The Best Laddie

I want to remember 16 because it’s as good as everything else has been.

He staggers through the front door, having just walked home from robotics practice after school, and in addition to the fully loaded pack on his back, he’s carrying a big box. It’s the new compost bin, delivered onto the front porch earlier in the day. When it arrived, after giving the huge parcel a test tug, I decided to leave it; the thing is ultimately headed out of doors, anyhow.

But he brings it in with him, the kid does, because he saw it there, and we always bring boxes in. He’s helping. When I call out a greeting and ask how his day was, he answers “Fine, especially walking home in the sunshine. You know what’s extra good today? The smell of sap coming from that tree across the street that blew down in the storm. The sap smell is –” He does a chef kiss towards the ceiling.

Before he came in, I’d been upstairs putting in eye drops, so as he speaks I’m wiping my eyes and, thanks to a raging runny nose, snuffling into a tissue. Following him into the kitchen, I complain, “Oh my god, bubs, but my nose is making me crazy today. I am blowing it every two minutes, and it won’t stop. I took the Sudafed thing we have, but it’s not helping at all.”

Pack still on his back, he turns and looks me over. “Could it maybe be allergies? Your eyes do look a bit red around the rims, and they are definitely watery.”

I explain the eye drops but concede it could be allergies although I’ve never had any before; I’ve been sneezing myself hoarse all day. What I’ve ascribed to a cold could, in fact, be spring popping. He squints at me and asks, “Have you used the Flonase that you shoot up your nostrils? That really helped me the other week. It really dried things up.”

Well, no. I didn’t know we had anything like that in the house.

His backpack hits the chair heavily as he eyes the still-frozen iceberg of soup in a saucepan on the stove. It’s been there since morning, gradually thawing, but still: it’s a ball of ice bigger than my skull. “Would it be okay if we start warming that up now? I’ll be ready for it soon.”

100% doable, pup. I turn on the burner under the soup at the same time he says, “Let me go find that Flonase stuff for you.”

In under a minute, he’s back, bottle in hand, peering at the tiny text on the label. “Now, I don’t remember how many squirts you’re supposed to do or how frequently you should take it, and we don’t have the box any more. I’ll look it up.”

He taps his phone a few times before announcing, “Two squirts, once a day. It might take up to 12 hours to start working. Shake the bottle first.”

While he’s been aiding me, I’ve been whittling the edges of the soup iceberg, trying to make it smaller. “Here,” he says, “I’m taller, so I can get a better angle on that thing.” He takes the wooden spoon from my hand and leans over the pot, stabbing at the mass. “Let me Excalibur this thing!”

I snort some stuff and then put on water for the broccoli. “How much broccoli are you going to want tonight? Just a bare covering of the plate, or a mountain?”

“I want one-third of what you make,” he assures me. “I love broccoli.” I ask if he wants parmesan grated over the top. “Oh, yes, I do. I do. Parmesan is delicioso!”

He’s over there, across the counter from me, head over his phone, when I remember. “Oh, hey! I need your skills. So my photo app has crashed and crashed and crashed all day, and I cannot figure out what to do. I restarted my phone, tried googling solutions, and I am flummoxed. I can’t even figure out how to uninstall and reinstall it. Help a mother out?”

The phone is already in his hands, getting triaged. He goes quiet as he assesses the patient, more focused still when he starts reading comments in help forums. “Oh, and also…” I remember something else. “Once you’re done with thinking over there, I have one more thing to tell you.”

Thirty seconds later, his curls tip up, and he says, “Okay, I’m loading something. So you can tell me the other thing.”

Quickly, I run down how I tried using yet another phone we have to access my photos earlier, and as I tried to delete files to free up memory, I ended up deleting them from his account, not mine, because we’d been using the same phone, and he’d re-directed the back-up to his account.

“That’s no biggie,” he says. “I was done with those videos anyhow.”

It’s a wonder, to be in the same room with this young man, a 6′ 2″ linguini noodle who refuses to have a problem even though, for another nine years, his thinking will be amygdala based, the prefrontal cortex a far-off dream.

Two minutes later, he announces, “There. Your app’s all good. Your photos are accessible.”

“Holy crap, Paco, but it’s going to be weird when you go to college, and I move to whatever city you’re in, just so I can show up outside your dorm and hand you my phone periodically. That’ll be weird, right?”

He smiles, just a smidge off kilter, meeting my eyes as he grins. “It would be incredibly fun; that’s what it would be. So fun.”

And in that moment, my eyes still a little wet from the drops, my nose dripping because that’s what it does today, blessings rain down upon my soul.

“It would be crazy fun, poppet. Think about it: Dad would show up at your place with a few freezer bags of soup he’d just made, and I’d always be stopping by with warm cookies…”

His smile grows. “I like soup. And cookies. I am on board with this plan.”

The iceberg has melted. The broccoli has softened. Hoisting his backpack once again, he loads his hands with bowl and plate — off to his room to eat while doing homework.

As he teeters out of the kitchen, he says one more thing — true to form even while awkward and balancing: “Thank you so much for helping with dinner. I’m so excited to eat!”

Somewhere deep inside our phones, people are shouting at each other. Two miles down the road, someone is getting bruised. In the next state over, a family has just lost its apartment. Across the ocean, people are unthinkingly selfish. A plane ride beyond, people cry for water.

But right now, right here, my heart thumping in concert with his footfalls on the stairs, I am witnessing a good thing.

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The Small Things

Trees Short

Guns. Bombs. Death. Terrorists. Neo-conservatism. Trump. Brexit.

As heart-on-her-shirt hard-boiled-egg of a comic strip character Cathy would say, “Ack.”


I feel ill-equipped to have the big conversations. When it comes to politics and violence and hatred and opinions, my stomach compacts into a dark, hard knot; instinctively, my spirit folds protectively into a crouch in the corner; invariably, my brain pushes my eyebrows down and squinches my eyes.

Too often, public discourse makes me sick inside.

Part of my reaction comes from this:  I don’t feel smart enough to hold my own in the fray. Do not read me wrong: I’m very smart. My admission is not one of self-diminishment. But I’m not smart about things happening in the world. The details of the goings-on are not something I’ve internalized. I have not mastered all the angles. By and large, I avoid the news, keeping myself informed just enough to know sketchy basics. Willfully, I lack “issue smarts.”

Part of my reaction comes from this: when I do read public conversations about big events, I see how everyone has a point. I don’t agree with a good lot of ’em, but everybody has conviction and reasons. Even more, as I age, I believe more and more that all people deserve respect. The only way to get anywhere with anything is to treat all people as though they have merit. This is the attitude I take into my teaching — and, while I’m not always amazing at conveying class content, I do think the genuine regard I accord to the human beings in the room is the core of the successes. However, when I watch intransigent people debating the issues, my respect radar goes haywire, leaving me jangled.

Part of my reaction comes from this: I’m a work in progress when it comes to conflict. With each passing year, especially in my job, I have gotten better at standing firm when someone’s energy blows me back onto my heels. I’ve gotten better at rocking forward, centering on the balls of my feet, regaining my balance. I’ve gotten better at not blinking, not crumpling, not crying. Yet it’s never easy. Always, it’s exhausting. Without fail, I feel battered for days. Months. I lie. Years. In a climate where discourse and debate are more yelling and argument, this work in progress feels best with her head under the duvet, a headlamp beaming a circle of light onto a world of fiction.

Finally, part of my reaction comes from this: more often than not, the tone of public debate dances riotously across a field dense with thriving, thigh-high scorn. The crop waves brightly — condescending and self-righteous and mean, fertilized by several tons of “I’m throwing this provocative statement out there so that I can find reasons to mock you, should you dare to engage” manure. There’s something of the bully behind this tone, and I got enough of bullies when a couple of girls followed me home in fifth grade, loudly remarking “God, that ass is huge” and “Isn’t it hard to be a hog?” while the twig-like friends flanking me, having no idea attacks could happen to someone they loved, froze in horror. Already, by the age of 10, I was intimate with baleful strikes; the worst of the bullying was the futile desire, roiling around my round belly, to protect my friends’ innocence. All of which is to say: when nasty words fly around in public air, I am reminded that no matter how much I love people, I hate people.

Hating people erodes the shape of my heart, whittling it into a sharp stick good only for stabbing through soft tissues.

Thus, when the world is too much with me, and I am scared and mad and hating, I retreat into the joys of small things. The other day, when yet another headline broke, and the shouting began, and disappointment welled in me, I went for a run — the activity that reminds me many things in the world are beautiful.

  1. Living up to the name of the trail, the Lollygagger, I rolled up and down the hills, dodging the roots and rocks jutting through the clay, and my mind shifted into that sacred, peaceful space where the next footfall is all that matters.
  2. As I ran, I listened to the conversation on the WTF? podcast between host Marc Maron and guest Louis Anderson. Maron has done some great interviews, and he’s done some tense interviews, but this conversation between two comics who have reached the “Hey, man, we’re okay. We’re finally fine” stage of life delighted me. Anderson is the 10th of 11 children, the son of a “nice” mother and an alcoholic father, and how is that story not a worthy distraction?
  3. As I ran, I marveled again at the book I’d slammed through the night before, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. Maybe a half hour read, this book lodged in my head. It’s short; it’s unconventional in form; it’s funny; it’s poetry; it’s prose. A mother dies. A crow — grief made manifest — shows up and hangs out with the bereaved husband and sons. When it’s time to go, the crow leaves. Desperately, I wished to have been in the room, even watching through a video feed, as Porter wrote. How did he do that? Four scrabbled words at a time? Ten hours of marathon word vomiting? Seven years of anguish to write 110 pages? How did that writing happen? I had no answers. I could only keep dodging mud puddles.
  4. As I ran, I chuckled as I remembered Paco’s predictions about the contestants on The History Channel’s blacksmithing/weaponry program called Forged in Fire. As the show began, he tipped me off with a quick, “Just so you know, Mom, they’re all going to be men, and most of them will have ponytails. But my favorite part is that at least two of them will have intriguing accents.”
  5. As I ran, my thoughts ricocheted into the idea of sleep. When Paco had his tonsils out a couple weeks ago, I figured the pain would make sleep difficult. Yet, without fail, he sacked out, totally and completely, for a solid twelve hours. Still traumatized from the kids’ early years, when our kids slept not at all — to the point that I will get petty and engage in “No, you don’t understand. We would have paid money to have them only wake up eight times a night” competitions with other parents — I couldn’t help recalling a time when Paco was six months old. Standing as spectators at a trail race, a couple of us moms watched our kids slide down a pile of gravel. Conversationally, the other mom asked me, “So his first name sure is unsual! What’s his middle name?” Blankly, I stared at her. My baby’s middle name. Hmmm. Good question. I had to wait until Byron finished the race and ask him.
  6. As I ran, I smiled at Allegra’s excitement and appreciation during her 10-day trip to Europe with a high school group. Her messages to us detailed food, sights, hotels, similarities and differences among cultures. But more than anything, she was delighted by Italian wayside stations. Such snacks! Oh, the crackers! What a unique atmosphere! The espresso bar! In a gas station!
  7. As I ran, I snorted when a mental image flitted through my head: craving tube-shaped food, I’d gone into a speciality meat shop in town to find something sausage-like for dinner. The workers at the shop, to a one, are dear as baby pigs and are in exactly the right line of work — fulfilling all their potential there behind the counter. After some discussion with the nice young man in his white jacket, I decided to try the seasonal rhubarb bratwurst. When I ordered four, Nice Young Man advised earnestly, “You’re really going to like these. They are sweet. But they are sour. You are going to come back and buy 20. Come back soon because they’ll be gone. So come back soon and get 20. You’ll for sure want 20.”

Done running, I hopped in the car and tuned the radio to music, not talk. I wanted to protect, to store those good feelings from the trail, the comics and the crows and the contestants and the fatigue and the wayside stations and the bratwursts. Happy inside the bubble of my car, I let the goodnesses float free, let them bounce off the windows in time to the beat of the song.

On the way home, I stopped at the liquor store and bought a six-pack of Lollygagger beer.

Later, even though I poured slowly, the head of the beer foamed high.

Guns. Bombs. Death. Terrorists. Neo-conservatism. Trump. Brexit.

At least in that moment, my glass was full.


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costumes goodness kids past summers travel

Happiness Is a Red Negligee


Two summers ago, we entered a merciful holding pattern…


For nobody got on an airplane.

And nobody died.

Nobody sprang a mutated version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” evening on us.

Instead, we took a quick trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, meeting my sister there for a few days before she left for two years in Guatemala. We ate some bagels; we visited the Children’s Museum; we played Go Fish.

It was good. It was easy.

And the rest of the summer? Unfettered by huge life moments, we simply enjoyed Life’s Rich Pageant.

Rare photographic evidence of the Tooth Fairy.

Need. Just. One. More. Juice. Box. To. Push. Past. Stage. Fright.

Luigi’s been tossing pies for sixty years.
He makes homemade tortillas.
He scrapes paint off woodwork.
He fixes the dehumidifier.
He cheers like a big ole white boy (check out the overbite).
That’s the spoon we whack her with.
Er…: with which we whack her.
‘Cause we’re all about the corporal punishment.
And you can tell she’s a real handful.


Yes, he ate that donut with using the hook.

Then he put on his Buzz Lightyear helmut and went to infinity.
And beyond.


Is it possible for the father to be a chip off the son’s block?
A 4 for technique.

But a 10 for artistry and expression.


He’s painting the words “Die, Evil Spawn” on the

back of her neck with the ends of her wet ponytail.


Once he starts school, Wee Niblet and the principal will be on a first-name basis, ja?

Dear Glamourpuss, my boy wants to make the cut for your Well-Dressed Wednesday posts. It’s about attitude, confidence, and panache more than anything, right?

You think that’s paint?
It’s a puddle of pastel vomit.


One time she cleans her room.

One time.

Buzz and Niblet plot Mrs. Potato Head’s early demise.

Run, MPH! Run as fast as your spindley tater legs can tote your bulk! Run ’til you feel fried!

Under the guise of “working in the garden,” Groom and Girl shoot craps.

He wins away her allowance with nary a qualm. Then he spends it on booze.

Michael Kors makes hats out of paper plates, too.

Remember his Strawberry Shortcake line of 1999?

And that’s the bat we whack her with when she doesn’t clean her room.

Er, with which we whack her. Damn prepositions. They sure are something that’s difficult to put up with.

Crap. I mean, of course, up with which to put.

You know you sleep nekkid.

But have you tried Nekkid Wid Diaper?

Once you have, you’ll never go back.

After this, he put new brake pads on the min-van.

If he wants to stay, he needs to make himself useful and earn his keep. What? Does he think Little Debbie Zebra Cakes grow on trees?

Even if they’re in front of the tv, so long as they’re touching, it counts as a family dinner, right?

The thing about Lake Superior is that it needs more rocks in it.

Just as soon as he finds his glass slipper, he fully intends to suck your blood.

She’s got his glass slipper right there, in that purse.

Behind that impish grin lurks the smile of a diobolical genius.

It’s been two years now, and she STILL hasn’t told him she’s got it.

He looks and looks, every day, calling out, “Oh, glass slipper? Where are you?”

She never says a word.

And if he does ever find out, like he could catch her up there?

And in that bag on the front of the scooter?

She has Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Not on the tail of the international shoe thief,

it’s Detective Dragon Dude.

The slipper thief serves out her jail time mid-air.

After her release, she intimates that true reform may still be a speck on the horizon.

Meanwhile, back at the clubhouse, Dr. Hypo gives shots of his legendary truth serum.

Then we took off the costumes and went to the creek.

We live by Seven Bridges Road.

This is the 7th bridge.

I know.

I know.

The whole notion makes me “ooooh” too at the very luck and magic of it all. I mean, if they’d stopped with the sixth bridge, that would have just been dumb. Who builds SIX bridges?

Oh, and we resided our 1930’s garage, too.


Thus, the dog days of the summer of 2005 passed in blessed normalcy. The kids’ personalities took shape even more; we rested; we ate a lot of beets from our garden; we made some pesto.

All was infinitely right with the world.

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