Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Night of a Thousand Bubbling Purple Cow Pies

Every woman needs a therapy hobby.  Something she can do that is unrelated to both her job and the upkeep of her house that occupies her mind and hands and that produces something either useful or creative. 

In the good weather, I garden and make a variety of canned and pickled veggies. 

In the bad weather, I make bath products.  

The unwitting recipients of the outcomes from these little therapy projects are normally friends and family or co-workers, who are gifted little bags of bath fizzies, lip balm, hand cream or cold-process soap with their Christmas packages.  These recipients normally at least pretend to be grateful for them.  And every year, I try to make something new that I haven’t attempted before. Sometimes these new projects are a big hit.  Sometimes they are an epic fail. I nevertheless dress up the outcomes and foist them on my ersatz Toiletry Victims.

Last night, I attempted to make Bubble Bars, (à la Lush) for the first time, as a friend requested that I give them a try.  There are several recipes available on the web; they vary in terms of both ingredients and ratios.  All the recipes involve mixing some variation on baking soda and cream of tartar together with a powdered detergent and some corn starch, adding a series of oily, viscous or otherwise soapy-like liquids, and then forming the final product into a bar that can be cut up and crumbled under a running bath. Easy, right?

So I measure and mix these powders together, choking as I go, because I ignored the warning that I should use a respirator mask so I wouldn’t choke (because respirators are for wimps). I added a few festive candy flower sprinkles and tiny embeddable paper scraps to help it look festive.  

Things took a downhill turn after that.

The directions read “combine the liquid ingredients and drizzle into the dry ingredients, mixing and kneading with gloved hands to combine thoroughly.”  No problem.  I mixed the liquids together.  They promptly polymerized into a mass that resembled the Ectoplasmic Residue from Ghostbusters. My attempt to “drizzle” the substance resulted in my glopping the wad of goo into the center of the powders (resulting in more coughing).  I then started kneading the mixture, which commenced to expanding at a prodigious rate.  The consistency was sticky enough to pull off one of my vinyl gloves and devour it like a giant purple macrophage that had encountered a hapless amoeba.  I began punching down and kneading with more vigor, in hopes that it would behave like bread dough and give up some of its excess carbon dioxide.  No luck. I suddenly wondered if this was how Lucy felt in the candy factory; I simply didn't have enough hands to contain the growing mass of purple squish.  It quickly overflowed the mixing bowl and began to mushroom up and over the side of the bowl, landing with a series of plops on the counter like so many bubbling purple cow pies.  It began disgorging the candy flowers and paper trinkets.  I was reminded of the birthday cake from that episode of Our Gang, expecting at any time it would start making that “wheep-whoooonnnk” noise, and a rubber boot or the neighbor’s dog would pop out.

Time to set on the stove and stir

I finally managed to gather the entire mess onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and began to roll it firmly.  It deflated enough to form into a log so I could cut it into slices.  I left them on the counter to dry overnight. 

Tonight will be recipe # 2, I think; I’ll keep you all posted.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

To my daughter, on her birthday.

Dear Daisy Mae,

Today, you are 18 years old. 

I have to say that again.

Today, You Are 18 Years Old!


I'm knocked out by what a bright, confident, beautiful young woman you are becoming.  I look at you today, and in place of the awkward, rebellious teen who entered my life four years ago, I see a young lady who can conduct herself in a fancy restaurant, who can plan a dinner party for a dozen friends, who can gracefully help her grandfather in and out of a wheelchair, without making him feel out of place.

In place of the recalcitrant middle-schooler, who would routinely use phrases like, "Mom! I'm passing!  Get off my back!", I see a young scholar who has dreams and goals and who takes personal offense when her best efforts don't product A's. Who is learning to think before she speaks. Who is learning to question and think critically.

In place of the frightened young girl, who looked across the table and said, "No one will ever marry me. No one will love me. I'm not worth it.", I see someone who has learned to build relationships, to bloom under the attention of a young man who thinks she is beautiful in ways she may never understand, to compromise and to nurture others. Who will fight tooth and nail to protect someone she perceives as powerless, no matter what the cost. And just maybe, who has started to love the person she is. Some women never learn that lesson.  Look how far you've come!

You are strong. You are fierce. You are loving.

And still there is a little girl in there.  Who still loves Barbie movies and chocolate milk.  Who is afraid that there are monsters hiding by the garbage cans at night.  Who can't sleep without her favorite blanket and Blue Bear.  Who sometimes just wants to be cuddled.

There are some who look at you and who tell your Dad and me, "You've done a great job". But we didn't do this. We just gave you room to become who you really are. You've made good choices. You have chosen to treat your body and your spirit with respect, in a time when so many girls do not.  You have chosen to take control of your academics and your career choices.  This is all you. Dad and I can encourage (nag), and suggest (nag), and nag (nag), but if you don't believe in your heart that you're doing what's best for you, none of that matters. You have chosen to be successful, and I cannot wait to see the exceptional young woman you will become in the years ahead.

You're not done yet. There's a lot of growing and learning yet to do. But you've come so far, so fast.

And I'm so very, very proud of you.

Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

...and in other news

I'm currently blogging from the driveway of the house across the street.  At 11:00 at night.  Why, you ask?  Because at 10:45, while I was walking the dog, I smelled natural gas leaking from the meter.  And apparently, when you call the gas company, they take it really, really freaking seriously! 

They have advised us to vacate the house, secure our animals and not return until they clear the area. 

This left me with an unusual dilemma:  Do I feign secure knowledge that the gas company will keep us safe, and simply stroll to a safe distance and watch?  Or do I grab those things that are precious, just in case the house blows up?

Currently, I am sharing my husband's truck with Mr., Daisy Mae, three cats, a dog, and Kiersten's ashes, as well as my computer and my cell phone.  I figure everything else can be replaced.

So here's my question of the day:  If you had 5 minutes to get out of your house, what would you take with you?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life, and the importance of living it.

Three years ago, I wrote a letter to Lenore Skenazy, a fellow blogger who writes a regular site called "Free-Range Kids".  Lenore reminds us that when we were kids, our parents booted us out the door at 10 am and we didn't come home until the street lights came on.  That we knew how to take the bus.  That we played in the mud.  And sometimes we got into fights with other kids.  We knew how to ask for directions when we got lost, and we knew how to ride our bikes to the library, and we knew how to get the pop machine at the corner store to disgorge a free soda now and again.  She worries that our children today are over-protected and over-parented and that there must be a balance there somewhere.

I wrote to tell her about Kiersten and to thank her for helping today's parents get over themselves.

I tried to raise Kiersten like I had been raised.  I wasn't as open as my mom was with me, to be certain, (mostly because I grew up with sidewalks, which are conspicuously absent here) but I sure didn't want that kid to grow up afraid of the world.  My mother-in-law was constantly fretting when I let her walk to the corner alone or let her ride her bike to a friend's house, or let her go horseback riding with the bigger kids. But I'm glad I did all those things.  She had a great time while she was on this Earth

Last week, Lenore wrote to me and asked me if she could publish my letter, even though it was three years later.  I re-read it, and decided that my opinions hadn't changed a bit, and maybe this was a good way to honor her today. So here it is, on the third anniversary of the day Kiersten left us, (which is also Lenore's birthday).

Free-Range Kids

Thank you, Lenore, for helping to honor my baby today. Because she's still my baby and always will be. I didn't expect it to feel as emotional to me as it does, but I'm glad that letter is out there.

And Thank You, sweet Bug, for another year of learning the lessons you were sent here to teach me.  I love you and I miss you, and I know you're watching and sending your love from Heaven.  You are still the greatest joy my life has ever known.

Wear a lorikeet for a hat today.  You'll thank me for it later.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What we should be, courtesy of JP Morgan Chase.

This commercial aired the other day during the Thanksgiving parade.  It’s from the investment bank JP Morgan Chase.

Let’s watch together:

Nice, isn’t it?  All Mom and Apple Pie.  

When it finished, I turned to my husband.  His immediate reaction?  “I’m not sure that commercial had enough white people in it.”
I followed with, “Was there a single person of color in that ad?” 

After watching it again, it turns out there was: there was an African-American family near the beginning, and there seems to be an Arab-American serving coffee at one point.

Actually, it’s a really nice ad.  So why did it feel so disingenuous?  Why did we both think “Oh, puh-leeze” half-way through it, even before we saw the ad sponsor?  Are we just that jaded?

Let’s listen to the messages again:

  • This is America, where everyone gets an equal shot at success
  • If you work hard enough, you can have a good life here
  • Freedom is what happens when people work hard and have an equal shot
  • Everyone here has a loving supportive family. It’s called America.

We all grew up with this.  If you read this blog, I’ll bet, by the time you were six years old, you could have held each of those statements to be self-evident.  

And that’s the problem.  If you are reading this, you were probably well-fed and well-parented as a child, you got a good education in a public school, you had all your vaccinations and went to the doctor every year, you went to libraries, and museums, and the zoo.  You were told by teachers and parents that you could be anything you wanted to be.  This is all good stuff.  Life wasn’t handed to you on a silver platter, by any means – and there were doubtless periods of financial struggle for most of us -- but you didn’t feel like you were walking through life with one leg hobbled, either.  These messages make perfect sense to you.  I know they used to make perfect sense to me.

So it’s unthinkable that this wouldn’t be the case for everyone, right?

Let’s look one more time:

This is America, where everyone gets an equal shot at success.  That is, unless you are unlucky enough to be born in an urban minority neighborhood.  Because if that’s the case, you probably aren’t getting nutritious food every day, because there are no grocery stores nearby.  But there are lots of fast-food places, and corner stores that sell pre-packaged white flour and sugar bombs, and beer and lottery tickets and cigarettes.  And there are schools, but nobody wants to work in those schools, because the city has given up on the neighborhood and they are under funded and the buildings are in disrepair.  And your parents (or grandparents) are on government assistance.  And they don’t have jobs, not because they don't want jobs, but because there aren’t any jobs nearby and there isn’t reliable public transport to get them to work at other jobs away from your neighborhood.  And nobody has a car.  Except folks who make their living preying on others.  And your parents can’t afford to get a job anyway, because if they get jobs they have to pay for day care, and day care will eat up so much of their paychecks that they live better on government assistance.  And because none of the adults you know has a job, there isn’t anyone modeling “work hard and you’ll succeed”, for you.  Still feel like there’s an equal shot there?

If you work hard enough, you can have a good life here.  That is, so long as you have a college degree and you have a skill set that others want.  And so long as your paycheck isn’t provided by any sort of public works.  Because if you are a cashier, or a garbage collector, or a day care provider…or a teacher…or a fire fighter…or a social worker… you can work 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and still not make ends meet, let alone afford more education or to try to take a risk and move up.  Because many CEOs makes hundreds of times what the average wage worker makes (and that CEO sure doesn't want his tax dollars going to educate a bunch of "urban" kids).  The CEO of Hostess Brands makes enough money, by himself, to pay for 700 bakers.  That’s a lot of Twinkies.  It might be enough to pay healthcare for the entire payroll.  Go ahead, work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at minimum wage.  Let’s see if you can afford an apartment and food and healthcare and utilities for you and your children.  Because it’s not about equity.  If you aren’t getting ahead, you’re just not working hard enough.  Work harder. 

Freedom is what happens when people work hard and have an equal shot.  And for those who are in a position to be rewarded for hard work, and who had an equal shot to begin with, there is a lot of freedom to be had here.  Freedom to enjoy good health.  Freedom to pursue education and to make a bigger impact on the world.  Freedom to help make others more free.  

But it's freedom to hold others back, too. 

If you aren’t in those lucky groups, it doesn’t feel very free.  It feels like a trap. 

And America doesn’t feel much like family.  Unless your family includes one really rich relative who makes 400 times what the rest of you make and tells you that it's your own fault that you're poor.

JP Morgan Chase, if you REALLY believe what you're saying, then use that considerable income of yours to help make this country what you claim it is.  Spread the message that America NEEDS to be the America of your commercials.  Invest in programs that help schools and communities.  Encourage the companies you invest in to pay a living wage to everyone, and maybe only pay your CEOs 50 or 100 times what they make.  

It'll make the world better.  And it'll be good for your business, too.  You just watch and see.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Inside the snowglobe

May.  It must have been early May because all of the crabapple trees were in bloom.  It was one of those spring days pregnant with the promise of summer warmth, but still too early to signal a real change in season.  Despite the sunshine, the threat of a coming cold front hung in the air. 

We took the opportunity to take out her new two-wheeler bike.  She had received it for her fourth birthday the autumn before and it was still shiny and new, with the sturdy training wheels and the purple basket and the tassels on the handlebars.  Watch me!  She took off down the bike trail, chocolate brown locks escaping her loose ponytail and whipping out behind her.  I pedaled slowly, coasting slightly behind her as her legs pumped the pedals in rapid, determined strokes.  This was freedom.  This was her big-girl bike, with the bell and the purple flower stickers and this was more speed and exhilaration than she had ever felt before.

We went about a mile down the trail when I started to hear thunder in the distance.  Race you back, I winked at her.  And she flashed me a smile as big as the sky and yelled I'm gonna win, Mama! as she took off at full speed back down trail.

The wind picked up as we reached the trail head and the crabapple trees, laden with blooms, began to shake. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of petals began to shower down from the branches, swirling in the wind like giant snow flakes.  She sprinted from her bike, arms in the air, and started to dance in the petals. Sapphires eyes flashing with joy, face turned toward the sky, spinning, laughing, hands out, creamy pink skin and creamy pink petals, and waves of brown hair whirling in the wind, I'm a fairy princess, Mama! just before the first raindrops started to fall.

I passed that stand of crabapple trees today.

God, she was beautiful.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

So I had started out with the intention of writing a clever, pithy and indicting rant about the evils of Black Friday and how it's criminal that it's overshadowing Thanksgiving and how I'm frustrated and disappointed that I tried, yet failed, to make my daughter see that going out shopping with her friends tonight was contributing to the unraveling of civil society.

I believe all those things.  But I'm not going to do that.  Instead, I'm going to relate here, to the best of my memory, the story that my husband told as a grace before dinner today.  We had 15 for dinner, and another seven for dessert, which was approximately double the number we had originally expected.  These things happen.   My in-laws were supposed to go to Florida early this year, but that trip didn't work out as planned, and my daughter's boyfriend's family is going through a nasty divorce.  We invited his mom and brother to join us for dinner.  So it was a wonderful mixed table with my parents, his parents. life-long friends, their parents, and daughter and son in law, Daisy Mae's boyfriend's family, and entirely too much food.

When S got up to say grace, I held my breath.  This is the third Thanksgiving we have celebrated without Kiersten, and I was a bit worried that there might be too much emotion.  Instead, he gave us a life lesson by way of a history lessen.  I'd like to share it with you, because it's been in my head all day.

"I want to tell you a story of the first Thanksgiving.  In 1620, two ships set out from Southampton England: the Speedwell, which had originally set out from Leiden, in the Netherlands, and the Mayflower, which we all know.  The Speedwell sustained damage early in the trip and had to turn back, leaving the Mayflower to carry all 102 passengers to the new world.

They sailed 65 days, and then took another full month to find an appropriate place to land.  The place they found had been abandoned three years earlier because the tribe of native Americans who had occupied the land had perished from smallpox.

The first winter was terribly hard and by spring, only 43 of the original 102 remained.

In the spring, the Pilgrims were greeted by Samoset, the chief of a nearby tribe, who spoke a bit of English.  He, in turn, introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, who spoke their language and who taught them to live in their new land.  Even with Squanto's help, however, the Pilgrims had a very meager harvest that first year.  But the local chiefs, Samoset and Massasoit, and the rest of the Abenaki people showed the Pilgrims friendship and together they learned to get along, and that first Autumn, Massasoit brought ninety of his tribe to the Pilgrim village at Plymouth, loaded with food that would not only make a feast for them all, but would help sustain the Pilgrims through the winter.

Now, there is nothing you haven't heard before in that story; we all grew up with it.  But consider this:  Here were two groups of people who had no obligation to show each other friendship.  Squanto, in fact, learned English because he had been kidnapped and taken to Portugal as a slave years earlier. He had every reason to distrust these new strangers. Likewise the other natives:  they didn't share blood, or religion, or culture, yet these people came together and made a family of sorts.  And they gave thanks for that friendship and for what resources they could share.

As I look out at this table, I see a family.  Not all of us are related by blood -- few of us are, really.  But I see much loved people who have come together to give thanks -- real thanks --for what we share.  So I say thank you.  Thank you for the absolutely bountiful meal we have in front of us.  Thank you for the beautiful family I see gathered here.  Thank you for the beloved friends and family who have been here in the past and will perhaps be here again in the future.  Thank you for the souls who cannot share our table here on Earth any longer.  You live on in our hearts, and we love and miss you daily.

But mostly, thank you for the lesson that the first Thanksgiving can still teach us:  to be kinder than is necessary, to try loving each other first, last and always, to give thanks each and every day for what we have, and to make the most of every loving minute we share."

There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

I'm proud of you, honey.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


We are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this week. 

We have been hosting Thanksgiving for the last 12 years; when Kes was born, we used it as an excuse to stop running all over hell's half-acre on holidays.  We typically get anywhere from six to eighteen guests.  We've done this meal so many times, I think we could prepare it with eyes closed.  Actually S does most of the shopping and preparation while I am at work.  So I never really gave much thought to the ingredients.  We typically buy a fresh turkey, so the actual bird won't be in the fridge until tomorrow night. 

This morning, however, as I went to get milk for my coffee, I actually stopped to look at what was in my refrigerator.  I made an important discovery.

It would appear that at my house, Thanksgiving is a celebration of milk fat.

Top shelf:

Yeah.  That's four pounds of butter. For starters.  Everything takes butter:  The turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the bread, the yams, maybe a bit more in the mashed get the picture.  If they eat it, my husband puts butter in it.


Next, we move down one notch on the Fat Continuum:

Apparently, we need not only heavy cream but also whole milk.  I haven't had a glass of whole milk in perhaps 35 years, let alone have I ever found a use for 2 full quarts of heavy cream.  But Daisy Mae wants to make Pineapple Delight, and S wants to make homemade eggnog, and we need a bit for the Macque Chou -- because nothing says traditional Thanksgiving dinner like a nice Cajun Tasso ham and corn creation. 

You may have noticed the Sour Cream in the last picture.  Two pints of it.  I have no idea what it's for.   S said bean dip.  Last I checked, we didn't have bean dip on the menu.  But you never know.

Not sure about beans, but we certainly have a lot of bacon!  Again, no foreseeable use for bacon in the menu, but I suppose it's always best to plan ahead just in case there is a global bacon crisis.

Eggs.  Ostensibly to go with the bacon, except that these are pasteurized.  I'm going to go with these being for the eggnog. 

About now I'm actually concerned that there are no actual vegetables or bread products in the house.  I consult the veggie drawer:

We reveal a rather forlorn package of celery, one apple, some green onions and a healthy wad of parsley.  At least we will have fresh breath.

But as I look up, apparently, we had a concern that two quarts of heavy cream would be insufficient.  Because I see this:

No pumpkin pie will go undressed in our house!!

I did a quick calculation on fat grams.  In total, we're looking at 2,497 grams of milk fat.  Or a little over 5 pounds of fat.  Divided by 24 expected guests, that is...well, it's a lot.  Plus the eggnog. And the gravy, the skin on the turkey, and Joyce's pumpkin pie. 

I'll plan for us all to do some jumping jacks after diner, I guess! 

I hope each of you has a peaceful, joyous and most blessed Thanksgiving. 

Pass the whipped cream, will you?

Thursday, November 15, 2012


My Facebook status the other night:

So if I feel the need to counter your intolerance, does that somehow make me intolerant? Can I be tolerant and still tolerate intolerance? I'm so confused.

This post came as a results of an FB acquaintance, who had posted an article that purported that having drag queens and the transgendered in society was a form of discrimination against women.  And then she cited a homosexual co-worker's over-the-top advocacy of gender reassignment (he claimed that he had no need for women in his life) as justification for demonizing cross-dressers and the transgendered.  

This sat poorly with me for two reasons:  1)  I have several really lovely transgender friends who feel no more disdain for women than anyone else, and I hate to see TG's run down.  They struggle enough as it is, and 2)  I hated seeing the actions of one person being used to justify an already extant bigotry against TG's in particular and homosexuals in general.  She's not a bad person.  I actually enjoy her company in most instances.  But she does have a fairly black-and-white view of the world, as dictated by her religion.

So I spoke up.  I asked her not to paint with such a broad brush, pointed out the fact that discrimination against women is overwhelmingly perpetrated by straight men (and many women!), and remarked that I have TG friends.  And because she is also a creationist, I also reminded her that if she believes God created us, then He created ALL of us, not just the ones that make sense to her.  Not sure if it made much difference.

All that said, the interaction got me thinking:  if I am as tolerant as I claim to be, should I be prepared to accept all points of view?  To take everyone as they are?  Or do I have a responsibility to not tolerate intolerance?

If you Google "Bigotry and Tolerance", the top 2 pages are, in order, from the Southern Poverty Law Center and a web site called "Redstate".  The first is unequivocal:  When you encounter intolerance, it says, you must be prepared to fight it -- in a civil manner, but fight it nonetheless.  Or separate yourself from it.

The second states, "Evil Preaches Tolerance", and says that espousing tolerance is how evil gets us to undermine virtue.  Then, once evil takes over, it will silence good.

1 for, 1 against, with a wiggle clause if you're not successful.  Not much help.

The Dalai Lama says that we should look upon those filled with hate, and should feel compassion for them, taking on their internal suffering so as to reach enlightenment. That sounds like a drag, frankly.

There are a lot of other places to look, most of which are internally inconsistent.  Stamp out evil and non-virtue, but one person's virtue is another's non-virtue.  Better yet, just do what we tell you to do.  But think for yourself and follow your conscience and your heart.  Unless your heart leads you to tolerate non-virtue.  Then work to change yourself.


And then I realized: my moral compass is actually very strong; I know what I believe.  I believe that we each have the right to live our lives as we see fit, so long as we do three things:  

1)  Don't discriminate based on things that people cannot change (like gender, race, sexual orientation or physical and mental disability)
2)  Don't deny others the basic rights we enjoy (like marriage and health care)
3)  Don't be deliberately mean or greedy

When I see any of these three things happening and don't speak out, I find it's because I am afraid of being judged a "busybody" or a "know-it-all", or "holier-than-thou".  That's pretty wimpy, I guess.  If some people don't want to be my friends because I insist that they treat everyone with lovingkindness (which in my mind includes making sure they have a safe place to shelter, sufficient food and basic health care), well, maybe I don't need those people in my life.  So be it.

Glad we got that straightened out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing, life, and my fundamental lack of maturity and discipline.

Testing...testing...does this thing still work?

Wow.  What's it been, six months?  Well, sometimes we need to take these little breaks. I had a friend ask me not too long ago about why I hadn't blogged in so long.  I posited at length about the effects of work-life balance, the hit-and-run, instant gratification of Facebook, the demands of my job, (which are substantial), my ongoing, low-level grief (which totally, totally, sucks)...

It came down to this, however:  I am undisciplined. 

Writers write every day.  Even when they don't feel like writing.  Me?  I write when the muse moves within me and the result is that I puke out a first draft and publish it.  I wonder why, really -- my job is to write stuff, and I almost never publish a first draft of anything I write at work.  I am exceptionally careful, diligent and thoughtful, engaging in multiple edits and re-writes until the words are pithy and shine with reason and wit.  So why don't I put that same dogged determination in my hobby writing?

(Has my boss stopped reading this yet?  OK, that's not really true -- I puke out a lot of first drafts at work, too.  Don't tell anyone)

Real writers?  They punish themselves through 500 words a day and they do it day in and day out and...well, that just sounds like WORK to me...

Anyway, so here we are.  It's autumn, the elections are over (because you seriously didn't want to hear my political rants this season -- for real), and we're sliding into the holidays.  And I thought it was probably time to start writing again.  Because maybe the effort is worth it.  I'm not feeling creative enough and being creative is important. 

So stay tuned. With any luck, I'll actually find something useful to say, instead of running all over this page like a puppy that slipped her leash. Only time will tell.

(I, I, I, me, me, me  -- good gracious!)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

On Becoming Mrs. Haviland

Last night, for the second time in the last few weeks, Daisy Mae had a group of about 15 friends over for an impromptu party.  It hadn't started out that way.  It had started out with her wanting to invite over a new guy she was interested in, so they could "hang out" and "watch a movie".  I let her know that several hours together in a darkened room probably wasn't on the list of approved activities for the evening and suggested that he might be more comfortable for their first time 'hanging out' together outside of school if there were some other friends there.

She invited six friends.

Fifteen showed up.

Daisy Mae has nice friends, and their friends are nice too, so I wasn't too freaked out by the extras.  We'd thrown together a bean dip, some veggies, and a pile of hot wings, so there was plenty of food.  Several of them brought snacks.  One of them brought a bottle of tonic.  I let him know he would not be drinking my gin with it. These kids behave themselves in the house, don't sneak beer in, and sometimes let me sing lead vocals on Rock Band.  I like them.

Around 9:00, as most of the kids were playing Rock Band in the family room, three of the kids joined me in the living room watching Sherlock Holmes for the fourteenth time.  One of them had just lost his dog and was feeling subdued; another is adjusting to life in her new foster home.  A third had "come out" over the summer, and is still adjusting to his shift from resident heartthrob of every girl in school with a pulse to the guy nobody is quite sure how to deal with.  All were snuggled under blankets on the couches, sharing stories and jokes.  And it occurred to me:

I have become Mrs. Haviland.

My friend Jimmy Haviland was a year ahead of me in school.  He was a musician and an actor, and he had four younger sisters, one of whom hung around with my sister.  He perpetually wore an expression that suggested he had a sinus headache.  We proclaimed it his "I have four little sisters" face.  Jimmy's house was the default party headquarters.  Cast parties, choir parties, band parties, Halloween, New Years.  I had never been in the house that there weren't at least a half dozen people there who were not full-time residents.

Jimmy's mom was a caterer who always had party food on hand.  She also was perpetually worried about her son falling in with the wrong crowd, so her way of handling the situation was to always welcome Jimmy's friends over to their house.  There was a Mr. Haviland, too.  His job was normally to drive the van, which at any given time invariably contained at least two children who were not members of the Haviland household. He managed, always, to disappear when the house started getting crowded with kids.

Mrs. Haviland never let any of us in or out of her home without a hug, and she called all of us "baby" or "sweetheart" by default.  She maintained a permanent position at the kitchen island:  when she wasn't cooking, she was on a bar stool, drinking a coffee or a soda, or occasionally a glass of wine.  If you felt out of place with the crowd in the basement, you were always welcome to take up a spot at one of the kitchen stools, grab a snack and talk.  You would, of course, be pressed into cutting vegetables, frosting cupcakes, or helping one of Jimmy's sisters with a recalcitrant Barbie outfit.  It's not that there weren't rules; it was certainly not an "anything goes" kind of household.  She didn't brook fighting, bad behavior or underage drinking.  And she could lose her temper with the best of them.  But you always knew you were safe there.  She was always Mom Haviland.

Last night, one of Daisy's friends asked me if he could hang out here a bit more often.  "Things are awfully stressful at my house lately.  It's not my mom's fault; she's doing her best.  But sometimes it's pretty overwhelming there.  I feel like I can be myself here."  I didn't press him for details; there were too many other kids in and out of the room.  But I felt absolutely honored.  I just told him he was always welcome here, so long as his mom knew where he was.  Maybe next time, he will open up a bit more about what's going on.

Mom Haviland.  I could do a lot worse.  If I can do half as well at this as you did, I'll feel like a success at this parenting thing.

Friday, March 02, 2012


I posted once before about how much it bothered me when I read some of the letters I received after the Bug left us.  They were from parents who had also lost their children and I recall that when I read their notes, the pain and grief in their writing was so palpable that it frightened me.  It frightened me that, years, or even decades after losing their children, their pain seemed so fresh that I worried I would never feel good again. 

This week, in a town not too far from here, the unthinkable happened:  A student walked into a high school cafeteria and opened fire, killing three students and leaving two others hospitalized.  I thought of those parents and the horrible, crushing, claxon-loud grief that was taking over their lives.  I watched the interview with the parents of the first child to be declared dead after the shootings and listened as they recounted, in heart-wrenching detail, last moments of their son's life.  I've heard some people criticize the television stations for recording and broadcasting that interview; their grief was so raw, the narrative so overwhelming that one might question whether they were being exploited. 

Perhaps they were.  But speaking from experience, I can tell you that there is a catharsis in telling those stories, in sharing that raw emotion.  We had TV cameras in our faces, and in the faces of our family, more than once in those first few days after the Bug died.  I thought it would feel like more of an intrusion than it actually was.  There was something strangely comforting in being able to tell the world exactly how much we were hurting.

And strangely, I find myself wanting to write to these parents.  To bid them a grim welcome to the club nobody wants to belong to.  To let them know we have far more members than any of us wants to admit.  To tell them that it's totally, totally OK to scream "Bullshit!  What the hell to you know about this??" when reading articles and books about grieving.  That it's OK to want to sleep all the time.  But mostly that they.  will.  survive. 

I won't do it right away.  If there is one thing I know, it's that you do not want the comfort of strangers in those first weeks.  You want to surround yourself with family and close friends -- people who have seen you in pajamas and who love you anyway.  People who will let you rage and cry and punch holes in your walls and won't try to stop you.  I hope these families have plenty of good support people in their lives.  They will need them.

But maybe in a few weeks, when the cameras have gone away and the friends have gone home and the house feels so cold and empty.  Maybe then I'll gather up the nerve to say, "if you need to talk to someone who's a little farther down this road, who can help you navigate the scary parts, call. You are not alone."

I just hope I don't sound scary.