Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Terms and Conditions of Friendship

When you have some of the greatest friends and cheerleaders on Earth in your life, you're bound to wonder how you got so lucky.
So very, very lucky.
People who amaze me and inspire me and have all my admiration and awe turn around and call me friend. They call me and shoot me emails like it is normal. And I see their texts and read their words and wonder how in the world I managed to collect such amazing people in the circle of my life.
They reach out to support me, encourage me, laugh with me, celebrate with me and comfort me. They trust me with their tears and their secrets and their worries and their victories. They show up when I'm in the spotlight. They show up when I'm utterly lost. They show up.
So I thought I would share my philosophy of friendship, because so far it has netted me the most impossibly wonderful people I ever imagined could come into my life.
My rules for friendship are very concise, very simple, and utterly drama-free (and I wish I had figured them all out a long, long time ago!):

1. The job description of a friend is easy- be happy to see me, be sad to see me go. If you sincerely smile when I walk in and frown when I leave, like or not- we're friends.

2. You have no obligations of time or effort. You don't have to email me, text me, call me, give me presents or remember my birthday. If you are happy when I show up, you are my friend. If it has been years since we've talked- no worries- years go by fast. We're still good. If you do any of those very nice things you are going above and beyond the friendship call of duty.

3. If you allow me time to hibernate, hide, deal with my stuff and don't get offended if I don't call or come to a tupperware party, you are an understanding friend. Thank you for knowing I'm not brilliant enough to stay on top of everything. I love that you hold onto me when I can't hold onto anything.

4. If you want me to be happy and not sad, you are my friend. If you hope that life is kind to me and not not hurtful, you are my friend. If you don't wish me pain or misery, you are my friend.

5. If you say something that comes out horribly, but you never meant it that way- I don't take off points for articulation. It's what you mean and not what you say. I'm pretty good with words. I will edit for you and we are friends.

6. If I ask to help and you actually let me- that means we are really good friends.  Asking for a favor is a compliment. We are great friends!

7. If you get mad at me and talk to me about it and give me a chance to see my mistake and apologize, you are a compassionate friend. And if you accept my apology and keep loving me, I will always love you.

8. If you can help me laugh at my own absurdities, you are a priceless friend.

9. If you tell me when I'm way off base, but give me points for trying, you are a brave friend and I admire your honestly. I won't let go of you.

10. If I know how you will treat me, consistently, every time I see you, you are a trustworthy friend.

11. Once you are my friend it takes some pretty awful behavior to get rid of me. So I end this as I began. If you are happy when I am happy, I am lucky to call you my friend, and I will always be sincerely happy when you come and truly sad when you go.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To the Gentle

Hard days. Long days. Emotional days.
Every-moment-crammed-with-small-favors days.
Trying-to-remember-and-meet-every-commitment days.
Wanting-more-time-to-sit-and-process days.

As May rushes to a close the school year folds up. Not like a neat, compact envelope, but like a supernova taking a final breath before it implodes.

And in all the chaos there is a underlying stirring of panic.
The time is spent.
Another year spent.
They are taller and smarter, funnier and more beautiful.
And more gone.

When they put their heads in my lap I try not to move, wondering if I can count on one hand how many more times in my life they will sleep in my arms.
How many fingers will count the times they run from the school door with the word, "mama" on their lips?

It has been a wonderful week. A difficult week. A painful week.
The unkind things people did to me struck twice as deep.
But, let's always look on the bright side- the tender and loving things struck even deeper.
So many mothers wet their eyes with me, put arms around me, expressed their love.
I don't have fingers to count the friends I ran into at the store, sharing smiles.
The happy phone calls and compliments.
The packages from friends sent all the way from Paris!
I think I noticed every good thing because my heart is just raw enough to feel every touch.
And I know more now what I have always known- I live off of kindness.
Like air and food and water. That is how I survive.

I am so grateful for people who do not ration their kindness. Do not wonder if I deserve or need it. Do not assume I am fine. I am thankful for the women in my life who are gentle with me. Some days I notice with gratitude and a smile, and some days it is air. Water. Food.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I meant it when I said it...

There were days he finished working and still looked human.
No tragedies or smashed fingers. No broken glass or torn masterpieces.
No turning around after three minutes of quiet to find this...

So grown up. So unruffled.
So unfair.
I'd look up from my mess of house work, food work, child work, as I tried to remember every birthday, appointment, assignment, permission slip and bill while spelling out loud and stirring the pot that was boiling over.
And he'd be whole and well.
And I would say, "Someday they will go to school all day and I am going to to shopping. And get my nails done. And go to lunch with my friends. And read books. And you will still be working. And I won't feel guilty at all. Not one bit. You have no idea."
And he would smile and say, "Sounds perfect."
They were hard, hard days. I never got to stop talking, but I could never talk about anything that interested me. There were lengthy discussions about monkey tails and pink string and water paint verses finger paint. I watched children climb onto school buses and I envied their mothers.
What would they do with all that silence?
And now my children are playing a cruel joke on me.
They are growing up and refusing to stop.
One gets gifts from boys who stare at her during math.
The other is graduating kindergarten and going to school all day.
And when my husband found me crying in my bed at midnight this week, he tried to remind me of all that shopping I was going to do and getting my nails done and lunch with the girls. Won't it be nice? Don't you deserve a break? 
But the only break is the one in my heart.
What will I do when there is no one to help me contemplate the deep emotional needs of stuffed animals? What will I do when a counter I clean stays... clean?
What will I do with the silence?
I'm learning that loving this fiercely is painful. There are thousands of tiny ways you must detach from them and when you do, they take pieces of your soul with them. And it hurts so beautifully.
Oh, I'm still here. I still have all of my interests and talents and friends and responsibilities.
All the things that shrink down and feel so small compared to two faces. The two faces that still can't drink grape juice without getting a moustache. The two faces that light up when I walk into their classrooms. The two faces that make every day Mother's Day.
The two faces that make shopping seem meaningless and boring unless they're there to laugh with. The ones who make it better to do nails at home than going to a salon because I get to listen to stories that matter to me while they do unthinkable things with purple polish. And the friends I really want to go to lunch with are these two right here. A nice mud pie on an outdoor patio of a rustic little restaurant they built themselves, maybe.

Here's hoping it is never too silent. Never too clean. Never too calm.
Happy Day.
Happy Weekend.
Happy Life.
Thank you.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I think I just got put in my place

I just read a fascinating article by a woman about how she feels sorry for young women with husbands and children.
And as I studied my life (a wife at age twenty and a mother at age 23) I realized that I just can't argue with her. I think she has me pegged.
She points out that getting "knocked up" or "hitched" to a man are no reasons to celebrate. After all, those things can be done by anyone, and have been for time immemorial. They are average.
We should have showers for women accomplishing real goals like job promotions and backpacking across Asia.
I think she has me there. I've never backpacked across Asia. I haven't backpacked much of anywhere, really. Probably because I got hitched to a man and knocked up. I've taken some really great hikes through the ozark mountains and Florida everglades, but I don't think those count because the entire time I had little girls following me and picking up feathers and pinecones and distracting me by pointing out the miracles of nature and the wonders of the world.
And I couldn't fully enjoy the sunsets over the gulf of Mexico because there was a man sitting in the sand next to me telling me how much he loves me. So that was pretty much a wash.
Who wants to spend their life with a person who lives and dies for them, loves and adores them? I think that might be co-dependence or something. Maybe there's a medication for that.
But if I had put on a backpack and walked across Asia that would have been spectacular. My friends could have thrown me a shower. I think I might leave my average life and try that.
If I am going to be really honest Asian people have been carrying stuff and walking around Asia for a long time. There might be some people who mistake my incredible journey for something average. So maybe backpacking across Asia isn't actually an amazing feat, after all.

But if I went to another country and fed hungry children and gave naked children clothing and nursed the sick then I would definitely be contributing and accomplishing.

Now that I think about it, I do that every day. I feed hungry children and clothe naked ones and nurse them and teach them, so maybe I can check that off my list. Unless it only counts if you go around the world and do it to another mother's children. I'll have to look that up. I'm not sure my human beings count.

But job promotions... that's something I've been missing out on. I scrub toilets and make beds and catch vomit in bowls but I've never been promoted. No one gives me a raise or recognition. And the last time my daughter laid her freakishly soft cheek against mine and kissed me and told me that she loved me more than pink markers I think I was subconsciously wishing that I was sitting in a cubicle doing data entry really well so someone could come and move me to a bigger cubicle with a longer spreadsheet.
Or the time my husband told me that our daughter had my eyes and sounded like he thought that was the best thing that could ever happen to a person.

I think I rolled those eyes because I was wishing that I was midlevel manager working my way up the ladder and deciding who to fire during cutbacks. Because we all know that the hand that completes the spreadsheet is the hand that rules the world. I think I heard that once.
She also says that being a mother and homemaker will never be equal to being . . . say, an engineer. 
photo available through Seattle Municipal archives

I usually get embarrassed being around engineers, which is a problem because there are so many of them! I mean they're almost average nowadays. I listen to their stories about ductwork and humidity levels and how to lay out a parking lot just so and I feel foolish having nothing to show for my days' work other than my children. I mean they are only the most complex organisms known to man. They have beating hearts and lightning fast neural systems and self-healing outer layers, along with cognitive and emotional abilities. They will grow up to continue life on the planet, heal broken hearts, mend bloody knees, appreciate art and nature and change the world, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't know the thermal properties of cement versus concrete.
To be totally honest, I'm not even sure if cement and concrete are different things.
It's really embarrassing.
Which is probably why I hide away in my home and paint and scour and decorate and make it look beautiful and smell beautiful and feel beautiful so people can feel loved the second they step inside. Because I'm not traveling the world or putting in overtime at work I have to fill up my day with meeting emotional and intellectual needs of those around me.

Sorry, but there's really nothing better to do.
And backpacking would require that I go buy a backpack and you know... I'm just a lazy housewife.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Cricket in Our House

Six years ago when I was told I probably could not have more children, I thought, "That's fine."
Because I was holding the cutest baby I'd ever seen and my heart was full and life was wonderful.
And now that baby is getting bigger.
And she left me to go to half day kindergarten.
And I started feeling lonely in the afternoons. Yes, I have my stories and my characters to fill up my thoughts and my time, but they aren't warm.
They aren't fuzzy.
They aren't adorable.
I needed a cat. A cat to sit on my desk while I typed and sit on my lap when I watched the news.
So I started looking.
And the Artist kept saying, "We're not getting a cat. You're stressed out enough as it is. It's just one more thing to clean up. It will scratch the furniture."
Intelligent and valid points, but I was too busy scouring petfinder to listen.
For weeks I took the girls to shelters where they promptly fell in love with everything with fur.
"That's not the one," I'd tell them. "We don't want a cat. We want the cat. The perfect cat for our family."
Last weekend we finally made the plunge. As we were driving across the city to rescue a special shelter cat the Artist pointed out, "Did anyone ask me if we could get a cat?"
Good point.
"Darling, can we get the cat we are driving to get?"
We are now the proud owners of a Rex/shorthair mix who is two years old and weighs only six pounds. She sleeps on the girls' bed every night and didn't meow once on the forty five minute drive to her new home. She is currently curled up in the Artist's studio while he works because she loves him. And the feeling is completely mutual.
She is even kind to the rats. One scurried into the same room as her unattended and she didn't take the smallest taste. She is one of the tamest, best natured cats I've ever met.
Friends, meet Cricket- the newest addition to our family.

I don't charge admission if you need a snuggle. Just bring a piece of tuna.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The kids I can't forget...

I just got home from one of the biggest literary adventures of my life.
I went to the Chicago area to be on a panel for Anderson's Bookshop YA literature conference.
I was invited alongside hugely successful authors.
Authors whose books are movies and have their own shelves in bookstores.
For two days we ate together, worked together, laughed together, and talked to many, many people  about young adult literature together.
And now that I am home and the exhausting blur of the weekend in behind me, do you know who I keep thinking about?

The kids.
The kids in the schools that I was fortunate enough to go visit.
The kids with their big eyes and smart-alec comments and loud laughter and wiggling bodies.
The kids who listened and contributed and made me want to sit down and just listen to them.

The ones who said they wanted to be writers.
The ones who said they hate to write.

The ones who stole the show and the ones who never said a word.
They were, by far, the highlight of my trip.

Every author I met was funny and successful and sharp and talented, every publicist committed, every speaker captivating. Truly I was humbled to be grouped anywhere near them- but the kids...
The kids made me feel the sheer joy of words. They reminded me how hard it is to get words right and how okay that is. They know you just keep trying and keep learning. They accept imperfections. They laugh about them. Maybe even prefer them.
And speaking of kids, my two favorite girls came to the schools with me and listened to mom, but during the conference when I was on panels and working hard they went exploring around Chicago with my favorite guy.

They now think business trips are nothing but awesome!

So after five exhausting days of travel and work and play, I want to say to every teacher I met who gives his/her all for the children, to every librarian I met who inspires the children, to all the students I met who opened their ears and their minds and let the words in-
I say to each of you, Thank you for letting be a part of your life for just a window of time.
I truly think you are magical.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Day After

Not talking about a hangover.
At least not from alcohol.

It is the day after one of the busiest weekends I can remember. I taught two classes at the Midwest Storymakers writers conference and had the honor of being a keynote speaker, along with Janette Rallison. It was thrilling. And depleting. As most of the best things are.
To add to the fun my writing partner, the author Jaima Fixsen, came all the way from Alberta Canada to stay with my family and attend the conference.
What's that? You're writing partner wouldn't do that for you?
I'm so sorry.
But with all the compassion I can muster- You can't have her. She's mine!

We spent all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday exploring our city with our daughters, eating the best hamburgers on earth, staying up too late and talking writing, life, society, family and fountain pens.
And today- today when I need to get back to work and finish all five loads of laundry that managed to sneak up on me in one tiny weekend, and send emails and prepare for the Anderson's Young Adult Literature Conference in Chicago this weekend, all I really want to do is sneak into the backyard with my copy of Moby Dick:

And I am trying to edit and write and work and be a grown up, but the Dancer emptied her backpack for me this morning and made a pile of stones on my desk as she told me about each one.
"This one is speckled and this one is smooth and this one is pink and this one is broken..."

And now, in all honesty, all I can think is how beautiful those little rocks are.
Except for just now. I thought of how you can't end a sentence with "are" and that totally wrecked the moment.
I'm not sure that there is anything I can write more special than that haphazard collection.
So maybe I'll just go grab Moby and meet you outside...