Thursday, September 27, 2007

Heading North

See y'all after the weekend!

Bad start

This morning, while I was sleeping in, Annoying Dog bit Z. on the hand. It was completely and totally Z.'s fault: the dogs were fighting and despite being warned off and in every way knowing better, Z. stuck her hand in the middle. A. yelled a lot, and I woke briefly at that noise, but when it quieted down I went back to sleep. Really, that was fine--having me rushing out of bed and to the rescue would have just added to the general shock and alarm.

Z. has a puncture wound on her palm that's swollen, and toothmarks on the back of her hand from where Annoying Dog bore down but didn't break the skin.

It could have been worse and it's not the dog's fault, but maybe we should still get rid of her just so we don't have two dogs. If we don't have two, they can't fight each other. Not that Annoying Dog and Hunter Dog fight frequently, but it happens some and when they do, it's ugly. Hunter Dog and Diva Dog just about never fought.

On the other hand, if we gave the dog up we'd have to tell them she bit a child and that might well be a death sentence.

It really wasn't her fault.

Even so, I can't say it won't happen again.

We're still waiting for the doctor's office to call us back--I'm assuming Z. will need a shot and we may need to do hot compresses for the next few days. I'm thinking of my own dog bite, when I was a year younger than Z. is now--when I was, in fact, about the age that she was when she broke her arm--and the scar on my cheek that I see clearly even though no one else notices. That dog bit because I hugged it while it was sleeping. It wasn't my dog, but I loved that dog. The neighbors who owned it didn't get rid of it, and that was the right decision.

I guess we keep Annoying Dog. But I have no idea if that's the right decision.

Update: no shot, but five days of oral antibiotics.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

5/15/98--Hot Springs, NC

(Note to all: These are transcribed trail journals I wrote by hand on a 1998 thru-hike. They were originally written for pre-blog era web publication, and were hand-transcribed at the time. Those archives are gone, so I'm reproducing them now. To catch up on the whole hike, click on the tag at the bottom and start from the beginning. --S.)

106.7 miles from Fontana Dam

What did I say about long days? 19.4 to make it here at around 7:15, which means I'm hiking at 2 mph again. My arch hasn't been hurting until mile 16 or so, but on the other hand I've had some vexing problems with my hipbelt, which has been making the surface of my upper right thigh go cold and half-numb. I'm not sure if it's circulation or nerves that have been squashed, or what the long-terrm effects might be. Hopefully, a day off will help.

The Trail was once again a charming place to be: sunny, friendly grades. Sunrise on Max Patch was the mirror image of sunset, and the descent took us through a long tunnel of rhododendron that seemed like something from a children's book. The day continued with beautiful streams, an historic shelter, a snake, a turtle, a toad (reptile and amphibian day on the Appalachian Trail). I hadn't planned to make it all the way to town, but when I got to the last shelter the final few miles seemed eminently doable and I am so happy I made that call. At some points I was almost running down the last descent, I was so glad to be coming in to town. There was a room still free at D. House, which was where I'd been hoping to stay (on Florida Tim's recommendation--thanks!) and it's a more healing place than I can hope to convey.

The evidence of love put into restoring this old farmhouse and tending its grounds is just enormous. The care that B. and F. have for what they're doing shows in the finish on the floors, the shampoo in the bathroom, the wildflowers on the mantle, the water carafe on the table, the spruce trees by the roadside. B's cooking is wonderful, reminding me of meals cooked by talented friends. I can understand why people have to tear themselves away.

Tomorrow an entire day with no pack on my back! Hooray!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Analysis of a bad walk home

The first problem? Z.'s animals were not packed with her things. When all goes well, she is all packed up and ready to go at the foot of the stairs. Today, we had to walk the long hall back to her class to get the missing animals: no forward momentum.

The next problem was a miscalculation on my part: instead of herding her homewards, I let her run around on the lawn in front of shul with some of the other kids, also destroying forward momentum and furthermore burning through what was left of her blood sugar and proliferating the opportunities for delaying tactics. She had a good time: climbing, jumping, looking for sticks. Admiring big kids at a close distance. But she is like me: it is hard for her to stop once she's started. It's hard for her to shift gears. She would rather accumulate than choose, and every choice is an occasion for delay. Because that's kind of how I'm built, too, it's hard for me to give her the structure to move on to the next thing. I'm working on it. I've been working on it consciously since last May or so--much of what I do for her as a parent is scaffold her day and limit her choices.

But she fusses. Which was problem number 3: she opted for running rather than the stroller, and when--half a block later--that blood sugar took its final plunge, she started losing it. Fusses and tears, and apparently there were all kinds of heretofore undisclosed rules about following a running toddler with a stroller that I was violating. Really, who'd'a thunk there was such an intricate protocol?

Problem 4: I wiggled and I didn't adequately signal my decisions to her. I told her we needed to get to the tiny park a block from school, and then we could sit and talk about our options. But she was still falling apart, and I sat her down on someone's lawn instead. Which was fine, until we were at the park, and it had already been 40 minutes since school let out. Forty minutes: one block. I did not want to stop again. Of course, we did. She drank water. I thought of what Julia talked about today.

Finally, she clambered into her stroller. We talked about wasting time. We talked about how time spent fussing is time we don't have anymore. We can't go to the bakery if she wastes the time we were going to use to go there.

At the foot of the stairs, she lost it again over getting unsnapped from her stroller. Lost it worse than anything to that point. I was beyond toddler management and all about getting us both off the sidewalk and then getting some calories into the kid. I hauled all forty-nine pounds of her-plus-stroller up the damn stairs (and yes, every time I do something like that I think of the friend who told me that Z. would be my weight training--too bad I can't use her for wrist curls.) At least when she screamed at me for removing her bodily from the harness we were in the yard.

When she was finally in the dining room, strapped into her kinderzeat, the ritual purple sippy cup filled with milk, the cereal and nuts and berries deposited before her, I gave myself a break. Before cleaning up the garbage the dogs strewed all over the kitchen.

And we don't need to talk about how fast an unwiped toddler can move, do we? When you've just vacated your favorite seat expressly in order to wipe her?

The seat cleaned up okay. If you were wondering.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday musings

Today, the Rhyming Family recreated itself into the Sukkah Crew. A. was on the power drill. I was hand-starting the screws. Z. was doling the screws out, in between dropping them all over the patio and calling a halt to the whole proceedings to gather them up again, with maternal help.

Only right now, Z. is napping (at last!) and A. is finishing up outside, and I am eating something before going to the pool, and rehydrating, and trying not to let another week-long gap emerge over here, blogside. I shudder to think of the state of my feed reader, though--I promise, I promise, I will catch up with everyone when things settle down!

This morning I went to the vet, and ran into a woman who I met at a two-year-old's birthday party at the beginning of the summer. She's another lesbian mom, and her kids are very distinctive looking and also not of her racial background, nor her partners. I was chatting about them, as one does, and when I asked what if they came to her as babies, she said that was private, which is fine, but she went on to say something about everyone wants to know, and it's enough that they are their kids and I thought, hunh, I wonder if she's reading me as straight? My hair is long, after all, and to most people, the wedding ring on my left hand implies a husband. My legs are hairier than is generally considered acceptable in a straight woman, it's true, but she didn't initially notice the dog who was with me, so she probably didn't take in that particular indicator.

I made sure to insert "My spouse, she..." into the conversation, but I'm just wondering, alla y'all out there who pass for something you're not, at least by accident, from time to time, how do you handle it?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Figs and strollers

Sorry that it's been quiet here, all. Time gets a little tight around our house during the Jewish Holidays, and we are still in the middle of them. Tonight and tomorrow are Yom Kippur, and Sunday we need to put up our sukkah in time for the beginning of Sukkot on Wednesday. Day care keeps closing, I haven't been getting enough time at work, and the evenings have been crowded with errands and back-to-school events. In the triage of focus that comes with the beginning of the year, blogland has lost out to the real world. I promise to catch up with everyone when things settle down ... after, oh, Columbus Day or something.

And, oh yeah, my head has been done in a little, too. I've had this one in draft all week, turning it over and working at it for really much longer than you'd think, given the end product.

Monday, I kept Z. home from school even though she was not sick. If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll realize that for me, admitting this is a little like someone in AA admitting to spending last night with a fifth of bourbon. Getting Z. to school on time, five days a week, every day she's fit to go, has been my marker of functional recovery since last Spring, and on Monday I blew it.

It was the Monday after the big school break for Rosh HaShana. And last year, on the Monday after Rosh HaShana, the first day back to school after that same break, I turned at the top of the garden steps and picked two figs.


It was a perfect, sunny, cloudless, early-Fall day. You know the kind. Z. was standing behind her stroller. She was in a phase of pushing the stroller. She was too short to see over or around the stroller. She wasn't touching the stroller. The stroller was at the top of the steps, and she was behind it. I turned and walked three steps to the fig tree. I picked two, for her lunch. I turned back. Her stroller was beginning its first bump down the steps. She was flying in an arc through the air above it. Somehow I was back on the top of the steps. There was no way I could throw myself beneath her to break her fall. She fell head first. I saw her crown was going to take the impact. I saw her death about to happen in front of me, while I was trapped at the top of the stairs.

It wasn't so much I shouted as the words tore themselves out of me: "Oh, God, Z.!" I do not pray for things. I don't think that prayer works by intervention. I don't even capitalize "god." I don't believe there is a personality behind that word. But when my daughter's death was in motion in front of me, I prayed for something omnipotent to stop it from happening.

At the moment of impact, I did not close my eyes, and I did not turn away, and she did not come down on her crown. Somehow, she twisted. The sound of her hitting the sidewalk was the kind of sound you never want to hear, but it was her ribs and her arm that hit. In the final instant, she twisted towards me, towards the sound of my torn words. The thought of an interventionist god is as alien to me as ever. But maybe, maybe, I can believe in the fierce desperation of my love for her.

When I kept her home this past Monday, the Monday after the big school break for Rosh HaShana, I did not turn at the top of the garden steps to pick figs. There were, blessedly, no strollers in my day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Answering the birthday question

This year, I learned that chiropractic works. I learned how to knit with fishing line and beads. I learned a pomegranate tree will survive and break dormancy in my front storeroom. I learned how to take care of curly hair. I learned what an airbag looks like after it's gone off. I learned a good therapist is worth almost anything, and so is a good events coordinator. I learned what a failing transmission sounds like. I learned how to order books from publishers electronically. I learned what pwned means.

To my surprise this year, I learned I am a writer. I thought I was a reader, a teacher of writing, and an editor of other people's work, but writing itself was not something I claimed. Now, thanks to some of you, I do claim it.

I learned something I had been taught but had not understood: that writing is in its essence an art form of connection. My words on this screen are nothing but pixels until you read them. But once you do, the words I was hearing in my head, you are now hearing in yours. Few connections are more intimate.

And this year, I learned that the hits can keep coming. There's no upper limit to the number of things that can knock you over, and no lunch break guaranteed in your contract. I re-learned that in an instant a life can be gone with no bringing it back, and there's no limit to the number of bad things that can happen in a month, or six months, or a year. There's no limit to who is vulnerable in your life. If you love, you are vulnerable beyond the limits of your own body. If you even just connect, you are vulnerable.

Nevertheless, I learned connections are the only way to heal those kinds of injuries, so I am trying to figure out how to live, connected and vulnerable and open.

(Wish me luck, people. And help me out, okay?)

And you--did you take some time to think about it? This past year, what did you learn?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

L'Shana tova!

This evening is the first night of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year. I hope it begins a good and sweet year for everyone, and that if you're going to spend tomorrow grappling with the High Holiday liturgy of death, life, judgment, and repentance, you make it through the day with grace. Lord knows I'm going to need some myself. Or maybe you should just look for me on the playground.

So here's one for audience participation: when I turned eighteen, a friend of mine asked me the birthday question. Do you know it? It's simple, but it's a doozy. Since tonight is the birthday of the world, I figure we can all stand to think about it...

What have you learned in the past year?

Take your time with it. Go away and come back if you need to. Things are going to be quiet here on the Rhyming blog for the next few days. I'll be thinking it over, too, while I watch Z. run thrilling circles around the big play structure. I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say when I'm back online, and I'll let you know what I come up with.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I promise I'll make it back when the summer has warmed me awhile

A few weeks ago, on a shabbat morning while A. and Z. were at services, I walked down to the trickling creek that emerges three blocks from my house, in a bit of woodland that is a vague approximation of wild. Wild enough that my dogs once found a deer leg there, anyway, even though if you look you will see that below your feet, the rocks of the main path are actually the tumbled bricks, chunked concrete and asphalt of construction fill, as much as they are the mica-sparkling local schist that provides the stone for so many of my neighbors' houses.

One of the reasons I wanted a house here, in this little corner of my neighborhood, was that I could walk to those woods with ease: one block up and one block over from my door, a broad path bounded by escaped ivy leads into young beech and maple forest. It joins the main path about a block-length in, and at the intersection there is almost a plaza bounded by roots and capped high above by green canopy on these late-summer days.

I usually head through this crossroads to a little oxbow of path that meanders along parallel to the main one before rejoining it where Anonymous has placed a bench honoring an anniversary. I like that: the public gesture, the private identity.

On the oxbow path, the terrain is more uneven, the path slicker with leaves in fall and winter, but I have walked it often enough that my feet know the roots and the dips in the forest floor. In the nine years I've been walking these woods, efforts have been made to close off the most eroded routes downhill, so there are barriers made of branches and logs along the sides of the path from time to time, and beyond them you can see where the forest is beginning the slow work of undoing the damage we've inflicted on it. Who knows how many years yet before all the traces are gone?

That bench that faces me when I return to the main path is where A. and I had one of the toughest conversations of our pre-dating history. While we were sitting there, almost seven years ago now, a couple I know came by, walking dogs who have since died. They made idle chit-chat with us while we pretended not to be screaming with tension. For years, we made it a point to sit on that bench whenever we could, to layer it over with happier associations.

And we have always been friendly with that couple without quite crossing the line into friendship, but now they have a little girl three years older than Z., and we recently joined their babysitting co-op, and they are staunch loyalists of my store. They have invited us to their house for a yet-to-be-confirmed day during the Jewish holidays--about to finally cross that line and find ourselves friends, I hope.

The first time I babysat for them, a young person dropped by their house looking for them, a young person who is the sibling of one of my former staffers, a child who grew up at the same street number where I live but one block north, someone I first knew as a sixteen-year-old frustrated with the limitations of the school where A. now teaches, and who--while we were chatting that evening--conceded to me that it will be impossible to maintain a genderneutral presentation in nursing school. But I am giving it my best shot here in blogland.

Layers upon layers. My staffer, this young person's sister, would have lunch with their mother every week, a butch woman of many talents, and I would chat with her while my staffer got her things together. A few years back the mother was the inspiration behind an all-woman, mostly-lesbian production of Grease in which A. played the part of Kenickie, and the mother took the Frankie Valli part ("Beauty School Drop Out"). When the Israel-Palestine peace group that A. and I were briefly involved with got into a tangle with a local rabbi, the mother, who's a mediator, came and helped us sort it out. That rabbi is the step-parent of my friend who got married at the end of June and moved to Boston, which freed up her apartment for a neighbor who teaches at Z.'s day care to move in.

Living here is living in a web of intersecting lives. The longer I'm here, the deeper and more layered they become. I live only a few dozen yards from the co-op that is the heart of my shtetl. I shop there daily, and I pass the bookstore on my way. It is rare for me to walk that handful of houselengths without seeing someone I know at least to say hello.

But on that Saturday when I returned to the woods and walked down to the creek, I saw no one else. I listened to the intent buzzing chorus of cicadas as it rose and fell, and heard the wind high above me, but no dogs, no people. I found my way down the hill at the end of the main path, to where a lower path rounds the wetlands and cozies up to the creek. It seemed like saplings were crowding in where there used to be more erosion. The woods are healthier than they were nine years ago.

The creek, never very big, was gentle and contained in the center of its course. I walked along looking for a place to settle and write--I made my way down into the creekbed eventually and, figuring my sandals won't make it til next summer anyway, I just walked in the shallow water for awhile. None of the logs that rested across it looked trustworthy, so I found myself at the footbridge that crosses the creek at the edge of the meadow. It had been my plan to settle in there if I couldn't find anywhere better, but when I sat, I found that just a little ways down was a solid tree whose roots grew down and along the bank, reassuringly solid and perchable.

The creek was maybe 2 or 3 inches deep there, moving through the rocks with eddies so small they were just dimples. Where the bottom was smooth, a half-dozen water boatmen jumped and danced on the surface, making delicate circles of ripples that jittered into each other over and over again. The leaves flashed back at me from the surface of the water, grey and green, with blue sky flashing up between them, and their shadows layered onto the rocks of the creekbed, splitting and doubling the patterns there.

That Saturday was my first trip, alone, to the woods, in years. I had gotten out of the habit of going at all, because going was a production. It involved dogs, and kid, and spouse; leashes and stroller and plastic bags and tennis balls and rinsing off the poison ivy oil from the dogs' coats later. All the layers of home coming right along with me. Why bother?

But a friend and I made a pact to walk for morning sunlight this fall. We both suffer when the sun starts coming a little later and a little later every day, and leaving a little earlier, and if that's how you're wired, too, you know the best way to stave off the blues that creep up on you and the weepy days that pile on in December is to soak up as much light as possible as soon as you can manage it after waking. So we walk in the mornings, in our different hometowns, and check in online later.

That's what I've been doing in the two weeks since Z. started school. I drop her off as early as I can manage, and I head to the woods: all on my lonesome but fulfilling a promise to a friend. It's not as much sun as if I stayed on the sidewalk, but the green all around me eases my jangles and the earth and rocks and roots under my soles keep me focused on the living world that we try to cage with our grids and our masonry and our asphalt, and my online world is layering onto my physically present one. And that little creek at the bottom? Well, I know where it goes. I know the way the storms make it swell and the drought thins it to a trickle and I know the path it follows to the ocean as the water keeps cycling round and round in our saturated world.

*Isn't that the opposite of wrung out?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What happens while I'm sleeping

S.: I have a weird bruise here. Where do you think I got it?

A.: I don't know. It must have been from when Z. and I poked you with pens while you were sleeping.

S.: Oh, is that what you were doing? (takes a sip of water)

A.: (laughing) No. I don't where you got that bruise--

Z.: (interrupting) With penCILS!

(S. sprays water from laughing.)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Can you spot the trend in our house?

Breakfast. Z. is resisting wearing the shirt she wore last week to the first day of class. We are using a variety of approaches to avoid switching shirts, because switching shirts is not something that Z. is allowed to do in the morning. We have arrived at discussing the new classroom, and how she feels about it.

S.: Do you miss your old teachers?
Z. nods gravely.
S.: Do you think your old friends miss your old teachers, too?
Z. nods.
S.: Do you think your new friends miss *their* old teachers?

(we discuss which new friends had which old teachers last year)

Z.: My old frwiends miss *my* old teacheuhs.
S.: They miss P. and C.
Z.: And R.! R. isn't dair anymorwe because she's sick.
S.: Yes, she has a big sickness, so she can't come to school anymore. If she had a little sickness she would be back at school.
Z.: And we can go to heuh house and put a band-aid on her sickness. And den she will get betteuh!

I was surpressing tears at this point. Teacher R. isn't back because she's dying of cancer. I was hoping that being out of her old classroom would let us sidestep the question, but it looks like Z. is going to cross that bridge somehow when we get to it.

* * * * *

Z.: When I'm a kid I'll get my kid teese, and when I'm a gwrown-up I'll get my gwrown-up teese, and I'll keep dem til I die!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Communication is tricky

Z.: Can you tell me a storewy about da high genius?

S.: The High Genius?

Z.: Da High Genius.

S.: Can you take your binky out so I can hear you?

Z.: Can you tell me a storewy about Suzanne?

S.: Suzanne the High Genius? Is this a school story? I don't know this story.

A.: Maybe you can tell Mama if it's a school story.

Z.: It's a dentist storewy.

* * * * *

S.: (playing with Z's curls) Z., All your life, people will tell you you have great hair.

Z.: Ah you my life people?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Parental pop quiz

We are at the restaurant. We are eating fajitas. My parents are eating enchiladas. Z. is eating ketchup. Z. states:

"I'm afrwaid of dying."


She clarified: she, herself, was afraid of dying herself.

And what, my friends, would you have said to that?

We told her she wouldn't die for a long, long time. We told her about how our Diva Dog was ready to die and wasn't afraid of dying.

She seemed okay with that. She went back to scooping up ketchup up with fries.

I guess we passed. But it's hard to tell.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Because Niobe's doing it

The rules are: 26-word poem, words in consecutive alphabetical order

All bitter cold days,
ever fearful,
going home
in January's knowing light,
mine never over
painful questions
ranging snakily through, under
vast, wasted

And, yes, I cheated on the x. I hate it when people don't cheat on the x. How many xylophones does the world need, anyway?

Check out what Niobe and Julia wrote. Slouching mom proposed the challenge.