Tag Archives: adventures in normality

The John Wayne of Meijer

I’ll always drive an extra mile for the sake of a reasonably-priced artichoke.

In my daily swim through the morass of marketing e-newsletters that are available, I accidentally found an obscure and unexpectedly useful one recently. It lets me know about artichoke sales in my area.

As I visited the Eastern perimeter of the city yesterday, I realized that I was within striking distance of a big-box store that this e-newsletter alleged to be brimming with artichokes. So I went. And it was. Yay.

But you can’t go to such a place just for artichokes. So I bobbed and weaved through it, filling my cart with a variety of staples.

My mother requested diet soda, which I found in Bunyanesque 2-for-1 packages. Just as I wrestled with one and realized that I was going to have to move to the other end of my cart to heave it underneath, a cavalcade of shopping carts weaved toward and past me. I propped the diet pop on the cart handle and waited.

A man with a bandana-wrapped head, zero sleeves and lite Hulk Hogan facial hair stopped in front of me.

“Let me help you, there, little lady!” He said. I handed him the soda box. He heaved it under my cart for me. I thanked him. He gave me a manly nod and moved upstream.

This can only mean three things:

1) My quest for artichokes brought me to a mythical encounter with the legendary John Wayne of Meijer, and I should write a trucking song about him, a la Red Sovine’s Phantom 309.

2) Since I’m not particularly little, this was qualitative evidence that my fitness regimen is working (i.e. the wall squats I did Friday – and subsequent literal pain in the ass I’ve experienced all weekend – were worthwhile).

3) The underlying reason that we go to big box stores is to recognize our relative insignificance in the universe. As we meander through huge, galactic clusters of Easter candy, swarms of garden hoses and fields of snack food, we unconsciously see ourselves as Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot, a mere, subatomic speck of a little lady “in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”

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I wish I could say that I came into this year, this decade, with rosy optimism and a warm blanket. I tried. I did yoga. I took a hot shower and sang along with Irma Thomas to expand my cold-ravaged lungs. I took a cinematic ride through the universe with my boy and remembered our teeny-tininess, but when midnight came I was just agitated, unsettled, unreasonably angry.

But it’s the first Monday of the year, and even though my son and I argued on the way to school in the car today, even though my chest is still sore, I don’t feel rested and the cold outside is far too bitter, I feel strangely unburdened and optimistic. I want to clean up and put things in order. I want to make appointments and to-do lists. I want to roast vegetables and cut fruit and find a place to run inside. I want to listen to depressing music until I feel light again.

I hope your first Monday is pleasantly complicated, that your sinuses are clear and that ushering in this new decade feels like watching the sun rise.

Happy new year.

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Fairy dust

“Here mommy, let me put some of this on you,” my boy says to me.

He rubs glitter into my collarbone like a salve.

“Now make a wish,” he instructs me. “It will take 24 hours for it to start doing its work, right after my wishes start working. So… what is your wish?”

“I want my family to be happy and healthy,” I tell him.

He wished for wormholes to form though the earth.

He’d really like it if it didn’t take a whole three hours to get to his cousins’ farm. Lately, he’s been angling to see Disney World too.

If you happen to be secretly working on a space-time continuum-ripping transportation system, Large Hadron Collider, please make Columbus a decent hub, would you?

He keeps checking his tin full of fairy dust as though it is a science experiment. It has magical components like teeny tiny sea shells and sprigs of brightly colored fabric fibers.

I’m not allowed to hide it, he told me, although I’m not sure why I would.

He also wished for all good dreams to come true.

“Not the tornado ones.”

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Twinkle, twinkle

The last couple of weeks have been rough. With camp long since over and another three weeks before the preschool year begins, there’s been no consistent social diversion for my son. The adults of the household are grouchy, mostly because we have some work, but not enough, and projects that we thought were sure to pan out for us are currently stuck in the mud. I’ve been mired in that overwhelming, ultimate incompetent parent feeling. I’m so worried over providing both emotionally and materially that neither effort seems to be going all that well.

At this time last year, it became clear that Declan is as deeply social as he is intensely curious – or, at least that when he gets the opportunity to be social, it seems to offset some of his intensity. By the time we got him into his first classroom, I was desperate for him to have that new place to explore, new people to ask questions of, new things to become curious about. I spent entire days answering esoteric questions about space and anatomy. And I had to look up most of those answers because I don’t know what’s inside of a brain cell or what a neutron star is off the top of my head. I am one of two primary decoders for his universe, and while that’s mostly a thing of beauty and honor, it can also be exhausting, especially since I can’t afford not to work for a living as well as my work as a mom. When I was distracted or unable to answer those questions, it often made him mad. The opening of his social world made his demands on me less intense.

Last Saturday, we took him to COSI, where they had a special space day in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy. We lucked out and got a personal tour of an exhibit of deep space images taken by various telescopes from an OSU astronomy professor. Declan didn’t hold back a thought about any image, 99 percent of which he could identify on sight, prefacing nearly every sentence with “scientists think” or “scientists believe…” His dad and I reminded him that our tour guide was, in fact, a scientist a couple of times, to which the patient and amiable scholar said “it’s okay, your son is really quite a scientist himself.” One of the young women who ran the day’s demonstrations talked to him about eclipses and the life cycle of a star at length, asked to shake his hand and told him that she hoped he gets to do whatever he wants to in life and science.

On the same morning, he spent several minutes afraid of the live, fuzzy costumed character from Zula Patrol that he had especially hoped to see. He orbited him at a distance, worked up his courage, then suddenly ran to hug him and have his picture taken. He played happily in a litter box full of flour and cocoa, throwing rocks to get the idea of a meteor strike. (We now have a bin full of flour, cocoa and fling-worthy marbles at home.) Because above all else, he is four.

He hit me the other day because he was angry that I wouldn’t let him have a third popsicle. Then we talked about things, made up and he told me about feelings he’s had about classmates and new situations that he’s never shared before. He loves to watch Calliou. He’s obsessed over which stars are big enough to become black holes and whether they would impact our solar system. He does pratfalls around the house and asks me to film them so we can submit them to America’s Funniest Videos.

This morning he snuggled me and bounced around the bed while his dad talked about letting me sleep a little while longer. Then Declan pressed the top of his forehead to mine, stroked my hair and face and sang all of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in his sweetest and quietest voice before letting me be for a while.

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Things I did not know a month ago

1. When a distant star shakes and shimmies ever so slightly (visible only through a high-powered telescope), that’s a good indication that it has planets orbiting around it. The gravitational pull of big dudes like Jupiter and Saturn are most likely make their suns go a-quiver, which is why most of the exoplanets that astronomers have discovered are gas giants, not the bitty Earth-like places.

2. Even as the lone male dancer in a ballet class that wasn’t about space, my son loved to dance. He wants to stay in ballet lessons. People have told me that there are good scholarships out there for boys. I need to find out if that’s true.

3. It is possible to be winded by a sixty-second run one day, and find yourself running 20 minutes in a row without falling down dead five weeks later.

4. When your child begins to develop a real connection to visual art, it’s a beautiful thing. Especially when that connection involves imitating a piece by saying “I QUIT!” loudly and doing a faceplant on the floor in the middle of a Downtown gallery.

5. Letting your only child hang out with a couple of families that have three kids is an awesome reminder that left to their own devices, kids can and will work a lot of stuff out without your help.

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A note to my boy, who is four today…

My little boy is four today. Four.

I feel like I’m supposed to say that I can’t believe he’s four already, and in some ways that’s true, but mostly it isn’t. I feel like I’ve been awake in motherhood, probably more than any other role I’ve played in my life. I’ve been present with him in these years. Lately I’ve had to remind myself what I was doing in the others, to seek out evidence of who I was before.

When I look at pictures of that chubby-cheeked mystery of a baby I gave birth to four years ago, I may feel nostalgic to hold that tiny body or dress him in those little clothes, but I don’t see a person that I miss. I see someone I’ve felt privileged to know and excited to watch unfold. Yesterday, for a moment when we hugged each other and he kissed me sweetly, I said, haphazardly, “I love your smooches and hugs so much. I hope you’ll always have smooches and hugs for me.” He looked at me strangely, and kind of sympathetically before he said “I will always hug you.” I thought, well, he won’t, but that will be another time and place and this is today. Or maybe he will. He is a master of surprises.

In true mother blogging fashion, here are some thoughts I wanted to write down for my son, to let him know some of the things that I see when I look at him, things that I’m coming to understand are just a fragment of who he is.

Dear Declan,
You are four today. You are amazing. You are tall and healthy and strong and kind and warm and well-loved by a remarkable number of people. This is the last week of your first year of preschool, where you surprised everyone by learning all the names of your classmates within the first couple of weeks, and then started on the parents. You knew the names of several of the moms and dads before I did.

You know more of the neighbors than I do, too. They ask you to eat dinner with them and plant beans in their yards because they enjoy your company. How lucky they are to learn so much about the solar system and the workings of the digestive system from you. How lucky we are to live on a block with adults who see and try to understand and appreciate you for you.

So far, you haven’t met a word you weren’t willing to try to use in a sentence. You sneak sweets at your two grandmothers’ houses and then tell me you know they aren’t nutritious. You looked at the painting a four-year-old friend gave you as a birthday gift last night and became delighted all over again that it’s now yours. “It’s very expensive,” you told me, I think because you understand the word to mean something you really, really like that’s hard to get. And then: “We make expensive paintings at our house sometimes too, right mommy?”

You’re becoming a Dadaist. You make jokes like “Why did the chicken cross the kitchen?” Answer: “Tweet tweet!” and you ring people’s bellies like doorbells until they say “Who’s there?” which you answer with nonsense words or silence. When we’re home together and you want my attention, you bust out with a nonsequitur like “a wild purple pansy has five petals.” You never hesitate when you name a new stuffed animal. Your teddy bear is Baljoulth. Your cat Pipapupa. Your dog Shoop. When I think you won’t possibly remember the name you concocted five days later, you always do. Silly, as you say, makes you a man.

You are compassionate. You’re a little uncertain about bugs in general, but when we went to the butterfly exhibit this year, you bravely approached the chrysalis case and watched some new wings fluttering behind glass. As we got ready to enter the biome where they fly freely, we heard multiple warnings not to touch them, especially with the palms of our hands, or they could get hurt. “What would happen?” you asked me. I tried to explain how the oils on our hands could weigh them down. “What if one lands on me and I hurt it?” You asked. Your outfit had no pockets, so I suggested folding your arms. As we walked in, we saw a butterfly on the path ahead of us, struggling and unable to fly. “What happened to it?” you asked me, tight sadness creeping into your voice. “Did someone touch it?” This was too much for your heart to bear and you buried yourself in my chest, hands clasped together, and ordered us to leave. You couldn’t bear to hurt one yourself. (Ants and spiders are, of course, a different story.)

You are kind. You sidle up to my elderly stepfather, your Grandfafa, whose hand tremors and shakes more each time we visit, and insist that he partake in the joy you know as Crocodile Dentist. You pat his knee. You dance for him. You talk to him about the things you’ve learned lately and try to get him to throw a foam football with you from the armchair he rarely leaves. You demand that Giga get him a bib at dinner. You kiss and hug him. Aging and debilitating illness can be scary, so I think we would try and understand if you were afraid, but so far, you are not. You are just light in the day of a person whose life is darkly clouding.

You rock a party hat. Or any hat. Or sunglasses. Or the hand-me-down green jean jacket that your best bud at school gave you. Another mom at school admires your sense of fashion. “He gets it,” she told me one day. “You wear one signature item with confidence – that’s the essence of style.”

Your curiosity is epic. Some people marvel at your intelligence, but it’s your questions and your imagination and the connections you make that routinely bowl me over. Every time I think they might wane, or that your interests may shift to playground endeavors, you surprise me by returning to space – outer and inner, turning so many of the perceptions that I had often thought safe inside out. Your thinking is magical and scientific. I can’t imagine why it is that you notice when we come home on different roads than we took to our destination. I don’t know why you always notice when we pass the confluence of Columbus’ two rivers. You can find our house from space on Google Earth, along with your school, Perkins Observatory, COSI and the Statehouse.

We are thinking of going to Chicago this summer and while we have museums and a planetarium in mind, the thing you most want to see is the patch of grass where the man sleeps on the blanket in Powers of Ten. This is the perspective you can’t seem to get enough of – these journeys from our little patch of earth to the edges of the known universe, and all the way back into us, where cells and atoms and chromosomes and DNA seem just as infinite. (By the way, you just played a space trivia board game with your dad meant for seven year olds and you completely hosed him in the first round.)

The only accurate expectation I had of parenthood was that your influence on me would be as great or even stronger than the one I had on you. In a culture where I think too many people talk at or down to kids instead of listening to and speaking with them, you manage to bring so many people to your level. I watched as people came to wish you well the other day – adults and children who took such great care to give you heartfelt gifts that reflected the person they see. You were gleeful and unbelieving that all of that stuff was for meant for you. You were as appreciative and excited as any gift-giver could be and even an attentive host who made certain his friends were festooned with a lei. You sow the seeds of kindness and wonder so naturally.

I can’t wait to find out what else we get to learn from you as we enter your fifth revolution around the sun. I love you so much, my sweet boy.

Happy birthday.


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Urban explorer

I hug him tight. He kisses me on the side of my nose.

“Thanks, mom,” he says, rolling over and heaving a sigh. “Good night.”

This is how he falls asleep lately. I’m not sure why I’m getting thanked, but I’m not complaining.

Tonight he paused a beat. Then took a breath.

“Sidewalks can just take you everywhere… right mom?”

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Awesome thing my son said, #11,987

A few weeks ago, he met a little girl named Lucy on the playground. He looked at her wide-eyed, then leaned over to me and asked:

“Mommy… she’s not the one in the sky with diamonds, is she?”

(He loves Sgt. Pepper. He used to ask me to sit and cuddle him while he listened to “She’s Leaving Home.” He’d hang his head sadly and say “Mommy, the baby is gone!”)

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Eye sees you

Had a fabulous time at a creativity workshop with Amy yesterday, and met her two beautiful boys along with a handful of other local bloggers (though I didn’t get much chance to visit because Dec was feeling uncharacteristically shy). We came home with a poem, a cool art smock, two bags of green slime, a garbage bag crab and a belly full of Starburst candies. He kept the third eye she had him make to help him peer into his own imagination for about an hour after we’d left. He said he could see Jupiter with it in the late daylight. He told lots of his friends about her at preschool today. About her and art and poetry. And candy.

The workshop was the focal point of a mother-son day. He and I ate lunch together and laughed at squeaky straws and talked about solar flares and prominences. After the workshop, we had some time to kill before we went to see his dad and Megan Palmer play a set at Lost Weekend Records, so we went out and visited a few satellite dishes. We drove past a big cluster on campus, then found this inactive one that we could take a closer look at. He was thrilled to touch something that communicates with space.

He was quite the photojournalist at Lost Weekend. I’ll post some of those pictures another day.

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I’m stuck

Tangled up in pillows and blankets, I think “I’m stuck” was the first sentence my son ever uttered.

I’m feeling that way lately with this blog. I’m editing posts in my mind to the point that when I’ve opened the browser and started to write, they’ve been whittled to a sentence. When that’s all I’ve got, I tweet instead. Other posts are unprocessed, deemed too long or too personal before I’ve even typed the first letter.

I’m going to try to kick myself back into shape with a little NaBloPoMo.

This month’s theme is “Giving up.” Hopefully, I’ll be able to give up my internal editor and get myself writing again.

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