Bad mama

Back in December one of my freelance contracts ended and I made the decision not to replace it. To maintain our budget and lifestyle, I chose to scale back on daycare and work during nap time and after the kids went to bed.

Can you guess how this worked out? All I have to say is no one at Bella's school ever thought it important to tell me that she refuses to take naps anymore. And knowing she's here all day with me makes Javi a little crazy and clingy so when he gets home from school all he he wants is my undivided attention. So, basically, I'm trying to work with both kids in my back pocket.

Therefore, I can't really be blamed for what I did (or didn't) do when Bella realized that Javi left his door open after he left for school yesterday. Wide open. With all manner of legos, Bakugan (backyookin to Bella), and art supplies. I was trying to finish up some editing when I realized the world was way too quiet. And I knew. I knew she was in that room and she was destroying whatever she could get her hands on and he would be so angry when he got home.

But I finished up my editing, sent out some invoices, and did some straightening up in the glory of all that quiet, without tripping over anyone or having to fight someone who suddenly wants that very thing despite not playing with it for hours (you know how it is). And only after all of that did I venture upstairs. Strangely, nothing seemed out of place in Javi's room. I pivoted and crossed the hall to Bella's room. Currently known as The Disaster Zone. And this is what I saw:

When I walked into the room, she held her hands up and said, "Javi's gonna be SO MAD at me!" Then turned to make me some orange soup before showing me the "wolf prints" on her hands. Because she didn't do this alone -- "dat wolf done helpded me makin' dis mess, Mama!"

Inevitably, both kids were crying when one had to clean up her mess and the other had to deal with cleaning up her mess, too (putting 800 pencils, crayons, and markers back in their little slots and reconstructing 6 lego vehicles and taping torn pictures). But we all learned a valuable lesson: You have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

Just don't tell them my secret. It was sooooooo totally worth it! I'm flashing my Bad Mama badge proudly. :)

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There are certain things I'm not afraid to tell people. Among them is that I grew up in the middle of the disaster caused by addiction. Specifically, crack cocaine addiction (supplemented by heroin and alcohol). There were police chases and prison sentences and violent outbursts -- and crack cocaine was calling all the shots.

So you can imagine how the anger rose up in my body and my mind became a frazzled haze of disbelief when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stormed our neighborhood two nights ago in hopes of catching my neighbor in possession of crack cocaine. Men in black, wearing masks, with guns, hiding out in the woods and then swarming into a house that sits across the street from us. My neighbor, her daughter, and the two adults she's renting to were cuffed and made to lay face down while the agents combed through every nook and cranny in her home.

My neighbor knows my experience with drugs and dealers and addicts. She knows because when she was released from 30-day rehab (for opiate addiction), I shared my story with her. I wanted her to know that I understood her addiction, that we wanted to help her when we could, and that her top priority must be to heal her relationship with her daughter (who is the one most devastated by my neighbor's addiction). I told her how crack had demolished my relationship with my father, how it ruined my belief in myself for so long, how it left me vulnerable to whatever man showed me love.

She sat in my living room and cried. Said she understood and wanted to live a healthy life. Said her top concern was getting her life together so that she can be an inspiration to her daughter (who is fast following her footsteps). She held my hand and listened to my story and the whole time she knew her boarder was selling crack out of her house. She knew the money in her pocket came from addicts. She knew she was bringing addiction into our neighborhood. She knew she was putting us all at risk.

I won't open my door to her now. Not because I think she's a bad person -- because I don't. I think she's carrying extremely low self-esteem and still dealing with her addiction and still making mistakes. My door is closed to her because I've worked so hard over the past years to free myself from the manipulation and anger that comes from being used and lied to and betrayed. It makes me sick to my stomach that she would come to my home, bringing her drug money with her, and sit in the comfort of my words and understanding.

It makes me sick to think her manipulation could've brought the DEA down on us. Can you imagine what it looked like? Here she was coming to our house for five or ten minutes at a time, popping in and out, while someone was trafficking drugs? And when the drugs weren't found (because they weren't -- the DEA found nothing), how hard would it be to make this leap: The drugs are being sold from this home, but they're being stored at that one.

Or what if someone so deep in their addiction decided to break into our home or steal one of our cars? What could've happened to me and Bella as we spend long days together in this house with the blinds all the way open to let the winter sun in? She knew the beast of addiction and she played fast and loose with our safety by inviting it to come visit. For the past couple of days, I've been afraid to open the blinds and don't want to be outside. Knowing the danger that was makes me paranoid about the danger that could still be.

I know that we're safe now. The raid pushed the dealer and his girlfriend to find some other place to conduct their business. My neighbor keeps begging for forgiveness, for help, for understanding. I have none. I've given so much to addiction in my lifetime. I refuse to allow it back into my home -- even by way of the enabler. I know I will forgive my neighbor eventually because I've learned not to hold onto anger. I will tell her how much her actions hurt me and I will move on.

But in the meantime, I'm working on letting in the light, in seeing the joy of a quiet, green neighborhood, and in trusting that the people in my life are here for a reason.

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I support public schools (and public libraries and public transportation and the public option), but the past few days have shown me how unschooling could be the perfect choice for the right parent (and child).

On Monday, we went to the local airport. Since that day, Bella has asked eight million different questions about airplanes and flight, and now she wants to fly kites for her birthday. Today we went to the local Nature Center -- and a whole new avenue for thought and creativity opened up for us.

I just wanted to get out of the house -- little did I know my girl would be so intrigued by the snakes, frogs, lizards, turtles and other local wildlife on display. She was thrilled and excited by everything (thrilled-scared by the snakes, thrilled-happy by the gliding squirrels), but the highlight of her day was the turtles.

We spent at least thirty minutes looking at the same four: a spotted turtle, a yellowbelly slider turtle, a painted turtle, and a mud turtle. (She had zero interest in getting near the gnarly snapping turtle!) We talked about why they swam so much, why they looked so different, what they ate, whether they'd bite, and which one looked most like Tuck. She wouldn't get too close to the glass, but she was enthralled.
Later, we walked outside to watch the waterfall before heading home for lunch. Bella wanted to know why the water was all moving in the same direction, why it wouldn't stay still, what makes the water fall, what can live in moving water, why doesn't the grass grow where the water is, and why the rocks are slippery where the water is. Somehow I wound up giving an impromptu lesson on gravity, on the four seasons, and on the properties of water.
I'm pretty amazed at both of us. Who knew that two year olds care about these things? I don't remember Javi being so full of questions, and the questions he did ask didn't seem so thoughtful. It's like I can see her making connections, piecing things together, and learning by doing and seeing. I don't know that I could do this everyday or actually spin conversations and questions into knowledge, but I have a better understanding now of why so many people choose to tackle that challenge.

Tomorrow we're supposed to be hit with an icy deluge (which never really happens 'round here). I can't help but wonder -- and look forward to -- the path that'll take us down.

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On being beautiful

I don't consider myself beautiful, though I also don't think I'm hard on the eyes. I don't wear make up, my hair routine is heavy on conditioner and defrizz creme because otherwise my hair hangs half limp and half cotton ball (you'd have to see it to understand). My lips are full and I lick them a lot, so I carry a tube of some balm in every pocket and bag (Nivea is my favorite).

But I do have one beauty secret: Vaseline. Yes, your mom's and grandma's good ol' Vaseline.

It works for everything! I add it to the dry areas on my face after I put on face lotion (with SPF) every morning. I lather it on my lips at night before I go to bed. I use it on the tips of my fingers, the creases of my knees and elbows, and on the rough patches that pop up all over my body during the winter months.

I've tried every deep moisturizing lotion, every tonic and solution and cream that promises to turn your skin from alligator to baby's bottom and nothing works like my Vaseline. And guess what? I also put on my baby's bottom -- so there!

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Family Therapy day 1

I am still processing my first session of family counseling. This session was my dad, my older sister, and me in a church office with a sweet therapist named Maritza who had no idea what bubbling cesspool she'd be diving into.

Suffice it to say we were there an hour past our scheduled time slot, everyone cried, and the therapist kept saying, "Let's let him (or her) finish before we correct him (or her)" -- and she kept saying it to me. That's the mountain man's favorite part.

The most normal part of the session was my butt continually buzzing because my husband was texting his fingers off wondering when I'd be home because he and the kids were STARVING. Because of course that's what I'm worried about in family therapy with my dysfunctional father.

More when I can think without my eyeballs hurting (from the crying ... and the excessive rolling).

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Bella and I packed into the car this morning to take my sister to the airport, which is a short hour away (if you weave in and out of winding country roads the way I do). We got dressed for our day of travel:

Then she got all buckled into the back seat and I nestled the mini-DVD player in her lap (because somebody lost the strap to hang it. Somebody named MY HUSBAND). She watched Bobby da Nudcackah for about five minutes and promptly got upset because I can't explain what "stern" means.

The line: "Uncle Drosselmeyer was very stern."
My two year old: What stuhr means?
Me: It means you have to follow the rules.
My two year old: Stuhr is da roos?
Me: Yep, like someone who is stern doesn't let you play around.
My two year old: Da roos not say no pwayin' woun, mama.
Me: I mean, if you're being silly and I say NO M'AM then I'm being stern.
My two year old: Silly is no da roos, Mama. You not knowin da roos.

And on we went. So I took away the DVD player and we all settled on singing Laurie Berkner and They Might Be Giants for the rest of the way. But someone (that'd be ME) failed to mention that WE were not flying. ASHLEY was flying. Bella then launched into a Level 5 fit in the car, complete with snot and screaming and kicking and crying.

So I did what every stern parent of a toddler does. I found a regional airport and smuggled the both of us out onto the tarmac and let her touch a plane designed to look like a race car and lifted her up so she could see into the body. I chased her between the crop-dusters and around the mini passenger planes. The wind was torrential but the skies were blue and the sun was warm and my daughter and I felt like we were flying.

The feeling lasted the full ten minutes it took the airport staff to realize we were out there. Did you know it's not cool to play around on airport tarmac, even the ones in your sleepy little town? We were quickly told to leave and giggled as we chased each other back to the car. As I was buckling the big girl back into her seat, she said to me with a shrug: Dat man is so stuhr!

Like flying. Free and clear and weightless. That's a warm January day with the people you love.

This post is part of Steady Mom's 30 Minutes or Less Challenge.

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Protecting girlhood

I don't talk about her much, but I have a 12-year-old sister. She's in sixth grade and her walls are papered in Jonas Brothers posters. She's smart, funny, considerate, and popular -- and yet every time she posts a picture to Facebook, I cringe.

My youngest sister -- this amazing girl -- takes every opportunity to show her cleavage and her bare legs and thighs on her Facebook page. She wears heavy makeup and pouts for the camera. She positions her body so that her breasts are thrust out, so that her bum is shown at the best angle, so that she looks sexy and sultry and desirable.

I understand her motives. I was once a 12-year-old girl with raging hormones and low self-esteem; a girl with an absentee parent and the nagging feeling that I wasn't lovable enough. I was smart and funny and popular -- and yet I still needed to be wanted. I went out of my way to be suggestive, desirable, loved. Who was I if I wasn't hot or sexy? What was I worth if no one wanted to touch me, to kiss me, and more? I get it, and it breaks my heart. I get it, and I feel that there's nothing I can do about it.

My sister's Facebook account is (supposedly) monitored by my father. He is "watching" her and keeping her "safe" from the mistakes of youth, and the predators that young girls haven't yet learned to recognize. So why do her pictures burn my eyes yet elicit no response from him? If she's posting this pictures to her account, what is sharing in private? I have a ball of fear in my stomach because I know I must confront my father, yet I'm not sure he will see the problem.

My father revels in his daughter's body. He looks hard at her, sucks in his breath and announces, "God, you're beautiful!" He says to her: "Your butt is looking good in those jeans!" "You have your mom's hips!" "Your husband is going to love those lips!" When she walks away, he stares at her butt while slowly shaking his head. He locks eyes onto her budding breasts and smiles while saying she'll definitely be well endowed.

She's twelve and she's already been taught that her body is meant to bring pleasure to men. And her own father has sent the message. He insists she is confident and strong because he's raised her to be active in the Catholic Church. He brags that she's mature beyond her years, and therefore able to wear the gobs of makeup my mother banned until her daughters were at least thirteen (and even then, it had to be light and natural looking). He pays for her unlimited texting and explains her long days away from home by saying that's what girls her age do.

How do I convey to him what he doesn't perceive to be wrong? How do I convince him -- without old-fashioned words like ruined reputation and regret and immature -- that he's losing her, that I recognize this as the beginning of a downward spiral that could spin through her teenage years leaving destruction in its wake? How do I teach him to treat his daughter less like an adult piece of meat (as he treats all women) and more like the tender, beautiful child she is?

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Around the Neighborhood

Today I'm making every moment count over here. I'm cross posting this entry for the {W}rite of Passage challenge. Join the challenge by clicking here.


Into the Fray

We were all sitting around the dinner table when it happened. My nephew, E, piped up with “I was born last because my mama had to sell Javi first.” Between choking and fits of coughing, I immediately searched for the right words to clear up his confusion regarding how his half-brother came to be my son.

Everyone knows that my older sister is Javi’s biological mother and that she was ill equipped to raise a child when he was born, even though he was (thankfully) not born with any major neurological or physical disabilities. When Javi was a baby, my oldest nephew (who was five and living with his father at the time) asked why he couldn’t come be my son, too. When E was born 14 short months after Javi, the world asked one question: Why one and not the other?

Sitting there at the table, my first plan of attack was to give E “the script” — his mother couldn’t raise Javi just then so she asked us to. I quickly realized that wouldn’t answer the looming question, so I took a big gulp of Diet Dr. Pepper to steel my nerves and asked E to start at the beginning.

E: Well, my mama sold Javi to you so she’d have room in the trailer to have me.
Me: Honey, nobody got sold.
Javi: Yeah! She didn’t sell me. She gave me away. You didn’t have to pay for me, right, Mama?
Me: Hold on, you two. Listen. She didn’t sell Javi and she didn’t give him away. She let me have him.
Javi: Yeah, so she gave me away.
E: Are you sure she didn’t sell him? We usually sell stuff. I think she sold him because if she didn’t sell him she couldn’t have room for me. I’m eight and he’s nine. So she sold him.
Me: Nobody sold anybody!
Javi: I think I’d be worth like a thousand dollars maybe. Don’t you think, mama?

This is when the mountain man decided the best way to back ourselves off of this landmine was to turn the tables on E.

MM: Alright, E. You got us. Your mom did sell some kids, and she said we could sell you right after dinner.
E: She did not!
MM: Yep, sure did. We have a new family coming to test you out in about 20 minutes.
E: You’d better not!
MM: Go on and eat up so you’ll be ready when they get here.

Cue distraught tears. Listen to Javi still trying to factor up what price tag he’d put on himself and the mountain man hooting with laughter. How did a simple family dinner spiral so far out of control in just a few torturous moments? How many times in my lifetime will I have to address the misconceptions — and the hard truths — surrounding my son’s birth?

Because sometimes holding it together is the most you can offer, I assured both E and Javi that their biological mother loves them both very much. And then I retreated to the bedroom where the dark wouldn’t stare at me with big eyes, waiting for an answer that makes sense, and the silence wouldn’t ask questions that I don’t have the right answers for.

I sat there for a while, sulking that my son — my family — rarely gets to be normal. Then I listened to the boisterous and loving laughter of the people in my life, remembered what the point of living is, took a deep breath, and dived right back into the fray.

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Freelancing isn't free

February 2007. I was seven months pregnant and thought growing and carrying a whole human being inside my body was the most dramatic thing that would happen to me all year. But then my company's CEO called to tell me my services were no longer needed, and the bottom dropped out of my world.

The call only lasted five minutes; but I spent long hours alternating between wracking sobs and angry rants. What were we going to do? Who was going to hire a heavily pregnant woman? How do you just tell someone that they aren't necessary when the past six months had been nothing but lavish praise and pats on the back? More tears. More anger.

I finally I picked myself up and sent out a mass email telling every one of personal and professional contacts that my "contract" with the company had expired and to update their contact information. I closed my laptop, blew my nose, and crawled into bed to hopefully sleep off the grief. But then the phone rang.

My mentor was on the other line with exactly the pep talk I needed. She reminded me that I am smart and talented and that I didn't need a boss or a CEO to tell me what to do and how to do it. We talked for hours and at the end of our conversation I was ready to embark on a freelance career as a writer, editor, and consultant. We weren't off the phone for 30 minutes before she sent me an email with my first freelance job.

The burden wasn't completely lifted from my shoulders. A door had slammed shut right in my face, but I could feel the cool breeze coming from a window somewhere. That was almost three years ago and I have succeeded in freelancing. When one job tapers off, I'm prepared with another job to take its place. I'm always pedaling, always looking, and always at the ready to take on some new project or client.

But there's something I'm failing at: making the damn money. I have to fight and claw for every dime that comes my way. I just don't understand why I'm busting my butt to produce excellent content by whatever deadline established, but then I wind up stalking my mailbox for the check that's always "on the way" yet mysteriously arrives weeks later than it should. Why do people think it's okay to play fast and loose with a person's livelihood?

I don't have answers. What I have is a full calendar of editorial work that must be delivered on time and no idea of when or if I'll get paid for it. Three years and I still haven't figured out how to effectively earn a paycheck. I can't call their bluff and stop performing the work. I can't force them to pay me by their own predetermined schedules, and I can't prove they're purposely dodging me on pay.

I'm starting a new contract in February. I think I'll add a line in my contract that reads, "If contractor is not paid within 30 days of submitting an invoice, client will add $1,000 for each day late. After 10 days, client will pay $10,000 for each day late. After 30 days, client will sign over entire account to contractor and watch as contractor smiles her way to the bank."

Maybe they'd at least get one invoice paid on time. (But probably not.)

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Because it feels like summer

What's a little tooth enamel between friends?

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70 degrees in January

I am in desperate need of the paycheck I was supposed to receive two weeks ago, the house is a mess, and my nine year old is home from school for the rest of the week.

But who cares? It's 70 degrees in the thick of January. Bella and I sat outside in our bare feet and tee shirts, enjoying the sun as it beat down on us and the wind as it gently tossed our hair. What a perfectly glorious day, and when better to decorate ourselves with sidewalk chalk?

I know there are earthquakes and mudslides and pelting snow. But today is a gift and we're soaking it up.

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Idle hands

Bella is home three days each week, and some days I look around and think, "What am I supposed to do with her now?"

Problem solved. I bought some craft lace and pony beads for a grand total of $6. I thought she'd want me to string the beads and make necklaces, bracelets, or key chains, but Bella got really upset when I tried to do it for her.

She sat at the table for at least an hour stringing orange beads on a length of red craft lace for the mountain man, blue and yellow beads on a length of white cord for Javi, and pink beads on yellow for herself. She'd get the beads on there and then pick up one end and scream bloody murder when the beads all hit the floor.

But, hey. Fine motor skills, color recognition, patience, and perseverance. All for $6. Works for me!

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Mind of a criminal

Last fall my sister moved in with us for a few weeks until her studio apartment was ready. She was broke, homeless, and slightly depressed (because how can you be broke and homeless without some depression?). We cooked gluten-free meals so she could eat, tiptoed around her lying on the couch in the mornings so she could sleep, and fronted her cash so she could live a somewhat normal life.

In return we (well, I) got Criminal Minds. And it was so worth it. In the beginning I was a little (okay, a lot) annoyed that she'd be up until three in the morning watching back-to-back episodes and that every time the tv was left unmanned, she'd dive into an episode and not come up for air for two hours. And then one day I didn't have a looming deadline and the kids were still at school and it was nasty out, so I watched. Really watched.

And I've been hooked ever since. I haven't seen seasons in order and the episodes skip back and forth across time and I'm not watching the current season just yet. But I feel a rush of pleasure when Gideon pops up in an episode and a resigned sigh when it's just Rossi. I cried a little bit during one episode when Gideon had a heart-to-heart with Reid that ended, "I'm proud of you." I was angry right along with Hotchner's wife when he put his job before his family time and again. My inner child always dreamed of growing up to be Prentiss. I roll my eyes when Garcia answers the phone with yet another self-serving and narcissistic one-liner.

I just love this show. I can watch it all day long and have to pry my eyes away from the screen if I hope to get anything accomplished (like, you know, living). I realized I have a problem when Javi came in from school one afternoon while I was watching an episode and said, "Oh, sweet! I love Criminal Minds! Can you put this on my list?" (Yes, the nine year old has his own list of DVRed shows.)

I'm not totally ashamed of my obsession, though, because I have learned valuable pieces of information. For instance, I know a telephone repair person could peer into my house from the top of a light pole and then kill me. Or that my grief counselor could decide to put my out of my misery by killing me. Or that the frustrated doctor at our local hospital could have a hero complex and want to save people but has to shoot them first, only he could kill me. Everything I've learned ends in a killing -- but I've learned it!

You see the problem? Everyone's an un sub (unidentified subject) and I'm by no means a profiler. That makes everyone suspect. I'm walking around the neighborhood with the kids and a man opens his door and then closes it again. Un sub! The guy behind me in line at the grocery store has shifty eyes. Un sub! The librarian seems a little more erratic and snippy than usual. Un sub!

I can't say there aren't drawbacks, but I also can't say that I'm walking around bracing for an attack. I feel slightly thrilled and on the attack. Like maybe I'll spot (and therefore avoid) the un sub, thanks to the school of Criminal Minds. It's sort of how I spent most of the time when I lived in Houston memorizing license plates and noting out-of-the-ordinary vehicles just in case they turned up on the evening news. Crimestoppers has nothing on me!

So if you need me, don't be surprised if it takes me a minute to remember my world is safe and easy. And if you come to visit, be prepared to spend some quality time with some of the smartest writing on tv. (Or convince me to get out of the house. Obviously, I need it. It's been a cold, cold winter.)

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Feets are for ticklin'

Some days I struggle to get by. There are warlords and all-night-writing to meet deadlines and the superior demands of family.

And then there are days when I remember why it all matters. Why it would matter even if things were always sunshine and rainbows and unicorns for everyone, everywhere. These glorious little people we're blessed with -- whether through birth or adoption or accident or the bonds of friendship and family -- are what make the world go 'round.

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Every night the same dream: I am anxious and afraid and overwhelmed. The baby wails and then stops breathing and then wails louder. I can't find the others. My big kid and my baby girl. I can't find them. The house is filthy and something's burning and there's an alarm going off somewhere, but where are they? I'm trying to soothe this screaming baby whose face is so contorted and angry and purple red that I can't even make out its gender, but I know it's mine. I hold it against me as panic sets in and I run through the house charging through rooms and yelling out their names. Why won't this baby just stop? What have I done?

And then I wake up in a cold sweat with a racing heart. I listen for the sounds of my life: the mountain man snoring beside me. The baby breathing deeply over the monitor. She is there, safe. If she is there, then he is in the room next to her's, safe. I have them all and we are okay. My heart slows and I roll over, try to fall back into sleep with one arm under my pillow and the other cradling my beautifully empty belly.

I love my children. I make fun of them, laugh at and with them, scoop them up when they feel pain, and walk away when they need to find their own strength -- but that deep-down heartaching love is theirs always. It is only theirs. I gave it to them and hope they always trust it's there, even when days seem dark and our family is consumed by inevitable struggle.

I love them and yet I want no more of them. No more babies. No more children growing from a tiny seed in my belly. No more up and down throughout the night. No more sitting with a baby for hours as it tries fruitlessly to find milk in my breasts and no more measuring out careful scoops of formula. No more first steps and first teeth and first birthdays. No more Millers in this mix.

If the mountain man could control our destiny, if I was the wife who submitted to her husband, we would be sprouting another beautiful blossom already. There would be a third baby in my belly and we would be measuring rooms and rearranging furniture to make room for it. We would be planning and budgeting and finding a way to make it work. We would do it for the third and then we would do it for the fourth. And then we would take it as it comes. I walked in on a conversation between him and another dad just as he said, "Ideally, I'd love to have at least four, maybe five, but it's Kelly's decision."

My decision, and people like to tell me my mind will change. I listen to women who would give anything to carry a child and those who will never appreciate that they did. I think about how my midwife told me carrying another child would be difficult with the scar tissue that resulted from Bella's birth. I look at my mother who raised three children on her own. I wonder whether my children will one day be adults who wish they had just one more sibling to lean on in a crisis or if one will wind up carrying the other's load without the benefit of another set of hands to help.

I was none and done before I was given the gift of my first miracle. For six years, I was one and done. The mountain man convinced me that our life needed one more baby, and he was right. We are the four corners, a perfect square, a balanced unit of yin and yang. I imagine another baby and my breath catches in my throat. My heart pounds and I feel the world start shifting under my feet. The dream flashes behind my eyes and I'm paralyzed by it.

I know that the very act of birth is radical for some, that it is a miracle and a blessing for countless others. I know that our biology drives us to go forth and multiply. But I feel that it would destroy me. And that is what I must honor.


This post was written for the (W)rite of Passage challenge created by Mrs. Flinger. The challenge is designed to inspire bloggers to write, to hone their craft and tell better stories, rather than to chase page views and followers. The challenge is open to anyone, so join if it speaks to you!

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Weekends should be easy. I hear people rejoice in lazy voices about pajamas and quietly playing children. Meanwhile, I update my Facebook with:

And that's truly how it feels. Long hours of one yelling and the other crying, and then the crying one turns violent and the mean one howls. And then there's a crash-bang-thump and both are screaming and crying and my head might explode and the mountain man is sleeping through it all and all I wanted to do was sip my coffee and upload pictures and videos for 5 minutes and there's an entire floor of this house that's covered with toys and instruments and books and CAN'T Y'ALL GET ALONG FOR FIVE MINUTES?

The answer, simply, is no. They can't. They are nine and two and they are my warlords. I am the peacekeeper, therefore I'd better keep myself firmly planted between them, anticipating each dictator's next desperate and petty move. Heading off each battle strike and clinging to the hope that I can keep the peace.

I know there are people holding their breath and wringing their hands in worry about their loved ones, entire nations rocked by disaster and poverty, millions struggling just to put food on the table. I know this and I am grateful for what I have -- the fighting, the frustration, the desperate jealousy of children, and the joy of parenting. I know these things, and yet this is my life and I must be honest to it. I must acknowledge my frustration and give it a voice, too.

I am made small by the tragedy of daily life for so many, and yet the minutia of this life, this wondrous and gritty life, is what makes me the person who appreciates the reality of it all. And that is okay.

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A song for Haiti

Like most people across the globe, I've spent the past few days crying, praying, and learning what I can do to help Haiti. I see images of a broken city and a ravaged people. I hear about young girls fighting with all their hearts to save children who have wonderful futures and of local families holding their breaths as they wait to learn if their children are safe ... and if they can get to them.

My mind turns endlessly, searching for something to do, some way to help this amazing culture rebuild itself -- and do it in a way that shirks off the shroud of war and famine that blanketed the region for decades leading up this disaster. I donate and I tweet and I post links on Facebook. I plan fundraisers and talk to my children about our ability and responsibility to stay with Haiti now and for years into the future.

And then I think about the sheer talent Haiti breeds. Writers, musicians, painters, photographers -- all this amazing creativity that we rarely see or hear because life in that nation is so grueling and soul-crushingly hard. I can't help but wonder what words and songs are buried in that rubble. How many voices and perspectives will be forever hidden thanks to the enormous walls thrown up by this utter destruction? Even among those buddings artists who survive, how many of them will cast off creativity as they claw their way forward, starting fresh every morning with sole hope of surviving just one more day.

I remember living in Boston and meeting so many Haitian writers through my work at Beacon Press. Meeting Edwidge Danticat at a book release party. Sitting in awe of her as she told of her family's struggle to escape the tortures of Haiti and then assimilate into American culture without losing the core of themselves. Reading her short stories and novels and finding myself gripped in yearning to know that culture as well as she does.

There were long talks and dancing. Music and words and stories painting a picture of gorgeous and cruel paradise that was stolen from its people by greed and ignorance. At a different industry party, I met Patrick Sylvain and was mesmerized by his poetry about his homeland. I dare you to read this and not be moved:

Army of Draculas
All the monsters live here
on this half dead island.
An army of Draculas
haunting street demonstration
with diabolical tanks
roaring down
Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ boulevard
to eat children
who dare sing.
I see darkness all around
and hear a hawk’s laughter
ringing in the plains.
I smell urination in the dust
for death is the rhythm
of the ground.
It is not yet midnight
and the skies empty of the moon
I hear wolves wail
And hours creaking
past dead bones.
On this half dead island
the rifle of the Zenglendos
stares death in the eyes
and coughs blood.
I still hear the hawk’s laughter
and crunching bones.
Inside election booths
soldiers carry death
in their mouths
rifles play ballads
and gun butts slap faces
until blood river flows.
--Patrick Sylvain

In the spirit of these brave voices, I have a new prayer for Haiti: May those sharp and soulful voices emerge from this disaster stronger and louder and with all the depth of spirit found in the mountains studding the nation. May the world truly listen to Haiti's voices of song and poetry -- and may those voices awaken inside of us all the burning desire to eradicate that tremendous poverty and cultivate only hope in the Haitian soil.

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My youngest child can be extremely sweet and loving. Unfortunately, she can also be really mean and hateful -- and she often swings between the two in just minutes (seconds?). This is why her secret nickname is Evirella. Bella is the sweet side; Evirella is her scary evil twin.

I happened to catch Evirella on film yesterday and was going to keep her to myself, but I've been convinced to share. Those thwacks you hear in the background at the end are Evirella spanking me with a picture frame. Forget Mommy Dearest. We're living with Daughter Dearest!

Feel free to call her Evirella if ever you come across her, though I can't promise she won't shank you.

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So moody

We had a great day, but it wasn't without the typical (please tell me it's typical) toddler mood swings. Please note that my child goes from silly to mad to sad in the span of three minutes.

And, yes, I know I provoked her (and purposely asked her Why a hundred times), but it's only because I needed to exact a little revenge. She really makes me laugh!

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Mellow Monday

Weekends aren't what they should be. Rather than resting and relaxing, we're hurtling here and there, squeezing in this, and struggling to finish up that.

Therefore, I am the 1 percent of the population that looks forward to Monday. Not only does the big kid go back to medication (which we cease on the weekends) and head back to school (making the house so much quieter), but we fall into our routine and each moment is carefully measured according to what just happened and what should happen next.

Monday mornings used to be me in pajamas with a steaming mug of coffee in a dark room, but now that we're only part time at daycare, these days are full of play that's mixed with learning. This morning we:

Vacuumed the kitchen.

Doctored some babies while learning where our hearts are and that heart starts with H.

Put together the same four puzzles about 15 times while watching Milo & Otis. (And learned that babies come out of kitty and puppy butts. I didn't have the cajones to correct her and WOAH have I never seen this movie because why the hell are they showing dogs and cats giving birth?)

Had a dance party for some physical activity since it's freezing outside.

And then relaxed in Mama & Daddy's bed for some post-lunch, pre-nap wind down with Dora.

A certain monkey is now upstairs in her bed singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Each verse gets quieter and quieter as she nears sleep. I'm researching and writing for a deadline tomorrow with the blinds all the way up so I can feel some semblance of warm sun on my face.

These mellow Mondays are the days I live for.

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I don't remember it happening so soon. With Javi, I'm pretty positive he was at least four before I had to answer my first string of never ending, relentless questioning.

Why, mama?

Me: It's time to take a rest.
Bella: I don't wanna take a rest!
Me: Sorry, monk. It's time.
Bella: Why it's time?
Me: Because you've been up a long time and you need some rest.
Bella: Why do I need some rest?
Me: Because you've been up a while.
Bella: Why have I been up a while?
Me: Because you woke up a long time ago.
Bella: Why did I wake up a long time ago?
Me: Because the sun was up.
Bella: Why was the sun up?
Me: Because night time was over.
Bella: Why was night time over?
Me: Because that's the way the world works.
Bella: Why is that the way the world works?

Seriously? She's not even three yet. I know she's very verbal and is the type of child who searches to understand things in a way her brother didn't. I'm aware of that. But I'm still in the thick of Why? with the older kid -- surely I'm not already saddled with yet another bout of Why? I don't think I can handle it.

I wonder how long it'll take me to cut her off after two Why?s like I do Javi:

Me: You need to go brush your teeth.
Javi: Why do I have to brush my teeth? We're not even going anywhere!
Me: Because I said go brush your teeth.
Javi: But why?!
Me: Because I am your mother and I said it and therefore I want it done NOW. 
Javi: FINE!

I also have to wonder how long it'll take for me to reach my mental capacity. I can't remember what the line of questioning was, but I once had to admit to Javi, "I just don't know. That's why you should stay in school, so you can be smarter than your mom." 

Why, me?!

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1. I am so lazy. A friend called me this week about a part-time job that would require only 12 hours of my time (two six-hour days) and pay $20 per hour. The catch? I'd have to be there at 7:50 am. Uh, really? You want me up, dressed, child free, and somewhere out in the world before 8 am? I just don't think I can do it. The superior side of me says that I could make twice that on a freelance gig that requires less time but the honest side of me says I'm just spoiled by how I haven't had to be presentable and in an office that early in at least three years. Why start now?

2. My kid is driving me nuts. You'd think the problem would be the two year old, but she's predictable and easy to manipulate. The nine year old is a completely different story. He can be surly and wild and unmanageable. It's too cold to put him out and it's illegal to cage him up. I don't want to spank him -- not that I'm against it -- but he's too old for spanking and doing it would only make him surly and disagreeable. I don't want to spend long hours yelling ... and when I do yell, it's inevitably the baby who learns a lesson (which is to scream when she's mad). So the end result is I'm in a foul mood, the nine year old is out of control, and the two year old is in tears because neither Mama nor Javi are behaving in nice ways.

3. It's my fault he's driving me nuts because I forgot to get his prescription filled. A kid who needs medication is a kid who needs medication. Of course, I'm not the only adult in the house, so technically there should be a backup when my brain implodes -- but the other adult doesn't really see this as his job so I'm the one responsible and I'm the one who forgot.

I feel so much better now.

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GTT: Hot? Not.

There are plenty of people in this world that I find boobie-achingly hot. However, sometimes I see other folks drooling over people that make my stomach turn.

1. Russell Crowe. I don't know exactly why women think he's hot. He looks like my asshole neighbor who refuses to keep a job and thinks all women must want him.

2. Megan Fox. She's traditionally very pretty, but she's also a greasy, smarmy Angelina knock off. 'Nough said.

3. Jack Bower. Really? This guy? The one who's always drunk and fighting someone in real life?

4. Rihanna. I like a few of her songs and I was angry for her when Chris Brown hit her and I'm proud of her for not letting the violence define her, but I think she looks like a weird animal. Maybe a dog? 

5. John Mayer. He doesn't turn my stomach, but homeboy ain't hot. The only thing I can figure out is his musical talent outshines his physical appearance but it always surprises me to see yet another young, pretty starlet on his arm.

Go ahead and admit you think these people are hot. I can take it.

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A lunch miracle

This isn't only a new year for us; it's also a whole new schedule. We decided that since I'm taking less work right now, we'd move Bella to part time at school. That means she'll be home three days each week ... with me. We're on day two and I'm actually really enjoying it.

The part I dreaded most was lunch. My child is a picky eater who is highly distractable. She can be starving yet turn her nose up at the most common toddler foods (the child doesn't even like mac & cheese). Then when she finally eats, something will grab her attention and suddenly she's full and must get down from the table. Now!

My sister and I did a lot of prep work for this week which included spending lots of time in the grocery store figuring out what the hell to have on hand for lunch. Yesterday was still a fail. Somehow Cheerio snack mix, Micky Mouse cheese, and peanut butter on crackers was soundly rejected. Bella wound up eating half of the mountain man's spaghetti-os. Yes, gross.

But today was a new day. My child practically drank her yogurt and thoroughly enjoyed eating each and every bite of grapes and bananas I put in front of her. See?

If you haven't tried the YoBaby 3-in-1 meals with your little one, you must. She ate an entire cup and it contained her arch enemy, also known as green beans! You wouldn't think green beans and pears would be tasty together, but the geniuses at YoBaby figured it out. We used to eat a lot of YoBaby when she was younger but thought she'd outgrown it. Not so much.

So day two of home lunch was successful. Is it too early to start planning for (and dreading) day three?

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