phantom spiders and falling leaves

Our house had been unoccupied for the better part of a year before we moved in. As a result, the land was stirred up and spider homes unearthed themselves into walls instead of trees. We spy tiny spiders in the yard and driveway, beneath the eaves and mailbox, and sometimes, inside.

Inside isn’t good for spiders, and inside spiders sure aren’t good for children who are scared of spiders. Our youngest hasn’t struggled with sleep in a couple years, and during the first month living here he woke once or twice every night crying I’m scared! of the spiders in the closet.

We’ve done all the right things to get the phantom spiders out of his mind. Three night lights fill the room with a gentle glow. He shares his sleep with two elephants, one cow and a shark, but last night he woke up screaming again.

Scared or not, he is often tender and loving, and yet he can turn into a heart-crushingly difficult child in the blink of an eye.

In an effort to direct some of his energy in a positive direction, we signed him up for taekwondo. Master Frenel is soft spoken with a slight accent inspired by French Creole, and his ability to capture and hold the attention of a roomful of four and five year olds for forty minutes is almost miraculous.

taekwondo max

After class he is more relaxed and less combative. He typically sleeps for at least eleven hours straight. He is learning to speak in a whisper, sometimes. He tries to catch the leaves of fall as they gently rain down in the backyard, changing from green to yellow and orange and brown.

The season that makes every leaf a flower is ever welcome.

Some people think Autumn is a sad space, as winter beckons and branches grow bare. But I love it, perhaps more even than the fresh breath of Spring. I like tucking into cooler nights and finding socks again. I like the evening light, even as the days grow shorter and darker. I like pumpkin patches and cider and soccer games and rays of light that stream like lasers through orange and ruby and golden leaves. They settle into a richer earth and drape themselves like a blanket across the land.

When I asked my oldest what he thinks of Fall, he said I think about how the birds will migrate and how mostly we’ll see hawks and how it’s apple season and apples everywhere and Halloween is coming up which I am very excited about and I am very excited about how Christmas gets sooner and sooner when you pass Fall. 

Last weekend I ran in the Memorial 5K event established to remember and honor my sister’s legacy and raise money for an organization (her former employer) that provides free legal services for low-income individuals and families in Brooklyn. It was a picture perfect fall day, breezy and chilly until the sun shone full and we began running.

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Two dear friends joined me for not only the race but the entire weekend. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I mean all of it – the trashy paperback I read on the plane, brief reunion with family friends, hugs and smiles, and an amazing meal with my friends. I would also be remiss to neglect the kind Dominican couple, boisterous Jamaicans and quiet Indian woman on the subway without whose direction I would never have managed to get from the airport to Manhattan by myself.

(and I would never, ever live in this city, not if I was expected to get somewhere on my own).

My sister would be very happy to see what a fine community event this has become. I believe that from her unknowable space in the universe she was shining for us all day, a candle whose light burned out far too soon but whose joy in living and commitment to service endures for all of us who remember her.

Her light shown within the children as they toddled toward the finish line in the kids’ race. It beamed from the speedy runners who finished in 18 minutes and some change. Walkers and joggers and slow and fast runners made their way along the course.

Some ambled. Others dashed. One guy rode a bike.

Light shown within the race volunteers and the park and city staff who keep this part of New York beautiful and accessible. Our mother’s tough spirit was also illuminated, and reminds us that the event represents so much goodness and a very, very hard reason behind the day.

Yesterday was Eleanor Roosevelt’s birthday, so I’ll end this post by borrowing her wise words, and wishing my readers a lovely Fall.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Eleanor Roosevelt

On the run with Joe

This past weekend I had the pleasure (and pain) of running 7.25 miles with a local marathon training group. This was the second time I’d joined the group, and I’m likely to return, if for nothing else than to spend a few hours with one of the pacers, a guy named Joe* who introduced himself as an alcoholic, cocaine addict and three-pack-a-day smoker a few miles into the run.

Three packs. That’s like 60 cigarettes, right? It didn’t appear that we had much in common at first, but I shared back that my parents were smokers and I was very happy when they quit. He told me that he would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep without a couple of smokes.

I remembered how I couldn’t sleep without crying for a while first, not so many years ago.

Joe and his wife met in a drug treatment program. They each have 18 years of sobriety under their belts, and Joe insisted that tobacco was by far the most difficult vice to quit. He is 58 years old.

I quit drinking and drugging at 40, Joe said, matter of factly, as I ran by his side.

What do you say in response to a critical, personal, unexpected and heartfelt truth shared on the run?

My thoughts bubbled to the surface, yet remained unsaid. Thank you for telling me. Thank you for sharing your story. You are so much braver than me. In fact, you are one of the most amazing men I’ve met, even though I just met you twenty minutes ago. And your calves are kickass for a guy pushing 60, by the way.

Silently I wondered, How did you quit? Why did you start? And how fantastic is it that you met the love of your life (so described by Joe) who also is a recovering drug addict and an accomplished distance runner in her 50s? 

Nothing felt right.

Fortunately he just kept on talking and I kept on breathing and didn’t have to say much.

Later I reflected upon the truth that I am now 40 years old. And that Joe and I actually do have a lot in common.

I have not been as careful as I could be about what I consume and how I make decisions that impact my mind and body. I’m not an addict, at least not in the strictest sense. But I do find addictive behavior compelling, and have, for many years. It’s been said that bulimia and alcoholism are two sides of the same coin. Eating disorders are also often related to depression, a condition for which I have never been diagnosed, nor do I believe is something that I live with (fortunately). I did more than dabble in disordered eating, but that was more than fifteen years ago.

Today I almost do not recognize that young woman who was me, age 20, sometimes starving, sometimes stuffed, but you’re never completely able to leave who and how you once were.

Or are you?

I wondered more than once about chemical imbalance when I was unable to shake the sadness in the wake of my sister’s death. And I absolutely use wine and other mind-numbing hobbies (reading trashy novels, scrapbooking,  nail-biting) to shake off sadness sometimes.  I try to use better strategies, too (reading well-crafted, delightful novels, writing, running, long conversations with my incredible friends). But you know, sometimes you gotta do what works for you, and my life includes both good-for-you and less good-for-you coping mechanisms.

I never smoked cigarettes, but I understand their appeal.

Back to the run: this guy was telling me about a 50-miler trail race he finished in ten hours, and he claimed, I could have run ten more hours – it was that great!

He wasn’t bragging; he was happy. It was like running with a live over-sharer on Facebook. Weathered, but not withered, Joe was bright-eyed and unapologetically cheerful as he led us along the waterfront, across streets and beneath an early spring sun in Portland.

He described his first marathon in 2008 and how he started running at age 50. Today he is semi-retired, and he and his wife travel around running together. Over the next six weeks, they will complete three full marathons.

He went on: For years we just took and took and took. Saw how much we could take from others, on and on.

Shakes his head.

Now we just give back a little, just do what we can to make a small difference. My wife leads an annual retreat for recovering addicts. I lead a running group every week, every year. Not gonna stop. There’s a 70-something running community in Portland. I plan to be a part of it.

I can never give back as much as I took, but I can try, he said somewhat ruefully.

Are you kidding me?

He gave me something HUGE on Saturday, so much that I’m still mulling it over today. He gave me his story. His truth. While the part of the story I listened to was mostly the good stuff, he was honest about the fact that for 25 years, his life was tough and he struggled. The astonishing part is that he turned his life around. I don’t know how. I didn’t ask.

I’ll be out of town the next two Saturdays, but Joe told me that he’ll be looking for me at the group run on May 17th.

I’ll be there.

*Joe is not his real name.

runnerfamily

 

 

dreaming of wellness

Hello Friday, I’m so happy to meet you today!

Today I’m linking up with Cynthia at yousignedupforwhat?!, EatPrayRunDC and MarontheRun for the weekly Friday Five. I’m excited to have discovered three new bloggers who focus on health and wellness. Evidently I’m in need of both, because last night I dreamed about being sick for what felt like all night.

In this particularly vivid dream a close friend showed up at our house with her family during a raging snowstorm. She energetically insisted that we had signed up to run a 10K foot race located across town… I didn’t recall registering, but what are you gonna do. We piled in the back of this enormous vehice, tucking our kids sans seat belts under a fleece blanket. I was unable to breathe for several minutes, congested and bleeding and tired, but no one seemed to notice.

I woke up still dreaming. It was very strange. I almost announced to my family that Mama is very, very sick and needs to stay in bed today, but then I looked in the mirror and took a few deep breaths and walked outside on the deck. The sun was out. Unbelievable. I wasn’t congested. I wasn’t bleeding. I was, in fact, no sicker than anyone else in our family, which is to say not sick.

Still, the feeling lingered for a while, and I felt cloudy. Instead of reaching immediately for caffeine I put a bunch of raw kale in the blender, threw in half a banana, some frozen blueberries and unsweetened coconut milk plus a healthy scoop of protein powder. The sound of the blender is delicious. It makes kids come running into the kitchen, but this smoothie was for me.

I drank deeply, and then I poured a cup of steaming coffee. Coffee as a side dish = perfection.

I am looking forward to a little wellness this weekend.

Sunshine

My Friday Five include:

1. First soccer match of the season. My oldest will play tomorrow morning under the direction of his coach aka his Dad. Chance of rain = 80%, but that’s ok. We live in Portland!

2. Pedicure. This is happening today. I’ve promised myself (any local readers want to join me?)

3. Free Friday with my little guy. He doesn’t have school on Fridays, and we get to hang out. He still challenges me on a regular basis, but he also makes me laugh. This morning he asked if he could taste my kale smoothie, but before taking a sip, he asked me if it was poison. 

4. Getting in the garden:  Our broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap pea starts are looking good. Two days ago I carefully planted two dozen teensy containers with mixed greens, kale and carrot seeds. I placed them outdoors to get a few hours of sun. My youngest boy came running in beaming, tugging on my hand.

Mama! I planted aaallllll the carrot seeds! Come see!

Um, okay? you did what?

I planted allllll the seeds!

We walked outside. He had opened the bag of carrot seeds and dumped all of them all over my planted containers. Carrot seeds are tiny, and removing them with tweezers proved unsuccessful. Also, you’re supposed to plant carrot seeds “sparingly” which does not mean thirty per seed pot. So frustrating. The kid ruined my seeds, and was happy about it. So we’re hitting up the Portland Nursery for some cheerful starts and ladybugs.

5. Movement: a solo run and swim are on the calendar.

Happy Friday, readers!

fridaylinkup

As my long-time readers are well aware, my sister’s death in the year 2005 paralyzed me in many ways. I was deeply sad, but I was also angry. I was angry that clocks kept ticking, and I resented people who kept being normal. They kept shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. They kept on saying good morning and wearing life is good T-shirts. They kept running, practicing yoga and smiling. They kept getting on planes and working and drinking and sleeping and eating. They did all sorts of things which I, in fact, used to do, too.

How dare they?

It was stunningly difficult to move forward, or on, or through it all, so I didn’t for a awhile. It’s been eight years, and I still find myself deeply grieving her, but I keep shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. I keep doing all sorts of stuff.

I wrote those words about a week ago, but I didn’t hit publish.

I’m not sure why loss was on my mind so much last week. It seems like a lot of people are dying unexpectedly, or earlier than they were intended to. When my sister died I crashed into a grief process that didn’t allow me to check back into life for a long time. Many people reached out bravely and warmly to comfort our family, but all I could think was they don’t understand. They don’t know. They can’t know. Others stumbled over their words, intending to offer condolences but instead made a mess of things. Sometimes the best intended words made me just laugh. The belief that my sister was now in a better place seemed (and seems) to me the most preposterous idea of all… you’d be surprised how often I heard those words, despite the truth that she was 28 years old and more alive than most of us.

You know what they say about good intentions. Well, it turns out that intent is often irrelevant. It flies in the face of truth. This is why people say they didn’t “mean” it when they use a vulgar expression or a shameful term… they don’t “intend” to hurt someone or enrage an entire community. But it happens, all too often.

The unreal thing about grief is that most of us do get through it, pretending to be normal while tending to both those who acknowledge our loss as well as those who ignore it. Practical tasks like eating and bathing may save us from drowning in the “sinking sand” of loss, as my youngest calls quicksand, and if we are lucky we are lifted up both by grace and by a profound strength that we never envisioned having or needing.

Death brings to mind the randomness of humanity, because I don’t think every thing happens for a reason. Depending on the circumstances into which we were born, we may eat, bathe, work, move, rest, want or learn – or do none of these things in a healthy way. Emotionally, too, life’s a bit of a crap shoot. Many of us hail from strong and supportive families, but many of us are also born into a dysfunctional mess, a recipe made up of mixed up relatives + complex life stuff. Add in hormones and aids I like to call mood-makers, and you’re bound to have issues.

[Sidenote: mood-makers may include but are not limited to the following: alcohol, running, sugar, caffeine, drugs, music, silence. I like to practice all of them, some more moderately so than others. What are your mood-makers?]

Last week I read about a woman who died unexpectedly at age 39, leaving behind three young children, her husband and countless friends.

Three days ago I was 39.

Now I am 40.

Rather than dreading another birthday, I am absolutely ready to take on another decade. My 30s were tough. And beautiful. And horrible. I was newly married when my sister was killed. My life, upended, changed for the worse. I didn’t know me anymore. I didn’t know my family – our dynamic of five changed abruptly to four, and we weren’t ready. I cried constantly, shook with fear, and doubted my place in the world.

Running helped. As much as I could get myself out the door, I used to go out for five and six and seven miles, meandering through the neighborhood and occasionally on a trail. If I hadn’t gone outside, I might never have left my room, that first year after my sister died.

[Sidenote: we adopted an energetic eight-week-old Lab puppy three months after her death. He was practically a service dog. Puppies don’t wait for you to feel better before they get a walk. Eight years later, he is a more mellow version of his puppy self and he brings me this incredible joy – his sweet big eyes are full of love and compassion. I highly recommend puppies as a remedy to sadness.]

To celebrate turning 40, I signed up to run 13.1 miles with a close friend. I hadn’t trained adequately, but the race was flat and scenic. Incredibly, it didn’t start raining until ten minutes after I’d finished. Around mile 10 my body was pretty much done, and my phantom broken toe was burning (stupid faux injury that I can’t seem to get rid of), but I kept going. The final mile hurt, and so I lifted my thoughts to those spirits who could help: my sister, my grandfather, my friend Dominguin. I asked them to be my angel wings.

I ran for my sister, silently, because she is gone and yet not gone.

I also ran for the woman who is lying in a hospital bed right now fighting for her life after being hit by an SUV while riding her bike.  She is a family friend, runner and cyclist. She is broken, but she is healing.

I ran for me.

Within us we all have this enormous power to heal.

Slowly and painfully the final mile ticked by, and it was over. I could stop running. A kind volunteer handed me this medal.

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Angel wings.

I started to cry.

So life goes on. I am 40, and I am ready for another full (and fulfilling) decade, or at least just enjoy today, and I feel good about that. I’ve got much to look forward to, plus an incredible family, a wonderful new job, amazing friends and a home in a beautiful part of the world. I went home after the run to party with my boys. 

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I don’t know exactly where my path will lead over the next ten years (or even tomorrow), but I sure plan to be on the trail.

In gratitude.

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it’s my party, i can cry if i want to

Did we kill our furnace?

I wish I could blame it on the Polar Vortex, but we’re not a part of the latest big weather phenom. I’m upstairs waiting for the repair guy to call up and confirm that we’ve killed our furnace.

Brrr.

I’m home with one kid on sick day # 3 watching Toy Story 2 for the second time. I’ve made grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch and monitored its intake while noting doses of Tylenol and Ibuprofen given according to the tiny lettering on the bottles. He prefers cherry to orange. Teaspoons of straight up honey for the cough are well received. Interestingly, the sick kid’s big brother called home from the principal’s office claiming that he had a stomach ache mid-morning. He didn’t have a fever, though, so he was sent back to class and I haven’t received another call.

My fingers are crossed for both capital-H Health and capital-H Heat.

Our boys are healthy kids. The eldest in particular rarely goes down for the count, and he hasn’t missed a single day of school this year. I honestly can’t remember the last time he felt ill. The youngest, hit hard this time, is actually easier to handle sick than well. He’s noticeably subdued physically and emotionally. Last night, he fell asleep at 6:00 pm on the sofa. After brief wake up calls for water at 6 am, he’s slept until 9 am for the past two days, and I wonder if this is what it’s like to have a teenager (the sleeping in, I mean).

During the morning he gave pretend shots to Angry Birds on the floor because they were sick, too. When his fever finally dropped to 99 a few hours ago, he sang a quiet song.

99, 99, 99….I am 99…

Then it spiked again, and he grudgingly took some more Tylenol before settling down with Buzz and Woody.

The repair guy had been here for over two hours when I peeked in the furnace room. I’m way out of my element here. I don’t understand the language of forced air and breakers and venting and duct work and atomizing burners.  More than lack of understanding, I don’t even like it. I resent not understanding HVAC terminology, and it’s even more humbling given my husband’s cold sober expertise in energy efficiency.

I nodded solemnly as the guys explained to me what’s wrong with our furnace. He used words like Sludge, Old, and Dirty. I felt guilty. Why did we buy this old house anyway? The guy shook his head as he bent beneath the industrial light and stopped talking.

The whole situation made me mad. He was clearly frustrated with my limited filter inspection and cleaning skills, but hello? This is his job. We are paying him to do this. A lot. I don’t know how much of our check he takes home, but it’s not like I wanted our furnace to overwork itself into nonfunction. Some of us are too busy unintentionally doing that to ourselves.

A few years ago I facilitated a small group talk on overwork, overuse and burnout. We were speaking metaphorically, and within an office environment. But I understand now that overwork and burnout are possible in every area of our lives if we’re not careful.

Careful = full of care. I frequently tell my boys to be careful as they spring and sprint in circles around the playground. They call out yes, Mom! and then proceed to throw themselves down a hill. I instruct my husband to be careful as he leaves to go run errands in the car or on his bike. He always says, I will, and I feel better.

Today I am less worried about crashing and collision than I was several years ago. I know that jumping and running sometimes causes falling and tumbling. I’ve seen my boys bruise and bleed, mend and heal, and tended them with Band-Aids and kisses. But I do try to prevent their burning out on me, melting down in tears in that final hour before bed. If they do so, I understand they’ve done too much, absorbed too much, and need a long quiet break before they do it all over again the next day.

God knows I tend to my kids better than I’ve tended to (very important) things like a furnace. I felt just the teeniest bit irresponsible as I ensured the repair guy that we will schedule annual maintenance from now on (we just missed one year, for heaven’s sake), and he didn’t charge me for overtime. But the visit ended on a positive note when our dog scrambled downstairs to meet him on the way out. Turns out that the repair guy has two large dogs – a Lab-Rottweiler mix and a German Shepard – that collectively weigh over 200 lbs. Our Lab made friends, turned the repair guy’s mood right around, and we all parted amicably.

Sigh. This repair visit went WAY better than the one that resulted in a two thousand dollar toilet. But that’s another story.

Now to tend to my little one, who’s fighting that fever again.

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For a long time I’ve avoided using words like Grace and Mercy and Blessed.

They are Big Words. In my experience, Big Words can be misused, intimidating, and plain out scary.

Big Words also bring to mind God and Prayer and Things Above or Around That Are Vague and Confusing and (sometimes) Fake or Threatening.

But stuff happens. Like when I went to pick my big boy up from an after-school jumble of backpacks and cold hallways and moms whom I’ve met and greeted before, and one said hi, and this made me feel good, and the rest either completely ignored or didn’t see me – hard to tell – and I left the building feeling a bit defeated.

We are seventeen days into the New Year. A dear friend celebrates Chinese New Year, which begins on the 31st of January, and I look forward to quietly raising a glass with her from a distance. My understanding of the holiday is limited, but I’ve learned that in many Chinese homes they clean in order to “sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck.”

I think this is a brilliant idea and so… I will clean. On the 30th. In thirteen more days. Of course I’ll clean before then, but a good old house-kitchen-bathroom cleaning on the 30th will make everything better.

On the subject of stuff happening however, one thing that is happening is that I completely by accident discovered a community of women (and a few guys) about a mile down the road that comes together once-twice-three-times-or-daily to jump, run, stumble, stretch, lift, move and otherwise work their behinds off in a common space and …and…and… well, I can’t speak for anyone else but for the first time in a very long time I’m finding myself somewhat changed in the process.

I’ve been a runner – albeit a slow one – since I was fourteen years old. But I haven’t been brought – literally – to my knees to do planks, push-ups, and more – since high school. Joining a group of like-minded and searching-of-better-maybe-best men and women has been illuminating.

I can’t go to the gym every day because if I left the boys at home alone I’d probably get in trouble. But this group – these classes – has provided me with the momentum to seek and discover something within me that I thought was long gone.

So.

My Big Words today are Work. Promise. Deliver.

Someday I’ll cry Mercy – but I’m definitely not there yet.

Someday I’d like to understand Grace – but as defined as an elegance of movement and/or something bestowed as a blessing from God- I’m not holding my breath.

Someday I may – in my more open moments – engage in feeling Blessed. Becoming holy, spiritually redeemed… this isn’t a priority for me, and I realize this may strike a chord among my believing readers… but truly… what? If I am there, I am there. If I am not, I am not. I’d rather strive for a life well-lived here and today and tomorrow than one known and unknown tomorrow….

Enjoy the day, readers. And thank you for reading.

inspire

Grace, Mercy and Burpees

Do sharks cry?

I haven’t been writing as often as I had intended to this month, and I blame all the good stuff there is out there to read. Books, essays, blog posts, newspapers. There are so many compelling words that other people write that fill me up and bring me to tears. The tears always surprise me, because after my sister died I cried daily for about five years straight and then completely stopped. The tears dried up and I could suddenly think, speak, act, breathe, and work normally in the presence of her absence.

I still felt wretched much of the time, but figured I was permanently all cried out.

Today I think the “feeling” part of my brain just needed a major rest.

I’ve also come to the understanding that grief is supposed to hurt. It’s not a gentle pat on your shoulder or a hug or a promise that things will get better one day. The pain means that grief is doing its thing, and the magic of the grieving journey is that one day you’re not crying every single night and then you actually laugh. You laugh at something someone said, or something on the radio, or even at yourself. And then you startle, because you haven’t laughed in so long that it feels uncomfortable and itchy and wrong. But then something happens, like when my mom mentioned making a donation to my sister’s scholarship fund before the end of the calendar year in order to write it off for taxes, and I thought, that is so… so…. practical.

I could just hear my sister making some smart remark about her being gone and we’re worrying about taxes? Liz was so darn practical when it came to money that I pictured her smiling at my mom while checking her bank account.

Then I remembered her hopping off a city bus in Manhattan because she spied a discount department store where she ended up buying her bridesmaid dress for my wedding for $14.99.

Anytime someone complimented her on the dress, she was all smiles as she announced that it cost fifteen dollars!

And I laughed.

Last weekend we took the boys to see Frozen, and since that day we’ve watched Elsa sing “Let It Go” a half dozen times on YouTube. If you haven’t yet seen it, the story is that this gorgeous (of course) princess is born with the power to transform everything she touches into ice. It’s a creative version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, a fairy tale published in 1845. And every single time we’ve watched Elsa sing I’ve had to bite my lip and take a deep breath in order not to cry. I’m not sure if it’s the music or the message that makes me feel, but either way it brings me to tears. 

Then it’s over and I’m fine and my youngest is fussing for one more time.  I have no inclination to sink back into the land of tears (this is a post that I wrote one year ago. It’s fascinating that what I was feeling last year is so close to what I’m feeling this year, and yet different – more on that later). It’s much more entertaining to take notes on my kids then to focus on what’s going on within me, not when what’s going on within me this week mostly equals extreme soreness due to fun boot camp and lower back distress and physical therapy and desire for real pain drugs that remain sadly unprescribed

Booooooring. 

During last night’s dinner gratitudes our eldest said he was thankful “for today, the whole day, yesterday, and tomorrow.” 

Just as I was absorbing his sweet message, he managed to turn gratitudes into a detailed explanation of the Gila Monster. I had asked him to take a bigger bite of the nutritious soup I had prepared instead of just eating bread. He took a small sip, then informed me that the Gila Monster swallows eggs and small prey whole without teeth. Additionally, the Gila monster dislikes the heat, though he lives in the dessert. Who knew?

It’s amazing to me how much a six-year-old can absorb from a video, book or a lesson. He retains scientific trivia like it’s a competitive sport. His demeanor during dinner resembled a very small professor of entomology. Or maybe it’s herpetology. Perhaps one day… both.

On the other hand, he can exasperate his younger brother to no end simply by ignoring his tricks. Instead of falling apart in a full-on tantrum, however, our youngest instead called out these words after dinner:

Annie always says we include our friends! And he’s not including me! Annie says we gotta include everybody!!!!!

His teacher, Annie, taught him that we must, or should, include all of our friends in our play. Big brother (B.B.) was content playing alone, and younger brother (Y.B.) desperately wanted to engage him. What to do?

In this situation I generally let Y.B. know that B.B. is playing alone right now and needs some space. But Y.B. had used his words so beautifully that I took his side, and insisted that they attempt to play nicely together.

Nothing went really wrong with this scenario, and yet nothing was overwhelmingly right, either. I am trying to step back as referee in order to let them resolve their own problems. It’s not easy to stay in the background.

Later, I posed a question to B.B.

Do sharks cry?

He shook his head. A definite no.

Why not?

Because they are the most powerful creatures in the sea and cannot be hurt.

What about if a mama shark lost her baby shark?

Well, baby sharks and grown up sharks have special rememberies. They just know how to get back. 

I have special rememberies, too, I think.

What about other animals? Do they cry?

No.

What about dogs?

Um, well, they make like (whimper, whimper) sounds when they are sad. 

Then we were interrupted by L.B. when a bunch of Legos came crashing out of a box, and chaos resumed in our pretty Christmas lit home. And I laughed.

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