Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge - Prayer Language

This is my piece for this week's Indie Ink writing challenge. The way it works is that you sign up for the challenge weekly, and you'll be paired with another participant who will create a writing prompt for you, and you have a few days to write and submit your piece. (Click HERE if you'd like to participate next week.

This week, I challenged Karla at Tot Thoughts with the prompt, "I'm not afraid to die."

I was challenged by Alyssa Goes Bang. Her prompt was:

Ah! The misguided youth!

Here's my response.


"Close your eyes and start making sounds," the pastor told us. "Don't worry about what it sounds like. Start by saying bah bah bah."

The youth group met in the basement of the church, in a room in the back with a closed door. They taught us a lot of things in that windowless space; things about sex and death and demons. Today we were inviting the Holy Spirit to possess us. If we were earnest and pure, if we concentrated and believed with every tender fiber of our beings, we might be visited upon and finally granted our "prayer language."

My father's prayer language had been confirmed by a traveled and well respected missionary who had only just returned to the Americas. He recognized my father's breathy, "Ahh- sha- dah dah dah" as being part of the native tongue of a remote African Tribe. It wouldn't come to you so complete, though. You had to move your mouth and work your throat and invite the Lord into you, to fill you and use you. It was sort of a right of passage in the church to gain the skill of speaking in tongues.

I knelt next to the other kids, my knee resting obviously against Jeremy's thigh. We all lined up next to one another and squeezed our hands in front of us, pressed our bodies into the ground, splayed and prone in invitation to God the Spirit. Jeremy was a boy who didn't have a dad. He suffered from a hyper activity disorder that made him edgy and unhappy most of the time. He didn't like to talk about things, and I liked talking to him.

"Bah, bah, bah, sha, bah," I uttered a long string of hopeful syllables. "Enter me, oh Lord. Use me, oh Lord. Use me, use me, use me."

Sometimes I'd feel Him, at the base of my spine, creeping upward, warming me and washing me, inside. I could feel Him on my tongue. I didn't have my prayer language yet, but I was close. The Holy Spirit was elusive. He was seductive. He would only come upon me when I deserved him.

Jeremy nudged me with his elbow and made a little motion at me with his tongue. I felt God in my thighs. Last week, after Wednesday night service, I was dizzy from the effort of begging Him, of seeing Him, of knowing Him. Jeremy asked me to take a walk and he led me to the narrow alleyway behind the church.

"I like you," he said.

Warnings rang in my head. Sunday morning's lesson had been about resisting the temptation to allow dating and heavy petting to get in the way of our walk with the Lord.

"It's cold," he said. "Give me your hands." He pulled at the sleeves of his shirt until they covered his hands. I slipped mine inside, my fingers probing his cotton warmth. "I want you to like me, too."

The truth was that I did like him. When I thought about him in bed at night, I was hot and confused and slept fitfully, dreaming of pale pink softness and eternal damnation. I turned my back to the cold wall next to my bed and pressed my body against it, grounding me, bringing me back into the lap of The Father.

Jeremy's hands were warm. He was standing so near that I could smell his peppermint gum. The light from a lonely streetlamp glinted off of his braces. I shivered against the October air.

"You're shaking," he said. "Come here."

I knew I shouldn't. I stepped closer to him. There was a tight knot of excitement in my stomach. He wrapped his long boy's arms around me and before I could think about what I was doing, I raised my face to him. I let him part my lips with his slippery tongue. A floodgate opened and I was drowned in an exquisite kind of guilt, so that my body vibrated and my clothing was suddenly scratchy against my skin.

Now, we were kneeling together on the patchy, worn carpeting of the Youth Group room in the corner of the basement. The air was alive and electric. I could feel him on my tongue. I opened my mouth, pressed lower to the cold concrete that waited under everything and gave myself over to a new language.

photo by Michael Swan

Far away and unlucky...

Hug your babies tighter, today, we got a letter that said.

But who is hugging her babies? I'm sure there are plenty of arms. I'm sure the arms are warm, having been full of baking dishes and condolences. I'm sure those babies have never been so surrounded and hugged so tightly.

I wonder what it's like to be a boy in the world and you're turning ten today and your mom is dead. She died last week, but your birthday still came. Do people tell you Happy Birthday! and clap as you blow out your candles? Are there balloons? What does it feel like to have been alive for ten years, and now you're a boy who doesn't have a mother? You must feel very strong and very scared.

Happy Birthday.

My girl slept at Grammy's last night. I love the thought of her, with her suitcase full of "guys" and a set of soft pajamas. Grammy lives in an old apartment building in the city and I know that it feels like a new life, when she spends the night. My little city bug, she is open to adventure, to stained glass in the hallway to the smell of smoke under doorway number 4.

Do I remember what it was like to not feel like I knew everything? To suppose that the only way to have something new is to go far, far away. To the places we see in the pictures in the paper. To a place where war means something more than a point of view.

I don't know anything, though. I don't know what it's like to wake up in the heat with a fever, to know that the boys of my childhood are carrying guns. To be so young that people wail at my diagnosis, people fall apart on the telephone saying, "Oh no! Oh my love!" I don't know anything about being a ten year old boy on his birthday that came even though his mother died.

I hold my babies while they sleep. My big girl comes into my bed, sometimes and I will myself to stay awake, to feel the length of her against me, to etch it deeply in my bones. Someday she won't need me. When the sun comes up, I don't want to move, I don't want to breathe, I just want this moment to stay as long as it can. Her little face smiling sweetly on my pillow, the covers pulled up to her chin.

I'm getting older and some days I don't feel like I can do this. I don't feel like I can put on my clothes and walk around in the world, not when there's so much to do. Not when I don't always feel legitimate. Not when the boredom has settled in this deeply. But, remember? I don't know anything.

I know what it's like to wake up early to the sound of my baby crying, to bury my face under my pillow. I know what it's like to feel the heft and heat of my children and to remember them, when I was water and they were dreaming of a never ending sea.

I don't know what it's like when you're a momma and you're sick and going to leave your children forever. I don't know what it's like to wake up and have to remember that nothing will ever be the same. I don't know what it's like to be a face in the paper, brown and far away and unlucky.

Everything I know is easy. Everything I do is worship.

So, hug your babies tight while you can, a letter comes to me in the morning.

And I can. I know that much. Buried under the things I think I know and the things I'll never be, I can hug my babies.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fall thoughts...

I watched Scouty playing on a trail today. It was cool and there were leaves falling. I’ll remember this.

My baby is walking. She’s a proud little thing with shaking legs. She’s walking and my heart is breaking for all the places she’ll go.

Scout was asleep next to me in our tent. I was awakened by the sound of some far away thunder. I wasn’t sure we’d survive if it poured. I crawled blind into the mud and grass and pulled a tarp over our shelter, weighted it down with firewood. Somewhere in the distance, two foxes were calling to one another and I was scared and I thought of you.

You, inside my head, how I couldn’t quite meet my husband’s eyes when the redheaded girl was finally done in. I took my bike and I rode it through a black tunnel that day. I came out on the other side and there were apples on the ground. They were fat and swollen and the branches were hanging low.

I knew a boy once who painted the beginning of the world. He’s still with me, even though he’s dead.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Reading Reviews

photo by shutterhacks

What did you read this summer?

Here's my list:

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins- Okay, these books were awesome. I am so not the kind of person who feels like I can only read and promote books that require advanced literary theory. Of course this story about a teenager's take on her post-apocalyptic life isn't like... an enlightened piece of art. It's such a fun and engrossing read, though. I was totally hooked and gobbled them up, one right after the other.

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian- This was another fast, entertaining read. It is the story of a midwife who attends a complicated birth which ends in death. It is told from the point of view of the midwife's daughter as she and her family go through the aftermath of the tragedy. The story is totally gripping and satisfying.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer - This book is possibly the most beautiful book I've ever read. It is startling in its unique ability to break hearts.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen - Blah. I'm mad at Jonathan Franzen. This book is enormous. The first 400-500 pages were great. The characters were awful in a totally juicy way and I was so sucked in that I actually recommended this book to other people. About halfway through, the story suddenly stalled in a HUGE way. It became dense and preachy and boring. I eventually just gave up and stopped reading. I felt totally cheated by investing myself in the first half of the book. I don't know. Freedom just bombed, for me.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson - I love Young Adult novels. They're totally guilty reading for me. Kind of like watching tv. I love that they deal with real and heavy topics, (like anorexia, in this case) but in a fun and easy to read way. I just gobble them up. Wintergirls was just okay, though. I have to admit that I don't care for Laurie Halse Anderson's style of writing. It's spare, like most YA writers, but I find it kind of lacking in authenticity, too. The bad boy character in this novel was totally cheesy and unbelievable. I didn't dislike the story, though. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It was worthwhile, but didn't blast me out of the water.

Cut by Patricia McCormick- Another YA novel, but this one was really gripping. It's a story about a girl who is staying in a mental institution and who refuses to speak. I read it all in one day, easily. Even with 2 children and a busy schedule. The main character was likable and sympathetic and the other teens at the institution were entertaining. This was a totally worthwhile and well written YA book.

Insecure at Last by Eve Ensler - I loved this book. It deals with our obsession with the notion of being secure, on a personal AND national level. Ensler really examines how being preoccupied with security propels us into a state of insecurity, since true security is actually unachievable. This book is a narrative of her personal life, as well as an account of the work she's done with abused women in remote, violent areas. I expected to be turned off by Ensler, considering the "I am woman!" tone of some of her work, but this piece didn't come off that way at all. It is remarkable.

Lessons From A Dead Girl by Jo Knowles - I don't know about this book. It's another YA novel and I enjoyed reading it. I actually read it in two sittings and was really grabbed by the story and the characters. It's about a girl who is being abused by another young girl, which makes for a very engrossing premise. The characters weren't totally believable for me, though. Or maybe I just felt like the motives of the abuser-girl were a little contrived. Something about it just didn't feel totally honest. Still, though... I give this story 3.75 stars out of five for being such a gripping story.

The Beach Trees by Karen White - I read this for Blogher's Book Club. It was cheesy and flowery and full of cliche. It also wasn't a totally terrible book. You can read my full review here if you want to know more.

The Kid by Sapphire - I also read this for Blogher's Book Club. This book was really unusual and kind of amazing. It was actually a really difficult read, because of the subject matter and the actions of the main character. It made me sick, sometimes. There were also parts of the story that came off as being a little too hip artistic NYC youth-ish... but in the end, I assert that The Kid is kind of a masterpiece. You can read my full review here if you want.

What about you? Did you read anything good this summer? What should I add to my Fall Reading List?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge - Ferris Wheel

This is my piece for this week's Indie Ink writing challenge. The way it works is that you sign up for the challenge weekly, and you'll be paired with another participant who will create a writing prompt for you, and you have a few days to write and submit your piece. (Click HERE if you'd like to participate next week.

This week, I challenged Sarah at Sadie's Story Lines with the prompt, "Stop it, it makes me sick when you do that."

I was challenged by Leah at Learning to Whistle. Her prompt was:

The way I see it, life is like a ferris wheel.

Here's my response.


Ferris Wheel ... Haliburton
photo by Rick Harris

I lived in a caravan of carnival workers. I was the son of a Ferris Wheel. I was conceived and birthed under its shadow. My father built and rebuilt our home, twisting the colorful replacement bulbs of my heritage into place in each new town. His father operated the Ferris Wheel and his father before that, until we were its rightful owners, because, the way we saw it as a clan of men, life was like a Ferris Wheel.

My mother disappeared in the autumn of my thirteenth year. There was a dust storm in a remote region of Oklahoma that took the awnings off of the Pick a Duck and Ring Toss games and covered everything in a film of dirt that you couldn’t wipe away. The last time I saw her, my mother was holding a scarf to her face, running out into the wind to save the laundry she’d scrubbed in her wooden tub. “Our sheets are out there!” she said, lacing up her boots and tucking the hems of her pants inside.

When she didn’t return to our trailer, my father went after her and came back empty handed and consumed by a sort of hysterical madness. He claimed to hear a sound in the rushing of the dirt over the dry earth, something otherworldly and whispering about vengeance. He claimed that she had been taken. We could stay and try to find her and lose The Wheel and our livelihood, or we could move on, like we did.

“We’re travelling people,” my father told me from the driver’s seat of the trailer as we pulled away from the dirt lot. The clothesline that killed her was dangling loose from a tree. “I’m sorry to do it, but The Wheel is all we have. It is what makes us and keeps us alive. She wouldn’t have parted with it willingly and neither will we. You were born under those whirling lights, you know.”

My father was always in motion. Climbing the base of the Ferris Wheel with a giant bolt under his arm, hanging from its crossbars to grease the hinges, he was a man of action, but there was something new to his movement. A mania entered him in the blind minutes he spent in the heart of the dust that took my mother. “I swear there was a murmuring coming from the ground itself,” he said, staring through the smear of mud left behind when he tried to clean the windshield.

My father’s state of restlessness came to include one of the women who danced in the Adults Only tent at the far side of the carnival. He couldn’t hold still even for a moment, as far as she was concerned. When she was around, which became almost all of the time, there wasn’t a part of him that wasn’t roaming and exploring, pushing and growing, so that this woman became the canvas he traveled upon.

I pretended to sleep in the passenger seat of our trailer, watching them between the sagging upholstery of my makeshift bed and the door. She was thin and covered in purple and black marks, especially on her arms and along the bend of her ankles. There were two perfect circles of grime outlining her nipples, from the glue that secured a pair of red spangled tassels that my father would peel off with his teeth. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t get at her, everything in motion, and the grime never washed away from her skin, no matter how she scrubbed, she said.

“When you’re up there and they’re throwing money at you,” she told him in the quiet of the night, nestled with him under the fleece throw that used to cover my mother, “That’s when you feel high. There are lights on you and you’re moving in ways you didn’t even know you had the courage to move and everybody loves you. You can feel it, just like you can feel the spotlight, you can feel it radiating out of them. You’re all there is, the rest of the world is gone. They’re watching you and you’re all lit up and rocking back and forth. It’s like you can look out over them and all of their faces are dark and still and it’s like they’re the ocean and you’re at the top of the world. You can see forever.” She smacked my mother’s pillow with her palm and a cloud of that murderous dust floated around her face as she got comfortable and settled in for the night.

“I love you,” my father roamed.

“It’s getting late,” she said.

“I love you,” my father traveled.

“The boy’s awake,” she whispered.

“I love you,” my father said and sunk low into the compartment of our traveling home, the hum of The Wheel dying away until tomorrow.

I'm Amanda and I'm not afraid of anything!

I think that people sometimes wonder why I write the things I do about myself or my childhood, or whatever. I write about being small and ugly and fat and poor, about being humiliated and deserving it.

Sometimes it's not even sort of fun to write about those things, but I love doing it. I get a great deal of positivity out of airing my insecurities and the things in my life that have shamed me.

I write the most about my childhood and teen years and mostly avoid my late teens and twenties. I would love to share my experiences with being a twenty-something adult, but I mean, I have to take a lot into consideration before I could do that. My husband's family could be reading this. My husband IS reading this right now. I hope that someday my children will read everything I've written about them and myself and our lives and the ways we've grown together. I don't ever want to say anything that would make my family cringe a real, deserved cringe.

Hopefully you can understand why I feel okay with talking about something as far removed from my present as my upbringing. My life as a child in an oppressive home, under the pressure of an oppressive religion has nothing to do with my children or husband. None of it was my fault. I didn't choose to be born in a trailer park, you know?

All the ways I lived as a twenty-six year old, I picked those. I picked a lot of things that I would love to spill, but since the grandparents of my children could be reading this, I leave the drugs and most of the rock n roll out. Because my husband is reading this, I leave out the long string of crushing and humiliating endeavors I set out on in the name of boys. He doesn't want to hear all that, and quite frankly, neither do you.

So, maybe it seems like I'm fixated on growing up, or like my childhood really threw me for a loop or something. Really, my entire life up until I had children was an exercise in being unsuitable and indecent. I only allude to so much of it because I just don't want to make anybody feel ashamed to be related to me.

I am not a private person, but I respect the fact that other people are.

I am always going on about how I want to live honestly. I don't mean that I care about being honorable or that you don't see me as a liar. I know I'm not those things. When I say that I try to live honestly, I mean that I try as hard as I can to present something to the world that resembles what I'm thinking, on the inside. I try not to project that I'm better than I feel. I try to live in a way that, the people who are around me understand that every terrible thought they have about themselves, all the ways they feel ashamed and sickened and all the times they curl against their fear and embarassment... all of those things you keep yourself awake at night trembling over. I try to live in a way where you can see all of those things about me. I don't want anybody to have to dig to find out that I am all of those things on the inside, too, just like you.

I believe whole heartedly that keeping secrets about yourself is an absolutely harmful thing to do. Every time you're scared or ashamed and you close it up tight, looking both ways to be sure that no one witnessed your embarassment, and hold that thing inside of you, you're killing yourself. You're rendering yourself powerless.

I used to hold a lot of things inside of me. I used to feel terrified that, if someone were to point out how not good enough I really was, I wouldn't be able to handle it. I was made up of a bunch of reflective surfaces and mud walls. All I wanted was for people to believe that I was well put together. I was happy, in a world full of secretly unhappy people. I wanted people to look at me and think, "She must not feel as bad as I do, because look at her. She's so big and colorful and bold."

Living that way was hard.

People believe it would be too hard to say to the world, "Yes, I know that I'm fat and it embarrasses me," or whatever your deal is. Are you stupid or ugly or nervous or awkward or afraid of your sexuality or boring or neurotic or injured or damaged or whatever? We're all something and we walk around with our coats buttoned up, saying to everybody,


It's so hard to feel that way all the time!
It's so much easier to say the things that poison you inside, to get them outside of you so that you can see them in the light. It's kind of how those things that kept you up all night seem silly in the morning. Once you can see them for what they are, they don't really have any power. They're just smoke.

There's never been any secret about myself that has been worth keeping.

So, if you've wondered why I write the way I do about my life, I hope this explains things. Out of all the choices I've made about living life, being able to humiliate myself by telling the truth has been the most freeing and positive thing I've done.

I'm afraid of everything! That's why I'm not afraid of anything.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One of my actual regrets and my brother...

We were in the car and it was nighttime. My mom and dad were talking and I heard my mother say, "It's your mother's fault that she has a weight problem."

"How is it her fault?" he asked.

"Because she used to just hand her the whole box of Nilla Wafers and let her eat as many as she wanted," she said.

They were talking about me. I was a size 6x. I hated that x and everything it implied. There were no husky sizes for girls. There was only an x. I glanced at my brother in the darkness of the cold back seat to make sure he wasn't laughing at me. He had big teeth and giant glasses. He would never laugh at anybody. He was sweet and sometimes kids made fun of him and I never stopped them. I had a weight problem. I wanted him to be Bucky the Beaver. I wanted him to feed bad about himself, because at least I was smart. If they were laughing at him, at least they weren't laughing at me.

Adam was defenseless. He was small and sensitive and a beautiful kind of person with blond hair who never made trouble for anybody and never truly did anything wrong. He didn't scheme under his covers at night about ways to get back at the neighbor boys for throwing rocks. He simply took whatever the world had to give him, and then he rolled over and held it all inside of himself. He was flimsy, like cloth and whatever he touched, he soaked into himself and it rotted and cemented itself there and reshaped him.

I was embarrassed for him. He was always breaking a light fixture or throwing a baseball too hard so that it smacked into the side of a car. He got spanked all the time. There was nothing he could do to avoid it. I supposed it was because he was a boy that he got into all that trouble. One time, my mom even broke the Lickin' Stick over his butt, she was so worked up at him over breaking something. He broke things or knocked things down, but he didn't have meanness inside of him, like I did.

He didn't deserve it, any of it. He didn't deserve to be made fun of, to be made to feel like he was less than he was. He was good and dear and quiet, and his goodness made him weaker than me. When somebody hurt him because he had big teeth and because we were poor and there were too many of us, when somebody called him a name and belittled him, he just disappeared right under them. His big teeth protruded over a quivering lip and his eyes went kind of far away and you could tell he was hurt, but he never cried and he never fought back. He didn't have it in him. He was beautiful and good, so he just took all the things people said to him and made those things a part of himself. Every time he got bullied, he became a little more invisible and buried under all the hurt. He became all of the mean things people taught him he was. He walked with his head down and I didn't help him.

I wasn't the kind of big sister that would stand up for anybody and help them to walk around in the world like a person. I had a weight problem, remember? The way I saw it, my entire life was a precarious balancing act where I was always one second away from stepping too far into the light where I'd be ridiculed and destroyed. At any second, somebody could point out that I was poor and that my pants didn't fit right because they'd been somebody else's and my hair was always tangled.

I've wondered lots of times; what if my brother had had a father, somebody to teach him things, to tell him how wonderful and rare he was? What if somebody had taken the time to remind him every day of how kind and sweet he was, to make him feel as important as he was, to make sure that he didn't disappear under all the meanness in the world? Maybe things could have been different for him. Maybe I should have been able to be that person, but I was trouble, remember? I was a fat little know-it-all and it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How do you spend?

I read somewhere once that if you're running out of money at the end of each month, your priorities are out of whack.

What do you think of this?

Let me clarify that I don't think the message behind this statement applies to people who are out of work or who have a debilitating illness or who have suffered a recent tragedy or anything. I think it applies to people with average circumstances, like you and me. People who have shelter and food and income, but who just never seem to have enough money.

I'm really inspired by women like Dig This Chick who decided upon having children not to clutter their lives with stuff.

When Scouty was born, we were living on a lot less money. Kurt was also driving 2.5 hours to get to work each day and spend about 500$ per month on gas. We didn't have money for anything but absolute necessities.

Now, we're older and we have more money and things aren't so tight, but to be honest, it doesn't feel like we've made it. If one of our cars breaks down or we have an unexpected expense, it totally does throw us.

However, we also...

went to Lake Erie this year
went camping
stayed in a fancy hotel for our anniversary
went on a mini-vacation with an old friend
have a membership to the children's museum
have a pass to an indoor play area
went to Alligator World at the beach
have cable and internet
pay for preschool
pay for soccer
have a pool pass
made a down payment and are paying on a beach house for next year
and so many other things.

I don't really feel like we're filling our life up with stuff. (Well, actually, I do feel that way, but most of our stuff are gifts or second hand, so the toys and things aren't draining us of money.) I feel like we're paying to fill our lives up with fun experiences. But, what's your opinion? Is that really so different than buying our kids a lot of stuff?

I can totally live on less, as far as material possessions go. I don't have shoes and clothes and outer wear. I wear the same things until they're worn through. I cook from scratch and we utilize the library and the outdoors as much as we can. I cut our hair and fix things myself. I'm a big believer in homemade.

I'm just not convinced that it's better to save money than it is to go places or visit museums or for my children to participate in activities. I feel like we've made a definite decision to be people without extra money so that we can afford to explore and have adventures.

When a car breaks down, though... in that rare moment, I definitely feel like it would a less stressful kind of life to skip adventuring and stay at home in favor of having a savings.

I think a lot about how we use our money. I try not to make decisions that aren't justified. I know that some people would consider our spending to be frivolous, though.

I'm curious. How do you live, in regard to money? Do you have a philosophy? Are you a saver? Where is your money going and is it worth it to you to spend it that way?

Out on some of our adventures...

It's worth it, to us...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Spreading the love, instead of germs.

I'm sick and holed up this weekend on the couch. I won't lie. Despite the fact that I felt like I was in labor this morning, it's kind of nice to have an excuse to lay around reading for hours and hours at a time. Just one of the demented facts of motherhood. It's so much better to be sick on the weekends, instead of during the week, when you're solely responsible for two energetic children... and also that you don't have to feel guilty about being still and staying home.

On the other hand...

Daddy just sent me the world's most adorable picture of what I'm missing out in the world.

Here are some wonderful and sad and fun and nice and terrible things I've come across, this weekend.

This mommy lost her baby. Reading this totally made me rethink everything.

Reading this blog always makes me feel good and also happy that somebody like Kimbirdy exists in the world.

This cute baby boy breaks my heart with his beautiful eyes.

Powerful piece about how we blame single mothers.

This is best thing I've read in forever, about something that happened at a funeral.

What about you? Send me your favorite links to read (either yours or someone else's), since I've vowed to do nothing but read and drink tea all weekend.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge - Pie

This is my piece for this week's Indie Ink writing challenge. The way it works is that you sign up for the challenge weekly, and you'll be paired with another participant who will create a writing prompt for you, and you have a few days to write and submit your piece. (Click HERE if you'd like to participate next week.

This week, I challenged Jen at My Tornado Alley with the prompt, "Write about the last time you saw him."

I was challenged by Xander. His prompt was:

I was told there would be pie!

Here's my response.


Mmm...I like pie.
photo by jeffryw

How long had we been putting ourselves through this? I lost track of how old the girls were a long time ago. All I know is that, every year, the table is more crowded, the house gets hotter and louder, and I can barely hear myself think. When we had four girls, I pictured that when they were grown, they would move somewhere far away. Maybe Sarah and I could take turns visiting each of the four them on alternating years. Instead, they planted roots practically in our back yard and took turns popping out a bunch of fat little kids.

My oldest daughter's kids were all blonde with red cheeks and were always wearing turtlenecks and sweaters that constricted their neck blubber and made them all look like they had boiled hams instead of heads. The youngest, a boy, I think, was seated at my elbow. He was wearing a giant plastic bib, fastened tightly around the turtleneck that was already threatening to strangle him. I thought to lean over and warn him that he better keep his sticky little hands out of my way while I was carving the turkey, but before I got a chance, my daughter's husband came walking out of the kitchen holding the electric slicing knife!

"What's he doing with that?" I said, but nobody answered.

My Sarah and our oldest girl followed him, hefting the aluminum pan with the turkey between them, shuffling sideways and shouting out things like, "Get out of the way, honey!" and "Jonathan, make sure he's out of our way. I don't want to scald my child with boiling gravy."

"Christ, you two," I said and stood up to help. Sarah was pushing seventy years old and she shouldn't be doing this kind of heavy lifting. The idiots my children married were busy sticking their fingers into the plate of mashed potatoes and filling their glasses with wine to notice that two women were carrying something heavy across the room. I couldn't get past the boiled ham brothers, their chairs were pushed almost against the wall.

"Sit down, dad," my daughter said.

"I'm sitting," I said, as the turkey was placed with a thunk on the table in front of my son-in-law. He was a small man with tiny girlish hands. Since when was it his job to carve my turkey in my house?

"What's your poison?" he said after a moment, smiling stupidly at me.

"Huh?" I asked, unsure of whether or not he was speaking to me.

"Pick your poison," he said louder, the carving knife and a fork suspended in his hands above the carved plate of meat.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said, realizing that everybody had stopped talking and was looking at me.

My daughter sighed and said, "Just give him white meat."

The bird was dry and by the time the potatoes reached me, they were cold. The slab of turtlenecked grandson sitting next to me spit a blob of cranberries onto the tablecloth.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "Eat! Don't spit things out. This is Thanksgiving dinner."

All around the table, my children and their mother were talking about television and things they'd seen in store flyers that might make good Christmas presents. The gaggle of husbands were arrogantly discussing numbers and projections of something or other. Nobody bothered to look in my direction even once. When we had four children, I assumed that I would have somebody to talk to all my life. What those girls did was band together, take all my money and leave me to form a dry crust in the corner of their lives. Not that I minded that much. They seemed okay and maybe even happy, in their own ways.

Soon enough, Sarah and our oldest daughter were swooping around removing our plates. My grandchildren, despite what their girth might suggest about their appetites, collectively ate a single bite of cranberry sauce, and even that was choked up onto the table.

"I want some!" one of the children yelled as a beautiful pumpkin pie covered in little puffs of whipped cream was placed on the table. "I want some!" he squawked again.

"Hold on!" my daughter said.

"Now!" he screamed. "I want some now!"

A huge piece of pie was placed unceremoniously in front of him. He dipped the tines of his fork into the white topping and tasted it. His face wrinkled up and he shook his head a little bit in disgust.

"What are you talking about?" I said to him. "Eat that, it's pie. How can a kid not like pie?"

"I don't like it," he said.

"You've got to be kidding me," I muttered.

I watched as everybody was served a piece of the beautiful pie. Not paying attention to the rapidly emptying pan, I picked up my fork and wiped it clean on my festive orange napkin. Since he wasn't going to use it, I took Boiled Ham's napkin and tucked it neatly into the neck of my shirt. This whole experience was pure torture, but at least there would be pie.

"Eat up, everyone," Sarah said, whisking the empty pie plate from the table and twirling it into the kitchen.

"What?" I said in disbelief. "Sarah, is the pie gone?"

She didn't hear me from the kitchen and no one else was paying attention. Everyone hunched happily over their plates, except the ungrateful little meatball next to me.

"Give me your pie," I whispered to him.

He blinked at me, slack-jawed. I reached to move his plate closer to me, but his pudgy little hands shot out in front of him and he gripped that plate with all his might.

"What are you doing?" I said. "You're not even eating it!"

"No!" he yelled at me.

"Let go!" I yelled back.

"No!" he said.

"Dad, what are you doing?" my daughter said, suddenly. I looked up from the barely touched piece of pie to find a table full of faces staring at me.

"He's taking it!" the little ham snitched on me.

"Dad, let go of his plate!" she said, her voice rising.

"He's not eating it," I said. "He doesn't even like it. He doesn't like anything."

"He's a kid, dad," she said, moving to our end of the table to pry the plate out of my hands. "What kind of a kid doesn't like pie?"

"Exactly!" I yelled. I could feel my face turning red with frustration and the fact that it was exactly nine thousand degrees in this room. "That's exactly what I said!"

The Boiled Ham looked at me with his cold, watery eyes and then splatted his germ ridden palm right into the middle of the immaculately arranged whipped cream, and stuffed a handful of pie into his mouth.

"This is exactly what I'm talking about!" I hollered, too aware that the room was silent and still. "This kid doesn't care about pie! He's ungrateful! Where is the rest of pie? I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE PIE!"

For a moment, nobody breathed. The children stared at me with their transparent blond eyebrows shooting up under their hairline. My daughters glanced at one another and rolled their eyes. The idiot husbands froze in place, their forkfuls of pie hanging in the air between their plates and open mouths. And then my wife broke the silence by saying, "Jesus, Karl. Nobody told you there would be pie."

"Try to act like an adult, Dad," my daughter said and the fat little ham broke out in tears. He started bawling with his mouth hanging open, bits of whipped cream and sugary crust spraying all over everything like a fine mist of rain.

"I'm going out," I said only barely succeeding to push the metal folding chair out from beneath me and standing.

"Oh please. Where are you going?" my daughter asked.

"To buy a pie," I said.

I attempted to squeeze past the porky children who had me blocked into the corner. The Ham was still bawling as my daughter scooped a blob of pumpkin out of his mouth and wiped his tears with a wet wipe.

"For Christ's sake, Karl. There is a nutroll on the porch," my wife said. "I put it out there to set. Bring it in and have a piece."

A nutroll. Forty-five years of marriage and almost that many of fatherhood, and this is where I found myself on Thanksgiving Day, in my own goddamned house of all places. Sitting at the kitchen counter with a fork and a nutroll.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I was born in a trailer park...

Until I was seven years old, I lived in a trailer park on the outskirts of a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. The children who lived down the hill from us didn't wear clothes. They wore underwear and nothing else. I used to stand on the front porch of our trailer and watch them squatting in the street, their naked torsos bent over long, naked legs, flipping over rocks and collecting worms after it rained. Those children didn't appear to have any clothes or a mother, either.

I had a mother. She was pretty and blonde and had yellow green eyes that nobody else picked up on their way out of her belly. All four of her children had eyes that were so dark that you could almost call them black, except in the sunlight they were brown. My dad had brown eyes and he passed his darkness on to us.

My mom was the sort of girl who would do pretty much anything that somebody meaner expected of her, and my dad walked around in the world like he basically owned the place. He was the boss of our family, divined that way by God himself. He used to say, "It says so in the Bible. The man is the head of the household and the women have to listen to anything the man says." He liked to call himself "The Big Cheese," but he was easy to see through. Inside of him, there were only holes and weak spots, so he filled them in with a lot of noise and talking about being bigger than he was.

My brother Adam and I were born sixteen months apart, so we wandered the trailer park together. We would walk to the end of our street where a boy named Greg lived with his older sister and mother. His mother was a smoker, and she stained all of her filters with frosted pink lipstick. She had to work, because Greg and his sister didn't have a dad. Our mother stayed at home and stood in front of us protectively when the men with greased back hair walked past our trailer on their way to work in the Christmas tree farms. There wasn't much to be proud of, where I came from, but we were able to boast that we were the Christmas Tree Capitol of the World.

Greg's trailer was smelly and dark and there were always wisps of smoke twirling around all the exposed light bulbs, even when his mother wasn't home. It was like you would sit down on their couch and a puff of gray smoke would come to life all around you. Greg's sister was perpetually lounging on that couch, wearing cutoff shorts that you could only guess were there, under her oversized neon painted t-shirts. She watched MTV for exactly ten hours out of every twenty four. The other fourteen were reserved for sleeping until far past a reasonable lunch time. She had hair that was so big and stiff, it would hold up to even the most ambitious of winds. I found her to be very grown up and desirable, and very rock and roll.

She once showed me a Twisted Sister music video where a dad busted into his son's room and told the son to stand up straight and tuck in his shirt, but mostly the dad hated his son's guitar and the fact that he wanted to rock. I felt scared of Twisted Sister and their hair and lipstick, but I knew enough not to take the side of the dad. I knew enough that it was important to rock, even if you felt like something wasn't quite right about it. I stayed awake at night, picturing men in tight, snakeskin pants, wearing pink lipstick and singing songs about how homework was stupid, and how it wasn't cool to drive the speed limit. The 1980's were a strange time to be a child with only a remedial understanding of the way the world worked, and for the bulk of that understanding to have reached me through the filter of a trailer park in rural western Pennsylvania.

Greg was the same age as me, but he was meaner, almost as mean as a teenager. He and a few boys that never talked would run all over the grounds of the trailer park and do wild things like catching black snakes and carrying them home by holding on to their tails. One day, one of them got the idea to torture the snakes they caught, and so we all gathered around in front of Greg's trailer, the bouffant outline of his sister's head through the poorly lit open window, ignoring the commotion we were making and turning up the crackling television.

"Hold it by the head," Greg told one of the mute boys. The boy was wearing jeans with giant holes in the knees and I could see that his skin was encrusted with dried mud and stickiness underneath. I wondered why he never said anything. He tousled with the snake for a minute. I let out a squeal when it almost got the best of him, biting onto his thumb and twisting its long black body, almost slipping away and into the tall grass at the edge of the woods beyond our neighborhood. The quiet boy smashed the snake's head against the stone of the walkway and squeezed until it was forced to open its jaw and free his thumb.

"Shut up," Greg told us, glancing over his shoulder at the open window, and we tried our best to settle down. I elbowed one of the underwear children from the bottom of the hill and bent down low to get a good look at the snake as it squirmed and panicked against its captors. A sickness was growing in my guts as Greg pulled a knife out of his pocket and flicked it open.

I could have told him to stop. I could have called for some kind of sanity, could have asked all of these dirty, lost children what in the hell we thought we were doing. Instead, I glanced up at the face of my brother, his big teeth biting his lower lip and sadness welling up behind his dark eyes. He was kind and gentle and I hated him for it. I wasn't like him. I was quick and mean, and so when he pushed his way to the back of the huddled pack of children and disappeared into the brush, I was determined to endorse whatever was about to happen.

What did happen was that time seemed to slow down while Greg and the two mute boys held that snake with blood and gore all over their fingers, and intestines and bile greasing their palms while they chopped and mutilated its body into tiny, wriggling pieces. The snake had a wild eye that stared through time and space, glossed over with pain, having given up its struggle to stay alive. All of the world fell away as they hacked at its flesh. The only thing that mattered in all of the universe at that moment was that this was so very wrong. Greg smiled up at me and asked me if I thought it was gross. "I don't care," I said. "It's just a stupid snake."

From that moment on, I saw something new in my nightmares. The men in tight pants and lipstick were now also murderers and there was blood everywhere. It was on my conscience, mostly, and I thought about the way the snake had still been alive, even after its body was in pieces. How its head jumped around on the stones after it had been severed, how I recoiled and inched backward into the boy without any clothes. I felt the skin of his thighs on the backs of my legs, while Greg laughed and the mute boys had eyes that grew three sizes in their long, gaunt heads. I was scared of the world, I knew that, and I also knew that I hated myself.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Letter from my husband...

Kurt wrote this to me today and I thought it was good and beautiful. I don't care how much we make you barf. My husband and I love each other.

I’ve got a picture of you set as the wallpaper on my phone. I pilfered it off the computer while you and Scouty were camping. The picture, at first glance, could be black and white – your skin is ivory, your hair is midnight. But there’s just the slightest hint of pink to your lips, just a tiny bit of blue around your eyes. There’s something silver tied in your hair.

All day, I check my phone, and all day, I keep falling in love..

You’re as beautiful as a movie star, and being in love with you can feel like having a crush on something greater than reality. No way, this woman exists. No way, she’s my wife. No way, I’ve touched this girl. It’s impossible, until it isn’t.

It was, you know, fun to be alone with Louisey, this weekend. It’s fun in a way that I’d rather it was the other way around and that my wife and Scouty were home with me, but fun that I’m getting to do this thing that’s out of the ordinary. And I loved taking her to Squirrel Hill. I parked at My Little Outback, but then we walked up to Ten Thousand Villages, and then we got ice cream at Cold Stone, and then we went to play. And when we got done playing, I walked us to the car. But as we were about to get in, I saw that we still had twenty minutes left on the parking slip, and Louisey was happily chirping away in her stroller, and my favorite thing in the world to do is to walk around a place like Squirrel Hill, so that’s what we did. We walked ten minutes in one direction, and then ten minutes back.


Walking around something like Squirrel Hill… oh my, it’ll break my heart for thinking about you. I push the baby stroller pass the hip, disenfranchised youth sitting outside of some coffee shop with a name too funky to be any sort of chain, and I want you so bad.

Ultimately, I look at the time that we spent together, alone – and it’s perfect. And the thought of losing our youth altogether, will make me shudder. So I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank God that Amanda and I had that time together, because it was truly the most exciting time of my life. Which I will never tire of telling you.

All youth must have its own conquer of Mount Everest – the thing that, as you age, you look back on and say, “Ah, now that was a time. If I didn’t do anything else, at least I did that.” And you bore everybody with the stories, and you dream of it every time you’re left alone in silence. And you are my exciting thing that made my youth worthwhile. You are… I mean… my everything. You justify me.

So you be grateful for what you have and all that. It’s shitty human nature to win a million and say, “That’s awesome… I wish I had won two million.”

So our time together was awesome… I wish we could go back in time and have-

I’m twenty-one, you’re twenty-three. Everybody told us that we’d not be able to find an affordable apartment in Squirrel Hill, but everybody tells us a lot of nonsensical gibberish. Our apartment is fucking amazing. Yesterday was your payday, so we woke up in a good mood. We listened to David Bowie all the way to the ghetto, sitting side-by-side on the bus, one earphone plug in your ear, one in mine. And then we listened to Velvet Underground all the way back and into the night.

Today, we’re broke, but tomorrow is my payday. So with our last couple of dollars, we compromised on a brand for a pack of cigarettes to share, which we smoke one after the other sitting along Murray Avenue, outside of our favorite coffee shop, drinking tea and knowing, even if we wouldn’t admit it, that we look fucking cool. And no matter how many times we vow to stop thinking about it, we just keep talk, talk, talking about tomorrow, and another payday slide into nothingness.

That’s the one side. The other side is this-

Minutes before our city walk, we’re at My Little Outback. Little Louisey is walk, walk, walking all over the place, hanging onto little miniature shopping carts, and what not. She even learned how to climb up the puffy steps, and then drop herself down the slide, at which point, upon landing, she would blink a dozen times real fast, as though dazed and trying to figure out what happened, and to get her bearings.

And being in these little kid playroom places, I can feel how it’s a new memory staple, for me. Which is to say, all of these places sort of feel alike, and I can so see how this is a time of my life, and how I’ll miss it when it’s gone, and how I should enjoy every minute of it while it’s here.

And so I did. I don’t get the opportunity in walking around Squirrel Hill to not let those other thoughts leak in. But I was also thinking a thought of, “This has been a good day.” And, “Things are really good, right now.”

I missed you and Scouty all weekend. I love you guys in a way that I can’t explain or describe, but I also know that, to you, I don’t have to.

What company was it that I had you call at three in the morning, that one time after I bombed an interview, right out of college? How was that the way that life was, once? Amanda King wrapped in my sheet in my dark little apartment in the city. Sure, go ahead, give them a call and tell them to fuck off.

See what I mean? I’m glad that I have that memory. When I’m sitting here, at this job, it is… wow… it’s dehumanizing. These meetings. I was just in one. And while I was in it, I was thinking about finding a new job. I was thinking about how it would be weird to work for this legal service, if I could go back and tell 2006 Amanda that, “Hey, I’m going to be working at some sort of legal service deal… with lawyers and judges and such.” Which made me think of the above memory, which made me smile, and feel above these people that drone onto me at these meetings.

I like remembering you as a girl in a skirt in my passenger seat. Your legs reach for the dashboard, and you’re stone naked beneath that thin material. I can touch you whenever I want.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mom, am I fat? Why is it bad to be fat?

Just me
beautiful photo by paula moirin

We don't love our bodies.

If you're the mom of a girl, you've absolutely been made aware of the scary statistics that say that something like 80 percent of young girls either believe they are fat, or worry about getting fat.

It's unheard of that our girls wouldn't love themselves. We love them so much. So, how do you deal with the big bad topic of F-A-T?

Recently, a little girl in my life has expressed concern that if she eats too much she'll get fat. (I'm keeping her totally anonymous, because not everybody is comfortable with the struggles of their children being blogged about.) Scouty started asking questions about what it means to be fat, and why it's bad.

The topic of fat is almost like the topic of sex to us. Our first response is to panic and start stammering, "You're not fat, honey! You're perfect!"

It's scary to think about. They're just little tiny girls, and they've already been given the disgusting message that FAT is something to be scared of. That they either need to modify themselves and their behavior based in a fear of being fat, or that if they are fat, it's embarrassing and should be the source of total shame and self-hatred.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to approach this topic with my girls, because I sure as fuck don't want to short circuit at the mere mention of the word FAT and start acting all peculiar and intense, so that my daughters understand there's something mysterious and secret about the idea of fat. I don't want them to see that, if they ask me a question about electricity or cars or acorns, or whatever, I'm a totally cool and smart authority... but if they mention FAT, I suddenly start whispering to them in disjointed sentences how they aren't fat, but how they shouldn't ever call anybody else fat because fat is a big, dark secret thing that everybody sees but nobody mentions because what a FUCKING INSULT TO HUMANITY IT IS TO BE A PERSON WHO WALKS AROUND WITH FAT ON THEIR BODIES!

I'm sure I will do enough intriguing and confounding sputtering about, "Do babies get into your belly through your butt?" Because that question has been posed to me, and it wasn't pretty. Nobody's perfect.

When Scouty became intrigued with the topic of fat, I did my best in the moment to say, "Some people are fat and some people are skinny. Some people are pretty and some people are tall. Some people have brown hair and some people have blonde, and everybody is just right, exactly as they are." But that answer was only a filler, because I knew that it couldn't do any harm. It doesn't actually answer her questions, though, about what it means to be fat and why people don't want to be it.

I told her that a lot of people are confused by the things they see and that we don't always do a very good job of being kind to ourselves. She asked why people wanted to be unkind to themselves. I told her that the world is a big place and there are lots of bad people who want us to believe that we're not beautiful and powerful, because then we'll all walk around in the world with our heads down and those bad people will be able to tell us what to do because we'll be so lost and worried.

And that was a striking response, even coming from myself. Lots of times when I'm trying to explain a BIG ADULT TOPIC to my little girl... I don't necessarily tell the truth. I might say something like, "How did you get into my belly? Well, we wanted a really awesome girl, so I just stuffed a bunch of awesome into my belly, and out you came!"

(Would you believe she looked at me dubiously and answered, "Who really stuffed the awesome into you, mom? It was daddy, wasn't it?" Ohhhhhhhhhh. Kay. Cue awkward sputtering.)

Anyway, I thought that maybe this time I was telling the whole truth. I thought about how valuable it is to industry and patriarchy that my girls grow up believing that they are too fat and that they must modify their habits to change themselves, or to avoid becoming someone who might be met with disapproval. They wouldn't want to be non-consumable, would they? They want to be wives someday, don't they?

So, I was standing the shower, doing my best not to feel negatively about the hanging sack of flesh that used to serve as my plump, adorable stomach. I was thinking about how stupid it is that I should feel bad for stretching my stomach skin growing healthy babies. I can't really blame myself, though, because I grew up in the world, you know? I learned that I should just get skinny enough to wear this, or buy diet pills if it won't fit, or go to the gym or purchase a treadmill or eat low carb rice cakes and endeavor to one day be squished down and small enough for a big, capable man to find my smallness sexually desirable and walk right up to me and lift me into the air! And then I'll finally be living!

You know what I've decided to do? I've decided to tell my girls that fat is a stupid thing to be afraid of. That doesn't mean that I'll feed my children corn chips and peanut butter ice cream. That doesn't mean I won't celebrate and model a life full of whole foods and exercise. It just means that I love them and will always love them. It means that they are perfect, and I will do everything I can, with every moment of my life to make sure they know that. Your mommy believes you are the most beautiful and perfect thing she could imagine.

Maybe someday my opinion won't matter as much as the opinion of their classmates and of boys or even of the fucking television, but it will matter. It does matter.

They live in the world. All of our girls do. So, that means it's our job to make sure our children are spending as much time as possible in an environment where everybody is loved. Where fat isn't an issue beyond being one of a long checklist of things we consider when determining health. We won't be any more panicked and stressed about fat than we are about cavities. I'm never scared shitless when my kid asks why we need to drink milk to have healthy bones and teeth. I've decided that I'm not going to be scared when they ask why people don't want to be fat.

I tell Scouty, "Look at Louisey's big fat belly! I love her fat belly so much!"

My message won't ever be, "Shh, you're not fat! Don't say fat!"

If my child asks me, "Why does that lady have such a big butt?"

I'll say, "Do you think she does? It's okay to have thoughts about other people's bodies, but it's really important that we don't tell someone that we have an opinion about their bodies. Every body is different. Some are big and some are small, but the only body that matters to us is our own. It's our job to keep our bodies happy and healthy, and other people get to be in charge of their own bodies. It's not up to us to decide if somebody's butt is too big. If that lady believes her butt is the perfect size, then it is."

And as far as their own bodies go, I will be always be kind, and I'll encourage my girls to be kind to themselves, as well. I'll encourage them to be healthy and I'll provide them with millions of opportunities to make healthy choices... but not because we're afraid of the big F-A-T. Not because we believe people shouldn't be the big F-A-T. Just because we're not interested in walking around in the world with our heads down and full of worry about not being good enough, getting told what to do and what to think and what to believe about ourselves.

As parents, our opinions about bodies, our own, our children's and everybody else's, matter so much more than we could ever imagine they do.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blogher Book Club - Sapphire's The Kid

It's time for another selection from Blogher's Book Club! If you like to read, you should totally head over, right away. There are so many detailed reviews of books that will help you pick out your last few summer reads before fall sets in.

My review of Sapphire's The Kid is live on Blogher right now! This book is the follow up to Sapphire's first novel, Push, which was the story that the academy award winning film Precious was based on. If you know anything about Precious, you'll know that The Kid wasn't just a summer jaunt down reading lane. Click H E R E to find out what I thought and decide if you'd like to read it, too.


Saturate everything and warm my memories

The air is cool this morning, this summer has been oppressively hot. It feels like fall, and do you remember when this was our family? This was us, once. There was no home in the South Hills, no preschool friends or play dates. We didn't live in museums, scan cards attached to my keys. There was no flat screen, no hammock in the yard. Baby Louise wasn't real, yet. We had no way of dreaming her. We were a tiny family in a world full of things to uncover, and we worked our hardest to flip over every stone. It was work, too.

Scouty's first autumn:

When I look at these pictures, I remember my husband as a boy, falling asleep on the floor next to the bassinet.

I remember being shocked by Scout's birth, incapacitated by the c-section. I was unable to walk, foggy headed and in so much pain.

I was a child suddenly, and this wasn't how it was supposed to be. Having a baby was supposed to make me an adult, suddenly. I was supposed to be Mom. Instead, I found myself in a deluge of memories from my own childhood, sticky fingered as I worked through the issues of my past. It never mattered before that my father didn't love me. Looking into the face of my new daughter, it hit me how very wrong he was to not know me. He had everything, because he had children. We would have loved him and lifted him up on our fat little hands to bathe himself clean in the sky. Instead, he made us feel blackness behind the slippery surface of our eyes. He made us feel like the light in attic was a broken bulb.

How I loved you, little one! I loved you and you turned me back into a child. All that time I spent building retainers around me, a grown up junky girl with ropes of matted hair spilling down her back and dark eyes. Suddenly, I understood everything. My father didn't love me, and I loved you with a clarity and a purpose so big and perfect that it blocked out the sun. I loved you for all the ways I'd been forgotten, and in all the ways you deserved.

You were such a tiny thing, and such a gigantic force that you shook the world and set every fiber of my existence to humming with an electric, palpable love.

You were marvelous, eye-opening and terrifying. Daddy was my boyfriend and we were only kids. We knocked things over when you cried. We jumped from the couch, spilling our drinks, bumping into one another, "Go to her, she's crying! Go, go, go!" You almost killed us with your baby-ness. Every sound you made in the night, I was birthed into a pink, raw alertness.

And now, we're all grown up and nestled softly into a life. A real, adult life where we've paid off our vehicles and I sneak around in the early hours of the morning for a cup of a tea. Louise is our baby, and she takes a class at the library where she claps her hands with all the other babies to Polly Wolly Doodle all the day. I think it's safe to say that we made it. These babies aren't going to kill us, after all.

It feels like fall is coming, this morning. I'm looking forward to the farm and pumpkin patches, to apple cider from a press. Mostly, I'm looking forward with a glass shard in my heart, because some day, our life now will be like these old pictures. I'll be even more grey and I'll look back through frozen frames from today and smile about how young I was, and over how very much I didn't know.

Something I do know, though, is that, when I look back on today... on preschool and wool hats and a wagon in the leaves, I'll be able to see how much I love you. It will always saturate everything and warm my memories like sunlight.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

An ice cream cone or a moment of romance...

I'm kind of jumbled up or maybe ironed flat. I sit down to write and all I get is fuzz and there is always background noise. So, I'll just say it like this.

Scouty and I are going camping this weekend, just the two of us. Suffice it to say that I have learned my lesson about taking Louisey on overnight adventures and just assuming that everything will work out. In the case of our very stubborn and particular little one year old angel, "working out" amounts to screaming until 2:30am, at which point I FREAK OUT and start packing up the car to go home while snapping at Kurt and finally retiring to the driver's seat of the car in the middle of the night to bawl. I am not good at dealing with sleep deprivation. Louise is not good with sleeping anywhere but in her safe, soft, familiar little crib.

So, Scouty and I are real adventure girls.
We're staying in a real campground with a lake and hiking trails and a camp store that sells ice cream in round barrels behind a pane of glass. I can't wait to have all day and all night, for two days in a row, with just a fire and the light of my oldest girl.

I'm trying to be open to ideas about calming down and just letting things happen. I tend to get stuffy and particular and I try to eat 1800 calories exactly and sleep for more than eight hours and accumulate 420 cardio fitness minutes per week. This kind of Amanda-arranging just makes me humorless and sexless and anything out of order, whether it's an ice cream cone or a moment of romance from my husband is met with determined, scheduled backlash.

I hate dieting.

I hate worrying about numbers.

I like sugar and spending money.

I used to like sex more than sleep. Now, it's definitely the other way around, but I'm trying to persuade myself not to become THAT THING. Wake up, tea with no sugar and plain greek yogurt, 26 grams of protein, walk at lunchtime while Scouty is at camp, fitness minutes, fitness minutes you know, an hour of tv before bed, keep up with my reading and keep your hands to yourself, brush floss sleep.

I don't want to be a gym lady.

I don't want to own pink workout gear.

In fact, when I'm at the gym, go-go-going for it on the stair stepper, I look around the room and marvel at the company I'm keeping. I want to be healthy. I have an obligation to be healthy and a specific health complication the mandates that I work out, because I can't fail my girls. I can't fail my love. I can't fail in the face of my beautiful life. Because it is. It's a goddamn beautiful life, and I hate wasting a single moment of it calculating whether I can fit a piece of cake into my daily allotment.

(Fuck you, daily allotment.)

Does this make sense?
I just want to be a person who is happy and who lives for a very long time.
I'm excited about going camping.
It's a lot of work and it's hard to sleep because there are noises and it's cold, but it's the opposite of being stuffy. I need to not be stuffy about myself, sometimes.

I need to brush my teeth and spit into the dirt.
I need to stay up late so that I can pretend like Kurt and I are young again.
I need to be in love more than I let myself.

I lived in a very self-serving way, once. It's funny to think about what that old me would think of this one. When I got pregnant in the middle of a storm, everybody glanced at one another out of the sides of their eyes. Everybody wondered how this would all turn out. I was a bad, damaged, lost junky kid with feathers and string in my hair. I had nothing, I was nothing. Oh boy, how is this going to turn out?

Well, guess what? As it turns out, I just happen to be the world's most grateful and willing mom. I happen to be raising the world's happiest and most amazing kids.

As it also turns out, I don't cut myself very much slack. I mean, I put off scrubbing my toilets and leave the house wearing crocs, but as far as the real stuff and the heavy stuff, I feel an overwhelming and consuming pressure to be good at everything. All the MOM STUFF. I am all winding pathways and pulled from my gut out onto the grass, onto the gravel and the into the sun. I am tiny speakers in my ears and redheads with long white legs. I am muddy palms and tattered strings, an amputee put back together. I am a story that begins in a dirt lot in the middle of nowhere, and I feel pressure to do all the bullshit things I see on TLC, or whatever.

I feel like I'm failing, sometimes, because I just can't get the hang of being consumable and invisible and somebody you wouldn't glance at twice at the mall. I feel like things shouldn't be hard for me, because look at me! My life is beautiful.

I still can't afford my student loans. I still can't fit into the brown dress I bought last summer. I still can't write and clean and have dinner ready. I still can't work out for an hour, have sex with my husband and make it to bed in time to get eight hours before my girls are awake.

I totally, unabashedly can make a wonderful life for my kids. I can make sure their days are filled with color and light and activity and contact and love, love, love.

I'm going to go over my calories, though.

Scouty and I baked a cake yesterday, because she asked if we could. Then, I ate a piece of cake for dinner and fell asleep in the hammock.

That's the best I can do with making sense of what I'm feeling, right now. I'm a little overdone, and I need to just let it all go and let things happen. Because things will happen without me scheduling every moment of my life in an attempt to be a picture in a gardening magazine. Do you know what I mean?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

39. Go to Idlewild Park - Summer Fun List

Time to cross another major point off of my Summer Fun List.

39. Go to Idlewild Park

We had such a great time on Louisey's first visit to Idlewild Park. It was POURING for the first two hours we were there, but I had already made up my mind that morning. We were going to be a brave family, not a family of weenies who is scared of the rain.

Decidedly NOT weenies.

We did require some wardrobe changes, though. How about my Scouty? She looks like the world's best little kid in this picture.

Scouty could ride practically everything there. She even totally stepped outside of her comfort zone and agreed to ride things that scared her. She went on the roller coaster, caterpillar, the spider, the howler and the scrambler. She hated the roller coaster and the spider, but loved everything else. It was like I could see her self-esteem being boosted each time she conquered a new ride fear. She's the best and I'm so outstandingly proud of her.

Driving in a yellow Doc Hudson. He's a famous race car, if you didn't already know.

Daddy and Scouty on the carousel.

The moment of the day that totally got me teary eyed, though, was Louise's first ride on a carousel horse. No more sitting in the boring old people seat with mommy. She was a total big girl.

And she was SO happy about it.

So SO happy.

She is too big and pretty. I can't take it. I really can't.

Eventually, the weather cleared and we sat next to a fountain and had ice cream and french fries for dinner.

The park is so big, we didn't make it to Story Book Forest or the water park before they closed. We could easily spend two days there.

Scouty told me that the stinkiest part of the day was that the book was locked.


The slide is always Scouty's favorite.

Can anybody find my girls?

How's your summer list coming along?