Saturday, January 5, 2008

Unsolicited Advice

Watch the mini-series Roots with your children.

Some of us remember how the entire country watched that film, a shared cultural experience now lost to us in this age of cable, YouTube, video blogs and all the rest.

Scarlett's current play is Almost to Freedom, adapted from Vaunda Michaeux Nelson's book by local writer Kim Hines. I've been around this children's theater block a few times now, and this one stands out on several levels.

First, the book is a must-read in your child's world. It is haunting and utterly devastating in its ability to convey the despair of slavery. Second, the adaption is phenomenal and the music, foot-tapping.

But what I love most about this gig is the director. He's African-American, as is most of the cast, and he is giving these children History 101, with passion. Scarlett came home with a bibliography! The director also sent parents and cast a letter asking the child actors (most of whom are actually teenagers) to refrain from perms, hair dye or decor for the next two months so they look 18th century authentic. Quite a challenge, given the range of complex hair currently sported.

Inspired by the spirit of the director, we got Roots.

We're only about three hours in. Stryker complains that this is the most disturbing movie he's ever seen. "It makes me uneasy and tense just to watch this, Mom."

As it should, honey. As it should.

Term of Endearment

We call our four-year old Meatloaf Head. Fondly.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Armpit Mold R Us

Yesterday, I noticed that Stryker was farting as accentuation.

"Yeah, that song was awesome, Mom" Fart.

"I'm tired." Fart.

"Sometimes a man needs a snack, Mom." Fart.

"Hey, that's my chair!" Fart.

When I tucked him in -- and he was all soft and floppy and sweet--I told him that farting was actually a choice one makes with one's body and not an inviolable right. Furthermore, this choice was no longer available to him.

"But I can't help it! I have to fart," he objected.

That's why we have three bathrooms in this house, honey. Go find one. And I also told him that when he was living in a college dorm, he could get as stinky and gross as he wanted--he could fart all day.

"Why, you could even grow armpit mold for that matter," I told him.

That was his takeaway. "Armpit mold. I think I'll like the college life, Mom."

Sure. Good luck on the girlfriend part, honey.


John has been spending lots of time showing clients hobby farms. Yesterday he was tromping through the frigid temperature and 40 mile an hour winds when he heard the happy clatter of goats-- five! There appeared to be a mama and daddy and three babies. Hey, just like us.

Anyway, the goats followed around the humans and the babies kept bumping heads. They would look at each other and then: butt, butt.

How adorable is that?

I Hate it When I'm Right Sometimes

Blogger doesn't lie: I posted my Huckabee prediction hours before the real deal. I have to admit to being surprised by Barack Obama's lip-smacking tromp over Edwards and Clinton. Wow.

Is America ready for the first African-American president? Possibly. I really hope so.

I think it's interesting, and somewhat counterintuitive, that South American countries are currently experiencing a surge in female leadership whereas--outside of her circle of support--Hilary Clinton is widely reviled. How do President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina) and Michelle Bachelet (Chile) differ from Hilary Clinton?

The two Latin women seem, well Latin. Emotive. Although de Kirchner is the drop dead gorgeous type, both women exude -- dare I say it-- a certain femininity. Clinton seems utterly desexualized, non-feminine.

Of course, we are living up here in the staid northland where constructions of masculinity and femininity play out differently. And I don't know I'd do in the land of Machismo with that advanced (actual) degree in Feminist Studies.

But as I watch gender roles work themselves out with and through my own children's bodies-- my boy who loves guns, the boy who tags blue as too feminine, the 9 year-old girl who tenderly tucks in dolls at night--I am often forced to butt up against my own preconceptions and desires regarding gender and Categorization, all sort.

So I wonder if perhaps Hilary Clinton would do better if we had a definition of femininity that would allow her to be more grounded in that female body (yes! the one with all the scary parts!). Could women reclaim femininity as power? Desire? Strength?

We better get ready for some deep tissue conceptual change regarding race and gender in this country. Or we may have our first ever ordained minister as President. How's that separation of church and state working lately, hmmm?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Don't Worry, Our Gerbil Bowl is Full

Stryker is a very conscientious pet owner. At one point, he was the proud possessor of 37 gerbils. Did you know that a gerbil can conceive again within five minutes of giving birth?

Pet stores do not accept returns on the male, either.

Last year Stryker wrote this poem as a school assignment. I contemplate it from time to time, as both a piece of art and as a Rorschach test. Regarding the latter, this child's glass is always half empty.


In the
Late, Late, Late
A boy leans
Over his gerbil cage
Knowing he should
Have fed them
Much, Much, Much
Silently Grieving
Over poor Bobby

The other one
Will now be
All alone With
No one to
Play with

The boy does
Not know
What to do
He leaves the cage

The bowl still empty

Caucus Night Next Door

We have some fabulous friends who live in Brasil and visit regularly. They brought Stryker and Scarlett real crystal balls--as in actual rock from ground. Scarlett's is the pink one.

Photos -- okay, my photos -- don't do these justice. They're dense, complex, gorgeous. But do they work? Hmmmm. I'm gazing, peering, convening . . . . . ooooom, ooooooom.

What I see scares me, very much: the banner "I heart Huckabee" is bobbing and waving, sort of like a bad meal. Burp.

The image from the other team blurs and coughs. Can't quite make it out. But dare I say that I see a teeny tiny white house? This matron is the unabashedly liberal sort, but with a TON of conservative friends. I'm loose that way.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

PhD as in Putty Head, Darling

Today, while volunteering at the children's school, I had to tell my daughter's fourth grade teacher that (even as I desperately wished the moment was not unfolding) I did not understand the concept of reducing fractions to their lowest terms and would therefore, be unable to assist the small children at that task.

Thank God for the internet because I plan to learn how to do this stupid math trick, here.

Things I cannot do: add, subtract, divide, multiply or reduce.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Yes, I am the sucker for New Year's Resolutions and fresh starts, all sort. Some of these have gotten me into trouble as I have a teeeny tiny tendency toward Excess.

Like the year I decided to Eat Right 4 My Blood Type. I emptied the house of normal food and stocked up on wheat and gluten free pasta, strange mushrooms, barley coffee and licorice tea. That stuff is expensive!

Especially if you never eat it and have to buy back all the stuff you threw away.

Or the time a friend invited me to a scrap book party. I was supposed to go to a C-R-A-F-T store and purchase foreign items like felt, stickers, glitter and glue.

I got so overwhelmed by Possibility, was in such foreign terrain, that I spent well over $100 on scrap book material. Which is really something, considering that:

  1. The matron never quite has enough money
  2. Participating in craft-like activity--of any kind--actually causes me unendurable physical and psychological pain, resulting in death if sustained
  3. I hauled my box to the craft party only to immediately experience symptoms in #2, resulting in a hasty departure and nary one single page scrapped.
Sorry, all you crafty sorts. I like to look, though. You have at it.

So I am taking my tendency toward Excess and aiming her in a positive direction!

My one and only New Year's Resolution for 2008 is to turn my (unpublished yet award winning and quite fine) novel into a Young Adult book.

And try, try, try again.

Three years ago, my very good literary agent sent me a thick envelope. It was full of all my rejection letters for a novel called At the End Of Magic. Eighteen of them. They were all very complimentary, except for Doubleday, whose editor implied I lacked significant brain wattage for her brand.


The same agent had also tried to sell my very first novel, Prairie Rat. Yes, friends! That old goat is still around! You are not hallucinating.

Anyway, the agent showed it to ten editors who all said it was lovely but too akin to a Young Adult novel to fly as literary fiction. When asked if I would retool as a YA novel, I recoiled in Artistic Huff.

That also coincided with a really busy parenting era. Merrick was a baby and I was staggering under all that domestic weight.

But now it's 2008. My oldest is reading YA books. And I am too. They are wonderful. Merrick is four years old and in preschool.

Mostly, I am through waiting for my time as a writer. I will take it anyway I can get it. Yes, that is the scent of Desperation and Marketplace Realities on a long slow simmer.

So: Prairie Rat, softened and burped and redressed, for the younger set. Look for progress reports (or kick me in the cyber butt and tell me to get going).

And here's how it starts:

Chapter One

Mama must’ve been expecting the police. When a half dozen doors slam in the driveway and men rustle toward the house, she doesn’t even get excited. We hear the shouts—go round the back, cover the driveway. Heavy feet slide through the bushes along the four corners of the neat white stucco we live in. Mama turns off the coffee and calmly points us toward the couch.

“You three sit here,” she orders.

We scramble on as the not-so-polite pounding begins. Open the door, and the police barely pause long enough to wave a handful of papers at Mama, who backs off and gets out of the way.

“Go ahead,” she sweeps her arm out, an invitation that tense uniformed men don’t need.

They barrel from one end of the house to another, bursting through doors and circling each room. A wiry, flushed man plants himself next to Mama. Her face is smooth and unreadable to strangers. If you know her the way we do, you can see the rage roll off her shoulders. She lights a cigarette just so she can do something that has nothing to do with him and studies the snakes of smoke. The wiry man monitors his men: they come out of each room, disappointed.

He tells Mama sternly, “I’d like to know where your husband is.”

“Me, too,” she says, voice steady as his.

Monday, December 31, 2007


John noted that I seem off-balance, dizzy , as of late. Here's why. I am currently reading all of these books:

Holidays On Ice, David Sedaris

Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres

The Years, Virginia Woolf (again)

No, Why Children Of All Ages Need to Hear it and Ways Parents Can Say it, David Walsh

Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, Diablo Cody

Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics, Rebecca Solnit

Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being, Andrew Weil

Regarding Healthy Aging, the irony of needing reading glasses in order to open a tampon wrapper is not lost on me.

And, I am not very far along with Jesus Land. The friend who loaned me the book said once I reach one critical moment, I will be unable to put it down.

Candy Girl is what one reads while drinking wine or in the bath tub (or both).

Thank you, Jennifer, for the perfect holiday gift. Rebecca Solnit is doing the kind of cultural analysis that makes me pine for those heady graduate school days, when I was --genuinely, 100%--rooted in the world of ideas. This is a book for the day light hours.

Digression: I will admit here that one of my favorite books of all time is Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault. And back in the dazzling days of semiotics, I actually (thought I did? think I do? am I signifying yet? ) understood Julia Kristeva. Remember Lacan? And Freud? Oh, I miss Dora and all her daughters.

Okay, I'm shaking myself. Must. Get. Present.

I've nearly finished The Years. Every once in a while I read something by Virginia Woolf. It's my version of an orgy. I just roll and moan through that language. Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and The Years are my favorites.

The David Walsh book is born of parental angst, of course. Mine is the well-beaten maternal breast. Here in the physical world, I host a Salon for smart mothers --okay, for my friends who are mothers. We eat, drink, and take on Topic. For the winter Salon we're reading Walsh's No so that my despair and ineptitude can be felt more communally.

Oh, and then there's that blasted Sunday New York Times with its nummy Book Review and Style section. That was last night's distraction. But my enduring affair with the wedding stories once paid off nicely. Sometimes it's good to be the writer from Minnesota (with friends who are too busy to do their day jobs so they recommend you and everyone is so desperate it all works out even though you're a far cry from a real reporter).

Finally, every year I nearly kill myself because I'm blasting down the freeway at a healthy pace while listening to National Public Radio and I hear David Sedaris say this: "I am a thirty-three year old man applying for a job as an elf." This year I decided to protect my fellow motorists and read the essay instead.

And -- speaking of NPR, once I was driving and had to pull over in order to listen with every fiber of my being to what was being read. That writer was Edwidge Danticat and the book was her first: Breath, Eyes, Memory. When I was able to drive again, I saved myself the hours of anguish and simply drove to the closest book store and bought myself a copy.

Can I mention Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid?

There is no end to this post so I will just force myself to stop. Oh, there are currently 6 children in this house because each of my three has a friend. They make a most ferocious noise.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Because My Four Year Old Screamed All Day


Merrick had what might chalk up to be the worst day of his childhood. He flailed and wailed much of the afternoon because he didn't want to go sledding and most importantly, he didn't anyone to go sledding -- as in big brother and sister.

He wept over Leggos, pouted about the dog.

Now he's screaming "You hate me" because we are punishing him for saying "fatty ass." Actually, he's in his room for multiple violations, a penchant for the phrase.

I see those raised eyebrows.

This is a child who has two clever, significantly older siblings. They prime this fresh meat, toss him chunks of trouble. His issues with language are someone else's vice.

On the way home from dinner, when Stryker realized he had just 24 hours to start loudly, bitterly complaining about our New Year's Eve plans, he dove right in, quick, to get going.

Scarlett cried in the van too, because the boys were making so much noise.

Oh--and my perfect brother (you can't even imagine, but a teaser --he knows Air Force One, international intrigue, has communed with President and Power and that is the tiniest tip of the ice berg because he is actually a wonderful, kind man--who exhibits photography in New York galleries in his spare time--which makes jealousy solidly one's own special issue) and his son were in town, visiting us for dinner. My brother's four year old said "no, thank you" and pulled out chairs for the ladies, while Merrick whined and spilled orange juice.

At moments like this (and Merrick indeed, at this very moment, in his room with Loud Protest), this is what I do, instead of screaming, drinking (I will do this later) or walking out that door.

I read this:

Looking at Them Asleep

When I come home late at night and go in to kiss the children,
I see my girl with her arm curled around her head,
her face deep in unconsciousness--so
deeply centered is she in her dark self,
her mouth slightly puffed like one sated but
slightly pouted like one who hasn't had enough,
her eyes so closed you would think they have rolled the
iris around to face the back of her head,
the eyeball marble-naked under that
thick satisfied desiring lid,
she lies on her back in abandon and sealed completion,
and the son in his room, oh the son he is sideways in his bed,
one knee up as if he is climbing
sharp stairs up into the night,
and under his thin quivering eyelids you
know his eyes are wide open and
staring and glazed, the blue in them so
anxious and crystallly in all this darkness, and his
mouth is open, he is breathing hard from the climb
and panting a bit, his brow curved,
his hand open, and in the center of each hand
the dry dirty boyish palm
resting like a cookie. I look at him in his
quest, the thin muscles of his arms
passionate and tense, I look at her with her
face the face of a snake who has swallowed a deer,
content, content--and I know if I wake her she'll
smile and turn her face toward me though
half asleep and open her eyes and I
know if I wake him he'll jerk and say Don't and sit
up and stare about him in blue
unrecognition, oh my Lord how I
know these two. When love comes to me and says
What do you know, I say This girl, this boy.

Sharon Olds
The Gold Cell, Knopf 1995

My Lineage

Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated. She has a single sister living -- the rest of her siblings, like her father, were also murdered. Now her nineteen year old son, Bilawal Zardari is assuming leadership of her political party. Her husband, Asif Ali, will be co-leader. After all, Bilawal is still a college student. He's gonna need some help.

And a suit of armor. And a Secret Service-like brigade, which he probably already has and which didn't seem to help his mother.

I feel so sad for this child, stepping into line for slaughter. It's nearly unimaginable, incomprehensible to me--the violence that politics wreaks. In the past few months, over 800 people have died in politically-related acts of violence in Pakistan.

Now, I don't know that much about Pakistani politics in particular and do know that Bhutto was no poster girl for political integrity.

But around the world--in much of the world--politics plays out on and through real bodies, takes lives. I wish more Americans would stand up and notice.

In her stunning book Storming the Gates of Paradise, Rebecca Solnit discusses the American relationship between world and self: "To live entirely for one's self in private is a huge luxury, a luxury countless aspects of this society encourage; but like a diet of pure foie gras, it clogs and narrows the arteries of the heart."

Once when we were driving down Summit Avenue, with all its regal steeple and lawn, Stryker asked if this was where the rich people live.

"We're the rich people," I told him.

He still evaluates himself and his life with an eye to the tony kids in private school and not an 11-year old orphaned by AIDS in Darfur. But I hope that one day my children will see themselves --and their great, stupid, random good fortune for which I am incredibly grateful--in the greater context of the world rather than one St. Paul street.

And above all, that they set themselves to the serious business of making some changes to that order.