KJ Hannah Greenberg

 

Abetted by her hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs, KJ Hannah Greenberg tramps across literary themes and genres. She devotes her eclectic writing to lovers of slipstream fiction and to oboe players who never got past the second orchestral chair. Currently, she is watching sales on Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting, at Amazon and is debating whether or not letting her fingernails grow would really interfere with her "artistic endeavors" in ceramics. Whereas Hannah’s preferred method of parenting has remained unwearied analysis, it is not beyond her ken to resort to screaming (a little) or to sitting on the sofa and crying (a lot). A grateful recipient of an assortment of literary honors, Hannah's most happy when her children correctly sort the laundry or when her hedgies wipe all the marshmallow fluff off their feet. Her work can be found in print and on line in European, in North American, in Middle Eastern, in Oceanic, and in Asian venues and under select budgies. Hannah can be found at a local, women's gym, doing bench presses, or at her keyboard, matchmaking words like “twaddle” and “xylophone.”

Mt. Laundry

Two Essays

Sons, Daughters, and Sundry Other Celestial Bodies

Unintentionally Raising the Next Generation of Writers

Two Memoirs

Two Memoirs

Skirting Issues

Mt. Laundry (February 27, 2012. Issue 35.)

On top of Mt. Laundry, all covered with socks, I found a small slinky, a cat toy, a broken Polly, last year's baseball mitt, Dad's missing credit card, a funny looking measuring cup, a Sears catalog, and my old jewelry box.

The soft light filters through the slats of my office blinds. Pet hair and dust coat these window jackets in a patina best described as an "early autumn ordinary." I sip at my nettle and promise myself an infusion of vanilla-tasting tea. One cat pounds his head into my calf. He extends his whicker and looks up, expectantly. Outside, the occasional truck clanks by.

The children have been sorted out by car and by bus. The washing machine and dish washer hum. The answering machine administers to calls that are annoying or otherwise. It is fairly quiet in the kingdom of Greenberg. The cat buffets me again. I consider the thank-you notes, the monthly finance ledger, the pot soaking in the sink, and my next writing deadline. I consider the laundry.

Laundry in the House of Greenberg is remarkable. Perhaps in other homes socks and undies, delicates and denims are commonplace. In my home, they are the rationale for court cases, the cause of tearful mornings and the consternation of all of the inhabitants. In my home, children do not dispute portion sizes, allowances, or curfews, or at least do not register such complaints more than twice daily; rather, in my home, children debate who's folding, who's sorting, and who's trucking the finished goods.

For this reason, let my deposition show, that I believe that it must be brought to our community's notice (even if that community consists only of: one husband, his wife, their young and of random creatures, that brought in to warm themselves, stay after the original occupants have long since gone on to college and to marriage) that laundry, Greenberg laundry included, is clean, and if promptly tended to, is also warm. Clean and warm semi-animate objects are uncommon. Clean and warm semi-animate objects are good. Clean and warm semi-animate objects deserve proper care. Clean and warm semi-animate objects afford likeability. The toaster, on the one hand, is warm, but not prone to be readily hugged. The cats can be hugged, but only when they are otherwise pleased. The toilet's water, my aspiring scientists inform me, is sterile, but neither evocative of embrace nor temperate. Fresh sheets and newly dried towels, on the other hand, invite handling, beckon to be fondled, and otherwise ask for attention.

Attention they receive. Our laundry area resembles a fort, though often looks more like the fracas framing a stronghold than like any fastness, itself. Far be it from me to renounce my offspring merely because they perceive paired socks as ammunition or actualize the matched pillowcases' potential as breastplates. I can find little reason to repudiate my children because they evolve the prepared piles of segregated shirts into a single mound of mismatched wear. More exactly, my peeve is my darlings' perpetual insistence that loud and strange music accompany any foray into separating and tucking.

"Turn it down!" I suggest, most days, in equal decibel to their audio joy.

"Turn it down!!" I insist, most days, in response to their acoustic bliss.

"Turn it down!!!" I rampage, most days, as I bellow, in person, to their aural ecstasy.

Most days, the selected opus is offed. Most days, I thunder past, nonetheless. Most days, there are no innocents. Most days, I remain behind to bare witness to the carnage.

For instance, one afternoon, as I pulled hangers off of the floor, out from under the washing machine and from between the fingers of a would-be shoelace archer (I returned the lace to said offender, and, with a jerk of my head and the downward point of my finger nearest my thumb, indicated his need to reintroduce that fabric to the sneaker from which it was detached), I noticed the books. Albeit, I noticed them after my perpetually miffed teenager sauntered through. (It is beyond her status to inside out leggings or to determine if Daddy's socks are very deep, very nearly impossible to discern, blue, or black. She is, after all, the Princess of the Load Change. It is her power that determines when my turtlenecks are washed in cold and when brothers' grass stains are treated to presoaks. It is her authority that removes sister's grossly soiled sweaters from the many minions of clothing piled high on the washroom floor and that saves all of the plastic lizards, dolly aprons and lost trading cards from the horrors of the dryer. In other words, when the wash is messed up, it is to her that I send the family). I smiled at my potentate-in-training and gestured for her to pass. Others in the kingdom needed more of my thought. The Puissant of (laundry) Powder proceeded out of the room while I returned my consideration to the newly captive.

I culled much from those detainees. Beyond the wrinkled silks and the lost nylons, I extracted a dirty boot from the midst of clean kitchen towels. I glowered at the other daughter. I did not want to know why her footwear was sitting among pristine linens. I did not want to know why my youngest was smiling weakly at the crumbs and larger piece of forbidden potato chips that had found their way into the family's oven mitts. I did not even care, too much, about the additional hangers-as-weapons that I had found under a still warm blanket. The, suddenly, I stopped dictating to the cottiers; I had become unfocused. In shaking out the snack food crumbs from the cooking accessories, I had espied, hastily interleaved with both boys' and girls' pajamas, reading materials that I had previously confiscated. Those homework-busting books had been banned after a series of less than brilliant test scores. Whereas my husband and I make allowances for extra curricular reading, even to the extent of obtaining library cards for three year-olds and to the extent of encouraging family and friends to buy our children bookstore certificates to the exclusion of other gifts, we eschew, when proven necessary, reading that interferes with sleeping, and to a lesser degree, with fulfilling familial responsibilities.

All of the fantasies that can fit into dragon lore or schoolhouse titles, all of the vocabulary and syntax-stretching efficacies that can be indigenous to fun facts about reptiles or that can be derived from teenage sleuth dramas, and all of the elements of relaxation that can be concomitant to silly rhymes, polka-dotted heroines, and autobiographies of Important People, are deficient in nurturing children compared to the greater need to function in school and the lesser need to manifest comportment at home. Thus, prior to that afternoon's debacle of finding frog tales and historic treaties among the long johns, and essays and couplets between the nighties, I had confiscated the ongoing saga of the family of five penguins, a narrative involving pirates and bad choices, and a trilingual, Something Special Award, account of a teenager whom resurrects a municipal fire department's budget by selling potato pancakes door to door. Prior to that afternoon, when I realized Roald Dahl had been slid into sleepers and that I.B. Singer was serenading broadcloth and flannel alike, I had absconded a 1970's crochet magazine, a vegetarian cookbook, the complete collection of dog and dino histories and a copy of Treehouses Anonymous (Alas, the vegetarian cookbook will continue to have to be held for safekeeping by the authorities until my pilaf is perfected). Prior to that afternoon, when the treasury had been discovered missing, the peasants had revolted. Prior to that afternoon, the family's benign but misguided despot, the one that had been responsible for pilfering tomes on space raiders and for appropriating vast volumes on the virtues of hang-gliding, negotiated (except for the cookbook). Sleep for text. Chores for motes. Order and publications, except for the cookbook, were restored. Actually, order and publications, except for the cookbook and a commandeered bike lock, were restored (one resourceful Greenberg whom realized that she could spirit herself to the town library to obtain the forbidden elixir of settings, characters, dialogue, and more, had to be "forcibly" deterred).

Anyway, that afternoon, upon determining that there were books mixed in with briefs, I reacted. I inhaled. Then I acted. I inhaled a second time. I willed myself to relinquish my troublesome need to abet the children's scholastic success and to let go, at least temporarily, of my obligation to aid them in learning household responsibilities. I have found it to be more agreeable to reheat day-old pasta or to change week-old cat litter (well, maybe not the latter) than to confront a room full of this hemisphere's most ferret-like lawyers. My little litigants have been known to agitate over a topic for hours, thus defeating the doing of both the family laundry and their individual homework. Instead of relegating the small ones to deserved consequences, I reinforced hygiene. I pointed out overturned bookcases, uprooted felines, and the many mixed storage accessories that the kids had upended in their wake of hanging up delicates and of laying out knits. I nudged one child to remove a tiny space cadet from some khakis. I directed another to gather up all of the crumbled chips of fabric softening cloth that were mottling the family's undershirts. As for the third, I redirected him to collect all remaining weapons of destruction.

Then, in a turn of mind, but in a turn based upon the rationalization that the path between me and the stairs was mostly clear, I defiantly pulled the unwanted reads from the clothing piles. What followed was neither pretty nor will soon become public. Suffice it to say that monarchy won over democracy and that term papers plus socks, sweats, and pajamas were cleaned up before reading rights were restored (Lamentably, the cookbook yet remains with me).

The cat knocks against me again. I once more contemplate the relative merits of correspondence, of family finances, of dish washing and of laundry. With one amber eye, my furry companion rebukes my human impudence. It is beyond feline ken why I would bother with anything else besides keeping him, and possibly his compatriot, happy. I pat him gently, accept his limited vision, especially accepting the fact that he has no understanding of the nuances of family laundry.

Two Essays (October 25, 2011. Issue 32.)

Gotcha: One Professors' Impact on a Cadre of Students

Some of my students claimed to have been charmed by my attitude. They supposed, erroneously or not, that my approach to integrating people and text, my manner of giving over insights, which consisted mainly of teeth and nails, was of use to them even when I was stymied by pregnancies.

One imposing, silent fellow, for instance, who I figured was just trying to pass a rhetoric class of mine, actually stopped me in his school's student union to thank me for my perspective. What's more, he claimed his fiancé was indebted to me. Apparently, he and his classmates were absorbing a lot more than my spewed data. That particular pupil, for instance, the one that nearly bear-hugged me in the college's commons, exclaimed that he had discovered, by dint of the combination of my rapidly increasing waist and my yet flowing font of ideas, that women, no matter how hormonally comprised, could still function. The youth added that he dreamed of his future wife, six or seven months pregnant, still cooking his favorite sunny-side up eggs.

In another instance, when I was teaching autobiography writing, i.e. when I was getting paid to learn about others' fascinating lives, my rhythm was interrupted by plagiarism, by absenteeism, and by that low frequency communication known as apathy. It was not so much that my recurrent nausea transferred to my students as it was that I kept getting lost when trying to catch their interest. My frequent digging through my briefcase, for indigenous plants to quell my physical discomforts, increased rather than stopped classroom tittering. Similarly, my inability to sit in my teacher's chair, too, brought an untoward reaction. From row to row, insubordination washed those students.

Perhaps they realized that doggerel, that trollop of civilization's literacy, would not enhance their futures. Those kids were very, very serious about earning enough discretionary money to jet to Europe for their vacations, but significantly less committed to generating weekly samples of discourse. They resented that I returned their papers with cut and paste remarks on the last page. They did not like, also, that exertions in the classroom were rewarded with lame pronunciations such as "good job," nice try,' or "that's part of the answer." In the end, it was only my impending assignment of mediocre grades that forced those coeds, almost all of whom were intent upon continuing on to graduate school, to retool their undertakings. In kind, they complained on my evaluations that hormones had gotten the better part of my brain.

Then there was the mass media and society course, in which I found myself wondering aloud (and incoherently) why and how our culture had managed to elevate applied technology to such high status and why and how our mass media might be coerced to care about its consumers. That my spouse is a computer whiz and that the particulars of his employment was known to some of my audience did nothing to aid my campaign to pull them away from electronic games and move them toward the school library. Those young adults had more appreciation for source code and for C++ than for prose.

It was of no difference, in their minds, that well formed words could curl the corners of their mouths or could jolt them into the sorts of awarenesses that cause folk to seek double doses of eupatorium, mixed with dandelion, and splashed with cane sugar. The term when I was doing my upmost not to bark between contentions, my students grasped no reason why their epitaphs ought not to read "I can escape from paradoxes" or why they ought not to believe everything printed in the news. Rather, that group which suffered the history and then the contemporary employment of media with me, while I was misaligned from extra estrogen and progesterone, was hard put to debunk anything without bells or whistles. By their term's end, I had converted only one would-be financial despot into a philosophy major and had had to send the rest of those fiduciarily-focused, technologically impressed boys and girls clueless into the night.

During another of my pregnancies, members of my public speaking class discovered me asleep on some lounge furniture in an open vestibule. The blinking, clanging soda machines and lines of scurrying adolescents reaching for candy bars, chips, or pretzels nearby had made no imprint on my consciousness. Kindly, they woke me before the bell and we rushed to our classroom together. That day, we learned little discourse analysis.

In additional sardonic and sententious ways, my ripening state betrayed me when I was a professor. In a Wonders of Modern Rhetoric course, although I meant to move my students toward apexes not yet experienced in their short lives, our shared reality, nonetheless, mostly consisted of my expelling gaseous remnants, from both ends of my alimentary track and of them trying to ignore the resulting sounds and smells.

One relatively urbane student, speaking on behalf of her peers, declared that they wanted no more of my insights into word play. Instead, they ought to be permitted to take their tests cold and to use class time to listen to my stories about my husband remembering to cap the toothpaste or to shut off the lights. I have yet to determine whether that young thing was being kind or cynical.

I know, though, that her idea was popular, for her classmates took up her campaign, promising to shriek or to blubber, at opportune moments if only I would let my lectures lapse into tirades about Central Park ponies forced to pull wagons full of tourists or into rants about the woes beholden to individuals intent upon purchasing the latest RTS games. In response, after hiccupping bile for a few minutes, I neither broke into song and dance over the existential possibilities inherent in typefaces nor did I mince the less-than-spectacular answers given to me on the past week's quiz. Likewise, I eschewed talk about razzing the pantomime troop currently perched on the campus' green and shot down the back row's desire to discuss, in two languages, the inevitability of having to bargain with the campus' popcorn vendors. For five minutes, though, I permitted the classroom discussion to turn to the plight of farm animals.

Each time my belly burgeoned, I strove to remain standing, literally and otherwise. I was loath to spin all mundane encounters through the high velocity apparatus of classroom narrative. Such a choice could only be ethically questionable as well as exhausting. While pregnant, it was far easier for me to give over erudition to the denim-clad masses. They needed my thoughts on intentional communication and on audience analysis more than they needed my acknowledgement of the necessity of warding off opportunistic, intergalactic visitors or my protests against corporations removing geese from institutional lawns.

Despite my efforts, certain of my pregnant semesters found me awarding only one third of my students with passing grades. The tax, which exaggerated amounts of human growth hormone placed on me, soured learning for many of my pupils. Amazingly, some of my students managed to learn from me and to think fondly enough of their shared time with me to tag me decades later, anyway.

Even though I avoided social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and even though my first and last name, as well as my country of residency had changed over the years, when I began to write and to publish outside of academia, my former students googled me. Those thirty and forty year-olds, the very ones who were sipping lattes, wearing high end pleather shoes, and dictating to entire bands of support staff, had taken to heart, at least when they had sales goals to meet, the less-than-parsimonious paths which I had tried to encourage them to follow. Some even went so far as to credit me with getting them interested in critical thinking, in relatively "honest" communication, or in sushi.

Ironically, by the time I received those emails, I was no longer pregnant, no longer basking in Ivy League libraries, and no longer populating a faculty office anywhere. Having, at last, forsaken all manner of academic hoopla to raise the children I carried while a professor and to raise their subsequent siblings, I was busy with potty training, backing spelt muffins, and arguing why certain princes and princesses could not go out into the world adorned with blue nail polish. I had come to realize, too, during that lag between interfacing with college students and corresponding with them electronically, that it was both more rewarding and more difficult to grow wee ones than to lecture on discourse.

I told those corporate sorts that my preferred method of parenting had evolved not into unwearied analysis, but into screaming (a little) or to sitting on the sofa and crying (a lot). Additionally, they ought to know that I had grown content focusing not on waxing scholarly in venues read by ten experts, only, but on shuttling my offspring to activities open to any parent/child combination. Furthermore, my passion for rhetoric had been displaced by fervor for listening to my sons and daughters' lore about friendships, and by an ardor for remembering to pack toothpaste and underwear for those family members who ventured out. My former focus on the management of texts, in general, and on narrative's ability to exploit new worlds, more specifically, had faded when sleepover parties attended by more than half of a dozen nine year-old lunatics had taken front and center spot in my world.

My reports of my new life did not discourage my former protégés. They wrote back that they were delighted that I had at last joined the greater portion of humanity and then they made desperate-sounding requests for counsel on making nice with their bosses, on writing proposals that would insure raises and on getting along with their serial spouses. For some reason, those corporate climbers remained endeared of my overstuffed sentences and of my unique applications of highbrow reasoning. They opined that I was obliged, as their role model of the use of oblique language, to help them continue to be lucrative.

My retorts became rooted in exhaustion. I complained to my ex-students that my psyche had become so badly compromised by parenting's tribulations that I was no longer capable of aiding or abetting anything more sophisticated than a quoll. I referred them to the legions of crazed mothers who could not even be bothered to protest homicidal postal workers or mismatched socks. Thereafter, I addended that it was known, in the Secret Service, that raising teenagers was a better punishment for agents of counterespionage than was forcing such spies to build enthymemes or deconstruct layered arguments. Whereas I had been able to bluster my way through their lessons while my belly button was seeking new orbits, I could not function accordingly, with a house bursting from teenagers. Acting dispassionately about my children's field trips, facially pierced friends, or love for any critter classifiable as a "rodent," could bring unmitigatable disaster.

Those suits ignored my ravings; grown in the vat of my pregnant classroom addresses, such piffling complaints as were being issued by my older self were as nothing to them. Those students of my earlier years employed a sort of recycled adolescent tenacity to insist on staying in touch, regardless. They treated me to photos of exotic places well beyond my budget, to baby pictures of their children, and, finally, to diatribes about the cost of orthodontic work. They invited me to life cycle events and encouraged me to connect to them via dubious electronic means. I became their recipient, too, of carbon copies of the Tweets, which they sent to their parents, siblings and friends, concerning the seemingly lasting wisdom of their once pregnant professor.

Consequently, these days, I shudder when I turn on my computer. In the minds of global middle mangers, I have become lionized; I have become framed as the adept who instructed them in: the building blocks of interaction, the profundity of managed discourse, and the importance of rewrites. I quake trying to imagine correcting their view and whisper aloud my dream that those bull dogged, highly successful persons forget me. I can not even imagine what our current correspondence would be like if I had actually felt well enough to concentrate on the lessons I had been giving over.

This Week's Version of Sea and Land

Family adventures are as inevitable as are rainbows in nearly dusky summer skies. My children's appetite for savoring cosmic stripes and for playing on the beach is as great as is mine. We care less about the fact that lingering means getting back into our car too late to take the short, back roads home than we do about absorbing life's wonders.

While we pretend to be satisfied with our occasional glimpses of bands of luminescence or with the remnants of sand we track through our kitchen, in actuality we are just as unhappy when the heavens tint black as we are when the beach patrols send us toward the parking lot. The kids and I would rather point out yet one more tint in the gloaming azure or play yet one more spendthrift game of fish, at a beach-side arcade, than return to mundanities.

Furtively, we look over our shoulders to watch the gold, pink, green and violet fade into night or we shrug and run to the water's edge to dip our toes one last time into the ocean. We shoot one more photo of the magical sky and build one more sand castle before consigning ourselves to the fact that we're going to get ticketed for loitering if we stay any longer. It's challenging to pull ourselves away from the lightshow dappling the cosmos or for us to cease and desist from climbing on sandy swings and jungle gyms just because laws dictate that course. So, despite the fact that we can no longer see more than three feet in front of us, we ring up my husband and whine that we are still busily collecting shells.

He responds to most of those "surprise" calls with studied nonchalance, failing, entirely, to recoil at our complaint that we are "stranded" by the dark and blossoming, generously, with blessings that we stay at the shore overnight. His only conceit remains, time and again, that if I didn't eschew cellular communicators, I would not have to drag sleepy, hungry children long distances to locale surfside pay phones. As is his habit, he scolds that "electronic collars" can be useful.

After his laughter grow fainter, my man gives his regards. "Have fun" he encourages and reassures me that he is fully able to negotiate our home's maintenance for one night and to deal with the deziens who have been demanding an upgrade in their kibble. With finesse he addends, "don't worry about money;" he knows my habit of supplementing impulse journeys with trips to local discount stores for fresh underthings and sleepers. "Get enough sunscreen, too," he cajoles, as he hangs up with an energized chuckle.

To wit, the small ones and I buy underwear, T-shirts, magazines ("you didn't pack any bedtime books"), small stuffed animals ("how do you expect me to fall asleep"), two weeks' worth of wrap-around skirts ("Oh Mommy, they are such a goooood price), bubbles and kites ("we'll be sooo bored tomorrow"), nuts, chips, pickles, chocolate sprinkles and breakfast bars, other essential comestibles, a toaster and a quilt that were on sale, notepaper and pens for the ride home (perceived travel time often doubles on the return leg), wipes, sunscreen, and a small lizard (the last of which we return to te pet department before we pay the cashier). Thereafter, we seek lodging.

Motel owners unabashedly laugh at me when I demand a fair charge for a room barely large enough for half of us. The October lull in their trade does not deter those merchants from asking gemstones' value in payment. To them, it's high season whenever someone wants to rent a space.

I drive the highway, stopping randomly. Eventually, we arrive at a village that is further from the beach than are our usual beds. Yet, we're still little more than an hour from the ocean. I rebuff additional offers of overpriced, untidy spaces, all of which lack hot water. The spot, in which we at last settle, is selected not because of my utter exhaustion, not because of its automobile club rating, and not because its price, but because of its guardian. Specifically, a large, delightful mutt safekeeps that inn's office. That watchdog receives us with sloppy kisses. After such a welcome, even the discovery of cockroaches would not be able to deter my gang from sleeping under those eaves.

We share cookies and crackers with the dog and receive permission from its owner for it to hunker down in our room overnight. In spite of that, after the pup eats the head off of one dolly (some indispensables get packed even on day trips) and consumes the granola meant for our breakfast, he gets voted out. We sleep without his slobbers.

Two hundred uneventful miles, one shell museum, a gaming arcade and a tummy ache (too many freshly picked blueberries) later, we return home to Daddy and to our whiskered wardens. I confront their countenances while my husband runs baths.

Unequivocally, the felines are piqued; my spouse had spent the evening reading rather than playing cat concierge. Those fluffballs bosses, while neither Siamese nor Abyssinian, expect regal treatment. Thus, it is with palpable disdain that they regard my tales of sand and diapers.

A few days later, those same members of better society laugh at the foibles I am forced to negotiate in my backyard. In fact, they blame me for the fact that certain of my kittens confuse softball, a game meant to be played relatively gently, on springy turf, with tackle, a past time involving rough contact, and, apparently in my home, played on unyielding surfaces.

Specifically, one afternoon, when I lifted my eyes from the term papers I was grading in order to mutter something to my resident athletes about staying out of our flowerbeds, the cats took note. Through the sun porch's windows, they watched me swat at a tiny bug and then return to poorly conjugated verbs, in particular, and to awful semantics, in general. Likely, those furry stewards knew that I was in the midst of my semiannual marathon, my twice yearly trek through the wilds of balancing inflated grades, as demanded by my department chair, a woman bent on increased funding, with honest evaluations, as suggested by my school's resource room counselor, a man swayed by the building blocks of student betterment. Likely, too, those lionizers of the litterbox saw me slug back some seltzer, sift through my pile of yet ungraded masterpieces for a legibly set, and get interrupted, simeltaneously, on three fronts.

"Mommy!" yelled one of my would-be sports scholarship recipients.

"Leave Mommy alone," I intoned and went back to rooting among rhetorical remnants. A few students had remembered to introduce and to conclude their essays.

"Mommy!" animated a nearby shadow. That second child was supposed to be upstairs contemplating simple mathematical operations.

"Mommy!" screeched a third who had bounded past our feline gatekeepers and had snuck out the porch door without unloading the dishwasher.

Both the scholar and the maid wanted a raise in allowance. My ballplayer and his pal, too, wanted immediate attention; one was dripping tears and the other was dripping blood and mucus.

"Mommy," began the player I had birthed.

"Leave your mother alone," I snarled regarding the yet unread and unreadable term papers, the homework escapee, and the housekeeper-turned-litigant for salary increases.

"Fred broke his tooth."

"Nice. Leave Mommy alone. Go have a snack."

Fred clutched his face. More red cells, plasma, and sputum rolled down his jaw. That powerful maternal force, which might lay dormant in the face of bad essays, but which is always existent, burst forth from my breast. I connected the mental dots and noticed the wee child's ruin.

"What happened?" I groaned as I pulled our goopy guest to me, all the while patting my own boy and glaring at his siblings.

"Fred broke his tooth," droned the hugless one, the one avoiding homework, and the one petitioning for more pay, in unison.

I looked. Fred's tooth was not only cracked, but halved. A stump remained in the little one's maw, but no broken off bit could be found by his gum or inside of his cheek. Meanwhile, Fred's mother, who was on a shopping spree of sorts with our oldest, was not reachable on her cell phone

My husband shook his head sadly at me as I half dragged, half lifted Fred into our home. Suddenly, his wife valued cell phones. Since he never had philosophical issue with those electronics, he ably and quickly demonstrated their utility by simeltaneously summoning our doctor and our clergy, via our wall phone and via his mobile. Thereafter, with exaggerated aplomb, my husband helped our stricken visitor rinse with the medically-prescribed gargle. Before shutting our bathroom door, my man bellowed to our urchins, "search the underbrush!"

"But Da," interjected the injured hero's pal, "we were playing on the grass."

"And in the flowerbed," contradicted the sweet throat which was now dripping with saline and other fluids.

"You're in trouble," offered up the one who had no interest in completing addition or subtraction exercises beyond those that applied to his sibling's petition for increased funding.

"Keep gargling," my husband countermanded.

The victim's mother and our oldest returned long after that mother's son had come home from an emergency trip to our personal dentist. That mother beamed from our daughter's newfound interest in shopping and urged me to loan her either of our girls whenever I wanted. She seemed less concerned her child's injury than about being reassured that she would have another opportunity to have a girls' afternoon out. Given her son's history of broken limbs, she was literally not upset about his ill-fated encounter with our cement garden ornament and was so pleased with the care he had received from our dentist that she eventually changed over to his practice.

As for the victim, it seems that he and our son had dallied among the dahlias while I was applying myself to my university's best advantage. Balls and boys had wafted in and out of daylilies and coleus. After one pitch, which had been too close to call, that excited, visiting youth had run over the stone-like border that I had installed to demarcate the end of our play lot and the beginning of our horticulture. Since that child was habituated to toting his bat with him whenever he scampered among bases, it had been his implement, not our cute boundary markers, which had brought about his undoing. He had been so consumed with catching the ball that he hadn't noticed his feet hitting our prefabricated edging. When he tripped, he smacked his face, full frontal, into his club and consequently broke his tooth.

As for me, my therapist benefited from the incident. It took two weeks of focused work and then two more for good measure (mother-guilt is a complicated neurosis), to feel that the matter was resolved.

The cats just laughed. Whether we drag ourselves home form the beach after being naughty about bedtime and breakfast foods or we try to sort out injury from accident, in their esteem we are pathetic creatures. As long as the mashed fish and the dry crunchies keep coming, however, we are tolerated.

Table of Contents

Sons, Daughters, and Sundry Other Celestial Bodies (April 20, 2011. Issue 27.)

Family life, like astronomy, can be understood as concerned with amorphic entities such as nebulae and star clusters as much as can be understood as concerned with well-defined units such as meteoriods and oort clouds. Family members, after all, are the biggest, brightest, most exquisite, and densest of celestial bodies.

Consider, for example, the stellar groupings and circumstellar matter that spun through my afternoon some short dozen years ago. At the time, my home orchestrated the movements of a variety of astronomical objects, including sons, daughters, neighbors' children, salespeople, kittens and Girl Scouts. My universe was anything but empty.

My sons were like detached binaries. They were occupying themselves with mixing together ketchup, mayonnaise, parsley flakes, lemon, pickle relish, and grape jelly, intermittent with searching for shiny things, including, but not limited to: gum wrappers, broken transistors, uncompromised motherboards, CPUs, crystals, fuses, circuits, and their mommy's missing pocket money. Complex clusters, those boys also, simultaneously, practiced the rudiments of rhetorical martial arts; they breathed quick linguistic jabs and smart semantic hooks to the underbelly of each other's utterances and to the soft places in my encroachments.

Regardless of the deftness of their sibling-limited charges and counters, they also mobilized their garrisons against me. My single error had been yielding, to them, a "quarter of an hour" of respite and then changing course to task them, at fourteen point five minutes, to empty the dishwasher and to rake the yard. Half of a minute cheat warranting coming to full arms.

My older son stood the vanguard; "leaves? Leaves? I have to finish erecting La Rotonda. My villa will be amiss if I fail to complete the steps and portico of each section. Sun. All visitors must have access to solar goodness! You promised that I could build until each entrance was completed.

"If you really loved me, you'd let me lay out my villa's gardens, too. And what about the countryside beyond its gates? Sam got to make his countryside. He gets to finish his projects. His mom is soooo cool.

"Besides, I have four different types of homework, a phone call to a sick friend, and your orders to help my little sister with her vocabulary list. You do want me to do my homework, don't you? If you don't care about my grades any more, then shouldn't I be allowed to construct a model of the Taj Mahal, too?"

My younger son emulated his big brother. Bravely, he forayed into battle; "me? I unloaded the dishwasher yesterday. You can't expect me to do it again, today. Raking? It's his job. Anyway, I think the girls should do it. They never have to do the hard stuff. I had thirty seconds left! You took away an entire minute. You should rake the leaves."

While my compound celestial objects fumed and foamed, my extended celestial objects, my daughters, also found the wherewithal to express their malcontent to me. Akin to the vacuum that makes up much of intergalactic space, my girls knew how to be so cold as to be lethal, or so filled with rarified, volatile plasma as to be possessed of heat enough to make coexistence impossible. Fortunately, moms are actually "girls in adult bodies," and as such have hormonal, I mean orbital, shifts just as often.

I blink from vapid to explosive in an instance and impact, freely, and significantly, on naturally occurring nearby objects and on the local field's electromagnetism. Woe to the offspring who disrupt my corner of the cosmos!

That afternoon, for instance, I had begun a diatribe directed at Missy Oldest. Her error was not in flexing her force fields, but in doing so via poorly hidden bursts of radiation. I began; "darling, would you please put down that crocheting magazine and make the salad? I would also appreciate you assisting your little brother in finding the rake. First, however, please see if your other brother brought down his laundry.

"Did the little one empty the dishwasher? Did the big one? While you are in the basement, please put up a load of whites. If the delicates are in the dryer, please hang them up.

"Oh, please ask your little sister to change the litter box, too, and to give you last week's uniform. By the way, Sweet One, do you want rice?

"Was the vacuuming done yesterday? Did anyone mop the bathroom? What do you mean 'Cinderella?' I take you clothing shopping. You have sleepovers.

"Do we have any parsley left or did the boys finish it? Please add it to the shopping list. Please grab those books from the front hall, too.

"Did you see where the cat went? He needs medicine. When you catch him, please dose him. Your little sister? Of course I asked her to help. Yesterday, in fact, she picked up most of the clothes on her floor. Today, she brought out the recycling.

"That reminds me; did you fix the hem on my skirt? Are you going to the sing-a-long with your friends? Did you see the match to this sock? What did Daddy tell you about the stapler?

"Please pass the rye flour. Do you want potatoes? Did you finish your geometry? What do you mean you need to call a friend? Dear? Dear?! Come back! "

Even if one globe fluxed, as manifest by my eldest child concurrently: racing up the stairs, cursing me for "braying like an alpaca," insisting that her allowance was subsistent, humming her best friend's favorite show tune, and whimpering that Mesopotamian slaves had more rights than she, three wobbling, planetoids hung about. I had much with which to contend.

"Your piece is, sooo, as big as your brother's. You do, too, have to wipe the table and he does, too, have to sweep the floor. Where is your big brother? He can't just leave his plate.

"TUUURN DOWN that SOOOUND! I don't care if the Mets are pulling out of a slump.

Earphones. Use earphones.

"I already made those pieces the same. I am not Daddy. I don't care if he does it a different way.

"SHUT that RADIO! Here's the sponge. Use it. Yes, you have to wipe where your brother sat. I think up in her room. Oh well. She'll be hungry.

"Headphones? Earphones? Whatever. Pleeease turn that thing down. No reading at the table. I didn't see him turn on the radio. He's in the basement.

"BRING UP SOME SOCKS!! Pleeease BRING UP SOME SOCKS!!! I don't think he heard. Please go down, tell him to turn off the radio and bring up some socks. Thanks. Yes, you still have to sweep the floor."

Eventually, calm was restored; "Mommmmmmy! He's not coming. He's jumping on the clothes. Clean clothes. I sorted five whole pieces yesterday and he's jumping on them."

"My clean tablecloths?"

"Don't know."

"My clean sheets?"

"Mine. I tried to take his headphones, but he started jumping on me. I tried to tell you, but you don't care. You only care about cleaning. You never listen. You never care. I hate you. I hate this family. Can I have another piece of chocolate cake?"

"We don't hate, Dear. BRING UP THE SOCKS!!!! As I was saying, what was I saying? Oh. Did you finish your vocabulary yet? Your brother is supposed to help you. He had the same teacher. No, I don't think he liked her, either. He needs to do the laundry, too. No, no more cake.

"BRING UP THOSE SOCKS!!!! The leaves! I guess it's too dark now. Wipe the table. Let me see your word list. New sponge. Old sink.

"Hello Big Darling. Do you want some dinner? It's not nice to greet your mother by saying she has camelid breath. Did you bring down the towels? Have you seen Daddy's socks? All I have are his navy ones. He hates the navy ones. Because they were a good price. Did you give the cat his medicine? Where are you going? Of course I understand; I gave birth to you. Come back here, young lady. No you can't get the doorbell. I said…"

Thereafter, we faced invasion.

"Mommmmmmy!"

"I don't sign petitions. She's too young to sign. He can't even write his name. Go away. Good bye.

"Charity? Not politics? Charity! Then, come in. Oh-oh. No large cash. Would you like a hamburger? A bottle of seltzer? Maybe your driver would like a bottle of seltzer? I think he would. Please take this bottle for your driver and this other one for you. What a fancy car!

"How about some cucumber salad? Take this plasticware. Never mind that. It's only three colors, er days, old. The plastic's okay; we disinfect those things every spring. Kids, pleeease clear that table. SOCKS!!!!! Bring up those socks!!! You're leaving? What about small money? More seltzer?"

"Mommmmmmy!"

"No. We don't eat cookies. Here is some small money. We just had a man here, but he was not your people. He was too big. He wasn't in uniform. He had no badge.

"I think you can take money even if I don't take the cookies. What do you mean 'No?' You're selling cookies for money. Here is money. Those are cookies. I don't want cookies. You want money. I am shutting the door. You, the cookies, and the money are going to stay on the other side."

"Mommmmmmy!"

"I don't hear anything. Do you hear anything? I hear nothing."

"Mommmmmmy!"

"He can't come out to play. No. Because. Because I said so. I am the Mama. I see. No. Because. Go away.

"That was last week. Have some cucumber salad. Wait! Want cookies? See that pile at the end of the driveway? Someone left that case of cookies. What would she have done if I had donated large money? You're not selling cookies, too, are you? Want some seltzer with that salad?"

"Mommmmmmy!"

"I don't think so. If you'd like, you can come in. No, categorically not. Maybe next week. See ya. Bye.

"Little Darlingsssssss, table. Clear. SOCKS!!! Now!!! Where is your sister?"

"Mommmmmmy!"

"Oh, hi. Fancy meeting you in my kitchen. Back door, huh? Pull up a chair. No? Well, then stand; I need to supervise cleanup. What brings you? Want coffee? Cucumber salad? Cookies?

"Pleasant surprise. Only friends walk in the back. I'm glad you like us. It's hard being new in this neighborhood.

"Your daughter's grade?! What?! Call the office. Talk to the secretary. Send me an email. Give me back that cucumber salad. No, I don't think so. I don't care. I have to find black socks. The dishwasher needs to get emptied. You can find the door. Sheesh."

"Mommmmmmy!"

"No! No! No! Yes, it is wet. Yes, it is cute. Yes, it could 'drown' in a storm. There is no storm predicted for tonight. No. Try your house. Because I smell like a camel. It will be happier with your mother. She only has alpaca-like tendencies.

"Yes, I know llamas protect sheep in esteemed cultures. I am not a camelid, I only smell like one. Now? No, only when I open my mouth. Because I have to vent. If I don't vent, I implode. I may be imploding soon. Dangerous business. Take that little beast away. Please. Aerosol wouldn't help in the case of an implosion. Large, quick spaceships, maybe.

"Also, it is not a sheep. Too small. Too smart. Too carnivorous. I don't want it. I don't want it to nuzzle me. I don't want it to go limp in my arms. Make it stop. No more helpless babies in this kitchen! Take it away.

"Well, take it away in five minutes. It's probably cold and you're probably right; llamas do protect other herd animals. It does look sleepy. Kids, come see the sleepy-eepy 'ittle one. It's soooo cute. Do you think it's more a 'Fluffy' or a 'George?'

"What am I saying? Maybe we can feed it cookies. Lots out front. Forget it. Well, maybe. Your mother said what? That's crazy. She's no better than a cousin of a vicuna. See how much it likes me? I am protective. Okay, maybe just for one night.

"SOCKS. UPSTAIRS. NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!! Shhhh. Go back to sleep. Good kitty.

"Mommmmmmy!"

"Hello. Hello. Hi. Hi there. Greetings. Nice to see you and you and you. As for you, please pass regards to your mother. Hello. Nice to see you, too. Hi. Hello. Good day. Hi. Hi. Hello.

"Dear-Hearrrrrt!!!!!!! There are more than a dozen of your 'best' friends in our front hall. I think you need to come down, now. Yeah. Sure. Send her down, too.

"Here's some more chairs. You know where the paper cups are. Juice is in the fridge, or, maybe still out on the table. Want cookies? Cucumber salad? Small money?

"BLACK SOCKS!!!!

"First door on the right. Shout if there's no toilet paper. Any of you know how to mend a skirt?"

By then, I was sure I would cause a black hole to come into existence. Suddenly, my corner of space got immediately righted.

"Daaaaaaaaaaaddy!"

"Daaaaaaaaaaaddy!"

Faster than a thwarted homework assignment, more powerful than an excuse for a sibling to take on double chores, two small objects, one "Messier" (astronomy pun) and one cleaner, come together around their favorite galactic center. In turn, he spiraled them.

"Tried to call."

Drat, no roses, again. Nonetheless, Daddy can do no wrong. Daddy can demand dish washers magic themselves empty and floors poof themselves swept. Daddy can insist that homework be evaporated and that pajamas be instantaneously brought into existence. Daddy can generate almost anything in our star cluster, which he deems needs to appear.

Unlike the fetid, old guanaco with whom he lives, Daddy can even manage the teenager who broods in her room full of friends and thinks she's been indentured until college. Since Daddy's smart, he got a turn at masterminding known space.

Consequently, I didn't supernova, didn't burst with enough energy to generate a new star cluster, didn't apply my natural forces to my home's unnatural circumstances. Rather, I stroked the stray kitten, tossed the rest of the cucumber salad into the trash and sampled each of the ten types of remaining scout cookies. The bits of my universe continued in their mindless rotations.

Unintentionally Raising the Next Generation of Writers (February 20, 2011. Issue 25.)

Recent events have led me to believe that I am unintentionally raising the next generation of writers. It’s not so much that I’m careless with my parenting. In truth I monitor the number of minutes each child has access to the Internet, I count the portions of bioflavonoid-rich food each son or daughter consumes, and, if lice should attack our family, I assign the dubious privilege of finding no nits to my children’s father.

What’s more, it’s also not the case that my children’s morph into wee authors was a chance occurrence. In the same way that their years’ worth of sunshine lead to sufficient vitamin D in their systems and their years’ worth of completing algebra homework lead to their success in trigonometry, their years’ worth of witnessing their mama curse characters, fight with plotlines and make nice to editors had a predictable impact; my children came to believe that it as normal as flossing teeth, brushing hair and forgetting to shut the lid on the toilet to toil over the difference between “showing” and “telling” in narrative. They supposed that shouting at your computer and crying over acceptance letters was an ordinary part of life.

Reason aside, I’m surprised. In fact, I’m flummoxed. Just a short span ago, Older Dude was going to be a pilot and Missy Older had her sights on brain science (on the study of the biochemistry of that lumpy gray stuff). Younger Dude wanted to be the entrepreneur of the world’s finest chocolate chip cookies. Missy Younger’s aspirations involved fashion and money. My kids neither schemed nor otherwise planned to diverge from their dreams. Rather, they emulated!

Older Dude wrote a fine tale about Daisy, a cow, and her companions, who hijacked a rocket ship, but did not take it to the moon. Missy Older coauthored a blog for an international newspaper, with me. Missy Younger received permission from our city to begin a law school curriculum while still in tenth grade, (my former incarnation as a rhetoric professor is culpable for much of my creative nonfiction) and Younger Dude churned out an entire world of hedgehog stories (whereas my hibernaculum thrives on marshmallow fluff, his fellowship, organized long before mine, is of the high tech-shoot-‘em-up sort.)

Complications set in. Missy Older neigh-sayed a science major for college, electing instead to be an English teacher (!) Missy Younger completed the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a novel of 50,000 words or more in a month. Younger Dude declared that his composition of a best seller, alone, would solve our family’s financial challenges.

Fortunately, just when all of my predictions for my children’s futures had gone to nil, Older Dude remembered that he was an adolescent, took a break from the family’s seemingly contagious word play, and investigated the inside of our refrigerator. The shelves were emptied, but, for a brief repast, sanity was restored.

I am blameworthy. I was teaching writing and getting paid to publish for fifteen years before my offspring were born. What’s more, before any of them reached junior high, I wrote my first novel, won an amazing award for scholastic writing, and was invited to sit in an Ivy League department, based on the output of my words.

It appeared to my children that mom was always busy, whether I was writing a newspaper column or a poem and that my spending hours spent in front of my keyboard, daily, was my version of “normal.” The herbal tinctures I brewed, the flowers I dried for ornamentation, the belly dancing I practiced in our livingroom and the painting I created seems to have had less of an impact on my sons and daughters than did my hunting and pecking for just the right nuance in a large number of texts.

A case in point would be that when Missy Younger wanted to attempt NaNoWriMo and I tried to dissuade her, to turn her energies, first, to smaller works, she recited blather to me about “discipline” and about “the necessity of rewrites.” Similarly, when Older Dude first penned the story about the cows and their ill-fated adventure, he insisted that his narrative’s mood and his intent match and reproved me for not being more sensitive about such matters. Sigh.

I own, as well, that not only have I exemplified the sweat equity that is concomitant to writing, but that I have also fed my young ones my work, across genres, in pieces. Often, when I needed an extra set of eyeballs, or wanted acerbic feedback for my jottings, I asked my kids to engage in formal critique. To wit, it is entirely my fault that each of them can parrot the steps to constructing an essay and the necessary elements in a work of fiction. Their formative years have included large does of free verse and of strategies for marketing novels via electronic platforms.

As a result, these days, my children enter writing contests and send their work off for publication. One is co-authoring a book with a friend. Another is teaching her classmates about the elements of literature. All of them, however, when they see me coming toward them with a hard copy of one of my manuscripts in hand, run. “It’s no fun,” they whine. “You’ll expect us to empty the dishwasher, too.” “Mom,” they espouse, fully exasperated, “writing is work.”

Table of Contents

Two Memoirs (November 20, 2010. Issue 22.)

Kill Fees, Red-Eyed Monsters, Souks and Audiences: Throwing up One’s Hands and Trudging Forward, Anyway

Twenty years ago, I had an academic book rebuffed. Amazingly, I had been solicited to write that tome. Flashing forward, to last year, I had a short story rejected by an editor with whom I had signed a contract for its publication. Although I was paid a kill fee for that story, I had wanted the publication credit more than I had wanted the money.

Quality is a relative commodity. Media gatekeepers sometimes change literally overnight. Thus, junk, which only seems appropriate for the type of periodicals offered up at garage sales, becomes the very texts that influential publishers want. “Classic” work, such as the sort that literature professors employ in college classrooms, alternatively, ranks much harder to market.

In brief, since managers change (in one place, where I was a weekly contributor, I wrote for three different editors in as many years), since publications die off, merge or otherwise get altered, and since we writers, ourselves, morph, it’s a bad idea to count on excellence, alone, to get a composition sold. While validity, parsimony and utility ought to make good yardsticks for determining whether or not a piece will fly, given the whims of the contemporary media, those commonsense-based meters do not guarantee success.

Consider the relative sexiness of a “hardcore” anthropologist’s documentation of a spangled circus performer confounding a misogynous ringleader by hooking his toupee with her glittery bracelets. We might suppose that such an expose’ would bring both moula and fame. On the contrary, the academic can no more warrant that her research will see print than the established speculative fiction writer, who drones on about the horrors of anorexic executives catching their jogging shorts’ waistbands in their elliptical trainers, can certify that his writing will get desired notice. A few weeks ago, stories about dangerous contact lens made the news, vampire fiction was the rage and haiku was “rediscovered” in poetry journals. These days, in contrast, feel good snippets about parenting, longer treatises about imaginary hedgehogs and sonnets reflecting end of life, outer body experiences, seem popular.

Some players contend that it’s savvy to fashion and to sell romance stories based on former college friends’ accounts of intimacies conducted on semiprivate beaches and in national parks. Other contenders rant that drafting bits of creative nonfiction concerned with the array of pink and green, nylon/acetate stuffed trophies available at amusement park arcades is a sure means to get one’s words noticed. Still other would-bes look to delight potential readers by giving over graphic accounts of slaps upside the head and of toilet accidents.

Worse, given the advent of Internet exchanges of ideas, replete with its increased assortment of means, modes and mentations, writers are becoming more stymied, not less; too many choices is often a bad thing. There presently exist enough venues for every budgie-loving grandmother as well as for all of her spike-haired neighbors to put their thoughts in print. Articles about antidotes for babies swallowing diaper cream and about disciplining preschoolers who repeatedly flush playing cards down toilets, thus, abound on electronic pages.

Although it is the case that writing, which is not quite tautological, which is not, in any other manner, actually capable of internal reduplication, and which pretends to offer wisdoms, is currently popular with unskilled, pretentious editors, it is also true that experts, no matter the prestige of their periodicals, still cleave to communications that dovetails those editors’ personal sensibilities at the same time as offering up no noticeable outrage. Winnowing submissions never meant never having to say “sorry” and never meant having to forego a certain comfort level with the writing you choose to broadcast.

To wit, one tactic, which powerful creatives employ, to salvage a smidgen of self-esteem, if not also sanity, is to not care. Some authors choose to create for communities of folks that are interested in the same things that rock the authors’ socks. Some authors elect to let loose any and all critters that roam about their heads and then stick around for cleanup. Some authors get wasted on questionable substances and then submit the results of their chemically-influenced fancies.

In fact, mighty word shufflers insist on describing the rails and bricks of outhouses, are adamant about remarking on dysfunctional mobile phones SIM cards, assert their right to publically contemplate the merits of edible weeds, and aver, in general, to continue to write what suits them. Whereas writers can’t be made culpable for the caprices of the industry, they can take responsibility for whether they focus on pay or not.

Typicalities

The phone rings, peeling annoyance. Short Grownup, knowing nothing of the silenced remote, pokes my pregnant kidneys. I dispatch her to quiet the jingling while I remove the pillow from over my head. Elsewhere, Little Guy pushes the dollhouse off of its table. Short Grownup "hellos" down the length of the hallway. "They hung up, Mommy," she chimes when handing me the hushed receiver. The dollhouse crashes onto the cardboard barn. Little Guy, stupefied by his antic, toddles over with quivering lips. I announce breakfast, grateful for my ten minute nap.

Little Guy's raisin torpedoes end mealtime. The cats look on, disinterested. I separate fruit from carpet fiber. Little Guy retreats to the livingroom, while I wipe up oatmeal. Short Grownup wears apple butter with her smile. "Think of mess as a tactile experience," I once coached my husband. "Think of Little Guy and Short Grownup," The Fuzzball-With-Timing mews. I unclench Little Guy's fist from Fuzzball's tail. I remind Short Grownup not to stroke Fuzzball's butt. The emancipated feline sashays by and farts.

Additional odors challenge the air. Little Guy pulls away from my inquiring nose, blurting out "no poop... pee" then tackles Short Grownup. Short Grownup raises her fist, but stops; I am frowning. She defends by claiming my nap used up her potty time. Again the phone rings. Short Grownup bolts the stairs to jabber fresh greetings. No response. No record; I've dislodged the machine in stretching toward Little Guy. Frustrated by my restraint, he jaws my arm. I schedule a field trip.

Cat One ceremoniously deposits himself near the front door. He plots. I counter. Short Grownup critiques our outerwear. I sing my annoyance. She critiques my singing. I make faces. She makes faces. We laugh. Little Guy flings his cap and begins to otherwise disrobe. I corral Short Grownup and Little Guy.

We belt up and jet out to the drive-by bank. I pop in Music and Movement tapes. Little Guy eats fast food French fries. Short grownup complains about traffic lights. I insert lullabies. We scan for R & B tunes and a rocking filling station. Short Grownup and Little Guy guzzle “Name That Tune” while we look for the post office.

Little Guy and Short Grownup believe: that velvet ropes are trapeze, that postage scales ought to be used for weighing garbage can treasures, and that the postmaster's lollipops secrete poison. Strangers smile. I secure my stamps in a waxy envelope. Raffi's jazz secures my children. Little Guy falls asleep.

Later, Short Grownup examines and unstacks baskets at the health food store. She selects a blue one, which she carries all of the way to the store's bakery. Muffin in hand, Short Grownup turns expectantly to me. I peel away her paper and insert her basket into mine. I adjust Little Guy in the buggy, and then search for oat cereal. Baby kicks inside of my belly. Two potty trips later, we leave.

Little Guy wakes up when buckled in. He surveys the van's landscape of purchases. He cries; he's muffinless. I weigh his tears against: narrow aisles filled with organic treats, Little Guy's rapidly filling diaper and Short Grownup's recently emptied bowel; and Baby's wiggles. I lift, a little bit, the corners of my mouth. I force my eyes wide with excitement as I suggest an alternative; the farm bakery close to home.

Under apple trees, Little Guy feeds his cake to the farm's dog, guinea fowl, chickens, and ducks. I yell to Short Grownup to avoid the muck. I forget my own rules when the orchard equine rubs me with soft lips. All that is sunshine envelopes me. Short Grownup screams--Little Guy patted a sheep's back end. We return to the car for wipes and more Raffi. I successfully deter The Children's use of windshield wipers, defroster, and headlights, but fail to neutralize their backseat squabble. I inhale.

Once home, Cat One greets us with obsessive leg grooming. Cat Two also waits. Acknowledged, she marks more livingroom carpet. Cat Three remains curled up, on my dry-clean only sweater, farting. The phone noises. Short grownup races upstairs, tracking muck. She shouts down, triumphant. Daddy's rung every hour. He narrates about the mechanic whom destroyed the sedan's distributor in the name of fixing its clutch. The dealer wants full payment and Daddy wants a ride home.

The Children follow me into my sanctum. Little Guy immediately pulls apart Short Grownup's meticulously glued sequent art. The Better Business Bureau's machine wishes me a happy holiday. Short Grownup raises my vandalism consciousness by grabbing the receiver. I call AAA. Short Grownup shrills a loud piercing cry.

Little Guy busies himself with building blocks. Short Grownup shrieks more. The AAA Lady whispers. Baby kicks. Short Grownup collects herself and my markers. Little Guy returns; he’s lost his plastic goose in the middle of our full diaper pail. The AAA lady disavows her legal advice, pointing me instead to the Consumer Affairs Bureau. Little Guy cries. The Bureau counselor strategizes, but advises a lawyer. Smelling heavy duty "cat farts," I sniff Toddler. Short Grownup further autopsies my art supply cabinet. While changing Little Guy’s diaper, I call the family attorney. I hug Short Grownup. She and I search for missing marker caps. I send The Children on a picturebook hunt.

Husband's officemate answers husband's phone; Officemate was deputized last pregnancy. Officemate informs me that my husband's gone. He asks about my Braxton-Hicks. Cat Three walks by and farts again. Cat Two knocks over assorted papers. The Children whine.

I serve up bananas, eggs, broccoli, sticky O's and apple juice. Dessert consists of our only video. I like the elephants-making-babies song. Short Grownup loves the puppy pictures. Little Guy gestures to Bunny Foo-Foo.

Daddy arrives home via gratis rental car, having accepted the service manager's peace offering. He lifts Short Grownup off of the playroom floor and snatches Little Guy from my breast. I flick to a popular show about teenage kickboxing which imitates still another popular show about teenage kickboxing. Short Grownup returns and imitates the imitator. I shut the TV. We dress stuffed animals.

Typicalities.

Two Memoirs (September 20, 2010. Issue 21.)

Space Squids and Editors

After my first baby was born, I contemplatedtransforming my microscopic kitchen into an enterprise for solving others’ fiduciary problems, thereby creating a space in which I could both earn my keep and keep my eye on my most precious one. Like most Champaign dreams, however, that ideation wafted away. I was trained to write and to teach writing, not to crunch numbers. I returned to the front of the college classroom.

Once or twice a week, semester depending, I assessed the relative worth of tens of student papers. Often, I measured those texts in terms of their scope, their appropriateness to a given communication situation, their ability to generate interest in related texts, the reasonableness of the arguments contained therein, and their logical simplicity. Sometimes, I was tempted to assign grades to them using the (toss on the) staircase method, but I never yielded to those wild desires despite the fiendishness of detail found in some of my undergraduates’ responses.

Over time, though, my employment began to feel lame. There are only so many original things an instructor can say about content, about organization, about semantics and about mechanics. So, I addended my classroom experience of negotiating nonfiction by creating my own work. I fashioned narratives bout space squids and about being an uppity mother. It was entirely refreshing to me to reach beyond my emerging adults’ verbal talents and to address my own development.

The nature of the nonfiction, which emerged first from my typewriter and later from my printer, depended on my temporal means. If I had just a short span in which to generate the rough draft of a work, I would negotiate familiar topics such as diapers or such as teenage angst. If, on the other hand, I was enjoying a block of five hours or more, I might churn out impossible prose on the nearsighted nature of warring governments, on the moral obligation of physicians to normalize talk about pregnancy loss, or on rationale for using raised beds, to grow herbs and vegetables, instead of resorting to double digging.

Once I had chaperoned a piece through multiple revisions and then through multiple volleys among friends, whose ability to analyze, to interpret and to evaluate I trusted, I would pop off that work to an editor with the hope that the editor would like the writing as much as I did. Often I was surprised; prose, which I considered well developed, might have to be passed, intermittent with additional revisions, to many outlets before finding a home, while prose, which I considered to be mere mental cotton candy, might get snatched up on a first offer. What’s more, the types and kinds of rhetoric that might please an editor one moment could prove dissatisfactory the next. Even after a piece was accepted for publication, an editor might offer me a “kill fee” rather than slot my work for print.

Fortunately for me, and for my hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs, I survived by “diversifying my portfolio” and by becoming creative about where I sent select types of essays. I submitted serious discourse to venues lacking everything but humor and wrote with wit for places which were otherwise entirely dreary. It became my habit to suggest to the individuals responsible for shepherding publications that they hire me to freshen up their pages. Many of those editors did so.

Decades later, I’m still glad that I risked writing about: corporate failures alongside of family picnics, gelatinous space beasts in the same breath as the gelatin (puddles) under my sofa, and cheese cake recipes concurrent with cheesy amusement park prizes. My samples grew in diversity as did my wiliness to meet editors’ demands to create work that might merit more than the bottom of a budgie cage. That is, my collected words became as varied as family photos, elephant trainers, and face painting efforts. The pity is that I still need help filing my taxes.

No More Brown Wrappers

Murphy-the-Cat tried to stick her little pink nose in my mug. Instinctively, she knows that plants are good for her. However, this mildly intelligent feline forgets that she ought not to try to place her snout in nearly boiling liquid. She deludes herself that jasmine can take the place of grass and of cat mint. Miffed, she hikes up her tail and sashays away as I glance out my window to think and to appreciate the slowly cooling beverage in my hand.

When I was a little girl, tea was for grownups and children sipped milk. Tea was for hushed talk while sweet juice was for after school debriefings. Tea was permitted only on special occasions like illness, while soda pop was for everyday.

Fortunately, tea is no longer a “brown wrapper” commodity in my life. Tea is for friends coming in on a miserable day and for friends happy to share good news. Tea is for tonight, tea is for tomorrow morning, and tea is for the middle of the next day. Tea is out in the open.

My children drink cooler tea than do I and my husband drinks blacker tea than me. We make our tea in pots, in the microwave and via the power of the sun. Tea is a centerpiece of festive gatherings and is a familiar friend at quiet times.

Herbal tea helps relax teens who are otherwise hyper. Green tea calms tummies, soothes throats and makes food digest better. The only one who fails to benefit from these wonderful leaves is poor Murphy.

Skirting Issues: Consumer Fashions (July 20, 2010. Issue 19.)

Is too! Its sooo cute. I love it. Just buy it and we can leave. I give up on price, style, and color. It’s your clothes. You have to wear them. Beloved, simply make sure you pick out gear that’s seasonal and modest. Cotton’s a poor idea in December. You know I won’t let you dress in a slit that shows thigh. Also, Darling, one of us has to be able to pay for it, so, put that cashmere back.

Whatever you decide, please do not regal me with the “important” differences between stripes and checks. I don’t care whether your skirt hits just below your knee or is ankle length, though I think the latter lends itself better to the mindless movement manifest by modern ladies. Honey, keep in mind, as well, that it is more advisable to buy a few good pieces, “few” being the operative word, for dressy occasions and a greater number of lesser pieces for daily wear. In addition, Sweetness, it’s good to remember you’re the laundry mistress. Inexpensive, “dry clean only” pieces are no bargain when you wear them weekly. Coo-dove, recall, too, that geometry homework takes precedent over hanging and pressing hand washables. Also, please prestidigitate on your closet space and on the room in your drawers.

When you were young, we had a policy for drawers. For every article of clothing (or two) that came in, one went out to friends or to charity. Although this principle frustrated our family, it lent order to our house. Did I tell you about the shopping expedition that predated this rule? That trip involved relatives. You were still in my belly. Plain crackers constituted my entire menu. You look awful in that red. Pink might be better, but it’s a fickle friend. Try the sky blue or the pale gray. I like the goldenrod.

Anyway, those relatives bought you a storage unit’s worth: of lion sheets and blankets, of burp pads and bumper pads, of onesies, booties and soft hats, of socks, travel blankies and sleepers, of t-shirts, nappies and bottles (which we never used or intended to use), of jackets, summer shorts and winter coats, of stuffed toys, stuffed animals, and stuffed dolls, of toddler puzzles, preschool puzzles, and crossword puzzles, of memory books, reminder lists for me and of memory software for them, of rattles, diaper bags (but not diapers or wipes), and spit up cloths, of bibs, early readers, middle readers, and college test prep books, of mittens and snowsuits (yes, I meant the plural), of sunglasses, bonnets, wallpaper and three different car seats, and of a playyard, a bouncer, a walker, a swing, a tree swing and a porch swing, and of a baseball bat and a mitt and a hockey stick and a knitting kit, and of washcloths and hooded bath towels (at least I dissuaded from paying for monograms), and of stroller, potty seat, wagon, and motorcycle (that got returned; instead, we established your college nest egg), of a xylophone, sailor suits, dancewear, a full fleece layette, and prom gowns (did you ever wonder from where that purple horror in your closet was gleaned?), of rain coats, umbrellas, skis and ski poles, suspenders, belts, swimwear cover ups, and fuzzy slippers. Afterward, I swore off accepting all incoming objects without parting with existent ones.

I like that scoop neckline. The sweetheart style, too, is becoming. Per those horizontal collars and mitered v-bands, I don’t think so. The shawl and frill ones are neutral in my opinion. In fairness to the relatives, given their generosity, Daddy and I didn’t think of buying for you the contraption sought ought by most first time parents, the stroller/bassinette/high chair/kitchen sink contrivance that weighed five times your poundage.

With time, came wisdom. We put your youngest brother in a backpack, not a stroller. Keep fabric in mind. You hate wool and never wear it without another layer beneath. When you buy silk, you usually snag it. I believe that synthetics are politically incorrect, but you seem to do well with them. Little Bear, don’t forget to take a close look at trim. So many times you have worn buttonholes into sockets and have broken tabs off of zippers. Consider that shirt with the hooks or get a pullover. As I said, I don’t care what you buy.

As for you, my other young lady, do not even contemplate emulating your big sister. It has come to my attention that your clothes have spread from your closet to hers and to Daddy’s. Moreso, I have noted that they have also spread to your floor. I’m willing to continue to invest in tulle and damask, for you are a cute one, but your bedroom ground must start to resemble sleeping quarters rather than a leaf litter. Whereas woodlands need depth in pine needles, bedrooms need to be cleanable. What’s more, raccoons, chipmunks and others of the earliest denizens never ask their mommies for boiled wool jackets or gold label blazers. If less than three inches of voiles and jacquards remain on your rug this month, maybe we can return here for some brocades for you. I’ll even throw in an overshirt of antique lace if you remember to let the cat out of your room before you leave for school. When’s he’s locked in, he aims for your tapestries, when he pees.

How does he manage to jump onto your loft? I mean “your loft,” not your sister’s trundle bed or the livingroom couch or the futon in the basement. Remember that sleeping space we had custom built for you so that you could garner more floorspace with your finery? Remember that space that ought to be for rent? Its mattress needs a clean sheet. Try gathering your pillows out of the livingroom and off of the futon and from your sister and put them back on your bed. Even though I trust that your language arts teacher would esteem the baskets of books that you keep up there, I think she would have even greater admiration for you, were she to visit or not, if you returned those homework pages that have somehow escaped your intermittently somnolent grasp, only to saunter to your floor and to lay on top of all of your brightly colored textiles. You will hand in those assignments tomorrow.

I expect, as well, that you will put away all of the lions, tigers, and bears, giraffes, squirrels, horses, cows, bunnies, puppies, kitties, iguanas, alligators, barracudas, camels, dolphins, elephants, foxes, gila monsters, hedgehogs, impalas, jelly fish (wait, those belong to your sister; we bought them at the Connecticut aquarium), kangaroos, ladybugs, macaws, newts, owls, peacocks, quokkas (those relatives remain incorrigible), rhinos, snakes, turtles, uakaris, vicuñas, wolves, xiphius gladiuse (swordfish), yaks, and zebras, which currently deck your dresser. Do not overlook your small, purple, wizened, widespread trolls, either. I found a handful in your hamper, a coterie in your closet and gaggle under your goggles.

Sorry. I digress. Per the current request for you and your sister to buy matching robes, matching shoes, matching holiday dresses, similar tights, related knee socks, high platforms and a handful of scrunchies, the answer is “NO.” You may have more shirts to go with your uniform, a replacement pair of sneakers, a new winter scarf and maybe even a few packs of camisoles. Little One, your underthings are getting a bit ratty. As for those twirly skirts, velvet shirts, and sequence-encrusted jumpers, I will ornament you, instead, with an “I’m afraid not.” How about a new headband? In plaid?

What were you saying about your brothers? Here, give this winter coat to your sister. It might be her size next year and yours in five. How about two headbands? Plaid and polka-dots? Plaid and stripes? Stripes and polka dots? Boring blue? And a pair of socks with lace cuffs? And a bracelet that matches your dolly’s best dress? And a handful of hairclips? And that denim skirt? And the bows that attach to your dressy shoes? I guess so. Look, that rack has robes two for the price of one. You and she would look clever.

As I was saying about your brothers, I think this vest is good for the little guy. I like those shirts for the big one. I wonder if they’ll still fit in a month. Did you see how tall his best friend grew? I don’t know how his mother outfits him. Yes, those cardigans are adorable and they do have both teen and little girl sizes. When you are right, you are right. Those matching sets of flip flops must to come home with us.

Goodness! What about pants? Your big little brother wore out all of his size sixes and sevens at the knees. Your little, little brother is doing the same. At least he’s not jumping off the highest playground tower anymore. I think the pediatric orthopedist straightened him out. I know, he claims he was pushed. No, I think that color is good for you, but not for your big sister. You both look okay in green. Try the twirly skirts over there.

Why must you children jump from staircase landings? I don’t care which friend taught you or whose parents are oblivious to that peril. Your clothes and your knees and your shoulders and your wrists would last longer if you restrained yourselves.

Maybe we should get this other vest for the little guy, too. That tie might enhance the big one’s new suit. I give in. You may purchase the leopard print velour dress and big sister will probably want that burgundy, chartreuse and silver, rose-bud studded lounger with the picture of a laughing tiger on one side and with the replication of a bass on the other. I know we’ve filled up two carts. I think, though, we ought to also include this sweatshirt with the fringe for one brother and this bodywarmer with the brass trim for the other. Let’s also not forget those neon-colored battery-operated socks for Dad; they are sooo cute.

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