our own little government shut-down

The government shut-down today did not close the food-stamps office. But it might as well have, because they seem to be working at shut-down levels. Or maybe they're just in the business of shutting people down generally.

Would you like to hear me complain for a minute about government bureaucracy? Of course you would!

I sent in our re-certification paperwork for SNAP benefits at the end of August. They send us this form once a year that says something like, We really have until October to process your recertification application, but we take a long time doing shit so please fill out this form and make copies of all your bills and have it back to our office by August 30th. Which is tomorrow.

I make copies, I fill out forms, I send everything back on time. I assume things are fine because to assume otherwise is to live for months with a stress-induced stomach ache.

Last Tuesday I get a letter that said, Hi, We actually need more paperwork from you. Please copy these additional 4 bills and put them in the mail by the end of the week. Giving me more than 1 day of turnaround was pretty kind of them, if unusual. I had everything in the mail on Friday to arrive by their due-date on Monday.

Just to make things clear, the additional paperwork they requested was due on 9/30. On 9/26, four days before the paperwork was due, they mailed me a notice saying they were closing my case. The letter actually includes a hilarious sentence, "Your case will close because we have not been able to fully process it."

Let that sink in for a second. Despite having two months to process a 4-page application, they take a month to tell me I need to make more copies, then give me negative four days from the due-date to get them in. Then they cancel my case because THEY didn't have enough time to process it.

That's your government working for you.

I called the offices today, and was surprised to find my case worker at her desk despite the federal government being shut down today. I guess she's a state employee. She had no problem shutting me down from a federal program, though.

Did you get the paperwork I sent in last week?
Should I mail it in again?
Should I fax it?
But I got a letter that you closed my case!
Mail in our office takes a long time. But it's your responsibility that I get it. If I see your paperwork, I'll work on it. If I need anything from you, I'll call.

So in other words, I have to sit on my hands and freak out, hope that their internal mail system works, wonder every day for a week if you should be calling, then call again on Thursday and see if I need to fill out a completely new application. And this is pretty much their standard operating procedure.

Two years ago they never got my set of documents, and I had to mail them in all over again. And I had to call two different case workers four different times to figure out that was what I was supposed to do. Working with the DTA is a process that takes stick-to-it-iveness.

If we don't get food stamps this year would our lives be over? No, we'd find a way to cope with our cash budget for the year. It'd mean less delicious and healthful treats for the pregnant lady. Berries and probiotic drinks and meat products don't fit into our cash budget. But children in Africa live on two meals of enriched rice a day, so my lack of free supermarket trips may accurately be described as a "first world problem."

On the other hand, I live in the first world and I would prefer it not to suck or to flip off poor people. I have friends who are poorer than me who haven't been able to get on Food Stamps because of the massive process involved. Even I, a woman with a masters degree and years of experience pushing papers, almost break out in hives every time I get a letter from Davidson Street in Lowell.

To effectively deal with the DTA, or any government agency for that matter, you need skills only possessed by a few members of the human race who are advanced in both intelligence and maturity. You need patience, non-attachment, the realization that your government doesn't care about you personally and the self-confidence to accept that. You need the organizational skills of an executive secretary to save every piece of paper you receive all year and file it in a place that's easily retrievable. You need envelopes and stamps at the ready. It helps if you have a printer and a scanner too, but if not you'd better be able to upload a file to a web server and print it out at the library.

Is this what we expect of people who make under $20,000 a year?


not plain noodles

The following is Harvey's response to the supper I set down before him this evening. (For the record, it was butternut squash pasta made by Leah, and his comments were all made without any intervening responses).


"I can't like this."

"I want just plain noodles!"

"I want sprinkling cheese on it!"

"And that other stuff."

To clarify for those of you in the audience not sufficiently versed in Harvey-language arcana, some explanations. "I can't like this" is Zion-language—like English, Harvey's speech is very susceptible to borrowings from other tongues. "Sprinkling cheese" is of course the kind of parmesan that comes in a jar with a shaker lid, and "that other stuff", as I knew perfectly well, is garlic powder (or "garlic power" as I say it every time, itself a borrowing from Harvey's early pronunciation of baby powder).

No plain noodles of course, but even after we fulfilled both his requested additions he still didn't eat the food. I restrained myself from letting him know that he'd better eat what he can get, the way things are around here lately! He tends not to eat much supper anyways. We didn't make him anything else, but he and Zion (another conscientious objector to orange pasta) were content with apple slices left over from a snack earlier.

There was a time when he would eat anything we put in front of him, but that time is not now. We don't mind though: there's no fear that he's not getting enough food! And when he doesn't eat, it's more for us. Because sorry Harvey, you don't know what you're talking about: that supper was delicious!


apple picking

some Empire apples up in the tree

lots like these

We went apple picking today. Harvey had been wanting to for some time—the leaves turning brown on our newest apple tree made him particularly nervous that the season was passing us by, so he was glad that we finally got organized to go.

Zion standing on a hay bale wearing a cape and crown

dressed for the occasion

Of course, besides the apples there was also the hay maze and goats to feed.

Harvey negotiating with the machine for some goat food, with a girl looking on

sharing the fun with others

There were at least three school groups there with us, so there were plenty of other kids around. Harvey didn't mind at all, and was happy to share the project of getting the goats their food. First you buy it (he brought along his own money for the first time), then you put in on a conveyor belt and turn a wheel to send it up to the goats' platform above.

Harvey turning a steering wheel to make the conveyor move

you turn this here...

two goats eating food off the conveyor

... and these guys get food

Then it was off to the picking itself. The school groups had finished lunch by this time and headed off to the buses, so we didn't have to fight the crowds.

Mama, Zion, and Harvey walking down the path towards the apple trees

dusty orchard roads

Unfortunately, there was some fighting from Zion and he didn't actually make it to the apple picking. Maybe he was too disappointed in the lack of hayride to want to go on. So Harvey and I pushed on alone; luckily apples pick pretty fast so we didn't leave Mama to her own devices for too long and were soon on our way home with half a bushel of Empires and Jonagolds. That should satisfy the kids' apple-eating needs for a couple days at least...


take the first step off a five-inch step

On Wednesdays and Saturdays I go to the gym to take a muscle conditioning class. It's a combination of weights and cardio using a step, and I look forward to it every moment that I'm not doing it. I look forward to it the way a drug addict looks forward to his next hit. Which is to say, I look forward to exercising with a mixture of excitement that it'll come soon, and sadness that it can't be right now, and underlying fear and anxiety that maybe it may not happen at all.

Because given the actual demands of children and church that "twice a week" is sometimes only theoretical.

I really wish I could go to the gym every day, not only because exercising makes me happy, but because staring at myself in the mirror while I'm exercising connects me to a personal identity I've forged over the past 15 years. It's like if I can see myself exercising then I remember I really exist. I know it doesn't make any real sense, yet it seems to be true. I joined the gym last February after a two-year hiatus, and the first time I took an aerobics class I looked at my moving reflection and said, "Oh, there you are, Leah, an individual with goals and feelings that matter. I haven't seen you since you had that second baby."

But there are bad things about going to the gym too.

As a person who has worked out A LOT in my adult life, I can easily fall into curmudgeonly habits. I get into an exercise groove that I like, and I get really mad when anything about it changes. I like MY SPOT in front of the mirror, and I get cranky if someone else takes that spot before me. I like getting the same locker every time, and I'm peeved if "my locker" isn't empty. I like peeing one minute before I go into class. It's like my time at the gym is "my special time" and I want it to be especially perfect.

I am not alone in this, people. I see you other women at the gym. You with your weird routine with the towel - how you drape it over the step just so until it's precisely even. We are all in our little worlds aren't we? Making everything perfect in order to make ourselves perfect?

But this morning I was waxing a little philosophical. I got to class 20 minutes early to set up my equipment in MY SPOT. I went downstairs to put my bag in my locker, but I didn't get MY LOCKER, because that one was already taken. I got a locker 5 spaces down from that one and felt a twinge of irritation. Then I thought, "Is this it? Is this all your life amounts to right now? Happy about your spot, unhappy about your locker? Happy because the happiness about your spot outweighs the unhappiness about your locker? Is this all in the universe that matters to you these days? You're happy or sad based on whether things go according to your arbitrary little routine?"

And then I peed and went up to class and forgot about my little philosophical moment because I had a lot of energy and I was really kicking butt. The warm-up went awesome, I was jamming to the tunes, I was thinking I looked like one of those professional fitness models who work out in the background of exercise videos. I mean, one of the the token fat fitness models, but still...

Then something unexpected happened. The teacher demonstrated a new move, I turned my head to look at her, and something happened to me that has never happend in my 15 years of taking step classes.

I fell off the step.

It was not like I kind of slipped and lost a beat and then shuffled to regain my balance. It was like gravity suddenly attacked me and I completely wiped out. My foot went on the step but not all the way on I guess. My entire body came crashing down to the floor while my foot stayed on the step. My first thought was, "Wow, that was embarrassing and I just missed 8 counts." I tried to stand up but found that I couldn't. My second thought was, "Oh, I really just sprained my ankle, didn't I? Well, that was a waste of a morning; I only worked out for TEN MINUTES!"

The spot, the locker, the bathroom stop, the weights all lined up in front of the mirror. Not to mention the hour-and-a-half of freedom I negotiated with my husband. All for what? Someone else will have to put my weights away, I will have to get ice, I will have to hobble down two flights of stairs and out to the car and go home to put up my foot up. I will have to sit in my semi-damp work-out clothes and figure out how I'm going to run my life for the next few days, and I haven't even gotten a break of half an hour. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

The teacher looks over at me sitting on the step and asks kind of incredulously, "Did you just hurt yourself."

I mouth the word "yes" over the techno music, nodding my head up and down with an expression that I hope conveys brave resignation. I put on a steely face and hobble towards the door, slowly dodging the healthy, youthful, alive looking people still getting a workout.

Oh God it hurts so much to put weight on it. I am doing mental calculations. Like maybe if I rest it all day today and tomorrow I can get back to laundry on Monday? Dan can keep the house out of chaos until Monday. And maybe if I only walk the dog and don't do any running I can be back in class on Wednesday. I can't go next Saturday because I have a church thing, but maybe I can take it easy and still come on Wednesday. If I don't work out for seven days I might mentally cease to exist.

Taking a rational perspective, sports injuries happen. Falling down happens. People fall down and twist ankles all the time, both at the gym and at home on their front steps. Dealing unemotionally with these sort of set-backs is what grown-ups do. It's part of being a mature person. You say, "Oh, here is the situation now" and you get ice and find an ace bandage and take it easy for a few days to prove you know how to exercise common sense.

There is one side of my brain that thinks like this. Then there is the other side of my brain which is like a crazy fight-club-inspired saint-in-training who reads too much Old Testament while simultaneously being influenced by the theory of karma and random postings on Facebook. And this insane side says, "This is probably God punishing me. Because of my pride. Or because of my vanity. Or because of my faith in exercising over my faith in Him."

"Or maybe it's God HELPING me become more unattached from my pride and vanity and faith in exercising over faith in him. Maybe He wants me to care more about other things, to break free of my myopic obsession with my favorite spot and my favorite locker and my favorite feeling inside of my body feeling a particular way."

Because it could neve be just a sprained my ankle, could it? It's always "whatever happend to me just now is a bigger part of a bigger story. A story in which I'm at the absolute center. A story in which my smallest routine up to and including my thoughts at the gym is ever so celestially important."

I should have realized this morning when I closed my locker door that THIS is what I'm fed up with. Not the smallness of my life, the smallness of my hopes and desires, but the crippling impossibly bigness of it all. I started going to the gym because I wanted my feelings to feel important, but maybe being important is too weighty as task for my feelings. Maybe my feelings are too fleeting and changeable to focus on. Now I'm up, now I'm down, now I'm spectacularly down and someone else is going to need to put my equipment away.

That's too much pressure (psychologically, not physically speaking.) I'd like to be mature for once and act like a sprain is just a sprain.

But oh, what an indignant pain.


fair enough

Harvey and Zion on the back of a 1911 fire truck

helmeted and ready

Fall is fair season. The rhythms of the year demand it: folks are done with most of the hard work of growing our food and they want to kick back and have some fun, and maybe show off a little of the awesome stuff they've grown or made. Not that any of that applies to most of us anymore, of course, but it's sort of hard-wired into our emotional calendars. And I suppose it's fine, when we don't have prize hogs and giant pumpkins handy, to satisfy ourselves with old-timey fire trucks and modern tractors to ride on.

Harvey in the driver seat of a tractor, still wearing the fire hat

no line to drive this one

Actually, there was a fairly big pumpkin at the East Village Fair in Lexington, where spent a few hours this past Saturday, but it wasn't very big nor was it at all photogenic. There were also some great games run by young people, a wide variety of foodstuffs available at exorbitant prices, and some high-quality used items for sale. We picked up six good YA and/or Harvey read-aloud paperbacks for three dollars.

the boys looking at hand-made wooden toys

beautiful and expensive

Of course, besides the fire truck and the tractor the boys were most interested in two things that strictly speaking weren't part of the fair at all. The little store at the Lexington Waldorf school is full of wonderful toys and craft materials that they could have browsed for much longer than we allowed them—Leah and I agreed that it was wonderful except for the prices and the presence of the occasional questionable item like the "witch/wizard staff of power".

Then of course there was the playground, with its Noah's ark play structure; that was another good half an hour. But you know, as much as we would have enjoyed those two things any other day we happened by, there was something about the fair atmosphere that made them even more special. Just look at that smile:

Zion smiling through a porthole in a playground ark

hi there!

More fairs still to come; we'll keep loving the fall.



So, I feel like I should post some updates for those of you who follow my online complaining with some degree of sympathy or concern. Not that I think you should do that, by the way. A passing appreciation of the humor is really all I ask.

After a follow-up chat with my case worker which surprisingly did not leave me wanting to kill myself, Food Stamps finally processed our application. Unfortunately something went wrong with either the processing or the case worker's understanding of Dan's pay schedule, because they put on our card less than half of our regular monthly amount. I haven't been able to reach the case worker on the phone this week, so I don't actually know what's going on. Part of the problem I think stems from the fact that we need to re-certify our income in a month when Dan doesn't have current pay stubs because it's the end of summer. Or it could just be another screw up. At any rate, the figure will need to be reworked regardless when Dan's pay stubs come in mid-month. Then I'll need to fax them over and call her again and see if we can get a normal human allotment for a family of five. In the mean time, we have enough money to use at the remaining four farmer's markets if I can remember to spend cash at Whole Foods, and we have so much storage crops piled up on the dining room buffet that I really can't complain about lack of food.

It's the stress that gives me a stomach ache. And then I wonder when our Mass Health paperwork needs renewed. And then I get so stressed that I have to go swig apple cider vinegar for its probiotic properties.

I've been thinking a lot that I should be a different person. A person who could live with some underlying level of uncertainty, yet still happily embrace life in a fully-present manner. And then I think: who IS this person who happily embraces life in a fully-present manner? Is she, like, a young idealistic perpetually healthy person? Is she prettier than me? I hate her already.

Speaking of health problems, my foot seems to be recovering from the spill I took over the weekend. I'm back to walking and biking like normal, but I skipped aerobics today in favor of boring old weight-lifting in the upper room of the gym where old people use the resistance machines while watching MSNBC. I only made it 45 minutes. Which is way too long to be watching MSNBC. Unless you are making day trades on your laptop while, I don't know, sitting in your pajamas eating rasin bran and milk straight out of the single-serving box. Certainly not trying to maintain an elevated heart-rate and happily embracing weightlifting in a fully present manner.

But I learned that Costco didn't meet its most recent earnings projections. Which is too bad for us, because we're Costco members, although our membership card is currently wedged into the dashboard of Dan's car in the tiny little space where the hot/cold air dial slides back and forth. Zion put it in there while I was cleaning the car yesterday, and the knitting needles / q-tips / sheet of stickers I tried to stick in there to fish it out only made the situation worse. I hope Costco saved enough earnings to print us a new card!

That's all the updates for now. I'm going on a retreat this weekend, which is to say that I'm helping administer a retreat for people who can happily embrace life in a fully-present manner, whereas I am going to be toggling back and forth between the retreat center and driving an hour back home so I can help my children through the 2am - 5am light-sleeping shift. But still, there will be three adult meals without children so that should be something of a retreat. This should excite me instead of making me feel like I suddenly want to cry. Oh My God, I'm going to miss them so much! I have no idea why Dan says I'm so pessimistic.


I survived a day and a half away from my children

I went on a retreat this weekend. I feel like that should be followed by some sort of exclamation. "Woot," perhaps?

Those of you who know me personally know that it's a little difficult for me to get away from my kids. Even when I go to my beloved aerobics classes, I start to feel that tingle of missing the boys after just an hour. By the time I'm in the shower I simply can't wait to see them again. I long to get home to stick my nose in Zion's soft hair, to smile at Harvey and see his eyes light up as he smiles back. To say that I love my kids is a lame understatement. It's more like every hair on my body is specifically magnetized to point towards my children. I am a spinning needle and Harvey and Zion are North.

So when a friend asked me to accompany her on this retreat, it was just the barest amount of obedience that made me say yes.

Never mind that I've been telling myself since June that I need a retreat, that I've been emotionally drained, that I've been spiritually exhausted, that GOD TOLD ME TO GO. I had to convince myself that it was work.

On Friday morning I was so nervous about leaving my kids that I cleaned the house from top to bottom. Then I washed all the clothes and diapers, and folded all the clothes and diapers, made lunch and dinner and frosted cupcakes. Then I ate all the lentil salad I made for dinner because I was stressed. And when I exhausted my ideas for domestic work I researched miniature cow breeds on the internet. Spoiler alert: we can't get a miniature cow without a acre for pasture. So boo. But hey, it distracted me for a few minutes from thinking about how much I was going to miss my precious beautiful angels.

Friday night away from the boys was awful. I kept thinking of Zion's soft hair, which I know sounds like an insane stalker thing to say, but it's soooo soft! I couldn't wait to get back to the house to sleep, even though the prevailing thought among my retreating peers is that it is insane to drive and hour back and forth from a retreat center just to sleep in your own bed. Silly adults. What the don't understand is: I have two kids. I very rarely sleep in my own bed.

Happily for me, Harvey woke up three times in the night and Zion woke up once, so by morning I felt ready to take a break from them again.

Early the next morning I explained to them what would happen that day. I would go to church and come home after they fell asleep. They would go to Grandma's house and then out to dinner. Zion got a little sad but was quickly distracted with legos. I had to hustle out of there if I was to drive the hour to the retreat center in time to get breakfast, but I also felt the moment was momentous in some way. I was about to leave them for 14 hours, longer than I had ever left them before. So I put a hand on each of their heads and said, "The Lord bless you and keep you."

"Oh Mama," Harvey said as if he was rolling his eyes, "I don't need God. I'm going to Grandma's house!"


In many many ways my life lately has been lived out like Harvey's statement. I also have said to myself, in so many different ways, that I don't need God. I don't need God because I'm drinking probiotics. I don't need God because I've got the house cleaning down to a schedule. I don't need God because I've been pregnant before, because everything I'm feeling is just hormones, because my feelings aren't that important anyway.

The problem is that this line of thinking is probably sin. Or to put it in a way that sounds less judgmental, it's probably stupid.

I do need God, a lot in fact. I need him to moderate my relationship with my children. I need Him to show me how to love them without showing them how to be crazily codependent. I need him to force me to take a little retreat once in a while. I need him to love me so that I have any love to give anyone else.

I need him to see my inmost fears, to see when I conquer them, and to answer with a "Woot."


no shirt, no service?

This morning as we dressed for church Zion took a stand and refused to wear a shirt. Not just refused until he sensed we were really serious about leaving and then acquiesced. Flat out refused. "I bring it with me," he said. As if wearing a shirt to church is totally optional. As if wearing a shirt on a chilly morning in October is totally optional.

He put on his shoes and his winter hat. But the shirt? I had to but touch him with it to see him scream and flail.

Well, why should he just accept my silly rules, anyway? I reasoned. I'll let his own experience of the temperature be his guide. After all, it's an important life skill, dressing yourself to keep warm. Many women I know still refuse the obligation. So I thought to myself (oh so smugly, I might add) I'll just let him walk outside and he'll quickly say he's cold. The shirt will be the natural solution. End of fighting.

He went through the door and down the front steps. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. I asked if he wanted a shirt now.

"I bring it with me," he said, and climbed into the car.

The cold seatbelt bothered him, but when I offered up the shirt again he reposted with my own common platitude: "I warm up when we get moving." We drove to church without a mention of the temperature. At church the walk from the car to the door was even longer than that at our house. Still, he refused the shirt I held in my hand. He proudly strode up the steps to church in his sneakers, his jeans, his bare chest and his winter woolen hat. Several people passed by and said "That's a look."

"In the battle of wills," I replied, "I seemed to have misjudged my opponent."

Inside the church I realized I had lost all my bargaining power. Zion has no social shame about attending a religious service half naked, but I have plenty of it. Seeing that I'd been beat, I offered him a choice between his two back-up t-shirts. He readily chose the green short-sleeve version and happily offered his arms through the holes. Perhaps, in the end, this was really a fight over collar and buttons.

I have often heard people use the word "terrorist" to describe a two-year-old, and I have to admit there is some fairness in that comparison. They do a poor job of articulating what they want. They will blow up a situation they like just to show you how MAD they are about something else. They don't respond to reason or logic, so forget your fair arguments or accurate descriptions of reality. These well measured words land about as poorly as a naked sauna joke in a room full of evangelical Christians.

Sigh. Still and all, I have to respect his fighting spirit. At HONK today (the activist marching band festival) there were plenty of scantily clad anarchists raging against the machine. When I put it in this context, his rebellion seems so much cuter. Maybe next week, instead of demanding a collared shirt, I'll offer him a tiny denim vest decorated with sharpie and a tiny home-made button that says "Free Tibet."

Zion on cambridge playground

Zion steers his own ship


float like a butterfly; sting like a bee

This morning while I was sewing the Halloween capes, Harvey discovered a pair of bee wings left over from a costume Dan was forced to wear to work 5 or 6 years ago. Harvey immediately put them on and started flitting around the house. Zion for his part demanded a turn in tones that became increasingly frantic with each bee-ish flit.

I was afraid the fabric of the universe might suddenly come apart if there were not an equal distribution of wings in the house. (My personal distaste for negotiating "turns" is a parenting flaw that I'll readily admit.) So I suggested we take a trip to Marshalls to look for a second pair of wings. Marshalls is a discount shop a few blocks from our house, and it's right next to Whole Foods where I was planning to go anyway. The boys quickly agreed, though I had to promise them I would let them EACH pick out a pair of wings if they turned out to be cheap enough.

Parenting flaws all over, I know, but they found my spot of weakness. I LOVE costumes.

Well, it turned out that stand-along wings were not on offer at Marshalls. Costumes WITH wings, on the other hand, were a darn good bargain.

Zion declined to wear the matching dress, but insisted on wings and his cape at the same time.

I justified the purchase by reminding myself of the three little girls who come to our home every week for Small Group. They love playing dress up with the boys, but have complained recently about the lack of "girl" costumes in our arsenal. With these two new dresses plus a tutu I got at a rummage sale last week, there should be ample pan-gender choices now.

The cashier looked at me a little oddly when she saw my two boys and the two pouffy dresses I was buying. Not only that, but I picked up two pairs of little girl tights as well. (The tights were for their KING costumes — so haha, joke's on her I guess.)

Or maybe she was looking at my kids wondering why I dressed my little girls in blue. After all, it didn't really match their headbands and pearl necklaces.

a normal outfit for discount store shopping

Perhaps it goes without saying at this point, but I give my kids a lot of freedom with their self-presentation (though I do make them wear clothes to church). Gender representation goes along with that. I love that my boys ask for necklaces and hair clips and unabashedly describe themselves as pretty. Maybe I love it more because it happens less frequently than stereotypical "boy" behavior. After all, they fight and wrestle and lose chop sticks all over the house because they're standing in for swords or guns or drumsticks. So I don't have worries over their future masculinity (whatever that means). I'm just happy to see them act like plain old kids.



on discipline

It doesn't get so very light in the mornings anymore, but there is a change in the atmosphere around 6am when the sun begins to think about getting up and I hear Rascal shuffling out of the way as Dan stands and makes his way towards the shower. Usually by this time I'm in the kids room, having soothed the boys back to sleep any number of times between 11pm and 5am. I blink blink blink in the barely-not-night dim, and the two sides of my brain immediately start fighting.

"You should get up and read the bible."
"No I shouldn't — I should close my eyes and try to go back to sleep."
"No seriously, you need to read the bible. You have a bible commitment."
"For real? What good does it really do anyone in the world for me to read a psalm and a half before the kids start screaming.?"
"You'll feel God's presence and then you won't be such a shitty mother."
"I'm not going to feel God's presence by reading about slaying the wicked in the inky blackness with the bedside lamp burning a migraine into my skull."
"Not with that attitude you're not."
"I'm pregnant and I need more sleep."
"You are a mill of excuses. If you can't get up and read the bible because God gave you a baby then your religious conviction is lame and and hollow."
"If I HAVE to get up and read the bible then my religion is stupid."

And on and on until the kids wake up. Or until I actually get up and make it to my room where the bible is. Whichever comes grudgingly first. Don't get me wrong: I do, often, really really love reading the bible. It's just that thinking about it these days makes me so god awful tired.

Some in the church would say this is a clear sign of spiritual oppression. Not to lay on another heavy, or anything.

The days are exhausting and the nights are punctuated with short shifts of parenting, yet the first dark half-hour of the morning is the only guaranteed quiet time in the day. All parenting experts, both religious and secular, absolutely insist I use this time for myself. I am supposed to center myself and tap into that unseen wellspring of patience that magically makes me a mother who is not an asshole. Or shower and clean the bathroom, if you listen to FlyLady. Either way, I notice that my 6am motivation was a lot higher when I used to get up to run around the block. Now that it's dark, now that my belly weighs me down, now that I've given up running and it's just me versus a few lines of scripture? I'm not quite so enthusiastic. I guess if I'm truthful about it, my innate appreciation of God's word lies somewhere between showering and cleaning the bathroom.

Which is a pretty convicting thought for a person who helps run two bible studies and makes her kids read the bible and goes on a two-day retreat to spend MORE time praying... this person finds the central explicator of our faith kind of "meh."

Oh please can I just say it's the hormones? It's the lack of sleep? It's the rigors of raising little ones that make me tired? Can't I say it's that rather than the real (for lack of a better term) TIRESOMENESS of daily trying to be good good?

The truth is that in those early morning minutes I'm afraid the bible will tell me absolutely nothing. That it will be a complete waste of time. That this waste of time, that this waste of sacrifice, will reveal my faith, my devotion, my whole entire life to be a complete flipping waste.

Or worse. It WILL tell me something, and then I will have to do it. Something like tracking Dan's constantly changing income on spreadsheets that crash every ten minutes just to make sure we're tithing. Something like cooking more dinners for even more people. Something that will take (the phrase that I dread more than anything else in the world right now) EVEN MORE WORK.

So I stay in the lazy middle, sometimes doing no reading, sometimes doing precious little, because mediocrity and haranguing myself are better than the twin fears of toil and meaninglessness.

Which, incidentally is in the bible. Even I can draw that up from memory without opening the thing.

Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.
- King Solomon or whoever it is we believe wrote Ecclesiastes


I woke up at 6am this morning and fought with myself in the usual fashion. My kids slept a few minutes longer than usual, so I had extra time to ponder my inherent sinfulness. Then just before seven, when I felt surely all was lost in the battle for my soul, I picked up the bible and read three psalms. The light was just starting to come through the window, enough that I didn't need to turn on the lamp. Well this isn't killing me, I thought. And then a revelation. Maybe, like Zion and his collared shirt, my fight is not with the thing I think I'm fighting. Maybe I don't hate the bible after all. Maybe I just hate the bedside lamp.

The bible says "our fight is not against flesh and blood" but I am disinclined to believe it. I pretty much think my fight is ALWAYS against flesh and blood, against my own tired, lazy, disobedient body. Certainly the rest of creation is beautiful and inspired and I just can't will myself to walk into it.

Fortunately my free time is limited, and so therefore is my struggle for how to use it. Six to six thirty is so epic to me perhaps because it is so incredibly limited. Once the sun actually rises there are children to feed and chickens to water and a dog to walk. There are beautiful and inspired creatures that demand I run after and then perhaps by serving them I pick up a bit of beauty in their wake.


tomatillo salsa

For the last two years I've grown tomatillos, so I figured it was about time to do something with them. Not that we had an overabundance. Last year I think I picked five or six, which I let rot on the counter; this year I didn't bring in more than 20 or so. The plants got big enough, and the flowers were pollinated fine, but most of the tomatillos stayed too little to pick. Next year will be better, always. But as it is we did have those few on the counter, and needed something to go with our rice and beans and tortillas, so green salsa seemed like just the thing.

I'd never made it before, but it turns out to be pretty easy. I cut the tomatillos in half and roasted them with a clove of garlic for about 15 minutes, then I pureed them in the food processor along with a jalapeño, about a quarter of an onion, some cilantro, and lime juice. That's all! Our tomatillo harvest for this year made enough for two meals, I reckon, counting on the boys' light consumption of what for them is a pretty spicy sauce. Besides the tomatillos, we also grew the garlic and the jalapeño; sadly we had neither yellow onions nor cilantro of our own this year. Something else to fix for next season.

As for the lime, I'm still working on how we could manage that one...


they caught us

This afternoon in the library a trustee stopped to chastise me for allowing my children to be there without shoes on. "It's a policy," she told me. "It's for safety reasons."

In retrospect I'm pretty impressed that we merited correction from someone as important as a trustee, but at the time I was a little annoyed; not least because she interrupted us in the midst of doing the important work of getting our books checked out. And then of course there's the "safety" thing.

It probably would have been rude to get into it at the time, but to claim that the library doesn't want folks walking around with bare feet because the trustees are concerned for our well-being is completely ridiculous. There's no way that, inside a building, being shoeless is any more dangerous than the alternative. In fact, I bet it would be an order of magnitude more dangerous to be wearing high heels—and even then the worst that might happen would be a turned ankle, which I believe is a risk that we as a society are prepared to tolerate. And never mind that the boys were also barefoot at home, at the playground, and everywhere in between without any disaster befalling them; after pavement, wood chips, and acorn-studded lawn I think their feet could probably handle carpeted floors without too much trouble.

Not that I object to them wearing shoes in the library. It's a rule, and since we appreciate tremendously all that the library has to offer us I'm happy to follow whatever silly rules they come up with (at least when I think there's a chance of getting caught). But I do feel there's a real problem with claiming safety as a justification when any rational person can see that there's no real danger involved. Not only does it add one more little straw to the ever-growing pile of needless fears that we let modern life heap on us, it serves as an argument-proof club with which to beat those whose choices deviate from the norm. No shoes? Unsafe! Not driving your kids to school? Unsafe!! Giving birth at home? Terror!!

If the people behind all these norm-enforcing policies actually took the trouble to come up with real reasons for them they might have to think about what they were really after (which, in many cases, seems to be control). For the library, I'm sure it comes down to liability concerns and a distaste for seeing people's feet, which seems to be a thing. Those, we can talk about—and I'm confident that any discussion would lead to at least some misgivings on making policy based on either reason. Crying "safety" is just trying to short-circuit real thoughtful conversation.

I actually went through something similar last year, only it was my bare feet instead of the kids. The librarian who spoke to me initially told me it was against the law to be barefoot in a public building, which is patently false. I called her on that one (politely, of course!) and asked her to tell me the law in question, because I was curious. She enlisted the reference librarian and then admitted that it wasn't a law, but a library policy; and in doing so admitted that it was a little silly (the policy is actually for "acceptable footwear", so watch out if they really do start worrying about women in heels turning an ankle!). The made-up law thus served the same purpose as the safety argument: to keep the person enforcing it from having to think too hard about why this was supposed to be a problem in the first place.

I brought shoes along on every trip to the library since then, because I pay attention to rules that other people are important even when I find them a little ridiculous. And now that we've been spoken to, I'll try and remember to bring the boys' along too. Good thing it's forecast to start getting wintery soon; that'll help me remember, and give the boys a better reason to cram their feet into shoes than "you might get hurt". Because how could I expect them to believe that?!


the garden, slowly transitioning

The weather has stayed surprisingly warm here for most of October, so the main garden season has been prolonged quite unnaturally. Marigolds are still going strong, and if they hadn't all been brought low by blight the tomatoes would still be producing. The peppers still are, sort of—they're still alive, at any rate, so when I noticed that there's a freeze forecast for tonight I headed out to pick what I could and, why not, cover the plants. Neither step is really necessary: a week or two ago I already made more pickled peppers and hot pepper jelly than we could ever hope to eat ourselves, and still the counters are overflowing with unused peppers. But I'm still proud to report that, working by headlamp after putting the boys to bed, I picked another pound of hot peppers and little stunted unripe bell peppers (bell peppers were not a success this year).

Covering the plants was probably a little silly, since it's not really prime pepper-growing weather any more, even when it's not freezing overnight. And if it were just for the jalapeños and bell peppers I'd be happy to let go and give them over to the frost. But this year I also tried some Thai peppers, and I want to keep them going as long as I can: there are still so many unripe peppers on the plants, and I want to give them a chance!

Still, while I'm holding on to the peppers the rest of the garden is gradually sinking down into winter stasis. In some cases the sinking is literal: I pulled the tomatoes and took down their stakes, and the crazy squash trellis I cobbled together is also no more. (I don't know how that one went unblogged, because it really was remarkable, designed as it was to let the squash keep growing out of the compost pile without stopping us from, you know, actually disposing of compost.) So the average height of garden structures is like two feet lower than it was last month, and will be lower still when I finally get my act together to put away the cucumber trellis (the cucumbers have been dead for months, it seems). I'm also spending much less time back there, though it may be that I'm more than replaced by the chickens, who now have the run of the place.

Pretty soon it'll be time to spread compost and mulch on the beds (just as soon as the last few squashes ripen up and we can pull out the plants and actually get to the compost!). Unlike last year I didn't start anything for winter harvest—in part because the summer stuff hung on so long!—so pretty soon the whole thing will just be empty flat beds resting under cover and waiting for spring. It's kind of nice that way: nothing for me to do or worry about!

Oh, except the parsnips, of course: we don't want to harvest those until after a few good freezes to sweeten them up. And next year's garlic has to go in soon...


Waldorf dolls

This is what I've been doing to distract myself lately. Making Waldorf dolls. And why not? Big projects like Halloween costumes make a big mess all over the floor of the office, whereas dolls are neat and cute and come together in under four hours. It's just the thing to do when I want to act productive but I can't bring myself to clean anymore.

a doll with brown hair and a yellow dress, with her purple pillow

farm girl (and pillow)

This one went to a 2-year old on her birthday, and Harvey sewed the purple pillow himself (I'm so proud of him.)

Here's a close-up of the hair, which comes from my basket of yarn scraps.

a close-up of the doll's yarn hair


Then I tried making a boy with mixed success. If you know a boy who wants a Waldorf-style forest sprite then this one is up for grabs.

a green-haired and -clothed doll

in his natural environment

But my favorite turned out to be this ice princess. I'm partial to the blue in her hair, but maybe that's just because I'm getting old.

a doll with a white dress and pale hair photographed on the lawn

she's bringing the winter

Of course, Zion noticed the blue too and immediately claimed this doll for his own ("Boo my favorite color!) Harvey will not be satisfied until he has his own RED haired Waldorf doll now. It's upstairs now ready for stuffing. Good thing my part of the Halloween costumes is done!

Harvey's Waldorf Doll

Not to be out-toyed by Zion, Harvey demanded his own Waldorf doll, this one with RED eyes and RED AND GRAY hair, but with the same white dress as Zion's. "No, actually," he said, making the clothing request more specific, "I want mine to have TWO buttons."

now with two buttons!

There are no pristine craft blog shots of this one; this picture was taken after Harvey dropped the doll in the dirt. It's a tough life for dolls in this family.

help me up!

Harvey asked for this doll to be a playmate to PowPow, though for now the dolls are not doing so much playing with each other. Instead each is being lovingly cared for by Harvey, and when he remembers he asks me to watch them when he leaves the room. He insisted that he take them BOTH to bed with him last night, and then in the middle of the night he called me to his room because he woke up and couldn't find either. I found the Waldorf doll right next to him, ("find" is a relative term with Harvey) but PowPow was lost in the bedclothes. I had to wake up Dan to ask him if PowPow had been in the bed when Harvey fell asleep.

So yes, both parents and a child were awake in the night over the whereabouts of a 7-inch doll. I now have some doubts as to whether bringing MORE cloth babies into this family was a wise idea, but oh well.

Even if I now have to monitor FOUR special toys on all our outings, seeing the kids interact with their dolls is certainly worth it. Harvey insisted on taking both dolls on the spooky hayride today. Zion gave me his toys to hold after just a few minutes at the farm (and I admit to a certain sigh of relief when the toddler's dolls are safely in my bag). But Harvey carried his babies the whole time and arranged them carefully on his lap so they could enjoy the ride.

baby doll love

That boy. He is love. Makes a mama want to sew stuff.

Oh, and Harvey hasn't completely decided on a name for the new doll yet. Zion calls his, "My baby doll" or "My Wadoff doll," but Harvey says he's thinking of a name. Then on the hayride he got very serious and announced he might reveal the name now. "I'm thinking about..." he said with a dramatic pause, "PowPow Two."


multipurpose sound

I mentioned earlier that Zion says his "s"s as /w/. That remains the case in almost every instance. But really it's not just "s" that gets the /w/ treatment: he uses /w/ for lots of sounds, including "sh", "r", and "f". Thus in Zion language "I saw that fox and that rabbit" becomes "I waw dat wox an dat wabbit." "Shoes" are "woos". "Finger" is "wingew". It's a wonder we can understand him at all! But we're kind of used to it by now.

And of course I should have written the title of this post as "muhtipuhpus wownd". I don't know if that would have been clear, though.

Addendum, Oct. 25: Without making a whole new post I wanted to describe a little bit more of Zion language. When "l" appears at the end of the word he makes it into almost a /d/ sound, and also changes the vowel value preceding it a little bit to compensate; thus "bowl" comes out as something like "bood". I was noticing this evening that on words like "full" he manages to replace every single normal English sound with pure Zionese, so it sounds like "woohd" (I add the "h" to make sure you know that the "oo" is long like in "spoon", and not just "wood"... stupid English orthography).


my sweet boys

There are times when my children are selfish greedy monsters, and I'm sure I've written about those times on this blog. Probably written about them too much really, but venting can be a healthy thing sometimes.

There are also times, in equal measure, when my kids are beautiful sweet angels who astound me with their goodness and imbue every moment with love and meaning. Today was such a day. The boys behaved remarkably at church. When we came home Zion cuddled with me as we read six books and Harvey helped Dan bake bread. Then Zion played quietly while I did some weaving with Harvey, and Harvey made enthusiastic comments as we genuinely enjoyed doing the same thing together. Then when I said I was starting to feel sick, Harvey asked if I wanted him to pray for me. Now they're playing outside with Dan while I take a rest in the bed. I don't know how my family got so amazing, but clearly they were sent directly from heaven. Either that or all the other hours I spend serving them this week just paid out, ka-ching.

I don't know if it's the pregnancy hormones, but I feel overwhelmed in moments such as these, when my kids are just good, and not only well behaved but honestly nice human beings. When I expect Harvey or Zion to throw a fit because I'm, say, leaving Harvey at kid's church, or leaving Zion while I go exercise, and I'm mentally steeled for a fight and instead they wave and say, "Bye Mama," when this sort of thing happens I have all this preparatory adrenaline pumping through my system and I just want to sit down and cry with joy. "My children are rational!!!" I want to sob. And then I don't want to leave them at all anymore. I want to hug them and bake them cookies and stick my nose in their sweet-smelling hair.

A day like today which came after a week of working SO HARD, it makes me think all this work is worth it, that any amount of work would be worth it to stare at Zion's perfectly symmetrical face, to hear Harvey's laugh. I'm not as skilled at writing about happy things as I am with the alternative, but I have to testify, I just I really really love those kids.



chicken funeral

At 4:30 in the early evening Rascal started barking furiously at the back door. Dan let him out and he chased after a hawk, maybe the same hawk he already chased away a half dozen times this fall. Except today it was too late. Dan went out to the garden and came back with a grim face.

"I have bad news for you, Mama," he said.

The first thing I thought in my head was "how many?" But I didn't say this out loud for fear that it might crass in front of the children. Instead I looked at Dan with patient expectation.

"The hawk killed one of your chickens."

Sad news, but at the same time I was relieved. We only had to deal with one. I've heard stories of predators killing an entire flock of and leaving the carcasses. One chicken isn't that much in comparison.

"Is it all the way dead?"

"I think so."

Of course, I had to see.

We went outside to look, all of us. The chicken was indeed very much dead, as it looked like the hawk had grabbed it by the neck and spent considerable time gnawing at it before Rascal noticed. The boys were interested to see the spectacle, but the way the chicken was turned away from them in the raspberry bush they couldn't see the really gory bit. From their angle it mostly looked like a lying down chicken.

"Do you want to eat it?" Dan asked.

There was no part of me that wanted to eat it. I had to serve dinner and walk the dog. I had a sore throat and an earache. I didn't relish the idea of boiling two gallons of water, hanging the chicken upside down to bleed it, then plucking and gutting the thing. It's not like any of those actions come naturally to me. I'd have to spend all night in the kitchen with the laptop open next to me, flipping back and forth between tutorial photos, trying not to splash blood into my keyboard. I didn't want to do any of that. I wanted to go to bed. Plus I had just been to Whole Foods that morning and bought a whole prepared chicken for $10. The thought of what it would take to eat this chicken did not seem worth $10.

"I don't know, let's deal with this later," I said.

Dan was on his way out to the hardware store and Zion decided to go with him. Harvey played happily outside for a few minutes, but then a delayed reaction sadness came over him. First he sad down on the ground, then he didn't want to play, then he went into a full-on funk. I asked him what was wrong and he said very quietly in a baby voice, "I can't want the chicken died."

(For the record, he knows how to make a correct english sentence, he just talks in 2-year-old when things are emotionally hard for him to say.)

I told him I didn't want the chicken to die either, and it's okay to be sad. That didn't seem to help his catatonia. First he was unmovable from the patch of grass on our lawn, and I sad hugging him for a few minutes. Then I got cold I carried him inside. On the couch he broke down into full-on sobs. "I can't want the chicken died!" he repeated through tears.

I held him, I petted him, I tried to tell him many things that weren't helpful. I told him it's okay to be sad, I told him it's okay too when things die. I told him God watches over all the animals. I told him we could get more chickens in the spring.

He looked at me like I was full of crap.

Then we looked at pictures of baby chicks in the online store. That perked him up some. He said he wants more chickens exactly like the kind that died. Like the kind we have. Because that's his favorite kind.

Then he said something that reignited my belief that God is good, that He talks to kids, that He's realer to them than my bullshit explanations.

Harvey looked up at me with his eyes all watery and said, "Looking at these chicken pictures makes me think of that song on my iPad. 'Don't worry about anything, just pray about everything.' The chicken pictures remind me of 'don't worry.'"

"Do you want to pray about this now, Harvey?" I asked.

"Nooooooooo!" he sobbed.

Obviously I was paying attention to the wrong part of the lyric. I'm such a do-er.

When Dan got back from the hardware store we decided to have a funeral. We had to hurry because the window for dinner and dog walking was closing fast. Dan dug a big hole and cut a piece of burlap for a burial shroud. I cast about for a headstone, but it seems all the small stones on our property have already been stacked into walls. Zion stood on the porch yelling, "I want to draw on the stone!!!" because I stupidly offered that as an option before I went out to find one. Dan smartly offered up a large flat stone to lay on top and I said the kids could decorate it as part of the ceremony.

Harvey put on his hat and the boys headed outside with their markers.

Harvey dressed for the funeral

What would be helpful ceremonially for a four-year-old who's never been to a funeral before? It would have to be solemn yet genuine and involve him in the process. It would have to encompass saying goodbye. I quickly scanned the shelf for a Book of Common Prayer but we've lent out our copy and anyway we were losing the light. As we walked to the gravesite I quickly thought about what is important to say at funerals. We say we loved the person. We say what their life was like. We say we give that person up to God.

Our funeral went something like this:

"Well everyone, we're here to morne the death of our dearly beloved chicken. She had a good life with us these two years. She was so cute when she came to us at just a day old. She grew into a good big chicken, laying lots of eggs. She had fun pecking in our yard and eating worms. She had fun being outside and pooping everywhere. She even had a fun time today up until the moment of her death. Lord God, we commend her spirit to you."

Then Dan filled in the hole and topped it with the large flat stone. We couldn't really write her name there since we've lost the ability to tell the chickens apart. Instead, the kids decorated the grave with sharpies in a rather free-form fashion.

Zion's favorite part was decorating the rock

Then we went inside for dinner. We didn't eat chicken. We had already eaten chicken for lunch.

But I think the funeral made all of us feel better.

I have a lot of feelings about this matter, though more about parenting than about livestock. I long ago came to terms with loss, at least with the inevitable loss of chickens. Commercial laying hens are culled at two years, after all, and ours had a much more comfortable life. But on how to help my kids process death I have conflicting emotions. I want them to experience as much sadness as they feel necessary, but I don't want Harvey to "perform" sadness in order to fulfill some societal demand for drama. I want to let them see life and death as awesome and powerful as they are. Yet I also know that life and death are common occurrences and I don't want to hide that from them either. I want to give them the world and not shield them from it, but I want to offer comfort as it comforts me. I want a very many things that are not completely possible from a 3-minute hen's funeral.


this is less about food stamps and more about you're junk, isn't it Leah

I got a call from the state of Massachusetts in the middle of reading a book to Harvey. I got up from the story to see who was calling, and when I saw the number on the caller ID I grabbed up the phone knowing it was important. It was my food stamps case worker calling about the income verifications I had sent in. She wasn't pleased. Why had I told her the church paycheck was weekly when it was biweekly? (I don't know, I didn't tell her anything about it as I can recall, I just mailed it to her as she requested). Why were Dan's two pay-stubs from the school system $100 different from one another? (Because he's a sub and he doesn't always work the same hours - regardless school isn't alway OPEN the same hours from one two-week period to the next) Well, what do you do if the school doesn't call him, how do you pay the bills? (I don't understand the question — are you criticizing our life choices, or accusing me of fraud?)

While I was trying to focus on the important conversation at hand, Harvey noticed I wasn't feeding his constant demand for attention and started beating on his brother. I couldn't yell at him while I was on the phone, so I pulled him off Zion while he screamed into the receiver. Then he started hitting me. I thought about spanking him to make him stop, even just threatening it would have done the trick, but the case worker probably had DSS on speed dial, what with her low estimation of her food stamps clients. She was already venting heavily in my direction and maybe accusing me of understating my income, a crime against the federal government. I let Harvey keep hitting me because I didn't want the conversation to go any WORSE.

Eventually she corrected my information on her computer. So much work. Sooooo many screens to fill in. Then she reminded me I have 10 days to report any changes to my monthly income over $2000. I did not say, "$2000 is a shit-load of money, what do you think we're secretly doing for work on the side?" I said, "Thank you very much" and hung up the phone.

Then I gave Harvey a stern talking to.

Than I went upstairs and cried.

It's not a big deal to get yelled at, I told myself. I get yelled at all the time. Drivers in their cars yell out the window, neighbors air their irritations about my dog, my children yell and yell and yell about juice. Not all of it makes me cry, but this particular interaction had me all but undone.

And then I thought, because I was in an impossible situation. The woman was demanding one thing and my children were violently demanding another thing and I couldn't get to my paperwork. I just couldn't do what she wanted me to do. And then I felt the same way later, when the dog was jumping at me over and over demanding to walk, even though it was freezing cold and I'd already walked him before Dan left and to walk again I'd have to take two children in the stroller neither of whom want to walk and one of whom refuses to put on a coat. I felt trapped in an impossible situation. I just can't DO what you're asking me to do.

I don't feel irritated righteous indignation in these moments. I feel absolute airway-closing panic.

I wonder if this is a 'thing' in my life.

I thought back to my first job when I graduated college. I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I moved out West to the land of promise. I wanted to get a place and get a job and do what adults do in the real world. I wanted to get started. I saw a job helping open new a retail store and I thought, well, that fit — they were getting started and so was I.

The first week of my job I found myself in a small staging area with a hundred boxes of merchandise. Me and three other young female employees. We had to check the merchandise tags on each item and cross them off from the packing slips. Simple enough, but each merchandise tag had a sequence of ten digits that was the only thing that matched it to the list. So one tank might be 0134501 and the fact that it was a tank gave it the first two digits, the style gave it the next three digits, and last two digits were the color.

To me on that first day, it felt like I was being asked to do long division in hieroglyphics. While the other three girls set to work matching tags and crossing things off on their lists, I sat staring at my box dumbfounded. They quickly got the gist of the system, saying things like, "01 is black, clearly" and "03 is shorts" and I sat staring at my list thinking, "Where are you even looking?" My eyes filled with tears and I started to panic. "I can't do this," I thought. "I just can't do this. What everybody else can do, I just can't do."

And I didn't just mean some bullshit retail task. I mean all of it. I meant maybe what other people can do in the entire scope of human existence, maybe I just can't do. Maybe I can't do WORKING. Maybe I can't do living on my own. Maybe I can't do being an adult. Maybe I can't do LIFE.

I had believed so hard the story, the american dream, I believed that life would just work out around me. I believed that if I applied myself to adult life like I had always applied myself to my studies that I would get straight marks in living. That everything would automatically unfold towards success.

But in that moment staring down at that meaningless list of numbers, my tiniest doubt now sent the whole house of cards crashing down. I did not have what it takes, whatever that is. If others can see meaning where I see nothing than others must belong to a world where I do not.

I excused myself to go drink a soda. I hadn't been eating much in general and that probably didn't help my concentration.

A half hour later I had figured out the numbers system. Turns out I had been looking at the wrong box of clothes, and the numbers on the tags really didn't match my packing slip. But the panic never left.

I felt it five years later at my first real corporate job, in a fancy office with a fancy single-cup coffee machine and fancy freezing air conditioning and fancy free bagels every wednesday. I could write a good-looking marketing plan and craft a killer subject line and take data from a web portal and make it look good in Excel. But I couldn't do that thing everybody else did that made them 'belong.' I couldn't like shmoozing by the Keurig machine. I couldn't like forwarding around some lame you-tube video clip. I couldn't like complaining about working but then staying there 10 hours. I couldn't bring myself to imagine climbing the ladder, even one little tiny rung to where there'd be more work and more shmoozing and more disgusting single-serve coffee. I just couldn't DO it.

I used my baby as an excuse to quit.

And I thought (though I hid it till now in the back recesses of my mind) maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with me. Maybe I just cannot do the things people do. Normal people. Working people. Maybe I am just broken in some fundamental way.

And at the same time while I feel a panicked rush to hide my brokenness, the other half of me is angry, no furious, no INCENSED at the bullshit bill of goods I got sold. Just work hard and everything will be fine. What if it turns out I hate the fine life you're selling? Do I not belong in this world? Not just the world of retail jobs or corporate jobs. Do I not belong in society? Do I not belong on the planet?

And what I feel, with the panic and the anger, with the "Just do this, it's easy" sloshing up against "I can't do this!" I feel trapped in an impossible situation. I just can't do what you're asking me to do

This is how I felt today on the phone. Maybe you are right to accuse me of fraud because maybe in life I AM ACTUALLY A FRAUD.


Happy Halloween!

King Harvey and King Zion the 1st

From King Harvey who 's been wearing his costume since 10am, and reluctant King Zion who needed to be bribed into his tights with M&Ms. However you participate in our national pagan ritual, may your evening be sweet.

more about the king costumes

At the beginning of October I asked my kids a question that used to be a favorite from my own childhood: "What do you want to be for Halloween?"

Harvey said, "A king!"

Zion said, "A pirate!"

"No, you were a pirate last year," I said. "What NEW costume do you want me to make you for Halloween?"

"A pirate."

"Nevermind," I said, "I'll make you a king costume and you can wear it if you want to. Or you can wear last year's pirate costume if you'd rather do that."

We looked at portraits of English kings online to see what they looked like. We decided to make capes, crowns, pantaloons and vests. Harvey's would be red of course, and Zion's would be blue because those are their favorite colors. Which you know, obviously, if you've been around my kids for longer than five seconds. Favorite colors are a BIG DEAL in our house.

While I was planning our trip to the fabric store Dan took me aside. "Does Zion's pirate costume still fit him? Can he wear Harvey's old one? Should you make a new pair of pants?"

"Oh he'll want to wear the king costume," I said. "He just doesn't know it yet."

a kingly bow

The costumes are all fleece (cheap!) except for the trim which is some polyester fur thing I bought very little of because it cost over $10 a yard — thank God I don't make fuzzy stuffed animals for my hobby! The vests and pants are as simply constructed as possible, both from patters that I'd cut before so I didn't need to trace anything new. I embroidered the edges of the vests by hand, and I had wanted to do more hand embroidery as embellishment but Harvey put a stop to that. He wanted the vest to be soft to touch, he said. Mostly he likes to wear things as soon as possible, and as soon as I fitted the vest on him he refused to take it off. "It's done" he told me.

Dan masterminded the design of the capes and of the hat, telling me how much the underside of the cape should curve and where the darts should be. The crowns were a similar collaboration, with Dan dictating the shape of the pieces and handing them off to me to sew. The gold cross pieces are from thick stabilizer that Dan spray-painted gold. I sewed them late on Monday night and I think I'm just now recovering from the fumes.

follow the leader

This is Harvey at 10am on Halloween day, which is the lastest I could hold him off from putting on his costume. I even used the costume as an incentive to get him to submit to a haircut and a bath. Then we put on the whole ensemble, with me saying some things I never thought I'd say to my son like, "Let me cut your toenails before you put on your tights - I wouldn't want them to run."

Zion, for his part, barely submitted to a very quick (moving target) haircut. And though he likes taking a bath, he did not want to put on his costume following it. He wanted "regular clothes" he said, which you can see from the photo above include his green cape. This should not be confused with a costume. His green cape is his normal street attire that he wears each time he leaves the house.

At 4pm Zion still didn't want to put on his costume, but Grandma showed up with candy that proved to be an incentive. There was some negotiation over the cape. He wanted to wear his regular cape and I wanted him to wear his king cape and in the end he wore both, one over the other. As we stepped outside after a 15 minute dressing session, Dan said to me, "You know, this is the last year you make them dress the same. Next year they can wear whatever they want."

Fine, I thought. As long as I get to force them into matching Christmas sweaters one more time.

Zion was initially unhappy but still photo obedient

Then Grandma gave each of them a full-size bag of M&Ms and Zion started warming up to this Halloween thing.

are you serious?

Though he really enjoyed the M&Ms, Zion was fading through dinner and by the time we got out trick-or-treating we said we'd only hit three houses and then go to bed. Dan decided to take the kids out while I stayed home wrap up and hand out homemade Halloween cookies. Well, I quickly wrapped the cookies and sat down to wait for my family's return, but three houses turned into an hour-long excursion. When they got back Zion was bubbling! He showed me a lolly pop which was BLUE! HIS FAVORITE COLOR! Could I open it for him please?

Dan said, "We tried to be quick but one of them kept wanting to go to more houses."

"Harvey?" I asked.

"No, Zion! He kept saying, 'One more house? Two more houses? All-the-all-the houses have candy?"

It was nice to see him finally enjoying himself, even if the stimulus was a poisonous looking amount of sugar. But the first thing he did after showing me his blue lolly was hand me a big peanut butter cup and say, "This one for Mama."

I looked up at Dan. "Did Dada tell you to give that to me?"

No, both of them shook their heads. He thought of it on his own.

One of my kids can't wait to jump into his handmade costume, the other one picks out the best candy for me. Honestly, I don't know how I lucked out with these boys.

So that was Halloween here. Meanwhile I ate way too many cookies while waiting for my family to get back, and then following that a peanut butter cup. Now I'm wondering whether I can plan three meals tomorrow made up entirely of carrots.

Until next year!