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Home Again, Home Again Jiggity Jig

July 25, 2011

The kids and I have spent most of the past month in South Eastern Michigan. This meant the cluster$*#% through various airports, baby shoe removals at security checkpoints, and raising of passenger terror levels as they watch pre-boarding temper tantrums. You know, the usual in domestic travel.

As I am an unabashed geek, I generally pump myself up for such trips by flipping through my mental rolodex (my brain is also by turns a VHS player, it’s all 80’s all the time in my subconscious) for appropriate analogies to match my current situation. My favorite daydream for solo flying with small children is pretending I’m one of the Fighting Urak-hai getting slapped silly by the white hand of Saruman (you know…Fellowship of the Rings?  Anyone? Anyone?  Hope you’re staying with me). The scene is something like a pep rally of testosterone, dark magic and occasional teeth gnashing as the wizard intones, You don’t know pain, You don’t know fear.  And then the orcs on acid go out in search of man flesh.

Well, I forgo gnawing the face of my seat mate  in 15C but I do repeat that mantra every. single. time. I pass through the metal detector and have to wrangle our shoeless two year old while getting the ten month old back in the sling as piles of baby food, plastic dinosaurs, dogeared books, strollers, spare clothes pile up on the belt of the scanner and…just one moment (interrupt this blog for a PTSD induced panic attack).

Okay then! Trip reminiscing aside, I’ve been getting better at making an annual pilgrimage to Michigan ever since our son was born. It used to be the space between visits was growing longer and longer. But now I want my kids to feel connected to this place of my childhood. Seep alongside me in nostalgia. We stay to the same house where I was raised until the age of ten. Sleep in my old bedroom where I used to have wildly vivid imaginings of the cloven foot boogey  man from the Ghostbuster’s cartoon bursting through the closet door…

I mean LOOK at what terror the animators inflicted on my tender psyche:

Good luck sleeping tonight. Your Welcome.

I take them for walks up our gravel road and notice small geographical landmarks that mean nothing to most people. But to me there’s the place where the sketchy family near our bus stop once forgot to properly tie up German Shepard. It flew like the hound of hell down this wooded path straight at my brother, cousin and I…

We were rescued through the shared sacrifice of sack lunch bologna and cheese sandwiches thrown to the beast before making an ungainly exit.

I feel the compulsion to strap everyone into their car seats and cruise down the Main Street that is so all-American it makes me want to eat soft-served Dairy Queen, drive a Ford and buy corn at a roadside stand. Oh wait, that’s EXACTLY what we did.

After 5th grade I left this little village. The state. And have moved an awful lot since then. I have a friend who has made fun of me for alternately claiming to be from different places upon meeting new people. “Chicago? Hey, I lived there.” “Minnesota. What part? I lived in blahblahblah.” “Montana you say? Hey, you ever been to…” But Michigan is a place where I have roots. I might not get recognized at the Meijer(s) but people here knew me when I was I don’t know, knee high to a grasshopper? Grandparents, Great-Grandparents, Great-Great Grandparents and Great-Great-Great Grandparents are buried there. For a transient like me, this can be a powerful feeling:

Grave of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Christian Visel (1808-1864). He was born in Remmingsheim, Germany and is buried in downtown Ann Arbor.

The farmstead in Lodi Township where Christian Visel settled with his eldest daughter and her family.

The view from the front of my Great-Great Grandparent Keelan's farm in Sylvan Township

The railroad tracks my Grandfather used to walk to visit my Grandmother during their courtship in the early 1920's

Whenever I come back I’m asked without fail if I’d ever consider moving back. I don’t think so. The ocean has cast it’s spell on me.  But oh how I love visiting. The smell of lake water. The crunch of the gravel roads. The red barns. The fecundness of the hardwood forests. The flashes of lightening bugs on twilight. The sound of a fishing boat motoring alive in the dark. The taste of German pretzels. The University of Michigan/Michigan State rivalries. The stories of people long gone. The smiles on my relatives faces as they watch my children sink their toes into the thick green summer grass.

A Loss

July 21, 2011

For some moments of life, there are no words.

This morning I woke to the news that breaks anyone’s heart in an instant. The death of a child. Christian Cameron Watson was the beloved nephew of my brother’s longtime girlfriend and  partner. He is survived by his parents and older brother.

At these senseless times, everyone wants to do something, anything to help. This is how I can do something proactive this morning. Please consider supporting the family as they are reeling with this tragic loss which carries the additional burden of unexpected costs. A memorial fund has been established here. Anything would be appreciated.

Unable are the loved to die.  For love is immortality.  ~Emily Dickinson

Update: In Case You Were Wondering What Happened to My Ass…

June 28, 2011

First things first. After being asked too many times, “how do you find the time to blog?”” What with my overactive uterus and all…well, here’s my little secret. I do it locked in my bathroom. The same way I cry.

Actually there is endless time to do all things internet when standing at my kitchen counter pointedly ignoring the dishes. Even more when I start on the whisky. It used to be it was a fair bet I was also pantless. Then my husband totally burst the bubble on  my repeated assurances that the neighbors couldn’t see me. You know what? Just like those who believe caveman rode dinosaurs. I was wrongwrongwrong.

So my neighbors got a fair amount of ass view. And if you are one of the 4 people (what up mom) who read this blog, you might know a thing or two about my ass. And guess what? It’s still f-ing here. Moving, house buying, starting a book (I know, you lucky 4 will be SO GLAD you knew me when), and renovating (or at least moving door knobs around while ignoring the heaping pile of crap in the backyard) caused my ass to sink down the priority list.

So there I was a month ago. Pantless (oh so confident I was not a neighborhood sideshow). And caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. All of a sudden I was flashed sideways into The Situation Room. My ass was Wolf Blitzer.

Oh. Dear. God. This was quick moving past a situation and heading round the corner into an all out international crisis.

The next day I joined the gym  with the little-frog-bicep-crunching logo that I had been mocking about town. I felt like an orphan out in the storm looking for a friendly porch light. Please little frog, please let me and my ass come in and warm myself by your fire. My ass speaks in a high-pitched british accent in case you were wondering.

So there you’ll now find me most mornings. I’m the stampeding water buffalo in the back of the Zumba class. The one doing push ups on her knees in the Cardio. The one falling asleep in corpse pose in Yoga.

It’s been a month. While I’m now no longer horrifying our new hood, I think I still have a way to go until I’m mistaken for a skinny hippy chick wandering into New Leaf Market for some kale salad and a hearty gulp of air.

But hopefully I’ll be able to crunch some walnuts between my cheeks in time for the holidays!

Mind the snake, please.

June 22, 2011

Last week my husband and I had a bit of the dismals. We looked over our various half done jobs (stripping wall paper and painting downstairs bedroom, wrestling the laundry room monster that threatens to devour souls and small dogs,  getting the garden set up, digging another drainage ditch,  painting the kitchen, rescreening doors, FINALLY get a door knob up on the hall closet…weed theAHHHHHHHHHH). So we hung up a picture in the dining room. High fived and flopped on the couch feeling totally uncreative and uninspired.

We realized as we talked out our short tempers and crusty attitudes of late that we hadn’t really gotten out and about. Sure we’ve been out in the Garden, heading to the local playground, the local beach. But we needed a little adventure damn it. That’s why we set sail from Kauai and the land of the everlasting coconut. To travel to new lands. Not to spend every Saturday weeding, unpacking and pushing kidlets on swings (not that there is anything wrong with said activities…just in moderation!).

So we found a destination. Dug out our new family tent and trangia. Piled up tiny sweaters, stuffed monkeys, favorite books, tempting snacks and a dose of optimism about camping with two kids under 2.5. I mean…THIS WAS CAR CAMPING, not a trip to Everest. Although you’d be tempted to think we were about to do a recreation of the Oregon Trail after you saw all the crap we had.

We set up our tent in condor country. California chaparral. Dry and hot with evergreen oaks, thickets of chamise, clumps of monkey flowers and dainty elegant clarkia. Manzanita. Mustang mint. We dripped sweat in the 90 degree heat thinking how in the F did we cope in Hawaii all those years? My body is now fine tuned to a temperate coastal 65-70 F.

We hiked. Went birding. Built a wee fire. Got tired kids tucked in and sat under the stars holding hands and drinking cups of lady grey tea while pouring through our wildflower ID book.

It was EXACTLY what we needed and now we want more, more, more!

And yes, as always I got my snack over the head lesson in mothering by the Universe.

Our first trail was a simple 3 mile looper past a spring, a cave closed for bat breeding and winding through boulders that looked like the marbles of scattered giants. Sounds great yeah? Well, 4 steps onto the trail (you know, it might have still been the car park) I met my first Western Rattlesnake with my daughter firmly tied to my back.

To say I was raised in a snake phobic house is an understatement. My mom honed an obsessive fear of snakes that makes Fox New’s conspiracy theories on left-wing media bias seem rational in comparison. A garter snake the size of my pinky finger turned up in the green beans…off with his head! What about by the morning glory trellis? Off with his head. By the fire pit? You got it! Off with his head.

I have so many memories of my mom forcing my dad, cousins, innocent bystanders to decapitate snakes that it’s hard to choose just one scenario. It just runs together into a bloody summertime genocide of scales and hissing.

Perhaps the best example of her pathological fear was the time she abandoned my 3 week old sister in her bouncer out on the dock because a water snake was spotted in the general vicinity. I remember standing on the (second story!) deck clutching her hand with my brother and other young sister who was luckily able enough to toddle away  while my mom called down encouraging “buck up, you’ll be fine,” remarks to the howling baby before growling to my dad to get the shotgun.

For those of you who know my dad and have seen him order bottles of wine, obsess over bike components or a new set of golf clubs this may come as a surprise. But yes, my dad obliged his wife and executed this hapless water snake by firing squad. Then piled the remains on my Aunt Donna’s dock three doors down because you know, she hates snakes too. Just not as much as my mom.

Sure Mom had her reasons. Seven brothers sticking snakes in her bed or wrapping their dried corpses around her door knob. But to be unable to look at a picture of one in a book? Cognitive therapy anyone?

Obviously this snake phobia cast it’s own dark shadow across my tender psyche. Nick and I enjoyed many backpacking trips into the Tasmanian bush that descended into tears the minute he hiked a mite faster and rounded the corner out of my eyeshot. Abandoning me when bona fide snake danger existed? This wasn’t getting licked to death by a garter snake. This was getting swallowed into the tussocks by the feared Tiger Snake.

He was unsympathetic. I was uncoddled. Unhappily so. Then we moved to Hawaii and enjoyed 5 years of running thigh deep through dense bush worry free.

And now here I was. Literally looking straight into the glistening eyes of rattlesnake who held it’s head alert, tailed poised. And there was my 9 month old daughter and VERY impressionable 2 year old son watching me.

“Oh.” I managed.

“A snake.” Jarah squatted next to me pointing as Nick hung back checking out my reaction.

“It’s so….beautiful?” I squeaked looking back to my husband for reassurance. He just grinned like a cheeky monkey. An encouraging cheeky monkey. C’mon, show me you can handle this one.

“Yes, he’s so beautiful Mama.” The little guy agreed.

“Let’s just stay right here and show the snake some respect okay?”

“Ok. Hi snake!.” Waves.

We stood there for the 27 hours or seconds it took for the snake to undulate down into a pile of leaves.

For the next 4 days all we heard about was the “so cool beautiful rattlesnake. pay attention. show respect.”

I can’t promise not to inflict all my deep-seated fears on my children. But here is one little chestnut of hope that sometimes, just maybe, I can break an unhelpful cycle. Keep their sense of peace intact whatever my own irrational hang ups.

Happy Fathering

June 19, 2011


Thanks for breeding with me…

My little runaway…run, run, run, run, runaway

June 14, 2011

I think every parent at times asks the question, “Am I a good parent?” Some days when I feel myself about to go into a core reactor meltdown I have to repeat my favorite mantras…

“He’s only two.”

“It is easier to raise a healthy child than fix a broken adult.”

We have been working A LOT with empathy in our house. This means that when I get smacked in the leg or spat at (oh no he didn’t. oh yes he did) I try to get down to the little guy’s level and give him some firm compassion. “You are so mad. You really want  to (insert: watch 342 hours of videos, eat ice cream in bed, bang wooden hammer on sister’s head, throw rocks at the car, rip out newly planted flowers) don’t you. You are so mad that you are trying to hurt Mommy. I don’t like to get hurt. Ouch. Let me give you a hug instead.” 7 times out of 10 this actually diffuses the situation and my little guy crumples like a kleenex into my lap overcome by his emotion. He’s 2. I mean it’s like living with PMS 24/7 apparently. When I am actually successfully in an empathetic state I really do get it. Being a small guy in an adult world is hard. I can remember snatches of his frustration. The drudge of the afternoon nap (I can still even remember the floral patterns on the sheets of my bed). The distaste of having my applesauce spread into my peas. The boring journeys to the plant nursery or grocery store.

Empathy is also way better than my alternate approach which is “DON’T SPIT. GO IN YOUR ROOM UNTIL YOU CAN ACT NICELY.” “NONONONO.” “YESYESYESYEYES.” “NONONONONONO.” “YESYESYESYESYES.” Drags little guy into room. Those No’s and Yes’s can go back and forth for upwards of a half an hour.

So…empathy generally seems to be working on a big picture level. But let me just say this is not without a hiccup or two.

Take yesterday . My overtired guy decided to boycott naps altogether and stage a protest that would be the envy of unions and pro-democracy activists everywhere. Fine, I decided after 2 hours of futile gentle encouragement. Fine, no nap. That was promptly followed by a poo in the closet. “Wow, you are really angry to go poop in your diaper in the closet. You are so angry that you didn’t want the toilet.” Fine, change diaper. This is where the gauntlet is throw…in process of cleaning away said diaper I hear front door slam.

Are you kidding me?

WTF? I run out to backyard to check out sandbox, toybox, garden. Nope.

WTF? I head to front yard to check out car, etc. Nope.

Seriously…WTF? I hustle down to end of driveway and look left, than right. Bingo. My two year old son is running (naked as a little jaybird) up the sidewalk towards the rather busy road a block away. I start to chase him. He cackles and diverts into our street. I catch him right in front of a house with a bunch of hippy UCSC students moving out. Dude, was I about to harsh their mellow.

In my pajamas I grab my little nudie rudie quite roughly with empathy out the window. Much cathartic yelling ensued on my part, I’m sure the other neighbors were peering out their blinds thinking what is that crack mom up to now? The hippie gaped.  My son issued some nervous laughter that sent me from angry to freaking full on Fukushima meltdown fury. Then that little mantra sprouted up like a tiny hopeful flower inside my toxic sludge, “He is two.”

Cue the deep breath. Exhale. Repeat.

“I was so scared.” I said making a scared face.

“Yeah.” My guy responded, laughter ceasing.

“I was so scared because you ran out of the house and I didn’t know where you were.”

“Yeah. I ran away.”

“I was so frightened that you would get hurt by a big car.”

“I so sorry Mama.”

Cue loads of tears from little guy and then in turn his mama.

Since this traumatic event he’ll walk up  at random moments and say, “Run away Mama? No way!”

Hopefully he’ll remember that when he turns 16 or so and we are embroiled in some teenage quagmire. Hopefully I remember to keep having those gleanings of empathy at the right moment (or a few minutes later, better late than never). A nightly glass of red doesn’t hurt either. I’m working my way down the Central Coast wineries. And on those mantras.

my own personal zen master


if whitney houston could just write the soundtrack to my life…

June 1, 2011

…because i can’t get “give me one moment in time” outta my head tonight. just made my ailing hubs a cup of tea (apparently i’m under contractual obligation to furnish hot drinks including meyer lemon and honey as required), peeled a book of animal illustrations of my sleeping little boy’s sweaty face, and tucked the blankie snuggly around a snoring miss b. now time for an hour or two of wild writing.

still unpacking from trip north to the big smoke of SF. Got to see the opening of the talented James Chronister’s Now We Lustre. Nearly drove a 5 seater tourist bike out of Golden Gate Park and onto Hwy 1. Discovered bourbon/cornflake ice cream and fava bean dip. Took my first trip on the BART. Caught up with dear old Missoula friends, laughed hard, remembered much. Wished I could keep some people in my pocket (although they’d likely think otherwise given the state of my pockets).

you know what, life is pretty sweet just now. almost as sweet as that delish ginger tea/raw honey/lemon zest concoction i just prepared.

so now, thanks to whitney, is the theme of today’s post…

give me a few more of these crazy rainy day moments in time.

(you can literally see the attack unfold from start to finish)

I believe the dialogue went a bit like this

Bronte: This is fun!

Jarah: This is fun!

Bronte: My big brother is so freaking cool, I’m so lucky!

Jarah: Hang on, I think I’m going to suffocate you now.

Bronte: WTF ***sputtersputter***

Jarah (suddenly speaking like Darth Vader): I’ve got you now.

Bronte: FML….wait a second. I love you! Do it again, do it again!