Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gaining perspective on a Sunday Morning

It’s Sunday morning. And since it is Sunday morning, more than likely my husband and I are on the couch watching “Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood. It’s practically a family tradition, one that dates back to the Charles Kuralt days ... before children. Before we even knew each other.

The kids complain for a while when they realize the tube isn’t transmitting their two–dimensional friends.

That’s practically a tradition, too.

They give up their protests, however, when it’s pointed out that parents sometimes get to commandeer the remote control, especially when there are copious amounts of toys corralled in their rooms. … Toys that are lonely. … And potentially in need of new owners. … Owners who WILL play with them. Nicely.

They'll dart away — eyeing us with squinted scrutiny — to make sure nary a plaything has been toy-napped.

In the peace and quiet I've cajoled with threats against forgotten presents, we'll listen to the segments enjoying music, art and nature. We'll laugh at Bill Geist and wish we had a job like his. Any job that includes visiting the National Taxidermy Championship or reporting on the ugliest of Christmas sweaters would be worth its weight in sculpted butter, especially if it included travel expenses.

For 90 minutes we sit back and are entertained. Time slows down.

There’s no Earth-moving scoops or stories that seem too far out of the ordinary. Instead of The News, It feels more like sitting down with an old friend who tells a good story.

But it's not always easy listening to friends. Sometimes their stories make you visit places you've heard of but try to avoid.

It's not as if I hadn't heard about Beads of Courage, a nationwide project that offers glass beads to children battling cancer. It was just the type of story I try to hum through, as if NOT knowing the details could protect the people I love. After all, it seemed so simple as to be insignificant anyway — glass artisans make beads and give them to children with cancer. But seeing the children on Sunday Morning and listening to their stories, I couldn't look away.

Just a token, perhaps, and yet each bead represents something that the child has endured: Hair loss. Tests. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Surgeries. Transfusions. A list that is daunting and seemingly never-ending. These beads, strung together, are weighty reminders of the strength and courage of the children who wear them.

I couldn't help but cry. Especially when the mother of a child who lost her battle spoke of how her daughter's necklace, now enshrined in a shadowbox on the wall, gives her strength to get out of bed in the morning and go on living.

I can imagine losing a child. What I can't imagine is having the strength to face it with such amazing grace and courage.

My face is puffy and red when my kids make their way downstairs again, having no doubt counted and recounted their most prized possessions until they were satisfied all was well. The show had transitioned into its closing segment. Ittybit wonders why the birds, gently chirping against the sound of water flowing downstream, have upset me so.

It's not as if I've forgotten how lucky I am. It's not as if I don't know that this luck I feel could change come Monday morning. It's just that sometimes we all need a friend to remind us that life really is beautiful, even in places and at times you'd least expect.

Happy Holidays to you and your family, from me and mine.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On birthdays, bribary and brainstorming

Dear Ittybit,

I know I should feel terribly embarrassed by all the excess we’ve exhibited at birthday parties.

More than two dozen people invited to a two-hour event. At Christmas time, no less.

But I don't feel embarrassed.

Conflicted, maybe, but not embarrassed.

The much reviled gift bag is in full production mode at our house. You are busy choosing tiny toys and notebooks for each of the kids who will be in attendance.

I understand the disdain for such things. Before I was even born, I've been told, the party WAS the present.

However, when I was growing up a few kids would go home with prizes, which was probably how all this excess was born. Everyone, as they start having children and hosting yearly parties of their own, remembers feeling like a loser as they left time after time empty handed.

Here we are — adults, a whole lifetime later — trying to compensate for all the mild disappointments with small bag of trinkets to be handed out to the children we sugared up and are sending home with their parents, who will no doubt, at some point during the year, repay the favor.

Entitlement and consumerism are blamed for what happens these days.

Some of us — but not all — rent places and spaces, trying to create memories that will last until next year ... when we'll try to top ourselves. We hire horses and clowns and enthusiasts of all ilk to entertain. The naysayers tell us we want to be the envy of our friends.

In the abstract it sounds so much more of an indictment of modern life than it seems in practice: “It's only money” is nothing if not the polar opposite of “it's such a waste.”

I watch you as you plan and prep the bags. All my angst and anticipation channeled into a plastic and paper assembly line of things that don't really matter; things that will wind up forgotten at the bottom of a drawer.

... Except that they do, somehow, matter in the moment we are here together “brainstorming.” In the minutes we spend planning, shopping and producing we are sharing a moment that may be or may never be forgotten.

Only time will tell.

I had begun to think it didn't matter; that it doesn't matter. But I've shrugged that feeling off. It does matter.

The thing we lose by being so caught up in the details is the big picture; this celebration of birth and belonging and life gets lost in the minutia of the minute.

More than seven years ago, when I sat on an examining table in a paper robe listening to the doctor telling me I would have a Christmas baby ... I felt sorry for you, a person I didn’t yet know.

Back then, I thought you would be forgotten in the hoopla that is the holidays.

I had no way of knowing what a gift I would get in you that Christmas. I didn't have the forethought or clarity — and still don't — to understand how Christmas would be forever changed because of it. Each year brings a new revelation.

So as we ready for the day you will turn seven, I want to tell you to just enjoy this moment for all that it is and for all it could be. And I'll try to do the same.

Time has a way of changing things … not always for the worse.

Love and just-about-birthday kisses,

— Mommy

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sign of the times

The sign on the bedroom door — though affixed with a single thumbtack and curling at all four edges — couldn't have been more unequivocal: "Do Not Enter."

Whom it was supposed to keep out, however, was a little unclear.

We had just arrived at the party and the hostesses' daughter was sequestered in her room with several children who'd accompanied their parents to the late afternoon soiree.

Ittybit stood next to me at first, and then slid behind me, holding onto my jacket and hiding her face. I'm sure she thought it was yet another place she wouldn't be allowed. Even a year's difference, for a bigger girl, could make her out to look like a baby.

Whenever we go some place new it takes a few minutes for the kids to find their place in the fray. Ittybit observes for a while before she jumps in and tries to take over. The Champ usually hides in inconvenient locations and pretends he is a super agent spy.

Mostly he gets shooed out of bathrooms.

I didn't think the sign was meant for her. I knocked and poked my head through the paneled door. The tiny hostess smiled and greeted us warmly. "Come in, come in" she said excitedly to my girl.

Turned out the sign wasn't even meant to deter The Champ, our three-year-old whirling dervish, who doesn't readily take "No" for an answer anyway.

The sign remained a bit of a mystery as I made several trips from Adult Conversationland downstairs to the Fantastical World of Primary Folks happening simultaneously upstairs. ... just to make sure all was going smoothly.

The first time I trudged up the stairs I had noticed a chandelier over the dinning room table -directly under the floor on which they were bouncing - swing to and fro with the uneasy vibrations.

"Oh ... it's nothing. Just a pig pile," said my cherubic daughter, who peeked out of the door when I knocked. "They've decided to stop. Too dangerous," she whispered.

I went back downstairs.

Until I heard some screaming ... that could have been the gleeful shrieks of girlish delight ... or might have been the feral wail of a little boy being locked in a closet. Such things have been known to happen.

Her face was again cherubic as she came to the door.

"Oh that? That was just a little fun. Nothing to worry about. Nothing at all."

Next it was their turn to venture forth.

A few would snake between the throngs of party guests, gathering up provisions and ferrying the loot to their party upstairs. I couldn't help but laugh at the sight of it; they resembled overburdened drones hauling mother lodes of baked goods and juice boxes to their queen.

"What are they doing up there?" asked one mom, who thought it might be time for an intervention.

"I don't really know. I've seen six clothing changes for each girl, and there seems to be dress-up clothes all over the bathroom."

The mom smiled a knowing smile. "Project Runway. My kid LOVES that show." There was no need to be concerned.

The idea that the sign — which was probably written well before the party and forgotten was meant for people who'd either reached the age of maturity or were allowed to play with matches — hadn't occurred to me until that moment.

For all the kvetching I do about NOT being able to have an adult conversation, you'd think I'd be a little more ready for the closing of doors. I'd always just been there, hanging out with the kids, sitting under tables taking pictures.

I had an idea and knocked on the door.

"You know, Fashion Runway has cameras ... I could ..."

But they were onto me.

"No pictures," said one girl with the smile of play but the stance of steadfast.

"That's my mom. Always with the camera," said Ittybit, feeling the need no doubt to smooth over my transgression.

"Oh, don't listen to them," said the motherly hostess. "I bet if you just sit with them for a while they'll forget you're even there."

I knew she was probably right, but it wouldn't be the same.

This is the beginning of their secret life. The one that doesn't always include me. That can't include me. The life that either sorts itself out or that travels down the stairs in an avalanche of jumbled words that need to be smoothed.

It was time to let them have their party. To put away my camera and let the moment go undocumented. And that's what I did.

I suppose I knew all along the sign on the door was for me.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christmas all wrapped up in lights

It felt like I should have a major award. Or something.

We'd selected the tree, rigged it up in the stand and dragged out the ornaments, just as we have every year at around this time since I don't know when.

It's all so rote at this point but having decorating done and over with seemed like something to celebrate; Lights. Camera. Christmas.

Yet this time, as I plugged in the extension end of the three-strand band of lights, which had been carefully connected and wrapped around the tree, there was nothing.

I tried the nearest light switch. Maybe it had closed off the juice to the outlet.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Up-down-up-down and one more time, up, just in case. Nothing.

Well, almost nothing. As I jostled the branches of the tree, the strand of lights saddled around the middle blinked on with a moment's hesitation. It was as if the midsection had burst out from having too much Thanksgiving dinner while the other lights couldn't wake up from their tryptophan comas.

What twinkling there was seemed more fire-hazard-y than jolly.

So out we went to the hardware store to buy a new set of lights.

I'm ashamed to admit, it was kind of exciting.

I couldn't remember when we’d bought the last set. It's not something that tends to burn itself into memory, like where I was when I learned of Sept. 11 or what was playing on the radio when we found out we were having a girl.

I'm sure, way back then lights were lights. You had your "Tasteful and Unobtrusive Holiday White" bulbs, and then you had the "Holy Holiday Batman, Who Robbed the Crayon Factory and Added a Disco Strobe Color" bulbs.

These days you have the choice of regular lights (which are impossible to find, and just pretend I hadn't mentioned them) and the energy-saving LED lights in bright white, warm white, red, green, blue, gold, pink, orange and purple, also multicolored. They come shaped as strawberries, raspberries, snowflakes, stars and teddy bears. They come in cords and nets and icicle dangles. You can get trunk lights, twinkle lights, and battery operated candle lights.

Staring at the shelves reaching to the ceiling, piled higher than I could reach with a ladder, I just wanted to turn around and go home. The 'No End' to the possibilities could very well have been literal.

I don't want to care about Christmas lights.

"Just pick something already and get it over with" came the demand from by overtired brain, which at that moment wanted nothing more than to just settle down for a long winter's nap.

And so I let the kids decide.

Who does this? Just moments earlier Ittybit and The Champ had been occupied with trying to get out of their coats without unzipping them, all the while trying to out stare each other. So it really was without a hint of parental scrutiny that one 100-count strawberry strand in traditional warm white, one strand of bright white snowflake minis and one strand of multi-colored snowflake minis went unceremoniously into the cart, through the check out and into the car.

Still, I was feeling pretty good as we drove up to the house; the tree was up, the shopping was done all that was left was the decorating. Sitting around drinking cocoa in our holiday-illuminated house would be the reward.

As we unwound the coiled wires and got ready to drape them around the tree, I became entangled at each turn in the little plastic nubbins that jutted out from the snowflake lights. They attached to each other, and then to my sweater and then on each other again. They snagged on everything excepting the tree.

I swore under my breath, calling them every name in the book. I lost patience and reason. Every move felt as if I were being strangled by twinkle lights.

When I was finally free of the lights — having removed them from the tree and restrung them twice — I plugged them in and held my breath.

They lit up. ...

Like a striped shirt of clashing colors.

Before I had time to process the sight, I had a flash of understanding. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thought:

Up until that very moment I had identified with all the long-suffering mother of A Christmas Story. I was the mother whose kids hadn't eaten voluntarily since they were born ... or who hadn't had a hot meal for herself in 15 years.

But in the glare of the mix and match lit tree I knew I was more like the father; swearing under my breath on the one hand and clinging to my "special award" with the other. We were both beaming in gaudiness from front window ... for everyone to see.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

'Good Parents' just have less experience

Her gaze was sharp as I unfolded the sheet of paper she'd just handed me:

It read: "Will you com to are show?"

"Check 'yes' or 'no'" she said, jabbing her finger toward the rectangular shapes she'd drawn under the invitation, which was more of a misspelled demand gussied up in a question mark.

"The E in 'come' is silent," I said taking the pencil from her, erasing ARE and rewriting OUR.

What I neglected to do was check a box.

She frowned and asked again.

"Is it a 'Yes' or a 'No?' What's your answer?" she said, tapping her fingers repetitively on the paper as her foot stamped at the floor.

I stalled. Trying to think.

A good parent would be excited their child was displaying such creativity.

A good parent would happily check the box marked “Yes.”

A good parent would call the neighbors. Invite the grandparents. Get out the video camera.

A good parent would then follow their pint-sized usher toward the bedroom where The Show to End All Shows had been prepared.

A good parent would smile and applaud the unscripted play in which anything (though not likely anything good) could happen.

A good parent would wait around patiently until the bitter (and I do mean BITTER) end and demand an encore.

I was a "good parent" once, the experience changed me.

The last play I was invited to witness lasted longer than The Ring of the Nibelung and ended when the not-old-enough-for-prime-time players bounced precariously on the "bed stage" and started tossing all their props into the audience with gleeful, though ear-splitting, shrieks.

It was the elementary school equivalent of a 15-hour opera.

This new production had all the same earmarks.

"What is this play about?" I inquired pointedly.

"That's up to you," she said craftily, explaining that she and her friend had produced several themes from which we, the audience, could choose. "Like at the movie theater."

"No. Definitely not. I am not going to your show."

Her eyes narrowed to mere slits.

"Why not?"

"Let's just say not everyone finds unscripted entertainments entertaining."

"That's so MEAN! Why won't you come to our show?"

"Because ... if it's anything like past shows, it will end in drama. And drama isn't our strong suit. Drama just leads to time outs, rescinded dessert offerings and early bedtimes."

"This time will be different," she pleaded. "I'm in First Grade now."

But I know it won't be different. There will be a darkened bedroom theater with no place to sit but the floor. There will be a kerfluffle over the gate -- most likely one that questions the authenticity of The Champ's ticket. There will be a long list of previews, the titles of which will verge on inappropriate, but no feature performance. And someone will end up crying either because they weren't allowed to finish or they fell off the stage.

I'm serious when I say "Nothing good can come of a play."

The potential for hurt feelings is more real and the duration could go on forever. Think: the airing of family squabbles. Think: How some folks REALLY FEEL about stuff they just barely tolerate. Think: Do I really swear like a long-haul trucker? I must because she's added it to the script.

"Well what WILL you watch then?"

How about a music video? We'll pick a song and you can dance and sing, and it will only last two and a half minutes -- tops.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Making allowances for personal hygiene

I leaned across the breakfast table and smelled her hair.

“You owe me two dollars,” I said calmly.

She just stared at me, her expression slightly askew, as if her lips couldn’t decide in which direction to curl.

“… for the shampoo,” I added, looking in her direction from my peripheral vision as I poured coffee into my cup.

One half of her face decided to meet the other in a smiling grimace.

“Too much? Right?”

The fake cherry smell from the no-tears formula brand had followed me from the kids’ bathroom, down the stairs and into the kitchen. And yet, Ittybit’s hair still smelled of grit and grime.

“What I’d like to know is how is it possible for you to use an entire bottle of shampoo yet manage NOT to wash your hair?”

She shrugs her shoulders and says: "I'm sorry."

I'm Sorry is a pretty effective panacea at our place. Said with any degree of sincerity, an I'm Sorry is the universal Get Out of Jail Free card. It's akin to five minutes in the penalty box for murder via hockey stick. It's pretty much how we prefer to dust our hands of all unpleasantness.

But not this time. This is a battle I've decided to fight. This time it's serious.

“No, seriously, you owe me money.”

"I said I was sorry. I won't do it again."

Ah ... the "I-Won't-Do-It-Again" pledge.

The thing everyone says because they have a certain amount of security that the I'm Sorry card is actually a fairly equivalent substitution for the Get Out Of Jail Free card.

In fact, the only thing that seems to trump the cards she's stuffed up her sleeve is the calendar, and how quickly the numbers are careening toward Christmas, which is barreling toward my wallet at an ill-advised speed.

Slowing it down seems imperative.

The obstacles we've already encountered seem to indicate an epic crash is heading our way. We've seen grocery bills balloon, fuel prices rocket, not to mention having to bid farewell to a few hundred paper presidents we had planned to put elsewhere.

It's only money, we like to think. But the costs add up faster than a tub full of suds.

“Two. Dollars. Please.”

“Well,” she begins, “You know … I would pay you, because I've saved a lot of money -- from birthdays, chores, the tooth fairy -- but I have it hidden all over the house and it won't be that easy to find.

“Right. Now.”

“Well, eh-heh. This is kind of funny, because I've been thinking of all the things we could do to SAVE money and I think once The Champ is completely out of diapers we can use more shampoo.”

She thinks I'm bluffing.

“This is not interchangeable poo. This empty bottle of shampoo is a waste of unnatural resources, and you still owe me two bucks.”

“Speaking of poo … have you smelled The Champ?”

“Don't change the subject.”

“Well he IS in need of changing.”

“I tell you what. I'll give you two dollars if you change him.”

She smiled, her nose pitched in a knowing crinkle, as she disappeared into her room. A few minutes later she returned with a wadded up Lincoln.

“You owe me three bucks.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's hard to accept the 'gift' of the present

“Are you finished?” the waitress asked.

I looked down at my half-eaten swiss cheese omelette. Three plates were already piled on top of it.

‘It didn't get much more finished than that’ I thought as she lifted up the rattling tower of breakfast dishes. She was still waiting for my answer, her gaze smiling after my children who had just left with their father.

“Oh … I'm finished. Thank you,” I said and went back to finishing my coffee.

“So just the two, then.”

I laughed. She wasn't talking about food.

No matter. My answer was still the same: “Oh yes, two and through.”

It's rare that we go out for breakfast. One child only eats bacon and sausage and the other refuses to eat anything but chocolate and air. Trying to coax them into eating something relatively healthy, at least for appearances sake, doesn't usually make for a pleasant meal. For anyone.

She'll ask for juice, but she'll twist her mouth and scrunch her nose at all the offerings.

And while she's deciding, he'll drop his knife … and then he'll drop his fork.

She'll want syrup with her plate of cholesterol, which is masquerading as meat.

Having retrieved his fork and knife from under the table, he'll drop them again.

Then he'll ask for yours.

The food will arrive and be inhaled … literally. There will be no noticeable depreciation as they declare themselves finished and ready to go.

“Eat one more bite,” is the mantra I've adopted through each and every meal since they've been chewing on solid food.

It's also rare in these moments to have the luxury of finishing a cup of coffee while it's still warm There's always a game of 20 questions aimed in my direction. …

“What are we doing now? Are you finished yet? What are we doing next? Are you finished yet? Can we go now? I'm done. Are you done yet?”

The more I think of it, the more I realize it's usually a variation of two questions asked 20 or more times.

“When I'm finished with my meal then we will go.” This is neither a satisfactory nor satisfying answer.

“But when will that be?”

“Soon. I'll be finished soon. Try to be patient.”

My husband is just as eager to get moving. He knows from experience that antsy children are just one outburst away from potential implosion. He's failed at noticing the warning signs before, and he's none too excited about witnessing a epic meltdown.

I don't blame him. Time is something that only moves slowly when you're looking forward to what comes next.

When it's not something you relish, time spins out of control.

It's the biggest cliché going, and I'm living it. Not too long ago, these tiny people begging me to finish my breakfast weren't even thoughts in my mind. Now, I'm fairly certain I won't recognize them by the time I pay the check, pull on my coat and walk the two blocks to the library to meet them.

My children won't even be there, I imagine. The librarian will inform me the girl had gone backpacking through Europe and the boy was in just last week with his own kids. She'll console me by directing me to the audiobooks, where my husband will still be searching for the latest titles.

He'll be grumbling something about the how few adventures are left.

But, as usual, I am getting ahead of myself. Failing to live “in the moment,” as it were. I rush ahead to a future I can't fully imagine for no other reason than the present is what I've been coaching myself to “get through.”

Of course when I get there, the children are as they'd left me, knee-high and needing help reading titles. When they see me they drop everything and run toward me. In this moment I don't need reminding that the present isn't just another chore … it's a gift.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

He's neither tired nor shy ... he's three

Whenever you take your kids out in public ... more specifically, to any place wherein they are likely to come into contact with human beings who aren't genetically programmed to think they are the most adorable, intelligent, sweetly humorous, amazingly adorable beings to ever have walked on the planet ... you are on rented time.

The best of the best have daily errands down to a science.

"I can go grocery shopping between 10 and noon, so long as we are finished at noon so junior can have lunch and a two-hour nap. ...

"If for some reason we can't leave for the supermarket by quarter-past 10, we will have to wait until 2:30 when nap time is over and little pumpkin has had the smallest of wee snacks.

"Of course once we get there we will have to visit the lobsters first thing. Squash blossom really likes to count them, and really, it's not a lot of fun combing through the produce aisle when kids have their hearts (and their constant chatter) set on crustaceans.

"Now, to prevent any potential disruptions in the shopping excursion, we'll make sure junior is occupied with any of the 1,001 tiny distractions I've shrewdly stowed in my bottomless purse."

“Whenever we need to do something IMPORTANT we call a sitter.”

Ah ... to be so prepared.

That scenario is so far from me that the light from “That Scenario” would take 100,000 years to get to the place I am right now, which seems to be located somewhere between “Holding My Breath” and “Winging It.”

Grocery shopping for me -- a time that used to be filled with a moderate amount of welcome revelation when the children were still in arms -- has become a race to gather enough provisions before The Champ, who DEMANDS to use the aisle-wide car cart but REFUSES to sit in its cockpit for longer than it takes to navigate through the produce section, disappears into the bakery department not even glancing back.

Lumbering after him in a cart that barely fits past the pastries without upturning some flaky delight seems like the height of humiliation.

But it gets worse.

Worse are the times when you are forced to explain your child's "completely unusual behavior" to a kindly person who just wanted to strike up a casual conversation with your precious pumpkin and they were snubbed. Maybe even screamed at to "LEAVE ME AWONE!"

All of these things and more go through my head as I took my son to work on Election Day, hoping above hope that he would allow me to get just a few photographs of the candidate and his wife before the boy's head spun around and pea soup started spewing forth.

You hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Those times when your precious little pea pod actually thanks the grandmotherly pollster for her offer of a cookie or a doughnut are so remote you don't even hope for them anymore. All you can do is apologize profusely when he scowls and hides his face.

"He's just tired."

"He's a little shy."

"He's unusually grumpy today."

None of that is entirely true.

“It’s 9 a.m.”

"He's three."

“He wanted ice cream for breakfast.”

It doesn't really matter what you tell them. Most people understand timing can be everything. They might even understand your kid's meter just ran out.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Closing our ears to parenting failures

"Did I show you the video?" my husband asks over breakfast the day after The Party.

Video? I stared at him. "Of her dancing," he answered the question my expression asked before my mouth even opened.

He clicks on his phone and holds it out for me to see. The music's volume strains the tiny speakers as the wispy figure of our daughter twirls and gyrates between splashes of strobe lights. She's not afraid to be the only person dancing.

"That's pretty loud," I say sucking my teeth. I should have remembered to bring earplugs.

I smile as I watch the tiny dancer strut her stuff on the dance floor. When I was her age I'd have been standing behind my mother's legs hoping no one would notice me. I never would have braved an empty dance floor.

None of this is new for us, though.

Since she started walking, Ittybit's been making her way to the front of the audience so she can dance with the band. And not just kids' performers, either. The bands she's seen live are accustomed to performing for adult-only crowds.

I hesitated to say this in the context of parenting since the often lamented observation that our children are losing their childhood in some ill-considered rush to attain maturity often pits parents against each other. The last thing I want to do is open a dialog about the rights and wrongs of popular culture or the parenting shortfalls that are pushing civilization toward the brink of extinction.

But it's on my mind and it just slips out.

"Do you think she's dancing inappropriately?"

He is quiet, having thought the same thing and dismissed it. "She's just having fun," he says reassuringly.

She is just doing what she's always done at parties we attend as a family. She loves the music. She loves to dance. The only difference is that she's growing up: She's attending school, choosing clothes that match and asking me to check for smudges on her face before we leave the house. She's just a little girl who knows, by heart, the lyrics of songs I've never heard before.

She's growing up. That's what's makes the off-hand remark "You're going to have to lock her up when she's a teenager" send a slight chill down my spine. I've seen the future. And it's frightening.

Usually I just shrug my shoulders an soldier on. I'm not a mom who covers my kids' eyes even when I probably should. I just don't usually notice age inappropriateness unless the little miss points it out with her own keen powers of observation.

I've become accustomed to trying to explain these awkward moments using terms I think she can understand. And then rephrasing several times until she either gets the gist or gives up in frustration.

"It's the conversation that matters, not the answers," I tell myself. I want to believe that the questions are the solution, not the problem. I tend to think that our answers have a tendency to changing with perspective and experience, each of which takes time.

Time seems to have a way of changing everything without really changing much at all.

For several decades at least, little girls shaking their hips to suggestive music wasn't something folks have had to look too hard to find: Madonna was the mother of all Britneys and Hannah Montanas.

I don't really think scantily-clad celebrities foretell the end of society, yet I can't be entirely sure.

I project my teenage self onto Ittybit's future teenager: "Go Listen to Lawrence Welk ... or what-ever-it-is-you-old-folks-listen-to ... and leave me alone with my Lady Gaga already. Sheesh."

We're not having that exact disagreement yet -- we may not be anywhere near there for all I know — but its time is coming.

My girl is growing up and she won't be mine forever.

That she will choose paths I wouldn't recommend is a certainty. Just as I did. Just as her father did. There will be mistakes and recriminations and justifications for all of us. Hopefully, there will be growth and revelations, too.

Maybe, instead of locking her up, we'll be able to let her go and she'll have the confidence to dance her way back.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

No regrets

I called the number on the invitation fully expecting to extend our regrets for the Saturday afternoon birthday party.

The RSVP date had already passed. I'd waited to reply for no good reason, a combination forgetfulness and dread. It’s just one more thing to put off doing.

Saturday is filled with things to do: Shopping, laundry, cleaning ... a mid-day party would put us over the top and over extended.

Yet, when the birthday boy's mom answered the phone I inexplicably accepted.

It was something about the sound of her voice as she said hello. Something I recognized as joyful curiosity, even though she didn't know me or the reason for my call. Before I knew what was happening I was sizing her up, making imaginary comparisons and liking our differences.

Optimism. I may not come by it naturally, but I like to think I can acquire it if I keep it in proximity.

Of course, making friends seems like just another chore, one that takes effort and skills that have somehow evaporated with your ability to sleep past the crack of dawn. Even if it were easy, you would put up imaginary barriers: “Just because our kids are friends doesn't mean WE have to be,” you tell yourself.

A series of these thoughts worm their way through your rituals:

I will go, but I won't stay. I will stay but I won't chat. I will chat but I won't be chummy.

But before you know it conversations about the weather evolve — in a graduated sequence — into polite comparisons of thoughts on school, teachers, how often you've driven the kids to school after they missed the bus.

She tells me about how many hours she slaved trying to make a pig-shaped cake. I like her immediately when she puts her foot down over the request it have a filling of strawberry jam. She didn't want to hack into the cake and recreate Texas Chainsaw Massacre … Bed time is hard enough as it is.

How can I not admire her for letting her mind go there …

I tell her about making 25 super hero capes out of bath towels the night before my son's third birthday.

She looked at me with the same “You are Crazy” admiration.

Our conversation progresses to the slightly more personal: plots of television programs, what phone carrier, who makes the best pizza. We end up talking about the joys of motherhood, both sincere and satirical. You kvetch about homework, high fructose corn syrup, our inability to make our kids wear socks. Bodily functions become a competitive sport. There's talk of projectile vomit and toilet clogging poop.

Oh yes, we go there. It’s what moms do.

It's all gearing up for the most intimate of mom-bonding moments: Swapping birth stories. Each detail memorized and shared with photographic clarity. Each story seems fascinatingly familiar. We revel in the comparisons: where we were when we went into labor, we recount a formulary of drugs and times they were administered. She pushed for 24 minutes but it felt like 24 hours. I wound up with a labor that didn't progress and a c-section. She thinks I got lucky … even with the surgical scar that healed from the inside out. You think she did … even with the episiotomy and third-degree tear.

By the time the party is waning, the few men in attendance are awkwardly smiling at us from the other side of the room. They are talking about the weather, sports or making shelves with a new band saw they bought off of ebay.

We are undeterred.

We've made elaborate birthday cakes, bath towels super hero capes … and humans. We made humans … who are stuffing their faces with pig shaped cake with a red butter cream center.

As we're leaving she asks if I still have her number. I promise to call and set up a play date.

This has the best party ever, I'm so glad I had no regrets.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tick Tock

I almost couldn't believe it. But there it was, crawling across the screen of my iPhone, illuminated by new messages in my gmail inbox.

"I hate apple picking," I said, standing up slowly from the couch, keeping my eyes on the tiny tick making its way toward my thumb, which had been hovering over "delete." I blamed the day's outing for its presence. The last tick I found hitched a ride on the dog, causing me to rethink, albeit momentarily, my ardor for household pets.

"Well ... you didn't want a BlackBerry," my husband says smiling at his own joke. "Seriously, though. You have to cut its head off with your fingernail. Those things are nasty."

I take it into the kitchen and practically set the place on fire trying to rid myself of the reason I'd never set foot outdoors if it were a viable option (and one that wouldn't deprive my kids of a relatively normal childhood, fresh air or Vitamin D).

The half bag of hand-picked apples is mocking me from its place on the counter. Little does it know its contents will be peeled and sliced and baked into pies. Probably tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Because who doesn't like pie? I'm not even going to jest about that possibility.

What's wrong with going to the farmer's market and getting the kind that are already picked? Not that I'd really ask that question aloud. Not only would it be crazy talk, but it would be met with tearful protest from the minions.

There's some magical element embodied in the Pick-Your-Own produce craze that has helped generations of Americans retain the illusion that they are still in touch with their agricultural heritage ... Not that I'm cynical ... Or bitter from the simple fact I can't even grow a cactus. I'm just willing to ride the wave on my hypocritical surfboard.

Feeling the inertia of a sedentary life may be part of it, too. I dread the weight of the bushel bags we buy from the farm stand and the weight of the pressure to fill them up.We paid for a bushel after all. I also dread the task of searching for apples that are still on the trees and not laying in a fragrant but rotting carpet on the ground beneath them.

The weight of the waste weighs on me, too.

This year, to my delight, the orchard had changed its policy. The bags they provided were smaller and the apples were sold by the pound. The pressure to fill to bursting was lifted. Pick-Your-Own for the first time ceased to be the elephant sitting on the outing.

For the first time I could admit that I really do go apple picking for the Rockwell of it.

I go because I have a friend who I don't get to see as often as I'd like. I go because it's become a tradition that is simple and easy and satisfying for the five children we have between us. We go to the same place year after year because watching our children find bliss at the end of a branch while we shoot the breeze is worth its weight in gold.

It's even worth the occasional arachnid on my Apple.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

If you give a sheep a stamp pad ...

7:38 a.m.

The air is crisp and chilly, the kind of weather that begs you to go outdoors at the crack of dawn.

How long has it been since you've watched the sun burn off fog that is rolling over a working farmyard? I'm telling you, no matter how much anyone grumbles or grouches about having to get out of warm beds at the crack of dawn on a weekend morning, it's worth the effort (even if you have to stop the car and retrieve the cell phone you dropped out the window as you were speeding by trying to capture the moment … but I digress).

You've stopped for doughnuts and some warm cider or coffee.

You might still be a little sleepy as you ramble onward toward, say, a somewhat famous sheep farm. You are careful to finish every morsel of the cinnamon-sugar-covered confection before you slog through the barns to take in the sites.

You could even be sleepwalking for all the quaint nostalgia presented by such a family outing.

The whirr-slosh, whirr-slosh sloshing of the milking machines is oddly comforting as you slurp from your paper cup, the coffee finally losing enough heat to drink. You ignore the smell wafting over the lid as you inhale.

The tour is self guided with no signage, but your children are still of the age in which they actually respect that you know everything. They pepper you with questions:

"Why are the sheep lower than the machines?"

"How do they get them in there?"

"Where does the milk go?"

"How do they get them out again?"

You try your best not to disappoint them, but you must admit you have no idea, only a rough guess. You curse that the Smart Phone is on the fritz or doesn't get reception.

The potential for you to be found out as knowing very little about the particulars of the sheep cheese trade, however, is offset by forward movement and fresh sights.

Not that it's rocket science. If you're observant enough, you think you can probably figure it out.

Such as … did you know they dock the tails of sheep? It's not a revelation to rival the decoding of DNA, but there is something uniquely satisfying about noticing a pattern and drawing a conclusion … based upon the obvious: The littlest lambs in the nursery, tails; the oldest, no tails; the middling lambs … rubber bands and tails in various states of atrophy.

"Why do they do that, mom?"

"My guess it is more hygienic for them if their tails aren't caked in … well … poo."

Hey, I'm not squeamish. I read the books by Taro Gomi and Shinta Cho. But again, I digress.

The widdle wambs are cute and all, but you're amazed you've been able to heed the signs forbidding you to touch them. The meter is running out on your ability to police tiny hands.

It's time for a longer walk along the pasture road.

You revel in all the things you and the children have noticed: The solar-powered electric fence, the electric coil at the bottom of the water trough to keep it from turning solid in winter, the gap in the fence where a ewe got separated from the herd. You watch as she finds her way back from being frantic.

And as you turn to leave your husband may notice something strange.

Such as a ram with a nylon harness, and something that looks like a green, felted jewel on his chest.

Maybe he'll joke about what he must have done to deserve such special treatment.

And then your kids will notice all the other sheep behind the fence … must be half of them … with green splashed across their rumps.

They will start to ask you questions.

“What is that for?”

“How did it get there?”

“No, really. How DID it get there?”

And you will find out, on this glorious fall morning at the sheep farm, that in you've also encountered the birds and the bees. And you may wish you hadn't dropped the Smart Phone.

This guy is an inker

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Jumping the Shark

"MOMMMMEEEEEEEEEE!" He appears in the doorway to greet me; he's used to his father picking him up from babysitting. Mommy showing up before 6 p.m. is a special treat.

I bend to gather his things; a backpack, a jacket, his lunchbox, some drawings …

But there wasn't the expected clatter of movement toward the door. There wasn't much sound at all.

The silence was eerie.

Our babysitter stared at me with her head cocked and lips pressed to almost disappearing. Her expression was apologetic and awkward in the way that usually precedes bad news. It reminded me of the time when the kids had accidentally seen a shopping supplement and had used it to create the ultimate Christmas wish list — stuff so rare that Santa himself couldn't procure.

"He knows what he wants to be for Halloween," she tells me sheepishly.

"Didn't you tell her what you wanted to be for Halloween?" she called after my son, who was back in the playroom pretending the toys would reassemble themselves into the boxes from which they came.

More silence.

"That would be a 'No.'"

She speaks to him again, quelling a laugh.

"Go ahead, tell her. … Tell your mom what you want to be for Halloween."

He darts into the room and stands at my feet. His stance is wide and his hands are at his hips.

"I'm going to be a humpback whale," he blurts out proudly.

I just stare at him, blinking. The first year that he has had any interest in dressing up … and he's fishing for something I will never be able to land, no matter how much web surfing I do.

The babysitter looks at me and mouths the words "I'm Sorry."

I turn my attention to her. My eyes narrow as I momentarily wish for a caretaker who would have plopped our children in front of the television set instead of helping them exercise their imaginations.

"Dang you, National Geographic!"

"It was a Diego book," she says protesting the questionable wisdom she sees spinning in my mind. "And Diego was going to be a fruit bat for Halloween not a Humpback whale," she says, chortling sinisterly.

I brighten momentarily. "I have an old shark costume from two years ago that he wouldn't wear … "Maybe if I …"

The babysitter's mouth twists slightly to the side. She sucks air in through her teeth and exhales the words that describe what I already know to be true: "That probably isn't going to work. He knows the difference between a shark and a whale."

I imagine she's picturing me as I am picturing myself in the not-too-distant future: sitting behind the sewing machine, pulling my hair out strand by strand as I try to make a humpback whale out of a backpack and a few old bath towels.

"I may have been able to make a bat costume … but a humpback whale?"

"Well, if any one can do it, you can," she says, adding the perfect backhanded complement: "You are amazing."

She's mocking me, of course. Sweatshop laboring last summer to make a few dozen superhero bath capes for birthday party gift bags doesn't really amount to "amazing." In fact, at the time, I think she referred to me as "insane."

Ideas roll around in my head like square marbles, akwardly and with audible effort.

She pats my back as I turn to leave. "Don't worry. You will think of something."

In that instant, I thought of it: "I know what to do! YOU will convince him to be a fruit bat," I tell her.

She starts blinking.

It was my turn to smile. Sometimes tricks really are treats.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What’s wrong with getting it all wrong?

Most parents look forward to the opening of the school year.

Their kids, who have been sitting around all summer begging for something to do (because they have been SOOOOOOOOOOOO Bore-DAH!) traipse happily back to school with their fresh supplies and snappy new clothes. They can't wait to meet up with friends and have their experiences structured in neat, 42-minute intervals.

As soon as the doors close on the Yellow Bus that first day, parents generally dust their hands and breathe a sigh of relief into their morning coffee. As their kids go back to school, they soak in those first peaceful hours and feel back to normal.

I wish that were me.

School, in my anxiety-addled mind, presents a huge opportunity to fail as a parent in embarrassing and potentially devastating ways. Collectively, we think these missteps are destined to ensure that Harvard and Yale have already heard of our children and are in the process of hiring security. The way we're mucking up their lives, they scoff, it will be amazing if Astoria Trucking will accept their transcripts.

Everyone says the early years are most important. I sure hope that's not the case ...

Hmmm. … Who was it who forgot to attend their daughter's first school Birthday Party? Forgot to bring a birthday snack? Oh right, that was me.

Bad mom.

There are so many dates in the calendar destined to be forgotten: When does school start? An orientation? Which day was that?

Bad mom.

Parenthood feels like a state of life in which no amount of preparation is enough, and not enough preparation sets your kids on the road to an address under a bridge.

Did we do enough reading over the summer? Did we practice any numbers? Holy mackerel, she can't tie her shoes.

Shoulders up to my ears, I endure the long days with a thousand what ifs.

What if she doesn't like her new teacher? What if her teacher doesn't like her? What if she doesn't like the after-school program? What happens then?

Worry, worry, worry.

Looking at opportunity from the wrong direction is exactly how anxiety distorts a person's outlook. Backward thinking. It keeps us from having faith or hope. So I force myself to think past my fears.

It doesn't hurt that you get a "do-over" with your second child ... or a doing it all wrong again, but I'm not going there.

When I dropped off The Champ for his first day of preschool this year I felt a little of both. He was wearing pajamas and a smudge of breakfast on his face. He said goodbye, I kissed his cheek and pasted a smile on my face as I walked past the teachers.

There were no tears, no 'mommy stays.' There was just him, playing, sleepwear and all.

Still, I felt as if I were holding my breath for the rest of the day.

More what ifs crowd out any happy thoughts. … What if he growls at other children who want to play? What if he won't share toys? What if he sits in the corner and sulks?

I've seen so many sides of my children I'm never quite sure which will come out or when. I worry that first impressions will imprint themselves incorrectly ... and that the judgment will follow them forever.

Will he be needy or clingy or difficult? Will he be charming and social and funny?

I feel disloyal as I wait for the teacher to give her verdict.

When she tells me "He's so great!" I relax a little. I know it's true, he is great. And it occurs to me that maybe the only thing wrong about "getting it all wrong" is worrying about it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Can’t hear the noise for all the decibels

"How long has it been making THAT noise?" my husband asked in alarm.

"Huh?" I hesitated. "What noise?"

"THAT noise," he repeated, flicking off the radio so I could hear the rev of the engine as it cleared its mechanical throat of some kind of gear or gasket. "Pretty soon it will sound like a tank. It's probably the manifold."

"Oh … that. I don't know when it began exactly. Probably the same time I turned up the radio to try and drowned it out. Really. Not long."

It wasn't a lie but it was hiding an inconvenient truth: I didn't want to think about the potential need for a new car. I had been keeping this one rolling along for more years than any other car in the neighborhood, and it had become a source of pride. Drowning out each new noise with circa '90s rock rebellion was so much more satisfying than worrying about repairs.

I didn't mention the dance - a sort of shaking shimmy - the car convulses with at unpredictable times. That can't be good. But it's not happening at the moment. Out of sight … out of my mind.

He shakes his head. He knows the drill. Someday soon … hopefully on a warm, non-precipitous day, preferably once the kids are in school or at the sitter's … he'll be summoned to meet me wherever the old girl has decided to conk out. I'm hoping the rendezvous will be nearby a coffee shop with toothsome treats. He's hoping he won't be along a highway at rush hour.

Either way, it's more than likely my cell phone will be out of juice or sitting in its charger at home.

I keep chugging along as the car steps up its noisy commute. Clunkety, clunk, clunk. Lately it feels as if I'm pushing the car uphill with the sheer force of will and my foot pressed firmly to the floorboard. Still, I feel the heat of the scorn from the cars behind me … unable to drive faster than 30 miles per hour … and unable to pass on the upward curve.

I'm sure they are surprised, when they get a chance to pass, that the woman behind the wheel doesn't have blue hair or bifocals … yet.

Procrastination, at least when it comes to visiting the mechanic, is all the ratio of risk and reward. If you are risking your life savings for two months of smooth sailing in a land yacht there's more reason to take your chances on a long-distance tow.

Strange how things change.

I used to be so conscientious about the car. But so many other things have usurped its importance. It's been quite a while since tune ups and scheduled maintenance had actually been scheduled.

It used to be a running joke that "nothing" was ever wrong with a car until the man of the house experienced the symptoms while he was driving it.

You could tell him all about how the brakes that locked up or replicate the squeal that escaped from under the hood until you were blue in the face. These strange and disturbing occurrences were the mechanical equivalent of the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it.

But now the joke is on me.

Trees could be falling all around me and I'd just turn up the radio.

Write to Siobhan Connally at or read more online at, click on “Blogs.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Just a sec ... Mommy's iPhoning it in

Hello. My name is Siobhan. And I’m addicted to TapFish.

I stupidly downloaded the virtual aquarium game onto my "smart phone" thinking it would give the kids something to do while we were driving (besides pestering me about going the wrong way or being lost all together).

However, my virtual conscience kept me up late at night, feeding the kids’ "fish" so they wouldn’t go belly up. I even found myself just visiting neighboring "tanks" to see how the other wannabe pisciculturalists are fairing. Sometimes I feed their fish, too.

"Did ya see me?" she squeals, the excitement of whatever it was I missed bubbling into a froth. "Did ya see? Did ya see?"

No, honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t see, I was feeding your fish. Can you do it again?

But the magic is over. No matter how she sits or spins or contorts, it’s obvious from her expression there is no recreation possible.

"Oh!" She says with disappointed tone. "That’s too bad."

I wish I was making up what she said next. Without a hint of malice and without ever having heard a single stanza, she channeled the spirit of Harry Chapin to lecture me …

"You’re missing everything. And you know, someday, when I’m a grown woman and you want my attention, I probably will be too busy for you. That’s how it is you know."

The words sting.

I flip through the journal she’s been keeping for summer homework. She’s drawn colorful pictures and written mostly legible entries about her activities over the past two months:

"We went to the park … I climbed the BIG jungle gym."

"I went to the pool and swam underwater!"

"I made snow angels in the sand. It was funny."

"I saw bees at the beekeeper’s house! I didn’t even get stung."

None of the entries were things she’d done with me. All the really memorable stuff she experienced over her summer vacation she did with friends and baby sitters and grandparents while I was working.

That stung, too.

I have to admit, however painful, that as a working mom whose desk has magically teleported to her cell phone, distractions are ever-present. I spend so much more of my time with my head bowed to a hand-held device. Even when I turn it off, it’s never truly disconnected.

The fact is, whenever it’s in my hand, I feel compelled to check on it more than I’ve ever felt compelled to check on the kids. So even when I’m here, I’m not really there.

I know I’m not alone. Research consistently being churned out rubs our noses in the mess we’re creating with technology overload. Technological addiction isn’t debated as much as it is denied: “I’m not ignoring my kids. I’m just not bending to their whims. I can stop anytime I like.”

Yet it just seems like a sign of the apocalypse how video games are being designed to help us get our expanding rear-ends off the couch.

I’m not casting the first stone but I certainly know that if I don’t do something soon, I’ll be facing a chip off the old block.

"Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa."


"Didn’t you hear me? I’ve been calling your name for like a hundred years."

"I’m sorry. I was reading an email. What did you say?"

"Can I play with your iPhone now? I have to feed my fish."

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Photoshop, not a diamond, is a girl’s best friend

Did I ever tell you that I once had the job title "Wedding Consultant?" for a formerly local-ish studio photography company?


It was way back when I was the girl who never wanted to get married, never wanted to have children. ... just wanted to roam around with a camera and see new things.

Tragically clichéd, I realize now.

I was perhaps (depending on your position on sales) the worst wedding consultant in the history of wedding consultants. I'd routinely tell folks to buy the least expensive package ... and save their money for a down payment on a house … or a car … or the honeymoon.

I reckoned there would be the same amount of photos to choose from the finished album would just be bigger. "You can always upgrade," is what I’d advise.
That was a fun job.

There were a lot of hilariously imaginative requests.

"Can you make the wall green? I meant to have that room painted before the wedding but never got to do it."

"I am not speaking to my sister anymore. Can you crop her out of the photos?"

"My husband had too much to drink at the cocktail hour and then hung out with his friends all night in the bar. Can you work some magic and put him in some pictures with me at the reception?"

Ah … true love. …

As entertaining as sales can be, nothing compares to my early days in newspapers, where I learned wedding and engagement announcements have their own hidden appeal. You not only get to peek into the lives of different kinds of folks who are all doing the same thing — getting married — you also get to laugh a little at what the hype and hoopla makes them do.

Such as the woman whose engagement photo was a photocopy of a snapshot that had another photocopy of the groom-to-be's head taped next to the bride-to-be. At first I laughed, thinking the unprintable art project was the result of timing and desperation. Maybe they didn't have any good photos together yet?

Yeah ... No.

I later learned the bride-to-be didn't like her intended's physique so she taped a picture of her beloved's head onto her ex-boyfriend's body. She had a nice smile in that old picture, too, and thought it was a shame to waste it.

I will not tell you what odds I placed on the longevity of that marriage, but I imagined the wedding proofs should be speedy if the photographer wanted to get paid.

Sure, I laughed … but I never really understood how much I had in common with that vain bride until I had an engagement of my own to announce.

I set up my tripod and my Yashicamat twin lens reflex in a make-shift studio and demanded my intended smile for the camera.

I set the timer and ran to his side a dozen times.

When the roll was developed it seemed apparent to me that while there were frames that flattered us both, there were none that flatter us together.

So I did what any self-respecting Bridezilla would do. I picked photograph that flattered me best and I pasted his head from another into the frame.

Turns out Photoshop, more than diamonds, is a girl's best friend.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

They don’t call ’em ‘action figures’ for nothing

"Mama! I can't find Monkey Baby," said my teary little boy, his grip on my slacks threatening embarrassment.

"He must be here," I soothed, uncurling his little vice grips from my legs and hiking up my pants. "You just had him a minute ago. I just saw him."

But lo … Monkey Baby — a recent purchase and identical to a Monkey Baby his sister adopted the week prior — was nowhere to behold.

Three weeks of sifting through garbage, moving furniture and scuttling through toy boxes proved fruitless.

It's a little more than creepy if you ask me.

The phenomenon of the sock missing from the dryer is nothing compared to the mystery of the black hole that has apparently formed somewhere in our home. It absconds with toys.

And not just broken playthings, or old, unused or annoying things that some nefarious parent-like person might store away in a cardboard box in the garage for a two-week trial period.

Typically, in such toy abductions, if the disappearance goes unnoticed, the plastic hostages are sent on vacation to the lovely and exciting lands of Salvation and Goodwill.

Ahem. Not that I would know anything about such things. …

This toy black hole sucks in some of our new and more expensive toys, never to be seen nor heard from again. Like Monkey Baby, whose replacement was engineered by a special shopping expedition.

I mentioned the plight to our babysitter, and her eyes widened.

"You're KIDDING me!" she exclaims in a way that made the hair on my neck stand up. "Buzz Lightyear and the Batman Cape have disappeared from my house, too. They were there and then they were gone. I've even moved the furniture. Poof, gone."

I didn't know what to say. My mind was spinning out of control. "Is there a hole in the universe that takes toys? Because, really, this stuff is just GONE. It would totally explain why the Toy Story trilogy is so compelling: it's partly based in fact …"

Blank. Stare.

I'd gone over the edge of Reality into the chasm of Just Plain Silly.

"It must be here," she said in a calm, measured voice. "Eventually this stuff will turn up."

She's right, I tell myself. Our houses are warrens of nooks and crannies. There are any number of places toys might be deposited and overlooked. …

But I don't really believe. …

The phone rings. It is Ittybit asking if I will bring "Amy," the expensive dolly her Amah gave her. She forgot it and Amah has splurged on new clothes.

I think nothing of the request until after I search her bedroom, the toy bins and even my closet where Ittybit has been known to play with her plastic doppelganger.

She's gone.

I ask my husband to check the house … he comes up with nothing either.

I call the babysitter, it's a long shot but I have to try.

"Have you seen Amy, Ittybit's super-expensive-grandma-doll? I can't find it anywhere. She didn't take it to your house, did she?"

"Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen that doll," she replied.

And then there was that eerie silence.

"There has to be a simple explanation," she says, hopefully.

"Yeah. I'm sure you're right. I bet Amy's just off some place playing Super Heroes with Monkey Baby and Buzz."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Facing life’s flow, ebb in the dog days of summer

"I remember the first time I ever saw mommy cry," Ittybit announced as I opened the car door, officially ending a tiresome five-hour drive and our two-week New England vacation. The car was ripe with the smell of damp bathing suits and wet dog.

She was still sitting in her car seat, surrounded by the necessities of travel and the trinkets of tourism, as I tried to catch empty bottles rolling out onto our driveway.

"What did you say?" I asked, catching the words but dropping their meaning.

"I remember the first time I ever saw you cry," she said directly and with careful enunciation, as if I had recently stopped understanding English.

I cocked my head, interested.

She stopped smiling and said "it was when Maggie …" Her voice trailed off.

We both looked down at Maddy, the surviving member of our canine duo, now 105 in dog years. The champ never met Maggie, her older sister. She left us a few months before he was born.

Maddy just lay there waiting for help down. She was tired from two weeks in vaguely familiar places just outside the ordinary routine of "eat, sleep and eat some more."

My husband helped her down from the car he had helped her into. No one said anything as we hauled the bags from the trunk and carried them inside, but we were all thinking "It won’t be long now…"

That sentence always seems to float around unfinished and unspoken when conversations lead to our furry friend.

It’s what I thought last summer at the beach, and in the fall when her incontinence seemed unmanageable, and at Christmas when she stopped going up stairs. It’s what I think with the increasing dosages and decreasing agility. "It won’t be long now …"

I’m never able to complete the thought, however, despite having spoken aloud that "I can’t wait for her to go."

It’s not true. It’s just gallows humor. Fear talking.

I even hate bringing her to the vet because I know one day she won’t be coming home. I hold my breath until the moment the vet gives his diagnosis. I wonder what expression he sees on my face as he tells me the news: "Other than the incontinence, she seems really healthy," his voice apologetic, as if my suffering was worse than hers.

I didn’t wonder why Ittybit chose that moment to bring back the memory of Maggie or my sadness in saying ‘Goodbye‘ to her, although I imagine she’s turning the same thought over in her fertile mind about Maddy's slow but steady decline. I just assume she can read my expressions better than our veterinarian can.

She was in swim class when I took Maddy for a morning walk the last day at the beach. Our morning walks with the dogs (now singular) have been a summer ritual more than a decade old. Ittybit didn’t see the tears the wind dried as my dog – my first non-human child – stumbled in the sand trying to keep up with me. Ittybit doesn’t have clear memories of her bounding into the surf, oblivious of the pounding waves. Those are pictures that play over and over in my mind.

The playful puppy is gone as are her more troublesome behaviors … the pulling and barking and running away seem like distant memories. On this day, as we walk, Maddy barely touches the moist sand and stops often to rest. She no longer needs a leash.

"It won’t be long now …" I think as I bend to pet her flank and she appears to smile.

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to hope for one more summer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh, snap

Her hands moved quickly and efficiently through the paperwork. School rules can be so complicated. Had I filled everything out correctly? Her eyebrows stayed at a steady angle. Never raising, never lowering. Everything must be fine.

She was older, a grandmother perhaps. My attention was drawn from the task to the colorful elastics she wore on her wrist. I knew them immediately as Silly Bandz, the silicone rubber bands molded to look like just about anything. They had become notorious during the last months of the previous school year.

Kids ringed their arms with them until not a smidgen of skin was left showing. Teachers and administrators scorned them, since the effect of their existence may be cause for disruption. They had even made their way on to my own wrist, plucked - as I imagine this woman came by hers - from the floor while sweeping.

Innocuous and yet infuriating.

Ittybit came home from school with one of the demon bands a few days after news flooded the world about these dastardly abominations of office supply. Her school bus driver had given it to her. It might as well have been a band of gold for all her gloat.

"Isn’t it beautiful?" she asked, not at all like a question.

"It sure is," I laughed, thinking of the half-dozen rubber bands – virtually identical -- I'd bought on impulse at a museum shop four years ago … a pink pig, a yellow goose, a green goat. … I don’t remember what else, beside the original set having a much higher price tag and a lower rate of interest. They disappeared into the crevices of our home within a matter of days.

They were rubber bands, after all, and in addition to being easily forgotten were also prone to higher mammals (such as my husband) launching them toward small objects in an effort to knock them over for imaginary points. "Pig goes in for the pepper, but Goose gets in there for an upset. And the crowd goes wild … HARR."

Not everyone has such an imagination.

Certainly not the mother waiting in line behind us with paperwork of her own, who gave Ittybit the stink-eye the moment she saw the band wrapped around her wrist. I was smiling when she rushed over to me with an accusingly helpful tone of alarm: "You do realize her teachers don't allow those in the classrooms," she hissed. "I don't even let my daughter have them. Such a distraction, you know. Awful, awful distraction."

I just laughed and said I thought it was silly.

"They are not the devil incarnate. They are just rubber bands. Silly, clever little elastics that serve any number of purposes. Admiration, in the form of collectible shapes and phosphorescent shades, is probably long overdue."

I can't say as I blame her for keeping her distance after that. The cardinal rule in parenting has always been to disavow whatever it is that Kids Today are into. Short dresses, fast cars, long hair, rock music, pierced body parts, rubber bands that look like cows … All that stuff leads to sex and drugs and civil disobedience. There are rules. They must be followed.

Silly Bandz must be stopped.

Admittedly, I didn't care much about the Silly Bandz protests when the media plucked them off of Twitter one slow news day. I was more concerned about schools requiring doctors' orders and med-certified staff members to apply sunscreen to my kid before going outside mid-day.

And yes, I did make a pest of myself trying to get a reason why the administration would adopt a sun policy that undermined health curriculum, which stresses the use of protective clothing and sunscreen.

The first answer I got was an administrative one: There’s a tremendous increase in the number of children with allergies. I didn’t buy it. One child that the nurse knew of didn’t seem to me to be an overwhelming increase.

I asked again. "Teachers take the time to have children wash their hands before they eat. They require hats, boots and snow pants for winter weather. Why not practice the importance of wearing of hats in the sun and the use of sunscreen?"

The second answer was more honest at least: It's not fair to expect teachers to do a parent's job. If a parent wants their child to have sunscreen, they should apply it before school. The End. Thank you for calling.

I asked other parents but found few interested in raising any eyebrows let alone pitchforks. Sun damage doesn’t seem high on anyone’s radar. It’s definitely not as fun as ranting on Silly Bandz. Twenty years down the road, after all, isn't as pressing as right this very minute.

I shrugged my shoulders and let it drop. I decided to pick up a package of fruit-shaped elastics instead.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Listening to your own Inside Voice

"Where is he now?" I groaned, tired of trying to cast my attention over three places at once. "He was just here." … I'm struck by my own voice as I called his name. Louder than I intended. I sound like a prickly teenager told she must mind her baby brother.

Ittybit sounds more like the mom.

"Shush," she hissed at me. "We're supposed to be quiet in here."

We were in Barnes and Nobel.

Bookstore … Library … Makes no difference to Ittybit, the ad hoc librarian. Books in stacks or shelves, in any place other than our home, require the reverence of clean hands and hushed tones.

Library Voice, in her mind, is different than Inside Voice. The former is just a click or two above Silent, whereas the latter is always a few decibels too close to Playground.

It was obvious I was the one in violation.

"Shhhhh," she admonished again when I called for her brother to come out from wherever he was hiding.

She wasn't worried about him. She knew he'd not gone far. He was probably watching us, giggling. She was worried about me, and that my obvious disregard for library etiquette would get us banned from books.

Oh how the tables have turned.

Going shopping with children in tow can make a parent feel as boneless as the limp child they're trying to coax off the floor or away from the Dora the Explorer yogurt. It's why we take every opportunity to shop while we're temporarily childless.

On my way to work I stop for toiletries. On my way home I stop at the grocery store. I browse online, happily paying outrageous shipping fees just so I don't have to deal with corralling my roaming minions as I compare ingredients and prices.

I chuckle to myself sometimes as I linger in cosmetics taking a little more time than needed to decide on New and Improved or Trusted for Generations. These days being alone anywhere – even the bathroom of my own home – feels like a miniature vacation. "I'll take a load off AND a gooey blender drink in Aisle Six," I think as I picture a chaise lounge and pulp fiction waiting for me at the check-out counter.

But I'm not one of those people who needs a vacation from my children. I really don't see them enough. A few hours in the morning and at night on weekdays is something most parents get a taste of in the teen years when interactions include mostly blank stares, eye-rolls and unanswered questions. By then the limited face time extends to weekends as well.

"It all goes by so quickly," everyone – including our own Inner Voice – is prone to advise. "Drink it all in. Don't waste a drop. Savor every moment."

I know all too well. I'm a witness to this time-space continuum. Just yesterday he was born. Now he's gone. Gone momentarily, maybe, but still able to go.

"Where is he?" I say, more playfully this time. "Where is my boy?"

"Here I am," he yells in his best Playground Voice. He darts from under the bargain bin with his squint-eyed grin about to burst into laughter.

"He really is cute," she says, forgetting for a moment her role as sibling arbiter of appropriate behavior.

"But we really should use our Inside Voices," I whisper, remembering my maternal one.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

‘Don’t worry, mom’ just another oxymoron

She doesn’t want me to talk about it, and I can’t say as I blame her. The physical manifestations of tummy troubles are personal and often unpleasant. I get that.

Most people don’t want to know about the cut, color and clarity of the inner workings of the intestines, either. We’re not making diamonds after all. I get that, too.

Still, I was worried.

She’d run to the bathroom so many times. … More than usual anyway. Urgency with her isn’t new.

I’d always chalked it up to a combination of being lost in play and not being fully literate in her body’s cues. But, this was different. It had been days. It wasn’t getting any better and I was rethinking my assumptions. Maybe it’s something worse.

Worry, worry, worry.

A family history of tummy trouble coupled with the feeling that the entire world is on the edge of an immune-compromised cliff had me on the brink of panic.

Think, think, think. …

“Remember you were drinking from the garden hose … when was that?”

“Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh, you were swimming in the creek Sunday. Maybe …”


Pester, pester, pester.

"When did this start?"


"What have you eaten today?"

"Please, stop."

"Are you drinking enough?"

"Enough, mom! Enough."

She didn’t want to show me anything. She didn’t want me following her. She’d begun looking for my location, and then sneaking into the bathroom furthest from me. She was hiding evidence of accidents. She was tired of my questions and increasing alarm. I was scaring her, too.

But as a parent, I believe I prove the point that "Don’t Worry, Mom" is an oxymoron.

She didn’t want to go to the doctor, I didn’t either, but I was sitting on my hands trying to keep from consulting Dr. Google. It was probably just a virus, but Dr. Quackdotcom was bound to take me someplace even more dark and frightening than my mind was already heading. Her real doctor, I hoped, would be more reassuring.

I convince her (and myself) going to the doctor will be the best thing. She’s not so sure, especially when we return home with instructions for a bland diet and a "hat" in which she should … never mind.

She was curious as to how the whole testing matter would work, and therefore positively gleeful when her stomach started its nightly rumble. It wasn’t pleasant, for sure. But oddly enough, having a scientific purpose for poking around in her private affairs made my interest less awkward for her. And it gave my fears something to do beside wring their hands and pace.

In the morning I was somewhat relieved see a little improvement. She wasn’t right as rain, but at least it was no longer thundering. I took the samples to the lab and crossed my fingers hoping the improvement was as sign, and getting the results would force my worries to rest.

I’m sure my fears would have rather been sitting in a beach chair with a mystery novel and a fruity drink instead of on a counter marked "biohazard," but who are they to complain? A holiday is a holiday.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The world looks different at five a.m.

The house is sleeping, however I am awake.

I extract myself from the blankets, which have tangled during the night with the unconscious acrobatics of every living thing that inhabits our home. As if I were removing a shawl, I lift The Champ's legs from my arm and unfurl the cat from around my shoulders. I only vaguely remember when they became part of my sleepwear during the night.

I slide out of bed with the stiffness of a cardboard cutout but feel more like myself as I move around the room trying to dress without opening drawers or making noise. I avoid the third floorboard from the doorway as I walk through it, holding my shoes in my hands as I tiptoe down the stairs. I forget the second step down creaks, however, and freeze the moment the silence is broken by its protest of my stepping there.

Silence — or what there is of it amid the whirring of fans and other mechanical sleep soothers — mends itself and I continue to creep down the staircase to the porch.

It is a perfect morning for a walk. The sun is still low and covered in clouds. It is humid but there is a breeze a few gusts beyond gentle that, if you close your eyes, could trick a person into believing they were by the seashore.

The traffic is light and no one else is in sight as I close the door and set off toward the street. Though my destination is to return to where I started, how long it will take me to get back home will determine the route. A half hour? An hour? Shall I be efficient, direct … or shall I meander?

I walk a few blocks toward the center of town with neither hesitation nor contemplation. The cardboard cutout, now in need of caffeine, has returned to be my navigator. There are people waiting for the Surly Drip to open, and I momentarily think about stopping for a to-go cup.

Shrugging my shoulders and smiling to myself, I continue walking as I remember all the modern necessities in life - including cash and cell phone - are at home with my snoring family.

I think of the last time I did this — just go for a walk. It has been quite a while. The boy was a baby, still small enough to schlep around in a sling. He was a silent, sleeping, partner. Walks since then have seemed more like Stops … Many, many, stops: Tantrums, stop; Farmers' Market, stop; stick on the sidewalk, stop.

Mostly, I've not bothered to start.

I shake off the stiffness and change direction, taking a left when I usually take a right. As I walk I see things I've never noticed before: two houses in the same shade of pink; chickens running around a farmyard, chasing each other in a playful way I've never imagined chickens could display; a dog's footprints are sealed in the cement sidewalk and a name, in a child's handwriting, appears a few blocks farther. Hammocks, almost identical in appearance, mirror each other in two postage stamp-sized front yards. I wonder whether the neighbors are head to head or feet to feet when they are reclining there.

"Such odd things to notice," I think to myself as I keep walking. I am Alice. This morning is Wonderland.

Lights are starting to blaze in houses, now. The clang of pots and pans ring out from the open kitchen windows. Breakfast will soon be ready.

In another mile I'll be back to where I began.

It is six a.m. when I return.

The house is awake now and struggling to find acceptance in my absence. The smells of coffee and bacon - maybe even blueberry waffles - greet me, along with the tear-stained face of my son, as I open the door and kick off my shoes.

"See, I told you she'd be home soon. She just went for a walk."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Having too much fun? You may be over joyed

"Not another red light! That's the third one in a row. It will take six hundred years to get there," she smiles, adding a dramatic fainting droop for effect.

I'm looking at her face, a reflection in the rearview mirror, as she's asking me a variation of: "When we get there can I …?" for the sixteenth-thousand time. She is a gushing stream of non-stop talk.

Sometimes she finishes her sentence with "get popcorn AND candy?" Other times it’s "pick the seats?" or "buy … hold … hand over the tickets?"

All I want is a moment's silence as I drive to the theater, lest I wind up in a place far from our destination. These days it doesn't take much to drive me to distraction.

Instead, she's dancing around like a whirling dervish. Hair flying, dress flouncing, body hopping like a baby chick. She stops just long enough to flash a beamish grin and bat her eyes.

Even bound to a car seat she's an uncommon force of nature.

I squint a little, thinking about how her expression might change if I were to suddenly thrust my forehead toward the steering column and commence banging.

"Better not," I tell myself, as if beating one's head against a dashboard were a valid response to kinetic excitement. Not to mention that the horn still works even if the air conditioning doesn't. With my luck, it's bound to stick and be cause for even more excitement.

More questions fire toward the front seat as she sets off twirling again. This time, however, she pairs her questions to a classic melody she's heard on Nickelodeon's Wonder Pets.

"Later … Will there be fireworks?

Can we make s'mores?

Can we go swimming? Remember that bowling place? Can we go there sometime?

How about

‘More Flags More Fun’?

I've. never.


She takes a breath and starts another chorus:

"Have the blueberries bloomed? Do you think the birds have eaten all the


Am I going to go to summer camp? When can I have a sleepover? Did you bring any water? … When will we get there? When. Will. We. Get. There?

Which is when her brother takes his hands from his ears (he despises singing even more than I do) and joins in the cacophony: "Are we there yet?"

I am too old for this. We're only going to the movies, but we may as well be going on vacation for all the excitement bouncing around in the car. I need a nap.

The Champ is losing the plot. "MAAAA! Maybe I said 'Are we THERE yet'?" he yells using THE BIG VOICE. "Maybe I don't want to know are we THERE YET!"

I laugh. He's so contrary these days he contradicts himself.

"We are very nearly almost red hot, but not quite there yet," I answer, thinking if I can't really join them maybe I can beat them at their own game.

"This is See-wee-us," he chastises me using the voice of the Wonder Pets duck.

"I know," I say, reinforcing the educational TV speech impediment with a smattering of Spanish, "I am muy, muy see-wee-us!

"Now all I have to do is find the street …”

"You went past it didn't you mom?"

"I might have … Being over joyed sure is a distraction."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unmasking the myth

It was midnight. The cat was circling my legs. And the only noise in the house beside the occasional feline roar was the whirring of my sewing machine.

Scratch that. Ittybit's sewing machine. The one I'd bought her for Christmas. Wait. What am I talking about? The sewing machine SANTA had gotten her for Christmas.

See what I mean? I don't think straight these days … It must be the heat … or the job … or worries stacked on top of stress, balancing on a thin wire of I-don’t-know-what.

Or maybe it’s just the myth of parenthood as a selfless act.

Why else would I think it would be fun to make superhero cape towels for every kid that attended The Champ's summer birthday sprinkler party?

Another lie. I knew exactly what I was thinking.

I am Super-ego Mom.

I was thinking monogrammed cape towels – half a bath towel, a few inches of ribbon, a hem, a washcloth for a shield and some letters sloppily snipped from scraps of fleece – would REALLY impress our guests.

I was thinking ours would be THE party of the summer, the stuff of legend, my ticket to popularity. People would be talking about me - more specifically the creative Supermom I always wanted to be - for years. Moms everywhere would say my name in hushed and reverent tones.


I don't really know how to sew.

Moreover, I don't know how to fix a sewing machine that all of a sudden, a mere 14 hours before The Legendary Party of the Century, decides it can't sew another stitch either.

"Honey?" (I call him "Honey" when I want him to do something unpleasant, such as cleaning up the dog yard or dragging the recycling to the curb.)

"What Dear?" (He calls me "Dear" when he plans to ask for something unpleasant in return, such as burying whatever the cat killed or dragging the recycling rejects back to the house).

"Can you take a look at my … uh, Ittybit’s … sewing machine. It stopped working completely and there's one towel left. …"

I can practically hear is left eyebrow raise. He can't really say no. He kept telling people to "just stop on by" long after the invitations had been sent. Yet he's not above trying to stay right where he planted himself after a long, hard day. He doesn't want to peel himself away from the couch and cable TV.

"But you don't have to make THEM towels … They might not even come," he says in protest.

"Fine," I say with all the inflection of the opposite. "I'm sure they won't feel left out. … ‘Everyone at the party has a super cape except for YOU little heartbroken boy and his tear-stained sister. … I'll just put some marker on a tissue and Scotch tape it to your shoulders'."

"OK. I'll get my screwdriver."

He's a good guy, my husband, for managing a smile as he trades mindless TV for a few more stitches of my insanity. In the morning he even tries to make this midnight crafting madness seem as if it were a redeeming quality.

"Your mom really is Supermom," he announces to The Champ over bagels.

"No she's not," the birthday boy answers between bites, "she's Super-ego Mom."

Reach Siobhan Connally at

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Celebrating 'Interdependence Day' instead

Independence? That's middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.

- George Bernard Shaw

I've been thinking a lot about independence recently.

I find it strange and contradicting how our society craves and covets it; we seek it for ourselves, we demand it of others, we hope to instill it in our children, we even toy with the possibility we can squeeze it out of oil.

As a group, we define Independence as freedom.

Dependency, on the otherhand, is little more than loathesome. Yet in trying to avoid it we tend to forget what it is that really makes us strong -- the fibers that weave us together.

Maybe I am focused on this line of thought because I am a mother, and as a mother my success is largely based on my ability to raise children who are capable of making their own way in the world. Without me.

From the moment they take their first steps, they are essentially walking away from us.

Maybe I'm angry at Disney for always killing the mother (or in rare instances, the dad).

Maybe I'm just jaded, thinking the real desire for independence is all about money.

We are so focused on money - acquiring wealth and accumulating stuff - we don't see what this "savings" cost us.

Maybe it's as simple as realizing one person's independence is another person's lack of purpose. Planned obsolescence engineered by progress. We are all just one modifier away from becoming a dangling participle.

It's not as if I want my children to need me to tie their shoes or balance their checkbooks when they return from college to live with me for the requisite 2.75 years until a low-wage job or ill-advised significant other takes them three states away. But I don't want them to forget they are part of something bigger.

I'm just not sure that independence has anything to do with capability or capacity for success. Ultimately, I wonder if this passion for independence has more to do with the erosion of those qualities. I wonder if in trying to set ourselves apart we are tearing ourselves asunder.

Standing on our own two feet gives us the courage and the strength to do amazing things. Yet, we fool ourselves if we think we're untethered. It has been through the strenth of groups, such as unions fighting for fair labor practices, that has made it possible for individuals to experience independence.

Yet we declare independence from the drudgery of everyday life with the same convictions. … We declared independence from agrarian society and got factory farms; we declared independence from caring for grandmother in her old age and got squalid nursing homes. We declared independence from the cost of someone else's efforts and we end up finding ourselves unable to support our way of life. We declared independence from paying a living wage and found our jobs outsourced.

We demanded automation and declared independence from thing from which we can never be free: Each other.

Freedom has a price, and it's steep.

Red states. Blues states. Me states. You states.

Maybe, on this day, it's time we celebrate our Interdependence for a change.

Because in the end, perhaps now more than ever, we are all connected. We're all in this together.

I think about all of this as I watch my kids grow into themselves. They may walk away, they may run, but I will always be a part of them. And the fact that I am in their DNA will dawn on them when they least expect it. They will have their "Oh My God, I sound like my mother" moment one day, too.

Wherever I am at that moment, you can bet I'll be taking some of the credit

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Places, like newspapers, need people

I found this picture recently as I was searching for a travel photograph to call my favorite.

It was Ittybit's first plane ride. The year was 2004, and we were going to Boulder, Colo. to meet her new cousin. The young man in the picture was traveling alone and had what some might describe as the misfortune of sitting next to a baby on the plane. Now, I could be mistaken … it was a long flight, but I don't think he minded.

People can surprise you if you let them.

I have to admit, even to myself, travel photography isn't my favorite. No matter where I go or what I do, the pictures I take might have been taken anywhere: A street scene in New Zealand could be one in New York City for all the details my lens leaves out.

There are brief moments of awe, of course, just as there are an infinite number of interesting places we can go, and people we can meet once we get to our destinations.

But once we return home, unpack and get around to organizing and printing photos, the results never seem as brilliant as the memories we were intending to capture.

Trees aren't as lush. Mountains aren't as majestic. Oceans aren't as deep.

For me, family always ends up the focus, while the travel becomes a prop or just a blurry backdrop. Places, I think, need people.

So, here's where you come in ...

As some of you may know, The Record is embarking on an interesting exercise to create a newspaper — both in print and online — that is meaningful to the community but that uses little or no proprietary software.

None of that really means much to you, I imagine, since what we do behind the scenes is hard to picture, let alone explain.

The part we are more excited about, however, is the part that harnesses the power of the collective voice — you, the readers.

My piece in the initiative is to entice you fine people to send me photographs and thoughts about your travels in life from the literal to the figurative.

Through Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, I've asked folks to send me photographs from the places they’ve seen, as well as photographs from their weddings. I've asked for brief accounts of memorable moments from each event to share with our readership.

I've been honored with a small but healthy response. I admit, reading what’s come in so far has been a treat.

I hope for more. There is still a week left and I want to ask you a favor.

I want you to become part of the story I've been telling here these past few years. Please send me your photographs and thoughts. If you need assistance — scanning old photographs or even putting your thoughts into words — I humbly offer my help.

I promise to treat your memories with even more care than I give my own.

To participate, e-mail Siobhan Connally at or call 518.270.1285