Dangerous Pigs from Australia

This is how my six-year-old niece explained swine flu to her four-year-old sister. If only our appointed officials had such clarity:

Dangerous pigs from Australia are coming here to give us a disease. Never go to Australia. If your teacher takes a field trip to Australia, Ali, don’t go on it. Pigs want to give it to people…on purpose. If you don’t want the disease you have to wash your hands every day. If you get sick you have to get a shot before three days or you will die. When my teacher told me this tears came down my eyes because I was so scared. They’re coming today, tomorrow or the next day. Are you scared?

(I stole this from my sister, as her blog is private, and wouldn’t we feel really bad if keeping this information to ourselves endangered all our Australia-bound loved ones?)

I wish I could attribute the following pictures, but they have gone so viral (especially the first) that I have gotten them on Facebook and Twitter and email and if you have not seen them, you should probably turn in your internet connection.



Biker Babes

This week is Susan’s special week at preschool, which means I am scrambling to create a poster “highlighting her family and favorite things to do.” It also means that on Wednesday I will remember to make peanut butter balls (edible playdough) approximately three minutes before we’re supposed to leave to take her to school. It helps to plan ahead for these things.

I am looking through the mess that is my computer files for photos (and WHY do parents have homework, is what I would like to know), and I didn’t realize how much time my girls spent on the four-wheelers during our camping trip last week.

I think an outing to the opera is in order, or at least another viewing of Barbie Swan Lake.









I dreamed a dream in time gone by

Unless you’ve been trapped under a house like the Wicked Witch of the West, you’ve heard of and seen Susan Boyle. I have been absolutely fascinated both by her and by the public’s reaction to her.

I first heard about her from my mom, who usually does live under that house in Oz, though she’s no Wicked Witch. I mean, my mother, bless her heart, is usually the last one to hear the news, because she’s engaged in more important things than checking a steady stream of NYTimes, Twitter, and Youtube feeds. Bless her heart.

Anyway, Mom teared up during the Susan Boyle spot on the local news. So did I.

Then I read a bunch of commentary on it. The Huffington Post alone has seventeen thousand posts about Susan Boyle, and one of my favorites was MAMAPOP’s take World Shocked at Susan Boyle’s Ability to Sing Despite Her Being Less Than Attractive.

I haven’t read all the sites that are apparently saying things like “good thing she can sing otherwise she’d still be worthless” because I don’t read sites like that, basically.

But I do read The New York Times, and today Tom Bergeron of Dancing With the Stars (which I don’t watch; I get my fill of reality TV with American Idol) has some advice for Susan Boyle.

His advice is “run away.”

Why? Because the love and admiration she’s getting now isn’t as genuine as the love her cat has for her, and her cat just wants to get fed.

And also? Because millions of people are counting on her now, especially for the profit she can generate for them, and “what happens if she lets them down”?

Bergeron makes some good points — that fame is fickle and The Entertainment Industry is full of Big Fat Jerks. I don’t know anything about the entertainment industry except that it produces people like Britney Spears, so I’m pretty sure this is an accurate assessment on his part.

But the idea that Susan Boyle should give up before she has even truly begun is so hopelessly condescending, patronizing, ageist, lookist, and dream-killing.

Why should Susan Boyle run away? Should Adam Lambert run away?

What about the people who are counting on Susan Boyle, not for the money she can make them, but for the gift of believing in something special for just a few minutes?

Is Bergeron insinuating that Susan Boyle is simply too weak, too sheltered, too naive, too pathetic, to be allowed to face the risk of failure? We all face the risk of failure. I said on Twitter that facing the risk of failure is what makes us adults, but really, it’s giving in to fear and refusing to risk humiliation and criticism for our dreams that changes us from confident, courageous, color-outside-the-lines children into mincing, mature, above-all-that-striving adults.

Who are we to tell Susan Boyle what to do? Shouldn’t she follow her dream, play it out, try her hand? Shouldn’t she get a makeover if that’s what she wants? Shouldn’t she sing what she wants, do what she wants? Why are we acting like she’s a mentally incapacitated twit who couldn’t possibly know her own mind or control her own future?

I wish I had half her guts. Go Susan!!


And on a completely different note (or perhaps not), why is it okay to be liked/praised/paid for your singing talent, or any other talent and not for your looks? Why is it bad to say someone is ugly and therefore can’t be a model and okay to say that someone can’t sing and therefore can’t be on Broadway? Do we believe that God rewards deserving people with talent so they deserve the acclaim that follows but that looks are completely arbitrary?

So tell me that singers or writers or actors or doctors or engineers all deserve our admiration because they work at it. And all those models and dancers and actresses who profit from their looks don’t diet and exercise and “work at it.”

Why is it okay to be enamored of talent or intelligence or ability — all of which are initially an accident of birth, and so incredibly wrong to be enamored of beauty — which is also initially an accident of birth?


Hey Mommy, that’s a white boy!

At church this week I ended up on the hemmed in side of the pew. This usually happens to me, even though I remember I hate the inexorable tide of three children and a loving husband pressing me into the corner where the pew meets the wall, because I am usually the first to walk into the chapel. Even when we are late, I am not shy about walking up to the front for some padded seats. Then throughout the service, one or two or all three of the children want my lap for their heads or their bodies or their books and snacks, and I am pressed back into that wall. I have been thinking of memorizing Shel Silverstein’s I’m Being Swallowed By a Boa Constrictor poem for these special family togetherness times.

On Sunday Spot was on my lap for most of the 70-minute service. Not that I was counting exactly how many minutes it was. But she was there, keeping me entertained, and commenting on everything. When the deacons (12-13 year-old boys) passed the sacrament (like communion), this was Spot’s contribution to the reverence and reflection of that holy ordinance:

Spot: Hey Mommy, that’s a big boy.
Me: Uh-huh.

Spot: Hey Mommy, that’s two big boys.
Me: (nod)

Spot: Hey Mommy, that’s two big boys with water.
Me: Yes honey, shhhh.

Spot: Hey Mommy, that’s not a big boy (about the the girl in the row behind us).
Me: Can you use your church voice, sweetie?

Spot: Mommy, I need my coloring book.
Me: (rifles through bag)

Spot: Mommy, I need my coloring book with crayons.
Me: (desperate bargaining whisper) You can color as long as you’re quiet.

Spot: Hey Mommy, that’s a white boy!
Me: Have a crayon, honey.

Spot: Hey Mommey, that’s two white boys!
Me: Shhhh, sweetie, here’s some of Mommy’s special gum.

*Since white boys are not exactly scarce in Seagull Fountain, and to protect Spot from charges of reverse-anti-poly-racism, I should note that she was probably referring to the white dress shirts the boys wear.

And now for Stacy, who requested a video of Spot’s non-stop chatter, I have for your viewing pleasure a short recording of Spot in situ, as it were. It’s a bit quiet, and jumpy, which I like to call “video-realism” a la The Bourne Identity.

Spot on the trail from jane on Vimeo.

Come back here

We were late
getting Sally to school today.

She complained
that I sat too long in my underwear at my stupid computer.

I reminded her that
I had to ask her five times to get in the tub.
And she was silent.

She reached around me
for her seatbelt as I strapped her sister in the very back seat.
I said, Oh Sally, I love you too, let me give you a hug my little sweetheart baby girl.

She laughed
and then remembered she was mad at me.

We dropped her off. I have given up
on making her give me a kiss before she gets out of the car.
Instead, she tells me, over her shoulder as she runs into the building,
Love you too Mom, be safe.

I looked in my side mirror as the door slid open
And felt my glasses smash into my face, the pinch of rigid plastic mashed into my eye socket

And didn’t feel her kiss.

You don’t know me

Ode to my man . . .

Who doesn’t see my stretch marks (or ignores them).
Who doesn’t see my apron of spare tummy flesh that jiggles over my pants (or ignores it).
Whose eyes gleam quite flatteringly at the sight of my flabby white chest.
Who forgives my laziness, my yelling, my unreasonable, irrational, and variable discontent.
Who lets me be me, and loves me anyway.

If you don’t read Dick’s blog, you probably missed his post in response to the Penelope Trunk post* I tweeted/Facebooked about. Brock left a comment on this blog saying he feels like he gets the motherhood angst that his wife (one of my best friends from high school) feels. I think I understand what he’s saying, and of course Melinda’s motherhood angst is different from mine. Melinda, after all, worked for a special government agency doing special things before her children were born. And Melinda, more importantly, is a better all-around person than I am.

But for me, one of the regrets I sometimes I have about motherhood is the not-knowing what I could have done otherwise. Motherhood, for me, is a commitment to my children that excludes some other endeavors, at this time, at this point, in this place. I cannot be the kind of mother I want to be and also explore other things I would like to do, and since I became a mother at 23, and since I wanted to become a mother before that, it is something of a way of life. It is, for better or worse, who I have become.

And I don’t know how any person who does not plan this sort of way of being a parent could possibly understand what it is like to look back, occasionally, and wonder, what if?

When I had Sally, I went back to work for eighteen months, and Dick stayed home during the day and did his master’s degree in the afternoon and evening. This worked out tremendously well for us, but I wish that I had learned from how Dick went about being a stay-at-home father. He didn’t have the same commitment to stay-at-home parenting that I do now. He didn’t spend any energy on forging an identity for himself as a stay-at-home parent. He read and wrote and graded during the day. He took good care of our daughter, and talked with other parents at the park, but he was never emotionally invested in creating a place for himself in the world in that role. It was just something he did.

I think for me to survive and thrive as a mother, as a stay-at-home parent, which is how I have chosen to go about being a mother, I have to create an identity for myself. I have to be able to glorify, on the one hand, the great parts of my job, and I have to be able to grouse, on the other hand, about the terrible potty-training parts. Because if I didn’t think being a mother, as being a stay-at-home parent, was the most important thing I could be doing right now, I would not do it. And if I did not have an outlet for the un-happy parts of parenting, I would stick a fork in the artery that beats between my collar bone and my neck.

What I loved about Penelope Trunk’s article was that she said that being a stay-at-home parent is a choice. No matter how “poor” you are, you can be a stay-at-home parent if you want to. And she said that people do what they really want to do. So, I am doing what I really want to do, even if some days it doesn’t seem like it. Which is the other thing I liked about her article — what I have been describing as ambivalence for years, she calls “competing feelings.”

It’s okay to have competing feelings about something. Ambivalence makes it sound like I don’t care enough about either thing to be able to choose between them, or that I don’t either love OR hate stay-at-home motherhood enough to be able to lay it to rest already. But the truth is I care too much. I am passionately, intensely wed to the role I play in my children’s lives, and I am also desperately eager to do something else, something in addition.

Dick’s post (you should go read it) is about how we view our own roles and each others’ in limited ways. We’re quite traditional around here. I did not expect this domesticity and child-rearing when I was younger, but as soon as I met Dick, I started thinking about having a baby. I know that it is what I’m meant to do, what I’m meant to be, right now, but I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else.

Ode to my man . . .
Who, though he understands me better than any other person on earth, would never try to tell me he does.


*Penolope Trunk does go a bit bat-poop crazy in her post. I’m not advocating all of her methods, I just adore how she talks about motherhood, and the one reference to you-know-what? BRILLIANT.

Reading in the desert

This week I read a book that made me want to get down on my knees and give thanks that I know how to read. That there are women and men who sit down to put words on paper. That I have the time and thought and leisure to read. That I am a woman and a mother and a wife to the sweet man beside me on the bed right now. I have not felt so consumed by a novel since I was in my adolescence, and there has not been a single day since I learned to read that I have not read something.

This something, however, has my heart full and my eyes overflowing (again) in the shower before church.

It’s not the greatest book ever, I suppose. The naive (but surprisingly enlightened) narrator reminds me of Huck Finn, and perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch for a seventeen-year-old girl living in frontier times. There’s a lot of death and a lot of melodrama, and if I hadn’t been expecting the ending to end as it did, I would have hunted down Nancy E. Turner and scalped her like I was an Apache for letting that happen to my characters.

It also reminds me of Anne of Green Gables (her “unrealized” desire for self-improvement) and the latter books in the Little House on the Prairie series, though they can never compete with historical events seen through a modern, more contemplative and searing lens.

It was the sort of story that had me forgetting it was between the pages of a book except that I had to turn down nearly every other page (sorry, Marcy) to mark a passage I want to come back to. It was one of those books, the first in too long, where I find myself flying in a million directions when it is done. Part of me wants to sit and savor it, part of me wants to write something of my own, and part of me wants to go suck the marrow out of life and my kids because life is fragile and utterly glorious.

It makes me ashamed of all my faults: my impatience, my discontent, my coveting and jealousy and selfish ambitions, my fear of sounding less than educated and brilliant in my writing. It makes me grateful for all the grace and good people who are in my life. It makes me vow to work harder and complain less.

And I can’t think about it without a welling up inside.

One of my favorite things is to read books in the locations where they’re set. The only thing better than escaping into the world of a book is to escape mentally at the same time that physically you’re exploring to. I read Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile while cruising down the Nile, Jane Austen in Bath, Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark while in a motorhome between Colorado and New York City, Elizabeth Peter’s Night Train to Memphis while not far from there (Egypt, not Tennessee),and Romeo and Juliet while sleeping in a 16th century palazzo-turned-youth-hostel in Verona. Someday I’d like to read Death in Kenya on the plains of the Rift Valley, and a Susan Napier romance while backpacking in New Zealand.

these-is-my-wordsThis week I read These is My Words: the Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine 1881-1901, Arizona Territories (a novel) as we camped on the Utah-Arizona border with my parents;  the girls had Spring Break, and we were hoping to find warmer weather. There are many things about camping that I don’t like: the dirt, the gargantuan task of packing and unpacking, and the dirt. Camping is good for returning your settings to default, though, and the view, all that nature crap, is probably worth the dirt. I’m always surprised at how important the weather is; when you’re camping, if it’s cold outside, you are cold.

So I sat in our tent, reading, on a sleeping bag, on an air mattress, and I realized I couldn’t whine about the sand in my teeth or my nose that was cold all night or the kids who fought for thirty endless minutes before settling down to sleep and then had to be tucked back in their sleeping bags every few hours. It’s a bit surreal to read about pioneer ladies who ate only if they worked from sunup to sundown and survived only if they were a faster shot than the bandits when you’re out in the wilderness playing at rustic. Almost feels disrespectful that we would try to recreate (in some small way) the circumstances of life that made living a century ago such a peril. Yet we were safe, and stuffed with food, and only 7 miles by pretty good road to a brand new Walmart.

On Friday we hiked to Native American rock paintings and were actually in Arizona for an hour at Glitter Gulch, which should not be confused with the strip of topless casinos in Las Vegas, but is actually an almost-mined vein of gypsum selenite crystal on BLM land. Sally said, “I cannot believe this stuff is worthless; it is magnificently beautiful.”

When I was a kid, the luxury of reading a book all in one sitting was something I took for granted. Reading These is My Words interspersed with outdoor ventures and teaching Susan to play Concentration, Go Fish, and Old Maid with our new Dora the Explorer cards might have been frustrating for the interruptions, but the book packs such a lot into its pages, and contains such beautiful (not sickly-sweet or ranty) meditations on motherhood, that I didn’t mind (much) having to spread it out over three whole days.

I don’t want to give any of it away, but I want to give you some taste of it. Near the beginning, the narrator’s best friend’s sister is raped on the trail. The friend’s family are Quakers, and Ulyssa submits without fuss (it isn’t told graphically; I’ll let Sally read this book when she’s 14 or so). Sarah runs back to the wagon and gets her gun and shoots the bastards dead (sorry Mom, if that isn’t an appropriate use of that word, I don’t know what is) before they can get the other sisters. The Quaker family, including the best friend Savannah, shun Sarah and Sarah mourns their friendship. A week or so later, Sarah is supposed to butcher a chicken for dinner:

As I lay that chicken down she stretched out her neck and calmly laid her head on the wood making little cooing sounds. I lifted the hatchet and shook her. Fight back, chicken, I said. Then I hollered at it, fight back, chicken! In a minute I was yelling Fight back Ulyssa! Fight back Ulyssa! over and over like a lunatic.

I was standing there shaking all over and crying out and I could not chop that chicken to save my life. Suddenly over my shoulder I hear these words in Savannah’s voice, Well, you are WRONG, Papa! and then Savannah is there and taking the chicken and the hatchet from me. Everyone has circled around me while I was crying. Savannah says, I’ll do it for you, it’s all right, then she bursts into tears and drops the hatchet and the chicken and throws her arms around me and we both cry to beat all.

Harland took to chasing that chicken to have her for lunch and calling out come here, little Drumsticks, and we all smiled for the first time in many, many days (18-19).

In short: beg, borrow, or steal a copy of These is My Words. You’ll thank me later, even if you don’t read it while camping in the desert.

Start all the clocks

Start all the clocks, get on your Sunday best
Let the dogs bark, let them wake us from our rest
Strike up the organ, the choir shout Hurray!
For He is risen, and is not where He lay.

Pink-gloved daughters, sons in pastel ties
Full of sugar, sticky fingers, high happy cries
Scribble with crayons the message of joy:
We are rescued from death and Satan’s decoy.

He is our North, our South, our East and West.
Our daily Savior, by whom we’re blessed.
Forgiver of sins, comfort for pain
Sweet mercy when we deserve disdain.

Dress the house and light every light
Hallelujah to the Lord and to His might.
For death is conquered, and sin can be
If I so choose, and remember Thee.

Auden’s Stop all the clocks

Darwin wasn’t a mother

seedlingsIt’s time to thin my plants, now that the first true leaves have appeared. I’m to cut back all but the strongest seedling in each pellet.

I can’t do it.

Maybe this is why I’m not a vegetarian, except I don’t envision any problem eating the zucchini and tomatoes and basil my garden is going to produce. (That and I love steak.)

But I can’t bring myself to get out the scissors and snap those fragile green stems. Maybe if I start with the beans. Their stems are thick and tall. And I mostly planted only one large seed in each of those.

My body is the soil my children grew in. They still grow in my time, my attention, my concern, my care.

I’m glad I don’t have to thin my children. But do I have enough soil for the three I have? For another one? Do I have the ruthlessness, the determination, the focus, to thin the other things from my life that might usurp the oxygen and water of my mother’s love that my children deserve?

It’s time to thin my children, now that they’re beginning to grow from me. I’m to prune the weaker parts of their personalities.

And the person holding the shears could use some serious shaping herself.

We walked on Sunday evening, after coming home from a weekend of binge eating and church conference at my parents. Sally and Susan ran ahead, holding hands, giggling, agreeing to play “sister princesses” when we got home. Spot held her plastic ponies in each hand, not letting go even when she tripped over loose gravel. When they got tired, and whined, Dick carried Susan on his shoulders, I carried Spot.

I pointed out airplanes white against the blue sky. Spot showed me “A bubble, Mommy! A bubble!”

“That’s the moon, honey,” I said. It was a three-quarter moon, early and wispy against the still-bright sky. It looked like a bubble.

“Yeah, Mommy, that’s the moon,” Spot agreed.

Susan would obstinately insist on the bubble description. Sally would concede the astronomical explanation, but make me acknowledge that it sure did look like a bubble.

My kids are coming right along. Now if I can bring myself to thin my plants.


Hope Springs

At the end of every winter, after the brave bulbs have pushed their way to the surface but while the trees are still barren, hairy skeletons, I find myself doubting that in another few weeks, all this will be green, and beautiful. I teach my kids that faith is like knowing the sun will come up every morning, and I think the coming again of spring should be like that too, so maybe my faith is weak, but every year, it’s unfathomable to me, seeing what looks like death, and what is in fact death, in the case of the five maple trees I’ve been uprooting to make way for new plants.

Those five maple trees are splinter-dry and snap off at the base when I apply my full weight. The people who owned this house until last October gave up on them. Those maple trees, along the south side of our south-facing backyard would’ve grown to be a perfect shade. I knew they were dead because they were hard and leaveless last fall, but this spring, when I’m getting around to removing them, they look no different from the other trees in the yards next to ours, trees that I’m supposed to believe will be full and young and growing before long.

Is my faith weak? Or is it just an awesome, irreducible miracle that, though there is ice floating on the water in the sandbox, spring and green are here?

Today I’m putting away my doubt for another year: the seeds Sally, Susan, Spot and I started last week are sprouting.