Sunday, December 14, 2008

This I Believe

* * * SPOILER * * *
I guess I'm an unorthodox mother. Surprise. I keep adding to the list of things that somehow end up getting confessed in an underhanded whisper, like it's something to be ashamed of or to keep secret: I have my babies at home; I don't immunize them for the first year; I put them to sleep on their stomachs; I homeschool; I don't think doctors know everything. And this Thanksgiving, as I sat around the table chatting with the other mothers present, I added another. I don't lie to my children about Santa Claus. *Gasp.*

But let's be real. What does Santa Claus have to do with Christmas, anyway? Some die-hards will say that he embodies the spirit of giving and that our children can learn to be generous by following his example. But doesn't Christ embody the spirit of giving, and shouldn't our children learn to be generous by following His example?

Others tell me that I am taking away the magic of Christmas for my children by not allowing them to believe that one saintly man can pack a sleigh full of toys for every child in the world and visit them all and give them all exactly what they wanted on the same night each year. But I never remember believing in Santa Claus, and my childhood memories are replete with magical Christmases and sweet surprises.

It's not as though I pulled my son aside one day and whispered in his ear, "Guess what, Joe? There's no such thing as Santa Claus." But he is a curious little boy and he wants to know the truth about everything. So when he asked me, point blank, "Mom, is the tooth fairy real?" I said, "No." When he followed that up with, "What about Santa Claus?" I couldn't look at his innocent face and lie to him. I don't lie to my kids. Not about anything.

That way, when he comes to me one day and says, "Mom, is God real?" I can tell him that God is real, and he doesn't have to wonder if I'm lying to him like I lied about Santa Claus. Because there are so many wonderful, awesome, magical, and completely real things and people to believe in. Like God, and angels, and the miracle of a Savior being born in a stable in Bethlehem so long ago. And I don't want to take the chance that the real meaning of Christmas is superceded by a lie, no matter how sweet and magical Hollywood and tradition and commercialism make it out to be.

But why does it seem like I'm the bad guy? Other mothers tell me they don't mind if I tell my son the truth, but I should teach him not to tell other kids. Because if other mothers wish to lie to their children, they should be allowed to do it without fear that someone will spoil it for them. As if that belief is built on such a shaky foundation that one little, five-year-old boy who likes to tell people what he knows can totally destroy it.

I'm sure that, as he gets older, people will often tell my son, "There is no God." I certainly don't intend to pull them aside and ask them not to. If I haven't taught him well enough up to that point that he can think about it and decide for himself whether or not he believes, then what kind of mother am I?

So this Christmas season, in our unorthodox household, we will not open any presents labeled "From: Santa." If we leave any cookies out on a plate, my children will know, in the morning, that Dad ate them. All givers of gifts will receive their proper acknowledgement. And my son, who knows that there is no Santa Claus, will know that Jesus was born for us and died for us all so that He could give us the gift of eternal life. As unorthodox as it is, this I believe.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A sleeping baby

A sleeping baby is
a rare gift
from God
who waits until you're

He wants to make sure
you notice how
she fits, in your arms,
in the arms of the rocking chair--

How she lets go of everything
and head, body, arms, and legs
grow heavy in her sleep.
She does not second-guess you.

And you are the portal
for her sweet, puppy dreams
that only babies get.

Years from now, you are the only one
who will remember
how that little, warm body
wrapped in a footed sleeper,
draped on your chest,
trusted you completely.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jane Fairfax: a novel Chapter One

Jane Fairfax had no intention of ever marrying. Although she was more accomplished than most young women in all those degrees of accomplishment that can be acquired by diligence or natural aptitude, she yet lacked the most important factor that befits a marriageable woman--money. Having acquired a strong sensibility at a particularly young age, she understood that, despite her many accomplishments, great personal charm and beauty, the absence of a dowry overshadowed her every other virtue. She was orphaned before growing old enough to retain a memory of her parents. Good fortune had secured her an upbringing and education far better than Mrs. and Miss Bates, her grandmother and maiden aunt, could have provided, but that fortune did not extend beyond the capacity of preparing her to work for her own support during her remaining years. Her guardians, the Campbells, loved her as their own daughter, who loved her even more. But their income failed to extend any further. Jane's stoic disposition had helped her to accept her fate without complaint and almost without spoiling her enjoyment of each present moment. Still, it was with greater than usual trepidation that she prepared her toilette in anticipation of the evening's entertainment.

The process of beautifying oneself is not a particularly difficult mental challenge, and Jane struggled to keep her mind on the task. It insisted on straying back into the memory of a few evenings previously when her dear friend and bedfellow, Miss Clara Campbell, had made the acquaintance of one Mr. Dixon, a landed gentleman of no little income who had shown a definite preference for her company. Miss Campbell, often spoken of as a plain, good sort of girl, was delighted with the attention, and Jane, with all the goodness of her unselfish heart, was pleased and happy for her friend. The accompaniment to this prelude, however, now began to cause Jane more vexation than she had anticipated. Mr. Dixon had come into the party with his good friend, Mr. Frank Churchill, a name Jane had known almost since her infancy, although she had never met him until then. Since Mr. Dixon had turned his attentions to Clara, and Jane was the only young lady in the room to whom Mr. Churchill had been introduced, it was only natural that he would solicit her conversation during the course of the evening. What seemed to Jane as most unusual, however, was that he seemed to prefer it, that he did not seek other introductions when the general subjects of conversation had been exhausted, and, most extraordinary, that she was glad. No other young man had ever inspired so much as a vague curiosity for better acquaintance. But Frank Churchill--he was no other young man.

She had returned home that evening in high spirits, although she managed to conceal them from all of the Campbells, and spent an hour in contemplation. In the end, she concluded that it had been the most delightful evening she had ever spent, and that it would henceforth be nothing but a pleasant memory to look back on during her solitary days to come. But the Campbells, excited by the interest Mr. Dixon had shown in their daughter, had invited him to join their dinner party that evening, and he had asked to bring his friend along again. Faced with the prospect of seeing him again, and the possibility that he might renew his attentions to her, Jane found it more difficult to keep her resolution. Her hair might be tamed and pinned into place, but her female mind, for all its stoicism, refused to be directed.

As soon as she had completed her preparations, there was a knock on the door. Jane looked up to see Clara rush into the room and sink down on the bed with a pathetic sigh. "Oh, what am I to do?" she cried. "What am I to do?"

"Whatever can you mean?" soothed Jane. "There is nothing to do but sit and look pretty and that will be enough."

"Suppose he asks me a question? He is intelligent, you must admit, and will be wanting to ask me something or other. I mean, beyond the weather and the dancing. He will want to talk about books or music or philosophy or politics. And then I must answer him. But I shall be so afraid of sounding like a ninny that I won't be able to say anything at all. And then I will surely look like a fool who can't even answer a question when she is asked."

"You will do no such thing," Jane insisted. "Listen, and I will tell you what you should do and what you shall say. If he asks about a book you have read, you tell him it was interesting and ask him what he thought of it. If he wants to know about music or philosophy, you profess that you love both of them and then ask him what he thinks of them--which is his favorite--which one he despises (for he is sure to despise one or the other, even if he will not admit it at first). If he asks about the weather, you can tell him that it is not so nice as Bath but surely better than London---"

"Oh, but he will see right through that!" interrupted Clara. "Surely he will know that I am just trying to turn the attention back to him."

"He will be so happy to tell you what he thinks that he will not stop to think about what you think." Jane smiled. "Depend upon it, my dear, that I think Mr. Dixon is a fine young man and a good prospect for you. I really do. But I am positive that he is no different than other fine young men with good prospects."

"What do you mean?" Clara demanded, sitting up. "Do you mean that he is vain? He has some pride, I am sure, but is not unattractive in one so educated and brought up."

"Of course not," said Jane with a smile. "I simply mean that he, like other men, will prefer the woman who smiles to the woman who speaks. And you need have no worries in that department, for you have the most beautiful smile that ever lighted upon any man or woman. As long as you smile, he will adore you."

Clara laid back down on the bed and stretch out her arms. "You sound so sure. But you are always sure of everything. Oh, Jane, why can't I be more like you? You always know exactly what to say and what to do."

Jane leaned forward and whispered, "I will tell you my secret, shall I?" Clara lifted her head up and look at Jane expectantly. "When you don't know what to say, say nothing. When you don't know what to do, just sit still and look pretty." Clara laughed and laid her head down again.

"You don't believe me, but it is true," Jane continued aloud. "You cannot call good or bad fortune to yourself by sounding intelligent or by saying or doing the right thing. If chance is to smile upon you, then she will smile upon you whether or you frown or laugh. So you might as well be caught laughing, my dear, because she is going to visit you soon. I promise you that. Now, shall we go downstairs?"

"Are you finished?" Clara asked as she stood up, smoothing her dress and touching her hair in the mirror.

"I am," replied Jane. "I could sit in front of this mirror for another hour without it making a single difference except that I would be even more sick of looking at myself." She reached out her hand and Clara grasped it.

"Thank you," she whispered. "You always save me."

"Not at all," Jane whispered back. "It is you who are saving me."

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Know Everythong

*Note: After I posted the poem titled "I Know Everything," I was chatting, left-handed, with my brother while nursing Auralee. I told him to go check out the new poem I had posted, but I made a typing error. He was disappointed to find out the real title of the poem. So in his honor, I have written the poem he thought he was going to get to read.

I Know Everythong
My father was a boxer--
a not very good one--
girdled by bikini-clad women
trying to seduce him
and tank-top-clad men
trying to reduce him
to just a jock, strapped for cash.

My mother was a player--
a not very good one--
a fiddler with a g-string
always out of tune.

They married and moved
to a second-story flat
and she got a job
at the brassierie under where
they lived.

But their romance was brief.
It was difficult to tell
who wore the pant(ie)s in the family
(Of course, it's always something, I hear,
and it takes two to tanga.)

So he said, "farewell,"
and she said, "so long, John."
And that was when I was conceived.

So now you know everythong,
and boy, is it short!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I Know Everything

I know everything
not worth knowing.

Like the proper spelling of mackerel,
which is useless to me
because I will never write it.
Except once.
In this poem.

My brain cells are crammed with
phone numbers,
old math equations,
Beatles trivia,
one hundred "great thoughts"
Mr. Wetherell made me memorize in tenth grade.

If it's redundant, useless, and otherwise
completely irrelevant to daily life,
I'm bound to know it.

My husband (he says)
knows nothing that is
not worth knowing.

His brain cells are emptier.

He doesn't have to know, of course,
because if he wonders, he can always
ask me.

For instance,
"where are my shoes?"
"what does deleterious mean?"
"what's the name of that song?"
"how do you spell mackerel?"

(that's twice)

Maybe I think that if I hold tight
to the vestiges of life before motherhood
I will not lose myself completely.

Or maybe I think, if I remember enough details,
I will finally write a poem worth reading.

Well, it won't be this one.

Friday, February 22, 2008

on cleaning and the different sexes

I’m getting ready to clean the bathroom, which for me is a complicated process. First I have to gather cleaning supplies, of which I have about two dozen. I have cleansers with and without bleach, cleansers with and without Lysol disinfectant, cleansers with and without ammonia, and cleansers with and without anything in them that actually cleans, but they smell good so... I have cleansers that remove soap scum and cleansers that remove hard water. Some of my cleansers are made for scrubbing without scratching, some are made for cleaning without scrubbing, and some are made for scratching without scrubbing or cleaning (I haven’t yet figured out where to use that, but I keep it on hand just in case.)

I have a different cleanser to clean every surface in the bathroom; the sink and the countertop on which the sink rests require two different cleansers (so as not to scratch the porcelain). The outside and the inside of the toilet, of course, require two different cleansers, and even the mirror requires a different cleanser than the chrome fixtures in the sink and shower. And speaking of the shower, I am eternally grateful that I don’t have glass doors, because that would definitely require a whole host of different cleansers that, if added to my ten-gallon bucket of cleansers, would make it too heavy to carry up the stairs.

In the other hand, I have materials to use with the cleansers--sponges, dust cloths, cleaning rags, dishcloths, paper towels, cleaning towels, scrub brushes, toilet brushes, latex gloves, plastic garbage bags, a broom and dustpan, a mop, and a toothbrush for scrubbing the grout between the tiles. By the time I have gathered up all of the supplies for cleaning the bathroom, I am out of time and energy to complete the job.

My mom taught me how to clean. She instilled in me the knowledge of which cleanser to use on which surface, as well as how to clean that surface properly. She was fastidious about cleaning, and I grew up thinking it was a sin to use windex to wipe down the toilet or comet to clean the bowl. Of course, I also thought that it was unhealthy to cut a sandwich on the diagonal so that you had two triangles instead of two rectangles, so I’m beginning to think that some of my mom’s tutelage was unintentional.

My husband, luckily, is helping me overcome this obsession with cleansers. When I finally lug all of my supplies up the stairs, I meet him coming out of the bathroom. “What are you doing?” he asks. “I’m going to clean the bathroom,” I say. “I just did it for you,” he reassures me. Looking at my heavily laden arms, I ask, with trepidation, “What did you use?”

“Hand soap,” he tells me cheerfully, and walks into the bedroom whistling tunelessly, obviously proud of himself for doing a job without being asked to. I am afraid that if I just go into the bathroom and inspect the job, I will have to go to confession afterward. But my mother’s compulsion gets the best of me and I know that no matter how good it looks, the bathroom mirror will not really be clean until I have sprayed it with Windex and wiped it down with paper towels.

Unfortunately, I am out of Windex. This is a catastrophe. I can’t use Comet, obviously, because the powder wouldn’t stick to a vertical surface and it would be horrible to try and rinse off. I try the cleansers in spray bottles one by one, but they all leave streaks, even with the two-ply, industrial strength paper towels on which you can wash grapes without breaking them. The toilet bowl cleanser and mopping solution are, of course, out of the question, as is the chrome cleanser and the cream cleanser I sometimes use for countertops. I could try a dusting cleanser, but the mirror is dusty, not dirty. I clean the rest of the bathroom carefully, hoping that, if everything else is spotless, the mirror will be able to wait until I can get to the store for Windex. But every time I turn around, I see toothpaste sprays, tweezed eyebrows, two-year-old fingerprints, and condensation drips. It cannot wait. I have to clean the mirror, even if it is the death of me. There is only one solution; I don’t like it, but it is the only way. I have to use the hand soap.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On Newborn Babies

I forgot how the smell of new life rises up in delicate spirals from their skin;
How when you wake them up, they stare at you with wonder painted on their faces.
I love to hold them as they stretch: back arched, eyes screwed close, arms over their heads and
knees drawn up to their chest. No one else can stretch like that.
I am not silly enough to think it will or want it to last forever,
But I forgot about the perfect miniature bones in their hands and fingers
And the first time they hold your gaze and smile back at you.

This baby--this call to motherhood--is the epic journey of my life.
And though it will probably never be realized in story or in song,
Being ordinary does not make it any less extraordinary
to me.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sonnet for my husband (written 12/06)

You are spring rain falling on my parched earth
To soothe the ache that comes from my soul’s growth.
So you, with soft tones and with sweet caress
Bring solace to my heart, to my mind, rest.
You are the heat of summer. As the dusk
Exposes sunset tendrils of that fast
Descending fire, so your touch envelopes
Me. I breathe your heat. And then I know love.
When autumn comes, with winter close behind,
And our full years are playing out their time,
You are the colors—dappled, rich, and deep—
That fill life’s canvas; you interpret me.
So our love is not bound by years or times;
We’ve trussed our souls to new eternities.

Monday, January 14, 2008

when a baby is born

You're pushing--or trying not to push but just let your body do the pushing for you--and there's this moment where you know, if you just bear down and push through everything (through the pain and the pressure and the stretching and the burning and the bizarre way you can feel your baby's head descending through the birth canal and making a break for it), you will push the baby out and you will be done. So you push, even though you're supposed to just pant or something and let your body push so that you don't tear, but the last time you did that, she crowned and then went back inside, and that is NOT going to happen again. So you push, and it burns, and you think you're going to tear apart, but then, after the pressure is so great you wonder how the universe can still be in one piece, her head slips out and her body after it and all the pain is gone, instantly, like it never happened, like the whole twelve hours of everything you've just been through was only a dream--no, not even a dream, it was someone else's dream and they told you about it and for half an instant, you believed in it, but no, it was only a dream. So you push through to that moment and then it's over and they drape the baby over your naked stomach and chest. She's howling and sliding around on you because they didn't even wipe her off much first, and she feels so warm that you don't ever want them to take her off of you. And you look at her eyes shut tightly against the light and her mouth open wide in a loud protest of being born and her little hands, curling into fists like they're trying to grab a hold on you to push themselves back in and in that moment, you are irrevocably bound to this tiny life for the rest of eternity.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

on giving birth to Auralee

"try to ride the contraction
like a wave,"
my midwife intones, but I
have never surfed before

so when I feel it coming, I try
to swim out to it,
to roll over in my mind
and let it carry me along

when that doesn't work, I try
to let it wash over me--
that should be soothing--
but it doesn't

In theory, I know how to relax,
how to embrace the contraction,
how to interpret the pain as pressure

but when it comes, I am never,
ready for it

and instead of relaxing, all I do is try
to hold still;
some part of my body always gives me away:
a curled toe or a clenched fist

and this is not pressure
this is hell
this is worse than hell because
if it were hell, I would be dead,
and I don't think dead people feel pain

And when it's over, I lay there,
gasping for breath,
and unable to hold still
(although everyone says I am not shaking)

what do they know?
I have already learned that,
when the next one comes,
no one will be there with me.