Monday, December 31, 2007

Year to Come

On this day of last year I was walking around less than one cross-eyed look away from falling and crashing into sharp, jagged shards of myself, the result of living too long without sleep and compressed by the full, combined vulnerability of motherhood and small business ownership. But a day or two later, there was something about the turn of the year that encouraged me. Sometimes it does. The Fall was behind me and the just-finished retail season's numbers were very good compared to the previous year's. The store was closed for the first week of January, which gave me a break, and our first day of inventory seemed to go well. Major plumbing work happened that was long overdue. It seemed like even if I was still fragile, I was getting a little more functional, and that there was reason to think things would settle down enough for me to catch up on lost sleep, at least.

Then Helen Hill was shot and killed by an intruder in her home. A few of you reading this knew her and were rocked by her death as much as I was. I spent January in shock and tears, searching the internet for answers that weren't there. I read every newspaper article. I combed her memorial site constantly. I read every blog I could find. I listened in on message board discussions between her friends in Halifax and between slime who'd never met her but were willing to say that her political views led to her death.

Anything that mentioned her name or her husband's, anything that gave me a scrap I could use to understand what had happened, I searched it out, hour after hour for weeks. I wanted to spin those scraps into a story that would let me contain the shock of Helen's murder, but what I found instead was a map of the way one violent death in one doorway in one American city tore into person after person, uncontainable.

It tore into her husband and son more than anyone, of course.

I've been sending them care packages. I sent the first one the day I heard, a package of books that had in common that they held no mention of parents. The exception was Michael Rosen's Sad Book, a simple, searingly honest picture book about the author's anger and grief at the death of his mother and son. Charming Boy's father and grandmother later told me that during the weeks they stayed with Helen's family, that was Charming Boy's favorite, the one he wanted to have read to him over and over.

Since that first package, I have tried to send one box a month. I haven't quite met that goal, but maybe every six weeks, I've collected a few books and toys and added things Z. or I have made and sent them off. Z. is only a few months younger than Charming Boy--if he were going to her daycare, they would be in the same class, so she takes a close interest in these care packages. We usually have a box going, collecting things over the course of a few weeks, but after I sent the last one off--late, as usual, mailing out my blue-and-silver-wrapped tchotchkes a few days after Hanukkah ended--well, I haven't started a new one.

What could I possibly send for the beginning of January, the end of the first full year without Helen? The beginning of the next year? The beginning of all the next years? I'm stuck. All of a sudden that next package feels beyond me.

I think I need to send it anyway, though, and I think I need to get it in the mail before Friday and Helen's yahrzeit. But I have no box going and I can't begin to think about what to put in one. I sort of want someone to give me a shopping list this time so I don't have to think and can just do. So I'm asking you for one. Be my autopilot, will you? What should I send this time?

And, no, at the risk of sounding snarly, I don't want to be told about what a nice gesture the care packages are. I just want to get a push to get over the lump of my grief so I can keep going with them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The pirate's mama and her bandaid

Photo 2

Even pirates' mothers scrape their elbows from time to time.

Z. got a pirate ship for Christmas. I got a new computer. With Photobooth.

Hey, everyone.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays, All!

Hey everyone, I'm blogging from the living room of my parents' house, at the end of a day that felt like at least three different days, each of them focused on gifts and connection.

This is the house I grew up in. We moved here the year I turned seven, when my sister was five and my brother turned three. It was the same year I moved from public school to private school, a year that saved my life. When we were growing up, the urban children of suburban parents, we roamed around the alleys and made up fantastic civilizations woven around Star Wars action figures and moving through the backstairs and basement entries and window wells of the houses on our block. Our games were sometimes as focused and contained as the garden boxes of the neighbors two doors' down, and sometimes as freewheeling as the bicycles that took us around the block and to the park across the street. There were earthworks to build in the little park in the center of the block, for matchbox cars and Death Star Droids. There were tiny pebbles of crushed blue glass that we found in a driveway on the east side of the block, and we gathered it and used it as currency. There were alliances and rivalries to be made with the slightly older and considerably poorer black boys who also found their way to our alley, as we found our way into a world structured by cultural forces we wouldn't understand for years.

This is where I grew up, a minority by numbers, but privileged by skin and class. The neighborhood looks very different now. It was marginal when we first moved here, nearly thirty years ago, but it is far from marginal now. The brick sidewalks that mark the limits of gentrification have long since replaced the concrete of my childhood on the northern and western sides of the block, where I'm most likely to walk when I come here, but today an errand took me to the eastern side, and as I was walking along I realized that I still correctly anticipated the way the pattern of the concrete changes for a driveway.

But when I looked around for the blue crushed glass, the currency of my childhood, it was nowhere to be found.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Shortest Day

This is a poem that was part of the Christmas Revels my family went to for years while I was growing up. It's by Susan Cooper, and I offer it on the solstice in the spirit of a pagan fellow-traveler.

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

The witch in her hat


Magpie, that's the gingerbread house in the background, before we decorated. Post-decoration pix coming this weekend.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pay it forward

This one has been going around and I love the idea of a meme that relies on self-tagging and results in an actual cascade of real items going out to strangers via snail mail, but requires no self-revelation at all. It just completely tickles me on so many levels. Magpie signed up for it at Dawn's place. I missed my chance to get in on the action at Magpie's, but she told me Dawn still had a slot open. I'd never read Dawn before, but I headed over and grabbed the third slot, and found someone new to read, to boot. (Hi, Dawn! Thanks for coming by and commenting!)

Cool, no? Or, rather, yes?

At any rate, I've been on a knitting kick recently. I have a large project well underway for Phantom, a small one just started for Z., and a mid-size one recently envisioned for A., but when those are off my needles there will be Things for Bloggers heading out in the US mail.

Here's the meme-y boilerplate:

“I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this Pay It Forward exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.”

What do you have to do?
1. Respond on this blog and give your email address so that I can contact you for your address.
2. Place this on your own blog and also send the first 3 people that respond something.

Anything else? No, can't think of anything. I think that's it, then. Your turn. Who among you out there wants to make and give away more stuff than you'll get out of the deal? Any takers?

Edited: hey, all, don't be discouraged by the number of commenters. At least three of them are from people not claiming spots!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The schoolgirl with her first braids


Yep. Same hair as in yesterday's pictures. That's how much hair goes into those corkscrewing curls.

* * * * *

Z.: I don't want to be yeuwr daughteuwr. I want to be a beautiful lady and sing my songs.

Phone call

A. is on the phone to new mama, Z.'s Auntie Lo.

A. to Lo: You spell it in Yiddish. K-v-a-t...*

Z.: K! V! E! T!

A. to Lo: Oh, Z.'s spelling now, k-v-e-t.

Lo on the phone: Z., the end of that word is "c-h."

Go forth and Kvetch Out's Wednesday Whining!

*A kvaterin is someone who agrees to be responsible for a baby's Jewish education.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The artist at her easel




I realize this sweater has made an appearance in this blog before. Actually, it was in my fourth post, ever. You might be surprised to know it remains one of my most popular posts (coming in just after the one I unwisely titled "braless").

Why? Because it comes up third when you ask google for the last frost date in Philadelphia. Never let it be said I do not provide my readers with useful information.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

In Z.'s pocket

  • rocks
  • binky
  • old cookie
  • dreidl
  • Cookie Monster
  • spare kisses

And, again ... what do your kids keep in their pockets? Assuming you have kids and they're big enough to have pockets they put things in and little enough that you still know these things about them.

Friday, December 14, 2007

In my pocket

  • Folded paper money--almost always less than $20--and a little change
  • A brown hair elastic, the kind Scunci makes that looks like a miniature pot holder loop
  • A binky
  • Some miscellaneous bit of plastic from some wrapper or other, waiting til I find a trash can
  • Sometimes, my cell phone
  • Sometimes, my camera
  • Often, a tissue

And yours?

Welcome to the world, Baby O!

Check out the comments (unlike me, you should actually read the comments before commenting. Flipper is here! Hooray to moms Lo and Co!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sick day

This morning Z. woke up and climbed into bed with me, not to bounce me awake but to keep on sleeping herself. She hasn't done that since June. When she did get out of bed for real, she was in a fragile mood, crumbling easily at very little provocation. In the mornings there's often a point where I sort of veer away from the scaffolding of getting us out the door and while my attention wanders, Z. has suddenly got a puzzle out, or blocks, or drawing things, or stickers. When that moment came today, instead of taking the chance to toodle off on her own, she came up with an activity that more or less required sitting on my lap.

Also, she had a cold that seemed on the verge of streaming-nose territory. Without the fragility and clinginess, I would have packed her off. And, I think I'm being honest here, but I am open to the possibility that I am rationalizing, I believe if she had been fragile and clingy without also being clearly physically sick, I would also have packed her off.

We went to the store. We found coverage for my hours. We went to the co-op. We found snack. We came home and ate snack. We had success on the potty. We decorated the gingerbread house, roof and gable ends, with Necco wafers, Swedish fish, and Sourpatch Kids (Z. referred to these as "feet"); also m&m's and those Twizzlers that pull apart. We watched Sesame Street, the one where Ernie and Cookie Monster sing about D. We traipsed lightly through lunch territory. We requested and were given socks for our hands and feet. We felt that we did not need to wear pants for nap. When our mama definitively left the room, we felt that we had been stranded pantsless in the bed we had promised not to leave and did not remember that pants had been provided for us on the end of the bed until we called our mama back to us with plaintive tears.

Nap was finally achieved.

Our mama washed every dirty woolen item in the house that she could find without considering where all of these woolen items, once wet, would be spread to dry.

We needed to be cuddled back to sleep about 2 1/2 hours into our nap. But then we slept for another hour and a half.

And decorated the long sides of the gingerbread house with more Twizzlers when we woke up again.

And if we are not well enough to return to school tomorrow, our mommy is taking care of us instead.

I know it's late, but've got six more hours on the West Coast and all you folks elsewhere in the world can cheat. Get yourself over to Wednesday Whining and tell us the lowlights of your day, week, year, life.

You know you're dying to unload.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hanukkah Sameach

Hi. I'm back.

It was, all in all, a good Hanukkah, I think. We only forgot to light once, and we wouldn't have had enough candles if we'd lit that night anyway. Actually, any Hanukkah during which we finish the holiday with essentially no candles is a good one in my book. (We ended with 2: we started with over 100, a full box and some leftover from last year and a box from Z.'s daycare.) I'm not going to go into the acquisitions, which were not too excessive but also not entirely free from excess, but the excess was excess I can live with, so, you know, it was okay.

But oh, those dancing lights.

We're in the time of year when it's hardest for me to feel connected to the world around me, especially when it's a week like this one and the clouds are low and the color of dust and show no signs of giving way for days. I start to feel like I'm drowning for lack of light, like the oxygen isn't making it to my lungs because they're slowly filling up with grey.

Those candles, they help. They might not be anything more than pretty lights, but they are cheerful and they are an excuse for people to come together and sing and to Maccabee yoga, even. The simple fact of a holiday that we arrive at each year--in gladness or guilt or hope or sorrow--promises that the earth will keep revolving until it's our turn in the sun again. This year, when the holiday was entirely before the solstice, I imagined that each additional candle made up for the diminishing light in my mid-Atlantic day. And I recalled winters that were harder than this one, and counted myself lucky, really.

The year is turning, the sun is going, the sun will return. At least, it always has.

This is a time of year when I feel like the Christianity I was raised with and the Judaism I embrace now are entirely inadequate to the rhythm of the year. Everything powerful for me about Christmas is pagan. The loss of the sun is profound. All the green, abundant growth of the year that needs the sun for survival--all that is done, it's dead, it's returning to the earth to be used again for new growth. If anything is happening at all, it's happening underground, where it can't be seen and to disturb it would be to destroy it. I can consider the dead leaves, or turn my face from them, it doesn't really matter. Mostly I just need to keep going, trusting that beneath my feet and past my conscious mind there is something that will, in the fullness of Spring, turn into the tiniest of buds and the most translucent of green and grow, day by day, to harvest the energy of the sun.

In the meanwhile, I wish hibernation were an option. I really do.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Precautionary measures

So. Reviewers, they avoid spoilers in their reviews, right? That's because if we're going to see the movie, or read the book, or whatever, we want to find things out for ourselves. Suspense and all that. The plot unfolding before our eyes. That's part of the fun.

But what if you what you need to know is: DON'T watch this movie! Not because it's bad, but because it's the kind of thing that, if you watch it, it's going to hit every single one of your triggers and you're going to need a week to recover, never mind what it's done to that nice date night you had planned.

What we need is a website where you can plug in the things you want to avoid--children dying young, planes crashing into mountains, lovers separated eternally, household cleaners run amok, banjo music, cockroaches. Clowns.

You enter your terms in the field and out comes a list of books and movies you know you need to give a pass. Brilliant, right? If you put it together, I want a footnote.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hanukkah hiatus

November was fun, but December is going to be patchy. It has been already: first I had this problem with cookies. The internet kind--mine went stale, or moldy, or something, and blogger wasn't letting me sign on. But I threw out the old ones, and blogger gave me some new ones, and now I'm good to go, only I have NO TIME this week, and only Sunday for the foreseeable future. So this is me saying, hi and bye, all. See you on the other side.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

So, I'm sure you're all dying to know...

...about the latest potty-training advances over here chez Javelot.

The last time I reported from the trenches on this one was back in the summer, when she was going bare-tushed in service of the Grand Potty Goal. She was doing great, when there were no bothersome encumbrances like training pants or diapers or shorts or anything to get in the way. We moved the potty into the living room, to keep disruptions to a minimum, and it worked beautifully. She felt the urge, she went to the potty. The floor did not get peed on, much. Life was good.

Then daycare started again. And not only were her diaper parts re-diapered, but the potty was a LOOOOOOOONG walk down the hall, requiring a teacher escort, and all these thrilling friends surrounded her, distracting Z. so that she no longer noticed her once-compelling urinary urges. During the day, progress went in a backwards direction. Back home on the Rhyming Ranch, the Grand Potty Goal got lost in the shuffle of various Smaller and Trivialer Competing Goals that really should not have obscured the Grand Potty Goal, but they did. So things gradually began to slide at home, too.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that the child who had been fairly cheerful about the potty in September was once again resisting the potty fiercely. Sticker charts, which had been working beautifully in the summer, had lapsed into disuse. We had only the barest remnant of a potty schedule, and we were presenting that remnant to Z. as a suggestion ("Do you feel like you need to go to the potty?") rather than as a given ("It's potty time now!"). The message everyone was giving her was that using the potty was not that important. And meanwhile, we've had to order the next size up in training pants. And her diapers are getting smaller on her--no way do I want to buy the next size up of them.

We've gotten back on message. It's sort of exhausting. But every time we slip, we pay.

In all of this, we do have one clear area of success, however. Possibly even victory. Contrary to conventional wisdom on the subject, Z. appears to be committed to pooping on the potty. And as a launderer of cloth diapers, I am a heck of a lot happier that way.