Friday, August 28, 2009

Deft Parenting

Stryker: "When I grow up, I definitely want a family."

Matron: "That's great!"

Stryker: "Yup. I want a lot of kids -- as many as possible."

Matron: "Wow! That's cool."

Stryker: "That way I'll have a permanent donor bank. If I need a kidney or a lung or something when I get older. They'll love me so they'll give me body parts. Even if they don't love me, they'll feel obligated."

Matron: "That's why you want to have children?"

Stryker: "Sure. When I'm 75 and failing I can call one of them and say 'still got that liver?'"

He's going to marry somebody's daughter. Hide yours. She apologizes, in advance.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Scarlett!

This was your first time on stage. Check out that face, moments before curtain. Uh, can we say the opposite of stage fright? Joy!

The Matron thinks the above actually came from your eighth birthday! (Isn't she adorable?!) Your brothers should thank their good lives for your existence. Why? When your Mama was a Youngish Miss and newly pg with your big brother, she decided to find out the baby's gender.

You know what THAT answer was! Look at that boy glare at his Mama! The big red forehead tattoo would be his suction cup marque. The child decide to deform himself before the first day of school. But see how sweetly the daughter is smiling on her first day of first grade!

Way back, when the ultrasound technician innocently told her that her firstborn was to be a boy, Youngish Miss tried hard for repose. She burst into tears. Because she wanted, this!

Not even necessarily Annie --

Or Ramona or Helen or any of the roles or an actor. Sure, Scarlett, the Matron can thank you for some stupendous-can't-beat-em cocktail party lines: "My 11-year old has agents in L.A. and Minneapolis." But she knows that's pretty much smoke on the water.

She's happy you know that, too.

No, your Mama simply wanted a daughter--a girl who would be kind to animals and brothers (sorta related). Your Mama harbored dreams of a reader, a girl with books permanently stashed in the leather pouch she carries everywhere. She wanted to meet a fierce spirit--a girl more fearless and confident than she was when young. Your Mama dreamed of the kind of girl who would, gracefully, set aside her plans for her 11th birthday because another family needed a great big helping hand-- a real emergency -- and suddenly there was a surprise overnight and two tiny tots in the house on the actual bona fide anniversary of your BIRTH and instead of complaining? This daughter would play stuffed animals, tag, and help - - all day.

That's exactly the daughter she got.

Actual Conversation:

Matron: "Scarlett, who would you like to invite to your birthday party?"

Scarlett: "Instead of a party, can we bring toys to sick children in a hospital and then go volunteer at a homeless shelter. Instead of presents, can we buy toys for the sick children and clothes for the kids in homeless shelters?"

Monday, in honor of your birthday -- and the dizzying potential your big beautiful life holds-- your family and the families of four of your friends will be packing food, here, instead of the regular partying.

But your Mama promises there will be cake and candles involved, as well.

Happy Birthday, Scarlett! It's quite a ride.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The Matron pulled this from the back forty -- the vast unread beginning of her blog -- because the demands of the first week of the semester have her tripping over her To Do list. A child under age 5? You might relate (although she hopes you never had to endure such a day as the one below).

When Merrick was 2 1/2, Scarlett (then 7) sniffed twice and proclaimed herself too sick to attend school. The Matron knew otherwise, but is a big believer in hooky. Plus, she was secretly thrilled. Scarlett was that toddler's best wind-up toy. He'll be occupied! She made a list: kitchen floor, bathroom, laundry, pile in Stryker's room with plans to whip through everything! Incurable Clutter Brain Suck, at bay!

Scarlett, however, had other plans. Home without Stryker evaluating her every move, she spent the entire day moving from one electronic devise to another: Game Boy, DS Lite, TV, Computer. Her eyes glazed and she grew surly. Merrick wailed in her wake, begging Scarlett to to 'pway' the Game Boy or build blocks -- or any other thing at all ---with HIM , and begging his mama to intervene.

"But this is my day off!" Scarlett whined. Cough, cough.

They fought the entire morning. Thurston, the 13 year old dog, threw up twice. The Matron cleaned up everyone's messes and forgot that list.

Conveniently around 12:45, she remembered Merrick's 1 pm dental appointment!!!! He had fallen a couple of weeks ago and hit a front tooth; the tooth turned gray, then white and now gray again. The Matron gathered her youngest two with some urgency -- hurry, hurry, hurry!

Scarlett shuffled to the van, cleverly remembering to bring the Game Boy so they could continue fighting about it. Merrick inquired about Destination. Lying is an excellent parenting tool which the Matron stupidly forgot.

"To the dentist." They both scream! The dentist is like Dante's Inferno, the guilotine, and post-Thanksgiving Day shopping sales wrapped up altogether.

Matron: "No, no, no--just for Merrick!"

Mistake. This is the stimulating dialectic she enjoys for the next 20 minutes:

Merrick: "I go to dentist?"

Me: "Yes! It'll be okay."

Merrick (wailing): "Please no make me, please no make me."

Matron: "It will be okay!"

Merrick: "Please don't make me, please don't make me!"


The dentist's office was jam-packed. There's one big room with four dental chairs and everybody was in the same mood as Merrick. One child screamed. And screamed and screamed. Merrick collapsed.

He was 2 1/2.

"I want ki-ki!" This is code for Let's Nurse, Mama!

These words should mean the Matronly milk lets down but instead it's sweat. The whole weaning thing was about one year behind schedule. She was on board but Merrick? Firmly in the ProKiKI Camp.

"I want ki-ki!!" Merrick moved from firm to frantic in fourteen seconds. 'KI KI. KI KI."

The dental assistant's horror was palpable. You'd think something slimy had crawled up her shirt. If only. "Oh my God, you're not still nursing him, are you? That's the worst thing. You should see the teeth rot we get here."

Suddenly there was NO noise as even babies stopped crying to see the sloppy lazy over-indulging mother who was STILL nursing her toddler.

The Matron is suddenly the most agreeable mother the hygenist will see all month. "No, no, no. Of course not! Yes, ugh! Awful. He just remembers, isn't that funny!" Merrick tears at her shirt, looking for an angle in. He weeps and claws. The Matron holds her shirt down like a fortress.

Merrick pounds at the collar: "KI KI KI!!!"

Thank GOD the dentist arrives for further humiliation.

"Why are you even here?" she demands, like the Matron crashed her party.

"Well, I called. The woman on the phone said to come right in."

"But teeth bruise and change colors all the time. It's no big deal. Everybody knows that."

Except the Matron, it appears. She took her thoroughly scolded self back to the van where Merrick got his ki-ki in hiding. Scarlett woke up from the Game Boy long enough to ask if a trip to Creative Kidstuff would be in her future. There are 40 minutes to kill before picking up Stryker from school. Before she tosses in the towel, she fondly remembers the optimism with which the day began.

Why not more torture?

The children bounced through this very expensive toy store, which exists as a unique kind of parental hell. Children get to fall in love in twenty different ways, with gym-scale race tracks or $100 dolls-- and parents get to be the ogre who says "No" to every last thing they adore. "No, no, no. I'm sorry, no."

In the midst of all these 'no's, the Matron heard Scarlett scream: Daddy! John (whose office is across the street) saw us and surprised his darlings!! He threw each child up in turn. They're rescued. It's Mr. Fun! They beamed.

A white-haired grandmother sighed. "What a good father. Isn't it wonderful how they do so much work these days!" An ugly animal growled within the Matron. Aren't there stairs this Pollyanna can be pushed down?

After Mr. Fun leaves, Scarlett begged for a $3. hot chocolate at Woullets Bakery. The Matron was firm, absolutely not. We have a bucket of Nestles at home.

Scarlett looks up from the screen. "Isn't that one of those mean big corporations doing bad things to children? Don't they use dirty water for babies or something?"

Over at Woulletts, they all sat at a tall table with hot chocolate. Merrick reached over for a napkin . . . . and missed.

The spill was truly spectacular. An explosion, really. Cocoa on the windows, the walls, streaming down the floor, covering Scarlett's white pants, pouring on Merrick's tummy. Wow.

"What a bad thing to do! Look at this mess!" The Matron HISSED and SNAPPED at her children.

Way to go, Matron. Merrick wailed louder.
The person behind the counter doesn't helpfully jump in: she handed the Matron a towel. She wiped up the best she could through the din only when she shoved the cocoa and coffee into the waste container, it spilled again. The Matron was sweating. Again.

A woman and her young daughter carefully avoid the beet-red, despondant, exhausted, fried and frayed and now soaking, sugary wet Matron on their way out. Carefully avoid, as in pointedly step around.
"What's wrong with those people?" asked the child, anxious. The mother dispensed wisdom. "They're messy. Some people just are that way."

One more person the Matron felt needed a good shove down some stairs.

Her urge to scold Merrick into a pulp of shame was replaced with despair when the little guy lifted up his tiny t-shirt to show big red burn marks from the cocoa. "It hurts." He blinked new tears.

They staggered to the van, wet, Scarlett limping dramatically with those two legs of hot cocoa--and still able to play the Game Boy! Boy, her children have talent. People stare. The Matron settled in Merrick and must have stepped on the paper towel roll stored in the van (because she's so messy). A sheet sticks to her sticky cocoa-sodden sole and the roll flies, arcing up and across Grand Avenue -- miraculously, one sheet still stuck to her foot as the roll playfully bounced through traffic to the other curb. What a trick.

Weren't those the good old days!

Monday, August 24, 2009


When the Matron was a great big Wee Miss (12?) this was her theme song. The message seemed so revolutionary. Today's its simplicity, optimism and--well, single note --make her realize how far she's -- we've all -- come. And doesn't Helen look squeaky clean and full of good health? The times have changed in that regard, too. Madonna? Brittney?

As long as you're

A) on memory lane because you're in the same age range
B) getting a history lesson and your breasts are neither knee-length nor acorn bites
C) too old to remember the difference betweeen the breasts of your youth and the current saddle bags/twinkies

try this (she thinks) better version.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday, Meditation


Growing up in a small town,
we didn't notice
the background figures of our lives,
gray men, gnarled women,
dropping from us silently
like straightpins to a dressmaker's floor.
The old did not die
but simply vanished
like discs of snow on our tongues.
We knew nothing then of nothingness
or pain or loss—
our days filled with open fields,
turtles and cows.

One day we noticed
Death has a musty breath,
that some we loved
died dreadfully,
that dying
sometimes takes time.
Now, standing in a supermarket line
or easing out of a parking lot,
we realize
we've become the hazy backgrounds
of younger lives.
How long has it been,
we ask no one in particular,
since we've seen a turtle
or a cow?

"Straightpins" by Jo McDougall, from Satisfied with Havoc. © Autumn House Press, 2004

After living in her neighborhood for nearly seven years, today the Matron finally met the woman who lives in the prettiest house in the 'hood, a trim brick and stucco situated on a stunning expanse of greenery -- perfect grass populated with patches of daisies, cosmos, roses, peonies, black-eyes susans, seedums and more. It's lovely.

The woman was having a garage sale as a fundraiser for Bob. The Matron, with Satan's Familiar at the tail end of her run, paused to fondle the merchandise and asked who Bob was.

Woman: "My husband. He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer on Thanksgiving Day."

Statements like these, if treated appropriately, signify Significant Conversation Ahead. There is no easy way -- on a sparkling Sunday morning when all you really want to do is get on with your own life, have your first cup of coffee, read the paper, and enjoy the precious private and well-planned moments before the children descend upon you -- to step around this statement: my husband is dying and h'es just 58.

So the Matron put down the leash and listened. This is a story of loss upon loss upon loss. Brain cancer has already stolen this life, the cancer lodged precisely where personality and cognition reside. This is a story of pain in all its manifestations, its entire bag of tricks and tools.

When she bade this neighbor good-bye, the light on the red lilies in the garden looked particularly bright. The air took on an eagerness that hadn't been there before. Those precious well-planned childless moments were gone, replaced by the moments she had just experienced and she was a little wiser for them. Not that she feels pity for Bob or sees herself faring better. Not at all. Wiser because one day, she too will take that leg of her own journey--the spring toward death.

This is the moment she's been giving, here, typing. Who knows if there will be a next? She's grateful to be reminded: keep waking up, keep experiencing the moment, and allow gratitude to make the demands of the day less pressing.