy, without the tartness of having traveled 3,000 miles to get here. Corn is sweet and has a snap to each bite. Tomatoes are sugary, helping me to remember that they really are a fruit and not a vegetable. And in fall, nothing is better than a crisp Macintosh or Macoun apple picked fresh from the tree.

I'm looking forward to getting a crate full of fresh blueberries next weekend. Until then, I can handle the transient California ones with my yogurt, bananas, and granola. A nice, quiet little lunch all to myself on the front porch this hazy summer Sunday.


My favorite seat in the house.



xo

Friday, June 25, 2010

Beach Day

Sometimes I make great choices.

Like today. I took a vacation day. The weather was glorious, so the boys and I went to the beach for some much-needed mom-and-sons time. We skipped waves, made sandcastles, lolled around in the sun, enjoyed a good seaweed fight, and even found a little crab to keep in a sand pail filled with water (for a while).

Nolan rocked the snorkel gear all afternoon in--and out of--the water.


Eventually we took our sunny, sandy, salty selves home and cleaned up for a trip to the movies, meeting up with Sean's friend JP and his mom to see Toy Story 3 in 3-d. Thoroughly enjoyable. It was a fun movie with some really great moments.

Now Sean is enjoying a sleepover at JP's. Nolan is sleeping over his good friend Joe's. I'm thankful for the quiet, but I miss my little beach buddies. The hush of a childless house is at once a relief and an emptiness. I look forward to the boys being home tomorrow. For now, Ian and I are maxed out, mulling over weekend plans that will include at least a couple of hours at the Irish Festival, as well as some marshmallows over the firepit, if weather permits. Otherwise, we're keeping it on the quiet side. Ian's nursing a nasty summer cold, and our neighbors have strep. I would like us all to get some rest and stay well.

Today was fantastic. I didn't bother checking email. My phone was, for the most part, left ignored in my beach bag while I enjoyed conversations about how certain shells look like helmets and others look like shields or swords. I felt the hot sun on my skin and listened to the sweet humming of a contented six-year-old digging through sand with his hands.

Today was so absolutely ordinary and so totally special.

xo

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"90% of the game is mental. The other half is physical."

The boys played their championship pee wee little league game on Tuesday night after winning the playoffs.


Sean tosses his hat into the air after the playoff victory.

Before the game, Ian and I had an hour or so to ourselves to walk to the dogs. We enjoyed the usual stroll with the three beasts, talking over the changes that are being made to different homes and admiring the gardens of certain neighbors. We each walk a good portion of our neighborhood every day, so it's fun to walk it together and point out all the things we've noticed along the way.

As we climbed one of the hilly streets and headed toward home, we came upon a house recently purchased by a well-known local civil service union leader. The home is undergoing extensive renovations. "That's gotta be the fourth dumpster they've had there," Ian asked as we walked by, while I was busy admiring a row of tiger lilies on a property across the street. "Do you know how much those things cost? AND they're doing the windows? AND the roof?"

"And they're renovating inside, too", I commented.

"Where the hell do people get all this money?" Ian asked.

"Ian, seriously. Who knows? Who cares? Why do you care so much about what other people do with their money?"

"I'm like my dad that way," he said. "I guess it's the German in me."

Cee Cee poked her nose into a patch of myrtle while Ian's two dogs panted heavily in the heat.

"Well, I'm Irish [note: Irish and Italian, but mostly Irish...]," I said. "Do you know what the Irish think about money?"

"What?"

"Nothing! Because we don't have any!"

"Wa wa wa..." Ian chided.

"I grew up in the McGuire household full of Catholic Democrats, where we talked about politics, religion and literature. And more politics. And more religion. And more literature."

"Yikes."

"Money was never part of the equation in any way."

We went home, packed up our water bottles, and headed down to the game. The kids were already at the field with their father. It was raining lightly, and the game commenced with a rocky start. Both teams were off in the first couple of innings, with the usual power hitters striking out, and the usual no-fail fielders dropping the ball. It was raining. It was late. (The game didn't start until 8PM. On a school night.) And the kids were nervous. What's more, the umpire made a few bad calls, prompting me to screech, "Who paid off this umpire tonight, anyway?!?!" My nearest and dearest friend Renee, who is Sean's godmother and who, with her boyfriend Jeff, has been at almost every game this year, laughed and warned,"You're the kind of parent who gets thrown out of here!" She would know. Her grandfather was president of the league for several years, and Renee played for many teams on those fields throughout her childhood.

It was the championship. It was raining. I wasn't the only parent in a cheeky, screaming-from-the-bleachers mood that night. And I didn't take too kindly in the second inning when my ex-husband announced he was leaving to go to (wait for it....) "band practice". He "didn't realize" it was the last game. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) After an initial wave of hot, nauseous anger flowed through me, I breathed deeply and turned away from him, taking comfort in the fact that it was just another fine example of why I do not regret being divorced from him. (I know I almost never use this space, or any space, to disparage the father of my children, but this pissed me off in a big way. Please accept my apologies. Mama bear is in full effect.) But I digress.

Vapid parental figures aside, the bleachers were once again crowded with our family: Me, Ian, Renee, Jeff, my mom, my mother-in-law, my mom's good friend, Pete. And that's nothing. One game we had in excess of dozen people there just to see Sean and Nolan. The kids have a lot of love and support, and they know it. And on Tuesday night, we cheered for them and all of the kids, especially as the game took a tricky turn.


Our usual crowd at the games. 11 of us in this pic.
Q: Who brings (and reads) a book to a little league game?
A: The same person who cuts out early of his kids' championship game.


Their foes were formidable opponents. Undefeated the entire season, they typically crushed other teams with scores of 20-something to around 3 or 4--like a bad football game. Our team, 10-1, took a draw in their first regular season game against them, and took a 9-5 loss in their second match-up. Respectable. They were really the only other team of their caliber.

In the fourth inning, the rain became heavier. The field lights had been switched on, and the bleachers on our side of the field became hushed as our opponents began scoring--two runs in the fourth, then five in the fifth. Our team was still scoreless, and since it was a six-inning game, we had only one more chance to prove ourselves.

Enter Nolan in his #1 jersey. The munchkin of the team. The youngest, skinniest, smallest. The one with the biggest eyes and biggest smile, and well-loved by all. Ginger, the grandmother of the boys' good friend Nicky, is in love with him. "There's Nolan! Nolan's up a bat!" He's got a way about himself that people adore. And we loved it all the more when he started the sixth-inning rally with a solid base hit.

Bang, bang, bang...one by one the kids began making it to base. We scored: one, two, three. Then two outs. Then three more runs. And with the bases loaded and two outs, the next batter was in a very high-pressure situation. You never want to see any kid in that position, let alone your kid.

And it was my kid.

The rain was pouring by now. Everyone was soaked. The kids squinted through the raindrops and the bright lights of the field. It was 9:30PM on a school night. Sean walked to the plate. He was 2 for 3 so far that night, and most nights he's 3 for 3. He was a decent player to have in this jam. He took to the plate, tapped it with his bat, bent at the knees and swung. Strike. He breathed, paused, and watched with a good eye as the next ball came by. He took the next ball, too. Then another swing--and a strike. And a ball. Bases loaded, two out, 3-2 pitch. Everyone was silent.

Swing.

Strike.

Our opponents took to the field in victory, but our side of the field began cheering, too. Sean was devastated, but everyone congratulated him and the rest of the team on an excellent season and a game well-played. They didn't let the other team win without a fight.

After the obligatory "good game, good game" team handshakes, our team had its usual post-game outfield huddle. I watched Sean walk slowly behind the rest of the kids, stopping to talk to Nolan who had waited for him. The coach draped an arm around Sean's shoulder and kept him by his side as he gave a pep talk to the team. The rain continued to pour. Lightning flashed not far away. Most parents began making their way to the snack bar, but I waited for Sean.

"He's crying," I said to Renee, who as always was right there with me.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, I can tell." My heart was heavy.

The team broke up with cheers and headed toward the snack bar for the requisite post-game hot dogs and soda, even at nearly 10PM on a school night. Sean was still on the field. In the rain, coach Anthony leaned in and gave him a hug, and Sean began sobbing. Anthony talked with him while coach Vinny, and enormous guy with a heart of gold, knelt down in the soggy field, looked Sean in the eye and said some encouraging, positive words. Renee and I watched from under our umbrellas. I was crying. And then Nolan showed up by my side, in tears. "I wanted to win!" he said. But he was really crying because his brother was crying. He's like that. Such a little brother.

Nolan tiredly trudged off to the snack bar, while Anthony walked Sean off the field. Cindy, Nicky's mom, was also in tears as she stood by me and Renee watching Sean.

Anthony came right up and hugged me. His voice was shaking and his eyes were wet. "Let me tell you," he said, his proud Roman nose giving away his heritage. "Your son is such a good kid. He even has me crying." Then he hugged Sean again. "It could have been anyone in your position tonight, Sean. But it was you. And in a heartbeat, I'd pick you to be in the same position again, because we can always count on you. You are a great player." He gave him the team ball. Sean choked out a few more sobs. Vinny came up to him and reiterated, "We'd pick you to hit in that spot anytime, Sean. This kind of strike out happens to every good player. It's part of the game."

Also part of the game is losing. Something that our opponents didn't have the opportunity to do as a team at all this year. I reminded the kids of this when they crawled into bed sometime after 10 PM. On a school night. (It was a school night. Did I mention that?)

"Those kids are in for a rude awakening next year when they lose. They don't know what it's like, and some of them might not be able to handle it," I said. "I know that sounds like a real 'mom' thing to say after your loss tonight, but it's true."

"I can't wait to beat them next year!" Sean exclaimed.

"I want to be ON that team next year!" said Nolan.

The boys woke up on the sleepy side of things yesterday morning, but Sean was feeling better about his role in the game and was anxious to get to school and tell everyone about it. Most of his friends were on other pee wee teams, all defeated by the #1 team. Everyone was waiting to hear what happened at the championship game. It had been the talk of the second grade for a few days. Sean could finally tell them that while they lost, it wasn't by much. All the kids were hoping that, at the very least, the championship wasn't just handed to the #1 team. Sean could proudly tell them it wasn't.

As the kids got ready for school, Sean said, "We're gonna CRUSH those kids next year!"

He was brushing his teeth while I folded bath towels.

"Well, Sean, just remember that the kids on that team are kids just like you," I said, like a typical mom.

"No they're not."

"Yes, they ARE. They're not evil. It's not like Darth Vader plays on that team, honey."

Sean spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink. "Yeah it is!"

Today the boys finished school. They walked out of the building as a first grader and a third grader. Unreal. We inaugurated summer vacation with a few hours with our friends and neighbors in their pool.

Nothing like a cool dip in a pool on hot day. Or a pool party. Coach Vinny is hosting one for all of the kids and parents in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing the kids together as a team again. They were a phenomenal bunch of kids. The kind of kids that went out of their way to high-five each others' successes, and give an encouraging "it's okay, good try" with a pat on the helmet when one of the teammates fell short.




Pre-game huddle on the mound during playoffs.




I'm feeling somewhat adrift and kinda bummed now that little league season is over. Maybe moreso than the kids.


I wonder when registration starts for Fall Ball.


xo

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

School's (almost) Out

Summer's officially here, and yesterday it started off with a bang! The weather was spectacular. Sunny, mid-80s. The boys enjoyed a lot of slip'n'slide funtimes when I came home from work, and after dinner they headed two houses over to the pool of their good friends, Kyle and Emily. I took Cee Cee on a long, hot walk and then jumped in and joined the four kids splashing and kicking and having a great time. Our wet bare feet left a trail of sleepy tracks across Kyle and Emily's driveway as we headed home at dusk. "Today was so much fun, I forgot it was Monday!" exclaimed Nolan.

It's hard to believe these kids still have a couple more days of school. I think New Haven goes longer than anyone else in the state. Honestly. We start too late, I think, with classes not really in full swing until after Labor Day. The kids are so ready for vacation. For summer camp with their best buddies. For long, late nights riding bikes outside with the neighborhood kids until dark. I'm ready, too. I'll be working most of the time they're off, but my relatively flexible schedule means I'll be able to pick them up from camp a few days a week in the midafternoon instead of dinnertime, giving us plenty of time to enjoy sunshine in the yard with the rest of the gang.

And yesterday's beautiful dawn of summer also gave way to my final career decision: After more than a year of weighing options, I've decided to go back for my masters and certification in early education special ed. I enjoy teaching, and my experience thus far as a yoga teacher and as a CCD teacher, especially, has proved it. I absolutely love kids, especially the preschool to eight year old set, which is the population I will be certified to work with. And special ed is just amazing. All kids have potential. And all kids learn differently. But first they need to have confidence in themselves. That's where I hope to help some kids see their own light.

So, that's that. I'm prepping for the Praxis and getting my ducks in a row. I've received a copy of my college transcript (and if I hadn't totally blown my freshman year I could have graduated with high honors!). I'm hoping for a lot of financial aid and a fast track through the certification process, while working toward my masters as I start teaching. We'll see what route I eventually take. First things first: Get accepted into my program of choice.

While I'm counting down the days until I can begin grad school, the boys and I are counting down the next 48 hours until school lets out. In the meantime, tonight the boys have a late championship little league game under the lights. Their team (2nd place, 10-1, 1 draw) vs. the first place team (11-0, 1 draw). Our team's one loss and draw were against the first place team. It's our hope tonight to steal some thunder. But either way, they've had a fantastic season.

So...summer's here again. I'm busy deciding what cute desserts to make for the 4th, which we'll celebrate right at home one our awesome little block. The 4th always makes me think of the bicentennial, which we celebrated when I was three. Some of my earliest memories are from that big party at Grandma's. I remember people...everywhere. Since my mom was just 21 then, and all of her siblings were younger, the house was always packed with teenagers and "young adults". It was always fun for me. Life was one big party during my formative years. The bicentennial was more of the same.

In many ways, I was raised by wolves.

Or, to prove my point, I was raised by these people:




I turned out okay. At least I think I did.


Happy summer!!

xo

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bunny Love

We had a tag sale a few weeks ago, got rid of several things, made a couple o' bills, and enjoyed a sunny day in the yard with our next-door neighbors who also had a tag sale. (Multi-family tag sales just draw better, right?)

For sale were relics of my past: a few wedding gifts from my first marriage, random household items, albums, comics, a motorcycle helmet, lots of jewelry. Anything about which I was entirely unsentimental went on the auction block, up for some front-yard haggling.

In the middle of it all the boys returned home from a night with their father, eager to get down to business selling some toys and earning some cash for new ones. "Every toy is $50," announced Nolan (6). Good luck with that, kid!

My ex-husband dropped a box at my feet. "Here's some more stuff from the basement," he said. For a few months, he has been cleaning out the basement of his mother's house, where we had long stored things that never fit into some of the small apartments in which we lived for many years, prior to marriage. In the box were a small stuffed bear, a baby doll, some beaded necklaces given to me by high school boyfriends, some old Pez dispensers (score!), and my bunny.

My bunny is a tiny, penny-sized plastic jack rabbit that I have had as long as I can remember. I recall being really fond of it when I was about five or six years old. I took it everywhere with me. I have one somewhat vague memory of playing with it on the cellar stairs at Grandma's, where I lived until I was eight years old.

Throughout my entire life, the bunny would disappear and then reappear many months or years later unexpectedly. It always felt like a good omen when it appeared again, like some link to my happy childhood memories. Like some kind of promise that things will be okay or some reminder that I am still that good, happy, sweet, round-faced little kid. I might be older and have stumbled a lot along the way, but I'm still that girl. The irony of its appearance is that a month or so ago I went looking for it. I felt like I needed it. I can't explain why. I just missed that little bunny, and I wanted to see it. It always amazed me that of all the things I've lost in life--earrings, socks, jobs, friends, money, love--my tiny bunny, no bigger than a thimble, managed to make it through space and time to my here and now, whenever that here and now seems to be.

As shoppers browsed our junk, I tucked the bunny, Pez dispensers and bear into a safe corner of the porch, far away from the tag sale items. (The rest of the things in the box immediately went up for sale.) I was so happy to see that bunny again. Like before, I vowed not to misplace it again--but obviously it's not up to me when this little guy shows up in my life.





xo

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Don't be a crepe hanger."

It's that time of year again. School is almost out. Kids are taking final exams. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. The NBA finals are in full-swing. The World Cup starts today! My boys start their little league playoffs on Sunday (after their final regular season games tonight and tomorrow).

And Grandma's headed back to the ring for her third bout with cancer.

It never really completely went away. She's 81. She beat back liver cancer (!!!!!) in '08, a cancer in a similar region last year, and now this. It's in the lining of the abdomen, as well as two other places. Surgery is not an option. The risks outweigh the benefits at this stage of the game in her life. But she'll be starting up chemo again as soon as next week.

And she's mad.

For the first time since her initial diagnosis in fall 2007, she seems angry. "You know," she told me, "I feel like every time I'm done with the chemo, then I'm done with the cancer. But that's not true." It's frustrating, for everyone. But in the face of it all, Grandma is so brave. So graceful. So classy. Even so vain. I remember how annoyed she was when she lost some hair the last time around. I honestly couldn't tell. But she could. And she was not happy about it. "Well I notice it, and I don't like it," she said. I don't blame her. And, given that she's a social butterfly with a full dance card (she just returned from her 60th college reunion), I don't blame her for wanting to look--and feel like she looks--her best.

At least I know where I get it from when I won't leave the house to walk the dogs without even a hint of lip gloss.

Recently on Facebook, my much-younger (read: 17 year old) sister lamented that exams are "stupid". What's the point of them? she wondered.

I guess academic exams are one way to test what lessons we've retained. But tests are also a way to measure our confidence, our stamina, or even our efforts at taking our best guesses and hoping for the best.

Maybe they really just measure our attitudes.

My attitude is softening. I initially freaked out after hanging up with my mother the other night, when she called to tell me the news of Grandma's returned cancer. I allowed myself to get really upset, rather than my usual MO of immediately soldiering on. This might not be a big deal to someone else, but considering I historically have not always allowed myself to feel *anything* remotely unpleasant (and then slip into weeks of acute anxiety and panic as a result of swallowing those emotions raw and whole), it was a very big deal that I let myself have a good cry before moving on with the information. I was way more equipped to accept the lack of control I have over the situation once I allowed myself to feel the icky things first: anger, sadness, fear. Ian hugged me for a long time, and I said, "I'm afraid of life without her. I need her." Just giving voice to that fear validated it--and let it go.

But I am accepting that Grandma has another battle to fight, and we don't know how it will end. It's not something most of us ever want to think about. In our youth-obsessed culture, there is no room for aging, illness, or death. There isn't room for wrinkles. Or pimples. Or even short eyelashes. (Honest to God--Latisse? Are you kidding me?) We're not comfortable with our human-ness. Grandma came from a different era, though, as evidenced by her account of her doctor's appointment and prognosis.

We chatted at great-grandma's old kitchen table from 388 High Street, which Grandma had refinished years ago. I had stopped by to see her on my way to work yesterday morning. I brought her delphinium from my garden, in thanks for the abundance of primrose she dropped at my house earlier in the week for transplanting into the empty edges of my yard. "Well, he was certainly serious about my prognosis," she said. "But he said I'm still robust."

Robust. My 81-year-old grandma is robust.

"It wasn't like he was a crepe hanger or anything." She paused and looked at me. "You probably don't even know what the expression means."

"Nope," I said. "Enlighten me."

"Before undertakers really got into the business, wakes were usually held in people's homes. When someone had died, their family would hang crepe paper and flowers on the front door, as a way to let people know there was a death in the home. I don't remember seeing them too often, but every once in a while we'd pass by a house as we walked to school when I was younger, and we'd see the crepe paper hanging. And then, you just knew."

The conversation moved on to other topics. She mentioned she hoped to make it to another one of the boys' little league games this weekend. And, as it was getting on in the morning, I reluctantly pushed back my chair from the table and said I should be going. I hugged Grandma and kissed her goodbye. And as I left, we took note of her garden bursting with primrose, tiger lilies, and hydrangea. "Everything is a couple of weeks early this year," she said. "Please come by and take more primrose from my yard. I mean it. I've got too much." She noted how it had spread into a wonderful bed around the perimeter of the cheerful, yellow clapboard-sided garage.

"It's so hardy, and it will do well anywhere. No matter what."

Like you, Grandma.



xo

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cutting Class for the Sweep

I love being the mom of boys. Seriously. Sometimes I think it might be nice to try for one more... maybe get "the girl". But in all honesty, I love the simplicity of life with boys. They are a joy. And they're old enough to do more than push around in strollers now, which is more fun for all of us. Yes, I love to cuddle and snuggle babies. But I also like getting predictable patterns of sleep nowadays. And I like that my kids can pour their own drinks and get their own snacks, too. And ride two-wheelers.

Yesterday, I had two of Sean's best buds and one of Nolan's best friends at the house after school. It was loud. Many Legos and Nerf guns were employed during the afternoon. And who needs a fort when you have a pick-up truck?


The fun just keeps coming, too. Today, I had the best time surprising Sean by picking him up early from school.

"Mom, why am I leaving early?"

"Maybe you have a doctor's appointment."

"Awww...."

"Or maybe you have a dentist appointment."

"Awww...."

"Or maybe you're going to Yankee Stadium today with Nicky and his parents!!!"

Hugs! Kisses! Jumping up and down! "Thank you, Mommy! Thank you! Thank you! THIS RULES!"

His happiness was brighter than the sun. I tossed him his hat and glove, and then we headed over to Nicky's.


I don't know who had more fun with this surprise--the kids or the parents. Mike and Cindy, Nick's parents, also picked up Nicky early and unannounced from school. And they never told him his BFF was coming with them. According to Cindy, as we pulled in the driveway he was asking, "But who is the fourth ticket for? And--wait! Why is Sean here?"

He was so excited, he scooped up Sean in his arms.


But with all the fun, there are growing pains. Nolan will be upset that he wasn't included in the Yankee Stadium class cutting bonanza today. He's buds with all of Sean's friends, so he often gets upset if Sean does something on his own with the 8-year-old set. He is slowly and unwittingly learning that they each have their own friends and have a right to do things once in a while only with those friends without including each other. It's a rough lesson, but he's accepting it, especially since so often they want to do things together as a group. I know that as they get older, their groups of friends will continue to overlap. For that I'm grateful. Nolan is extremely outgoing and personable, and he will always get along with Sean's buddies, and vice-versa. But they need to respect each others' right to have "their" friends to themselves once in a while.

Like today. At Yankee Stadium. Armed with his best friend, his glove, a pocket full of cash for buying overpriced Yankees Silly Bandz, and an epi-pen for the damn peanuts everywhere (and a firefighter chaperone to administer it if necessary!), Sean took off for an adventure he'll remember for a long time. It's a little scary to let go of any child, food allergies or not. But he's in good hands. And he's a good kid. He's growing up. And every day he and his brother teach me that the more joy and confidence I have in my own parenting will make their increasing independence easier to accept and something to celebrate. Like the woman in church told me several months ago, if I enjoy it now, it will be easier to let go later.

Little boys don't stay little forever. But then why is it that I often still feel like a "new" mom?

Go Yanks!

xo

Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer Kickoff

Memorial Day Weekend.
Two picnics.
Three days off.
Sunday morning long and leisurely family bike ride/beach combin'/playground excursion.
Burgers.
Dogs.
Gardening.
Beach.
Sunburn.
Cupcakes.
Summer buzzcuts for the kids in the backyard with their step daddy and some clippers.
Slip'n'Slide.
Popsicles.
Ice cream.
Kool Aid.
12-pack of seltzer downed in two days.
Kids in a hammock.
Neighbors.
Friends.
Fans in the window.
Warm, sunny house humid with the scent of freshly mowed grass.
Oriole overhead.
Yanks games on CBS radio.
Tired dogs.
Bare feet.
Late showers.
Wrapping Nolan's birthday presents.
Baking birthday breakfast muffins.


Nolan's going to be six. Unreal.



The money shot of the June 1 birthday boy, taken today by my great friend (and neighbor!) Mary:



Summer's just begun.

xo

Friday, May 28, 2010

From 388 High Street, with Love

The kids outgrew their bunk bed a lot faster than I had anticipated they would when we bought the thing from Ikea two years ago. My husband, hateful of Ikea furniture and, even moreso, the assembly of it, felt like the kids should sleep in that bed forever simply for the sweat he put into it. But two years later, they're done.

Nolan was on the bottom and didn't mind it too much, except that he's growing and had begun banging his head on the base of the top bunk on occasion. And Sean.... Sean was, to use his words, "lonely up there". He didn't like not being able to see his brother when they chatted in the darkness before sleep. He didn't like having his brother stir every time he tossed and turned in bed--and Sean moves a lot when he sleeps. And he cried big tears several times because not one of our three dogs could cuddle with him up on the top bunk, while Nolan's bed was a veritable den of happiness.

It was time to replace the beds.

One thing was certain: I didn't want to replace one Ikea bed with two Ikea beds, if at all possible. And then I remembered something wonderful: In the basement of my ex-husband's house, two twin beds from my great-grandmother's house were being stored. I quickly emailed him.

"Do you still have the beds from Great Grandma's?"

"Yep."

SWEET!

They're old. How old, I don't know. But the thing is, they're real. No particleboard. No dowels. No printed instructions with a picture of a little guy and a question mark over his head. The beds are a matched pair of rock maple twins from around the 40s--maybe. The royal We (read: Ian) moved them from my ex-husband's house to ours, cleaned them up, and began the process of dismantling and reassembling the kids' room to fit the new sleeping arrangements.

Last weekend we tackled the beast, once and for all. The old bed came down; the new beds went up, and now the kids are sleeping in beds (well, in frames anyway) that I slept in as a kid when I used to visit my great grandmother up at her house in Webster, MA. Nostalgia kind of overwhelmed me, in a good way, when the room was complete and the beds were made. I clearly remember all the hundreds of times my grandmother and I would go visit her mother, and we'd sleep in the twin beds in the bedroom at the top of the wide staircase. I remembered leaping out of bed and running to the kitchen at the back of the house when I heard the train whistles blowing in the middle of the night, hoping to catch a glimpse through the trees of the freight cars shooting past at the bottom of the hill below the massive green Victorian on the corner of Hill and High Streets.

The boys love their "new" room. They love their racks of trophies and shelves of inventions. They love that their closet is now a secret hide-out. They love their new, "normal" beds. They love that the beds are an old part of our family. "Which bed did you sleep in, Mom? Which one did Grandma sleep in?" I slept by the one near the window, kid, whichever one that is.

388 High Street belongs to another family now. It was a spectacular home built in the 1890s by my cousins the McGauley's when they arrived from Ireland. My great grandparents raised a family there, and my great aunt and uncle lived on the first floor until the mid-90s. The wrap-around porch is gone. The clapboard siding has been covered in boring, beige vinyl. The hedgerows are unkempt. No one in the family likes to take a drive by there anymore, even if they find themselves in the area.

But the stories--and the beds--still belong to us. Last night I climbed the stairs and checked on the boys one last time before turning in. I could hear the echoing clang-clang of the buoys in the harbor. Not far away, a train sounded its horn as it approached Union Station. Nolan was sound asleep in the bed by the window. And Sean was sleeping snugly in his bed by the wall, with Cee Cee curled up by his side.


xo

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flutter

I split from work for a half hour or so mid morning. It was sunny and warm. The perfect time to escape the workday cavern for a couple of errands. As I shot down one of the streets near my office, I caught a fluttering of white rising up out of the corner of my eye.

Doves.

Someone on that street must train them to release (and, I'd think, return). I slowed down my car to a crawl in the middle of street, since no one was behind me. What a beautiful sight to see the doves circle the house together, several times. There had to have been at least 10 of them. Flutter, flutter, flutter.... disappear... Flutter, flutter, flutter... Bright white ribbons weaving in and out of sunshine between the trees.

It made me happy.


In other news, Sean has to carry an Epi Pen on him this summer at the camp he will be attending. The allergist said that eight years old is the perfect age to be able to self-administer; good thing, because he'll have to self-administer at camp. This has me nervous for the simple fact that historically, Sean's few major anaphylaxis attacks have been pretty swift and violent. I'm concerned he won't be able to respond appropriately once he realizes what's going on, or that he'll panic.

I was talking this over with Mike, the father of one of Sean's closest friends who will also be attending the camp. A friend and coworker of his runs the snack bar at the beach where Sean will be at camp. "He has guys fill in for him at work, and he's there all the time," Mike said. I know the guy. I make small talk with him whenever I see him at the snack bar in summer. He always waves when I'm out walking the dog(s) down there or around the neighborhood, and I used to live around the corner from him in my old divorced-mom apartment by the beach.

In short, I trust him.

And since he's a firefighter/EMT, it's reassuring to know that someone who knows how to handle a possible emergency allergic situation will be there for Sean. And I'm sure Sean's not the only kid with an allergy who will be at the camp this summer.

"I'll tell ya what," Mike said. "I'll introduce Seany to him, and maybe he'll even keep an epi for him in the back somewhere, just in case, even though Seany'll be carrying one." Hey, man. Why not? All of Sean's closest friends have epi's at their homes.

Perhaps the most challenging thing in all of this is making sure Sean carries his medicine with him, and that it's adequately shielded from extreme temperatures and light. So I've begun the process of browsing for carriers. Not just any carrier. But one that an eight year old boy won't think is lame and will actually keep on him. Wish me luck.

I've found a few, and I've considered just making one since I can drive a sewing machine pretty well. But the specialty fabrics required for insulation and UV protection are just as pricey as some of the carriers. Might as well buy something already made.

I'm grateful Sean is surrounded by lots of caring people. It makes the transition into greater autonomy and independence with respect to responsibility for management of his allergies all the easier.

But who am I kidding? I'll be worried. Every day. Despite the fact that the firehouse is three blocks away from the camp, and that the engine from that house spends most of its time down at the snack bar during summer anyway. I'm Sean's mom. He's got some serious food allergies. He's growing up and growing into his place in this world. I worry. It's what I do. I'm prone to anxiety anyway, something I've been managing for years. But like anything, this is a fear I must simply face, accept, float through, allow to pass. I can't control every aspect of Sean's life or allergy management as he gets older. I can't be there every minute. But I can prepare him for it.

Face, accept, float...

Flutter, flutter, flutter....


xo

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not Every L.E.O. is an A.S.S.

We've had some issues in town lately with a particularly rogue cop being rehired by the NHPD after initially losing his job due to some nefarious off-duty behavior in which he flaunted his status as a police officer. You can read all about it here.

I don't support the rehiring of this guy. At all. But I am also not among the legions of cop-haters out there.

The fact is, these guys and girls in blue never know what they're walking into when they respond to a call. (Drug busts be damned. Domestics can be some of the sketchiest calls to which they respond.) I will never forget the bust I called in when I lived in my old neighborhood. I watched from the window as Officer Lalli approached the "suspicious" vehicle (later found to have had more than $2k in heroin and $2k in cash in it), and I thought: "Oh my God. What if he gets shot at? What if the guy behind the wheel tries to run him over?" It flat-out freaked me out, maybe more so because I was the one who called it in. If something happened to the cop, I felt like it was my fault.

Nothing happened to Lalli. But in another New Haven Independent article today, I came across a photo that brought back that same anxious feeling I had a few years ago watching Lalli approach the car in front of my house. This photo (taken by the NHI's Zeke Miller) is of the NHPD's Lt. Velleca, approaching a residence in attempt to serve a murder warrant this morning.




Yes, some cops suck. So do some doctors. And teachers. And priests. And cable guys.

But to the cops who bring dignity to their role in (and out) of uniform, this taxpayer--and mother of at least one boy who wants to be a detective when he grows up--says thank you.

xo

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's All Local

Tonight I'll be heading down to the sleepy firehouse community room at Engine 16 for our monthly neighborhood management meeting, where we'll address the current issues facing our little community by the sea and the city in general. The city budget will likely be on the agenda in some form, and it is my hope to attend the final vote on the mayor's budget proposal next week. I hope to see it fail. There are better solutions than to raise our already obscenely high property taxes. And I resent the administration's push to scare the parents and children of New Haven Public Schools with the threat of cuts in education if the mayor's budget proposal is not approved as is.



So this little post is to remind everyone that you have a voice. If you don't like what you see happening in your local--or national--government, step up and say something. One voice, no matter how small, cannot be ignored en masse. You'll likely find that many other share your viewpoint. And our country was founded on this notion that we can agree to disagree in public forums. Unfortunately, that means the likes of Sarah Palin will get equal, or even disproportionate, airtime in our current media. Ah, the media. A topic for another day.



As I gear up for the meetings that lay ahead, I'm proud of whatever small role I've had thus far in our city, from having face time with the mayor in protest of the NHPS annual registration debacle, or showing up at environmental presentations and budget hearings to display posters in opposition to the mayor's proposals. The next few months I will enjoy a more open schedule as our school-year committments die down. I'll be able to make it to more management meetings. I'll be able to put my energy into making New Haven just a little bit better of a city in which to live.



I know some people don't understand it, but I love New Haven. I don't want to leave it. But I can't stay here passively. Democracy is not a spectator sport. And as I walk a little further down the road of local politics, I'm making more friends and happily educating my children in the importance of the First Amendment. "I can't afford to love New Haven!!," Sean read aloud from the poster on our front door and on my car's rear window. "No tax increase!!!"


He looked at me. "Why does the mayor want us to pay more money to live here?"



"Because it takes money to run the city and its parks and all the other stuff the city offers, and he gets most of that money from people who live here."



"Why not just charge us less money and have less stuff in the city?"



Sean gets it. He's in second grade.






xo

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Is there going to be a quiz on this?"

Catechism classes ended tonight. We won't meet again until fall. And I, the accidental teacher who fell into the first-grade gig by way of checking the "willing to volunteer" box on Sean's CCD application in August, will miss it.

I'll be happy to have my Monday nights back, at least for a few months. But I will miss teaching. I will miss "my kids". I'm sad they're moving on and also looking forward to the new crop of kids, which will include my son Nolan and several of his friends. I'll be better equipped to teach next year. This year, my students taught me so much. The only way to repay them is to pay it forward.

They taught me patience. They taught me that I had a greater well of compassion in me than I thought possible. They taught me that no matter what, there is always another way to look at something or a new way to teach a lesson. They taught me that it's crucial we don't lose the most important teaching in all of our dogmatic exercises: Love.

Being with my students every Monday night, hearing their questions about God and tending to the occasional hurt feelings and temporarily broken friendships among them all amounted to one thing: Love wins. Love is the only thing they truly understand. It's simple. It's uncomplicated. And kids don't understand why grown-ups go and complicate it with so many rules and parameters. God created us because he loves us. He gave us life, which is an amazing gift. What more do we need to know? (Well, we need to know a lot if we want to be little Judeo-Christian scholars and make our sacraments. And the more we know about Catholicism, the more we can understand other religions, too. But I digress.)

Love knows no dogma. Love knows no rules. It's unstoppable. It's powerful. It comes in so many forms. And my students taught me that I am capable of loving others without expecting a single thing from them. Yes, my own children have helped teach me this lesson, but my students helped me believe I was capable of it beyond motherhood. The truth is that pure, good love doesn't want too much. It's content with the gift of loving another for who that person is. It's content with watching that person grow and blossom and bloom into an amazing person. Motherhood began this wellspring; teaching furthered it. What a bonus.

I like to think it's something that extends to marriage and other adult relationships. I suppose it's possible, though when we tangle up our lives with others on paper with mortgages and such, the purity of love can get lost in the shuffle of files and signatures. Expectations are part of the package; and so unmet expectations are to be had, too. But if you step back from it all and see love for what it is--a thing that grows without effort or even much tending. A thing that flourishes if we nurture it just a little. A feeling that makes our hearts swell with something that can only be summarized in Jerry Maguire's cheesy way: "You complete me." Whether it's romantic love or a hug from a child, that pure level of sincere regard and affection is just mind-blowing.

So, I love my students. They frustrated the hell outta me some nights. They didn't always behave. But class met at 6PM on Mondays, and the kids were just six years old. They were tired. They were hungry. They didn't understand why they had to be in class learning about God, when they already knew that God is love. And that they need to show that same kind of love to each other.

They did want to know if there would be a quiz on all of it at the end of the year.

There was.

We ate cake, played hangman and shared our goody bags.


xo

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bites

It's Food Allergy Awareness Week. I've posted a link to a video that I would like you to watch in honor of Sean, several of his friends and all of the little kids out there with life-threatening food allergies. The anxiety parents face when dealing with their children's food allergies is immense. And helping our children grow up in a world that can be so threatening at the end of a fork is sometimes overwhelming. The teen years and adulthood loom ahead. I just hope Sean and his friends learn to respect their allergies enough not to take unnecessary risks. For them, that means not getting a cone at Ashley's or joining other friends for Thai food. Or, as they get older, not kissing a girlfriend or boyfriend if that person has eaten peanuts, tree nuts, or shellfish, or whatever their particular allergen is.

To say I'm terrified is an understatement. But at the same time, I walk the tightrope between vigilance and acceptance. I don't want Sean to grow up to be paranoid and anxious when it comes to food or anything else. Nor do I want him to be cavalier toward his allergy. Already, at age 8, he must be able to self-administer his Epi-Pen at the summer camp he will attend. This will require a lot of practice with the tester, and a lot of hope that he never has to use it.

When Sean goes to friends' houses, it can be unnerving. But I often have the luxury of knowing that the parents of those friends either know how to use the epi becuase their children are allergic, or because one of the parents is a firefighter/EMT, since Sean's two closest, "bestest" friends are sons of firefighters. Providential, really. And uncanny.



So please watch this. It might help you have a bit more empathy for chidren with food allergies and their families. Or if your child is allergic, this video might help you, like me, feel less alone. I unexpectedly burst into tears watching it. It was comforting to know I'm not the only parent that worries every time I say goodbye to my child as he leaves for school, camp, or any activity where I can't monitor every single bite he takes. I just hope I've done my job well enough for him to make the right decisions thus far. I'm terrified that there will be some mistake, some slip-up along the way. But I can't let that fear rule my life or, more importantly, his.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-47w1JzlRE


xo

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Empty Nest

The trees are gone.

The tree guy showed up Friday and took down three massive, dead trees in our back yard, leaving only the tulip tree and a couple of tiny stragglers. The tree guy really wanted to take down the tulip. He was chainsaw-happy. "That tree is going to be enormous in just a few more years," he warned. But we're happy with it. When we're ready, we'll take it down. Right now, it's healthy. So it stays.

There are plenty of other trees around the perimeter of our property. Behind the property line is an urban classification of "woods": Roughly 50 yards of dense brush and trees. And my neighbor Mary's tree likes to hang out on our side of the property, dropping buds or leaves.

Or birds.

Late Sunday afternoon, Ian walked into the house from the day's spring heatwave and said, "Did you see the dead birds in the backyard?"

I was startled. "What are you talking about?"

"There are a dead baby birds in the yard, right by the house."

I went out and inspected, with Nolan by my side. Sean leaned into the screen of the living room window that overlooks the yard and chimed in. "Yep, I see them," he said, Wii controller in hand. "They look ... dead." Seconds later I heard Super Mario bleeping and blooping through the window.

Nolan and I crouched and examined the birds, which were identical except that one was very tiny, and the other was nearly twice the size. But both had only recently hatched. Their little bird bodies were featherless and had swollen bellies. They looked as if their eyes had never even opened.

"What happened, Mom?" Nolan asked.

"They were probably sick, or there was something wrong with them, and so the mama bird kicked them out of the nest," I said. We both looked up at Mary's tree. We couldn't see a nest, but it had to be up there.

I grabbed two trowels from my gardening bin in the garage and gently used one to carefully scoop the birds into the other. Nolan, my willful assistant, asked to serve as pallbearer and carried the birds to the spot by the garage where we would bury them. Earlier this spring we buried Timmy, our turtle, over there. Next to his cross, I dug a hole, and Nolan unceremoniously dumped the two baby birds into it. "Can we dig up Timmy to see if he's disintegrated?" Nolan asked.

"No. We just buried two animals. We're not digging up any bodies."

We said a quick prayer, covered the hole with dirt, checked out the tree once more, and then went inside to wash our hands.

A few hours later, after dinner, Ian walked into the kitchen from the yard where he was playing with the dogs.

"There's another bird out there."

I was incredulous. "Are you kidding me?" I threw on my gardening clogs and ran out, joined by Nolan decked out in pajamas and flip flops. There, in the exact spot where the first two birds were found, we found a third. But this one wasn't dead. He was still breathing. I looked up. I wanted to find this nest. I wanted to shake this mama bird and have her tell me why the hell she was throwing her babies to the wind. I speculated that maybe the nest was in one of our gutters. Ian crawled onto different levels of the roof to inspect. From every angle he could find no evidence of a nest.

Next door, Mary ran out onto her deck, seeing me visibly upset from her side of the fence. "What's wrong?" she exclaimed, thinking something might have happened to one of the kids. When I explained the mystery of it all, she disappeared to get her binoculars and returned, as eager as me to figure out where the nest might be.

While Mary scanned the branches for empty nests, I once again grabbed two trowels to gingerly scoop up the baby bird. The heartbreak! The little bird silently opened its mouth in fear or pain when I gently rolled him into the trowel. He never opened his eyes, but his great big, yellow mouth was fixed in a smile, though I don't think he was very happy. His breathing seemed labored, and he appeared to shiver. There was so little we could do for him, except try to make him comfortable. I tore an enormous tulip leaf from its stem and made a little tent around him in the trowel, hoping that maybe it would make him just a little less cold.

Nolan asked a lot of questions and was full of suggestions to fix the situation. "Why did he fall? Why is his sick? What can we feed him? If we can't throw up food into his mouth like a mama bird, maybe we can find a mama bird who will. What if we give him really clean, mushy worms? Can he eat those? Maybe we should go to the pet shop and get a mama bird and a bird tank and he can live with the new mama bird in the bird tank." Bird tank. Melt my heart.

I had to break it to him that the bird wasn't going to make it, but I didn't have the heart to tell him that no other mother would want to care for it. Besides, that wasn't true. I wanted to care for it. I just wasn't equipped to do so.

We never found the nest. Night was closing in and the sun had set. After staring at the little bird for a long time, I decided it was time to put him somewhere relatively safe. I refused to bury him--he wasn't dead yet! But we couldn't keep him. So Nolan and I opened the gate at the back of our property, and gently placed him on a nest of sorts--a pile of leaves and grass in the "woods" behind the house. "Give him his blanket!" Nolan said, concerned. I covered the bird with the big tulip leaf, and we said goodbye.

Today I scooted home at lunch to let out the dogs and take Cee Cee on a quick walk in the brilliant afternoon sunshine. As we headed back toward home, I enjoyed a welcome sight: an empty, broken robin's egg lay on the sidewalk. I smiled. Somewhere in the branches above me, a baby bird was warm and cozy with its mama.


xo