Monday, August 27, 2012


Before summer started, I dreamt of kids-much-in-need-of-bathing running amok, exploring their world. Then summer came. And went. And school started and I assumed it would be all scrub-a-dub-dub and standing in line until next June. But I forgot about afternoons. And the fact that our childcare provider is passionate about the world of children and a maker of all manner of fun. And a good photographer. So to her I say:

Thanks. I love this picture. And we appreciate you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Baby Boy, Born With Curly Hair

Tomorrow I will go to my third 1st day of Kindergarten. On my first 1st day of Kindergarten I wore a corduroy jumper. On my second 1st day of Kindergarten I held the eager hand of a daughter who wanted to go to school the day she was born. And tomorrow I will go with her baby brother who jumps when he should be walking and can talk all day about the SR-71 Blackbird.

This morning, after we dropped of the sisters, I took Mister to his barber. He got a grade-A cut while he watched the movie Antz. Then he came with me to my office. It’s a fifteen-minute walk and we needed the time to go over an important Kindergarten detail: the question about hair.

He has the same teacher as the big sis and so I know that birthdays will be celebrated in the classroom with the Birthday Kid sharing a timeline they make at home with photos of important events from their little lives. The children will sit in a huddle. Birthday Boy will hold a beach ball globe and run around the group while everyone sings, “The earth goes around the sun, the earth goes around the sun, once every year.” And then Ms. Kindergarten will ask the important question: “When you were born, were you bald or did you have hair?”

I remember this from last time. I remember this because it sent a rod of electric yuck through my heart as I anticipated my baby boy standing in front of the class without a proper answer. I didn’t meet him until he was two years old. I don’t have any pictures of him before the day his head was shaved and his mug sent out into the paperwork world of second-chances.

So I have been thinking about this question as we have collected school supplies and filled out forms. Since I had him all to myself walking to campus this morning, I decided to bring up this all-important detail lest he be caught off guard by some September celebration. I told him about all the fun things he would get to do in Kindergarten on his birthday and mentioned The Question. He looked at me confidently and smiled, “I had hair.” “Oh, good,” I said. “I have been wondering all this time. I know I wasn’t there and we don’t have a picture, but your heart knows, so if your heart says you had hair then you did. What else does your heart remember?” He told me he didn’t remember much about being born since it was a long time ago. Then he added, “And I was born with my eyes open.”

I looked at Mister and smiled. And believed him.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Good-bye Wheat and Good-bye Summer

I think probably everyone who has a camera and who lives where we live starts thinking deep thoughts this time of year and desires in their bones to capture the symbolic layers of promise, prosperity, industry, and even death that are wrapped up in the proud heads of grain that roll like an ocean away from home to everything else beyond here. Every year I watch the wheat, and thought maybe this year I would stop and take a moment and find the thing that wants to be said. But harvest always comes with the end of summer and the start of school paperwork, immunization records, new shoes, and "This is Me" picture collages. So, once again, I have photos without stories, or at least without words. But here they are anyway.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Giant Lollipop Tears

This is a photo of a little girl I know who got a giant lollipop from her swim teacher on the last day of lessons. She came home and sat down on a kid-sized bench and started munching and somehow split her lip which started to bleed about the same time she started to cry. I looked out the window at the candy-covered child, left tooth awash in red and thought to myself, "How is that even possible?"

The b-word

Just got this note from the eldest (click on image to make it bigger). At first I thought she was calling me the b-word. Then I realized the note said, "Dear Mom, You are good at biking." Considering that I was all sweaty and peddling away in the basement on the stationary bike, the second interpretation of the message makes good sense. But really, the first (and faulty) interpretation would have made sense too.

And the moment was made perfect by the background of the sticky note: Precious Moments characters with a watermark that reads, "Your love is so uplifting." You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sending Pictures

This morning I wrote our annual post-placement report, which we will send to the government of Ethiopia along with five photos. And I also wrote a letter to my baby's birthmother, which we will send with the following 12 photos that I think sum up my baby's year. We are also including a picture he drew of himself and his birthmother. In it they are blue crayon stick people holding hands.

This activity always stops my heart. I imagine her looking through the photos; I can imagine this because the one time I met her I gave her the few photos that we already had of Mister in a mostly empty photo album that I promised to fill for her over the years. She looked through them, making small gasping noises that tore through my soul. And so this morning, as I put these twelve in the mail, my heart is squeezed by an impossible love. I hope she will somehow feel blessed by the sending and know that the beautiful heart of his amazing boy was her forever gift to him.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pep Talk for the School Year #1 or There Comes a Time in Any Adventure…

My husband’s parents took the whole gang on a summer vacation in June. We rented a house at Hume Lake, near Sequoia National Park, and made a couple of day trips into the Park to see the big trees, take some pictures, and buy souvenirs. One of the main tourist stops in the Park is Moro Rock, a massive jut of granite affording 365° views of the Sierras, including the Great Western Divide. The 797-foot-long stairway to the top of the rock was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is made up of about 400 steps, most of which are hewn into the granite. Frankly, I am surprised the stairway is still in use. It absolutely fails the most basic of contemporary safety standards. The narrow stairs cut a jagged, often exposed route up to the breath-taking viewing area at the top, requiring a constant negotiation with tourists coming down and those on their way up whose wobbly knees and zealous imaginations have paralyzed their progress.

About three-quarters of the way to the top, Sis began having second thoughts. I don’t know how much of it was her own fear, how much was her mother’s tightening squeeze around her left hand, and how much was the foreign tourists, clinging to the inside edge of the staircase, presumably beseeching their God in languages unknown. But she decided she was done.

And so we had the “There Comes a Time in Every Adventure When It Doesn’t Feel Fun Anymore” talk. We talked about how – real danger aside – we find a way to keep going when we feel scared, tired and overwhelmed (and I had a conversation with myself in another part of my brain about how she was probably going to fall, and I was going to be responsible and wrecked forever). She pushed back and so I moved into Phase Two, where I promised her the satisfaction and self-esteem of a challenge met. She let me know she was sure she would not feel proud of herself, but eventually she did keep walking. And we made it to the top. It was windy, exposed, amazing. And she confirmed her un-proudness. I pretended not to hear and took pictures.

We had a version of the same talk later that week while kayaking, wet and snack-less, into a headwind. And then again during Hour Twenty-Something of the trip home from Venezuela. And now I am having it with myself, bracing for the end of summer. There will come a time in the semester when it stops being fun, and I will have to keep moving forward. And really, the end goal doesn’t promise to be a world-class vista or an ice cream cone on the beach of an alpine lake, or a stamp in my passport. The end goal will be the simple sweetness of making it through.

I was on the rowing team in high school and college, and in the Spring we would race on a 2000-meter course. The time it takes an 8-person shell to race 2000m varies with gender, conditions, equipment (Canadian National Team posted a time of 5:19.35 in Switzerland earlier this year, I rarely saw the inside of 7:00.00 in my day). When rowing in an 8-person shell, it’s not cool to look around. And you are facing backwards. So when you are rowing, you have to rely on the coxswain to keep you informed of your progress and the progress of your competitors. The only tangible measures of distance are the giant colored buoys at each 500m mark. Because of the buoys, most crews break up their race plan into 500m segments. And the third 500m stretch is, arguably, the worst. You are more than halfway. You are not to the sprint yet, just dead-dog tired with lactic acid burning through quad muscles like a colony of fire ants. So, what kinds of things go into the race plan for the third 500m? I don’t remember. The thousands of third 500s that marked my seven years of rowing are forgotten. And today I find that interesting. I am guessing there were “Power 20s” to think about this and that, to get our heads right, to remember breathing. But none of it is memorable. I guess this means I must have spent all those third 500m stretches locked down in the 20-stroke chunks of focus that made it manageable. Because a third 500 left all alone without encouragement, and stair-stepping goals, would have been disastrous. My mind would have wandered to my body and I would have stopped rowing, and cried with fatigue and shame.

School will start again in a few weeks. At first it will be all pink erasers and the delicious smell of new pencils. Lunch boxes. Old friends. Soccer season. But somewhere along the way, in the third 500 of the Fall, I am going to get tired, and then I will want to sit in protest on the sidewalk and think only of myself, and let everyone know that I am no longer having fun.

(Probably like this. Someone the other day pointed out that the eldest learned this face from her mother.)

So, while it is still Popsicle Season, I say to myself, remember. Just keep walking. And breathing. And collecting manna each morning.

When I started school two years ago I put a verse (in fancy old language) and a quote on the bathroom mirror. Now the edges are curled, and some of the text has been altered by toothpaste, but it is still speaking to me, still seems worth sharing:

“Be strong and our good courage; be not afraid, neither by thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9

“Watch your way, then, as a cautious traveler, and don’t be gazing at the mountain or river in the distance and saying, ‘How shall I ever got other them?’ Instead, keep to the present little inch that is before you, and accomplish that in the little moment that belongs to it. The mountain and the river can only be passed the same way. When you come to them, you will come to the light and the strength that belong to them.” M.A. Kelty

The present little inch. And nothing more.