Bad Words

I was working in the garden spreading some old dirt around. There were large roots in it that I thought looked like guts.

“Guts” I said.  “Hey Ella, I’m going to say a bad word.”

“What word?” 

“Guts.  Guts guts guts.”  (This line is from the movie Ramona and Beezus, which Ella was very familiar with at the time.  In the movie, everyone laughs because guts is not a bad word. Which is why it is funny in the first place.)

“Hey Mom, I’m going to say a bad word.”

“What word, Ella?”


“What the?  Ella, don’t say that word.  That’s not funny — that is a bad word.”

I wrote that a few years ago, when Ella was five.  I never published it.  I don’t know why. Maybe I was embarrassed that my five year old princess had a sailor’s mouth. Good thing she was awfully cute…

Ella at the Barn NST

Bad Words

You are still in there.

A letter came home with you — an assignment. I was supposed to write about you.

I set that letter down and I knew I would not do it.  Not because I didn’t have time.  Not because the dates on the letter were mixed up and I was confused about when it was actually due, though I used that as an excuse to delay.

I knew I wouldn’t write about you because I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what I can say anymore.  It used to be that I could write all kinds of sugar-sweet thoughts about you…about your raspy voice, or your feathery blonde hair, or that little brown patch in your eye. Or how I loved to breathe in the scent of your crown, or hold your hand. Back then I could write achingly long pieces about little you, buddy, and how gentle and tender you were.

But you are a young man now, and my writing about those things would embarrass you. And the truth is, while I know that little boy is still in there, I don’t see him much anymore. Little things, little rituals, little reminders of that little boy that I have clung to all these years have almost all disappeared. You have changed so much over the past few months. How do I explain you to strangers, when I am struggling to keep up with you, myself? What can I say, to them, about you?

If I could tell them about you, I would tell them that the other day, I stood in the kitchen looking at you and I realized that you have grown. Again. I don’t look straight into your eyes anymore, I have to look up.  So we measured you. Nearly three inches of growth in the last seven months.  It is hard to keep you fed. It is hard to keep you satisfied.

I would tell them that it is hard to keep you happy.  But that I remind you, keeping you happy is not my job. You want a new phone. You want a PS4. You want new shoes. You want to go places and you want to do things. You want money. You want so much. But I want you to learn how good it feels to work hard and save for something. I want you to understand that you have to make choices. Once in a while I see it in you. But fairly often I am left searching for ways to harness your intensity into something productive. Fairly often, I wonder what I need to do better.

I would tell them that you are often the first one to volunteer when I ask for help. That when I ask you to do something, you rarely complain.  That you are neat and organized. That you thrive on rewards. That you crave independence. I would be sure that they knew that even though sometimes you may appear a bit zesty, you are still just a kid trying to figure out his place.

They should know that you are a determined individual. When you are excited about something, you will work for it. When you have an idea, you will pursue it immediately, unfettered by logistics or any other type of constraint. While I love the intensity, and I totally get it because you get that from me, we are trying to teach you about patience, and planning, and proper execution. Those words are not exactly in your wheelhouse just yet.

I suppose I would also tell them that you don’t spend a heck of a lot of energy worrying about your grades. Every once in a while you seem motivated. But you usually do very well without trying all that hard, and I’m not sure that is a good thing. You remember things easily…statistics and names and how many times we’ve had chicken for dinner in the last week. You sell candy from your locker at school. You love basketball. You spend hours on Sundays tracking your fantasy football teams. Or playing xbox.  Or yelling at the xbox. You cannot stand to lose. You love having your friends come over. You love eating all the chips in the house. You love soda. You love sugar. You love teasing your little sister. And yet every once in a while, you will say something really nice to her. You will help her with something. Yesterday, I heard you and Henry in the bedroom. The valves on his baritone were stuck. I heard you help him. I heard you teach him. Those moments don’t get by me unnoticed. Your teachers should surely know about those moments.

This morning, I watched you fixing your hair.  Now that your hair has grown out, you fix it up with gel and a comb and the whole dealio.  And you don’t dress like a slob.  Your appearance is important to you, usually. I stood and looked at you, the young man in front of me, as you spoke. The things about you that I know by heart were still there…how the sunlight softens your long eyelashes; the way the light bounces off your hair; the perfect bridge of your nose, splashed with freckles. And your beautiful eyes, the blue-grey of them and that brown patch that you hate. I love that brown patch.

And I saw the little you.  You are still in there. Your teachers should know that, too.

You are still in there.

When Everyone Leaves

Well this morning was not my best morning ever.  I was frustrated by all the people.  I just needed a little extra quiet this morning, or something, and I didn’t get it.  Imagine that…no quiet in a house full of people…huh.  There was a little countdown in my head. A little clock ticking down the seconds until the whistling would stop, and the shoe squeaking and the pounding of hardwoods and the talking talking talking. And the buzzy energy.  It was palpable. Every morning, it’s palpable.  I will miss this someday.

Then everyone left and I stood there looking around at the quiet. Poppy looked at me like she expected me to say something important, but I just sat down to eat my oatmeal.  Then I walked around turning off all the lights.  David likes all the lights on.  All. The. Lights. Except in the evening when you actually need all the lights on.  Then he only likes some of the lights on.

And then I straightened out all the pillows that Poppy has smashed and I smacked all the dog hair off them.  I love her but she is extremely hairy. I stood there looking out the window at the front garden which I have completely let go this summer.  It is just plain sad. When I look at it I feel blech.

I sit here now, and behind me Poppy is smashing down my fancy beaded pillow again.  It was fluffy for about ten minutes.  I knew when I bought them she would probably ruin them. I knew it and I bought them anyway.


She is asleep now. That is all I can hear, just her slow, deep breathing.

When Everyone Leaves

The Ending of Summer

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
–Henry James

Oh Henry, you slay me.  I do love summer, and we have but a month of it left.  I’m not quite sure where the time all went…but my heart is a bit heavy over the fact that summer’s end is near.

Kate will be in high school this fall.  Maybe that’s part of the sorrow in it, I don’t know. On the surface, the whole high school thing doesn’t bother me.  But just below the surface, where the beating of my heart is hidden from view but clearly palpable, I guess I know that my time with her here is fading.  I have four short years left, and one day soon I will turn around and realize it is all over.  All those little things about her will be gone — confined to her bedroom or taken away with her completely; I will look around and there will be nothing but her photographs to remind me.

No more bottles of nail polish scattered around.  No more dirty old bag full of horse hair and muddy riding boots in the kitchen.  No more viola in the hallway…and no music behind her bedroom door.  No more love notes, or doodles or sketches to surprise me. I won’t be able to hear her laugh or watch her silly new dance moves or see her smile.  I won’t be able to look over at her and see her sitting there, long legs unfolded gracefully before her as she reads. And we won’t talk at bedtime anymore, the way we do now.

Most nights, I imagine, I will go to sleep wondering if her day was a good one, or if some creep has broken her precious heart. I will wonder if she’s eating healthy and if she got her juice in the morning (and I will worry for her roommate if not…). And I will wonder if she is tucked in each night…is she safe and is she happy and is she really doing alright? I will just have to trust that she is, and that if not, she will tell me.

I’m not sure how to do that. I’m not sure how a mother trusts and lets her child go…

I do think this is where the sorrow comes from. The ending of another summer is really just an inching closer to the day my heart breaks a little…the day it goes walking off on its own.

Kate 14 NST

The Ending of Summer

This Place Right Here

The other night, Poppy was out there barking again.  Ever since the bear came sauntering through the neighborhood I’ve been nervous about at what exactly it is she’s barking. Usually it’s the groundhog eating my strawberries. And daisies. And Echinacea. And Parsley. And Black-Eyed Susans. The funny thing is, Poppy cornered that poor little groundhog against the fence the other day and didn’t know what to do next.

Anyway…  I went out to see what all the noise was about. Boy are the spiders active at night. I looked at the windows that really need cleaning. And the tree that just died this spring and needs to be brought down. Three of them, actually, need to be brought down. But in order to do that, our chainsaw needs to be fixed. And we still need to fix the water pipe that leads to the front hose. Honestly, there are so many projects around here…cracked tiles in the bathroom, and windows with popped seals and water stains on ceilings that could really use repainting.

I love this house in spite of all of it.

And also in spite of the fact that right now this house is a complete mess.

The matching sock I couldn’t find last night is on the coffee table (I don’t know why or how it got there). There are empty popcorn bowls and water bottles and three Rubik’s Cubes scattered around. The old man stuffed a box of basketball jerseys for summer league under the chair in the family room. The popcorn pot still sits on the stove from last night. There are legos and bottles of nailpolish on the island.  And Jellycat.  And four pool towels hanging on chairs and the stair posts.

The dishwasher is full of clean dishes that need to be put away.  The counters are full of clean pots and cutting boards and serving bowls. The sink is full of dirty dishes that didn’t fit in the dishwasher.

The mess will be cleaned up shortly.

And tomorrow morning I will probably be looking at a very similar scene.

In our first house everything was perfectly placed, everything clean and neat. No clutter. I looked around one day and realized what was wrong with that house. It looked sterile…not at all like a home. That was before the babies came. Sterile is no longer a word I would use to describe our environment.

I look around now, at this home we live in, and this is what a home feels like to me. Some days I really, really cannot stand the remains of the day, the messes all over the place, to be sure. But the things I see now — the popcorn bowls and pool towels, the jerseys and toys and nail polish and dishes — these are the things that remain after a day well spent.

Someone asked me the other night, half in jest, if we would be moving out to P’ville soon the way so many of our friends have.


Nothing against P’ville, but I like this place right here.


This Place Right Here

June 10th

You’ve been gone longer than you were here.  That makes me awfully sad.

You were such a good thing in my life.

I knew when you pooped on the floor at Petsmart on our way home from picking you out that we had absolutely no idea what we were getting into with you.

Remember how you chewed up all my cookbooks? I still have them you know…I don’t use them much anymore but I can’t bear to part with them.

They remind me too much of you.

It’s true that we didn’t know what life would be like with a Labrador…with you… Nor did we know just how magnificent a dog you would turn out to be.

Coco Edited

My heart aches a little, sometimes a lot, every June 10.

Miss you old Pal. I always, always miss you.

Is there really a Rainbow Bridge?

June 10th


Today you are eight years old.

Ella 8-2 NST

I can remember the terrific, terrifying thrill of knowing I was pregnant with you…the moment I knew.  For weeks after, I would lie in bed at night and listen to the life within me…you. I held my breath until I could hear the sounds…the rhythmic, rapid, whooshing of your tiny little heart.

You are a perfect little miracle.

And now eight entire years have gone by.  Sometimes I sit in my big yellow chair in the bedroom and watch you dress in the morning.  I am there mainly because you require reminding.  Usually, that is frustrating.  But every once in a while, I will just watch.  I just watch as you are enveloped in that other world you inhabit…the make-believe world filled with buttercups and dragonflies and sparkling sunshine. You are somewhere else entirely. If only I could go there with you just once…I believe it must be magical.

Ella 8-3 NST

I wonder, as I’m watching you in those few precious moments, how I am ever frustrated with you at all. Those little freckles and those little strawberry eyelashes.  Those eyes that laugh when you smile.  Your little voice, and your laugh.  Your hands, and how they feel in mine.

Even the way you throw your head back and whine…the way you stomp up the stairs when I ask you to do your chore or clean your room or brush your hair.  Yes, even those things make me smile.

The way you hold Jellycat, how s.l.o.w.l.y you eat and how absolutely horrified you are that most bugs exist at all.  Your tendency to fabricate the truth about what really happened to your toothpaste, or whether you really washed your hair.  Your horrible, horrible handwriting. Your beautiful, generous heart. Your crazy, wonky teeth.  The way you push up your glasses.

Ella 8-4 NST

You are a better story than I could have ever written, Ella Louise.

I still watch you sleep most nights.  I cover you, and brush the hair from your forehead. I kiss your crown and breathe in the scent of you. And I just look at you.

Ella 8-5 NST

From the first moment I knew, I have loved you.  Deeply, madly, and with every thing I am, I love you.

Happy birthday, baby girl.


Living the Dream

I was up early again…what is with the not sleeping?  This morning it was 4:38 when I woke up.  I went downstairs, made coffee and did a little reading.  I read a piece about dreams, having dreams and making your dreams come true.  And I sat there and thought, I don’t really have a dream…it already came true…I already have my dream come true.

I already have my dream come true.

This morning my dream come true looked like this:

7:30 Me telling Ella to get herself ready for school (which includes four basic things every.single.morning. It does not vary:  1-get dressed. 2-put your jammies and undies where they belong. 3-brush your hair. 4-brush your teeth.)

7:32 Me telling Ella to get ready for school.

7:36 Me telling Ella to get back in her room and don’t come out until she’s fully dressed.

7:38 Me asking Ella what she is supposed to be doing instead of showing me how the handles on her glasses case can look like a smiley face. She forgot what she’s supposed to be doing. It’s understandable because she’s only been doing this for the last 1,000 days or so.

7:41 Me telling Ella to get back in her room and finish getting ready.

7:44 Me, with my hands over my face asking Ella what she is supposed to be doing.

7:46 Me finishing Ella’s hair for her because her idea of getting all the tats out is not a fully-matured idea.

7:48 Me telling Ella to brush her teeth. And not to forget her sweatshirt because it will be cool today.

7:50 Hugging her goodbye. Smelling sunblock in her hair. Feeling how small she is. Wishing her the best day ever…

I watched the old man drive off with those two redheads. Henry was playing with a rubik’s cube.  He has learned algorithms to solve the thing…hasn’t solved it yet but he will.  And Ella in the back…her little tiny self smiling at me with that wonky tooth of hers and waving to me.

Then I took a glance at her room.  Her jammies and undies are on the floor. Her sweatshirt is still sitting on her bed. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t brush her teeth either.

Yep.  Living the dream.

Living the Dream

Car Trouble

It’s 6:30 on Sunday morning. I couldn’t sleep.

The sunlight comes through our bathroom window. I could tell by the way the dappled light was shifting on the wall that there was a soft breeze blowing outside. I came downstairs to sip coffee and watch the branches sway, the leaves flutter and the sunlight dance as it rose over the ravines and through the trees. Simple, beautiful sunshine…it mends my soul.

Last weekend we took a trip to visit the parentals in coastal North Carolina. I actually forgot about school and deadlines and responsibility for a few days. Anyway, about five hours into the trip (maybe more…it’s all a blur now) we stopped for gas. It was at this point that the old man realized that the reverse gear was not functional. Um… Okay… So we forged ahead because really, what else could we do? The rest of the trip remained uneventful if you don’t count the dashboard beeping, the transmission light flaring, the jerky gear shifting and my fervent praying for us to puh-lease not get stuck on the bridge.

And then the next morning, the car wouldn’t go into drive, either.

I am going to miss that car.

We bought a new car a few days later. I cried the first time I drove it…one of those cries where you feel it in your throat, and in your chest, and your eyes water up but no tears fall. The new car is very nice, but all I really wanted was my old, smelly, gravely-engined Mountaineer back.

And now I have become the food police in the new car, Kate teases me.

No food in the new car!

No red Gatorade in the new car!

No water in the new car!  (You know how if you spill water in the car it smells like rotten beans for the next thirteen years? Ask me how I know…)

Someone, who shall remain nameless, got chocolate all over the inside door handle. The car is three days old and it’s already ruined. I looked at the chocolate and freaked out a tiny bit. And then out of my mouth flew a sentence that has been handed down through the generations…

This is why we can never have anything nice.

Car Trouble