Thursday, October 30, 2008

PSF: As Darkness Falls . . .

A prom queen, an old hag, a dead president.

Chewy cream-filled caramels, Tootsie Rolls, Sweet Tarts.

Foreboding music, hanging bones, a smirking pumpkin.

Running to each house. Stumbling up the steps, knocking on the door and breathlessly forcing out "Trick or treat!" Impatient, you dance side to side as your check out your stash. "Is that a penny?" you ask yourself as you spot the copper coin among the sugary treasures. "Cheap," you mutter under your breath as the door swings open.

Your smile is automatic. You have blocks of houses to get to, no time for small talk.

You run through the leaves, completely dismissing the sidewalks (good manners be gone!). House to house. Tumbling over limbs. Leaping over tombstones.

You can't stop. You must not stop. You will succeed!

Your body grows weary as the hands on the clock announce the end of the day. But you still spot porch lights in the distance. Onward you go.

Until. You can go . . . no more.

The weight of your pillowcase has forced you to slow. You peak in at the little pieces of wrapped goodness. "Will this carry me until Christmas?" you ask yourself. You know it is an improbability, but you have hope.

As the hour strikes midnight, with Salem's Lot (or is it the Exorcist?) playing in the background, the tired ghost hanging from the staircase, you sit at the kitchen table. You take your bag and empty it . . . the candy spreads across the table.

A treasure.

Mom reaches for the Heath Bars. Dad reaches for the Snickers. Their eyes sparkle as they unwrap their prizes.

You sit back and smile, hands behind your head. You prop your feet on the chair and soak in the sweet greatness that is you.

And in the wee corner of your mind you start to plan. For next year. Maybe a map? A bigger pillow case? A wagon! My three little siblings . . . my minions . . . (cue evil cackling laugh).

He has no idea what he is in for.

* * *

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's Just a Sign

Random crumbs, a few dead bugs (or lint, hard to tell), a rogue Cheerio (or ten) filled the dustpan. I sighed.

Let the cleaning begin.

I bent on my knees and scrubbed the floor. Still in my pajamas at 3:00 in the afternoon, I rearranged the cabinets in the kitchen (I resisted the urge to alphabetize my cans).

I arranged every one of J's outfits in his closet. I organized them by size and type. And then by color (I know some of you completely understand this obsessive need. If so, then I feel for you.).

I reluctantly packed away his summer clothes and the ones his tiny frame had finally outgrown. No tears will fall . . . no tears will fall. OK. Maybe one tear.

I emptied out our junk room (in the basement) and turned it into yet another playroom for J (along with the kitchen, bathroom, our room . . . ). I got caught a few times, paging through an old yearbook, a journal with doodles and misplaced memories. The hours limped by as I took out box after box, readying them for the trash. Often, I would stand before a box, staring. Wondering if I was ready to let go. (Yes, I kept my R&B CDs, my McDonald's Happy Meal toy collection and my MJ memorabilia).

In the office (the embodiment of my constant battle with OCD and procrastination), I hid a bunch of stuff I had no idea what to do with in a shoe boxes and then stuffed them under my bed. I'll deal with it later. Or not. Maybe I'll just decorate the boxes and call them cute storage containers. That's an idea . . .

My body is growing weary from scrubbing, sorting, lifting (and hiding). J wants to play. I want to play. No park today. I look outside to see the wind whip up the leaves. I hear them brush against the house, swirling around and bidding farewell.

And then I see it.

The words mock me. My indecision. My fear.


I look down at J, pushing his car around on the hardwood.

The hardwood. Each groove and scuff a plea to not forget.

Where he first crawled.

Where he took his first steps.

And so it begins . . .

* * * *
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Placenta Story

I still remember the day that I held a big silver bowl, my mother's placenta floating inside.

I was 11.

It was gross. A deep red, slimy, veiny mass. Swish. Swirl. In the bowl. The bowl . . . I vaguely remember eating popcorn from that bowl on family movie nights. Maybe I didn't. Gosh, I hope not . . . Swish. Swirl.

* * *

After babies one, two and three, my mother went on a "getting in touch with nature" kick. The kind of kick that had her nixing our spam burgers and fried bologna sandwiches. The kind that had my mother talking about "peace" and "being one with nature." The kind of kick that had my mother joining the ranks of La Leche League . . . the militant division. Boobs being their weapon of choice.

My mother decided that it would serve her best to have what would be her last baby in the same place where she was conceived (at 11 I knew what conceived meant, I was just in denial about how it actually worked . . . this is a good thing. I was a worrier.). A home birth plan was set in motion.

I had no idea what this meant. No idea . . .

The days leading up to my sister's birth were torturous. OK. I have no idea what they were like. I don't remember. But, I can't imagine them being pleasant when we had a bunch of breastfeeding moms, with babies in tow, milling about our house as if it were a subway during rush hour.

The memories of the day my mother finally did give birth are stored in my head in a series of snapshots. My mother having her feet rubbed by one of the mothers, her baby tugging at her sleeves. A dozen or so other mothers sitting in the living room, drinking tea while simultaneously feeding one baby and disciplining another. Every room in our spacious 800 square foot house was filled with people. Some I knew, some I think were just there for the free drinks (served in boob mugs, I might add). It was a boob fest . . . where was my dad? Hiding. No doubt.

The night dragged on. My mom was in her bed, in ready position, my sister desperately clinging to her insides. I gave up waiting. I needed to sleep. I went to my room only to find a half dozen babies slumbering on my tiny twin canopy bed. I was desperate and made an attempt to scoot one of the toddlers aside, happy to squeeze in anywhere.

The valuable piece of real estate I found was . . . wet. Pee.

The couch. Occupied by breastfeeding mums. My brother and sister's bunk bed. Taken by more babies.

No more beds . . .

My closet. The place where I was certain could lead to Narnia if only I went in deep enough. I laid a few blankets in the bottom, curled up in the fetal position, and fell right to sleep.

I heard my name. Shouts. My mom? Was she calling me? I felt a hand reach back into the closet and tug at my shirt.

"The baby is coming," alerted the voice.

I stumbled into my mother's room. She was surrounded by a sea of eager faces, peering, searching, invading . . . Even their kids came to watch, a few sitting in the front row munching on snacks, donning 3D glasses (OK, that part isn't true, but it really was a chaotic scene, that much I remember).

I stood near the foot of the bed. Pain and joy tugged at my mother's face, clearly engaged in a war I did not quite understand. The midwives beckoned me to come closer, "Do you want to touch your baby sister's head?" Why was it so important that I touch it while it was in THERE? I mean, she was coming out, right? I'll touch her later, thanks.

There was a cacophony of grunts and screams with the low hum of normal, every day conversation in the background. My mom was clearly in extreme agony and these women were planning their meals for next Sunday. OK, so maybe not their meals, but while I was freaking out (HELLO, I was 11), these women were so calm it was almost surreal.

Push. Grunt. Scream.

Out came the baby (there was a little more to it, but you get the idea).

"Do you want to cut the cord?" Where the heck was my dad?

They wrapped my sister and put her on my mother's chest. I stood there. Wow. I'm so not doing that, ever (I distinctly remember thinking that).

I was yanked from my reverie by a bowl being thrust in my hands. And in a matter of moments said bowl was filled with a placenta. I felt my eyes bulge, pleading with the sockets to let them go. What was going on? Was this part of the baby? Did it still need this?

I watched the placenta jiggle in the bowl. Swish. Swirl. The baby in my mother's arms had just made a traumatic journey, yet she didn't cry. Me, I wanted to bawl.

Someone took the placenta from me. We never saw each other again. And in its place I was handed a plump, 11 pound baby with a squishy face and a head full of wispy hairs.

In that moment all was quiet. I could feel her breath. I could smell her. I could hear her little gulps and gurgles. Even as I type this I can still feel her heavy in my arms. I walked her around our modest little home. I showed her the bedrooms, the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room. It took all of ten seconds to show my little sister the home where she would live for over 20 years.

I wish those 20 years would have given her more. More peace. More true happiness. More kept promises.

Our house was filled that early morning on April 12th. Women. Children (one of whom PEED in my bed). Chaos at its best. . . but by the late afternoon all was quiet. The baby girl rested in my arms.

She was safe. For now. Happy. For now.

My baby sister just signed papers to purchase her very own home. She'll be leaving the home where we all grew up in a matter of weeks, a month or so at the most.

She's all grow up. My baby sister.

I won't forget seeing her for the first time, holding her, giving her a tour of her home.

And of course, we'll always have the placenta story . . . and that is one I'll never forget.



*Quick disclaimer to La Leche Leaguers. I am a breastfeeding mom with absolutely nothing against La Leche League (these women were pretty darned cool . . . only a few were a little nutty and nutty is perfectly OK). I was 11 and I was kinda freaked out by the sheer number of exposed breasts in one location and of course, there was that placenta thing, too . . .

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hate Me, Love Me

I remember climbing up onto the vanity in our cramped yellow bathroom. I was small enough to put my feet in the sink while I balanced the rest of my tiny frame onto its sides.

I would stare in the mirror, questioning the reflection before me. Who are you? I would ask, believing that one day she'd respond.

I examined every part of that face. The pronounced Armenian nose, the German blue eyes, the high cheekbones, the pale skin, the gap between my two front teeth, the scar on my forehead and another that would dance upon my cheek whenever I would laugh.

I hated that face. My face.

I was not beautiful. I never would be . . . I wasn't the smartest, coolest or the most talented either.

And, I didn't care. Not yet, anyway. I didn't know enough to care what people thought of me. I blindly went about my life in my scruffy clothes, ratty shoes and unkempt hair. I sang from my gut. I yelled out answers and didn't care if they were wrong. I hopped and twirled and danced down the streets (in the mall, the grocery store, the park). I would fall to the floor in fits of laughter (sometimes for no reason at all). I was living as loudly as I could, drinking in every drop of life. Not caring . . . not knowing.

But sometimes knowledge comes at a price . . . the euphoric innocence of youth. My voice was silenced, my hands rested firmly in my lap (even if I was sure I knew the answer), the dancing stopped and seldom did laughter escape from my lips. I did this . . . to myself. Believing I could just fade away.

As a young girl, not yet stumbling into adolescence, my carefully crafted facade began to give way to tiny cracks from each "well-meaning" comment and criticism . . . my face, my body, my brains, my abilities. I wasn't smart enough. Pretty enough. Good enough.

The words came from others . . . and sometimes the words were unspoken. The stares. The whispers. Last picked. Overlooked. Left out.

I spent the better part of my youth trying to prove myself. Trying to prove that I was good enough . . . worthy enough. I became the person they thought I was, the person they wanted me to be. I cowered under criticism. I said YES when I meant NO. I soothed feelings in spite of my own. I gave up. I gave in. I compromised and never gained a thing.

And then something happened. I went back to that girl, sitting on the vanity, her feet in the sink, examining her every feature, her icy blue eyes filled with self-loathing

and I shook her . . . awake.

I made her abandon the cloak of the past--the histories that were not hers to bear.

I am not the same as I was a decade ago, a year ago . . . even yesterday. And, I doubt I'll be the same tomorrow. That's fine with me . . .

My face is a constellation of flaws, there are bags under my eyes and my hair declares war on me every day. I have a quirky personality (and often a lame sense of humor to match). I say things that might make you cringe or even cry. I'm smart, but I have to work at it . . . nothing comes easy. Nothing. I get frustrated, irritated, annoyed, and plain old ANGRY, but I try to keep it all in check. I cry too much and sometimes, not enough. I'm a pessimistic optimist who expects the worst but hopes for the best.

You may hate me for what I say, what I believe in, for the car I drive or for how I part my hair.

You may love me for my unabashed honesty, my self-deprecating humor, my patient and calm demeanor (my incredible humility).

Whatever your choice, this is it. This is who I am and who I will be. Hate me . . . love me.

I no longer make apologies for who I am, what I do or what I believe.

I can't let that little girl down. I can't ever let her think that she doesn't matter or that she won't just fade away . . . because if I do . . .

I'll let him down. . .

and that just can't happen.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

On Fear

The trip was quiet. I glanced back to see J with his head tilted to the side, his hand still clutching the little red truck he brought on the trip with him. As I reached back to smooth his hair (in truth, to check to see if he was breathing. I know, it is morbid, but sometimes the most peaceful expressions usher in a storm of dark thoughts).

Wanting to stretch our legs, we pulled into a rest area. The sky was clear, the trees just beginning to show signs of fall, and the air was the perfect jeans and t-shirt temperature.

We gently tickled the sleeping baby awake. I know. Who does that? Apparently, we do. Crazy, no doubt.

He woke with a grin. Squinting his eyes as the sun stretched across his face. He knew freedom was imminent. We unstrapped him from his seat and walked him over to a large grassy area (which I found oddly beautiful for a simple roadside rest area).

The moment his feet touched ground, he was off.

We attempted to contain our laughter as he would take several steps and then stop. Look back, checking to make sure his fan club was still paying attention. Grin. And then on the move again.

He giggled as he waved his arms around, balancing himself as he deftly avoided tripping over unseen leaves, branches and even blades of grass. Oh, the precarious walk of a toddler.

I watched as he would walk onto the path and then off and on again. Clearly he was relishing in his newfound freedom. His growing confidence came to life in the thoughtful smile on his face.

I called to him, beckoning him to follow me, to come to me. But he wouldn't. This time he didn't even look back. He looked ahead. On the path . . . then off.

As his father walked toward him, J giggled and ran ahead. Off the path . . .

I stayed behind. The dark thoughts invading my mind again. I looked ahead at my son as I steeled myself against an unspoken fear.

He walked away from me. Today, I can run after him, scoop him up in my arms and carry him to safety. Tomorrow I will have to let him go . . . he will have to navigate the world on his own.

I fear accidents and illness. I fear strangers who only mean him harm. I fear fate and nature. I fear not being there . . . waiting. Watching. Protecting.

I know. My fear is not logical nor is it practical. But, the day I found out I would become a mother logic and practicality became afterthoughts.

I knew what I was getting into the moment I saw that flutter on the screen. The moment I heard the heartbeat. The moment I felt him move beneath my hand.

I knew . . . and thus, I fear.

But, my hope for him, for the world he lives in outweighs my fear. A fear that has no permanent residence in my life; its visits fleeting.

J comes running to me, wrapping his arms around my leg and then lifting them up to me. I reach down and pull him up. He rests his head on my shoulder as my arms stretch around his little body.

We walk together, J and his mommy and daddy, to the car.

Fear will not grip me.

Deep breath.

Fear will not grip me.

A strange new reality. Motherhood.

One I will never relinquish.

Great news! Veronica of Sleepless Nights is back home and doing well!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


There is dried banana on the chair in the dining room.

It's crusty.

The laundry is scattered on the floor in the living room.

I didn't put it there. He did.

The dishes are reminding me of Everest, piled high in the sink, insurmountable.

I need to buy toilet paper.

We're running out . . .

I'm thinking about getting out of my pajamas. Thinking about it. Maybe I'm thinking too hard.

The floors are, well. I'm not so sure I can even discuss the floors as they are now under new management--the ubiquitous Cheerio. And the toys that have no desire to be put away.

So much undone.

But, I've blown bubbles on his belly. I've danced in the middle of a toy-strewn room with his little body tucked close to mine. I've sang songs loud and out of tune while hopping through the halls, his quick little feet and breathless laughter trailing behind me. I've ignored the "To Do List" while making tiny houses out of Cheerios, bananas and cheese. I've fallen asleep amid the chaos of all left undone . . . his head resting on my shoulder, his hand wrapped around my neck, and his banana breath on my cheek.

So much . . . done.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Red Shoes

As our usual practice, my mother and I had a long talk on the phone. I always tell myself we'll only spend twenty minutes talking. But, it never turns out that way, no matter how hard I try.

Our conversations are the anti-therapy therapy. You feel oddly fulfilled by the words exchanged, but in the end you are wondering what the heck just happened. The trail of circles left behind is a constant reminder that you've said so much, yet you've said nothing at all.

Still, speaking with my mother always triggers something from my past. Whether I want to remember or not, I'm usually forced to wrestle with the images, at least for a little while . . .

* * *

This street was the kind of street you would drive down without looking around. The houses, tiny nondescript squares with a patch of grass in the front, all looked the same.


Some homes had window boxes filled with flowers, plastic deer centered perfectly on the lawn and a path of smooth stones with messages that guided visitors to the front door.

Other homes had peeling paint, broken gutters and bent aluminum mini blinds peeking out of a window or two. Dirty toys littered the front patchy brown lawn and an old car sat as a permanent fixture in the drive.

It was a clear case of the have and have nots.

Except, all the occupants of these homes, the families, their children, were have nots. Some just had more hope.

This is where I grew up.

Back then I never realized we were a have not.

I remember watching my mother pay for groceries with special "coupons." I remember the brown cardboard box that held our cheese (which made the best grilled cheese sandwiches, by the way). I remember the whispers exchanged between my parents, the tearful pleas on the phone with family. I remember answering doors and calls with the requisite "My mom and dad aren't home," while they quietly waited in a back bedroom. But, none of it meant anything to me. I just didn't get it.

I didn't know we were poor. Until the third grade.

My mom enrolled me in a private Christian school. I was a scholarship kid. I didn't know that, either. A few days before school started we were to meet with the principal. I remember walking into his office. His secretary reached across her desk, shook my mother's hand and then peered down at me. She shook her head. A nearly imperceptible shake, but I do remember it. My smile faded into a puzzled frown.

I was wearing the wrong clothes. I was a little dirty. My mother was young. Her heavy White Shoulders perfume, red lipstick and bosom hugging v-neck spoke volumes.

This woman had our number. We didn't belong there.

Of course, I didn't know that either. Not until later.

Not until the red shoes.

Playground. Two weeks later.

The day I finally figured it all out. . .

The honeymoon of the first days of school had faded into regular routines. It was the end of the week. I only remember because it was library day; the day we were marched down the hallway to the tiny room with seemingly endless shelves of books. Only two weeks in and Library Friday was my favorite day.

After lunch, we headed outside to the playground. I sat on the steps and pulled out one of my books.

"Why do you always wear those red shoes?" a small voice asked. I'll never remember her name. I won't remember because the weight of her question pushed my eyes to the ground--to the red shoes.

My faded red canvas shoes. I had worn them every single day since the first day of school.

"They are my favorite shoes," I retorted. The response came so quick I was left wondering if it was even me who spoke it.

My mom bought them at a garage sale at the beginning of summer.

They were my only shoes.

I looked up and looked around. For the first time. I saw the haves.

The leather shoes with shiny buckles and thick soles. The ironed collared shirts and pleated pants. The perfectly coiffed hair and gemstone jewelry.

For the first time I noticed my pants (hand me downs from my cousin--a boy my age), my shirt (garage sale), my hair (pulled haphazardly into a pony tail).

I couldn't stop looking around, drinking in each image and choking on the painful knowledge of who I was . . . of who I wasn't.

The bliss of ignorance had come to an end.

* * *

I don't like red shoes. I am totally cool with garage sales. And I still hanker for grilled (government) cheese sandwiches. And I had to add "Canvas" to the title because

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Scents of Self

The leaves swirl upon the ground, crunching beneath my feet and scraping across the pavement. The bittersweet sound means bidding farewell to to the warmth of summer while welcoming the cool winds of fall.

Vibrant gold mixed with rich ruby red leaves are beginning to dot the skyline that surrounds the mill. The cider mill. A visit that serves to usher in fall. J's very first visit.

This past weekend we had our very own adventure. J wasn't too sure what to make of the crowds of people, the sounds of chatter and laughter, the aroma of apples and dewy leaves . . . he simply sat back and soaked it all in while his mama got lost in her memories.

I was only in first grade when I first visited the cider mill. Although time has left my memories a bit clouded, my subsequent visits throughout my childhood have etched the cider and cinnamon-laden experiences in my mind.

The collection of colorful leaves acts as a canopy, filtering out the light and casting a ethereal glow on the ground. The sounds of laughter dancing through the air. My fingers sticky from
real caramel.

But, it is the sweet scent of apples that truly pulls me back. I am a child all over again. Enthusiasm courses through me as a smile creeps across my face. I see the plump red fruit in my hands. I hear the joyful crunch. I taste the sweetness.

Yes, images, sounds, textures all add to the verisimilitude of my memories. But, it is the scent that captures and pulls me into them, letting me live once more in their essence.

Sausage Gravy . . . I can see her reaching over the stove to retrieve the well-done sausage patties. She crumbles them, places them into an ancient iron skillet that must be older than she. She drops a tablespoon (or was it a cup?) of lard into the pan and I can hear the sizzling sound wrapping around my ears. I watch as she moves in the kitchen, her ample size betrays the finesse with which she dances around the tiny room. She looks back at me and beckons me to come over. I follow as I watch the back of her flowered house coat make its way around the corner of the stove. She pulls up a chair and she hands me a bowl of flour. She scoops it up with her hands and drops it into the skillet. She motions for me to do the same. Milk. Stir. Scrape. More milk. Stir. The aroma of sausage gravy moves throughout the house, filling every tiny room, waking every slumbering body.

I am ravenous. She senses this and pulls a warm biscuit from the basket and dips it into the skillet. Her eyes tell me that this will be our secret. And it was . . .

My aunt has been gone for years, but when that rich aroma begins to waft around me, I am back in the kitchen, examining the patterns of her house coat, watching her flitter about the kitchen, tasting gravy-dipped biscuits and loving every moment of it.

* * *

Cool Water . . . Slowly, with caution in every step, I make my way down each aisle. Shadowy clouds crawl across the skies above the Windy City. With the storm approaching, I am eager to catch the train and head back to the dorms. I begin looking for my friends and find them hovering over a magazine, giggling and sharing silent stories. I don't care to join them. Not today. I return to the aisles, walking without intent, letting my fingers linger on the items as I pass. Who goes to a drugstore on a Friday night? A lame brokenhearted college student, of course. But, I am on the road to recovery, so says my magazine-hovering friends. I am "finding my way back."


I turn the corner and spot a young couple standing at the cosmetics counter. For a brief moment my heart cracks. Deep breath. A couple. I was once a couple. BUT, I am a lonely young woman. NO, scratch that. I am a woman who is confident in her alone-ness.


I move on . . .

But then, it happens. I am assaulted by a scent the shakes me to my core. In an instant I am there. His arms, wrapped around me. His lips slowly finding the curves of my neck. My hands working through his hair. His caress forces me to catch my breath . . . and let it go as he pulls me into an embrace. My face rests against his, finding a tender comfort on his shoulder. Breathing him in . . .

I am already out of the store. Heaving. Looking out at the city lights wondering when and how the pain will finally leave. A mere spritz of a cologne and a young couple proceeded to crack open my chest and let the million tiny pieces of my heart fall to the ground.

Cool Water rushed over me . . . and left me. Left me . . .

* * *

Baby lotion . . . If you close your eyes, you can see how baby lotion smells. Before J, baby lotion looked like rainbows and Sweet Tarts. Don't ask me why. It just did.

It was a like a poem with a perfect rhyme. The filling in a jelly donut. A clear puddle after a spring rain. A puppy rolling to its belly, begging for a rub. The final note of the perfect concerto.

But the moment I held J in my arms, the images changed.

Belly buttons. Soft cheeks. Chubby thighs. Big blue eyes. Velvety tufts of hair. The "oooo" sound he makes when I pull his small body to mine.

Baby lotion can bring my knees, my heart grateful for my gift. Make me squeal with delight when I see his little wobbly figure make its way toward me, hands in the air and laughter escaping off his tongue.

Baby lotion makes me remember who I am. Who I've become. And even where I may go . . .

* * *
Believe it or not, I have a whole other paragraph dedicated to the power of scratch-n-sniff stickers, but I will save that one for another time. You may thank me later . . .

Our senses. Our scents . . . amazing. Tell me . . . what about your scents?

Share, please.

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