Sunday, September 02, 2012

you are what you eat with

The day started out as usual, the baby calling to me from his crib, swaying and babbling like a drunkard, falling over and then climbing up again with a smile and a wave. There was the relay of the cereal boxes to the table and the discovery of the dead mouse in the dining room, though Emily, having vanished under the bed for the morning was not willing to take credit.

But on this day, all this normalcy couldn't stave off the weight of knowing: we'd be going to the dentist. Isaac had a check up and cleaning scheduled and like all our other appointments – eye exams, physicals for school – we were trying to get them all up-to-date before the end of the year when Mike's job and, thus, our insurance coverage runs out.

I didn't have any particular reason to dread the dentist really, on my behalf or Isaac's, except for the fact that like with most any visit to a western “specialist,” we'd be temporarily sucked into their world where, overwrought with everything dental, we'd thrash and spin until they released us again to the larger world unscathed to the naked eye.

I miss our pediatric dentist in Monterey. He had a son Isaac's age. He spoke quietly and often said things I almost agreed with.

On this day, that started out so typically, we find ourselves at a place where the staff speaks in the forced and predictable cadence of people who are trying to sound kid-friendly, but really have no interest in anyone shorter than their shoulder. Everything that is said to Isaac, naturally, is actually for my benefit and comes out in patronizing tones that imply we have not done everything humanly possibly to optimize our son's oral health and by extension that we are horrid, horrid people and even worse parents.

The hygenist continues to interrupt me while I try to read the annual issue on whether MFA programs are affective in the writer's magazine that gets all its advertising money from MFA programs, to show me a tiny dark spot on my son's molar. “That's a tooth to watch!” she says more than once. And, after I try again to return to my magazine (Can writing be taught??), “I'm just going to show mom one more thing on this side.” It's my cue to get the hell up and look – look at what I've let happen!

“Mmm-hmm,” I try as a show of concern. And Isaac with his perfect public demeanor, says nothing, just opens and closes obediently.

If it is under these conditions that I must write, then so be it. And so, I am drafting this essay real time as the passive-agressive hygenist berates me with her sighs and hums.

Chipper, faux kid-friendly hygenists' names are required to be things like Maricella, Kayla, and Leanna. The final “a” is important. Like the upturn in a smile, the circles over the I's when you are writing your name and the last name of the boy you have a crush on over and over again on your folder in high school chemistry class.

Isaac lost the two teeth that flank his upper front teeth ages ago and the replacements have not yet seen fit to grow in. This situation, as you might imagine, is impossible to bear – if you are Maricella or Kayla or Sienna or Vivianna. I might find it impossible to bear wearing scrubs with Tweety Bird on them, but there you have it.

She convinces me to do x-rays (that damn finite stretch of insurance) to see what's going on up in the gum line. Before she goes to take them though, she spells out all the tragic ways in which my son's teeth will ruin his mouth and his life. She recommends (strongly) what I've come to think of as preemptive braces to “help the teeth come down.” If, in fact, they are even there (gasp). When I ask for more information on the real implications of such a situation and the option of waiting as opposed to vomiting big bucks to spell out to my seven-year-old in orthodontia just how unacceptable and imperfect he is, she offers “He's going to look like he's missing two teeth.” To which I reply, very slowly, “That's because. He's. Missing. Two teeth.”

“I have a referral right here for you. We'll email over the digital x-ray today,” she says by way of response.

Release me, oh great goddess of orthodontia (who is married, by pure coincidence, of course, to our dental deity), out into my sordid world of dead mice and cereal. I have nothing for your altar.

Friday, August 31, 2012

sit up straight and look like a poet

I'm sure it's just jealousy. Most things are.

I've come to resent the book cover photos of the poet that looks out at you, his expression appearing as though he is startled to have found himself there, his most intimate thoughts published for all the world to see, by BOA Editions or Coffee House Press, by Michigan, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Georgia. And I have nothing to offer him in return but my undying devotion – after all, I am one of the few, the small pod of humans that buys poetry books, albeit second-hand.

And what has he got to look alarmed about? I mean, really. He must have known this was coming – writing in some disciplined way every day that he will ultimately reveal in a Poets & Writers interview from his light-filled house, churning out poems, essays, revisions, hob-nobbing electronically with his old MFA pals, submitting with some regularity to prestigious journals and being accepted half of the time. It's not as if he spends his days crawling under furniture, picking up gooey Cheerios, fleeing the house every couple days, or weeks, the baby wailing at him, stretching out his little arms for him like a drowning man going down for the last time, then having to avoid the questions from the older kids in the driveway: “Where are you going?”

“To write,” he'd have to tell them, as if none of this affected him and then get in the car, sweating.

At the cafe, the super-ordinary adultness and freedom of saucers clicking would make him want to close his journal into which he had managed in the course of 15 minutes to write the date, lower his head into his hands and weep.

No, it's not like that at all.

And it makes one think that every one of these author photos should be set up like an 80's Glamor Shot or posed on the top of a mountain – arms raised in triumph over their literary heads and silhouetted against a pink and orange sunset.

What is it with these photos anyway? Sly looks. Shy profiles. Pensive, pondering Bodhi tree expressions. Aren't poets meant to be the heralders of truth? The carriers of clarity? Open your eyes, man, and look at the camera! Isn't that what your mother, who probably spent her days crawling under furniture, picking up your gooey Cheerios so you could go off and become a freaking poet would want? And another thing on her behalf – pick up your damn feet when you walk!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

the New Englanders 13

Today the New Englanders are reading. They could never get through all the books on their list! They keep lists, they are afraid, long and unmanageable on slips of paper meant for groceries. There is no more room on their shelves for books, and they think often enough about getting a Kindle. Sooner or later, right? And as for the lists, they are shut away in the left compartment of the drawer organizer. Besides, they already have them memorized.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

the New Englanders 12

Today the New Englanders are making art. Pottery in glazes the colors of sunsets, iron work in such detail it puts snowflakes to shame, the kind of art that covers over life with something beautiful. Other New Englanders buy the pieces and put them in bay windows, hang them in the guest room. Every Saturday they dust them, admire the technique, each brush stroke nearly invisible.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The New Englanders 11

Today the New Englanders are drinking coffee. Medium roast. It should be roasted locally even if it originally comes from far away – exotic places where the trees give beans instead of sweet sap. Maybe if those beans ended up in lemonade, salad dressing, on pancakes, well, then they'd be useful, then, perhaps, the New Englanders might live in those other places. But of course that's just silly to think about, a hypothetical game, laughable, really. Those other places could never, never be New England.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

birthday getaways

When we lived in Monterey, it was hard to find places to go on vacation. Let's face it. The Peninsula and the Big Sur coast are some of the most beautiful places I can think of.

When we were planning our honeymoon, the weather was also a consideration. It would be August and so thoughts of hot and sticky also limited our choices. We ended up in Ecuador – you know, equatorial and all pretty much solving our worry over weather extremes. And while Monterey lacks the Amazon rainforest, it has many other flora and fauna in common with Ecuador.

We were there over my birthday during which we stayed at an old hacienda that had a lot of llamas, as I recall. Or maybe they were alpacas. Frogs and toads. Bees and wasps. Porcupines and hedgehogs. I'm not that good at the world's oft-confused animal pairs.

It's the kind of birthday that sounds interesting enough to write about, but in reality, it was somewhat drafty and kind of lonely, like we had booked one of the California missions for ourselves. They also insisted on making us an “American breakfast” which involved many, many eggs.

The countryside was pretty, but familiar. There were ferocious aloe bushes (that's not a poetic descriptor, that's the name of the plant), callas and crocosmia flowers, just like the ones I'd left rotting at home in the form of my wedding bouquet.

This past weekend I was chasing yet another birthday celebration. It's worse than New Year's Eve for me – always trying for the ideal fun time. I just wanted to go away overnight somewhere close. I tried to think hard about what could work with the kids and still be fun for us. A simple, pastoral Bed and Breakfast, I thought, that took kids. A pretty place with a chair and a book.

There are in fact many, many New England B and Bs that claim farm and family fun. They mostly have 2 or 3 or possibly 4 rooms and exist at various stages of wonk. Two-hundred years old, 300 years old...they compete for status. We found one about an hour away with a lake.

Like our last family vacation (the June camping trip), it poured rain. Poured. Did I say “poured?” Because I meant POURED. All day. All night. At first it was charming, but the bottom line was no lake, no trails, just us stuck in the house.

Around the time I was observing Isaac enjoying the collection of Happy Meal toys proudly displayed in the sitting room, I realized that when you live in a wonky, old house in rural New England, you don't need to go on vacation to a wonky, old house in rural New England. What they have, I have, minus the Happy Meal toys. The ability to crack my head on the upstairs slanted ceiling – check. Creaky floor boards that threaten to wake the baby – check. Clawfoot tub – check. Lightswitches that never turn on the closest, most obvious light – check. Children running down the hallway screaming, dressers that need refinishing, screens that let in bugs - check, check, check.

The harder I try to escape my life, the more I seem to run smack into it, THIS is why I watch reality TV. You'd think I'd have been forewarned when the places we looked at suggested things in our town among the list of “what to do during your stay.” Sometimes, people, you have to throw large heavy objects at me before I get the picture. Bricks, maybe, but that's for another entry on renovation.

Monday, August 13, 2012

bathroom renovations – the love story

“So in terms of toilets,” my husband says to me after I descend the stairs having just tucked Isaac in and finished off Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Until that moment, the moment when the mention of toilets wiped all else from my mind, I had had in my fragile head some morsel of writing I dared believe I might get onto paper and a list or two I'd planned to scribble onto the unopened insurance envelopes pooling on the dining room table, but now all that riff-raff was gone in favor of other considerations.

Days after our 11th wedding anniversary, one day after the anniversary of when we met 15 years ago, the love of my life has as the primary subject on his mind – toilets.

All these years together and never once before the start of this home improvement project did I have any idea of his love of skirted toilets with round seats. He was so immediate and self-assured when he spoke up in the plumbing show room that day, and I'd turned to him to see him as if for the first time. “Round seat. Definitely round,” he'd said. Most women would agree, that kind of confidence is downright sexy.

If the renovation workers are trying to reinforce our decision to install a second bathroom, one that is not miniscule and a direct extension of the kitchen counter, then they're doing a great job.After two and a half weeks of men in boots tromping in and out of my house between 8 and 5 – the carpenters, the architects, the drywaller, the electricians, and, of course, the plumbers, most of them at some point visiting my one existing bathroom, I learned to appreciate my three-sister-having, always-seat-putting-down husband anew. Being paid 50 bucks an hour, being essentially a guest in someone else's home, does not preclude, it would seem, leaving the toilet seat up.

Let me just send a shout out to my charming husband, who 'in terms of toilets' has won my heart in more ways than one. Honey, I love you, happy anniversary.

Friday, August 10, 2012

evolution's a bitch

The final triop is dead. We starved it, I think. Unintentionally, of course.

Isaac's cousin gave him one of the Smithsonian science kits for Christmas. We needed to wait for warmer weather to break it out, and this summer, break it out we did.

This particular one is labeled “Prehistoric Sea Monsters” to make it irresistible to any 7-year-old. “A world of adventure, discovery and wonder,” the box says. “Hatch and grow your own prehistoric pets!” it promises. “Witness a 220 million-year-old species come to life!”

Besides the triop eggs and food naturally, there is also the all-important “poster” of the snarling T-Rex wading into the water that you are meant place on the back of the plastic aquarium facing its sea creature contemporaries.

Apparently it was not enough to be in the middle of year one with an infant, a house renovation, a house sitting gig, a job search, and a few million (220 million?) other things, I also needed to add to my list of responsibilities a tank of prehistoric sea animals. So, we couldn't find the food pellets for a few days. They were there all along, eventually unearthed from under a pile of potholders and expired coupons, but by then it was too late.

Oh, I crumbled it into the tank like the directions said, but little Tri-Tri didn't budge off the bottom. “He does that a lot,” Isaac said, unconcerned, as he ran for his Legos. “He's probably just trying to sleep,” Mike said, projecting. But I knew. And as the day progressed, I was sadly proven right. Let that be a lesson to any life forms from any era that might come around in a box: The asteroid, no problem. My pantry, sure death.

I shudder to think what might have happened if we'd caved and gotten the bunny.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The New Englanders 10

In some places it's said you ask for so much as directions you're likely to get an earful – stories about what used to be on the corner, who's cousin left town before the War, the plight of farming. The New Englanders believe in the art of summation. If it's directions you want, you'll get them and Good Day. This kind of talent for efficiency could only be God-given. Brevity and directness are rewarded. The world has many gods. The New Englanders are not forsaken.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

the New Englanders 9

Today, the New Englanders are gardening. Look at those tomatoes! What a cucumber harvest! The bounty is almost embarrassing. Thank goodness there are the weeds to temper the good fortune that flows like springs from the mountains of New England.

Monday, August 06, 2012

the New Englanders 8

This evening, the New Englanders are smoking cigarettes. Sure, they know they shouldn't, but that tiny circle of fire is just so addictive. Besides, it gives them something to do while their hand is hanging out the car window as they make the pass-on-the-right. Importantly, the middle finger is already engaged. Everyone knows what idle hands lead to.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

One. Year. Old.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful Rhys!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

the New Englanders 7

Often, the New Englanders are driving. They go around and around the rotaries because circles are symbolic, because driving is like sitting inside your own, quiet mind. Not so much as a purr from the Prius.

Friday, August 03, 2012

the New Englanders 6

Some days, the New Englanders become troubled. The world splashed on the front page of the paper does not behave like the world of New England. But always they are reassured because if you plan well, you will have acorns through the winter and, in these parts, for every tree that falls, three grow in its place.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

the New Englanders 5

Today the New Englanders are helpful. They are redelivering misdelivered mail to each other; they are shaking their heads together over lawn mowers that won't start; they are reminding each other about the park rules for dogs on leashes. Each of these things is received as it was delivered: with a certain amount of distance and formality, what the New Englanders might refer to as grace.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

musings on renovation

the dining room floor after we pulled up the fake wood vinyl

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack...
-- Talking Heads

I really want to write to my children. I want to write them letters and tell them how much they mean to me and who they were when they were tiny and who I was when they were tiny and who we grew into together.

When Isaac was a newborn I took a special little journal of handcrafted paper and carefully began an entry or two to this little being I barely knew.

Very quickly it became clear what was unclear – At what aged Isaac was I directing this writing? What kind of language made sense? Is he reading this as a 10-year-old? An adult? Other?

Then, very quickly after that it became clear that I could not keep up a journal to my newborn because I had a newborn.

When Obama was elected, I started another letter to Isaac. He was three then. I got farther with it, but it's still not finished.

I think it's a bit like our contractor who has never finished the renovation on his own house.

Yes, we have a contractor. We are moving ahead with putting a bathroom upstairs and creating a bedroom out of the store room. Why, Kitty, where will you store things? Meeee?? What on earth might I want to store? Everything is out in the open here, baby. Closets are for wusses; attics are for sissies; store rooms are for the weak and foolish!

The plumber is coming tomorrow. This may not sound like a threat to you, but when spoken to us by our contractor, it most certainly was. He was trying to get us to go choose the crap we want in the bathroom, and well, as you may have gathered from previous entries, we are stretched somewhat thin and this choosing activity has not been at the top of our to-do list.

And here is where we return to the idea of writing, sort of. Picking out fixtures is a bit like choosing a font – You can look at a whole alphabet/style line together and decide on the style that suits you – Serifs? Sans serifs? Square head faucets? Bold hardware? Italic? Condensed? Brushed nickel finish? You may like the main line, but then you see the F or the towel rack and you think, “No! No! No! That won't do! Why's that swirly thing swirling there?”

And while you are still caught in the showroom delirium wondering how and why anyone would bother to spend two hours doing this and screw it let's just go to a store and buy our own damn towel rack that's in stock and a helluva lot cheaper even if the contractor won't guarantee it for a year like he will if we spend 5x as much on it, and you suddenly have this revelation that will change your life forever: OMG. I now understand why Home Depot exists and maybe it's a good thing that it does. It was like when I learned that only the female mosquito bites, the males – wait for it – pollinate flowers.

The only person who was probably less excited than we were today about picking out shower valves and vent fans was our contractor who was calling messages in to the plumbing show room from his long weekend camping in the Berkshires. (Another path I wonder about – one minute you decide to go to school for architectural design because you like lines and you can visualize space well and the next you are talking to people about where the toilet paper holder should go...)

And you may find yourself using the word sconces more than you ever thought possible. Yet, it's a good word. A good word. Maybe even making my top 100 list. And here, again, is where we return to the idea of writing. Because, in fact, we always return to the idea of writing. What a relief.

dining room floor refinished

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

the height of summer

We read over and over again about the end of the dinosaurs. The theories, the facts, the animals that made it to the other side. My son's fascination with things prehistoric has not gone away as he has grown, but only deepened. Now besides the lists of meat-eaters and plant-eaters, we read about the famous paleontologists, all they can learn from delicate imprints of skin in ancient sea beds. Sometimes I confuse the names of the great beasts and he corrects me.

In this, this moment that won't last either, the trees are flat out green. Full of their own abundance, their proclivity for life, leaves that flourish, some – no kidding— since the Jurassic Period. The problem is I don't know their names.

My son runs in from summer play out of breath, face red from heat and exertion, ankles black with mud, in this, this moment that won't last either. Some days I do not know what to call him.

At night, we sit on our still-hot porch and listen to the moths ping against the glass. Sometimes they almost sound like rain. If I close my eyes, I can taste the water.

After this, this moment that won't last either, the rains will come back, the bark will turn dark, and life will continue (though I wonder if I should scan the sky for asteroids). Russet leaves I still won't know what to call will wave to me at my window as if I've lived here for ages.

In a flash they will drop all pretense, their fancy dresses – so familiar they act with me though they've never bothered to ask my story – and stand in only tall trunks, their stick arms lifted to the whitening sky, while I hunker below waiting for the snow to create of the world a new page.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

this moment

California poppy blooming in Massachusetts

I have never been this kind of tired -- too tired to think well enough to write. The worst kind of tired imaginable to me.

I watch the progression – my husband gets more and more exhausted as the week goes on and he continues to take on the brunt of the teething nights. At dinner, pasta with butter, (our farm box of vegetables rotting in the frig), he looks haggered, dark bags form under his eyes. Later, I retrieve him from our 7-year-old's room where he's fallen asleep doing bedtime and take his hand to lead him back downstairs where he squints in the harsh light.

For over a week now, the two of us whisper the same thing to each other before we go to bed, “White sand, turquoise water.” We've been trying to dream about a little cabana on the beach for just us. A hammock and a drink with an umbrella. Somewhere out on the horizon, the orange sail of a catamaran still visible in the setting sun. We just want to dream it, for godssake. So far, nothing. We are awake every two hours; we are rigid minds of havetos and can'ts; we are wasted.

Instead, last night just before dawn, I dreamed of Monterey. I had to say goodbye to everyone again. I kept going back and forth among my friends, unable to break away.

Mike is sprawled, eyes closed, on the couch now, and before him the detritus of the day maps our path: a plastic recycling truck, its back hanging open like a yellow wagging tongue; a teddy bear Isaac got as a gift when he was one leaning on its face in the corner; a remote control car that hasn't worked for at least a decade which my mother-in-law insisted we bring home with us from her basement; a container of blocks, mostly empty; a hundred wooden blocks strewn the length of the living room; a dozen board books, their spines gouged with teeth marks.

There is no clever ending to this story. There is no sharply creative metaphor. It is just the story of a family holding on, just holding on.

Friday, July 20, 2012

the New Englanders 4

This afternoon, heat notwithstanding, the New Englanders are mowing their grass. It is like summer's auditory balm. When the impossibility of disquiet arrives, the white noise soothes the soul back to even rows, up and down, like the breath. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

the New Englanders 3

Today the New Englanders are camping. With their pop-ups, their RVs, their tarped tents, with their American flags, their spinning frog lawn ornaments, their soda can airplane pinwheels for sale out front of their campers. Despite the signs warning of the practice's prohibition, they are riding their bikes down the campsite roads after sunset. Because it's summer time, time to let loose, go a little wild.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

the New Englanders 2

This morning the New Englanders are walking their dogs. Old dogs, small dogs, dogs panting from the already 80 degree air, dogs pulling wheelchairs, dogs chasing chipmunks, baby-kissing dogs, dogs sniffing gardens, dogs barking at other dogs. The dogs all need to walk. And the New Englanders obey.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the New Englanders 1

Today, the New Englanders are blurry through their screened-in porches. They are using power tools; they are sorting seeds; pixelized forms, bent, working. The New Englanders are always at work.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Isaac update

So, other than his guest post recently, I haven't said much about the kid that started all this blogging in the first place. That little cell cluster that showed up 8 years ago and made me violently ill, acutely terrified, exceptionally tired and joyously happy.

I haven't written about the kind of big brother he is. I take it for granted I guess you could say. While I was pregnant, everyone told him over and over how he'd be the best big brother ever. He would smile slyly at these words and stare at the floor. Finally, one day he looked up and said, “What if I'm NOT?” He is.

Just by virtue of being so big and so much in his life, Isaac is magical to Rhys. There is that. And then, there is all that is Isaac.

When Rhys was tiny and I dared put him down anywhere, his brother would find me, empty-armed and ask, “WHERE is Rhys?” “In there,” I might say, pointing to the bedroom, the blanket on the living room floor, as I attempted to make myself a sandwich or pour a glass of water. “ALL ALONE?!?” Isaac would accuse, dashing from the scene to be with the nonplussed infant.

He tolerates all the attention that is heaped on the baby with more maturity than I know I could have mustered at 7. I asked him once if it bothered him.“Not really. He's cute,” he shrugged sagely, as if the logic of it was enough for him to bear this not so small change in the focus of his world.

Isaac is attentive to a fault. We get things like this a lot: “Um, he's near the edge you know! Um, so, do you have him??? Mommy!”

The monitor often forgotten in the wrong room or turned off, Isaac is often the first one to scoop his baby brother from the crib at nap's end, his hearing attuned to the softest squeak.

Rhys has been greatly enjoying having Isaac around more with summer being summer and all. But today begins a period of camps. Isaac will be busy away from the house more for a few weeks. Doing big boy things.

We start with soccer. That's right, I'm afraid my boy has made of me an official soccer mom. Ugh. Okay, it's just a couple hours of skills in the morning at the field down the street. And maybe he'll hate it. (Was there a touch of hope in that last sentence?)

I'm skeptical. Of sports. And most specifically of coaches. There seems to be a “Type C” personality – Coach. This is the person who believes anyone can pull themselves up by their boot straps if they want to, and has been known to use that exact phrase ad nauseum. The person who believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything you need to know about life you can learn on the field/court/diamond. The person who is overly confident, who pushes, who shouts and uses whistles and regularly says shit like, “Let's go! Let's go! Let's see some hustle!”

When I left him this morning, Isaac was tapping a soccer ball lightly with his foot, barely moving it, in a sea of bigger kids, one of his new turquoise and neon orange cleats untied (“They had the normal kind too,” he'd told me of the purchase he'd made with his dad, waving his hand in a dismissive way). This was out of his comfort zone. Isaac did not learn to crawl one week, begin to stand the next, and go over and over again to the stairs, trying trying trying. That would be my second child.

Isaac has always been the one to hang back, ask me to come with him, watch and observe. As awesome a big brother as Isaac is to Rhys, the benefits go two ways. His baby brother will be good for him in ways he cannot yet imagine.

Over dinner, I asked Isaac what his favorite part of soccer was.

“Probably when I scored a goal,” he said.

“Oh!” I say trying not to sound too surprised. “Congratulations!”

“Yeah, I was going down the field and then another kid tried to get the ball away from me and I lost my balance and my foot knocked it into the net by accident.”

Rhys will be good for him because again tomorrow when Isaac leaves the field, hungry, hot and pushed to his limit, he will be there, squealing wildly, flailing his arms and leaning with all he's worth toward his favorite 7-year-old, like his big brother just intentionally wailed on that ball and sent it flying from mid-field into the center of the goal, winning the game in overtime.

(more pics to follow)

Monday, July 02, 2012

the beach


People that build their houses inland,
People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore --
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
Spanking the boats at the harbor's head,
What do they long for, as I long for, --
Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning --
One salt taste of the sea once more?

-- Edna St Vincent Millay

It had been over a year. I mean, honestly, how does my family expect me to function?? The beach. The coast. The sea. The water. Finally.

We headed out camping – in the van! First time riding in it not pregnant. No cat this time, but that baby guy came along. Seems we've reconfigured our family just a little since the last van adventures.
Rhys meets the pop-up

We went to Connecticut – Long Island Sound. Hammanesett State Beach to be exact. I did not bring my camera. It wasn't purposeful, just forgot. So, no scrolling shots of the boys frolicking in the waves. A few pictures from Mike's phone, though.

cool sky

phone case in flight

We were trying to pick a beach with decent camping options that wasn't too terribly far. This one was under 2 hours. Except that we left with an awake, crabby Rhys and it turned into a very noisy and stressful 2 ½.

I wasn't sure we were making it, in more ways than one. It was one of those times you are pretty sure the folks at Google Maps were just bored (No, no GPS) -- up this road, down this hill, turn, turn, do the hokey pokey. It did not feel like we were at all approaching the coast. Small streets of greenery and loads of low rock walls so quintessentially New England that at any moment I figured Robert Frost was going to jump the hell out of the woods and point down one fork of the road. “It'll make all the difference!” he'd call after our camper van, his hands cupped around his mouth to be heard over the roar of the VW engine before waving us adieu.

But then, finally, there it was. The end of land. I let out a little inadvertent gasp when I saw it. And, stumbling out of the van, pretty nearly broke down and wept at the smell of the salt air.

These are not west coast beaches, of course. But they are beaches and the beaches of my youth – the ones with miles of sand to walk, warmish water, oyster and welch shells deposited in long lines. It was familiar for sure.

I kept driving past the spot for our campsite confused – according to the map it should be there, but no parking spot, no firepit, nothing there. Then I found out you rent the firepit (lame) and you just park on the grass wherever the hell you feel like it. In California, this would never fly. Complete anathema. First of all, there would never be so much freaking grass, and if there were grass, you sure as hell wouldn't drive all over it. The presence of grass would mean someone worked really, really hard to make it green and since there is actually no water to maintain it, you have to respect that it's there at all. Here, of course, the flipping state song of Massachusetts is the lawn mower.

There is an odd conundrum about space and the coasts. In CA, there is so much land, but everyone is shoved into tiny, expensive premium spots that they fence off. In the northeast, there are tons more people and less land, but everyone has huge yards, separated by maybe a line of bushes if anything. (This set up could partially explain why people felt the need to constantly walk right through the middle of our site while we were there, while the baby was trying to nap etc. It didn't sit well.)

Like everything done with kids as opposed to what we'd do “back in the day,” the beach was different. I went later than I wanted to, left earlier. Isaac would have eaten sand and slept in the beach roses of course, but his brother was another story.

On our 10-minute trek to the beach multiple times a day, we'd pass the closest campsite to the water (our own spot carefully chosen for the shade), which besides being steps from the sand, had no shade, no character, and suffered the constant stream of people walking and biking past their tents which they'd pitched inches from the road. Why would they put them there? I wondered.

“Eh, they are probably a couple of 20-somethings and just hungover anyway,” Mike comments.

I look around at the general demographic of that section of the campsite – its RVs with satellite dishes, its occupants' grey hair blowing in the breeze over their lounge chairs – and am dubious. However, on our return, another nap on the horizon for Mr Rhys, we see two guys roughly 25 years old shuffling around a fire in plaid pajama bottoms. One of them is smelling something he's about to eat, the other is shooting Nerf arrows from a kid-sized plastic bow. Bingo. Husband-guy nailed this one.

“Those guys are awesome,” Mike says, perhaps a touch wistfully, as our family crew saunters past.

Friday, June 29, 2012

something to sink your teeth into

trying to look innocent, eating corn flakes and sporting avocado-applesauce shampoo.

"Does baby have a little toofy?"

There is a stranger goo-goo-gaa-gaaing at my baby on the bike path and I've warned her he may be cute, but the kid takes no prisoners when it comes to biting.

“Is there a toofy in there? Hmm??”

“Um, he has 8,” I tell the woman, who clearly has not taken my warning seriously enough.

She stops, straightens up, drops the gooey smile and looks me in the eye. “Eight?”


“Well,” she says in a huff of exhale, as if offended by my infant's dental progress.

I'm relieved to have snapped her out of her baby talk, though I can see this will end our recently ignited relationship.

You could say Rhys experiences the world through taste. One of his favorite things to play with is the large Rubbermaid container of his socks (all of which are either too big or too small, like a true full moon, they only really fit him for a moment. Aaaaaaand...NOW! ). His favorite way to play with his sock container is to tilt it to his face and catch the falling socks in his mouth. He then grips the captured
sock or pair of socks in his teeth like a puppy playing tug-o-war and, solidifying the analogy, shakes his head from side to side snarling.

The child eats anything he can get his hands on – food, yes, but also any accompaniments – the avocado peel, for example, all the grass he can cram in his face, a cheese stick, stolen from my hands, the plastic wrapper torn open easily with his fangs before I can even react.

At the one play group I've managed to attend at the library, all the other babies were mobile but mine. Rhys surveyed the room with excitement, his chubby little arms and legs kicking and flailing at the sight of the other babes. There he sat on his blanket while half a dozen babies tottered around him or zipped by on all fours and his pleasure grew untethered. High-pitched hoots escaping his mouth, he waited until one of the wee ones got within striking distance and then – blam!-- he'd reach out as far as he possibly could, leading with his mouth wide open. Mama's little attack spider manning his web.

The other day I noticed the netting on his pack-n-play portable crib was torn in two places. Odd, I thought. Until I realized, that, no, it's not been torn, it's been bitten.

I'm thinking his first words might be “Tastes like chicken.”

conducting. the world is his edible symphony.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

two years

I have been on international flights where we landed at the same time we left. Time hovered, waiting for us as we soared some 40,000 feet in the sky. Nothing moved forward.

Is this an analogy for grief? A fantasy world for the mourning? Dickens' broken clocks and cobwebbed wedding dress? Or some free pass - the golden ticket in the chocolate bar wrapper?

It's two years today since we lost mom.

This morning Isaac arrives in front of me in the kitchen and announces he's going on a "nature safari,"then points to the camera hooked to his belt loop. It was my mother's camera. It still has her name and address label inside, still her pictures on the memory card, including the shots of her garden she took a couple hours before the ambulance arrived, the last ones she would ever take in a lifetime of picture taking.

We gave Isaac the camera when he turned 6 years old so he'd have something of his grandmom. He used it on the cross country trip/move, a little afterwards, but I he hasn't touched it or mentioned it for months. Until this morning.

My Mother Never Said Goodbye

It used to drive me crazy.
Okay, talk to you soon.
And then, click. Or it was,
Love ya, dear. Then a rupture

of connection. I'd be left
holding the receiver
to silence. Bye, mom!
I'd sometimes call, eye-rolling
into the nothing. Bye! Goodbye!

Things didn't change at the end.
We were planning hospice; she
was resting comfortably. And then,
click. Just silence. Goodbye

was a formality she didn't see
the need for. Superfluous.
For me, a strange gap
where closure should be.

It's jarring not to hear goodbye
from the woman who taught you
manners, from the one who
pinned your name
to your plaid dress when you were five
and put you on the bus
for the first time.

Once, much later, she put me on a bus again.
I was 20-something, another adventure
I'd half-planned. She drove me
to the station, watched me buy my ticket,

and then stood on the curb, as I settled
into my seat, as the bus pulled back.
She was still watching me while the engine
efforted into drive, which is why she didn't

notice how close she was to the curb, why
she slipped off at an odd angle, breaking,
I'd later discover, her ankle, She continued
to smile and wave, not in goodbye,

but in a gesture that dismissed my concern,
in a you-go-on-I'm-fine kind of way.
And I went on. What else could I do?
The bus was in motion. It was as if

she'd planned it that way and I whispered
to the grimy window, Bye, mom! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

If Isaac Ruled the World (Isaac & Rhys' guest post)

(click to enlarge any images) "Peas every day..."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ode to the Mexican Tacquería in Northampton, Mass

Bless your enchilada-less menu that brings me, no really,
to tears as I stand there hoping for dinner. True depth
of emotion is so hard to find our daily lives.

Praise to your tasteless beans, lukewarm pile in a Styrofoam box;
they won't burn my hungry boy's mouth, their lack of spice refusing
to detract his focus from the beauties of spring that surround us.

Light and love go with your bored, surly employees, not one
of whom is Mexican, but who here, in this Land of Opportunity,
can nonetheless work in a self-proclaimed ethnic eatery,
stepping up to the counter as they do, to offer me, a stranger,
their assistance.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

This Tiny Body Curled Against Mine

its mouth wide, waiting for the breast
and there I am, placed in the family
of things. Just another mammal.
And, yes, I want exactly 
what the doe and the fox mother want –
for him to one day rise, sure
in his defenses and walk
on his own power through the woods.  

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


It's one of those times when I think: "What kind of stars exactly have had to align to find me here in this moment -- sitting in my car on a Tuesday night in rural Massachusetts in the parking lot of a Big Y supermarket listening to The Cure on the radio and eating Poptarts?" I know many of you have likely asked yourselves that very question probably a million times.

It is the Great Baby Escape 2012.

Life paths are funny things. Say to me 20 years ago - "You will have two kids and be excited when you haven't burned the lasagna!" And my 22-year-old self will laugh, "Screw off!" and skip carefree across the Ponte Vecchio while awaiting the end of the Italian train strike. Say it to me 3 years ago and I will laugh equally hard  before zipping south on Highway 1 toward a writing retreat along the Big Sur coastline.

Rhys is 10 months old today. Unless you are adjusting for his four-week early birth. These days I think of it mostly in terms of getting a jump start on that sleep deprivation.

I am at a wall. This is hard. I am tired. More than tired. My friends are far away. I am sad.

Every day I encounter people whose paths I ponder.

The podiatrist who sees me for 7-minute meetings in a dingy little office every couple months and asks with a shrug and not a glance at my little piggies how everything is going but has never inquired about my lifestyle or factors affecting the issues with my feet and who can squeeze me in three weeks later when I'm in pain... is this what he dreamed of doing with his time on this earth?

The TV meteorologist who shudders at the rain in an Everyman kind of attempt at camaraderie and asks leading dramatically-presented, pre-commerical break questions such as, "Will we see any improvement by the weekend?!?" ...does he sleep well at night believing he's contributing to a better world?

The contractor, who you are supposed to imagine building something with tools and his hands despite his sharply ironed pink designer label button down and perfect hair, and who uses your name too much ("Kathryn, I'm glad we could meet today. Let me ask you a few more questions, Kathryn...")...what did he want to be when he grew up?

And me. Who knows. Who knows what I wanted. All I want now is sleep. But do remember this -- the world needs saving, people. Choose your Poptarts carefully.

Take a stroll into a flashback post...This time last year.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Writer's Almanac

Every morning, for I don't remember how many years now, I get the Writer's Almanac in my email inbox.

I don't always read them, sometimes I am just too busy, and other times I've stuck my straw into the eternal spring of hope again, sipping, sipping, and thought that some better, more relaxed time would arrive to me where I could open the little missal and read it in luxury – quietly, while drinking tea, retaining all there was to know, growing inspired by a line of the poem or the life noted within to go off and write my own ditty that would be published somewhere fabulous and – well, gosh, why not – picked up by the Writer's Almanac.

I keep these unread messages and do open some on occasion. But there are many I haven't gotten to. April 18, March 5 and May 2 of this year, for example, as well as a trove of other unreads that go back a ways: December 26, 2011 and October 13, 2011. And I know there are many many more. Maybe someday I will open December 1, 2010 and see whose birthday it was, learn something.

Reading the Writer's Almanac you get a sense of a life made tidy by an intern or two, reported in that plodding Midwestern voice of Garrison Keillor. No matter what cruelty, insanity or banality the author might have been subject to as a child or dished out as a young adult or witnessed in old age, everything sounds perfectly natural and under control. The years dodging alcoholic parents, the three arrests, the ultimate decision to become a chicken farmer, take up a mere line and a half. Facts are facts and life's most treacherous turnings are spun into now plain and logical-sounding phrases that begin with “so.”

So, he spent the next 17 years traveling in South America.
So, she quit school at age 9.

And, of course,
So, he decided to become a writer.

You have to appreciate a format in which writers are made to sound sane and whole, where all of the drama and heartbreak of life is woven into a synopsis one can chew like a sweet digestive all because it's someone's birthday. They were here once. Maybe they still are. They wrote a book. How much richer we all are for it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Things to Do While the Baby is Napping

after Dan Albergotti's "Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale," with thanks to Susana.
(italicized lines borrowed from Albergotti)

Pray it lasts. Put on tea. Drink it down hot. Look at pictures of the baby you took that morning. Count up all the submission deadlines you've missed in the past month. Hum. Eat cookies. Design an exercise regimen. Set the auto-correct on your phone. Text your friends nonsensical messages they won't get because they are currently trying to get their babies to nap. Research what happened to 80s one-hit-wonder bands on Wikipedia. Plant a garden. Water it. Miss your mother. Review each of your life's 10 million choices. Endure moments of self-loathing. Find evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Become convinced you've harnessed a finite list of universal truths. Hold imaginary press conferences to deliver the news to the outside world. Look unsuccessfully for your glasses. Write blogs about how you never have time to write blogs because the baby never naps. Be thankful you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait. Remember the first time you felt him kick, your hands going again and again to your belly in surprise.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

on rainy days, I take a shower: a wee vignette on gardening and parenting

California poppy and marigold seedlings in my garden

snaps with alyssum

I don't mean that I step outside into the rain and “shower” in a rain shower. While this conceit is quaintly poetic in a not very interesting way, what my gardening poet mama self means is in fact quite literal. Believe me, poetry aside, I know something about the literal. I live with an engineer.

I mean, on days when the weather is rainy, I step into the bathtub – a beautiful clawfoot tub one well-meaning former owner of my 116-year-old farmhouse painted green on some decorating bender which I'm sure at the time seemed like a glowing stroke of genius, and I turn on the water, which, thanks to that engineer, for the first time in 116 years, sprays from a shower pipe stationed above the green claw feet in my 5' by 7' bathroom that sits, naturally, as a modern afterthought – urban, city slicker cousin to the original outhouse – off our kitchen, itself a modern afterthought.**

I take a shower when it rains because I will probably do less gardening on these days and it seems a safe enough effort to scrub my fingernails and untangle my hair. Of course, I must qualify with “probably” because you do never know. One of my first acts of gardening after moving to Massachusetts was planting daffodil bulbs in a blizzard. But there you are.

The other part of my rainy day hygiene routine is that as a mom of a 9-month-old baby and a 7-year-old first-grader, the mornings get more than a little busy and the evenings no less so. Showering doesn't tend to happen every day, as unAmerican as that is to admit.

When I get to take showers, however, I am loathe to leave the green clawfoot. The world becomes a caressing stream of warm water, the knots in my neck show signs of wanting to unlock and ideas percolate among the synapses of my brain like gorgeous soap bubbles shimmering in rainbow colors.***

And then I get out.

“Mommy?!” “Mommy??” MOMmy!!”

** This is the kind of unending sentence that my husband tells me turns readers off. However, I like to think that someday (when I'm discovered, right?) it will be the kind of signature within my writing that marks my style. It will be, in fact, the REASON I am discovered -- some editor will be reeled in by such a layered and original voice and my college political science professor who handed me back my essays exasperated (“Kitty, can you please just give me a subject and a verb and move on!”) will have to write me an apology. (One sentence of substantial length will do, Jeff.)

***And here, I leave the literal to move toward the poetic once again, albeit in a somewhat trite fashion since these are the first comparisons that come to mind and the baby is due to wake up any minute and wouldn't it be nice to post a blog entry?
kale with rhubarb leaves

end of the allium

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

heartache, gardens, and odd bedfellows (aka, just try to make sense of this one)

I have many days when I think I see someone I know, and am sometimes even on the verge of calling out to them, when I realize it can't be that person. That person doesn't live here. I left him back in Monterey. I haven't seen her since exiting California. It's always startling.

Ever since I was in college, I have experienced what may or may not be related physical symptoms of a subtle ailment or ailments that has never been satisfactorily labeled by the measures of western medicine nor a few other kinds either. The issues are never crippling; always hard to accurately describe; often flare and diminish by turns; never obvious to the casual passerby. Yet they are persistent and they affect how I can function and what kind of success feels within my grasp. This heartache is like that.

In April we went for an almost two-week trip to California. It was wonderful to be back. It felt like being reintroduced to myself.

I'm having more than a little trouble letting go, believing that we are staying here, on the east coast. (And, really, people, I use the term “coast” rather loosely since there ain't no beach in these parts.) I got to do a poetry reading while I was back in California, which made it all better/worse. Ironically, just after I returned I was also asked to be the “local spotlight poet” at a new open mic here. I'm feeling conflicted about this “local” billing.

I am sitting here trying to figure out how to write about what I want without knowing what it is I want. Without simply whining all over the page. The way I interact with people here feels not unlike the first year after I moved to New Jersey from Long Island when I was 10. I am weary and unconvinced that this new environment will save me. I am hostile toward whatever is different – the weather, the radio stations, the baseball team. And my heart aches all the time. So far I've managed to keep my conversations with neighbors about gardening, but don't think I haven't considered calling them out to prove how tough I am. Hit me! Go ahead! I'm from California!

I really do wish that the New Englanders could say shit like, “Shut the fuck up and go back if you don't like it!” I'd appreciate that. It'd feel like a conversation opener. But they are way to repressed polite for that. And so I bumble along, defending wherever I am not. Bringing back more succulent cuttings, orange poppy seeds hoping to see some California in my garden.

People who listen to my whining keep asking me if we are going back. These people a) need to better familiarize themselves with the nature of whining, b) have clearly not already moved a family cross country once in the last 11 months, and c) don't hold out unrealistic hopes of the 116-year-old house they bought because it had a big kitchen and was close to the park becoming livable for more than the mice someday.

Oh and to help me along in my house confidence, there's this...

The bank that owns our mortgage has paired with Duncan Donuts. I can't decide. The road to solid and sure financial survival? Or kitchy and embarrassing? Now you can get your Boston cream and drop off your interest payment in the same location! So convenient.

As we set off into the land of (hopefully) summer renovations, plans to increase the value of our investment, I feel assured that the folks backing the biggest purchase of our lifetime will be there for us, our hopes handed back to us, an extra for each dozen dreamed, separated by little squares of wax paper in those perennial pink boxes.

I guess I had expectations I didn't know I had. Such as, a bank should stand on its own, its employees well-manicured, their desks bereft of anything personal, and not sharing real estate with people on a caffeine buzz jaunting in and out before work dunking rainbow sprinkle-infused fried dough into their morning cuppa.

Maybe 2012 is more insane than even it aspired to be. Or maybe we just all need some company in who we are. Maybe it's healthier to coexist with those unlike us. Standing on our own has always be a dubious American value.

In fact, when I stop to think about it, I have tried to explain this concept in my own way to my New England neighbors who all ask me when they look at the gardens we've dug – “Vegetables or flowers?” “Yes,” I answer. Whoops! Did I forget to plow a perfect grave garden – a rectangle of dirt with all the little plastic markers lined up like tombstones? Did I forget to ghettoize my garlic, lest their tassled little heads bend to touch the calendula?

I am making my mother a garden. As in, I am planting a garden that reminds me of her that I can go to and think of her, that will henceforth in our house be known as “grandmom's garden.” I put in a few canna lilies, planted cosmos, zinnias, marigolds. I'm working on what else. It's not a big space right now. Just a circle (I know, right?) around a small forsythia bush, its yellow blossoms done now for the season.

I started the garden a couple weeks back. The old man down the street walked by with his dog and told me he thought the ground was still too cold for things to germinate. It's May. MAY. I don't give a New-fucking-England. It's MAY. Shit should grow in MAY. I thanked my neighbor and continued. I knew they'd grow. First of all, I'm planting my mother's garden like my mother would plant a garden, that is, I'm throwing seeds at the ground and sometimes I cover them over in dirt with the toe of my shoe. Okay, truth be told I'm not being quite as true to her methods as I could be. Sometimes I remember what I planted where, and sometimes I even have a kind of plan when I begin. Sorry, mom, I'm just an apprentice.

Zone this, baby. All the seeds are up.

Today, I was out in the garden looking. Not just at grandmom's garden, but all my gardeny bits. The rhubarb, the tomatoes, the snapdragons out there with their little towering mouths, trying to intimidate the alyssum, the dalia bulbs coming to life, the chamomile stretching its arms like a good yogi. It's the first place I go now when the small creature goes down for a nap. I just go to the garden. Usually there is something else to put in the ground still. Sometimes though I just wander, pull up a maple tree seedling, watch. And I realized something. Every garden is my mother's garden. She is why I do this. She is part of every decision in the dirt.

I'll keep grandmom's garden what it is, though. And keep my other gardens “mine.” Because we like to pretend we stand on our own.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

a year to remember

I was filling out paperwork for a two-week summer camp Isaac will go to in July and I came across this question: “Has anything significant happened in your family in the last year?”

Dude. How much time do you have?

We could start with the natural disasters...This time last year, while we were still on our way, Mike stressing out that he wasn't working, Isaac begging for popsicles and playing with dinosaur bone replicas, Emily finding her balance in the space formerly occupied by an air conditioning unit in the van, Kitty foraging for anything that looked like sustenance for a pregnant vegetarian in the middle states – there was the tornado that tore through what would soon be our new hometown.

After that there was an earthquake, and a few weeks later, the coastline much too far for my liking or to make any sense of this weather pattern, a hurricane here in western Massachusetts.

In between the earthquake and the hurricane there was the birth of our baby – a month early, at the house we had purchased with no small amount of effort and moved into that morning. Six weeks on we would get the news that Mr baby needed open heart surgery, which would happen just after he turned 4 months old, shortly before Christmas, which somehow managed to come like in some Seuss-inspired movie (the one that did not star Jim Carey) providing my older son with what he would later deem a disappointing haul. Moving on to spring, my father-in-law dies, not unexpectedly and notably peacefully, leaving us hard-pressed to find many of the top ten stressers left out of our year.

Might I add that we still have not actually been here, in our new home for a full year. Can't wait to see what the finale might be.

The prelude, after all, was nothing less than staggering. When I arrived at my mother's house at in June of 2010 at 1:00am on a Saturday morning, I crawled into her bed. It was unoccupied as she had taken up residence in a cardio-ICU unit about 45 minutes up the parkway. After she died Saturday afternoon, I crawled back into it and slept there for three more nights, each day when the sun rose, unfeeling star, I got up and threw away her things. The path to the bed cleared slowly, like a river widening as the monsoon blew through its season.

If that bed still existed, I would still be there, surrounded by her smell and the pictures on her wall. Even in California it was a stretch to remember, to grieve in any productive way. And now, here, I feel uprooted from the process, unable to call to mind memories I want. This is a place my mother was never in. This is a life I never got to share with her. My own life uprooted so quickly after, I am derailed, confused, and yes, in a tradition my mother knew well, so, so tired.

On this Mother's Day, if you are out there, readers, tell me how you remember.

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