Conundrums

1) Will I ever settle on a hairstyle I like or will I continue to hack off my hair, regret it and grow it back into a long puffy mess before hacking it off again? What about bangs?

2) Will I find a lipstick I love or am I forever doomed to lips coated with unsatisfactory pink or muted mauve or unkind wine?

3) Do we really have the power to warm up the planet? If so, do we also have the power to cool it off? And do we want it any cooler? My toes are chilly as we speak.

4) Is “conversate” a word? Why do people insist on using it?

5) Why did I think I was fat when I was just a normal-sized child?

6) How can some people abandon friendships when they no longer live in the same town?

Do you have any questions without answers? Do you obsess over your hair? Do you have a lipstick that you love? Al Gore: love or hate? How much “work” do you think Nancy Pelosi had and why do I even care? Will I ever travel to Tahiti again or was that one trip when I was sixteen the only one I’ll take? And why, oh why, was Tahiti wasted on a sixteen year old when I am so much more able to appreciate it now that I’m 41? Will the Seahawks stumble their way into the Superbowl this year? Why do teenage boys insist on belting their pants below their bottoms, leaving their boxer shorts on display?

Go ahead. Unburden yourself. Ask a question. You know you want to.

Missing: Baby Jesus

So, I confess.  I lost Baby Jesus.  But it wasn’t my fault, exactly.

See, my daughter, Grace, (she’s four) has this obsession with babies.  She thinks that one day I’ll be a baby again and she’ll be the mom.  Meanwhile, she has a dizzying array of dollies.  This morning she tucked one into bed with me, instructing me to make sure the baby stayed under the covers.

Last Christmas, Grace kidnapped Baby Jesus from the stable, leaving a bereft Mary and a bewildered Joseph keeping vigil over no one.  The angel appeared not to notice and the shepherd just gazed skyward.  Baby Jesus wasn’t harmed, just relocated to Grace’s bedroom where she kept watch over Him.  I noted that Baby Jesus had been stolen from his earthly parents and intended to right that wrong just as soon as I finished the laundry and wrapped the gifts and ate all the Christmas cookies.  In other words, later.  Moving Baby Jesus to His rightful spot didn’t seem that important at the time.

Then, Christmas came and went.  It was time to put away Christmas decorations but Baby Jesus had disappeared.  I picked up the forlorn manger as I tidied up her room (how does it turn into such chaos?) but Baby Jesus was gone.  (The manger spent all year on my dresser as a reminder of my failure in Search and Rescue.)  I was so sure He’d appear, pop out to startle me just like the kids do when they play hide-and-seek.  I’d jump and say, “Oh, that’s where you are, Baby Jesus!  Good hiding space!”

I just knew He would show up again.  Perhaps He lingered under the television set or maybe He mingled with the random plastic people in the toy box.  Could He be in the sock drawer or stuck behind the dresser?  I don’t know because He never showed up.  Baby Jesus vaporized.  He was here just a minute ago (okay, a year ago) and now,  no Baby Jesus.

We can’t have Christmas without Baby Jesus.  He is the Reason (as they say) for the Season, after all.  He is the one we gather about, the centerpiece of the holy family, the heartbeat of the holiday.

And so, since I can’t find Baby Jesus–He must be in that mysterious space with the missing cell phone, that red GameBoy and jangling set of car-keys I lost on the Fourth of July–I am bidding on Baby Jesus on eBay.

Because Mary needs her baby and not just any baby will do.

Where, oh where has it gone?

I devoted myself wholeheartedly today to an earnest quest.  And I failed.

I vacuumed the family room, moved the heavy hide-a-bed couch, opened it, vacuumed under it, overturned both recliners, dug though the toy box and still no remote control.

How can the remote control vanish into thin air? 

Telephone Conversations, Interrupted

My daughter is three and a half and obsessed with the telephone. If you call my house, you will have to talk to her, which I know is a very annoying requirement and one I never understood before I had children when I would telephone my friends and be forced to speak to their little hooligans. But, now I know. The child will not be denied her phone time.

Tonight, she was speaking on one of her many pretend cell phones (the pink one) and she said, “Oh, I can’t come to your party.” Pause. “I have babies here.” Pause. “And I can’t drive.”

Then she asked, “Daddy, did you see the dinosaur in the forest? Did it bite you? Did it bite your head or your toes or your legs?”

Apparently, he indicated that the dinosaur bit him on the head.

And then the imaginary conversation ended.

Earlier in the day, I made a telephone call to New York, New York . . . while my daughter was busy playing on the other computer. (She’s very competent and probably she’ll be fluent in html before long.) I had to leave a message, though.

And, of course, later, the woman from New York returned my call and so I hurried upstairs in a desperate bid for privacy and quietness with the phone in one hand and the paperwork in the other and closed the door to my bedroom (with no lock on its door, drat!) and the bathroom. We were having a rational conversation when my daughter came stomping upstairs, talking to me, insisting on my full attention, and finally, crying, as I rushed away from her in a effort to finish my conversation.

Later, I attempted another telephone call to an East coast blogger (Barbara Curtis), because I needed some advice and reassurance and, of course, although I left my daughter safely upstairs, happily chatting with her daddy, she appeared at my elbow, whining and then sobbing while I tried to talk. Then, the other three year old woke up and he started whimpering about his runny nose and about being hungry . . . then my 8-year old walked by and motioned some unintelligible question at me . . . and finally, I had to say good-bye before my head exploded and my eyeballs popped out.

I have to say, I miss the days of long, uninterrupted telephone conversations. And I’d like to know why having a telephone pressed to my right ear reminds the children of their urgent needs and desires that only I can fulfill.

My Faith in Humanity: Restored!

The worst part about being sick is that you are desperate for extra rest . . . and you can’t sleep soundly. At least I can’t. And then my daughter has turned into Miss Early Riser and why? Why must she take a bath at 6:25 a.m.?

This afternoon, an email arrived from a local friend. She chit-chatted and mentioned that she dropped off a goody bag for me at the church. My husband brought it home when he delivered my son after school. This sweet woman from church created a gift bag full of cheer-me-up things like an Oprah magazine, Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, cough drops, scrapbooking paper and ribbons, scented soaps and more. Girly stuff. She called it her RAK–her Random Act of Kindness.

I call it a blessing.

Wow.

Fashion Advice You Must Heed

Nordstrom sells them.

Target sells them.

My mother used to wear them.

But I will not. Ever. Never ever. No gauchos. No culottes, even if you spell it “c-o-u-l-o-t-t-e-s.”

Some fashion trends must be resisted, rejected, refused. Join me. Please.

Because if you don’t, you realize what we’ll have to wear next, don’t you?

High-waisted jeans. Then pretty soon, we’ll all be wearing leg-warmers and ripped sweatshirts and headbands, and not in a cute-Reese-Witherspoon way, and really, do you want to go there?

The Fair

Immediately following Sunday School, I took my two youngest children with me to The Fair. The shuttle bus ride was the highlight for my three-year old girl. My seven-year old begged to ride a few rides and I let him, despite my saying, “We are just going to see the animals. No rides.”

My daughter rode her first kid-sized roller coaster and she did not enjoy it. I cradled her as we whipped around and around, six times, I counted. Each time we passed the carnival worker, I’d beg silently, Please, please, stop this thing! Out loud, into my daughter’s ear, I’d say, “You’re doing great! We’re almost done!” She didn’t cry, but she wasn’t thrilled, either. I wasn’t thrilled to see the carnival worker pressing a flannel cloth to his nose. What sort of contagious disease did that guy have, anyway?

My son rode three or four rides and confessed afterward that he didn’t actually like “The Kamikaze,” a contraption that swings two boat-like cars back and forth and finally, completely around, upside down. He’s such a trooper–he rode the rides by himself because I couldn’t leave his sister.

But before the rides, we passed through the livestock barns. My three-year old hopped and clapped at the sight of one cow behind after another. She greeted the goats, sheep, turkeys, zebras, and horses with equal enthusiasm.

All told, we were at The Fair for two and a half hours.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning up my twin boys’ room. I took a Sharpie marker and labeled their dresser drawers so they can more easily find and put away their clothes. Both dressers were garage sale finds, so I wrote directly on the drawers. My daughter watched me do that and I just hope she doesn’t think my actions give her license to write on the furniture, too.

While I was cleaning the boys’ room, my kids were busy wreaking havoc in other rooms.

Yesterday, I took my daughter to the grocery store, which she completely adores. She picked out a small pumpkin to take home, a “sugar” pumpkin meant to be baked and used in cooking. She cradled that pumpkin all the way home and after a few blocks said, “I want some treats in my pumpkin.”

The child remembers last year’s trick-or-treating, apparently. I find it so strange that small children can remember things from the distant past. She still remembers the cat we had when she was a baby. It was a black cat named Shadow and he ran away (we figure) when she was about eighteen months old. One day, months later, we were walking on a bright sunny day and I said, “Look at your shadow!” She looked around and wanted to know where the cat was. It took me a few minutes to realize what she was talking about.

Personal Legends

When I was six years old, my dad asked me as we passed in the hallway of our tiny rambler, “What do you want for Christmas?” And I said, “A puppy.” He snorted and said, “Fat chance.” (Or maybe it was something more gentle, but it recorded itself as “fat chance” in my brain.)

At Christmas, a wiggly box was placed upon my lap and I lifted the green-wrapping papered lid to find a black poodle. I named her “Midnight” and she was the star of many of my crayon drawings.

The following October (1972), my mother gave birth to my sister (at home, with no midwife–now, that is quite a story which has nothing to do with this post). Shortly thereafter, I returned home from second grade to find every trace of my puppy gone. No water bowl. No food bowl. No puppy. My parents thought a sudden disappearance would be best.

Recently, I mentioned Midnight to my mother and she has no recollection of that dog whatsoever. None. I began to wonder if I made up that story in my head, if I created some kind of personal myth that became more real the more times I told it.

I know a picture exists of me and that puppy. I know it.

The other day, I passed a television showing coverage of Hurricane Ophelia. The caption said, “Nag’s Head,” and I remembered the time I slept through a hurricane in Nag’s Head, North Carolina in 1986.

Then I started to wonder if this were another legend I made up in my head. So, I stayed up way too late, googling around, searching for evidence that Nag’s Head, North Carolina, was, indeed, hit by a hurricane in 1986.

And it was. Hurricane Charley hit in August 1986, but the winds of 90 miles per hour did little damage.

It’s true, then. I slept through that hurricane. Evacuations were not mandatory, so our drama troupe of college kids hunkered down at the church where we were staying. It was shaped like an ark, that church. I crawled into a bed and collapsed and later discovered I was sharing it with a curly-haired bass-player who was suffering from jock-itch. His name was Dana. Probably still is.

I slept while the storm raged because I had an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis. When the storm passed, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) drove me to a clinic where a doctor asked me to remove my shirt so he could diagnose my sore throat. I still remember the nurse’s raised eyebrows, but I was too sick to object.

When my dad married my stepmother in 1977, she brought into our family her own cache of personal legends. I heard over and over about her handsome, tall, English boyfriend named John and about her job working at Orcas Island during the summers. She’d talk about college and her degree in political science and about orchestras and symphonies and marching bands and how she lost twenty pounds in college by shunning potatoes and bread.

And eventually, all the stories started to repeat, as if they were on a loop. I suppose that happens to all of us. At some point, we run out of stories and pretty soon, we start to accessorieze the stories we tell. How much is truth and how much is embellishment? Will people we love stop us if we tell the same story too many times? Or will they politely listen, much as I listen to the stories my mother and my stepmother tell?

And can I find a picture of the black puppy I am sure I had when I was 6? If I do (when I do), you’ll be the first to know.

Criminals Who Look Like Us

Mothers of small children will tell you that just because you are a stay-at-home mother doesn’t mean that you get to watch daytime television, unless of course, you’re talking about Nick Jr. or Disney Playhouse. However, mothers of small babies will tell you that television keeps them company because you can only gaze into the eyes of your drooling infant for so long.

Last week, the little kids were all napping, but the baby wasn’t and I happened surf past CourtTV and caught part of the trial of Sabine Bieber. Mrs. Bieber cared for children in a daycare. She apparently valued naptime even more than I do (how can that be possible?) because she gave the little ones Diphenhydramine, aka generic Benadryl, to make them drowsy at naptime.

One-year old Dane died from her negligence. Now, Mrs. Bieber faces forty years in prison.

I used to think that a giant gulf existed between criminals and me. I judged them harshly when I considered their crimes. And yet, consider this case. You might shake your head in disbelief and wave her fingers around your temple in the universal sign for “ca-razy!”

But really, how porous are the boundaries that separate us from these women? One bad decision leads to a worse decision. A lapse in judgment shakes the foundation until you see the world crookedly and the thoughts in your own head don’t seem nuts at all. The horizon is hidden by the fog of choice after choice that soon leads you backwards, far from your original goal. Disorientation rules.

It’s all speculation, of course. Who really knows what led these women–women very much like you or your neighbor or even me–to take the steps they did? Nothing is as simple as it first appears and human behavior is more mysterious than anyone can explain.

A couple of Christmases ago, when my daughter was only three months old, my husband received a phone call from a pastor in New York. The New York pastor asked my husband to visit a girl in a nearby jail. He went several times and pieced together bits of her story. When she was released (after six weeks, as I recall), he brought her to our house so she could prepare to go home to New York. (She needed the court’s permission before she could even leave the state.)

I was worried until she walked through the door and then I saw that she was much like my own sister, a lost and wandering soul with flushed cheeks and a ponytail.

She stayed with us a week. I will never be the same again. She held my baby, helped me in the kitchen, ran errands with me and kept me company. After a week, we bought her an airline ticket, gave her cash for the bus which would shuttle her home and sent her on her way. She’s living happily ever after at the moment and I like to think that we served as a sturdy stepping stone along the way. I hope her life continues to unfold with serenity and strength.

Meanwhile, I consider the sad cases of Sabine Bieber and Judy Brown. And while my compassion used to be heaped solely upon the victims of crimes, I can’t do that anymore. I am too much like the ones sitting alone in a barred cell.

And you are, too, I suspect.

Rushing Forward

I’m standing still and the world is rushing by at an alarming rate of speed. I’m lying on the ground watching the world fast-forward and I’m not sure if I feel the clouds skittering across the sky or the earth rotating at double-speed. I’m walking steadily, but people keep passing me, rushing, rushing, like whitewater over hidden boulders.

These last few weeks of summer erode the sand right off the shore, leaving me stranded, pining for the way things were. Except I never am content with the way things are, which tomorrow will be how they “were.” My eyes are always peering ahead or lingering on the rear-view mirror. It’s so hard to just be here, still, as the globe spins on its axis and the moon shifts in tiny but sure increments from a sliver to a shimmering orb.

Nothing stays the same, except perhaps for the pile of papers on the kitchen counter which are orphaned, doomed forever to wait for a real home.

Why is it that we mostly forget to feel the sands slipping through our fingers and yet, other times, all we notice are the particles of sand, one by one, drifting, falling, gone? These days remind me of that machine at the arcade where the Birthday Boy or Girl stands inside and tries to grab tickets that blow crazily inside. You’ve seen it, haven’t you? And in the rush to grab everything, the excited child can’t quite grasp more than a few?

The twins are almost my height now. My baby boy is heading to second grade, where he insists the kids will call him “The Cool King.” My baby girl will be three in a couple of weeks and when I scold her, she retorts in a teenage tone, “No! You stop it!” My husband’s gone gray and the leaves on those bushes by my front door are starting to turn fiery red. I look at my hands and see my mother’s hands instead.

Nothing I do can stop this headlong rush forward.

And I still need to dip my toes into the Pacific Ocean before the summer ends. My kids ought to dig in the sand and feel the whip of the ocean wind at least once this year. I promised to take the boys to the waterpark. I want to stroll through Pike’s Place Market.

Only a few weekends remain before we all climb back into our school routine and buckle up, just in case. I’ll bid farewell to the summer my children were 12, 12, 7 and 2, this fortieth summer of my life. And so we speed along, faster than I ever imagined we could.