Saturday, September 27, 2008

Today at lunch

in a restaurant, my son crawled underneath the table. As he was being both quiet AND sessile, I figured it was a blessing I ought not question.

Fifteen minutes later, he peeked his head out from under the table. Friends, I have no way to make this poetic. He was chewing gum.

Several pieces.

That we hadn't given him.

He scraped them from the bottom of the table. And just fifteen minutes earlier, Tim had commented that Carter was drinking his chocolate milk "with the determined look of a depression-era child." Perhaps Carter's just honing his foraging skills.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Now let me tell you something. . .

the cost of living down the street from some people with a garbage bin is listening to the big truck remove the bin once a month in the pre-dawn hours of a Friday. And the cost of getting the paper, here in Denver, is about $75 annually and being one of the thumps in the thump-thump-thump, also pre-dawn, of paper delivery. And the cost of living down the street from a man with a Harley? The roar of his motorcycle as he gets going to wherever it is that he goes each morning at 5:45 a.m.. Finally, the cost of living in a neighborhood zoned for chickens? You guessed it. More pre-dawn noise.

But I am saved, somehow, the cost of an alarm clock.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A day in the ears of. . . US!

In the morning it's the sweet song that breaks our long silent night and dawn wakes and you're jazz hanging one-handed from the moon kissing us goodbye at the mountain tops. By nine, you're two cups of coffee buzzing sweet and low almost a whisper of sound the scent of a child in aural form. By noon you barely stop to sniff at your lunch and you're a tornado of "Today we" and "And we" and "Can we" and "I love" and "I need, I need, I need." By three you've talked the best parts of me out and they lie sullen on the couch dreaming of earplugs. Four rings itself in with a squelched scream, brother and sister talking over each other, competing for quality decibels. By five I'm two fingers into my first whiskey and dreaming of the crowd noise from five football games. At seven, we kiss, and I send you to sleep. Seven-fifteen and I want another beer as I hear the thump-thump-thump of your brother, your percussive compatriot and you're still blathering on singing songs about days or numbers or whatever it is that skitters through your head like a small animal with big predators.

And by eight, my sweet, I'm swaddled in a blanket of silence thick as my love for all of you. Your father knows better than to talk. He sits. I sit. We breathe and listen to the cricket in the basement, the cat who misses your life sounds. He yowls, scared, without the soundtrack of you.

By midnight I miss you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Funny, this grass? Greener, yes. Full of angry vitriolic advertising? Also yes.

I know, I know. Those who know me have listened to me say, for years, "Oh, I just wish my vote *counted*, I'm so outnumbered in my state I feel there's no point." Then I would expressively bring the back of my hand to my forehead, tilting my eyes to the heavens, and sigh, "Alas."

So far this week, I've learned that John McCain sleeps with special interest groups or, at the very least, hires them, Obama loves infanticide and giant growing models of the White House that loom ominously over sleeping babies (which he obviously forgot to kill). McCain/Palin stand for change. And more of the same. Obama stands for change. And more of the same old Democrat-run Washington.

And in case you weren't paying attention, neither candidate believes you know how to speak Spanish. If they did, they'd be ashamed for their Spanish-language advertisements.

If you'd asked me a year ago -- "What single quality do both candidates hold that make them admirable", I'd have said their honor. Obama wants words to mean what they mean and I believe him to be an honorable man. McCain said he wanted a clean campaign and is an outstanding senator with an over 30 year record of service to his country. I'd hoped this year's race to the White House would be as honorable as it could be.

It isn't. And living in a swing state, that's all the more apparent. I'll vote for my candidate on election day. And I'll hope he wins. But there's no doubt in my mind that both candidates will get a flurry of letters in these next few weeks that open with "Shame on you, Mr. Candidate."

As a lover of words, I'm a greater lover of ideas. I'm ashamed to say that this Presidential race, like many before it, isn't as both candidates ensured us -- about ideas -- it is about catch phrases, unfair emotional appeals, news blips, and whatever makes good 60 second coverage on the 6 o'clock news. If Americans have allowed themselves to become so shamelessly shallow, well, in addition to shaming the candidates, I'd say "Shame on you, Americans."

Go. Take some time to read. Read the plans and policies of both candidates. In fact, during your evening tv, mute the thing during commercials, open up a webpage, and visit:


While you're there, please skip the tv section.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Smart AND Punny

As Tim and I were discussing politics last night, Lilly was excitedly trying to tell us something. Having been interrupted a half-dozen times so far in this meal, I ignored her frantic hand-waving and soft voice saying "I have something to say" so that I could finish my point. At one point, I turned to her and said "Lilly, you're interrupting."

She giggled.

I finished my point and looked at her. "What?"

"You said a funny word."
"You said a funny word."
"What word?"
"Urine-terrupting." Peals of laughter.

She's not even six yet. Not.even.six.

Friday, September 19, 2008

They aren't earthquakes. . . they're aftershocks.

Though I'm from tornado country not earthquake country, I'm familiar with the idea of aftershocks. I've heard that aftershocks are more dangerous and intense than the earthquakes themselves -- the event itself isn't as life-changing as that which comes after.

In the span of the past few weeks, we've had the increasingly softer aftershocks of anniversaries of major events: the anniversaries of 9/11 and Katrina, for example. They are full of pain, but as I watch the children around me grow older, both become more "This day in history" events and less an event that stopped our hearts. And there have been new earthquakes: Gustav and Ike battering our southern shores. Meanwhile, my mother, my sisters, and I are embarking on a series of aftershocks of our own.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of a sequence of events that took us from "the beloved of a man with cancer" to those who remain after his death. Each day between now and the second week of October is marked by anniversaries -- small and large aftershocks of a stunning event. Some of them are good. Very good. And some of them are horrible.

In the past year, while my siblings have spent their time weaving their grieving of David in the tremendous space his absence has left, I have not. I'm only now feeling the massive emptiness that remains. It is not as though David's death has gone unacknowledged here -- but as we have lived 500 miles away for several years, David's absence hasn't woven itself into my dailiness. The aftershocks are hitting. And they are massive.

Our family is coming to accept that some think it's easier after the first year. The first holidays without, the searing pain of the immediate loss -- most people think that these fade in the first year and those who suffered loss should now begin to pick up the pieces, to move on.

What many of them don't understand is that the intensity of this loss doesn't really fade. I think that rather than thinking of it as an aftershock, I liken it to losing a limb. I don't think that a person who loses a limb ever "moves on." I think that they always feel the phantom pain and a peculiar sense of absence. Eventually they adjust. They might even get a new limb. But I doubt that they ever "move on."

As my sisters, my mother, and I embark on this next two weeks of anniversaries, of aftershocks, of phantom pain, I hope that those around us understand.

One year and three days ago, David preached his last sermon. He sang "Love and Marriage."
One year ago today, David received news that the cancer was winning.
364 days ago, David had an operation to extend his life.
354 days ago, David was taken off of life-extending medications, our family played cards into the night, and camped in his room. We hadn't all bunked in the room like that since our trip to Washington, DC in 1993. My sister and I huddled on our roll-away and listened to Sufjen Stevens songs. David, his wife, and his three girls spent a last night, just us. No monitors. No doctors. Just us.
353 days ago, I watched the sunrise over an Omaha skyline and witnessed one of the most amazing and most stunningly painful events in my life.

Eight days later, we mourned David among hundreds of voices lifted up to honor him in the best way possible: We pulled all the stops out on the organ, we stopped crying long enough to sing, and we were held up by faith, hope, and love and a community of people whose lives were touched by one man.

I can only hope that the aftershocks of him and not the aftershocks of his death resound with everyone else this week. I do not want or need them to remember these individual moments. But I hope they stop for a moment in the next two weeks and allow themselves to acknowledge that phantom pain - a real and significant loss to the world. As a friend of mine said David's a good man. The world needs more not fewer of them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

He must be sneaking peaks at the Old Testament:

My son has just begun to pray at our dinner table. We're not big praying type people, but a dinner prayer is a nice way to get everyone's attention, express gratitude, and focus on each other and the meal.

My 5 1/2 year old generally does the honor with one or another prayer she learned in Preschool. This week, Carter interjected: I want a do prayer.

So we waited. He reverently folded his hands, setting his forehead on them, and quietly spoke:

Please don't kill me.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Where is it? Where is it?

My son's developed a new game. He runs through our small house, the patter of his feet echoing in every imaginable corner. He says, over and over "Where's that cricket? Where IS it?" And then, looking to the sky, the four corners, and the floor, he sings "Cricket? Cricket? Where are you my cricket!"

To be fair, I blame my brother.

Last Monday, my brother came to visit us. He was in Denver for a few days and wanted to drop by. He brought a girl with him too. When she walked in, she introduced herself to my children. Her name?


I think you can imagine what happened next! Being two, Carter associates the word "Cricket" with neither a person nor a drawn out game from across the pond, but with a small black insect, whose chirps he hears resonating from our basement every evening. He ran throughout the house screaming "Cricket! Cricket! Where ARE you?!?!?" to which Chris's friend would reply "I'm right HERE!". He'd squeal in the way every delighted two-year-old squeals and run into her arms, laughing.

Unfortunately, he's been unable to find his cricket for a week now. His queries have become more pleading and less playful in the past few days. I suspect he's begun to miss her. Or, perhaps, to once again associate her name with that small black chirper in the basement.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When diplomacy fails.

I should have hung a sign around myself today that said "Do not engage." I am worked up. And my father, who is my political doppleganger, is also worked up.

So today, rather than write anything, I want to share something I've written in the past:

For us, father

politics are hand grenades.
Words cut like bombs
and strategic air strikes
are far more damaging
than we'd like.

It's not that we disagree
that is so hard to take.
So alike are we
that we can't understand
how the other would ever
don our opposer's uniform.

I'm guessing
these wars
might just be avoidable.

Whatever we do,
we will speak of the plains
but not the farmers,
the country,
not the president,
the news,
not the judgement.

For now our fingers
poised away from the pins:
paternalistic head-patting,
youthful arrogance and distrust.

For the next few years
we will stare at each other
over the demilitarized zone
of talk of your granddaughter,
my new home,
the weather,
busying our hands and minds
with iced tea or porch swings
instead of the smooth cool metal
between everything
and nothing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A word on words. . .

This morning in my class, I went over a quiz with my students. One particular question on the quiz that many missed was this:

True or False When creating an emotional appeal in an audience, it is acceptable to use biased language.

MANY of my students were under the impression that the answer was TRUE. For our students who are now raised under the guise of modern news, debate, and politics, this might seem to be the case. But as one essential piece of every piece of writing is that of Ethos, the ethical standing and reliability of the writer, it's important for me to teach my students that skewering an opponent with facts and unbiased language should be far more powerful in the creation of an argument than doing so with biased language. The answer is false and today I had an excellent opportunity to show them such strategies in action.

Words are powerful. We discuss in class not only denotation (the dictionary definitions of words) but connotation as well -- the powerful emotional triggers that many words tend to carry. Right now we have two political parties beating up fervor and support for their candidates in November's election. One party associates itself with hope and change. The other, evidenced in last night's speeches, seeks to identify themselves in country first and service. Last night's speech by Sen. Fred Thompson also showed a desire to associate the party's Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates with both rebellion and honor as well.

As both parties have made clear: Words are important. They help to shape our thinking. And in this election year, they help to create our reactions to the candidates.

You can imagine, then, my disappointment when Independent Senator Joe Lieberman said this during his speech last night (emphasis mine): Sen. Barack Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who I think can do great things for our country in the years ahead, but, my friends, eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times for America.

Lieberman attempted to make the point that others have made: that Obama, while eloquent, lacks the experience that makes him a strong Presidential candidate. I'm not going to take the time to argue with him here, though I do believe Lieberman is wrong.

What I ask my students to realize -- and what I ask others to realize -- is that how we say things is often more important than what we say. Lieberman was saying that Obama lacks experience, but in the connotations of his words, he essentially equated Barack Obama with a really talented child.

Either that or I should be relieved to know that Lieberman considers me an adequate wordsmith who happens to be a suckling child.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A word on Palin

I can think of hundreds -- maybe even thousands of reasons that I dislike McCain's running mate choice in Palin. It seems that she and I disagree on just about anything.

That said, perusing my mommy message boards this morning, I was struck dumb by the most common refrain in fellow mommies' disgust with Palin's candidacy: she is mother to a 5 month old special needs son.

I sincerely hope that this is not a new refrain from the Democratic Party who fought tooth and nail to soften Hillary's shrill appearance.

If we, collectively, want to work for "Equal pay for equal work" and have a woman serve as President of the United States, I hope that we can find better things to argue about Palin's candidacy than the fact that she's mother to a five-month-old. Personally, I don't understand how any woman can be together-enough to leave the house before noon with an infant, and I'd never make the choice to willingly give up those early months and years as a stay at home mom, but I fully realize that not every woman makes the same decisions I make -- and that those decisions are intensely personal, relying fully on the personality and needs of the woman and her family. I suspect, in the end, that the three girls in Sarah Palin's family are well-served by watching their mother work hard to bust through the "eighteen million cracks in the glass ceiling" that Hillary made. I feel quite strongly that if women in this nation want a woman to be President some day, we need to stop attacking Palin and public servants like her for creating and building the strong experience that leads to qualification for Presidential service -- and, rather, agree or disagree with their political history and choices.

Or, at the very least, we need to hold our men in office to the same standards. What does it say to our children to attack a woman for taking on the Presidency and neglecting the needs of her children while at the same time congratulating a man who runs for Presidency with two young children of his own? I cannot imagine for a moment saying to my daughter, Well, dear, Fathers are unimportant and can commit their lives to public service but Mothers need to be home with their children at least until their daughters graduate high school or college. . .

To be clear, I'm no supporter of Palin. We disagree on everything from guns to the legalization of Marijuana, to same-sex marriage, and terrorism and Iraq. That said, I plan on attacking her on those issues and not on her choices as a mother and public servant. I sincerely hope that my fellow liberals do the same.
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