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.

I can’t wait for the new season to start


Have you ever noticed that right at the point life gets difficult, demanding more than you think you can give, there’s a nearly irresistible urge to change it? To change the channel, the mission, the purpose? From where I sit it sometimes seems that every mother of a minor child chooses the most full-on challenging time of life, with a newborn, say; or two kids under five; or a son in Iraq, a pregnant teen and a special needs infant; to strike out on a wild hair, try to write a book, start a new business, or otherwise engineer an amazing new life starring an incredible new you.

If you can swing it, hey, great. But most of us can’t. We just use that self-critical impulse – I should I wish I want – to beat ourselves up. I’m not who I want to be! I’m not creative enough, successful enough, and important enough! We’re desperate to fast-forward to a new season in our lives. Never mind the one we’re in.

We are an advanced society of channel changers, and the world, in its mess, shows us what happens when no one, absolutely no one can hold their attention steady for longer than 22 minutes.

Today I sat a daylong meditation retreat with a group of beginning students. A one-day meditation retreat is called a zazenkai. During one of these retreats we don’t do anything except keep company with ourselves. We’re not putting blinders on. We’re not imagining some future perfect world. We’re not sitting in caves. We see the world sinking into insanity; we see the chaos; we feel the fear and disappointment in our own lives and surrounding us. We just practice keeping company with it, for a change. We practice staying put, for a change. We practice noticing our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, for a change, instead of just impulsively clicking a button to feed the ravenous demons of distraction. This takes utmost courage, perhaps the only courage there really is. The courage to face forward and see how things go.

There’s something you notice when you keep this kind of company, the company of things as they are.

The channel changes by itself. So does the season.


Happy autumn, everyone. Enjoy the show.

Otherwise occupied

I’m breaking my silence for a bit of nitpicking, which I’ve gotten pretty good at.

Quick! Give me two words that unnerve you more than:

Great Depression

Terrify you more than:

President Palin

Paralyze you more than:

Hurricane Ike, Josie, Kyle or storms beginning with the letters LMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Nah! Bring on all those lightweights!

It’s HEAD LICE, the mantra of my week in the here and now. Should this catastrophe ever befall your household, smack dab in the middle of your self-imposed meditative solace, I will tell you what works (two treatments, four comb-outs, and ferocious use of scissors; spending eight back-breaking hours over two days peering through a magnifier at each of 100,000 hair strands; and doing five loads on hot at the laundromat because the WASHING MACHINE BROKE last week). Here’s what doesn’t work (anything less because believe me I tried).

Friends, I want to attest to the power of prayer, because little by little, things are looking up.

And my neighbor survived the train crash with the blessings of two broken ribs, a broken leg and a completely intact sense of gratitude. May we all be so rich.

The power of powerlessness


There was a horrific train collision near Los Angeles on Friday. A few hours ago I learned that my neighbor was one of the terribly injured. He is a reliably good and loyal customer at one little girl’s lemonade stand.

There was a colossal hurricane in my old hometown on Saturday. Millions are without electricity, and that includes many dear friends who must now be sweltering in the long dark and silent wake of the littered remains.

There is more disquieting news out of the presidential campaign, ever more staggering in its dimension of hidden truth and dire consequence.

There is an implosion in our financial markets the likes of which leaves none of us little people far enough or smart enough to be out of the quake zone. Our corner savings bank could well collapse by morning. Much bigger streets will topple, and my nest will shudder too.

I am powerless in the face of this powerlessness. I am as powerless as those without power, without truth, without safety and with a careless engineer at the wheel. In solidarity with all who suffer and to bring my mind to peace, I’m unplugging myself this week, going offline to the certain solace of prayer and meditation, steady work, wash, and walks with a very good dog.

I will take power in the only place it can be found: the right here and now.

Take comfort, friends I know and cannot reach, and friends I reach but cannot know, in my brokenhearted love.

12 awesome tips avoided by great moms


Hey moms! I just had to share with you something really awesome that keeps turning up when I Google myself. “How to Be a Great Mom – 12 Awesome Tips.” I mean, how awesome! All 12! Tips!

And look! It’s on this site called Zen Habits. That’s so zen!

I’m never again going to wonder, “What does it take to be an awesome mom?” Here we go: 1.Stay true. 2. Don’t be a martyr. 3. Don’t try to be perfect. (That was perfect. Without trying!) 4.Ditch the guilt. 5. Be patient.

Whoa. Just be patient! That’s so zen. Why didn’t I think of that? I’m going to start being more patient right now! But wait, maybe I should kill the patience and hurry through the other tips so I can finally be an awesome and great mom in just seven more steps and start being patient later. Awesome!

6. Listen to your children. REALLY listen. (Yoo-hoo! All caps means REALLY.) 7. Be their mom, not their friend. (That is so “unique” and “original” too.) 8. Teach them simplicity. (Simple!) 9. Don’t push too hard. 10.Teach self-esteem. 11. Teach self-reliance.

Big shout out for self-reliance! A website with 70,000 subscribers latched to their computers reading an endless recitation of inane and superficial tips on how to live life tells us to be self-reliant! Why didn’t I think of that? I’m going to start as soon as I’m done reading this great list of awesome tips on how to be a great and awesome mom.

12. Laugh and have fun.

Photo credit: kmevans

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