Tag Archives: tooth-rotting sweet

Turn it up to 11: A note to my son on his birthday

IMG_2763Today, sweet boy, you are eleven years old – slipping securely into your second decade like an ace. It’s an interesting number that people who like woo things like to watch for on clocks, apparently because events linked to the time 11:11 appear more often than can be explained by chance or coincidence. In Basque, hamaika (“eleven”) has the double meaning of “infinite,” which is a concept being your mom has helped me understand infinitely better, (pretty much).

Eleven. The interval of an octave and a fourth. There are 11 players on a soccer team and 11 guns in a salute to brigadier generals. The eleventh hour is the last opportunity to get something done, and while it may be ill-advised, the truth is that plenty of ingenious and worthwhile things have actually been accomplished during that short span. Messier Object Number Eleven is also known as “The Wild Duck Cluster,” which sounds like something worth seeing. Sunspots last approximately 11 years, and I surely don’t need to tell you a thing about the Apollo 11 mission. It’s the fifth smallest prime number.  It’s also the atomic number of sodium, so maybe you’ll start acting a little bit salty this year, or at least stop face-palming when I let a swear word fly. Canadians seem to especially think 11 is an awesome number. The coin version of the Canadian dollar bill – the loonie – is an 11-sided hendecagon, the maple leaf on their flag has eleven points and clocks featured on Canadian paper money show the time as 11 o’clock.

You are still one of the most deeply learning-driven people I have ever met. This week, you set the Greek alphabet to the Roman alphabet song melody so that you could memorize it. Your purpose for doing this was apparently unknown, even to you, but memorize it you did. In the past year, you re-learned to solve a Rubik’s Cube at increasing speeds, then graduated to the 4 X 4 and 5 x 5. We also started running – you want us to do a 5K together this summer. You are so supportive when I run out of breath, offering me water and encouraging shoulder squeezes, you are so brave and good-humored when you struggle yourself.

During this orbit, you found a passion that rivals your inborn love for astronomy and physics – the piano. What started as a 30-day trial last June escalated into a near obsession by the time the school year arrived. I told you I would keep paying for lessons as long as I didn’t have to bug you to practice. Instead, I ended up feeling conflicted every time I had to urge you to remove your fingers from those keys so you could get some sleep or go to school. The Tetris theme was originally burned into my brain in college playing on a friend’s old Mac Classic computer. Now I hear it in my head, so many times, played by you.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the celestial and quantum have in any way vacated your soul. You were Carl Sagan for Halloween, reciting fragments of the Pale Blue Dot speech as you collected your candy. When we went to see Neil deGrasse Tyson give his splashy Power Point talk, you basically smiled your whole face off for nearly three hours.

We are approaching a time in your life when everything feels a little tougher for me to write about, think about and feel confident about seeing you through. As Buddhists (you still call yourself one too), we believe that every individual has his or her own unique path. There is no time in life that I can think of when this is more obvious than it is during adolescence. Pretty much anyone with a pulse feels a pang of heartbreak just thinking about this bardo period between childhood and adulthood, the ripening uncertainty of all things. Or, to put it more simply, like your cousin once told me, “I’m in puberty now, so that pretty much sucks.”

We’ve had our share of uncertainty and in-between-ness this year, too. Columbus Karma Thesgum Choling, our dharma home since you were a zygote, was burned to the ground by an arsonist in January. I remember rocking and nursing the tiniest you in the back of the shrine room. You circled the coffee table in the basement over and over and over again as a toddler while we listened to dharma talks through a speaker. You and I both took refuge on that dais, where we were also blessed by many teachers. This place, which helped us find peace through some very difficult times, met such a violent end. It’s still hard to process, to not feel attached to what it was and how it felt to be there, even though our faith teaches us non-attachment.

We are also looking at other changes in our lives. We are looking at transforming our family structure to include a person who truly loves us both. This is so many things – happy and scary, sad and wonderful, uncertain but promising. I love the way your heart is completely open to Larry, and the ways that you express it. I love that you’ll lay down for a nap with him and his dogs after a long museum afternoon and sometimes choose to hold his hand instead of mine when we’re walking. You have a lot of adults in your life who love you and help you feel safe and accepted as you are. I feel so grateful you have one more.

You visited Chicago for the first time last summer – Larry’s hometown – where the two of you helped each other through fears about the scary rise to the top of the Sears (Willis) Tower and you slid down the Picasso sculpture with other children late at night. You have frequently visited the elder care colony for the deaf  here, where his mother now lives. Your sweet willingness to learn and try to speak ASL brightened the days of residents enough that they gave you your own deaf name – a letter D that moves down the side of the face in a gentle wave, like your hair.

You are becoming a superbly graceful person – in some ways unlike anyone I’ve ever known. This past weekend, you were the recipient of a poop sandwich when a friend over-promised his birthday party invites, chose to have it at a corporate chain with a limited guest list capacity, and you became one of the sacrificial lambs. You put on a brave face and told him that you understood his decision, but you were wounded and sad enough to have to let me in on what happened the day you knew so many of your friends would be spending time together without you. I was upset for you, upset that it was maybe even your propensity for kindness and understanding that helped make you a candidate for exclusion. You didn’t tell me or any adult what was happening.

“Someone in the class had to get hurt,” you told me. “I wouldn’t wish this on someone else just so I could feel better.”

I tried to find fun things to do for the day to try and take the sting out of your heart. We went to see “The Wind Rises” by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Gibli on the big screen. It was wistful and a true-ish love story about a Japanese airplane designer and his tragically serendipitous relationship with his wife, who had Tuberculosis. You, thorough reader of every John Green novel there is, didn’t mind the subject. Afterwards, we went to a vintage arcade so you could experience video game life as I first knew it, before the age of responsive controls.

I kept joking about your mom not being as exciting as a pack of 11-year-old boys, but hoping we could have a good day. Truthfully, I may have felt more shaken up than you.

After filling up on a Pho dinner – your favorite – we came home and you put your arms around me as soon as we got out of the car.

“I’m still sad that I’m not with my friends today,” you told me. “But I’m not sad that I got to spend the day with you.”

IMG_1905Then later, as I kissed and hugged you goodnight, you grinned widely and said:

“Thanks for trying to cheer me up by taking me to the movie with the lung hemorrhaging and everything.”

Declan, raising you and watching you become this ever more interesting, complex and kind human being is the great joy of my life.  The other night we were talking and I mentioned how happy I am that Larry has become one of my very best friends, what a secure feeling that is.

“So he’s your best friend and your romantic partner,” you said, smiling. “That’s healthy.”

You paused for a moment, smiled a second smile and said “and then one of your other best friends in the world is your son.”

It’s true.

I love you infinity.
Happy birthday, sweet child,


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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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It’s such a good feeling

My son and I have been watching old episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood lately. It’s much easier than I realized to get engrossed in the land of make-believe and film footage of the crayon factory as an adult. But it’s even easier to rest in Fred’s compassion.

“He seems like a question answerer, conscious child idea conceiver Carl Sagan,” said Declan, looking for (and finding) the right words.

The man understood how hard it can be to be a person, especially a child. That’s been tough work for us lately, so I’m glad to be parenting in a digital age that can take us back in time.

Whether he was singing about liking people for true reasons, or his daily celebration of the fact that we’re alive and growing inside, he had this way of creating safety and space. Even though he has passed, I’m amazed to see that the shows still hold that power for my son.

In one episode, someone in the land of make-believe had invented a machine that could see into people, see something true about them, like the warmth of their heart or their love of chair-making.

When it was over, and the camera began panning above Mr. Roger’s colorful neighborhood houses and toy cars, Declan snuggled his face into my neck and pretended to look into me.

“There is lots and lots and lots of love,” he said. “And lots and lots of art, writing especially. Buddhism. The ocean. Me.”

He stopped, leaned back, and smiled at that thought for a moment. Then he snuggled back in and continued.

“All the art you’ve ever seen in museums. All the music you’ve ever listened to. Not just me but everybody you’ve ever known or loved. All the trees and flowers you’ve ever seen or smelled. All the places you’ve lived. Dogs and dolphins and other animals you loved. Blue sky. Clouds. Rain. Storms. Hurricanes. Your reflections.”

“My reflections?”

“Yes – both kinds. The ones you’ve actually seen and.. your thoughts.”

And that one. That one from my son, inspired by Fred Rogers. That’s a reflection I want to keep forever.


More Fred, because even if you think you outgrew him, you didn’t:

His touching 1969 Senate hearing testimony in defense of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which includes his reading of “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

You can watch or listen to most of his songs on the PBS web site.

Fred’s goodbye on his final program, which is especially sweet for parents who grew up watching him.

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Arrow came along about one year before my son did. A rescue puppy, he’s always been a bit troubled, and a regular pain in the butt. Since we only know that he was born sometime in April, we decided his birthday must be Tax Day.

He’s still a bit troubled, but he is so adored. He got belly rubs galore for his birthday, along with the loveliest serenade and a squeaky toy that Declan picked out because it resembles an atom.

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He can do it himself

Once, when he was two or three, he asked me in earnest, “can I drive?”

Now he watches my right knee as we travel through town.

“Why does it move when you drive? What is your leg doing?”

I love the way he constantly looks under the hood of the world to find out how it runs. How his school has encouraged that.

At one point, keeping him from falling off the ledge (or driving there, apparently) was so important.

Every year since, it’s been more important to drop that habit and just let him do.

I’m not allowed to see what clothes he picks in the morning until he’s fully dressed. His style is better than anything the celebrities can afford.

He loves to have a job to do.

He loves to get things done.

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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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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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This little wish

He’s been considering wishes for a few months now, toying with fairy dust and never missing a fountain.

Since this year began, he’s had a new one. And he repeats it every time there is an opportunity for a wish to be made:

“I wish that everything that we need to have happen would happen for us.”

Godspeed, my boy. And I wish for all of your wishes to come true.

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