Monday, November 23, 2009


As usual, my words, his shots. (Here are some past posts if you have a hard time believing a five-/six-/seven-year old can consistently take these kinds of shots. I know I'm still amazed, and I see him do it.)

Except for the total homemaker FAIL to come. (You'll see.) I took those. He just laughed.


During our last car trip my son played with his seat belt and read the latest novel he's tackling (a good three years above his level, at least -- I read it to "screen" it, but also because I liked it, at 28). As an afterthought he asked, "Mom? When did religion start?"


"What's first base?" he asked one evening, at least partly to put me off my game during the usual can-I-have-pizza-for-dinner debate (which he wins more often than I care to admit).

"Uh, first base?" I fumbled. "It's a base, in baseball. The first one." (Well, I was hoping, anyway.)

"I know THAT. I mean, first BASE. Like not in baseball. What does it mean if some guy says he got to first base?"

"Well, he's usually talking about a girl he likes, and it's a silly way to say 'holding hands' or 'kissing.' And as long as that's all they do, it's fine, if they're older -- say, 54 -- and if they're nice to each other."

"Oh. I want to get to first base with YOU, Mom! Also, I've only had pizza once this week."

He got pizza.


He has been practicing the drums on Guitar Hero, and I just had to encourage it. He asked me to sing accompaniment to all his performances. Do you know anyone, with no musical inclination whatsoever, who knows all the words to "Beat It" (seriously, there are lyrics besides "Just beat it." Who knew?), "Eye of the Tiger," "Hotel California," "Heart Breaker" and "Are You Gonna Go My Way" by heart? Well, now you do. According to the game and my son (who regularly aces the drum part), I rock. According to anyone else in possession of ears, not so much.


My mom called me on impulse while bringing in her groceries. We'd spoken just a few hours ago; she called this time just to tell me I'm a good mom. We spent the next fifteen minutes talking mom stuff, at which point I had to let her go because her freezer stuff was thawing. I smiled for the next half hour, at least.


I preheated the oven to bake some cookies. Five minutes later, I smelled a molten plastic scent, almost exactly like the scent to which I became accustomed during my illustrious career as an injection mold operator. Huh, I thought, and went about making the dough. (Because I'm stupid, that's why.) I got the first tray of cookies ready, opened the oven, and found this:

Yeah. Turns out, if you're hiding a couple of straggler dirty dishes as unexpected visitors drop by, it's a great idea, as long as you take them out before heating the oven to 350 degrees. Especially if you're hiding your plastic dishes.

My son loved the new artwork.


We have a roadrunner that's been visiting our neighborhood recently. I spent a good half hour the one evening getting close to it, earning its trust. It clacked its beak and ran away each time passers-by came into view, but eventually seemed to accept me, even let me take a few shots. I figured now it would be safe to let my son come out and see it, at least before it fled. I was sure he wouldn't be able to stay as still or get as close as I had. He came out, looking like a clown in my husband's shoes. He walked smoothly (but much too quickly, I thought) up to the roadrunner. He stood at most two feet from it. The bird raised its crest a millimeter, then smoothed it back down, turned its head sideways and regarded my son with one eye. It never fled. Never clacked. They stared at each other until black enveloped us.


"What's Playboy?" he asked on the way home from school.

"Wh... Why?" I stammered.

"Well, can I ever have one?"

After calming my internal freak-out impulse, I calmly explained that Playboy is a "magazine you would find either gross or boring, and it's definitely not for kids."

"Oh, never mind. I thought it was like a PlayStation or Game Boy. I guess I don't want a Playboy for Christmas, then."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Egrets, I've had a few

As I cut my own hair yesterday (yes, it came out semi-OK; no, you may not see pictures), my son pranced by the bathroom door. He drummed on the wall, sang "Seven Nation Army" and hopped from one foot to another, as cats wove around my ankles. It was one of the best moments of the week.

Maybe it has something to do with hair, or songs. I remember my dad used to wash my hair was I was about David's age. He'd speed-wash it in between television baseball innings. He always sang "My Way" while he was doing it for some reason. I had to thrust my finger into the air in accompaniment at "what is a man" and "took the blows" and he'd rinse it on the final line. I have no idea how the ritual got started, but I ate it up. I'm aware that a million different people have a million different associations with that song, no doubt a great deal of them having to do with loved ones. Me? I remember strawberry shampoo and warm water trickling down my neck, and being lifted off the bathroom stool to run in and watch the rest of the seventh inning.

I've been thinking about happiness -- how to build happiness, how to make a husband and son happy, how money doesn't buy happiness (but since lack of money sure as hell prevents happiness then it kind of does), memories of when I was most happy. More to the point, I've been stressing about it. Like seriously, just sitting and stressing. Breaking an actual sweat. Please, Internet, I would like to know how to force my family to be happy. How to be happy myself.

I feel like we waste our time. David used to be so embracing, ready any time I wanted to have Meaningful Family Time. Now, he's aloof half the time. What if we piss it all away and then he's a standoffish teenager and then we never get to act lovey again? What if my husband and I forget completely how to be romantic, until it's all nose picking and open-door peeing and why can't YOU run the dishwasher for once? It's already the end of 2009, and I haven't packed nearly enough meaning into this year yet.

I say I'm easy to please. Don't take me on fancy trips. Just be in the moment with me. I like the simple things. But the thing is, I demand the simple things. I'm EASY TO PLEASE, DAMMIT, I tell my husband. All I ask for is for you to be HERE WITH ME, right NOW. How much more easygoing do you want?

The thing about happiness, in the be-with-me, isn't-this-moment-all-misty-and-wonderful, wait-you-think-it-isn't? What-the-HELL-then-why-aren't-you-MAKING-it-that-way sense? It's a luxury. I worry about it when the material necessities are taken care of and going well. If it's between relating to my family in a kind tone and making sure I have running water, I kick them out of the room and call the utility company.

Things went pretty well for the first half of this year for us. My husband was making decent money. We'd just bought our house. I looked to be close to bringing in regular income.

So, naturally, we had regular intervals of behaving miserably toward each other. We worried. And stressed. And yelled. We're doing FINE; we kept hollering at each other. Why can't you just be HAPPY with that?

Well golly-gee, I wonder why?

Now, things are decidedly not hunky-dory on the material front. Our bills are paid, but just barely. I'm still "close to bringing in regular income." My husband's job ... let's just say he's not leaping in the car each day. He's obscenely overqualified, but no one else is hiring. We cannot afford to do anything that isn't free. Sometimes, we can't afford that, if it costs too much in gas to get there.

So, naturally, we're the happiest we've ever been as a couple and as a family.

It's not denialism, either. (We conquered that once we realized that avoiding your bank statement doesn't make the pathetic figures any better; it actually might make things quite a bit worse.) I think it's the same thing that made us feel so ridiculously into each other in high school. It's us against this Big Thing.

We've stopped trying to MAKE each other happy, and we've been making each other very happy. Shockingly, those moments happen even if I don't demand them. I was surprised to find that my husband likes them just as much. I think he was quite surprised himself.

We go to the preserve (it's free!) on telescope night. David squeezes into the observatory and talks to the astronomer about Mars as he peers into the viewfinder. He's bathed in a red glow as he lectures bystanders about Mars's moons, which he knows from a board game we play at home. I used to play the game with my own parents, and only just recently stopped being a know-it-all about Phobos and Deimos.

My husband, son and I walk to the park in fading orange and pink light. My son plays on the equipment like he used to when he was littler, when I was dating my husband and we'd take my son to the park on thinly veiled dates for ourselves.

A lady with filthy dogs crosses our path. David loves on her dogs and talks to her. It makes her evening.

We go back to the preserve, and the geese mob David as he tosses our mesquite seeds. A heron barks and takes off in slow motion, waving more than flapping its massive blue-gray wings.

Back again at the preserve, my husband and I spend an entire morning stalking and watching egrets and herons. Just the two of us. It was his idea. We whisper-yell to each other from our hiding places in the reeds and bushes as we try to capture the egrets in flight and joke about how geeky the herons look head-on with their rosy drumstick legs showing. We're going back tomorrow.

He woke me up last night to tell me that the roadrunner was back, sleeping on our neighbor's meter box. He knew I'd want to know.

Just moments.

Time's slowing down. Just a little. But it's definitely better.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Apoopos of nothing

We see a mangled dove on the side of the road on the way home from school, probably the victim of a windshield collision. Its wing splays upward, and we can't even tell if it has a head.

"Mom? What happens to dove minds?"

"Well, they stop working when their bodies do. It's sad, isn't it?"


[Long pause during which a jerk in a giant SUV, oblivious to my presence or anything but his texting, shoves me over into the turn lane early, and I cut off a cop.]

"So, Mom? What about souls? Do doves have souls?"

Now I'm chanting Pleasedon'tpullmeoverPleasedon'tpullmeover under my breath and have lost the thread of the conversation. I take the lazy thought-provoking route.

"What do you think?"

"Well, some people think everything has a soul and some people think only people do. Some people think nothing really does."

For my part, I hope I have one, because by now I'm pledging it to the traffic-patrol gods. It works. He continues on as I turn. "Um, yeah. You're right. Wow. Have you been talking about this with other people?"

"Sometimes," he says, around powdered cheese and a sizable mass of chewed up Doritos left over from lunch. "After we played Monster Mania but before I skinned my elbow -- I was a zombie mostly, and my friend was a ghost but then he was a vampire, but I think he cheated because you're not supposed to be a vampire on the equipment, but the playground teacher said to 'solve it yourselves' (here he makes sarcastic air quotes) -- after that, my friend said something about it. He said he thinks there might be like a big soul bedroom, and we all go there when we die, and he hopes that his turtle is there. But he said his other friend doesn't think any of them will be there."

"Well, people believe all kinds of different things."

"Yeah. Different things about God or Heaven and stuff."

"Yeah, that's true.

"You know what I think?" He cranes his head to talk to me in the rear view mirror. "I think that our soul isn't really like a ghost or an invisible brain or anything. I think that it's just the word we had to make up to talk about what we are altogether. Like, our thoughts and thoughts about thoughts and stuff, and everything nice and not nice that we did, and how we know that when we die that's the end of the line for us in our body but our body breaks up and becomes other stuff, like water in a lake or animal food and then animal poop, or stars and stuff -- and knowing that and how nice we are until we die is our soul. Also, I don't know, maybe some part of our knowing, like some part we don't know is there, goes to where lots of other things that were alive are. But no one knows exactly if that happens and how it goes and all that's too long to say so we say 'soul.'"

We pull up the driveway. I'm at a loss. When did we make the jump from baby talk to this? This? I figure I'd better give it my best try. I turn around in the driver's seat.

"Well, people really do believe all kinds of different things, and I think you're pretty darn smart and can figure out for yourself what to believe and how you think the world works. You're kind and you explore the world and that's what really matters. No matter what people call or don't call things they believe in -- God, or Heaven, or other names for it, or if they just believe in life and do their best -- we all do and love the same things, we just speak about it in different langua... What's wrong? Are you sad about the dove?

"No." He's grimacing. "It's just, you're talking a lot, and I really have to poop. Can you get bring my chips in?"