The last to leave the shelf


Children’s books that forever changed my life.

I often tell people that every book they read to a child they read to themselves, and therefore not to miss the urgent message that is being delivered into their own hands, from none other than their own lips, and through their own eyes.

Of late, as I’ve recounted, the shelves of my daughter’s room have been cleared of those things that never had much to give or from which every use has already been wrung. A few children’s books remain, all of which my daughter has outgrown, none of which I have or ever will.

This week I’m going to recommend them to you. Some are rather obscure; others, not. Each of them arrived into my hands and heart when I needed them most. Every time I read them is precisely when I need them most. I entrust their magic to you.

Pierre’s Dream
By Jennifer Armstrong
Pictures by Susan Gaber

Pierre is a lazy, foolish man who has no job, no interests and no hobby besides sitting under the olive trees in the afternoon thinking of dinner. That alone recommends him as a hero to me, however in this telling he does far more. He falls asleep, and he begins to dream a dream of fantastic proportions and unbelievable feats.

“Very realistic,” he murmured. But as it was his dream, or so he thought, he had no fear. “For of course, I can wake up at any time,” he reminded himself.

Pierre taught me to stop distinguishing between those things I only dream of doing, and those I do. He teaches me still. The distinction, you see, is only fear.

Pierre’s dreams are very realistic, and so are yours. Wake up and surprise yourself beginning with this book!

Disputation on the sudden appearance of sunlight


Because we are longing for the slightest glimmer of change on the horizon, and because it can be seen.

Day before yesterday I was pulling weeds or raking leaves or some such that comprises my morning rounds on this ranch and I heard the buzz of chainsaws, then the crack of a branch and breathed a gust of dust that came over the back fence.

The property to the rear is derelict and has been for decades, overgrown with monstrous trees and thickets, a forgotten ramble and a pit, with ragged shacks and sheds and a wildlife population so vile that we could only smile and call it Raccoon Lodge. I’d noticed on my strolls when the lot had gone on the market, the near eternity that it had been sale-pending and knew with the noise that the closing date had been crossed.

The routine rumble we’ve always heard on our street has been quiet of late, a deafening lull, as the upgrades and add-ons and even tree trims wait for the return of good days and easy money. It might be awhile coming. It might be a good, bad, sad, tight, taut, crying out loud long time ’til those days are here again. With everything and all getting worse and no way to tell, I don’t mind too much that something blasphemously new and huge is probably about to go up adjacent to me.

I don’t mind anymore. Because about four o’clock yesterday afternoon, after the crew had quit, and the work was done, and I walked into my kitchen, and I looked out the window toward the western sky, I saw the wide open sky, through my own leafy cover, the dreamy blue and the streaming sun, the light that had been eclipsed for so long by the tangle of rotten trees and vines, by the dark of gloom, by an unkempt past. I saw the sun, I saw the future, and I saw the incalculable density of dog hair, glistening gold each and every strand, hair that blankets my floors, heretofore unseen, and I knew the truth with a certainty that I must speak and console you with here.

It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be fine. The light has arrived.

That, and a merciful vacuum cleaner.

One step to normal


When girls turn 9 quite a bit begins to change and you may no longer see so intimately eye to eye. Then you realize they’ve been waiting all their lives to have the high ground under their feet.

Me: You are growing so much! (With poorly masked dismay over the rapidly outgrown clothes, the discarded toys and the little girl lost.)

Her: Maybe that means I’ll be a normal-sized person some day!

***
I don’t have to tell you that she already fills the sky and outshines the sun, but normal is good enough too. Normal will do.

Tangled up in feelings


Overture to a yard sale in which a mass of mangled Barbies sold for the unsentimental sum of $2.50.

He said: You’ve got to understand my feelings. I’m watching my daughter’s childhood go out the front door.

She said: That’s true, your daughter’s childhood goes out the front door every day. Let’s not mistake her childhood for a piece of plastic.

The finale: $238 and a change of heart, plus a very happy girl who can bank in all ways on the outcome.

The encore: I nearly forgot! For more on my feelings, or unfeelings, about Barbies, read this magazine article from a while ago. I still find her to be quite the educational toy.

The fall of the smart house

Could be a metaphor for our economic collapse, and it is, but it’s not.

By my bleary reckoning, it might have been 4 a.m. when Georgia got out of bed, walked across the darkness, said “I don’t feel well,” and threw up on the white wool carpet in my sister’s tony new townhouse.

It was a stunning flood of Mexican beans and rice and milk, a regurgitation that transfixed a mother into the gripping awareness that the day to come wouldn’t be going her way. At 9 a.m. my daughter and I would be boarding an airplane for a flight from Houston to LA. This was a new one for me: traveling with a five-year-old through the turbulence of stomach flu.

Incoming!

She spit up at steady intervals, giving my lame hope of a less paralyzing diagnosis no time to coagulate. It was the crowning blow to what had been a triumphant return to my old hometown.

I’d been hired to do two days of media training for the wealth management division of a regional bank. Damn I’m good! I’d brought Georgia along to visit old friends and family. I can do it all! On the eve of leaving, we’d gone out for a Houston twofer: Tex-Mex and margaritas. Life is sweet, with salt on the rim!

I was satisfied that I still had it. (The business thing.) I’d figured it out. (The mommy thing.) I was a sassy smartass at the top of my game.

Two hours later, I hunched over the wheel of my rental car heading up the interstate, one eye on the rear view mirror watching Georgia double over into a plastic Target shopping bag. My baby would have to fly 2,000 miles with her face in that bag. What else could I do? I’d never done this. I’d never been in this bind. I knew nothing. For all my bravura, the smug congratulation of the night before, we were starting all over again. Day 1.

About then I realized: It’s always Day 1, you dummy.

I begged and consoled, consoled and begged. “If you make it home I’ll buy you a Barbie Smart House,” I said, kissing her sweaty neck, shielding her convulsions in the window seat.

This was a mommy Hail Mary. The Barbie Happy Family Smart House was an $80 obscenity, just the latest in an onslaught of overpriced molded plastic monstrosities that possessed my daughter, still immersed in her all-Barbie, all-day play stage. I’d refused it a dozen times over. Drawn a line in the sand. But now I reached for it like a miracle cure.

It worked. By the time we made it home, she was sipping Sprite and bubbling with nothing but anticipation. I was so grateful and proud and humbled. It had become the happiest day of our lives.

***

I’ve wised up so I’m not running the Chicago Marathon this Sunday. My former running partner and I are staging a marathon of another kind, a garage sale. No, it won’t be worth it, but this time the Smart House is going.

It’s Day 1 all over again. The happiest day of our lives.

***
And what’s this? See if you’re a quack happy winner of our latest giveaway here.

Goodbye to everything else

This year,
My sister broke her fall
My dog broke her knee
And through it all, there was one good thing
My deal disappeared
My words dried up
And through it all, there was one good thing
My other sister lost her job
My hopes took a hit
And through it all, there was one good thing
My bank failed
My future all but vanished in a day
And through it all, there was one good thing
My country collapsed
My happy ending kaput
And through it all, there was one good thing
A good so good it cannot be called good.
A thing so vast it cannot be called a thing.
A one so many it can only be called one.

Life keeps proving it cannot be grasped.
May you be safe
May we all be safe here forever
as One.

Photo by Kevin Carden

Eye of the beholder

There is no other way to explain what she saw. You’ll have to go there and trust your own eyes.

Quacking me up! A giveaway

Float to the bottom of this post for the announcement of winners.

She was a kindergartener when she first came home with a bulging backpack and eyeballs to boot.

Mommy, we’re doing a fun raiser! A fun raiser! she flapped her arms.

I looked inside her satchel and there it was. The big downside to school enrollment – at any school, mind you – the packet of schlock we were supposed to peddle for a good cause. Wrapping paper to people who no longer wrap gifts, kitchen tschotckes to people who no longer cook, magazines to people who no longer read, chocolates to people who no longer . . . well, you get the idea.

This was all to benefit the school PTA, which provides buses for field trips, and stipends for classroom supplies, and all manner of goodly and necessary services to our cadre of dedicated teachers. But still.

And to rocket launch the sale, they had herded the kids into the auditorium and hyperventilated them with the promise of junky prizes. Save me.

We have the rather sane option of simply giving money to the PTA, which I would gladly do. But my daughter wants to sell; she wants to knock on doors, and spill her spiel because Mommy didn’t you hear? It’s a fun raiser! She knows fun when she hears it.

So each year we buy more than we need of what nobody wants.

But this year, she came home from school with an infectious thread of enthusiasm. She bolted into the door, whipped out the glossy catalog and pointed to item number ED54 and said, I think you’re really going to like this Flossy Duck Dental Floss Dispenser!

Those of you have read for a bit know of my religious devotion to the gospel of floss and how I have endeavored mightily to bring my girl up in a righteous way. And so, just for fun, we’re having a Flossy Duck giveaway here on this site, just the ticket for all you moms and dads who quack your heads off trying to instill good dental practices without the magic missing ingredient of fun!

Leave a comment on this post by the end of next Tuesday, Oct. 7. There will more than one winner. I’ll let Georgia choose the entries she likes and, depending on how much money we don’t have, we’ll order more this year of what everybody needs and wants: Fun! Fun! Fun!

Plead for your prize Flossy Duck today!

***
Georgia studied all 43 qualifying entries and without any guidance from me, pronounced these to be the lucky ducks: Mrs. B. Roth, Holly, NateAndJakesMom, Mika and Regina. Contact me by email through the profile page to claim your prize!

A tale that wags the dog


Mommy, who’s your agent and editor?

She has called to me from the fourth chapter of her new book, the kids’ version of that golden syrup Marley & Me, speedily read in bed before lights out.

We have imposed a moratorium on her voracious nighttime feeding of the Harry Potter seven-book collector’s series, noticing only months too late the correlation between her interrupted sleep, resurgent fear of the dark, wakefulness after 90 minutes of early dreaming and her tearful terror of being alone. (These things are rather always of obvious origin, although pitiably difficult for parents to recognize.)

She leaps up from bed and comes to me, certain that she has everything she needs to write her own international bestseller – a pencil, paper and dog whose name begins with an M. (Plus mom’s trusty publishing contacts!) Hastening to the dining table, she starts and finishes, sensibly enough, with a rendering of the cover. What more need be said?

“Molly & Me” it reads, with illustrations of the lead characters. Inspiration has wagged its tail, and all before bedtime.

If only I had her literary pedigree.

Life is suffering


There’s nothing new about the news.
It’s always time to practice, she reminds herself.
Things change, she knows for sure.
Let go, she intones.

And still, there’s nothing new about the news.
Must we always fail our children?
I’m afraid I know the answer.

Opening the box of my heart

A letter to my daughter on my birthday.

My dear heart,
It is customary in these parts to post letters of reflection on our children’s birthdays. But at my age and altitude, a birthday is everyone’s birthday and I can no longer split the difference.

There were stirrings that something was up with you of late. A scurry and hush as I walked into your room. The scattered remnants of things cut out, disassembled, refashioned. You assured me that I would love the present you were making for me, if only I could wait.

This was new for you. Not new to make something, no that isn’t new. But to make and keep a secret of your own. To guard yourself so well and to let excitement crest in your own sturdy chest.

In the morning I came into the kitchen and found the surprise you had snuck overnight onto the center of the table, mimicking every birthday of your own, starting the party at dawn, because not one moment of a day so long awaited can be wasted.

I found a box.

Inscribed with the curious glyphs of a language you now own:

Decorated with pictures of your friends and family, the people and the places you inhabit with and without me:

Labeled emphatically with the contents, the contents that cannot be named or contained:

Opening it, I already know that everything is inside.

I love my life.

Do you know the way to San Jose?


I’ve been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose.

I flew into San Jose and spent most of today with a group of inspiring and powerful women, the founders and organizers of the Palo Alto Mother’s Symposium, a landmark event created nine years ago by mothers for mothers to address the questions that echo forever in the lives of mothers, questions without sufficient answers, that we can never know with any certainty, but that bind us together in the most tender kind of everloving company.

On Saturday, March 7 I’ll go back to keynote the symposium on the campus of Stanford University, and I want you to find the way. Because you, yes you, are going to come down, up, out, over and join me there. You and I are going to spend the morning in glorious company, then because you’ve come so far we’re going to have a bonus round of afternoon coffee, tea and conversation with raucous laughter and a few tears. I won’t settle for otherwise. Mark your calendar, find your way and meet me there. Admission is cheap and the transportation – well, why not just see what’s possible. (Put a hundred down and buy a car.)

I’ve got lots of friends in San Jose
Do you know the way to San Jose?
Can’t wait to get back to San Jose.

Counting it up


How many times I’ve received the Kilkenny email about Palin: 4
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Women Against Palin email: 3
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Gloria Steinem essay about Palin: 5
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Anne Lamott essay about Palin: 3
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the email to give to Planned Parenthood in Palin’s name: 4
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

As much as I like to receive, I know first-hand that receiving even the most inspiring words won’t change the outcome of anything. I’m giving to the Obama campaign today, because I’ve done the math, and I have a lot of catching up to do.

Give $15. Give what you have, or (like me) give money you don’t yet have. Join me in changing the outcome of everything.

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