Going the Distance


It’s almost 11 p.m.

We’re waiting for her call.

Byron would like to go to sleep. Yet I would like him to be the one who responds to her. My legs are tired. I’m in my pajamas, a glass of wine on the side table.

When she calls or texts, she will tell us she’s home from the track meet, that the bus is in the high school parking lot. One of us will walk the three blocks to the school to retrieve her.

If I could drive over, I’d be more willing to be the parent on retrieving duty. There I’d sit in my old car, idling, burning gas, staying warm, hoping the buses pull in soon so I can grab my kid, smile internally while pointedly not talking to her, go to bed, and leap up again too few short hours later.

But when I joked a few months ago about driving the three blocks to get our daughter after a ski meet, my pure, principled, stand-up husband said, “That’s a slippery slope. We live really close to the school. We shouldn’t open the door on opting to drive over. There’s no reason we can’t walk.”

One of us comes from a family where members have gone years without eating meat, sugar, or caffeine.

I come from a family where we stood in the garage at the open deep freeze, holding a spoon, hovering over a box of ice cream, waiting for the edges to soften so we could dig out triangles from the corners.

Despite my corner-cutting upbringing, it is easy for me to agree with my husband’s sentiment that it’s best not to hop in the car just because we’re tired, and our day feels Done. I get exasperated with the American habit of driving a hundred yards, from the Best Buy to the Target, rather than walking. I am conscious of the limited resources and borrowed time we heedlessly gobble up, like they’re an Egg McMuffin with a side of French Toast Sticks. I am frustrated by people who complain about the price of gas and own remote starters for their cars.

Show me a tree. I will hug the bark off that sap-dripper.

So, okay. We won’t get into the habit of driving over for late-night pick-ups.

We’ll walk.

Blessedly, the walk is bliss.

Darkness. Cool air. Shadowy branches swaying gently overhead, their claws finger painting the sky. The hush that reminds us everyone else is hunkered down inside, watching Fallon, making tomorrow’s lunches, reading three pages before the book hits the nose. To walk outside late at night feels delicious, nearly illicit.

Sometimes Byron and I flip a coin, draw straws, make a case, just to be the lucky one who gets to walk over. Those seven minutes are an unparalleled swing through an alternate universe, a private meditation broken only by arrival at the high school, that hulking building with lights ablaze, where the reek of diesel, the line of chugging parent pick-up cars, the heap of bags being offloaded from storage compartments–all yank the dreamy walker back to crisp, hard reality.

For me, whenever I reach the parking lot, I am buzzing with happiness. Usually, because it’s late at night, my hair is slightly damp from an earlier shower. Usually, because it’s cold or I’m worried I’ll be late, I trot my way from home to the school. Usually, I’m breathless.

And then I stand outside the buses, scanning their windows, trying to spot my girl.

I stand, waiting in darkness.

Somewhere inside the bus, she mills in the light.

Sleepy, soft, yawning, reminding me of toddlers waking from their afternoon naps, the teenagers adjust their ponytails, elbow their friends, bend down to pick up back-packs. Inside the illuminated bus, the sprinters, pole vaulters, and hurdlers gather themselves, preparing to face the cold, to meet their parents’ questions, to remember unfinished homework, to make their way home and dive under the covers, only to leap up again too few short hours later.

There she is. My specific girl.

She won’t be talkative. Questions about how her race went will be deflected. Yes, she ran a personal record, shaving fifteen seconds of her previous best time. She’ll shuck off my enthusiasm. On her talented team, at her big school, a 6:28 mile is nothing. She was only put into the race because the juniors were taking the ACT that day. A 6:28 mile places her middle-to-back of the pack, forty seconds behind the front runners, the last of the four runners from her team, for sure.

Side by side, we’ll walk home, the shadowy branches swaying gently overhead, their claws finger painting the constellation of a runner darting across the sky. I’ll try not to monologue, lecture, effuse about how, in the larger scope of the world, her ability to run stands out as a gift. I’ll refrain from putting her performance into a larger, more meaningful, context. I’ll let us glide home on the quiet of the world. I’ll let her figure out, deep in her hidden recesses, what today’s performance on the track means.

I’ll offer to carry her clarinet. I won’t ask if she read the assigned 112 pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.

None of this will not happen tonight, though.

My legs are tired. I’m in my pajamas, a glass of wine on the side table.

It’s Byron’s night.

When he reads her message, the one that notifies, “15 minutes,” he’s brushing his teeth. He comes in to say, “I’m heading out now,” and his eyes are bleary, tomorrow’s whiskers already sprouting.

Looking at his face, adjusting the fleece blanket draped across my lap, I offer, “I’m happy to go, you know. You need bed. I’ll get her.”

“No,” he assures me. “I want to go. I love the walk.”

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birthdays friends define us Girl they cut the music program

The Kids Are on Spring Break This Week, Which Means I’ve Been Playing with Clay and Moon Sand and Building Towers out of Blocks and All Sorts of Other Things That Aren’t Blogging–Which Pretty Much Explains Why This Post Is Heavy on Pictures


This punkin’ right here had a sleepover birthday party last Friday night. As of this writing (the Thursday following the party), I’ve almost recovered.  I’ll also attribute my slow recovery to the fact that Groom was out of town for a couple of days after the party, and during his absence I took the kids to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and, well, Paco processes stimuli pretty deeply, so he was up four times that night “because I just keep seeing bad pictures in my head.”  I was seriously sympathetic, as nothing plants bad pictures in one’s head as effectively as a film about the horrors of middle school.  By 2 a.m., the night of the movie, Paco and I were laying in bed, clutching each other, whimpering sleepily to the universe, “No more mean kids.  Stop teasing us.  I’m sorry my bike is dumb, and my clothes aren’t cool.  I won’t ever try to sit by you at lunch again.  Why can’t we all be friends?”

At any rate, after a couple nights of getting four hours of sleep, and since I’m no Margaret Thatcher or Octomom (both avowed “just give me a couple hours of nod, and I’m ready to rule the kingdom” types), my All Kinds of Everything were a bit out of whack.

However, Punkin’ Girl’s sleepover party was worth the resultant foggy head.  Not only was it terrific fun for her and her friends, but the occasion of the party helped me put more time into a burgeoning friendship myself.

And honestly, once the School Years are over, doesn’t it become increasingly hard to make deep, lasting, meaningful friendships?  Sure, there’s the bar.  You know, where you meet people whose charms become translucent in the daylight when all beer has evaporated from the skull.  And I guess it’s possible to make friends at work, but, frankly, I recoil from that idea–simply because we share an employer doesn’t mean I don’t want to slap you for asserting that homeless people are on the streets by conscious choice, O Righteous Colleague.  Oh, and there is always the possiblity of befriending a neighbor, as has happened in my adult life, but the honest truth is that a conversation with the neighbor often starts with Her Nice Self admitting, “I’m pretty obsessive about doing laundry” to which my only rejoinder is, “Uh, I’m pretty obsessive about Philip Roth and the heroic work of genius that is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.”  After that, we lapse into confused silence, her craving her fabric softener, me craving my bookies. 

Thus, when a new, adult girlfriendship comes galloping out of the mist, it’s a rare treat.  Over the last few months, this has been happening for me.  Her name is Kirsten, and she’s married to my Great Life Pal Virginia.  You can probably see already how much we have in common:  we both love lesbians.  Kirsten is one, and I am an admirer of many–and not only for their cleverness in finding a life that gives them double the wardrobe for half the cost.  I also admire that they have found a life that assures them of a tampon in every cupboard.

Anyhoodle, Virginia is 73, and Kirsten is 37, and their May/December relationship is beautiful.  I’ve known for 14 years that Virginia is one of my bosom besties, but it’s only recently that I’m getting to spend enough time with Kirsten to love her, too.  Girl’s sleepover party cemented it.

…because, a few months ago, when Girl was first begging to have seven of her closest friends sleep over for her birthday, I had to cover my eyes with cucumber slices and say, “If I can’t see you, I can’t hear you!”  Internally, I knew I could probably go up to four girls without losing sanity.  But seven

Thank you, no.

However, Kirsten overheard this conversation and commented, “A bunch of ten-year-old girls?  Sleeping over?  That is SOOOO up my alley.”

Kirsten works in a high school for a program that aims to keep teens off drugs and booze.  For her, a sleepover with a passle of ‘tweens is like putting training wheels back on the bike.

Hearing Kirsten’s comment, I turned to her and said, “If you come do the party, then, it’s a go.”

I. had. no. idea. what. we. were. getting. into.

In a good way.

Kirsten, em, has lots of ideas…like how it should be a lip smackers (think kid lip gloss) themed party, and how she’d make a pinata that looked like a tube of smackers, and how she could set up her Wii with a projector, and how fun it would be to make and laminate a stack of lip smacker-Bingo cards, and how, once Girl said she wanted to host her party at The Lip Smackers Hotel, Kirsten would put together complimentary shampoos and conditioners and facial soaps for each girl’s gift bag…

and so on.

Plus more.

Kirsten doesn’t live in our fair burg, so she drove to Duluth a few days before the party, which was good, because it gave her time to learn how to use fondant when icing cakes that are designed to look like round lip smacker tins (in various flavors!).  It also gave us time to eat out, go for walks, buy shoes, and share stories of life traumas.

Because Girl wanted to celebrate with her friends, I got to make a new one.

So here are a few shots of the party:

The event began with guests being asked to check in and sign the registry at the Lip Smackers Hotel.  Once each guest had been issued her room key (which Girl made weeks beforehand), she was invited to partake in some resort games in the lobby.

The girls, when they’ve come over in smaller packs at other times, have often brought their instruments.  To them, playing together is the height of fun.  It is at this juncture that I’d like to shake my fist at the sky and curse the Duluth School District, an entity which recently announced that it is cutting all “magnet” programs in the public schools, such as the music enrichment program at my kids’ school.  We got Girl on a waiting list for this school when she was 18 months old.  The fact that most of the music will be cut starting next year makes me triply glad we’re pulling our kids from the district and booking out of here for a year.  I’m not ready to think about what we’ll do upon our return, but it might involve shoving a viola bow up a superintendent’s heinie.

Spontaneous ensembles surfaced throughout the evening.  You should hear their “Theme from Star Wars.”

For Girl, there in the orange and white (did I forget to mention that each girl came dressed in a lip smacker flavor, and then everyone had to guess what type of num she was?  Girl was Orange Creme), playing instruments with friends was her dream gift.

Pinata time out back…moments after this photo was taken, the skies unleashed torrents of rain and Berry Berry Burst lip smackers.

Paco takes a whack at the pinata.  Kirsten made it out of two Quaker Oats containers duct-taped together. 

That right there explains why I like her, ja?

Paco is remarkably supportive during gift opening.

All of you scary stalker pree-vert Interwebs types need to NOT see the name on these cakes…but they’re just so fabulous, and I’m so bad at Photoshop, that I had to put up this unedited photo of them.  Isn’t fondant rockin’?

Here’s what I want to shout, “Look, Kirsten, how happy you made our Girl! You own a piece of her now!”

Kirsten was worried about managing to break through the protective cake shield that is fondant…but the slicing went easy as pie.  Er, cake.

Girl wanted to play a packing game during which a blindfolded packer has one minute to fill a suitcase as fully and neatly as possible.  We went through multiple heats and got startling insights into some characters.  Just a heads-up to the world:  there’s a ten-year-old named Kiana whom you should hire for any precision work you might ever have.  However, as her employer you might also have to pay a substantial amount towards her anti-anxiety medication, as well.  Fair warning.

And of course, what did the audience do in between heats of the packing game? They diddled out a little “French Folk Song.”

In fact–and I was about to type here that “they went on to diddle until 3:30 in the morning,” but realizing the various ways that phrase can be construed, I refrained–the crew of them didn’t go quiet until 3:30 a.m.

They were aiming for 6 a.m., but since two of them were being picked up at 7:30 in the morning to go play in a basketball game, we insisted on some sleep.

At 2 a.m., I started getting threatening. And tired. Really tired. The kind of tired that makes one wonder where she’ll find the assertiveness to rein in a flock of giggling 4th graders.


Ah, yes.

In the form of a new friend. Kirsten drew upon her theater experiences and, sitting right outside the girls’ bedroom door, acted The Enforcer. Using a deep, strong, scary teacher voice, she called out “GIRLS! YOU NEED TO QUIET DOWN NOW!” every few minutes. Eventually, after 3 a.m., when the whole thing was distintegrating, she gave them:


With that, the place fell silent, the cadre of friends abashed enough to allow sleep to overtake them.

And with that, my new friend and I, laying on our bellies in the hallway, collapsed into giggles

worthy of 4th graders.

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birthdays Girl the progression to eye rolling

She Ought to Be in Pictures

Nine years ago, a piece of my heart started to live outside of my body. Or, as my pal Pammy puts it, “Having children is like being held hostage by the world; you’ll do anything the universe demands to assure their safe passage.”

Girl slides safely out of my passage.

In her first year of life, she slept in her own vomit on New Year’s Eve (more killer parenting tips available soon in the paperback release of my book If Baby Is Still Breathing in the Morning, Then You ARE a Good Mommy, No Matter What Social Services Tries to Report), which burned the skin off her cheek…

…perhaps as payback for her having screamed for eight hours one night at a campsite in Yellowstone Park. That night, at 3 a.m., Groom finally bundled her into the car and drove her around the park for several hours until they both conked out at a scenic overlook. To this day, the words “Norris Geyser Basin” are synonymous in our household with “that could not possibly have sucked more.”

A year later, she was heading towards two:

Pigtails kept the hair out of her raging double ear infection. And after three nights of no sleep for anyone, we ripped those ruby slippers off her feet and stuffed them right up the Tin Man’s rusty, er, tailpipe.


Then she was two:

The transformative event of her life happened, and her vocation–no, not playing slots at the casino–was discovered. The arrival of Baby Brother Paco/Niblet gave her a purpose. She continues to serve as ballast to his tipsy keel.

After she hit three:

Part imp, part back rest, she twirled and cavorted, sold us plastic food at her grocery store, changed outfits 17 times a day, and slept through the night for the first time.


As a four-year-old:

Under threat of, “Either hold still and let me brush your hair, or we’ll snip it into a no-maintenance pixie cut,” she announced, “I think we should cut it, then, because I don’t have holding still in me.”

Life’s greatest privilege remained propping up her best buddy.

…unless Lawrence Welk was on, and there was polka-ing to be done. Then, as she jumped up to dance, he could fall with a thud, for all she cared.

When she was five:

Her demonstrative love interferred with mealtime…

…while her solidity propped up the very trees.

She was six, and:

She built a town in Canada…

and crept up to “boo” her harem of one.

Amazingly, suddenly she was seven:

And she was all courage,

and capability,

and unflappable serenity.

Next came eight:

a year of honing balance,

making static dynamic,

and mastering the absorbed arpeggio.

And now she is nine:

…the embodiment of lovely.

What’s more:

The baby who didn’t sleep is now a girl who checks her alarm clock through the night, lest she miss her bus.

The toddler with an ear infection swims laps, makes assists on the soccer field, monkeys around the jungle gym, and jumps rope backwards.

The delighted two-year-old who held an infant brother now chooses his clothes and gets him dressed before leaning to me and whispering conspiratorially, “He’s in a bit of a mood, isn’t he?”

The wee elf of twirling and clothes changes now monologues, “I’m not so much of a fashion girl–not that liking fashion is bad; I just don’t care if my clothes match.” A breath later, she asks if we can go shopping for ballet flats and notes that if Paco wants some, too, he should get some, perhaps a shiny, metallic pair.

The pixie-ish preschooler treasures long tresses and insists, “I read in an American Girl book that a ‘sleeping braid’ will keep the knots out.”

The solid, loving kindergartener still carries her brother from room to room and brings him bandaids. At school, her teacher chose her from the class for the Citizenship award while we all marvel that she jotted down “misspell” correctly on her weekly pretest, when no one else did.

The first grader who built and crept now studies maps of Stonybrook, Connecticut, the fictional town of the Babysitter’s Club series, quizzing me nightly on which is Mallory’s house. She no longer scares anyone–unless it’s 7 p.m. on a Monday, and she’s just home from Girl Scouts and has four pages of homework but would rather do somersaults in the living room. Her mood teeters on a ledge, and Kleenex may be needed.

The courageous, capable, unflappable seven-year-old continues to impress. I am ageing easily, knowing that she will one day be handling my estate and shunting me into the best of homes. What’s more, I feel certain she will bring me ham for dinner on Sundays, if her career as an Event Organizer doesn’t offer a conflict that week.

At eight, she had found her center but tipped occasionally towards goofy and abstracted. Indeed, we still have to ask her, when she gets the giggles, if she needs to hit the bathroom, lest she require a change of underwear. Her reading habit continues to demand feeding, which is a delight–and, surprisingly, a despair, as she sometimes leaves her best playmate craving the sister who used to entertain him for hours. Mournfully, he will call out her nickname, “DeeDee, don’t you want to play Animal School?” to which she’ll respond, only half listening, “After I’m done with this book.”

Ultimately, all of this means that she is more and more a whole unto herself–a distinct thread in the family fabric rather than an indistiguishable part of the larger weaving.

At times, this can feel like a loss, as though already we are experiencing an unraveling.

Mostly, though, her increased demarcation allows me to see her better; were she completely enmeshed, I would ascribe to her my own traits and view her as sharing my color and texture, missing so much that is uniquely her and not me:

her vividness
her poise
her confidence
her sound judgment
her certainty

her purity of soul


Thus, I live with a piece of my heart–nine years old now–next to me, not in me,

and I cannot fully express how blessed I feel to release her into the world.

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Girl language Martin Luther King using every weapon to retain dominance

Game Over

Girl stands next to the kitchen table, her Tales of Famous Americans book open next to her, and grins widely as she reads aloud, “Martin Luther King loved learning new words. M.L. exclaimed, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to get me some big words.'”

While Girl gets a kick out of this statement, Niblet isn’t so sure. Wondering, he asks, “What does that mean?”

Clicking my brain to The Mommy Channel, I explain, “Basically, it means Martin Luther King understood that having a good vocabulary and knowing when and how to use words could help him out in life. If you know smart words and aren’t afraid of them, it’s kind of like, um, if you’re playing a video game, and your character runs across a brick of gold, and then his power meter gets a boost of 100 points.”

Sensing that he might be watching a show called “Mommy Bullsh**” on The Mommy Channel, Niblet gives me his patented, “Yea, wwwwight.”

“No, really, Paco. If you have good words as your weapons, it’s like your character gets seven extra lives.”

Not even pretending to buy my “aimed-at-the-six-year-old” explanation, Niblet gives me the stink eye.

In return, I concede, “Okay, no more dumb video game analogies. The point really is just that language can give you power. In your life, if you can learn and know lots of words, you’ll have an advantage. Like, if you know the word ‘verisimilitude’ instead of ‘truth,’ you could change your life. You could write something or say something that people will remember forever. Or you could get a really cool job and travel to amazing places if you have strong words propelling you. There’s no end to what you can do if you take words and make them work for you. For example, if people are ever mean to you, you can use language to settle the score. Language is better than a sword!”

Incredulous at such logic, when clearly nothing could ever be more awesome and badical than a sword, Niblet rolls, “Yea, wwwwight, Mom. Like ‘verismachiepoop’ is a word people use. Verisasupercalliemapooper!”

With this, he turns his attention out the window to the roofers balancing atop our garage, scraping away the slush as they use a nail gun to attach new shingles.

“I like those guys,” he says. “They’re doing the job without words.”

True, dat–imatudiepooper.

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Girl J.C. Penney's Niblet photographers school pictures


School pictures came home last week, toted in backpacks jumbled with Boxcar Children books, broken pencils, water bottles, and gym shoes. The kids are proud and excited about the photos; usually, I fake an interest on their behalf.

However, I find I’m turning a corner, when it comes to my attitude about these highly-contrived photos that jam a kid onto a stool in front of a magnification of Stephen Hawking’s brain.

Thus far, I’ve balked at school pix–and not just because, in my high school senior photos, the shoot’s stylist made me lean on a wagon wheel and clasp my hands under my chin coyly. No, my issues go beyond Conestoga trauma. Here’s what rubs me:

Some company comes in, holds my kid hostage for a few minutes, using a photographer that calls every kid “Patty” in an effort to get him/her to smile naturally, and then the whole outfit tries to charge me, the parent, large American dollars to buy back my own uncomfortable-looking children in packaged form so that I then have something to share with the relatives come holiday time. Couldn’t I do this type of thing every year on my own, at the J.C. Penney’s, if it mattered to me? And don’t I, quite willfully, resist doing that, too, because it’s all just so fake and weird and hell if I don’t prefer a candid shot I’ve taken myself for free? And couldn’t I just give the relatives new socks, if they require a holiday thought? Or perhaps a free weekend–or week, or month–with the kids, if they need to see them so damn much?

Clearly, school pictures make me swearish, and I think we all know I’m generally quite refined.

But this year? I’ve been surprised; I’m appreciating adding their photos to the progression of years. I like seeing them grow up through the school’s eyes. Crunk it, but I think I prefer my kids wallet-sized.

Hence, suddenly I am all about embracing the school photos, even though they give me paper cuts when I hug them too tightly.

Plus, the photos prove that my kids exist when I’m not around, and I’ve never been completely certain on that point before.


You know why I don’t blog about this one as much as the other one? Because she shows up, shuts up, and does the job, all with a sprinkling of freckles. Oh, and if you ever need a kickass speller, call 1-800-GIRL.

Certainly, when she’s overtired and has had a big day of Scholastic Book Fair + Parent/Teacher Conferences + Swimming Lessons, the sum of these parts is just as likely to be her lying on the floor of her bedroom, screaming in high dudgeon, a toothbrush dangling out of her mouth, kicking her heels repeatedly in an impressive fit as it is to be her spelling “temperamental” correctly.

But then she recovers and helps her little brother with the snap on his pants.

If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like when a Finnish/Norwegian-American gets his monkey on, this is your day.

Note the pebble-creature necklace, which I was given when I turned 12.

I think I wore it in my school picture that year…the necklace, a new bra, a cowl-neck sweater, and a smile manufactured just for the photographer when he called me “Patty.”

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babies birthdays Creation evolution Girl

Mockingbirds and Tortoises

Damn Darwin. Were it not for his meddling ways, I’d still be catching a daily nap just before–okay, more honestly, during–“Oprah.”

But he just had to go to the Galapagos and stare at all sorts of birds and turtles. Then he wrote that thing.

And suddenly, everyone was in a tizzy, wanting to roar at each other over what are clearly apples-and-oranges issues. Religion shines best when there are no microscopes in the pulpit; science convinces better when amazing technicolor dreamcoats aren’t hung in the lab.

Despite these truths, people started fighting, and they continue to this day.

Unfortunately, I’m just not very conflict oriented. I let pushy bastard-ass drivers on the highway ram through, a strategy that keeps it their problem, not mine. I smile as bossfolk shovel verbal compost and call it “a new initiative.” Sometimes, in fact, I have been known to remain in relationships for, say, six years, simply to avoid a fight.

‘Cause most fights require hot air and posturing, and doesn’t that sound like a lot of work? Generally speaking, I’ve got better things to do.

Thus, I shouldn’t have been so suprised eight years ago, that night I attended a Creation versus Evolution debate at the local high school. I never would have gone, except a colleague–a pal–had agreed to sit on the side of Evolution and use his philosophical skills to debate the visiting evangelical “I’ll-Give-Y’all-God-In-This-Here-Slideshow-AND-Scorn-The-Empiricists-Whilst-I’m-At-It” preacher. My colleague was nervous. He needed clapping hands in the audience.

Given the right cause, my hands can be very clappish.

One time, back in ’97, I even did a “woot-woot.”

Some Chinese Acrobats had just spun plates with their feet. How could I not?

At any rate, Groom and I slogged our way into the auditorium that night and settled into the hard wooden seats. At halftime, I excused myself to “go shake hands with My Savior” in the restroom.

I sat on the toilet and started to muse. Why is it evangelical preachers always wear powder blue suits? Why is it their hair–


My musings were interrupted by an enormous eruption into the toilet. This eruption was so unusual, it was, like, NUMBER THREE, maybe even NUMBER FOUR, if NUMBER THREE was something just a little bit more impressive than poo but less impressive than what had just come out of me. Let’s call NUMBER THREE cake batter.

So, yea, a volcanic thing had just exploded into the toilet water. Generally speaking, that can’t be good. If it ever happens to you, make sure you mop up but good afterwards, Moby.

Especially when you’re just starting Week 37 of your first pregnancy, and you’re pretty sure you have, like, a month left to consider packing a bag for the hospital.

But NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. The Creationists and the Evolutionists had to go all barky at each other up there on the stage that night, getting my knickers in a very particular bind, and before you know it, my anti-conflict membranes had reacted with a pre-term rupture.

I still don’t know if it was an act of God or science that caused it. What I do know is that, eyeing the ensuing bloodletting, we hied it over to the hospital an hour later. To this day, I don’t know who was right in that debate at the high school, but a part of me hopes God and Darwin fled the building and settled the argument afterwards by kickin’ it on the curb and drinking a couple 40’s of malt liquor.

Me? I pretty quickly had a monitor strapped around my belly. “Did you have any idea your contractions are three minutes apart?” the helpful nurse asked.

Contractions? Really? Three minutes apart?

This was starting to sound like the Big Show.

And no. I had no idea I was even having contractions, much less that I’d gotten them to repeat with the regularity of a Dick Wolf cop ‘n lawyer show in which a corpse is discovered in the first thirty seconds by an early-morning jogger who stops to retie his trailing shoelace.

Crikey, if these were contractions, this childbearing gig was going to be a walk in the park (just not Central Park, where I’d undoubtedly be attacked by a group of wilding youth who could only be brought to justice through the power of Sam Waterston’s homey-voiced closing statement).

A couple hours later, though, I had become one with the contractions. While Groom dozed, I stared at the clock during the peaks of pain and dozed through the valleys.

By morning, infuriatingly, the contractions had stopped all together. At that point, the midwife said we could either go home–and come back later when they started up again–or we could follow the momentum and make the birth happen.

Moment of character revelation: I discovered I don’t go through twelve hours of contractions just to be sent home with a casual “catch ya on the rebound.” So they rolled out the Pitocin and, as long as they were hooking me up, some penicillin to treat the Strep B that had built a vacation home in my downstairs lady flat.

We were in business. Over the course of the next ten hours or so, I started out determined and then got really tired and then cried and got emotional and then had my spine poked and for awhile there got really happy and chatty and then got all panicky and wild-eyed–the whole thing being kind of like a recap of the conception–and eventually I got really, really angry.

Second moment of character revelation: I hated the pushing. Holy watermelon through a bagel, but I hated the pushing. I was surrounded by medical staff, Me Man, and a crew of galpals. They were all being really good cheerleaders, assuring me, with each push, that I was almost done, that this was IT, that one more push would do it.

Sam Waterston should have prosecuted every last delusive one of them for perjury.

It was NOT the last push. It was never going to be the last push. I hated the push. The push was a pisser.

At one point, as I lay damp and panting in between pushes, the midwife announced, “I’m going to go make a pot of coffee.”

She was so carefree, so breezy, I ’bout reared off the bed and severed the midwife’s tail.

Turns out, the old Pot of Coffee Trick is well-known, in, um, druidic circles for jumpstarting a plateauing labor.

Midwife returned. Everyone told me–the lying sods–that it would be just one more push.

And then, twelve pushes later, it was. And it was a girl. It was the Girl.

I sobbed crazily, like a woman who had been through labor and a Creation vs. Evolution debate in the course of one 24-hour period.

Hot upon that catharsis, I realized that getting the babe out was just Step One. Step Two was expelling and massaging the mother******* placenta out. Where had that bit of information been, in all my pre-delivery reading? Huh? HUH?

But the Girl was good, and that was lucky, so I muddled through the placental hell; soldiered through the bloody, blistered and cracked nipples the next day; and eventually we all went home. For weeks, lovely friends came and went, urging me to “Enjoy every minute of it because it goes so fast!”

More with the lies. For a long time, every minute felt like three days. Nothing flew by. After a short battle with jaundice, we all were doing fine, but never, never did I end a day wondering where the time had gone. Time was sludge. The second hand had been attached to a glacier.

A few years later, we had Niblet–at which point every minute felt like five days.

In the last couple years.
Things have sped up.

Occasionally, a minute feels like a nanosecond. Occasionally, I start to consider the possibility that all my friends and family aren’t just big whoreliars. Time sometimes gets pulled over and issued a speeding ticket.

That fact gives me profound joy, yet it simultaneously rents little fissures into my heart. This moment in my kids’ lives is very, very good. It will change soon enough, though.

But what can you do? Just be.

Eight years later, we have gotten pretty good at be-ing with our Girl. She’s made it easy.

Before, I had expectations of parenthood–about how challenging it would be, how rewarding, how much it would revolve around caretaking. However, I had no idea

that She would become my friend (“Can I braid your hair now?”)

that She would teach me responsibility (“I need to put on my coat and hat by 8:00 and be on the corner by 8:03, or I’ll miss the bus, Mom. I need to get ready now.)

that She would take care of us (“Ooh, Niblet, that runny nose needs a Kleenex! Let me get you one.”)

that She would earn my respect (“I have some questions I want to ask a lot of people, like a survey. Then, when we get their answers, can I make some graphs of them?”)

that She would inspire in me a keen admiration (“I want to run this 5K, and I’m going to beat you, Mom.”)

that She would have an uncompromising purity of character (“I can’t even breathe right when I think about people having to be slaves. It makes my heart inside of me hurt.”)

that She would be unflappable (Of a neighbor boy, “He calls me an idiot all the time. It doesn’t bother me because he’s wrong.”)

that She would illuminate how shy, quiet reserve is also gentle, poised confidence

that, by her 8th birthday (today!), She would be one of my best companions, the person with whom I’d most like to take a walk around the block at the end of the day–that She would be one of my calmest and most-insightful chums

that the promise of Her arrival the night of the debate would be fulfilled a hundredfold by 2nd grade

We created her. And what a delight is has been to watch her evolve.

Semi-incidentally, and if you have any more reading time, my post commemorating the Girl’s birthday last year is perhaps my personal favorite…

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age seven birthdays Girl miscarriage wonderment

Seven Years Since the Blue Moon

I got engaged and pregnant on the same day.

Even better, it was “Buck Night” at the local ball park, so I also got to drink a whole lot of cheap beer on a really humid July night while feigning interest in an All-American sport.

You might be trying to forge a connection between all that cheap beer and my getting knocked up. Damn your clever mind. Does it never rest?

Suffice it to say, though, that pretty much all of my days since then have been anticlimactic. They’re all “go to work, read to the kids, sweat through a run, fold some laundry” and ever-so-rarely are they “get engaged, drink beer, get pregnant” kinds of days. I suppose, though, that a girl can only have so many such splendid Whopper Days; otherwise, I’d have a whole lot of husbands, hangovers, and kids. And frankly, one or two of each is about all I can handle. Ask both my husbands. They’ll attest to my treating them with an air of benign neglect. Fortunately, they are a comfort to each other.

So, yes, from that sticky July day came good things. I still dote on my groom, and the issue of that pregnancy is just cresting seven years old (since I, personally, remember a lot from Age 7, this implies to me that I should start being nicer to Girl, now that her powers of recall are firmly in place).

It’s all good now, but the growth and arrival of our Girl weren’t as straightforward as her conception. In fact, Girl started out as two.

All I knew was that I was pregnant, and the hospital in our town would confirm that but would not have me see a doctor or midwife until the end of the first trimester. So I took some vitamins, ate a lot of Ben & Jerry’s, exercised, and dreamed an entire life for the child inside of me.

Until one night–the last night of that first trimester–when I got off the couch after watching some bad reality tv and went to the bathroom. After pulling down my shorts, I discovered the pregnant woman’s nightmare: blood. Lots of it. And when I sat down on the toilet, there was an explosion of more blood, along with many miscellaneous floating bits…of tissue.

My brain reeled, of course, and all I could think was, “This can’t be good. I’m pregnant, so this should stop.” At the time, Groom and I weren’t yet married, and he lived almost six-hours away. I called him; he packed and hopped in his car; then I called a Best Girlfriend, and she was at my house in minutes.

We went to the emergency room, where I spent a long, long time with my feet in stirrups. I heard words like “she’s dilated” and “tissue in the cervix” and “no heartbeat.” My friend stood by my side, crying quietly into a Kleenex. My own tears just dripped onto the sheets below me.

After some time, I was told that it looked as though I’d miscarried. But, they told me, I was young, so future pregnancy could happen. And, they told me, a miscarriage is Nature’s way of ending a nonviable pregnancy. It happened, they told me, all the time.

But here’s the thing: it hadn’t happened to me before, and so I was ill-equipped to handle the absolute, immediate grief of losing a life I had already planned. Sure, I’d heard of women having miscarriages, but no one had actually ever brought that experience alive for me; no one had shared their experience publicly–and if there’s one thing I do, it’s find ways to process the world by looking at the experiences of others. Yet miscarriage proved to be one of those last female taboos, one of the hidden subjects that no one acknowledged. So all I really knew was that I was in significant physical pain (I didn’t even know enough to realize a miscarriage is actually a mini-labor, with a contracting uterus and everything) and even more profound emotional pain.

When, at 4 a.m., Groom finally got to me, we just cried. And the next day, and the day after that, we cried. A baby isn’t real to the world until it’s born, but it had become real to us from the minute that stick turned pink.

Some days later, we went to see the midwife at the hospital, to have her check my uterus to see if all the tissue had been expelled that night in the emergency room, or if I’d need to undergo a D & C, to “clean things up.”

As I lay there, again on a table, she palpated my uterus, noting, “There’s still a fair amount of tissue in here. If you don’t mind, I’m going to roll over the mobile ultrasound machine to see how much we’re dealing with.”

I didn’t want to see the remains of the babe, so I stared at the wall as she worked, not registering her words of, “Hmmm. I see a heartbeat here.”

How cruel, I thought. Why is she taunting me?

But. Then. It. Sunk. In. A heartbeat?

My head whipped to look at the monitor, where I saw a most-contented-looking little figure, reclining in the tub of my belly, a strong and regular heartbeat emanating from its chest.

My memory of the next few minutes is the feeling of Groom’s tears hitting my face, as he stood above me, and the midwife exiting the room, saying, “I’m just going to give you guys a few minutes.”

So my grief had prayed for a miracle–for the miscarriage not to have been real, for that pregnancy to still be happening. Suddenly, it was. Gradually, we pieced together that I had been carrying twins, and one of them had not made it. This, according to one nurse, happens more frequently than we know, but it is still a “once in a blue moon” event.

For the rest of my pregnancy, we called the kid inside of me The Little Gripper; I pictured it hanging on to the walls of my uterus by its tiny, soft fingernails while its twin fell out of me. Assuredly, I will never stop missing The Kid Who Fell, but mostly I can only marvel at the child who hung in there.

Today, March 31st, it has been seven years since The Little Gripper became our Girl, seven years during which she has emerged as shy, smart, sweet, wry, amiable to a fault, Love Incarnate.

The Birth Day: Groom cries some more, as Girl greets the midwife. Under the white sheets, once again relegated to laying on a table, I wonder how long it will be before I can have a bowl of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Girl Is One

And Then She Was Two

Same Dress at Age Three, But the Wheels Are New

Four is Fun

Five Becomes Her

She Grew to Six (Plus Two on the Lap)

And Today She Is Just Seven, Feeling Crafty

As the years tick by, I love her purity of character most of all. Get this:

Several nights ago, at bedtime, her overtired Brother Niblet cried in his bed, sobbing: “I don’t want to go to sleep, ever. I wake up in the night, and I am alone. I’m always alone. I’m never going to close my eyes because sleep is too lonely.”

We’ve already pushed the kids’ beds next to each other, strung the room with lights, played music on a CD player through the night, and tried everything to get him to appreciate sleep as an opportunity, not a burden. But no matter what I suggested that night, he cried even harder.

Then an almost-seven-year-old hand snaked its way across his bed and extended itself onto his torso. With all the compassion of two souls, Girl said, “Here, buddy. Just hold my hand while we fall asleep. And when you’re asleep, I’ll just keep holding on to you. You know I won’t ever leave you all alone.”

Happy birthday, toots. Thank heavens for that blue moon.

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