Wednesday, November 05, 2008

While we breathe we hope*

On Election night, Ben and I gathered the polling place signs in the First Ward in Ann Arbor. He wanted to sleep, but insisted I wake him so we could go the the “Barack Party” at the Dem headquarters.

By 10, he was sound asleep in the back seat, and I took the last sign out of my trunk. Pennsylvania was blue, Ohio was likely blue, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, all blue.

I opened his door and gently said, “Do you still want to go to the party, or do you want to go home and sleep?”

“I want to go to the party," he said. “Will you carry me?”

Forever, my son. It is a new world.

*President-elect Barack Obama, November 4, 2008, Grant Park, Chicago

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Class

This is Ben's whole class, just after the Halloween school parade on Friday. I love this picture because each kid is doing his or her own thing. The array of costumes cracks me up. Miss Janice, the only adult in the picture, is singing to them, which she does all day long, making up songs about them, using their names and singing what they are doing. Parents ring the blue rug snapping pictures like so many tourists at the zoo.

New Glasses

Yesterday, we picked up Ben's new glasses. He put them on at the optical shop, looked at me smiling and said, "I can see!" I swear, his balance is better and his gait more steady already, although he's been dancing and wiggling all day from too much Halloween candy, so it's really not easy to detect the difference.

After he got in the bathtub, I realized he didn't have them on, and I didn't see them on the bathroom counter. I asked him, slightly panicked, where they were.

"I put them in the case on my table, Mom, so Lily wouldn't get them," he answered. He's already a more responsible glasses-wearer than I: last week I stepped on mine in the middle of the night and bent them a bit. How they got on the floor I will never know, but they sure weren't in the case.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Homemade Halloween

Last night was Ben's first real Halloween. Three days ago we finally settled on him being the Conductor from Polar Express. I took a 12 year old suit coat of mine (Jones New York, yet) and cut it down for him, hemming cuffs and bottom with that iron-on fusing tape. Then I ironed on metallic gold ribbon for cuff stripes and replaced the black buttons with gold ones.

Two years ago he inherited a real New York Central Railway conductor's hat from an old friend of mine who was a train fan, so I took that and added "Polar Express" across the front with letters from the scrapbooking store.

Then, I ironed on more metallic ribbon to an almost too short for him pair of blue slacks. Add one button down shirt and tie, and presto! The obvious favorite costume of every adult who opened a door for us. People kept saying, "Oh, I love that book," or "Oh, I love that movie." One scholarly type said, "Did you know that author was a Michigan grad?" We do live in U of M territory, after all.

Ben was in character all night, intoning "All aboard!" in long form to anyone who would listen. He really got into it, loving the hastening darkness and every cheesy Halloween gimmick from the giant spiders and fake cobwebs to the amazing witch on a wire at one house who zoomed down from a tree to say "I want candy."

My mom used to make our costumes, and usually added make-up to shame Hollywood. Now I understand why she put that effort in. How wonderful to see your kid loving your efforts (no matter how amateur or lame) and lapping up the admiration of perfect strangers, who rewarded him with gobs of candy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Last Sunday's Fanged Fiends

Our trip to the apple orchard included buying those great waxed fangs, remember the sweet gummy flavor? Ben's friends Tasha (the younger woman) and his pal Alexander and my basketball-bound, 98th percentile little man model them for you in the delicious October sunshine.

Please note Benjamin's campaign button!

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's been a little too heavy around here lately

This morning Ben was sitting on his top bunk bed while I tied his shoes before school. He looked around with his great smile, admiring his carribean blue with white cumulous clouds painted walls, and said, so sweetly, "Thanks, Mom, for painting my room." Yeah, baby, it's a good sky to sleep under and wake up in. But what's even better is you noticed and thanked me. What a sweet kid.

Time for a little thanks from me to sister bloggers whose work sustains me.

I am way overdue in introducing some new favorites in the blogosphere, and I finally got around to updating my links. Please see, to the right and a little lower, Julie Zickafoose's wonderful site. She got a real gift for describing paw paws, kids and birds, but it doesn't stop there. Then, there's Jayne who writes honestly and takes great photos, and who has been a lifeline for me. Finally, don't miss Organic Mama who is always a freath of bresh air (not a typo, a spoonerism, she loves them and salty language, too.)

If it's true that the blogosphere is now our online town square, please follow my lead and visit these extraordinary women. I guarantee you'll find voices to make you laugh, make you cry, and definitely make you think.

Peace to all. Don't let the bitebugs bed.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Toward a barrier-free heart

It’s been quite a week. Ben spiked a fever Tuesday night and was wakeful all night while it ran its course. Wednesday I had a meeting with Benjamin’s team at school: the teacher consultant, both his pre-school teachers and his occupational therapist. What I heard was daunting. Adaptive clothing to soothe his need for sensory input, his constant movement and challenges. His difficulty with crossing the midline in body movement and participating in group songs or movement. In spite of these things, I also heard that children are drawn to him and want to play, that his verbal skills are so good he teaches the class new words, that he negotiates well when he can hold his anger in check. Sleeping fitfully the night before did not make this meeting any easier.

From there, I picked up Benjamin and went to the pediatric ophthalmologist. While we were waiting to see the doctor, Ben surprised me by writing an “E”. He’s been making a "B" for a couple of days, but I didn’t know he knew an “E.” The eye exam revealed a stunning fact, however, he is far-sighted, and with a huge difference between his right and left eyes. The doc said in kids they sometimes don’t suggest correction, but he said with Ben’s exam, it would not be wise to forgo glasses. He said he really can’t see much up close.
From there we went to the optical shop and picked out frames: unfortunately there is not a model which is unbreakable and unlose-able. That evening, as if the simple diagnosis helped him, my son succeeded in writing his whole name, BEN, on his chalkboard in his room. This was a huge accomplishment, and in fact was an IEP goal for the end of the year!

And then we had a consultation as a follow up with the FAS clinic folks. More evaluations are needed there: the dreaded ADHD inventories came out, then a neurological consult was recommended, and finally a genetics referral. On the way back from that meeting, Ben was talking about Polar Express and said this: “What comes out of Polar Express’s funnel is smoke, actually, not steam, Mom.” He then continued by patiently explaining the dynamics of crossing the track covered with ice in such a way that the “locomotive” did not drop through the cracking ice, complete with hand gestures which would have rivaled the most expressive Sicilian.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember he’s only four years and nine months old.

I have been awash in conflicting emotions, emailing friends about it because I’m too emotional to talk on the phone about it all. I am by turns angry with his biological parents and sad that his first mother was so gripped by addiction to alcohol that she couldn’t stop bathing his developing brain in ETOH. I won’t be able to protect him from ridicule because he is different from other kids, then I realize that’s a projection more about me than him. I endlessly replay the parade of experts we met this week and the counterpoints after each meeting—the gems of Ben-ness set against each frightening diagnosis. He managed to have a very big victory at each time I thought I was hitting bottom, buoying me and reminding me that Being Ben is a mystery which is still unfolding, full of potential and unexpected gifts which defy measurement by the experts.

Benjamin has gifts he was born with which balance the burdens his pre-natal life placed on his shoulders. We are blessed with good friends who gave me realistic and hopeful feedback and support, offering to answer the phone whenever I needed to talk, planning visits to Ann Arbor, reminding me that I need to reach for my own oxygen mask before I can help Ben breathe.

One of those precious friends offered this: “Benjamin has only one real barrier: It’s whatever you know in your heart is beyond him. Everything else is meant to be the markers he will pass over, under or simply go around as he pursues his own goals.”

What I know in my heart is that I don’t know the barrier. Each time I think I do, Ben reminds me that, actually, I know nothing about his limits and everything about how he passes our markers and blows by the lines we draw for him.

The Amazing Benjamin with his art and, of course, a car

"Untitled" and "This is a mountain, this is a village"

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Road Taken

There was one gift I craved all my adult life. That gift was the ability to give of myself without reservation and to feel, really feel, the complete generous love of a child.

I put it off for one reason or another for many years, not ready yet, I now believe, to claim the gift in any way that would make it a scared gift. There were opportunities, but I was too timid to reach out and take what I so wanted.

When I finally, finally, reached out and received Benjamin into my life I thought that was it, this was the gift, now I had it, this little blob of person-to-be, and the rest was living in the arrival.

I had no idea what he had in store for me. The person he is becoming changes all the time, keeps me guessing and doubting, hoping and rejoicing, fearing sometimes too, feeling both up to the task and woefully inadequate. He keeps me from any feeling at all that we have arrived, but keeps me feeling instead that we are still walking, looking, reaching for each other.

I have to keep reminding myself that being is the key. Listening to his endless questions about the road we are on and trying to answer them truthfully in ways he will understand leaves room for little else other than being.

Coming home from a rendezvous with friends today we left the highway because the highway makes him anxious. It is a gorgeous day, why not take a few extra minutes to take the country road home? We found two farm stands to buy tomatoes, honey crisp apples, butternut squash, gummy bears. Fresh corn and cider too.

When we got home he wanted a cheese sandwich. Why not? Is there really anything better than a glass of cider with a toasted cheese sandwich on a glorious October day?

We both needed a nap. As we crawled under the covers, he took my hand. “You’re a great mom,” he said.

“And you are a wonderful son,” I answered.

I am. He is. We are. Every single moment of every day we have together on this spinning orb. The hardest and easiest thing in the world.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bumps in the parenting road

Benjamin and I rode in the Blue Water Ramble on Sunday. It was a 30 mile tour, Ben on the trailer bike, and it was great. He did beautifully, really enjoyed it. I whined much more than he did. I'll get around to pictures soon

I am exhausted lately. I am tired of not having any money and Ben having a voice.

Oh, did I really say that? Some days I swear if I hear "Mommy why do caribou eyes glow in the light from the train" again I will scream. Instead I try to answer the same way each time.

Until I cracked last night and said, "Because they are fake eyeballs made in China by children who have to work for a living instead of living in unbelieveable luxury and being able to watch Polar Express three nights in a row!"

He laughed. "Silly mommy, no, really why do . . ."

I drove off the road. I am writing this from beyond the grave.

Fact is I am too weary to even do this artfully, but go to this poem. Read it. Tell me if it isn't just the most wonderful poem or not. Thank you, Poetry Daily. Thank you, Gary L. MacDowell for writing this lovely poem and reminding me that there is life beyond the glowing caribou eye.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

My son, the Capitalist

We attended a birthday party for Ben's friend Alexander at the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum yesterday. Alexander's mom sent this to me today, a perfect birthday present. Ben had weighed my purchase of plastic lettuce and peaches, and was ringing up the sale. He can be a capitalist, but I don't know how I willl cope if he becomes a Republican!
Isn't he dashing?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

How I feel about pit bulls

Tomorrow I’ll be 52. When I turned 50, I felt quite liberated from so much: what a gifted woman called "the tyranny of the male gaze," the opinions of fools, the insecurity which haunted me so much of my life. On the eve of my 52nd, that feeling of liberation has a layer of calm and ease.

Impending birthdays can’t help but engender some retrospection. I have led a full life, largely because of the random luck of having been born into a family with two parents who valued and insisted upon education. I have a wonderful job in a time when so many in Michigan are unemployed. I have the joy of an informed life. My son and I live in comfort unimaginable to most in the world: a secure future, a warm home, a safe neighborhood and the blessings of interesting and supportive friends and community.

We don’t hide from bombs falling on our street, we don’t fear death by random violence, we have plenty of fresh and healthy food, Ben has a wonderful school and supportive speech and occupational therapy. The lies and idiocy of our own national leaders haven’t made our lives difficult because we have the insulation of social status and class, and nationality. Bush didn’t invade our country, he just stole the presidency, twice.

Benjamin knows who Barack Obama is. We see his picture in the paper, Ben wants me to read the article. He wants to see him on TV, thinking that we might be able to just turn it on and find him. He knows he will be our next president.

I wonder what Mrs. Palin would think of our family. Trans-racial, single parent by choice, favoring HPV vaccination, socialized medicine, zero population growth. I am anti-war, pro-choice by experience and philosophy, and for the teaching of family planning in all levels of public school.

I know my family would strain her idea of family values.

But then, at 52, I live a maverick life rather than talk about it. And I am glad for it, because for me, that maverick life has included defending criminals, welcoming strangers, sexuality unconstrained by conventionality, siding with the oppressed, wrestling with ideas every day.

And I think pit bulls should be neutered or spayed, whether or not they wear lipstick.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Morning moon

The full moon,
sunrise tinted,
rare pearl
not white,
two oaks.

Last night,
it caught my breath;
now, I stop,
the dog reaches
the leash end
turns to ask

Saturday, August 16, 2008

When good parents give bad haircuts

When I was in 8th grade, my mother gave me the worst haircut of my life. She had always cut my hair, and I never remember that it was a bad haircut, ever, until then. I had longer hair off and on, alternating with a bob in my elementary years, then a “pixie” starting in sixth grade. I should say that my mom still cuts her own hair, and usually did in those years too, so it wasn’t like there was a double standard. It was low-maintenance all around.

In retrospect, her life wasn’t that great when she gave me The Haircut. Her second marriage was breaking up and it was ugly. I’m sure she was scared, having moved her kids from Michigan to Ohio, and with a new baby, brand new. She just didn’t stop cutting. Then, getting one side short, she had to get the other side shorter. And again, to even up the other side. In the end, it was awful. I remember wanting to die in my sleep so that I didn’t have to go to school the next day.

The cruel boy who usually made my life hell anyway started laughing as soon as I got off the bus. It is god’s pure mercy I don’t remember his name, and can barely see his face, but I can still hear him clearly. “Look, it’s a BOY,” he sneered, his toadies laughing with him like he was funny as Bill Cosby. Tears burned in my eyes as I slinked in to find my locker.

Homeroom was more of the same. Even my best friend, Carol Mohr, made a joke. But the worst was 4th period, Algebra, Miss Sokolick. As the class filtered in and took our seats, she looked over at me and snickered. “Well, Butch, good to see you!” I didn’t know what “Butch” meant to the kids who roared, until Carol explained it. She leaned over and said, “She’s calling you a lesbo!”

Nothing could have been more humiliating. I think as a direct result of The Haircut, I nearly flunked algebra. I just couldn’t get past having been called “Butch” by the teacher, an ugly, bitter, red-head spinster in every pejorative sense of the word. My mother called her on the carpet and complained, and she apologized, which only made things worse. I hate that woman to this day, and hope her life ended lonely, in a sub-standard nursing home that reeked of old urine and death. I hope some maladjusted butch nurse made her life hell, frankly.

That history is why I am so mortified that I gave Benjamin the worst haircut of his life today. Because of his sensory overload issues, even Mr. Rush can be a traumatic experience. He seems to take it better when I clip his hair. I have a good quality electric clippers, and the weather is so nice we’ve been able to sit outside. We can take breaks, drink juice and play in between clips. His hair was way too long so I decided it couldn’t wait today.

So I did it first with the 3/8 inch comb on, and there were tears. I switched to the ¼ and things were much better. I just couldn’t get it even, and that’s when I made my fatal mistake. I took the plastic comb off, and took a swatch out of the front. Then I had to even it up, just like my mom had had to 40 years ago. He looks bald, sort of. Except where he isn’t, because I can’t get the cowlick spots to be as short as the rest. It looks awful.

When he looked in the mirror, he said, “I’m not Benjamin anymore, my hair is gone.” He was smiling when he said it, but all of a sudden I was that too tall, too smart, big toothed, butchy eighth grader. I wanted to cry.

So my improvement on the last generation’s parenting? At least he’s not in 8th grade and he’ll forget about this, if he even knows it’s awful. On the other hand, my life is great and I don’t have an excuse, just that I was over-confident.

Anyway I look at it, it is still a bad haircut, the worst. It may even be worse than my pixie.

Luckily, there’s no Miss Sokolick in his life.

Friday, August 15, 2008

beginning thoughts on a much larger topic

We want our families to be perfect. They’re not. The hell of it is we can’t choose the families we come from, we can only choose to turn away from them or embrace them.

The fact of being human is we are human. We say things which are stupid and thoughtless. We hold our families to standards we don’t ourselves measure up to. And sometimes, even our best just isn’t enough. For some, there are such gaping holes there is never enough.

At 51, my life is full just trying to parent well, work and create my life each day. I am done living that life to please anyone else except Benjamin and me. Of course I also have to continue to please an employer, but I love my work and am lucky enough to have pleasing the employer be a subset of pleasing myself.

Today, as a part of my new job, I presided over the finalization of three adoptions. The family that really got to me was a couple who four kids. This adoption today added the youngest brother and oldest sister to their existing two, making it a quartet of kids.

I couldn’t help but hope that it’s more hopeful for families that actually do choose each other. No doubt Benjamin, and each of those four chosen kids from today's docket, will have complaints about how they were parented. The trick is to learn something in each generation, hoping to improve the outcome for the next.

There are no guarantees, only promises to listen and keep trying, and always, no matter what, love.

And that is enough.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Belated Drummond notes

Last weekend I decided to make a trip to Drummond. My neighbors, Benjamin and Tania, the post-doc mathematics students, decided to come too. We rented a car big enough to hold all of us and the two dogs, and left late Friday afternoon.

It was a fabulous trip. I needed to shed a nasty week and they love the outdoors. My Benjamin adores their two year old, Tasha, and she idolizes him. The dogs--well--Lily hates all other dogs, but her bark is far worse than her bite and she eventually made peace with Pola--sort of a Soviet bloc cold war benign neglect sort of peace. Pola is a feisty Sheltie who wouldn't be pushed around, even though Lily kept trying.

Saturday, Tania, who is Polish, made pieczonki: layering bacon, onions, carrots, cabbage, polish sausage, beets and potatoes in a big stew pot and setting it right in the white coals for an hour or so. It's a traditional Polish camping dish, and she regaled us with tales of huge iron pots of the stuff made for outdoor family gatherings.

Although Tania was the official camp photographer, we documented her culinary arts. Here she is placing the pot on the fire, while Tasha uses up the batteries in the flashlight. The stars are so bright there, we don't need no stinking flashlights, anyway!

After it cooked, Tania stirred it up and it all turned a wonderful rose from the beets. I never tasted anything so wonderful. Tasha and Benjamin loved the one trip to town for ice cream--Superman of course, the colors of which I assure you pass unchanged through the four year old's complete digestive tract.

Lily is not dead, just dog tired after swimming behind the kayack around the point to the beach. She hasn't been this clean in months! Actually, we all slept like this up there, with wonderful fresh air, loon calls, and clear water. .It can be dicey travelling with someone else but our friendship was solidified in this trip. I am so glad they will be here at least another two years. From pieczonki to these pictures, Ben, Tania and Tasha made our quick trip north pure magic.

Thanks, we needed that!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is Barack Obama My Daddy?

Benjamin has been talking a lot about his daddy. Regular readers know that Ben and I adopted each other, I heard his heartbeat before he was born, he was in my arms at four hours old and hasn't left since. I adopted as a single parent. There is only my name on his birth certificate.

Benjamin says "We have a small family: Momma, Benjamin and Lily."

We have friends, of course, who have daddies. Daddies pick up and drop off at Peach Tree. One daddy named Benjamin lives in our buiding and is our friend, his daughter Tasha went for a walk with us tonight.

A few months ago, he said to me, "I'm sad, Momma, I don't have no Daddy." I thought about the grammar, but didn't correct him.

"Honey, of course you have a daddy, everyone has a daddy. It's just that your daddy doesn't live with us."

"Where does he live?"

"Your daddy lives in Detroit."

"Let's play trains, Momma." And we did.

There have been more questions. The inevitable "Why?" The poignant, "Could my daddy pick me up?" And corrections: Benjamin is often convinced his daddy is in New York. Or that his daddy just got back from Africa. And funny things: his friend Alexander announced to his parents that he wished he had a family like Benjamin's: no daddy (and no little baby brother.)

Not long after our early discussions, Barack Obama was speaking in Detroit. I wanted to take Benjamin. But I was afraid we'd get into a big crowd downtown, and maybe have to wait a long time, and then maybe not even get in. I couldn't afford to pop for the expensive tickets which would guarantee a place at the party. So Ben and I did the next best thing, we snuggled on the couch and watched the event live streaming on my laptop.

We listened to Jennifer Granholm's rousing and honest speech, Al Gore's great speech, looked for friends we knew were there in shots of the crowd. When Barack took the stage, Benjamin looked at me earnestly and said, "Is Barack Obama my daddy?"

I did laugh, I admit. Benjamin giggled. "He's in Detroit, Momma, is he my Daddy?"

"Honey, if you'd like Barack Obama to be your daddy, I think that's great! Let's pretend that Barack Obama is your daddy."

Benjamin laughed, a deep genuine laugh. "No, silly Momma," he said, a twinkle in his eye, "Barack Obama is my PRESIDENT, not my daddy."

Since then, we've had a few other jokes, like when he was being dramatic and saying in his best fakey woe-is-me voice, "I don't have a daddy," I said, "well, I think we should go to the daddy store tomorrow and pick one out for you." The Barack thing sort of broke the ice and made it ok for us to be light about it. Benjamin is processing this issue, just the first of many he will have to grapple with.

But, secretly, I love the idea of Barack Obama being Ben's daddy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Freep at Fair

15 years ago, I stopped home delivery of the beloved Detroit Free Press in protest of management tactics in the writer’s strike there. Then, the Freep (as it is affectionately known) entered into a Joint Operating Agreement with the Detroit News, known as the "Snooze," the conservative competition for the Freep in Detroit. I was part of a group of volunteer lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild who represented some of the strikers as they fought back against thug tactics with various acts of civil disobedience, like trespassing, lying down in front of delivery trucks. I never went back.

At the Art Fair I signed up for a contest to win a grocery shopping spree before I realized it was the Freep and Snooze booth. The guy hawking subscriptions engaged me with his spiel. Holding up my hand and shaking my head, I said, “No thank you. I quit home delivery 15 years ago, over the strike.”

The young man widened his eyes. “Wow,” he said incredulously, "that was FIFTEEN years ago!” Maybe he celebrated his tenth birthday during the strike.

“Yes, I know,” I said, “I'm a dinosaur. But I am a committed dinosaur.” I know two other Guild lawyers who have held to their boycott over the years, so I'm not the only one.

The truth is I miss it. The Freep was a great paper. I was a fan, bigtime. When I first moved to Detroit to do law school, I would buy the paper every day. I would bring it to Contracts so my pal Sue Shernit could read it too. We’d talk about the stuff in the paper, read the comics. My favorite strip was Brenda Starr, and I still have in my office a panel from that strip: sexy Brenda saying “Justice works out a payment plan for everyone,” her head tipped back and her eyes half closed.

My favorite Freep columnist was Jim Fitzgerald. When I graduated from Law School, what I really wanted was to have lunch with Jim Fitzgerald. Suzy set it up for me, and I ate burgers and drank beer with Jim Fitzgerald at the Lindell AC, a downtown bar known for its burgers and local sports mementoes. (Suzy wanted to have coffee with Robert Jones, a local public radio blues DJ, and I set that up for her.)

All these memories flashed through my mind in a moment standing there at the counter. I love reading papers, and as Benjamin gets older, I have more time for it. I loved the Freep. It’s not the same, but maybe it was time to begin again the civilized practice of reading two papers a day: the Ann Arbor News and the Freep, and on Sunday, the NYT makes it three. My parents always read papers each day, it's always been a part of my life.

The sales guy was going on and on about how there are four unions at the Freep, there’s no more JOA, things are different now.

“And, real newspapers are becoming a thing of the past. I miss the feel of newsprint from Detroit in my hands,” I said. I signed up.

And he gave me $20 in gift cards from a grocery store.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Ann Arbor Art Art Fair is upon us

We went to the Townie Party Monday, our "local" celebration of Art Fair. The actual fair started yesterday, bringing to town hundreds of vendors and thousands and thousands of visitors. I cruised a little yesterday on my way to a meeting: this will be my third AF and already I have favorite vendors. The paper featured a guy, a potter, who's been here every AF since it started in 1960.

The guy with the great wooden earring holders you hang on the wall is here again. This year I'd like to buy one, we'll see. My favorite fabric art person is here too, but her stuff I can't afford, yet. When preschool-which-costs-as-much-as-college is done, maybe.

Then there's Amanda, a Peach Tree School parent of twin girls who does amazing painting. This year I actually set aside a little scratch to buy one. I'll hang it in my new office on the third floor of the courthouse. It'll look elegant, and it will help Amanda's family pay the tuition. I'm also hoping my metal sculpture guy from Pinckney shows up; the crow I bought from him at our first AF is lonesome and I'm thinking she needs a pal.

Friday night, Benjamin and I will gather with other parents in the courthouse parking lot, load some kids in our wagon, and set off in search of corn dogs, treasures and lemonade.

We haven't lived here long enough to hate Art Fair. It's still a first class adventure to us, and I'm hoping it always will be.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

When I am older I will stay still

Tonight, as I usually do, I lie down next to Ben and snuggle as he falls asleep. After he has drifted off, he will often say something: his eyes remain closed and often it's a complete non-sequitor.

Tonight, after we said good night and I sang a couple requests (his current favorite is Java Jive, which he sings with me) he drifted off fairly quickly. He's skipped a nap at school two days in a row. His eyes closed and that sweet, sighing breath came slower and steadier. Then he said,

"Are you going backward or forward?" His eyes were closed tight, but his legs were twitching, as they often are before he is fully asleep.

It seemed a profound rhetorical question. "I'm not moving, sweetheart, I'm staying still." Up on one elbow now, I was studying his face closely to see if he really was asleep.

"I can't stay still," he said. His eyes stayed closed, he didn't move, except for the little twitch of his legs.

"Yes you can, sweetie, you can stay still," I said softly.

"When I am older I will stay still," he said. I moved my arm from under his, and there was no response. His eyes were still closed.

He never awakened, and is sleeping still. There's plenty of time for him to stay still, later, when he is older.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Building with fireflies

The road home flickers with fireflies, a canopy of old hardwoods overhead. This is the last night I will teach our monthly parenting class. It was a poignant one: three couples came together, a college student father and his mother, several single parents. They all had questions and a few of them even said thank you. My favorite teachers were there: Brady Mikusko, my own coach, and Siri Gottlieb, the first friend I made in Ann Arbor.

I won’t be teaching the class anymore because we take a month’s hiatus in August, and then I will move from the Friend of Court to Probate Court, where I have been asked to serve as Register. I didn’t apply for the job, I went up there to help out and they wooed me. It was very gratifying to be wanted and appreciated, and finally they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I will miss my colleagues at the Friend. I will miss the gratifying moments when I actually felt I got through to parents and maybe made the lives of their children a bit easier. In my two years with the Friend, I have had many of those moments.

Ben was asleep by the time I got home, Miss Patti having fed him, bathed him and gotten him into his jammies. All I can do is climb the ladder to the top bunk and kiss him once before I sleep. I think of how much he loves fireflies, and how his life is filled with joy. The other day, I thanked him for making me a mommy. “I built you?” he asks.

So much rides on how we are built, and by whom, and with what love. How we are knit in the womb begins it, and so much more follows: the building continues until the last day we breathe and our lights flicker out. The fireflies seeking love flash in the leaves, my son breathes softly in his bunk, Lily lies sighing and dreaming at my feet, a vase full of brown-eyed susans graces our table. Our life of ease is so good, joyful, and still I worry about building it right, making the right choices for Ben, doing right by him.

In the end, it’s all that matters at all.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Back Home

We are back home tonight. Ben fell asleep about a minute after his bath. He's wrung out. He's had days of biking, friends, water, sun and Mom, and was glad to be home.

It's been a wonderful vacation. I'll be posting about Drummond stuff, but the last few days we've been in Port Huron, connecting with old friends. We spent two glorious days at the beach: Lake Huron is significantly warmer down in Port Huron than in Drummond (my toes were numb after ten minutes up there.) Every person Ben saw said something like "I held you when you were just this big," or "My goodness you've gotten to be a tall guy," all of which made him smile.

He got to spend quite a bit of time with Vincent, a kid who was born on Ben's nine-month birthday, and is now dubbed by Ben his "best friend." Today, Vincent's mom, Laurie, handed us a montage of photos she and Vincent made: Ben at nine months at Laurie's baby shower, me holding just born Vincent, me holding Ben and Vincent. Ben wanted to hang it on the wall as soon as we got home, and we did, on his art wall.

We also got to spend a wonderful afternoon with Jill and "Katie-Cate"--Jill's two and a half year old daughter. Everything about me resists the idea of arranged marriage, but Katie-Cate would be the one. She's so verbal and bright, tall and sweet, and very devilish in a most attractive way. In fact, I suggested to Jill that maybe when they get to be a certain age, we keep our risk-loving, head-strong children apart, and another friend there said, "Yes, maybe from age 8 on."

Both Vincent and Katie-Cate live in trans-racial adoptive familes, so it was really like being home and very comfortable. I feel refreshed and recharged, sweetly tired and sunburned, and ready to tackle the job transition ahead.

Vacations do that.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gone fishing

Ben and Lily and I are off to the northcountry. Up there, we have no electricity or running water. Seven sweet days of reading, swimming, biking, cooking over the fire and listening to the loons.

Head north, cross the bridge, turn right drive until the land ends. Take a ferry. At the stop sign, turn right, drive until you see the bay. We'll greet you under the twin black spruce, by the boulders.

I'll be writing, and posting on our return. I'm tired. I need this time away. No cell phone, no emails, no sad angry folks needing me to do something which is never enough.



Friday, May 30, 2008

You know your colors!

Ben has finally learned his colors. For nearly two months now, he’s been naming them all mostly correctly, and now there are nuances which include gray, black and white. This achievement is celebrated by me and his teachers, and also by him.

He teases me: “Mamma, what color is this car?”

I puzzle a minute, playing along,then say, tentatively, “red?”

“Greaaaat,” he intones, patronizingly and in perfect mockery of my mother-proud voice, “you know your colors. High five, mamma.”

But here’s the fact: now he is noticing our colors. Last night, we were lying together as we always do after reading books in his top bunk. He was silent a long time, studying my face. “Your hair is gray,” he said, softly.

“Yes, it is.”

“My hair is black, mamma.” Yes, it is.

His favorite book recently is “A Mother for Choco” in which a whimsically yellow, fat-cheeked baby bird finds a perfect mother in Mrs. Bear, who looks nothing like him. It’s a book about differences and needs, and how even people with big physical differences can love and comfort, and mother, each other.

“I want to be Choco’s mother,” says Ben.

“K “ I say, wondering where this is leading.

“I mean, I will be Choco’s daddy, you be his momma.”

“OK,” I say “sounds like a plan.” The differences between boys and girls, mommies and daddies. He knows it’s only about penises and vaginas, so far.

Ben calls us a family. Momma, Ben and Lily. He says, "I have a Daddy. He's in New York. He's from Africa." It's the myth he's created around the truth I have told him, that his daddy was from Detroit,and I don't know where he is right now.

He holds his hand next to mine, palms up. That way, they look alike. “Look, Momma, my hand is almost as big as yours.”

“Yes," I say, “and they look the same."

“Yes,” he says, “yellow.”

I wonder, high yellow? When will he learn that term?

He turns his hand over, then with his other hand, reaches to turn mine over. “Look, momma, our hands.” He doesn’t say anything more.

“Yes,” I say, “Aren’t they beautiful?”

“Noooo,” he says, and I hold my breath. “They are COOL mamma, not beautiful.”

Right, cool. “Yeah,” I say, “like chocolate and vanilla!” I wonder if I should have said anything, but I want to make room for the conversation which I fantasize is on his mind.

He laughs. “No,” he says, “brown and yellow!”

When he was just two, my brother-in-law's brother and his family visited from Mississppi. Their daughter, Kate, who was all of four then, was fascinated with Ben. At Thanksgiving dinner, she wandered over to me. Ben was on my lap. She put her snow white hand under Ben's dark chocolate one, and said, "Miss Cindy," in the sweetest southern drawl, "isn't that a beautiful sight?"

I don’t want him to live in a colorblind world. I want him to know his colors, our colors. I want him to know that looking different doesn’t mean anything except looking different.

Tonight at the grocery store, he asks for chocolate ice cream. He’s never used the term before, just, “that kind” before, usually strawberry or mint (which he dubbed “too tasty.”)

As I write this tonight, I look at his art on our dining room wall. It’s changing. There are “guys” now, with eyes like moons and legs coming from their heads. And smiles. And one guy with tears coming out of his eyes. And my favorite, a mountain and a village. He calls it “Promise Mountain.”

I promise you my son, we will celebrate and honor our differences, and we will always, always be a family.

And it is great that you know your colors, even though your momma winces at what more you will be taught by the world about them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rushdie said it best

I am still wading through Sunday's Times. Modern Love a disappointment (in so many ways.) China's images seared into my brain, a poem forming. But a fun article about Rushdie yielded this gem:

“'There’s a writing self which is not quite your ordinary social self and which you don’t really have access to except at the moment when you’re writing, and certainly in my view, I think of that as my best self,' he said. 'To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else.'”

Maybe that's what the blogging is about. Not only the rush of writing, but the added layer of knowing someone, anyone, is reading your best self.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Random thoughts on blogging

Reading Emily Gould’s piece on blogging in the NYT Sunday Mag yesterday made me think. I started this blog to record the changes Benjamin and I went through in moving here. All five of my gentle readers know most of that. Then it sort of morphed into a record of our lives for Benjamin—a way of recording his life, my thoughts, for the future. Something for him.

But as I was taught in English classes, can you really trust the narrator? Is this a bare sharing or an edited version? Of course it’s not completely bare, although some entries certainly are close. But most of what goes on in interior thought is not on these pages because it’s a permanent record. Or could be. And, to some extent, public.

Google me and this blog comes up first. Last week, during a difficult client interview, the really disturbed father looked at me and said, “I want more time with my son. You know, for things like kite flying.” I shuddered to think he might be reading the blog. He might. Anyone who can type my name in might.

So then I thought, especially after reading Emily’s piece, maybe I should take it down. But then, there are risks inherent in life. I haven’t taken any steps to obscure my identity because I don’t think that’s right, somehow. Knowing that the few of you are reading is warming to me, and I check the sitemeter regularly and try to imagine where you all are, how you like it, what might make you smile. I’m too cheap to upgrade, so all I know is geographical location when you log in and maybe your ISP. Most of you I know, some I don’t.

I appreciate other blogs I read where the author is known, a real person, not an identity someone slips into to post thoughts. But then, how do I really know? The identity can be, in the internet world, a somewhat fungible thing.

And right now? Ben is watching the Little Einsteins, and for the first time in forever, he’s actually doing what they ask—helping them blow to raise a balloon. And he’s doing that with a mouthful of cheese sandwich, his holiday breakfast of choice.

Peace, shalom, salaam, this Memorial Day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Blank pages

The blank page sits before me like a beacon.

All I can think of is the way my son looks sleeping in the back seat of the car, or how he laughs when finding a new friend to play with, of how he loved singing his Japanese songs at Peachtree on Friday. Random images, all of them of Benjamin, all of them sweet and sustaining.

Our life here in Ann Arbor has shifted into a regular gear, from day to day we do the same things, moving through our life more like natives rather than newcomers. There’s the Y or Jungle Java when we are needing activity on a weekend, and like yesterday, it’s raining and gray. The bikes with our favorite routes to two different playgrounds in the warm evenings after supper. Getting up early to ride the bus or bike to school, or when we are being sleepy, driving the car. Shopping on payday or the next Saturday. Walking the dog. Finding the delights of living in this town where resources abound and new adventures lie around every corner.

And then there are the days when I know the reality of raising Benjamin means dealing with his issues: all the issues an adopted kid faces, with the added layer of being adopted by someone old enough to be your grandmom; his high risk for learning disability, which is obvious many times; the sheer enormity of being a single parent facing all sorts of decisions and challenges in schooling choices. Ben got three vaccines today, which knocked him back a peg and I realized, guiltily, how easy grocery shopping was with him subdued. And of course his wonderful pediatrician, Dr. Terry Joiner, wanted to talk about academics, IEPs and pre-school transistions today. He's urging me to make some choices which mean taking Ben out of Montessori life and beginning to face the real world--which here in this town is rich in resources for Ben.

I wanted to say, hey, it's enough getting him to his four year old well-baby visit only five months late! I'll deal with all the other stuff tomorrow. But of course I must begin to engage in these choices and begin making them for Benjamin, hoping against hope I am doing the right thing at every turn. I have to admit that not having someone to talk to about these choices when they waken me at 3 a.m. is a source of sadness for me.

But right now, Benjamin sleeps sweetly in my bed, because he was feeling crummy and wanted to, and I caved. Lily lies at my feet, and outside, the cardinals are singing their evening songs. There's a part of me that's glad I don't have to negotiate those choices: the sweet, day to day domestic ones. It seems for the moment worth the trade off of single parenting.

Life, even with all its challenges, is good, and the blank page still beckons.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

In my world, Mother's Day is what I make of it, so I decided that the best way to celebrate the day was to take my son to see Thomas the Tank engine at Greenfield Village. Little did I know it was going to be raining and cold.

Nevertheless, we carried on, and Ben and his pal Alexander held out and were real troupers. We rode on the train, we got tatoos, and we celebrated mom's day in grand fashion, all in the rain and cold of a Michigan Mother's Day.

We closed with a glass of wine and fleece blankets at Alexander's house.

I love being a Mom, there's just nothing else to say.

Monday, May 05, 2008

First Bike-to-Work of 2008

Sunday night, my four year old son is pumped. “Mom, our bike goes really, really fast!” he says, sleep beginning to show around the edges of the light in his brown eyes.

“Yep, and even faster when you pedal!” I say, reminding him of trail-a-bike teamwork.

The next morning is so different, no foot dragging, no reluctance. “Hurry up, Mom, we need to get rolling,” he says, dressed in record time and waiting for me for a change.

On the way down the Plymouth Rd. hill, another biker is trying to pass. Benjamin makes motor noises, and the biker makes his own. “We’re beating you!” my son yells in a cheerful challenge. He greets all pedestrians with his amazing smile and his loudest “good morning.” At the Main St. light, he chats with a motorist through an open window.

When we pull up to his pre-school on Ashley, all his friends crowd around the window. He’s a hero, and he is beaming. He graciously lets them try on his red helmet.

This Monday morning is a breeze, a breath of fresh air, a twenty-minute smile: for us and, I suspect, for each person my sunbeam son greeted on our commute.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Poems and Elitism

The fine folks over at have a great gig this month. Instead of a poem and links a week by email, all month I've been getting a poem a day. This was today's poem, and a fine one it is. At 51, this poem resonates more than I wish, and is, for a 400 year old beauty, still relevant, wonderful and meaningful. The critical observations following the poem have been omitted here, but are well worth perusing. Sign up today, you won't be sorry. And while you're at it, write a check and donate to keep this elitist beauty alive for all of us. I do every year, but then I love thinking, writing, reading and talking, even though it doesn't play well in small towns. Come on now, would you really want a president who isn't smarter than you ?

"To His Coy Mistress"
by Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's Poetry Month and I've been silent about it

Reflections on a digital picture sent by email

A necessary distance
keeps you two dimensional
in my house.
Unoccupied daily reality
rules out
an unwanted
stony silence,
back to sleeping back
in a bed shared
too many nights:

digital image replaces
fingers brushing away
my proffered touch.

The sun on your shoulders,
a blooming cactus,
your smile soundless,
odorless, though I know
the smell of your lunch.

I count the gray hairs
in your eyebrows,
notice for the first time
one longer incisor,
take comfort in the
familiar illusion of
dark depth in your eyes.

Bunk beds!

I can finally see the full moon and not weep. I’m either getting old or getting healed. Tonight it is wonderfully clear, and the moon yellow and late to rise. No peepers tonight, but as I returned from a midnight walk with Lily, a robin sang. The moon and the damned mercury lights on our building probably combined to confuse.

Ben has been a challenge the last few days, although the excitement of making his twin beds into bunk beds has carried us through some tense moments. He was thrilled at the new set up, and he has a lot more room now for toys in his room. “These are so cool,” he has said several times. “My bunk bed is so high, Momma. Not beautiful, but cool,” says the pint-sized sage.

If he’s rolled over against the wall, I can stand on a chair and adjust his covers, but I can’t reach him anymore for that last kiss before I retire myself. I guess that’s OK, since he is now of the opinion that “kissing is just for grandmas and grandpas and your sweetheart.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Informal Haiku

Finches brown and red,
we call them purple.
Spring in Michigan.

Photo from Cindy Mead's Gallery

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring peeps

Tonight is the first night the peepers are singing. It’s an otherworldly sound after the long Michigan winter: a high pitched trill, shifting a half tone up, then down, then silent, then up then down. This is the first night Ben’s window is open also:it’s after eleven and he’s just settled down.

Today, we went to see Ben’s friend Will play in the baseball tournament in Chelsea. Will’s team won and Will was the courtesy runner for the pitcher, and he was wonderful, even though he struck out in the 7th inning, it didn’t matter. He got his runs in with grace and speed, and his team won. Ben got to retrieve three spectacularly foul balls from the blue team hit back over the stands, and return them to the purple team players in the dugout. One of the boys asked him if he was Will’s brother, and though he swelled with pride he answered truthfully.

Ben also made two new friends, even though we were rooting for the purple team and they were rooting for the blue (their big brother was dressed in blue. ) We spent the third through the sixth inning at the playground nearby, Ben and his two new friends swinging and sliding.

And there, at the playground on the edge of the Chelsea Schools athletic fields, was a nature preserve. A swampy and marshy area with a real muskrat (we saw him dive into his burrow), two Canada geese and bluebirds. A nesting pair, right there between two baseball games and the slides, in boxes provided by the school district. The real treat was when two fledgling bluebirds came out and were fluttering about, parents hovering, learning to fly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two wing beats

Last winter, between Christmas and New Year’s, Ben and I were walking Lily in a blinding snow storm. We were skirting the edge of Traver Creek, a tributary to the Huron River that runs through our apartment complex. Something odd caught my eye, and there, not more than ten feet from us, was a magnificent Great Blue Heron, walking down the middle of the creek, slowly, like his feet were really cold, moving as they do: step, neck, head, step, neck, head. We watched in awed silence (even Lily) as the magnificent bird walked into the blinding white.

I really wondered why he was here, so late in the season, still walking in the creek. New Year’s Day, when we met up with our neighbors to play in the great snow, I mentioned it to Tanya, who is a great out doors enthusiast. She told me she felt so bad because earlier in the fall she had had her dog off lead, and Pola, the dog, had chased a great blue who was striding up onto the lawn from the creek.

Today was a magnificent warm day, sunny and dry. Ben watched TV while I took Lily out for her after dinner walk: I figure I ask so much of him to spend 9 hours in day care, I can let him choose Thomas the Train over the pooping walk. As Lily and I rounded the corner of building, there, at the edge of creek and heading toward the lawn, was a Great Blue again. This time, we couldn’t close the distance more than 5o yards: she took flight, a few running steps then those great, huge wings stroked once, twice, and she was over the roof of the next building, and off toward the Huron.

What is it that is so enticing, exciting about the great birds? They are so huge, and so deliberate in their movement. In early March, I was out with Lily early in the morning and two swans flew overhead. Truth be told, they stay all winter where there is open water, and thermal pollution is so bad that there is usually open water around here—but when they flew over it was magical and I believed them to be harbingers of spring—they are so huge, how do they stay airborne?

How did the Great Blue tonight clear the two-story building with just two beats of her wings?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New car, not orange!

A few weeks ago, I was parked on a quiet side street, and someone backed into the driver’s side door of my car. It turns out it will cost about $3400 to fix it.

My tired old Grad Prix is 11 years old, has 137,000 miles on it, only one working windshield wiper, bad rust on the running boards, and an ominous sound in the front end. I could kiss the woman who backed into me.

So today, Ben and I took a drive in a 2009 Vibe. We’d tested a Honda Fit, which I like because of the great mileage and the cheap price, and Ben liked because it was orange, but it’s just too small for Ben, me and Lily. So I’ve been researching the Vibe. Made in a joint venture with Toyota and Pontiac, the Vibe is reasonably priced, gets pretty good mileage, has a luggage rack, room for Lily. With a Toyota motor and drive train, it retains value like no other Pontiac. Side curtain air bags are standard. The old Grand Prix has been a good, steady car, but it’s time to change.

The salesperson was a very handsome, very nice young man, father of three, who took a real shine to Ben. Even though Ben and I had come from a very muddy visit to Pioneer’s baseball field to watch his friend Will pitch in the JV baseball game, he welcomed us into the new car, muddy shoes and all. He was soft selling the car, and we will have further discussions. Ben loved the car. When he sits in the back, the front passenger side seat folds flat so he can, for the first time ever, see out the front window. We can also fold down the seat beside him, so that he has a play surface. He didn’t want to get out of the car when the test drive was over.

So for the first time in a lot of years, looks like a new car is on the near horizon. I’ve really liked not having a car payment, but with the insurance money and a little supplement from my Roth IRA, we can keep our payment under $300.

And Ben didn’t mind it wasn’t orange.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Kite Flying Sunday

The day’ s perfect, but there is an errand for Grandpa, then lunch, then a concert and nap, and then, finally, the long awaited inaugural flight of the kite.

Ben wants his sunglasses on--a wrap around Hot Wheels variety, deep red, blood red. He wants to ride his bike to the kite flying site—not too many trees, no power lines and a big hill to run down to get the kite up. The same hill we were sledding down in moonlight just a few months ago. Perfect thermals, judging from the two turkey vultures who hang around, watching from way up high as they float like kites without strings: too far away to see their ugliness, they can be mistaken for eagles.

My son is an expert after a few false starts and one tangle with the only tree (we are able to free the kite with minimal damage.) He spends the rest of the time in the bright late afternoon sun effortlessly holding the taught line, watching the kite soaring and fluttering in the too blue sky, half as high as the vultures.

People come along and watch the kite, some smile from passing cars, a Chihuahua looks up and barks a warning. A few kids come and Ben graciously gives them a turn on the string. One dad, wistfully smiling, takes a turn too, saying they have a kite they haven’t flown yet at home. “Go get it “ says Ben, a blunt invitation to join the celebration, a statement of obvious, universal wisdom, undoubtedly ignored to the peril of the dad’s spirit.

There is no better way to spend the late afternoon than watching the kite. I lay on my back in the newly dry grass, watching the fluttering vision of Mater and Lightening McQueen high above us, relishing every moment of this magical first day of kite flying ever for my four year old who confidently holds the line, smiling broadly at his prone mother.

He wants to ride the kite, I try to explain he can’t, but he’s unconvinced until I bring the kite down to the grass, and let him sit on it, and show him it cannot rise with him on it; a hard lesson to realize that the object of our fantastic dream cannot sustain, support the weight of our reality. Clarity comes only when we are able to replace false hope with love of the moment. He will have more lessons like that, but this is enough for today. He gets up, and asks to fly it again, a smile returning to his briefly frowning face.

Later, I waltz with my father to music our neighbor composed. Ben plays air guitar.

A perfect day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Another day dawning with rain:
mud floating on still frozen
March lawn of dead grass,
cold to the bone,
shivering, sinus congestion,
cat seeking radiator.

To my four year old:
another good puddle splashing day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Open Letter to My Mom

This is tough election for Dems. My Mom has flat out said "A black man should not be President before a woman is." My son is black, and I was offended. I am a woman, and I have struggled all my life for professional recognition in spite of my gender. It's a real ambivalence I feel, although I would never, ever, say that "blacks" shouldn't get what somehow white women of privilege should. (After all, she loaned $5million to her campaign, she ain't exactly a washer-woman.)

I can't help but hear the echoes of history, the struggles over abolition and suffrage for women. The fact is that neither women nor blacks have anything close to a real slice of the pie of American wealth.

What saddens me though, is the carping now among Dems. Truly, we can't lose with either Hilary or Obama, though I support Obama. I am tired of hearing that the media has been unfair to Hilary--she rode her husband's coattails to a Senate term and, yes, I'll say it, sold out on Iraq. I read two articles in the Nation and knew better than she did. But forget it, either way--with Obama or Hilary--we'd be better off than we are today.

And every missile we send to our own is a victory for The Man. Keep us fighting amongst ourelves and we will never be a real challenge real power: the oldest strategy.

So this is the letter I sent to my mom, in response to her sending a link to a kvetch about how unfair the media is. It is offered, as Rod Serling might say, for your consideration. I mean, really! A black man and a woman are the top contenders, and we are fighting about it. Is this really nothing short of the Twilight Zone? Wake up, America!


I love you, you know that. I support Obama, you know that. I love Hillary too, you know that. I know that you support Hillary and that you love me.

I am an unapologetic feminist who has worked her entire life in male-dominated trades and professions: laborer through college and lawyer now. I have been called a "lawyerette," scoffed at, bullied and discriminated against. I have also been rewarded for intelligence, vision and integrity without family connection, experience or external genitalia. I happen to believe that intelligence and vision are important in leaders, and that "experience" is something that neither women nor black people have much chance at because we have both been shut out of the inner circle since this nation was founded. I have walked the talk of feminism in my life always, every day. I am a lawyer and single mom, by choice, and I owe a great debt to feminists who came before me. They gave me the duty to choose a candidate based on policy and vision, not on gender, not on race.

I have read all the position papers, which, contrary to the assertions in this column you sent, are not difficult to find--they are but a click away.

I liked John Edwards best, but he's out of the race. One thing feminism did for us was teach us all that we needn't ride our husband's coattails to a dynastic success, and that if we did, we'd be judged on our own merits eventually. Remember what your father said to you? That connections might get you the job, but what you did after you were in the door was on you.

The media is to blame? Who, in this age of internet democratization, really can blame the media unless you rely on the media to spoon feed you your opinions? I know you do not.

Like Michelle Obama, I am proud to be an American, for the first time since we elected Gore and got stuck with Bush. And for the first time since I was born, both I and my son can really really say "I could be President." We, the People, can't possibly lose this time around, no matter who is the Democratic candidate. So could we save our ammo and energy for the general election and quit trying to shoot our collective self in the goddamn foot?


Monday, January 28, 2008

Ben is four today

Today my son is four. His day was crowded with celebration. Last night we baked forty-eight cupcakes to take to his school. He had one before bed and one this morning with breakfast.

I sang to him this morning when he woke up, smiling as he usually does. At school, they sang to him and he got to wear the birthday hat. Tonight, after home made pizza and cheers all around, we sang to him and more cupcakes followed.

Yesterday was Mozart's 250th birthday. We went to the symphony. The Ann Arbor Symphony presented a children's concert: Poulenc's Babar and a world premiere piece--a jazz composition setting the book Sweet Music of Harlem to music. I wasn't sure how Ben would do, and he loved it. Before the concert, the A2S presented a "petting zoo" of cello and violin for kids to try.

Although his form is better on the violin, it was the cello that made him smile. Yo Yo Ben.

When I was sitting all night in a chair in Huetzel Hospital with him in my arms four years ago, I never imagined that we'd be here, in Ann Arbor, able to experience all these wonderful advantages on the bus line. On any bus line. The twists and turns of life are simply amazing.

Happy Birthday my lovely son. The music you bring to life is celestial.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How do birds keep their feet warm?

Yesterday, after a long morning walk in the snow, my dad joined us for hot chocolate and pancakes. We were watching the birds at the feeder--we get a remarkable variety here. Two flashy pairs of cardinals, purple finches incognito, a red-bellied woodpecker, juncos (juncoes?), red-breasted nuthatches and white-breasted ones too, and our real joy, a carolina wren.

My dad asked Ben, hoping to stump him, "How do birds keep their feet warm?"

Ben opened with a joke, "Well, they don't wear boots," he said, with a smile. "They are very, very cold, getting seeds in the snow. Their feet have talons," he said, holding his hands up jaw-height and curling his fingers down like eagle talons.

My dad said, "Yes, but how do they keep their feet warm?"

Ben pondered the birds, darting down from the big spruce tree onto our patio feeder and back again to the deep green cover.

"They have boots in their nests, that's how."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Crunching snow

It's cold. Four degrees this morning, full moon shining at 6 a.m. When you go outside you can feel the cold seep through even your best, high tech winter jacket from LLBean. Ben doesn't seem to mind, in his two layer parka, hat, mittens, snow pants and penguin boots. He was talking about Arctic winds today: they are learning about Antarctica at school ("You take a boat from Chile, Momma.") His teacher learned that there are some penguins now in Northern Japan who were carried there by the wind. Sounds like a weird theory because penguins don't fly, but who am I to question Montessori wisdom.

Anyway, it's cold. The snow is very crunchy, and everyone in Michigan knows that snow only crunches when it's very cold. The lower the temp, the louder the crunch. It's loud tonight. Which just adds to the fun for Ben as I haul him along on Lily's nightly walk, sitting like a penguin prince on his little sled.

Four years ago I had already met his birth mother and his half brothers, and we all knew he was full term and would be joining us at any moment. I had sat on an orange plastic chair which had its own unique crunchy sound, and heard his feathery little thumping heart inside Vickie's womb. I had come to understand what it might be like to be poor and in need of prenatal care in Detroit by visiting the women's clinic at Huetzel Hospital during those last few weeks before his birth. I'm sure it hasn't gotten any better there in four years with billions being poured into death and private interests in Iraq, Michigan's unemployment rate the highest in the nation (you know it's bad when Republicans campaign here proposing federal bailouts for us) and hundreds losing their homes to foreclosures each month.

Tonight, after reading a book and before the last drink of water, Ben wanted me to sing. His favorite book lately is I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, a sweet book about a single mom adopting a baby from China. I think he's starting to understand what adoption might be. In the book, the mom "plays" a lullaby for her new baby, but I always say "sings" when I read it, because I have always sung to Ben.

The song he wanted tonight was the Welsh lullaby my mother sang to all four of her babies:

Sleep my child, and peace attend thee,
All through the night.
Guardian angels god will send thee,
All through the night.
While the ancient hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in shadow steeping,
I, my loving vigil keeping,
All through the night.

So we sang that first, Ben joining in on "all through the night". Then we moved on to "Me and My Shadow," and finally ended with that good old standard, "Fly Me to the Moon."

Baby it's cold outside, but it's really wonderful in here. May your crunching snow be lit by moonlight all the days of your life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sledding in Moon Sparkles

There's no mystery I haven't felt like writing. It seems like getting through the days takes all my energy--the job continues to be a huge challenge as I face some pretty serious issues on both sides of the counter. Everyday I am using my brain constantly. Then I come home and focus on Ben with all my energy, and by the time he goes to bed I am usually exhausted. There's a real sadness in me lately too: losses and aging and feeling like I just can't quite get it all done alone.

Tonight, we took Lily out for her after dinner walk about 7:15. There's just enough new snow to pull Ben on the sled while we walk. We walked along the creek for a while when it occured to me that a moonlight sled might be just the ticket for us both. We put Lily in the apartment (you can't do serious sledding in the dark with a dog, what if she ran off?) and trudged over to the Leslie Science Center, a great sledding hill that's usually overpopulated on days when normal parents take their kids. By the time we got there, it was nearly 8:00 pm.

The full moon was high in the sky, shining through the January air with a palpable crispness that only a Michigan winter provides. Stars were everywhere, and from up there you can see the Ann Arbor city lights twinkling at your feet. We were both smiling broadly as we reached the summit.

I thought Ben might hesitate, in the dark, but he said "My turn first, Momma," hopped on the plastic sled and zoomed down the dark hill. The moon was so bright I had no trouble seeing him reach the end of his run. He jumped off to pull the sled back up.

When he got up to the top, I said, "Was it fun?" His enthusiastic yes was followed by instructions.

"I want to do it over here," he said, pointing to a bit steeper incline. Off again he went, even faster. A three year old, at night, on a deserted hill, having a great ride. When he came up next, he said, "You slide with me this time, Momma?"

I was unable to resist, and we streaked down the hill with my added poundage. He tightened his grip around my legs. We fell off at the bottom laughing. As we got up, I pointed out the moon, the stars, the city. "And the moon sparkles!" added Ben, pointing his snow-packed-wool -mittened- hand at the diamond flaked snow.

Moon sparkles.

The kid's a poet. One of his first five words was "moon," and he's always had a passion for her.

He begged for one more slide, "Please, please, please," his magnificent white smile looking up into my face. One more, then he was ready to head home for hot chocolate. As we trudged down to the corner, he looked up at the moon.

"Thank you, Moon, for watching us sledding."

All the damage of the day, all the difficult transitions, all the losses of age, all the aches of my feet, all the trying moments of truly single parenting, melt away again. How could I have lived without this experience? Thank you, Moon, indeed, for your sparkles, your watching, your light and for my son who will be four in less than a week.

Thank you, Ben, for Moon Sparkles.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Street pas de deux

The man standing on the corner
fixes me in his one eyed glare.
"Look ma'am," he begins,
ungloved palm up,
"I mean, Mom," he corrects himself,
"I am not a bum."

Who he sees makes
me look at him,
his one eye taped shut
with two wide strips
of clear packing tape,
the skin of his face
red from the cold.
"I need to get home," he says,
with pleading plie,
"and no one will help
because I am not a resident."

New to this town myself,
I hand him my only dollar.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy Perfect New Year

I realize I haven't posted in over two months. A lot has been happeninng, including adding Lily, a rescued 7 year old Labradoodle to our household. She's perfect. I don't know where the time has gone. Thank you to all of you who sent me words of encouragement during my silence. I bet you can guess what one of my resolutions is--I'm baaaacck!

We awakened to a thick blanket of snow at 7:30 this morning. By 9, Ben and I were outside, building a snow rabbit (Ben’s suggestion, as opposed to a snow man.) Lily the dog was loving every moment, digging her face in the deep snow, and coming up with a white beard making us laugh.

Our neighbors Tanya and Tasha came out, and Tanya said “Happy New Year, isn’t it perfect?” in her perfect Polish accent. Tanya and her husband Benjamin are post-doctoral students in math with teaching positions at the U. Tasha is their two year old, blond, blue-eyed joy. Tanya had her camera and kept taking pictures.

Tanya’s husband Benjamin came out and joined us, looking a little sleepy. The kids were getting restless, so we decided on a sledding adventure. We three adults took turns pulling the kids on the sled to the hill. Less than a half mile from our door is a golf course surrounded by the most wonderful steep hills—perfect topology for sledding and running dogs.

After much exertion and adding two resolutions to my short list (eat less, exercise more), we got to the base of the hill. The first run down was Ben and me on the sled, and it was slow, as the deep fluffy snow packed down beneath us. Then Benjamin and Tasha, then Ben and me, then Tanya and Tasha. After about six or seven runs we had a very respectable chute, and the speeds were increasing with each pass.

Ben decided he wanted to do it himself, and do it he did, with gusto and laughter, wiping out halfway down his first solo run. He simply climbed back on and finished. I was so proud of his courage and the fun he was having.

Our sledding party trudged back at a little after noon—having spent nearly three hours in outdoor fun. Lunch of noodles and oranges, and our homemade oatmeal cookies, then a long luxurious nap for both of us. Tonight we cleaned the apartment, played trains for about an hour, took a bath with all the new plastic animals we found under Ben’s bed, then read several books with hot cocoa and cookies.

Ben is sleeping now, and Lily is sleeping in the other bed in his room. As I write this, it is still snowing and lovely. I am filled with the renewed feeling that, in Tanya’s words, it is indeed a perfect New Year.