Mommy’s Alphabet

A is arms for hugging

B is boy, am I tired

C is chasing

D is diaper changes

E is extra smiles each day

F is forgive us for being late

G is gluing things back together

H is hips are handy

I is I love you

J is juggling it all

K is kisses, kisses, kisses

L is laundry piles

M is maybe I can shower?

N is saying “No!”

O is out-of-date wardrobe

P is packing one million things

Q is quietly tiptoeing

R is reading stories

S is scheduling appointments

T is tripping on toys

U is usually exhausted

V is vacuuming crumbs

W is wrangling

X is finishing something on the to-do list!

Y is Oh my, a yard sale!

Z is Zinfandel

 

Gus’s Alphabet

is alley

B is big covers, bus routes, and binky

is counting and tick-tock clocks

D is my letter, but certainly Daddy

is emotions

is froggy, fruit, and Foster Avenue

is your letter

is hoods, hats, and hugs

is I love you

is jam and jumping shoes

is kisses, kisses, kisses

L is line ups and laughing

M is Mommy and mango milkshakes at the cafe

N is numbers on license plates

is observing

is parks with slides

is quick

is raspberries

is Sassafras and syrup

is your tum pie

is under highways and train tracks

is purple vitamins

is the Wheels on the Bus

is the letter on the express bus

Y is yogurt with honey

is the zippered kind of sweatshirt

Shadows

I know that I started being afraid when I was two. I was afraid of my own shadow. My parents said they drew the curtains closed in the daylight.

My shadow, that’s a funny thing to fear isn’t it? When we tell stories about it, my family and me, we laugh.

But that was just the first thing. Then it was dogs, ufos, and having to go to the bathroom on road trips.

The day I introduced Gus to his shadow, I was glad that he was not afraid.

I know that I was also not afraid of some things.

I was not afraid of boys. In fact, I preferred them. David was probably my best friend starting in 4th grade.

We listened to U2’s Rattle and Hum album, played the board game Risk, and drank Mountain Dew together.

I remember David knew the names of every plant in my parents’ garden impatiens, geraniums, hostas…

Needless to say, my mom liked David, too.

I know that I was both afraid and unafraid when David kissed me.

We were slow dancing in the dark school gymnasium at the eighth grade dance.

His face was a shadow proceeding gently toward me. That was the scary part.

I felt his breath first and then his lips kissed mine.

That part was all music, flowers, and sweet like soda; I wasn’t afraid.

My Return to Wonder

Today I’m greeted with a hug that starts from across the room. He must have been anticipating my arrival because when I open the front door, he’s thundering full speed in my direction. I quickly brace myself to receive him. The impact of his body sends me searching for my balance, but I regain it–I have lots of practice. I pull his body up onto my hips and squeeze my arms around him. I kiss his cheeks, his nose; I say, I missed you, too.

Now begins our walk home or, more appropriately, the journey from the sitter’s. It’s really just a few blocks, but Gus has established several things he likes to do along the way.

The first is a made up game. Gus runs up to a neighbor’s front porch, climbs to the first step and waits there until I shout emphatically, “That’s not our home!” Then he bends his knees into a squat and tries for a great big jump.

We play a game of hide when we reach the community garden along the train tracks. First, Gus tells me where he’s going to hide, and then he orders me to my hiding place. When we are crouched down and out of view, I call, Where’s my Grousie? He echoes, Where’s my Mommy?, which is the signal for us to dart out and meet each other with loud, abundant squeals of laughter.

These rituals didn’t develop all at once, but were created over a series of walks. I suppose I’ve encouraged them. I could’ve taught Gus to hold my hand and to keep to the sidewalk. But, even then, I’m unsure of how I’d tame his spirit for play and exploration, or mine for that matter.

Gus hears the distant train and beams with excitement. We pause and watch it roar by. We feel the earth rattle beneath us.

We continue on our way home and follow our usual detour through a tunnel splashed with vibrant murals. Gus searches for his echo with yelps and screams while scampering to find the fairytale-like family of snails. He thinks their swirly shells are rainbows.

It’s nearly an hour later when we finally arrive home, and I’ll have to rush to get dinner ready. I’ll blame it on wonder. The wonder there is in the world when you’re small. And, when you’re big, the wonder there is when you return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spies

I was the kind of kid who ran around most of the summer without shoes and uncombed hair. I would wear the same old t-shirts from the discount rack at TJ Maxx year after year. My mom said spending money on summer clothes was a waste — They’ll just get dirty! And she was right. If it wasn’t dirt or the remains of a popsicle, it was something else.

I grew up on a cul-de-sac surrounded by forest. Not too far away, there was a creek where we’d splash around and go swimming. I spent nearly all of my time outside digging holes, building forts, or reading a book under a tree. I was lucky without knowing it, having this incredible place, and mostly to myself.

At night, if enough of the neighbor kids were around, we’d play games like Kick the Can or Ghost in the Graveyard.  I remember the thrill of running for the can, but even better was shouting Olly, Olly, Oxen Free! at the top of your lungs to let the other kids, who were still hiding, know that the game was over.

On nights when there were just a few of us, we’d tell ghost stories under the street light or make up songs and dances in the empty street. One night, it was just my best friend and I looking for something to do. We decided to pretend to be spies, which basically meant we were going to snoop on our neighbors.

We scuttled to the backyards and into the skirt of the forest for coverage. When the coast was clear, we’d tiptoe up to the houses and peer into the windows. We didn’t see anything very interesting, mostly just lit up TV screens and the shadows of our neighbors. But the thrill of getting caught and possibly discovering a neighborhood secret kept us playing.

We ran down a steep hill into the next yard. These neighbors had a walk-in basement, and the double doors were made up of glass. We tucked our bodies behind a nearby oak tree. I jutted my head out and made binoculars with my hands. I saw Joe, the lawyer with two grown kids, sitting on a tall stool. He was painting onto a large canvas.

From the angle of the tree, I couldn’t see what he was painting, and I was determined to get closer. I laid on my belly and propelled myself forward through the grass. I started to make out the painting. It was a portrait of a man, a Native American Indian. The man had deep set sorrowful eyes, high cheek bones, and a serious looking face. I was captivated, such wisdom and beauty I found there. For a minute, among the chirping of crickets, I imagined I knew his stories. He was a warrior and a hero who had fought bravely, a proud chief and leader of many generations.

Unexpectedly, my reverie was broken. I heard my name echoing in the still summer air. It was my father calling me to come home. That night, I ran home as fast as my bare feet could carry me.

 

 

 

 

My Life in Whiskey

I’m stirring my husband’s whiskey drink fifty times like he instructed, but I lose count after three. I’m focused too much on my technique and how to maneuver the special tall silver spoon. Yes, Josh did give me a spoon demonstration a minute ago. It’s all in the wrist and you have to loosen your grip. The latter is hard for me. I have a tendency to hold things tightly. It used to drive my high school golf coach crazy. Stop strangling the poor club! he’d say, exasperated.

Round and round and round, the mouth of the spoon hits the sides of the glass clink! clink! clink! It’s the sound of my dad making a Manhattan every night when he comes home from work. He’d stir it up and toss in a cherry. There was no fancy spoon. Sometimes, I’d ask for the cherry, and my dad would fish it out for me. My first taste of whiskey, all wrapped up in a bright red cherry.

My dad has a beer now instead of his evening cocktail. Not by choice. My mom insists on it. He doesn’t have the tolerance for it anymore, she says. His once strong, sturdy body has suffered the passage of time. A number of hip and knee replacements later, the lingering pain makes him unsteady. My dad’s too stubborn to use a cain, so it’s probably for the best he’s not mixing Manhattans every night. But, leave it to Josh to present him with one on Christmas Eve. My dad’s amusement at this gift is a vision! He can’t withhold his childlike surprise. He’s blushing and raising his glass. Clink!

My older brother, Brad, drank Jim Beam. My second taste of whiskey.

I was eighteen when he pulled into an empty lot of a bar on a Sunday afternoon. The bartender gives me a dubious look and says, How old are you?

I don’t know what to say. Uh…um… eighteen?

He’s chuckling, and I figure I’ve passed the test because he’s asking, What’ll it be?

What he’s having seems like an appropriate response.

Jim Beam on the rocks. If I have to characterize my second taste of whiskey, definitely some kind of terrible, acid waste, death poison. No sweet cherry to mask this flavor. My brother reads the disgust registered on my face and says something about it putting hair on my chest some day.

Fifty or so stirs later, a finished cocktail, my life in whiskey, and still no hair on my chest.

Brave

Gus had his first sleepover at a friends last night, and Josh and I had our first date night in as long as I can remember. Gus and his friend, Lena, are two-years-old, and they have been in each other’s lives since they were babies.

I’m thrilled to be going out on a Friday night, and I don’t feel worried about leaving Gus under the care of Matt and Liz. They are our old neighbors and our friends. Becoming parents brought our families together. Liz and I met at a new moms’ group, and we quickly put it together that we lived in the same Chicago neighborhood. Even luckier, we discovered on the same street, the same block, and just a few houses away. Since then, our lives have been woven together by our growing children and shared experiences of parenthood.

Several times over, Josh and I explained to Gus that we will be dropping him off at Lena’s to go to sleep, and that mommy and daddy will not stay. He and Lena spent most of the day together at our apartment and are now having fun riding in the backseat of our car. It was a day chock-full of activity, and I anticipate that they will fall asleep the minute they reach their beds.

Josh turns to me and says, “This is a taste of what it would be like to have another child.” I look behind me at Gus and Lena. They’re bundled up in their winter coats, strapped into their carseats, and holding similar stuffed froggies. I take both of their sweet, tired faces in. It does feel nice to have two kids in the backseat.

We pull onto our old street and Josh announces that we’re almost there.

This grabs Gus’s attention. “I want my Mommy and Daddy to come, too,” he says quietly.

I spend our last minute in the car reassuring him and going over the plan.

The night air is frigid when I pull Gus from his carseat. Liz and Matt are there to greet us on the sidewalk. Liz opens her arms for Gus. I give him several squeezes and kisses. “It’s time to go, and I love you.” He lets go and reaches for Liz.

Josh and I walk back to our car, and I think, we were brave back there, all of us.

Quiet

Besides this odd tickle in my nose that is causing me to sneeze ferociously like my father before me, I am most definitely ready for Friday.

Early Friday mornings there’s this little, teeny, tiny space of time between waking up and getting ready for school that I’ve determined is the quietest moment of my week. Usually the entire family is up, and we’re scrambling to get out the door. But, Friday is different, I only have to worry about me. My husband and son stay at home together on Fridays, and, often, they’re sound asleep in their beds, catching up after a busy week. I’d typically be jealous, but this precious fragment of solitude is better than sleep.

How do I spend this splinter of stillness? Almost always in my fuzzy, soft bathrobe with a cup of hot coffee. I have found it hard to just sit with myself though, my default is to occupy my mind with news headlines or unfinished school work. I desperately crave this space, but doubt that I know how to be quiet with it.

Writing, like I am now, feels quiet. I can hear my thoughts, they’re slower and softer than usual. I imagine they’re not fighting to be heard over the millions of things I feel that I have to do each day. And, I’m not shooing them away because someone else is talking or asking for my attention.

It reminds me some how of the way the snow sometimes without a whisper falls to the ground.

 

 

Sliced Bananas

Gus, my son, is two-years-old and remarkably different from last year when he was the inspiration for many of my slices. For starters, he talks all the time now in full understandable sentences. Last year, he had lonesome words, which he’d typically shout when they were just the right words for something. Eureka!

Looking for inspiration, I momentarily study Gus like a scientific specimen. He’s focused on eating his breakfast, sliced bananas on peanut butter toast. He’s like a fancier, updated version of his younger self–my split second thought escapes me when the sliced bananas start falling from his toast. I smile to myself. Gus is biting into his toast but the problem is he’s holding it upside down. Plop, plop, plop…bananas fall and collect on his plate.

“Why they not staying on, Mommy?” His small inquiring voice squeezes my heart.

“Here, let me help you.” I reach over and gently turn his hands so that the toast does a flip. He’s delighted by this simple fix and giggles. I feel my heart squeeze again. I place the bananas back on the peanut butter.

“All set,” I say.

“Thank you, Mommy.”

“You bet.”

Gus opens his mouth wide around the toast and takes a big bite. I’m going to miss this version of him.

 

It’s been a Year

It’s been a year (well almost) since I’ve sat down and written anything. I wrote for 31 days and then stopped just like that, cold as turkey bolonga olive loaf.

It’s been a year since I sat in front of my computer, not unlike a lovelorn teenager who, for better or worse, wears their poor tortured heart on their sleeve.

It’s been a year since I braved the writerly life, peered into my day with that alert sixth sense and sniffed for the stuff of stories.