Lottie occupies the most of my time, but I still have to find time for me. She’s learned a trick that always works: when she needs help; she finds me in whatever room I have squirrelled away in and whispers, “Come ‘ere. Come ‘ere.” Then she grabs one of my fingers and pulls. And doesn’t let go as she walks off.
Lottie loves holding my finger while we walk down the street, and she also loves spontaneity. We often go for “Walk Days” and “Stroller Days” and “Bus Days” at her request; her request usually works— there’s usually an errand to run that involves the stroller or the bus, some errand that’s not urgent but that has been sitting around, twiddling its fingers, winking at me every once in awhile.
Walk Days, however, are not errands. They’re when Lottie and I walk out the front door together, holding hands, and I stop just long enough to lock the front door. Then Lottie gets to choose where we go. Last week, she scooped up a container of bubbles as I was locking the front door, and, like most moms, I ended up carrying it.
She led us to a care home that is run out of a house (as opposed to a big assisted living facility that’s more like apartments). The weather decided to be hot that day, and the shade on the sidewalk was most welcome. Lottie began walking on the railroad ties lining the yard. They run right alongside a chain-link fence: perfect for an adventurous toddler who is working on balance. I sat on said railroad ties and blew bubbles that floated into the road and into the giant pines on the opposite side of the road. It was the most magical part of my day.
Two of my literary heroes are Clarisse from Fahrehheit 451 and Stargirl. I love them because they find small bits of magic in every day and they’re each spontaneous. But not in a “let’s spend all our money on candy” or a “let’s go bridge-jumping tomorrow” kind of way. Because of them, I rub dandelions on the underside of my chin, and I send “Just Because I Love You” packages. Because of them, I teach my daughter how to twirl, and I skip with my son through the parking lot. I wave at bus drivers from the sidewalk, and I write messages in chalk to the kids getting off the school bus.
My hero used to be my dad, and he was the same way. He would shout across a lawn to one of the boy scouts he mentored, “Hey, Gary— catch!” Then Dad would run across the lawn and jump right in front of Gary, fully expecting the teenager to stick out his arms.
We were on a roadtrip one summer, and Dad saw a stream running along the road. We stopped the car and waded and splashed in it for an hour or so as a welcome break from sitting. We would often do Chinese Fire Drills at red lights, usually when the van was full of people. We were in San Antonio, and while waiting to go into a restaurant, he took his shoes off and stuck his feet in the river just outside the door.
He doesn’t do this stuff as often anymore. Part of it might have to do with age. Another part may be that I don’t live with him anymore, but at the end of last year, while waiting to be let into yet another restaurant, I went outside of the lobby to deliver a message from Mom, who was inside. And to my utter joy, I found a dance party on the porch with my siblings and cousins. They were getting their jitters out and their exercise in, and my dad was part of it.
Yes, of course I joined in. It was so much fun. And moments of fun can be made as well as discovered. They can be made without a whole lot of money. They may be a little embarrassing, but the laughter is worth the initial blush.
Before I continue, you must meet someone you may have never met before:
This is Lottie. She is two. She had the audacity to be born on my birthday, but I’m slowly, slowly forgiving her for it. She will forever be compared to her brother, Toby, but she has enough spunk to overcome that and be her own girl. She is more fearless than he, shriller than he, and more spontaneous than he.
She loves going for walks around the neighborhood, just she and I. She loves puddles and doesn’t understand that there are some shoes for splashing, and some shoes for just walking in. Thus, we have gotten many pairs of shoes soaked this spring.
Lottie loves shoes. She’s not one for poofy skirts or dresses, and she only sometimes likes her hair done, but she consistently loves shoes. I call her my R. R. Pottle the Fourth; if you’ve read A Three Hat Day, this will seem natural.
She loves books, too. And currently, she loves Monkey George, dogs, and Chapter Three. Much of her speech is code: Monkey George mean watching Curious George on the PBS App on the tablet (she has only just discovered that we have Monkey George books), and Chapter Three means having her Dad read aloud at bedtime from a book with no pictures. Currently, we’re reading The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, but we have read the first two Narnia books.
Lottie is very much a normal kid, more prone to tantrums in public places and not quite so freakishly well-behaved as Toby. She has the same color hair as I do; it’s straight, but it curls delightfully on the ends. I love this girl.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better– it’s not.
(Dr. Seuss/Theodor Geisel)
I love trees. This is no secret. I decorate with trees, I doodle trees, I collage images of trees.
We own the appropriate Dr. Seuss Book and all the film variations, and it’s got me thinking again: I care. I’ve planted native Northwest trees in the otherwise empty lot that is my front yard, I’ve named all the trees on my property and in various other places in the the town I grew up in (Penelope was first), and I collected two huge stumps when my neighbors cut down their huge maples earlier this year.
I miss those trees immensely. They have memories associated with the man who cared for them and who is no longer here, and they provided a huge amount of shade for everyone who used the sidewalk, the bike lane, and the road. When that man died, Toby and I used to hug those trees in what used to be his front yard every time we walked by them to remember him.
The family who owns that property now are his grandkids and great grandkids, and it’s shocking how much they don’t value those trees. I’ve met and talked with other people here in Oregon who cut down all the trees on their property; they didn’t want to pick up the leaves or trim them or work around them. There are so many trees here in Oregon, and they grow so easily, that people here consider them common.
I named trees as a kid because they were rare. I read the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery when I was a teenager, and they were amazing to me because of the reverence the author has toward trees. I lived in the desert city of New Mexico called Albuquerque. It’s the biggest city in New Mexico; trees grow rarely in the desert, and they grow rarely in cities– people who want to grow trees in Albuquerque have to put a lot of effort into nurturing them. Intentionally watering them, laboriously digging trenches for sprinkler systems… it’s quite a contrast from green, green Oregon, where you have to put in a large effort to stop things from growing, but you can see why I’m shocked at the attitude that trees are common.
So, yes— from my childhood, I have cared an awful lot. But can I do more to help? More besides planting on my own property and reading books to my kids about them? More than creating and loving images of trees?
All the extra I can think of is to write about them.
That sigh as one finishes a novel and closes it, then fingers the bookmark that once was held in the book.
That bookmark brings me to a topic that’s been on the brain recently: stewardship. Being appointed a caretaker for things– things like land and a home. Being a good steward would mean having a beautiful home, but also not accumulating debt to make it beautiful. It also reminds me of something Just’In and I often told our realtor as we considered homes to buy:
“That just takes lots of work; we’re not afraid of work.”
Stewards Are Also Those To Whom You Entrust Your Belongings
I’ve dreamed for awhile now of posting photos of my home on my favorite blog; after all, we as caretakers also control the content of our homes on the inside as well as the sturdiness of the walls and roof. But I keep thinking, “Oh, my home isn’t blog-worthy until I finish this project. Until I paint this wall and take the paint swatch off that has been there for years, it’s not pretty enough to be on a design blog.”
But it’s pretty enough to live in. That paint swatch stays because it represents a desire for slightly better stewardship: the desire for that white wall to be a different color, yes. Also, maybe I’ll get outside earlier this spring and weed my garden beds, earlier than I did last year. Maybe I can plant something on that side of the driveway to make it look more appealing.
I’m angry and sad to say that much of it stems from money: “when we have enough money, we’ll get that rock path paved with bricks.” It’s not just the work that is lacking; in some instances, we know we don’t have resources, knowledge and skill to level and brick our own property. Even if we applied work to learn it, there’s still the money.
Ugh. What an adult limitation. So I try to squelch thoughts like that and continue running my bookmark through my fingers. This bookmark is a beautiful ribbon from Toby’s stash of Valentines this year. Some mom used glue with it, and I don’t remember who gave it to us or what form the ribbon took. She was wonderfully resourceful, and when her Valentine is pulled apart, I got a beautiful bookmark. I didn’t have to change the ribbon at all. She had already cut it so it wouldn’t fray, and I love everything about it.
Maybe if I just keep the hope alive and continue to look for things that can be altered simply, my hopes will be fulfilled. If I put in the work, the solutions to slightly better stewardship will appear on a thrift store shelf.
Oh, the messy intertwining of work, money, and beauty. Right now, it eludes me.
I’m thrilled to have head space for regular writing again. Yes, I’m aware that it’s been three years. I needed those three years to add another child to our family. I also needed it for other things that I’m still processing. No, I didn’t lose a limb or the hair on my head or any of the sanity I have left. Maybe I’ll never figure it out. Right now, I have more to share, more to voice, more to write. Finally.
I’ve been very aware of my own thoughts this past month, and I didn’t even realize it until Monday of this week when the sun came out. It lit up all the dustmites floating around in there, and I worked really hard at Momhood. I’d forgotten that Oregon warms up; everything around me thinks it’s spring but Just’In. The songbirds are back, the weeds are sprouting, Lottie refuses to wear socks, but Just’In thinks this is a false spring. Oh, come on— even the trees are waking up, and they don’t begin that process because of weather. They begin budding because of a certain length of days and nights.
Oregon still rains in spring, though, and that includes today. Lottie and I were walking back from a new-to-me consignment boutique with new pants for me when it started raining. Rain here has many more different forms than I’ve ever encountered elsewhere, and this was persistent, warm drops.
While trekking up the sidewalk, I encountered a man installing a new green-rectangle-sticking-up-out-of-the-ground. He looked up at me while I was walking past him, and I asked, “Dripping yet?” He had tools and a board and was clearly busy at his task, but he still laughed at me. You know the rain is serious when your nose is dripping and your eyebrows are dripping and you have rain dripping down your cheeks.
Lottie still managed to fall asleep in the stroller, even while soaked. She didn’t need me to disturb her to put on her coat because the rain was warm, but she protested in alarm when I took her out of the stroller at home. That’s just what she does when being moved from one place she has fallen asleep, so I had her pacifier and her blankie ready. She was settled down on her bed, and I had the privilege of wiping off the rain from my sleeping toddler’s face and hair.
That must be it— the rain in my life hasn’t stopped, but it’s become warm and I’ve remembered how to laugh about it.
Today, walking from the Credit Union toward home, I was inspired by cigarettes. If I ever thought they made people look glamorous, I’ve got some vignettes that remind me how forlorn they force people to look:
A man, hunched and squashed among many empty, silent cars.
An otherwise elegant lady at the intersection to walk to her car. She notices my toddler in a stroller just as I notice her barely-lit addiction stick, and we both take several steps away from each other. She was first to move; we wait to cross in something other than silent camaraderie.
A uniform on break near a closed, uncovered, unmarked door. Huddled in the rain, next to a dumpster that he can’t smell.
Last month, I was standing in a Generic Office Supply Store, waiting for my planner to be made. Every year, I find myself a planner, and for the last two or three years, I’ve simply bought a planner from a retail store, then worked with the in-store print services counter to alter it.
I’ve found a lady who does a really good job at this. When she was fired from one Office Supply Store because of nothing that she did, and then hired on at another Office Thing just down the road because a previous manager was also working there, I was thrilled to find her again. She’s wonderfully friendly, she’s good at her job, and she creates a quality product. Her name is Ginger.
I originally arrived at Office Thing on a Saturday and was told that the work order flow wouldn’t allow room for me until Thursday. This isn’t at all like the other Office Thing that Ginger worked for in the past, but I put in a work order to work with Ginger on her shift on Thursday.
That day, we took the bus, Toby and I, and we were happy to see her familiar face. She began work right away: cutting tabs off and picking a paper to match, figuring out how many pages to add, then inserting the cut-to-size pages throughout the planner and punching holes, then rebinding it.
Well, somewhere in the middle of the insertion of extra pages, the trickle of people beside me grew. I stood off to a less central section of counter space and let them by: people who also wanted something from the people behind the print desk. Once I finished figuring out where I wanted new pages to go, I stepped away and let Ginger work her magic behind the desk. I noticed her craft: she merged with a team of three other people to handle the flow of people. People there to pick up orders completed, people there to pay for copies.
I also noticed that no one was being turned away like I had been that previous Saturday. Ginger approached everyone as if they had immediate importance. She found a way to squeeze everyone in. At one point, during my watching and listening and waiting, I heard from her: “Hey, Joe– do you know where the FedEx Office is?” I heard her ask two other employees before her question registered with me.
“I know where it is,” said I. All behind the desk turned to me in surprise, then Ginger turned to a gentleman holding a FedEx tag that are found on doors. So did I, and I began giving directions. The gentleman looked at me and mouthed, “I can’t hear you.”
So I swiftly but haltingly switched to sign language. Ginger was more surprised surprised but then switched to pleased and went on to other matters, handing the service over to me. I drew the gentleman a map and gave him directions as well. He looked quizzical, but went out to follow my directions.
I turned to Toby, sitting at a table near the print desk. When I had him well under way with a meal out of the diaper bag, I turned around to check on Ginger when I found the gentleman standing next to me again.
“The gate was shut and I couldn’t get into the parking lot,” he told me. He’s inching closer to panic; I know that feeling: I just want my package. He showed me his door tag. It had two or three dates written on it; the FedEx guy had tried to deliver on those dates, but this guy still didn’t have his package. He was clearly irritated and at a loss, and as we reviewed his other options, I could tell he didn’t like using the computer.
So I offered to call the 1-800 number for him. I offered to sit on hold for him, pretend like it’s my package I’m trying to schedule a delivery for, to struggle with an apathetic and heavy accent, and to be on hold once again.
While I’m on hold the second or third time, sitting in Office Thing, I notice Ginger’s flow of people has dissipated. The only person standing in front of the desk has an impatient and bored posture. Out of impulse, I take a few steps and tap her on the shoulder.
“I’m on hold; wanna dance?”
I can feel my eyes sparkle and my mouth tweak mischievously. I switch my phone to speakerphone and begin bouncing and bopping. This person is a thin, healthy-looking grey-haired stranger whose face lights up. She and I share a second or two of dancing in the middle of Office Thing to hold music; the area in front of the print desk has become a dance floor and she and I are boogying down on the party scene, carefree and exercising, two strangers united in the unity of motion.
Then she laughs and stops and the magic is over; the mundane sets in again. I conclude the call with FedEx, tell this gruff guy named Gary when FedEx will try another delivery to his house, and pay for my new planner. I bundle up Toby and all his empty food wrappers, and we go home.
But nearly two months later, I can still remember two looks of relief on two strangers’ faces.
The Problem with Males and Art
By Shelle Luaces
Hiding in the bathroom, quietly behind the door…
flipping through my journal of unfinished sketches and
agonizing over incomplete pieces, abandoned visions
i identify two problems.
One: my artistic life blossoms when i am unattached to a male.
Two: i have spent fourteen weeks of my adult life unattached to a male.
Slipping into a vision of life as an artist
living a quiet existence of incredible success, filled with beautiful
finished pieces adorning my walls, their walls, gallery walls…
pushing and pounding on the bathroom door…my boys…
“mommy, mommy…where you are…
mommy, mommy, where you—
there you are!”
Falling into my lap, my one year old knocks my journal to the floor–
squealing to find me hiding as if waiting for peek-a-boo
throwing his arms around my neck, my two-year old whispers “uh-oh”
as my pen rolls behind the toilet
taking with it another almost-captured idea
and i identify two overwhelming truths.
One: i will never be unattached to a male again.
Two: i have created and completed two works of art in the last
And they are both male.
This poem was published in a volume of poetry titled Voces; it comprises the polished work of members of the 2002 National Hispanic Cultural Center High School Writing Workshop. This poem is at the end, by the director of the workshop.
Its message is the epitome of my life. I have a three-year-old who shouts, “Where you are!” And I have two males in my life; the other is thirty. I have a growing file of unfinished ideas. I figure that when my life is a little more susceptible to long projects like this, I’ll have a ;large pool of inspired, original ideas from which to pick from and my product will be quality stuff because I can pick out the best.
Meanwhile, I grab inspiration and motivation when I can, in whatever medium is most handy. It got redirected during the holidays, beginning with Toby’s birthday. Last week, it returned in the form of the creation of two Artist Trading Cards. Now, it’s this. I expect my boys to come tumbling in at any second.
When a toddler pulls a board game off the shelf and wants to play it, a parent might groan inside. “That game is too complicated for his intelligence,” you think. “Now I have the task of redirecting, distracting, and juggling other, more interesting things so he won’t be interested in that board game.”
I’ve found a trick that has a a living room frequently littered with board game pieces when there’s only a preschooler to make the mess: create a simplified game using that board and its pieces. After all, it’s the pieces that fascinate your kid: what do these colored pieces do? What does a set of dice do? What do you do with this board once you unfold it?
We received a game of Clue for a Christmas present one year. We’ve played this particular set by the regular game rules, but it’s not very fun with just two people. So it sits on an open shelf in our dining room with all the other games in the household; we offer to play a game when we have dinner guests over, and everything is within scrutiny’s glance.
Just last month, Toby expressed an interest in Clue. It’s one of our most complex games, with more essential playing cards that could be bent, papers that could be lost and torn from the pad, lots of tiny game pieces that are all important to the game, and pens that I’ve stashed in the game itself because pens are so important to this particular game.
So far, I’ve managed to convince him of things like, “No, that one’s for grown-ups,” or, “How about we play this other board game instead?” But this time, he pulled it out and had it open before I could distract.
“Wow, what’s this for?” I heard over and over. Time to invent a preschooler’s version, I thought as I sat down next to him.
We pulled out the board and I explained the rooms to him. Then we pulled out just the room cards from the well-mixed deck of character and weapon cards. I showed him how each of the room cards matched the rooms. Then we looked at each of the game pieces. My version of Clue is really cool because each of the game pieces is shaped and colored like the character, down to their shoes and the details in their hair. It’s all wonderfully detailed, and it’s perfect for someone just getting to know the characters.
We placed each character where they belong on the board, and I had him pick one. After that, I changed the game from it’s original rules; I tucked everything but what we needed for the game back in the box and closed the lid. Then I put just the room cards on the hall room in the center, faces down. (This particular game board has a room in the center that isn’t on any of the cards.) Then, I had Toby roll the dice.
I read the number that the dice showed, and told him to pick a card in the center. Then I told him that he had to go to that room with his character.
At this point, I discovered that he’s not interested in counting the tiny little squares between rooms. I nitpicked about it for awhile (“No, here: one, two, three. Your piece goes here, not way over there.”) but then realized that he’s more interested in the process of the game, not the concept of following rules and competing to win. So I counted tiny squares on my turns and took two or three turns to get from room to room and he rolled, but then bounced from room to room.
The object was to get your character to the room on the card you were holding. Then you put the card face-up on the room that it matches. Then it’s the next person’s turn. For someone who can’t read, he enjoyed studying the pictures on the cards and matching them to the rooms on the board. It’s novel to him that all the game pieces match up so perfectly like that. It’s also novel to watch the pieces move around the board, to manipulate your environment in such a miniscule way.
And I find I do this with any board game. It doesn’t work with everything; he pulled out one of those BIG boxed puzzles one day. It was of a I Spy scene, with lots of tiny toys. Being the Yes Mom that I like to be, I said, “Okay, sure, we’ll do what you want to do,” and dumped out all the pieces on the dining table. After the awe of so many puzzle pieces, I asked him again if he wanted to do this. He was interested, but after a few minutes of turning all of them over with me image-side up, he wandered off.
Toby watched with interest as I put all the straight sides together and made the frame. I handed him four or five pieces that were obvious they went together and let him fiddle with those while I worked on the big one. After I was about halfway done and feeling in the groove, he started begging me to do something else. I could hear the whine of boredom in his voice, but my stubborn streak set in.
“You said you wanted me to do this, so I’m going to do it,” I told my preschooler. And I did, while he played nicely. I even let him put in the very last piece. We’re not doing another big puzzle together for a few more years.
Besides, we’ve got plenty of board games to amuse him. We make our own designs with Battleship boards and don’t ever battle. We separate the jewels in Mancala into color groups even though the colors don’t matter at all in the actual game. We roll the wheeled game pieces in Trivial Pursuit across the game board and make patterned designs out of the wedges.
We even have an old game called Extinction; I don’t even know what the real rules are to the game or how to really play it. I just know the preschooler version. Considering we never had all the pieces to play the real game, our made-up game is fine with me.
This is turning out to be The Year of The Theatre for our family. This is also the longest I think I’ve ever gone without writing because of my five-month theatre stint. When a major project takes over your life, you par down to the essentials until it flows away. This year, and for this project, this space became a non-essential.
What large project, you say? Oh, just writing, recruiting, producing and directing a roadshow. Our roadshow ended up being about pirates that turn into ninjas and attack the storytellers, who are sitting in a fort, by tying them up with rope and duct tape. But that’s okay, because that’s what the storytellers planned on doing to their little sister, who ended up saving them with her hidden ninja skills.
Not even two weeks after the cast party, I went to a wedding. (I also attended two out-of-state weddings this summer.) While I was at the wedding, my husband babysat and worked from home. He also attended an audition for a play at a local theatre and got a part. Naturally, being twice as talented as me. He asked me about my opinion on the matter, of course.
“I just finished with a big theatre commitment while you supported by babysitting; there’s no reason why you can’t have your turn while I babysit,” I told him. And I meant it.
My resolve was weakened a little bit when he and I were calendaring with his production schedule. He’s got an entire month of performances. This floored me, and still does— all theatre productions I’ve ever been in perform for a week, maybe two. Or perform for an entire month of weekends, so the weeknights aren’t committed to performance. But every day for a month? Phew.
I just keep telling myself to take it one week at a time. It’ll be prime opportunity to toilet train, and I hope to have plenty of little activities to break up monotony— dinners with friends, church activities, outings with Toby, painting one wall at a time…
This is a time for me to pull out all the stops and all the tricks up my sleeve. It’s bound to be quite a show.