Sunday, October 19, 2014

Word Storm

L is in her second year of preschool now, and her savage little mind is literally exploding with words.  Every day she learns a new song and reads a new book, and when she gets home from school often skips around the house calling out phrases or words in sing song that have never before passed her lips.  She has also recently crossed the Rubicon of reading.  Don and I have always loved reading to her, and read several times a day.  We have been working with her, pretty casually (well, pretty casually on my part, more seriously on Don’s part) for a while on letter sounds and stringing those sounds together to make words.  Then, while Riley and I were in California a few weeks ago, L and Don started working a lot more and something in her brain clicked and letters and sounds became words and now she is reading. 

In essence, we have a perfect storm of words in our house right now, which has resulted in some pretty humorous conversations.  For instance, today at lunch Lucy decided that she was going to start using the phrase “pretty much.”  This colloquial expression can be laid entirely at my own door.  I don’t know where it came from or why I say it, but I do.  Too often.  How do I know that I use it too often?  Because it is now being used in my presence and it is pretty much super annoying.  But this is what happens when she encounters something new that she likes.  It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t know what it means, it just sounds nice.  She uses it often.  Too often.  She word storms it.

This is a new phrase I have recently invented to describe her relationship with words.  She hears a word or phrase in conversation, or reads it in a book.  She tries it on, like a new pair of high heeled, glow in the dark, flashing light Ariel dress up shoes.  Then, all of the sudden….word storm.  She is prancing around the living room in pajamas at 12:37pm, blowing a plastic flute and chanting “Cue the magic!  Cue the sparkles!!” at the top of her lungs.  R staggers after her like a tiny, drunken Igor.  I believe I have the PBS series Super Why! to thank for that particular gem.

This lends itself to a certain air of…total chaos…when it comes to everyday life at the Zimmer home lately.  But, not all the time.  Because now, there is the calm.  The calm after the word storm.  This is when Lucy uses her newfound relationship, her intimacy, if you will, to do something really special.  She changes its meaning.  So now, after the mad capering about the room has ceased, we have conversations like this:
L.     Mom, did I have a Vitamin yet today?
Me.  No, you did not.
L.     OK, can I have an Eight Stories High then?
Me.  <<blank look>>
L.     Eight Stories High is what I call my Vitamins now.  Because they are up on the high shelf.  So can I have one?  An Eight Stories High?
Me.  Yeah….yes.  Yes you may.  Have an…eight stories high.  Vitamin.
L.     Just Eight Stories High.

It is a rare moment with L when I am not being told that some word she is going to say, action she is about to perform, thing she is about to draw is not something else entirely.  Maybe this is the price we are paying for introducing her to science fiction and fantasy – the lines between realities are entirely blurred.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.  That is the way I grew up, and I turned out just fine.  Almost entirely not insane.  I mean, I believed in the Greek Pantheon of Gods roughly through High School….but whatever.  Lucy won’t read the Greek myths with me yet, so I think we are pretty safe from catching her burning offerings in the back yard.  My concerns now are probably entirely superficial.  Like, how am I going to keep anything straight?

The Vitamins are “Eight Stories Tall”
The shrimp in her sushi tonight was “Wazizi” and the avocado was “Grozz”
When she says “beeeeeeeeep” that means it is time for me to brush her hair, but if she says “nayno nay” then I need to stop.

Pretty Much.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hindsight and Tomato Jam

Here is a list of decisions I made, just today, that resulted in epic failures.

1.  Teaching L how to affect a Yorkshire accent while reading The Secret Garden with her.
Now, I have nothing against a nice, broad Yorkshire accent.  What I do take issue with, now that it has. Been brought to my attention, is L's interpretation of a Yorkshire accent.  Having recently finished several other stories that featured Mexican, Indian, and Scottish accents, addition of Yorkshire appears to have overloaded her savage little mind.  Now whenever L mimics Ben Weatherstaff or Martha, she does so in a hellish patois of accents that is roughly the vocal equivalent of a knitting needle to your ear drum.

2. Adding rice cereal to R's soup to make it easier for her to eat.
R was doing pretty well slurping up the last of the crab chowder broth.  Foolishly, I thought that thickening it with some rice cereal would have the two pronged effect of making it even easier for her to swallow and giving her some added nutrition.  Well, I am sure the latter would have been true had she ever deigned to comply with the experiment and swallow any. Instead, she decided to perform several experiments of her own, and violently spat the nicely thickened broth right into my eyes.  Several times.  That's right.  I tried to feed it to her several more times, even after being blinded by the first attempt.

3. Wearing my nose ring while R is developing her pincer grasp.
While trying to put her down for a nap today R and I had one of those precious and intimate moments that are exclusive to someone feeding a baby.  She looked up from nursing, smiled at me with her sweet, two toothed, milky little smile, and then viciously plucked out my nose stud with the fine motor precision of a ninja. It was like a scene from Kill Bill.  And then I looked up from R, in a haze of pain, eyes running, to find L watching me from the doorway and shaking her head.  "You should have said 'Oh dirt' Mom."

Yup.  Thanks for that tip, L.

4. Telling Lucy what I was doing when she asked, just now.
"What are you doing, Mom?" <<watching me from doorway to the playroom>>
"What are you writing, Mom?"  <<steps into the room to lean against the chair I am occupying>>
"A story.  Kind of."
"Can I write a story now?" <<grabs for iPad>>
"Not right now on the iPad L, but you can write on some paper if you'd like."
"What is the story about, Mom?" <<climbs onto the arm of the chair>>
"Um...its  Kind of."
"Me?  Can you read it to me?  Can I tell you a story about me?  Can I write it?" <<slides down into my lap, directly between me and the iPad, which is now situated in L's lap>>
"Not yet, L.  It isn't finished yet."
"When will it be finished?"
"Well, I don't know."
"When will you know when it will be finished."  <<R, drawn into the room by this conversation, now attempting to climb into the chair.  She is encouraging my help in this endeavor by making noises roughly resembling a Pteranodon speaking Klingon.>>
"I.  Don't.  Know.  It's like one of your paintings or crafts.  You don't know that it is done until its done."
"Oh."  <<L tried to be helpful by tickling R with her foot.  Instead knocks her over, sending her into a baby rage.>>
"Why don't you go back into your play room?"  <If you hadn't already guessed, there is probably a hint of panic in my voice right now.  The panic of one who senses their patience rapidly dwindling>>
"No, that's OK.  I want to snuggle."

And now here is a recipe that is really good.

Tomato Jam with Caramelized Onions
Inspiration for this recipe came from Food In Jars, a great blog with really specific instructions and some really beautiful recipes.  For planning purposes, this is an all day recipe.  I roast the tomatoes slowly, caramelize the onions slowly, and then slow cook the jam to avoid any scorching.  The last time I made it, I put the onions on the burner and the tomatoes in the oven around 11:30am and finished canning the jam at 9:40pm.  In between I did many nap times and bed times and cooked dinner and ran an errand while everything was on low, but it does take a while.

10 lbs tomatoes (Romas have less water and will cook faster, but anything will do)
4 large onions
2 heads of garlic
1 cup bottled lemon juice
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup honey
several sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and oregano (or whatever herbs you like and can get your hands on)
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

1.  Caramelize the onions: slice all four onions into whatever size you wish.  They will cook down.  Put in a large bottomed pan, at least 12", with 1/4 stick of salted butter and 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Saute the onions on med high until they brown slightly, then turn down to low and cover.  Forget for several hours.

2. Roast the tomatoes: preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Core your tomatoes, cut them in half, and have your trusty assistant place them on an oiled sheet pan cut side up.  Or down.  Or whatever way she wants to.  Sprinkle them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and have your assistant rub this mixture around every tomato with a brush.  Or her hands.  It's OK, they are going to be roasted.  (If you want to get fancy about the tomatoes, then you really need to peel them first by blanching them in boiling water and peeling off the skins.  I don't really care if there are papery shreds of tomato skin in my sauces and jams, but some people do!)  Peel the two heads of garlic as well, and throw the cloves on the sheet pan in between the tomatoes.  Roast at 350 for about two hours, or until the tomatoes cook down and the edges get browned.

3.  Add the tomatoes, garlic and onions to a large pot.  At this point you have a choice.  You can just dump the sheet pans directly into the pot, tomatoes, tomato juice and all.  Or you can lift out the tomatoes and garlic cloves and leave the pan juices.  Thus far, I have chosen the dumping methods, which I am sure results in several more hours of cooking time for the water to evaporate.  However, for some reason, I think there is a lot of flavor in that juice that is getting concentrated as it cooks down.  If you are in a hurry, just lift the tomatoes and garlic off the pan and dump the juices down the drain.  Or save them for veggie broth.  Or something.

Papery tomato skins and watery juices.  We have a long road ahead.

4.  Add the lemon juice, maple syrup, balsamic, and herbs.  Bring the resulting mixture to a boil

5.  Reduce heat to a low simmer, and let it cook.  And cook.  And cook.  Stir it a lot.  If you have to go out turn it to low.  Leave it uncovered so the water can evaporate.

We are about two hours in at this point.  And we still have a long road ahead.
6.  When the jam is almost finished it will have almost no juice separating out from the mixture.  It will be thick and glossy.  If you stir it and it makes a sizzling sound, the turn off the heat and take it off the burner.  It is done.

7.  To can, ladle the jam into sanitized jars (I usually plan two hours ahead of when I know I will be canning, and use the sanitize setting on my dishwasher.  Or you can boil the jars in water for 10 minutes to sanitize them.), and process in a water bath for 15 minutes.  For more detailed information on water bath canning, please visit this excellent website.  Not only do they have resources on where to pick your own fruits and veggies in your area, but they have instructions on how to jam, jelly, can and pickle almost anything.  (Side note: I can pickle that!  Portlandia, anyone?  Anyone?)

There is nothing as satisfying as the sight of one's pantry full of these jars.
Unless it is the sight of several pallets full in one's basement.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what the hell the point is of making a really weird tomato onion jam that takes like ten hours.  I understand, I really do.  I get it.  But I also love delicious things.  Am I saying that this jam is delicious.....well, no.  Not by itself.  But here are a list of the things I have used it on in just the past week (since I made the first batch) that were nearly transcendent.

1.  Meatloaf stuffed with goat cheese and tomato jam.
2.  Patty melt with goat cheese and tomato jam
3.  Panini with rosemary ham, goat cheese and tomato jam
4.  Wrap with turkey, feta and tomato jam
5.  Sourdough toast with butter and tomato jam

If you are seeing a pattern here, good for you.  Yes the jam is good.  But pair it with a strong, slightly bitter flavor (goat cheese, feta cheese, sourdough), and it becomes insane.  Sweet, savory and complex, the garlic and onions just melt into the background.

You won't be sorry.

Or, at least, you won't be as sorry as I am right now for not having finished this post before nap time was over.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This is Water

When D was a little boy he had a babysitter who taught him that his manners lived in his pockets.  When he would forget to say please or thank you, or use a disrespectful tone, she would tell him “Get your manners out of your pocket!”  When we first introduced manners to Lucy I disagreed with teaching her this method.  I figured her manners should be with her at all times.  She shouldn't think they are something you can just put on and take off.  They are a part of who you are and how you act, how you treat people with respect and how you expect people to treat you.  But before I knew they were introduced and Lucy started pulling her manners out of her pocket.

Unbeknownst to me, other things live in your pockets as well.  Like patience.  I know this because one day Lucy offered me some patience from her own pocket, since I had just informed her I was out of my own.

Since then, the idea of pockets of patience has taken root deep in my psyche.  I don’t think of them as something like an object in my pocket that I can just reach in and take out.  I think of them as pockets of air, like oxygen canisters.  Sometimes the air around you has enough patience in it, and you are fine.  You can deal with the day to day, the minor setbacks to your carefully laid out plans (HAH!), the ten minutes late to preschool.  Again.

Sometimes a normal level of patience is not enough, at least for me.  I have bad days.  Days where everything seems to go wrong, where the universe seems aligned against me, where every decision seems to lead to a bad outcome.  The baby wakes up four or five times during the night, but still I manage to sleep through my alarm and wake up Lucy late for school.  We have an argument over what she is wearing,  breakfast spills all over the floor, and despite my best intentions she is late to school with breakfast on her clothes from being eaten in the car and her hair and teeth unbrushed.  Again.  And it is downhill from there.

            Some people can get through these days easily.  They have a family or friends to anchor them.  They have the sacrament of confession to unburden them.  They can run it off at the gym or talk it away.  Usually, this is fairly easy for me to do.  I take a deeper breathe, pull in some air from farther a field – backup pockets of patience – and say three words.  A mantra, if you will, a saying that I first heard in David Foster Wallace’s brilliantly perceptive commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005:

            This is water

            If you haven’t read this piece, I cannot recommend it enough.  I will try not to quote it anymore at present, because if I do I might just end up inserting the whole piece.  In fact, if you haven’t read it just forget about reading this crap essay, and read his instead.  Right here.  I’m basically saying the same thing, and he said it infinitely better than anything I am about to attempt.

            This is the phrase that not only gets me through the comedy of errors that is life, but enables me to choose my perspective when the universe seems to align against me. 

            Some days, though…some days not even this mantra is enough.  Some days, I don’t seem like enough.  I am not strong enough to look around me and decide that the universe is not aligned against me.  I am the center of the universe, and I am being shat upon.  Nothing I do is right.  The laundry is literally in a five foot high pile in the guest room.  No matter how much I exercise, I am still hungry all the time from nursing and am sweating around an extra 20 pounds of pregnancy weight.  My body doesn't look to my eyes like it should in my mind.  The clothes I want to wear don’t fit this traitorous body and the clothes that do fit aren't “me,” whatever that means anymore.  My hair is falling out so much that the shower drain clogs several times every time I shower.  Every time.  I am an awful teacher/mom.  I hate working with my daughter on letter and number workbooks, pre-reading and spelling.  I have no patience, and want to take the pencil out of her hand and throw it across the room every time she gets tired of trying to write a “J” and starts scribbling.  When she comes into our bedroom and night and asks if someone can snuggle her because she is lonely, I want to cry “I just finished nursing your sister, and I am trying to get back to sleep!  I don’t want anyone touching me!  I WANT to be alone!”

I am the worst.

Usually my husband takes these moments as opportunities to casually, yet somewhat inelegantly, discuss some patient he had the previous shift in an attempt to give me some perspective.  I will confess to him, tearfully, how awful I am or admit that I am struggling, and he will ask “Oh yeah, the worst?  Did you turn the house into a meth lab/lock her in the basement without food for a week/give her a brain injury from repetitive beatings or give yourself diabetes/a heroin addiction/a raging case of gonorrhea?”  This usually elicits one of the two following responses: complete rage or a total emotional meltdown.  Basically, I will either throw something, or dissolve into tears.

That is a bad day.  But it gets even better than that.  You see, I was born with a blend of brain chemistry, a special mix that sometimes enables me to reach truly astounding lows.  When I am having a bad day I can see myself spiraling downward, my thought patterns growing ever darker and more convoluted.  I look around me, and I am totally self aware.  I know my thinking is illogical.  I know my life is incredibly blessed.

I see the water.  I can’t breathe.  I feel like a frog trapped in a boiling pot. 

I have said yes to every decision in my life, and still I wonder how the hell I ended up in this place.  A Bachelors and Master’s degree from a top University, every family support imaginable, any life I wanted possible.  In my thirties, overweight, pasty winter skin in my pajamas at 5pm under a broken bathroom sink covered in filthy sink sludge looking for an earring that “I’m sorry to say might have gone down the drain” while both of my children cry in their respective rooms and my husband is in Haiti saving lives and being amazing and all I can think is “please, for the love of God, just STOP NEEDING ME!”

This is water, and it is killing me.  I am suffocating.

To some people, this may sound like the most hideous thing in the world.  I live in a beautiful house, I lack nothing, I have two healthy and happy daughters.  I must be a totally spoiled bitch!  Well…what can I say?  Maybe I am.  But I guess then you wouldn’t really be allowing me my own story, would you?

            As DFW points out, and as we all know, real perspective is hard.  It is work.  As human beings in control of our own intellect, we get to decide what is important in our own lives.  We get to decide what has power over us, and over what we have power.  We get to decide how we see situations, the perspective from which we view our own comedies of error.  I decide if the Mom in front of us at church with the 10 kids, flawless figure, chic outfit and membership on the most coveted committee was giving me the stink eye because I am wearing dirty jeans to church (again) and my daughter has unbrushed hair (again) and is loudly telling me that her vagina itches in the middle of the Our Father, or if she is just smiling at me in solidarity.  Or if she has a nervous twitch in her eye from dealing with her own issues.

The point is, I know, when it comes down to it, that I have an amazing life.  And even though he doesn’t always have to point it out, it is way better than the patient D saw the other day who is addicted to crack and has lost custody of her three kids but cannot break out of the cycle she is in long enough to change her life.  It is way better than the millions of people in this world who do not have access to clean water on a daily basis.  It is way better than one of the almost 300 girls in Nigeria who was kidnapped just for trying to get an education (#bringbackourgirls).  It is better than one of the 1,000 children D is treating right now at a school in Port-au-Prince, 90% of which are just recovering from Chikungunya.  I know that my bad days are ridiculously entitled, first world “bad days.”  Most of the time I look around, thank God for my beautiful girls, my total badass husband, my family, my body that is healthy, and the amazing world in which I am privileged to live.

When I am boiling and drowning in this water, I guess what it comes down to is that I choose to stay here until the pot cools down.

These bad days that I have are sacred, because they are life.  They are MY life, the life that I give in service to my family and in doing so give in service to everyone that we touch.  The mundane life of a stay at home mother and wife, the everyday service to my family in an unending cycle of meals and cleaning and laundry and driving to and fro, is the kind of freedom that only comes from loving people and sacrificing for them day in and day out.  Sometimes it doesn't feel like freedom.  Sometimes it feels like a prison. 

This is water.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Island of Misfit Animals

So…about this goat.  To quote one of the best movies of all time:

Let me ‘splain….no, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

A family from Angola called Matt and Susie (Don’s parents) at their veterinary clinic and said “We have this baby sheep that hurt its eye, can you look at it for us?”  Of course they said yes.  So the family brought in their animal, and the conversation went roughly like this….
            Matt: Well, first of all, that’s a goat.  Not a sheep.  Second of all, its eye has to come out because it’s infected and its body is rejecting it.  So it will be about $x to do the surgery and remove the eye.
            Goat Owners: Well, we can’t really swing that much money.  Let’s just put her down.
            Matt: Well…if it’s all the same to you, I’ve got a granddaughter that would love to play with her.  Can I have her and I will see what I can do about saving her?
            Goat Owners: OK!

So Matt did the surgery, removed the eye, and she was doing fine.  But Matt and Susie had plans to go on vacation for a few days, and didn’t have anyone to bottle feed a baby goat every few hours that just had surgery.  Luckily, we are always on the lookout for some extra chores and responsibilities for Lucy.  We call them Character Building Opportunities.  She already is responsible for feeding Boss twice a day, giving him water, helping empty the dishwasher and load the dryer and make her own bed.  But we were looking for something a little…weirder.  Stinkier, if you will.  So, bottle feeding a goat every three hours and cleaning out its crate three times a day?


You see both the Zimmers and the Prentices have a long history of animal rescue and rehabilitation.  In Don’s family this certainly makes a lot of sense.  After all, his dad is a veterinarian and although they moved around a lot, they usually had some land; enough to accommodate the odd horse, calf, goat, etc.  And I do mean odd. 

Because Don’s families rescue pet stories read like Tales from the Island of Misfit Animals.  Here is the starring cast: a three legged calf named Stew.  A goat with a brain tumor and disfigured horns named Dink.  A tree squirrel that used to bury their house keys in the planters around the house.  A dachshund born with no anus they called Annie.  You know, the normal stuff.

Our family had a pretty normal parade of childhood pets as well, especially in Southern California.  A tarantula named Mr. T.  An iguana named Flash.  A red tailed boa we called Oliver and with whom I used to nap.  Two ground squirrels named Sparky and King (who was, as it turned out, a lady) who later turned into five squirrels.  A parade of rabbits (once again, it started out as two rabbits, until my brother let them out together in the backyard to “see what would happen.”).  And we always had a few Rottweilers, which was super popular with the neighbors in our cookie cutter suburban neighborhood.

So Don and I both come from families with a history of embracing the unknown variables in life, especially of
the animal variety.  I mean, you are talking about the family that saved an infant flying squirrel from certain death last summer by feeding it with an eye dropper and keeping it warm with heated water bottles every few hours.  I caught worms and flies to hand feed it when it got older!  Side note: we miss you Cubs.  We hope you are doing well at the squirrel rehabilitation ladies house down in Southern Indiana.

One eyed baby goat?  Bring it on.  My only caveat was that I get to rename the goat from Molly to Polyphemus.  I mean, if we are going to illegally house a one eyed goat in our city garage, we are going to at least be educational.

So on a random Tuesday we loaded the kids in the car and headed East to Angola.  We had some lunch, we did some chores, we made some dinner, everyone except Riley and me rode horses, and then we loaded up all of the kids (hah) in the car and headed back to South Bend.  Literally thirty seconds into the drive I looked over at Don, panic stricken and sure I had just made a grave error.  He put his hand on my arm.

            Don: You know, it is possible she will make that noise the entire drive home.
            Me: Oh my God.  Yes.  I just realized that… long are we looking at here?
            Don: Oh you know, not very long.  Just a few months.
            Me: Excuse me?
            Don: Hahahaha, ahhhh….just kidding.  Like a few weeks.
            Me: OK.  That is more like it.

Eventually Polly settled down and stopped screaming (you know, when goats are upset they bleat.  When goats are really upset, they bleat really loudly.  And when goats are riding in crates in the back of your car and you forget and turn really fast and they go rocketing about the crate, they scream like babies.  It’s super fun).  And we got home and got her settled in her crate lined with newspaper in the garage.  We fed her one last bottle, and we went to bed.
Well that's adorable.

Our days settled into routine.  At night before bed I would mix up a huge OJ bottle of formula for Polly from the large bag of Calf Replacement Formula that we brought from Angola.  It smelled disturbingly like a vanilla milkshake, but did NOT taste that appealing.  As soon as one of us came down in the morning Polly would start bleating for her morning bottle.  The first few nights we kept her in the crate, but we soon started leaving her out in the garage at night to decrease the amount we had to change her crate paper.  You see, goat hooves are like sharp little stones.  As soon as we put Polly in her crate at any time she would immediately urinate on the paper.  And then, within an hour, she would have trampled all of the paper with her sharp little hooves and macerated it into newspaper/urine pulp.  And then Lucy would be unable to scrape it off the bottom of the crate, and I would have to change her paper.  Which did not accomplish any Character Development.  My character is developed enough – I don’t need this crap (pun intended)!

So everything went smoothly for the first week or so.  Lots of kids (human) came over to play with her and meet her.  We talked to them about her eye and how things heal and get better and Greek mythology.  We let them feed her a bottle.  She would chase them as they ran around the yard and everyone laughed when she jumped up in the air and frolicked.  She and Boss goat along very well.  Occasionally I gave her a bath in our kitchen sink, and had to wash the stitches in her eye off when she had some purulent oozing (google that, I dare you).

But then she started getting stronger.  Lucy had a harder time feeding her because when she is hungry she butts the bottle with her nose, an instinct that when nursing from a mother goat helps the milk let down.  But when nursing from a bottle, just sprays formula everywhere.  And she would pull on the nipple so hard the bottle would fly out of Lucy’s hands.  And then Lucy started getting lazy about it.  I would send her out to feed Polly a bottle and ten minutes later still hear her bleating.  Lucy would be in the yard riding her bike and the mostly full bottle would be sitting on the steps.

            Lucy: Well, um.  She wasn’t very hungry, so she took a break.

And then there was the poop.  Which was everywhere.  Not in the yard.  Not on the driveway.  It was everywhere in the garage.  Specifically on the steps into the house.  And her favorite place to pee was the welcome mat.  Morning when getting Lucy ready for school, I had mastered the ability to meet three needs in a timely manner.  I could feed and clothe Lucy for school, feed and clothe Riley, and make sure Boss was fed and let out before we left.  But I was unprepared for the fourth set of needs.  Perhaps it was just a matter of time before I mastered the juggling act, but in the morning when Riley was fussing to be nursed and Boss was dancing on my feet waiting to be fed and Lucy was writhing around her room begging that I not go downstairs and wait until she was dressed and then downstairs saying she didn’t want the eggs I had made her but only cereal and tomatoes the addition of the very loud bleating right outside the door into the garage was one need too many.

So tasty....
So, around the two week mark the cost: benefit ration began to turn, and not in Polly’s favor.  I think Don began to see the calculation in my eyes when I would look at her.  It was a look he recognized from the time we were in Africa together.  Every time I would see an antelope I would lick my lips a little bit, and try to calculate with my eyes how many delicious antelope chops and rolls of sausage it would make.  Especially the dik diks.  Tiny little walking chops.

That is the way I started looking at Polly.  Is she edible yet?  Is she worth the poop underfoot?  Is she worth the level of insanity I approach when hearing her bleat on top of all the other cacophony?  Is she really trying to hump my leg right now?  Did she really just head butt Boss?

He saw the crazy in my eye, and he knew it was time for Polly to seek greener pastures.  So, this past Sunday morning, Don loaded Polly back in the car and drove her back to the farm.  I assume she is now becoming accustomed to the life that other pygmy goats have enjoyed on the farm in Angola: limitless access to hay and grain stolen from the horses until their girth exceeds their height.

Good fortune to you, Polly.  Maybe you can come back one day, when Lucy's ability to follow through on her responsibilities exceeds my distaste for tracking your poop through my kitchen.  Until then, watch out for Duke.  You might really be a goat, but he is an Australian Shepherd, and I don't think your specific Genus matters to him.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saying Yes

This post was originally written on Thursday, March 27th.

Tonight I took our almost five month old daughter who is named after my husband's deceased brother to the viewing for the niece of a good friend of ours who had just passed away at nine months.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.  I stood in a line of a hundred people, just waiting patiently to say a few words to her family and pray in front of her achingly small coffin.  It is almost three years to the day that we did this for Riley, standing in a packed indoor arena for eight hours while people waited to say a kind word and share a memory.

Her name was Issa, which means Jesus in Islam.  She lived only nine months.  She miraculously lived nine months.  She had Trisomy 18.  I never met her.  I have never even met her parents or anyone else in her family except her aunt and uncle, but they have taught me so much about love in the last year.  More than I thought was possible, even after going through the shattering marathon of Riley's death with my husband and his family.

Issa died on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the day the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she is to bear the Son of God.  The day Mary says "Yes."  Yes to being a possibly unwed mother (she didn't know if Joseph would stay with her after learning she was pregnant).  Yes to bearing the Son of God Himself.  The biggest "Yes" in the history of history.  And Issa died on this day.

Don and I were talking about Issa just a few days before she passed, were talking about the Yes her family had said in welcoming her into their lives.  All parents say this Yes, but usually without ever contemplating the exquisite joys and agonies that will follow.  We say Yes, we will welcome this child, without thinking that one day that child may be taken away from us.  That one day they may be called back to God sooner than we would want.  Sooner than was in our plan.  We believe that we will go first, and never have to experience the pain of losing something that we so joyously welcomed into the world.

When our plan and Gods plan do not match up, if our own Yes is ripped form us, the agony is shearing.  It is a limb amputated.  That child is part of our body, our life.  It is not supposed to be removed.  We said Yes, Yes to life.  We didn't know we were saying Yes to that life for as long as we could have it, we didn't know it was conditional.

But Issa's family did.

They knew that saying Yes meant also saying goodbye.  Maybe it would be a few hours, maybe it would be a few weeks, but they were going to have to say goodbye.  That one Yes, that incredible act of love and faith, has had unbelievable echos, as evidenced by the people packed into the small chapel just to pay their respects and say goodbye and share their stories.  As evidenced by these words, written by someone who never even met Issa.  Who doesn't know her parents or her family.

Her uncle once told me a story about an Irish priest who visited with the family, and met Issa for a time.  He called her the rock breaker, a flower in Ireland that takes root in the rockiest of soil.  As the seed grows, it literally breaks the rocks apart to push up toward the sun.  We are the fragile ones, he said.  She is a fucking rock breaker.

That is the miracle of a Yes.  Saying Yes lays us bare to rock breakers.  They seed themselves in our hearts, breaking us open as they push up toward the sun.  Incredibly painful and exquisitely joyful.

Thank you, Sean and Felicia, for your Yes.  Thank you for Issa.  I hope I can meet you soon to tell you in person how she has made love known to me.

Thank you, Matt and Susie, for your Yes.  Thank you for Riley.  I hope the joy that he brought to our world continues to battle the agony of his absence.

Thank you, God, for the miracles of my own Yes.  For Lucy Jane and Susan Riley.  For however long.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

One Mom, Two Kids, Twenty Pounds of Stuff, and Zero Patience: A Comedy of Errors

<<Woman hits the car steering wheel with her hand, and swears>>

God damn it!

Mom, I know you’re angry, but it’s just gonna be ok!  You don’t hit things though.  You don’t hit the steering wheel.  You might break it, you know?

I know, honey.  And I want you to know I am not angry at you.  I am angry at myself and the situation.  I think I left the lights on in the car and now the car is dead, and we are going to be late.  Again.

I know, but Mooooom, you don’t have to be angry because it’s just going to be ok.

I know, honey.  Hop on out and we will take the other car.  Let’s go back through the house to the garage.

<<Woman gets out of the car, and opens the rear door.  She grabs her purse, a large diaper bag, and lifts out an infant car seat.  She helps her other daughter down from the car and then holds her hand while slipping/walking on an icy walkway back to a house>>

OK. 9:50. let’s hustle, ok honey?

<<The little girl walks up the steps to the house at a glacial pace while peering into a party favor bag she is holding, the woman following behind her and becoming visibly irritated while struggling to hold the purse, diaper bag and car seat>>

Hustle up Lu, please.  I’m carrying a lot, ok, and my arms are getting sore.  And we are going to be late to church. 

<<They make their way through the house and into the garage in back>>

OK.  OK, here we go.  Hop into your seat and buckle the top buckle please.  I will finish your buckle when I get your sister in.

<<Woman skates around the ice covering the garage floor to put the infant seat into the other side of the car, skates across the back driveway to open the gate, and skates back to the car.  The clock reads 9:56am>>

Lucy.  Lucy why didn’t you buckle your seatbelt?

Well…sometimes I just don’t understand that it’s a little tricky for me.

Were you looking at your princess wand?

Yeeeaaaahhhh. Oh, mama.  I wan’t to sit upstairs when we get there.  Can we do that?  Can we sit upstairs mama?  Can we sit upstairs?  Mama?  Mama?

What?  Oh…yes.  I think we will probably have to sit upstairs because we are going to be late.  But we will see.

<<Woman parks the car.  She unbuckles the sleeping baby, and in the parking lot attempts to wrangle her into a Moby wrap that is wrapped too tightly.  The now awake, freezing, and unhappy baby protests.  Loudly.  She unbuckles her other daughter and, holding the bobbing infant into the wrap, they run across the street and enter the church.  She is not carrying her diaper bag, but she is holding a pacifier in her mouth.>>

Lucy.  Lucy, over here.  Lucy.  LUCY!

<<The woman hisses to her older daughter in a loud whisper as her daughter wanders through a crowd of priests, alter boys and girls, and families whose babies are being baptized that are gathered in the back of the church.  It is very crowded, and the pews are all full.  She wrangles her daughter to the back of the church to try and wait until everyone has processed up the aisle.  However, her daughter starts dancing in the back and singing loudly while the priest starts the mass.  All eyes are on them>>

Lucy, please come here!  Sweetie we are in church, please stand still back here until we can find a seat.

<<Her daughter glares at her, folds her arms over her chest and sinks to the floor against the back wall of the church>>

Mom.  I know.

<<The scene changes.  The mother and her two daughters are seated up in the balcony, and it is now halfway through mass.  Her daughter has just returned from the children’s liturgy, and is sobbing loudly>>

But Moooooooooooom I can’t help it.  I just caaaaaaaaaan’t.  I don’t even understand why we can’t dooooo it!  Puuuhlease let me do it!

Lucy, please come here so I can talk to you.

<<The child backs away from her mother, her eyes wide, looking as if she is afraid of being beaten.  They are seated in the front row of the balcony, so her daughter is drawing the eyes of literally everyone seated there.>>

Lucy.  Please come here love.

<<The child shakes her head no and backs father away, her hands clasped to her chest>>

Lucy.  Please.  Come.  Here.

<<The mother kneels down on the floor, trying to appeal to her daughter, while still rocking back and forth to keep her infant asleep>>

Sit on my lap, sweetie, and we will talk.

I just want to stay until the end I want to STAYYYYYYYYYYY!

We can stay until the end, we can stay until after communion.  But you have to be able to calm down.  Ok?

But sometimes I just caaaaaan’t!!!  I don’t even understand I will try but I can’t control it!!

<<The woman is very purposefully not looking at anyone except her daughter.>>

Come sit in my lap and we will talk and figure this out, ok?

<<More time passes.  The priest begins the Lord ’s Prayer.  The woman remains seated with her infant in the wrap on her chest and her three year old on her lap.  She tried to hold her older daughters hand.  Her older daughter repeatedly pulls her hand away>>

Can you hold my hand for the Lord ’s Prayer?

<<Her daughter glances back and glares at her, while withdrawing her hand once more.  The mother, in a fit of immature anger, removes her older daughter from her lap>>

NOOOOOOOO!  Noooooo please I wan’t to sit on your lap please NOOOOOOO don’t PUSH me OFFFFFF Mama please!

OK, love.  I want you to sit on my lap too.  Can you please hold my hand while we are praying? We are praying this prayer in community.  And now we are going to the peace be with you.

<<The daughter climbs back in her lap, and turns to give her mother a hug and kiss of Peace.  They both give the infant a kiss.  The mother turns to the older couple seated next to her and shakes their hands in peace, but keeps her face blank.  She does not acknowledge their smiles of pity>>

Mama, can I go over and give Owen a hug for the Peace be with you?

No, sweetie.  He is at the other side of the balcony and I can’t see you over there.  And it is over now.

No MOM NO!  I never got to see Owen!   I never got to see him and give him the Peace!  Mom PLEASE PLEASE PLEAAAAASE let me see OWEEEEEENNNNN!!!!

Love, the Peace is over right now.  I can’t walk you over there and it is too far to go by yourself.  We can see Owen after mass.

Nooooooo Mama NOOOOO!  NOOOOOOOO!  You never let me see Owen for the Peace!   PLEASE LET ME GO SEE HIM!!!!

<<The girl is sobbing again, her nose running, and tries to back away from her mother towards her friend at the opposite end of the balcony.  All of the other parishioners are kneeling for the transubstantiation.>>

Lucy.  Please come back here.  We are going to go downstairs for communion and then we can see Owen later, or on Tuesday at school.

Nooooooo!!  I don’t understand WHYYYYYYYY!!!

<<The scene fasts forward again.  The woman and her daughters are in line for communion.  Her older daughter is sobbing, not so quietly.  She is holding her daughters hand, her purse and both of their coats.  They go through the line.  Her daughter shrinks away from the priest as he goes to touch her forehead to bless her.  The woman takes communion.  She takes a larger than normal sip of the communion wine.  As she walks with her sobbing daughter back down the aisle she very purposefully look straight ahead, ignoring several well meaning and sympathetic smiles from various friends and acquaintances.>>

Put on your coat, love.  We have to get home to spend some time with Papa.

But mama we have more things to do in church!  It’s not over!  There are more things to do!!!

No sweetie.  Communion is over and we can leave before prayer just for today.  We need to get home.  We need to spend some time with Papa.

But the juice!!!!  There is more to do in church!!

It’s ok sweetie.  We are not going to have juice and cookies today.  We have lunch waiting already at home.  I already had it in the oven.

<<The woman zips up her daughter’s coat, and draper her own coat over her infant in the wrap.  She gets her keys out of her purse and leads her daughter across the street>>

Mama this is just ruiiiiined!!  There is more to do in church!  Is that our car?

No, sweetie, we parked in the other lot.

Whose car is it?

I don’t really know. 

But we usually park in that lot.

I know, but we didn’t today.  Today we parked in this one here.

But its soooooo faaaaaaaaaar!!!  I’m so cold!!!

<<The girl stops on the sidewalk, shivering>>

Well, if we get to the car then you will be able to warm up.

But I can’t even know that Mom!  Where even is it!?

Hold onto my hand, its right over here.  If you can get into your seat I will put your sister in and then buckle you.  Here let me move this other seat up a little bit to give you more room.

<<The woman goes around to the other side of the car, removes the sleeping infant from the wrap, and attempts to wrangle the now awake, freezing and unhappy baby into the car seat.  The girl in the other car seat starts to sob loudly again>>

Lu, what is it?

My princess waaaaaand!!! Where iiiisssss it?!!

<<The woman goes around to the other side of the car and quickly buckles the car seat before her daughter starts to writhe in existential agony>>

I don’t know, honey.  We can call the church lost and found tomorrow to ask them to look in the balcony for it.

Mooooooooooooommmm but there is more to do in church and its LOST NOW!!  I NEED IT.

<<The woman goes around the car again, slipping once on ice, grabbing the car for support.  She gets into the drivers seat, and turns around 180 degrees to put a pacifier in the crying infants mouth.  She turns around again and starts the car, breathing deeply>>

It’s going to be ok, honey.  We are going to go home.  And spend some time with your Papa.