Category Archives: Future Folklore

An interdimensional mother-son story


Juniper’s Big Adventure

By Declan and his mom

Declan and I wrote this together by hand, passing the notebook back and forth, each taking a turn at contributing a line or two. He’s excited to share it. We hope you like it. 

Once upon a time, there was a jackal named Juniper, and he loved to bark at birds.

One day a toucan named Alfonso Frederico la Vesta visited him, carrying a mysterious briefcase.

Juniper attacked, as usual.

Alfonso Frederico la Vesta bopped Juniper on the head with his briefcase, which exploded into 100,000 pieces of glitter and 600 silver balloons.

Juniper hadn’t a ghost of an idea what was happening. He ran away.

The balloons followed him. The glitter swirled into a massive shiny funnel cloud.

After a while, the funnel cloud reached and picked up the jackal. He flew up into the sky and bounced on top of the funnel cloud like Super Mario™ for 317 miles. Then the funnel cloud flattened and lowered down to the ground.

Juniper landed in a strange place that had a chocolate marsh and trees that were made of staple guns and jigsaws.  They started to grow rapidly as the jackal came down.

Out of nowhere, a glowy castle emerged from the chocolate marsh. It had a moat that was made of liquid rainbow Skittles™. If you tried to swim across, the castle would catapult TNT jawbreakers, which exploded in a hot gooey mess. The castle seemed to enjoy targeting a particularly cranky bunny rabbit that was practicing ballet on the other side of the moat.

Juniper fell onto his bottom in awe, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. His eyes rolled back into his head for a moment.

A drawbridge made of Jolly Rancher™ candy dropped in front of Juniper that seemed to be just for him. As he walked into the castle, a giant Burple* monster with polka dots — which actually turned out to be UFO warp engines that were friendly — appeared.

One of the UFOs approached Juniper. The warp engine smiled at him, stuck out its tongue and licked the jackal on the nose, giving him the ability to make the moment become marshmallows. These marshmallows had tritanium in them, which made you fit and healthy.

“Wow, the present moment sure is sticky,” said Juniper. “But I feel like a million pronghorn bucks that have eaten unicorn milk that was impregnated by an interdimensional creature.**  Thanks!!!”

And so he went into the 2, 248th dimension, where everything flew by pooping rainbows from dimension zero.

“I feel kind of hungry for a pork chop,” thought Juniper.

Just at that moment, a cardboard foot flew into his mouth, but it tasted like lemonade.

“Delicious!” he thought.

Then Willy Wonka™ appeared and handed Juniper an infinite, updated version of his meal gum. He chomped it in his jaws and tasted the most delicious pork chop with applesauce that he had ever tasted. There was also steamed broccoli, a glass of high-pulp, fresh squeezed, not-from-concentrate orange juice and rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.  He turned the shape of each food, but quickly sprang back into jackal form.

He decided to make a video/life portal to the Cookieverse™. He was so full of rhubarb pie, having just been rhubarb pie, that he simply gazed at the cookies lovingly.

Reluctantly (although he knew he could come back), he went out of there and onto television.

Whoosh! Juniper felt his body flicker. Suddenly he was transported onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise-E, next to Lieutenant Commander Data. He blinked and looked down and saw that he was wearing a red Starfleet shirt from the original series.  They were searching for the Borg.

“I wonder if this means I am nothing more than an incidental character – an infinitesimal membrane – in the universe…?” thought Juniper.


* A color that only exists in alternate dimensions.

** The unicorn milk is what was impregnated here, not the unicorn.

The collage/illustration is also a TZT & Declan collaboration.

P.S. Declan was very enthusiastic about writing this story, so please feel free to share it or leave him a comment if you are at all inclined.

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A note to my boy, who is eight today

decsweetDear Declan,

You are 8 today.  Eight.

Eight is the atomic number of oxygen.  There are eight spokes on the Wheel of Dharma, which symbolize the interdependent principles on the path to self-liberation.  It’s the billiard ball that you don’t want to sink, the number of drivers required in every Mario Kart race and the second magic number in nuclear physics (I don’t really know what that means, but you probably will soon).

Kick eight on its side and you have the infinity symbol, which suits you, my boy.  There seems to be no end to the things you already know and continually thirst to understand. I can hardly imagine what you will teach me in the future. Your mind is limitless.

Infinity is one of our favorite words. We make the symbol with our hands. It’s how much we say we love each other every day. At the classroom doorway or snuggled up at bedtime, we whisper to each other: I love you infinity.

Every year, when I write you one of these letters for your birthday, I seem to tell you how much you love babies and dogs. You still do. Sometimes when we can’t get rid of a particularly scary thought, we spend time looking at Cute Overload, where there are babies and dogs. And baby dogs. Baby pigs too. Hedgehogs, even.

I also always seem to tell you how kind you are. And you still are. To your Giga, to other kids – to everyone, really – but especially to your mom. You bolt in my direction and fling your arms around my waist like you haven’t seen me in weeks every time that I pick you up from school. If I shed a tear in your presence, your arms are wrapped around my neck in under a second. You invent secret handshakes for us. And you still blow kisses to me from the back seat. When you sang at a concert two weeks ago, they told everyone it was time to stop waving at their parents. You beamed right in my direction and winked at me instead.

Some great things have happened during your eighth tour around the sun. We drove to Alabama and joined my dad (you call him Papa), for Space Camp, a place where grown men who hold day jobs as accountants or computer technicians can safely wear flight suits without an iota of shame. We did space shuttle and International Space Station simulations, launched rockets and nearly had a heart attack watching your grandfather spin inside of a geodesic human eggbeater contraption.

Last November I took you with me, like I always do, as I exercised my right to vote at the early voting center. I snapped an image of you with a voting sticker on your palm, which landed – by way of an old college friend – in the hands of an ABC news producer. The day after the election, your sweet face moved slowly across the screen during Good Morning America. When I told you that four million people watch that show, your face went pale. But all of your color returned when you told your friends at school what had happened. They made you feel like four million bucks.

We’ve done some empirical research together, like trying to figure out whether Dr. John or Tom Waits has a “growlier” voice.  And we talked about all kinds of song lyrics at length because nary a word can get past you. It can get pretty tricky at times. Trying to explain the meaning of your grandmother’s “ART SLUT” mug felt particularly tricky. But we seem to have agreed that there are no bad words just bad ways to use them – particularly if it’s to inflict pain on another – so “stupid” and “jerk” are as bad as any.

You also played a lot of Minecraft. And you spoke a lot of Minecraft to in-the-know peers as well as several confused elders. You speak Mario, too, but a lot of adults understand that.

You grew our your hair out like a medieval knight, which seems to have made one gown-up after another believe that you are a girl. But it doesn’t seem to bother you. One winter afternoon, a barista in a Downtown coffeeshop brought you a cup of hot chocolate and referred to us as “ladies.”

“I am a boy,” you told him clearly, looking him in the eye. Then, seeing his face begin to redden, you quickly added: “It’s okay. I’m not upset.”

“I admire that attitude!” He said to you, giving you a big thumbs up.

We had some down moments too, but our struggles were much more ordinary than the string of deaths and losses we experienced when you were five and six. When I asked you about things that you felt had been important about being seven the other day, you told me that you don’t have as many fears as you used to. You’ve been working on those.

The other night I shared some of my fears with you. One of them is how scared I get sometimes that I’m not doing a good enough job at being your mom.

You grabbed my hand and pulled it to your heart. “You shouldn’t,” you told me sternly.  “You are.”

The librarian at your school stopped me one day to tell me about a report you had done about birds. There was a question on a worksheet about mother birds and their young.

“If mother birds are like my mother,” you had told her, “then they must protect their babies.  My mom always does everything she can to protect me and make me safe.”

Declan, somewhere in the time since you made me a mom, I began to learn and really understand that we always have the power within us to make others feel good or valued or heard or seen, and that actively practicing living that way always elevates us.  We always have the power to make people feel bad, too, but that’s easy, especially if we’re careless, and that usually ends up hurting us more than anyone else.

Love and kindness are things I have to practice to do well, but you make them seem effortless.  You are a tender, gentle soul. Even when you’re whirling and jumping and seem not to be paying attention, I find that you pick up more detail about those around you than most people.  You don’t ask for much, materially speaking. Your most formal, serious requests to me have been for time and attention. You are grateful for what you have.

You make me feel like being your mom is something I’m pretty good at. Whenever my life gets rough or painful, I see how loved you feel and I feel like a success.

I love you infinity, my sweet, sweet son.



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You rite baby, you rite

While listening to the new Dr. John record in the car the other evening, Declan and I had the following conversation:

Declan: Mom, who is this? I feel like I’ve heard this voice before.

Me: It’s Dr. John.

Declan: That doesn’t sound right. Did you play him on this iPod before?

Me: I don’t think so. But… well, there’s a lot of Tom Waits.

Declan: Is his voice all… scratchy like this?

Me: Yeah, kinda gravelly…

Declan: What’s gravelly?

Me: Low and scratchy, I guess. Like he has gravel in his voice.

Declan: Oh yeah, it’s Tom Waits I’m thinking of.

Me: You are a pretty hip six-year-old, trying to tell the difference between those two voices. You met Dr. John, you know.

Declan: I did?

Me: He played your uncle’s festival one year.

Declan: Why did I meet him? What did he say? I don’t remember that. Did you meet him?

Me: We all met him. We ate lunch together. You were a baby. Your dad had him sign a book for you.

Declan: I haven’t seen that.

Me: I’ll ask him to look for it.

Yeah, what he said.

What we were listening to:

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Declan has begun to read aloud like John Lithgow… with purpose and emphasis and drama.

It’s the best sound in the whole entire world, next to his laugh.

The other day in school he was asked to write down words that he knows.  He has read it to me several times, proud of the way that changing his emphasis can make it so different:

Version #1

Map cat in.

No, mom!

Dad mad.

Man can.



Glad Declan.

Version #2


Cat in.

No mom.

Dad madman.

Can. Pan.

Wow. Glad?


You get the idea…

Someday I’ll write a real post again. For now, life, Kindergarten and work have me on the run.

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The accidental Scrooge

Last night, my son told me he had something important to show me at school this morning. “A tree in the hallway,” he said, “with paper ornaments.”

That’s sweet, I thought.  While we’re still new to Kindergarten, we’ve now been at this long enough for me to start to get jaded over the number of paper creations and writings that come home. I try to celebrate each one, but they do stack up. I readied myself to show excitement over his latest effort, but had a hard time getting to “important.”

This morning he was slow to wake, and slower to get ready. I nudged him along, reminding him that he wanted me to see this tree thing, and that things always start on the dot on Fridays when he has music class. He couldn’t decide what he wanted for breakfast. Then I had to help him with his shoes. He tossed his gloves onto the floor when he came home from school yesterday, so we ended up having to grab a mismatched pair after searching around for more wasted minutes.

The later we leave in the morning, the worse the traffic is bound to be. So I groused at him a bit in the car, and scolded that we wouldn’t be able to see the tree because it had been so hard to get him moving.

We arrived to school about one minute late. He insisted again that we needed to visit the tree, even if it made us late to music class.

I gave in. I crank a lot about timeliness – mostly because it tends to be a better start to the day for all of us when we’re there on time, not because I’m a paragon of promptness or because his teachers are cops. But when my son feels strongly about something, I try to let him have that if I can.

We walked to his classroom, where another parent opened the door and confirmed that all the kids were gone, expecting us to turn straight around. Instead, Declan grabbed my hand and pulled me urgently past the dad, then turned me toward this paper tree that had three or four ornaments on it.

“I was worried these would all be gone,” he said. “We need to take one so I can buy something for the children who don’t have any clothes or food or toys like we do for Christmas. They don’t have anything, mom.”

He picked an ornament that committed us to getting a soft toy for a one-and-a-half-year-old boy and seemed genuinely relieved when I stuffed it in my purse and said that we’d do that this weekend.

I felt Scroogey for needling him on the way to school, only to find out his urgent need for me to see this tree was to make sure that he could do do something kind.

Sometimes the universe swats you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper and gives you an an unexpected, after-school special-worthy moment. And I am grateful. I’m even looking forward to some Christmas shopping. And Hallmark be damned, I’m going to hug the stuffing out of my kid tonight.

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My son and I went to the grocery store today. It had been days.

As we finished up in the self-checkout lane, an older woman behind us didn’t wait for us to finish bagging before she threw her groceries onto the conveyor belt. One package of applesauce cups came flying down to us. Then another. And another. And another. We could tell where our groceries ended and hers began because of the growing barricade of applesauce.

“Sorry,” she said. But she didn’t stop what she was doing so that we could finish bagging. She looked hurried and preoccupied. I flung the rest off our things into bags and got out of her way as quickly as I could. Not that she noticed.

“That was a lot of applesauce,” said Declan. “Do you think maybe her husband is very sick? Or maybe he could be dying.”

When a person can swallow very little, but still needs medication, applesauce is one way to deliver it.

My stepfather passed away the morning after my birthday.  Quietly. Peacefully. In my mother’s home, where we are staying. It took three days before hospice came and took the hospital bed. It was six days before we held the the funeral.

Today, I woke up thinking about yesterday’s solar eclipse, wondering if it will really change the world as much as astrologers said that it would. Today is the first average weekday since our little world shifted. Our perspective on just about everything has shifted. Including applesauce.

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Human worlds and Hello Kitties

One of Declan’s best friends at preschool is an extremely sweet little girl (I’ll call her Nora). The intensity of her smiles and happy bounces make it seem like she’s about to explode into a big, shimmering firework of pure joy when she tells me how much she likes my son.

She made him a gigantic valentine, replete with a big blue glass gemstone and a poem that she dictated to her mom about him. According to him, she wants to sit next to him every day at lunch. And he likes that. On the playground, they pretend they are Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse and go on adventures together.

The other day, her mom told me that Nora has been worried because when they grow up, Declan will no longer “live on the human world.” Declan’s affinity for space is known by pretty much anybody who knows him. She’s going to miss him a lot when he’s off on his galactic adventures, but she and another boy from their class will plan elaborate “welcome back to Earth” parties whenever he comes home for a visit.

Earlier this year, Dec started asking for Hello Kitty things. First he asked for band-aids, then stuffed Hello Kitties. He has one dressed in a lamb costume and another in a panda costume. They go most places with us, especially to his school. He feeds them at mealtimes. He puts them in the cupholders of his car booster to keep them safe. He tells me what they are thinking. He sleeps with them.

It’s been hard for me to figure what makes him so attached to them. Until I asked him one day in the car.

“I told you, it’s because all of the girls in my class love Hello Kitty so much,” he told me.

He loves the ladies, my boy. He wants to stay in their good graces. He’s a four-year-old that’s begun to unravel the mysteries of social currency with so little self-consciousness.

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Construct your own narrative

For the past several months, I’ve been helping my mother out with a family project. We’ve been going through scads of old, deteriorating photographs, scanning them and identifying faces. Apparently, members of every branch of my family were armed with a camera from the moment they first one became commercially available.

Then I found this group of seven pictures in one pack, along with negatives that tell me they were taken in exactly this order:

What does it mean? What’s the story here?

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This is me in all of my three-weeks-from-17, just-graduated glory, standing next to my brother on a commuter ferry that took us from central New Jersey to South Street Seaport, right in the shadow of the World Trade Center.

In the 1980s, we made most of our treks into New York with our dad. But on the occasion of my early departure from high school, we went back to visit a few childhood friends with mom.

Mom and I unearthed these pictures this summer. Andy and I look so damn serious, which probably has something to do with the fact that it’s early in the morning on an overcast day and neither of us has discovered coffee yet.

I know we’re anxious to get there because we were always anxious to get to Manhattan. At least I know that I was. I was always anxious to be in the thick of crowds and inconceivable buildings and art and celebrities walking around like ordinary people and giant fiberglass whales and taxi cabs and attitude and Fifth Avenue store windows and Broadway musicals.

It seems so much more mortal to me now. But my childhood and teenage memories of this city are the ones that I carry. I remember it this way. I remember this skyline. It was everything in the universe that I could imagine on one little island.

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The six-year-old anesthesiologist

I’ve been helping my mother clear out her office this month, where the shelves are bursting with materials about art education and family history. It is no small project.

This is one of the pictures we’ve scanned and saved from disintegration this week. It’s my uncle, age six, in the O.R. of the hospital where my grandfather was chief of surgery “giving anesthesia” (it’s in quotes on the back of the picture in my grandmother’s handwriting). My mom, aunts and uncle all tell stories of accompanying their dad to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, where they watched him do his work – the work of fixing people’s insides, 1940s and ’50s-style.

Times, as they say, have definitely changed.

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