Cancel Control Freaks

There are no such things as control freaks. They are simply the adult version of children whose autonomy has been wrested from them.

– Jennifer Butler Basile

That may be the single most profound thing I have realized and written in my life.

Obtaining a Passport in 14 Simple Steps

  1. Wait until the absolute last minute to apply. For instance, if the state department says processing time is four to six weeks, file your applications four weeks to the day of departure.
  2. Be sure to do all your business on a weekday. This gives you the added bonuses of:
    • your spouse’s absence
      • While he’ll miss the ensuing hilarity at the passport counter, he can contribute by badgering his fellow officemates for a notarized seal on the extra form you’ll have to present as proof you’re not trying to steal his children across the border without his consent.
      • It will also give both of you the opportunity to appreciate the true skills of license forgerers as neither one of you will be able to photocopy his likeness. *It may also make you wonder if you’ve married a vampire.
    • time constraints
      • With all postal collection agencies stopping their passport services 30 minutes-1 hour before their already conservative closing time, you have the thrill of rushing at breakneck speeds from your children’s busstop to a neighboring town – which brings me to my next point.
  3. Bring all of the children for whom you’ll be obtaining passports. The more the better. More whining in the long lines. More children crossing their eyes at the one trying to maintain a stoic face while getting his/her photo taken. More little hands to pull padded envelopes from their displays in the post office lobby. To grab the weighted blotter from the counter and wave it above their heads. To terrorize the patrons retrieving mail from their PO boxes.Not only does the passport agent need to see them, their behavior may make them reconsider this inconvenient policy.

And speaking of inconvenient policies:

  1. Be sure to choose a postal collection agency that does not have its full information posted on the link from the state department’s website – so you can wait in said line with children straining to hold in their poo only to reach the front counter to be told, yeah, we don’t process passports within an hour of closing. You’ll have to come back. Yes, with all three kids.
  2. Drive back through the two neighboring towns you passed to get here, with two children beating each other in the backseat since starvation and dehydration have set in and the third complaining about the poo in her pants.
  3. Try again the next day at a postal collection agency that’s a little closer and open a half-hour later – which you know because you’ve checked and checked again. Schlep all the children through that line, meeting clerk so nice she won’t take your application because she would hate for the state department to return the whole thing since your husband’s photocopied license isn’t visible.
  4. Curse the amazing mediterranean tan your husband gets each year, wish he were as pale as you, tuck your tail between your legs and leave the counter. *Wondering even more if your husband is a vampire.
  5. Release your pent-up rage as you pass through the parking lot since it wasn’t the so nice clerk’s fault it’s so gad-dummed difficult to get someone, anyone to just take. my. papers!
  6. Take several days off – because life intervenes, and you don’t want to be arrested for assault of a passport agent. Plus, you’ve already screwed any chances of obtaining the passports in time anyway.
  7. Take this downtime to discuss with your incredibly tan husband, who may or may not suck blood, the possibility of expediting your children’s passports – for an additional fee, of course. Why not pour all the money you saved by purposely opting for the less-expensive passport cards – and then some – into the exorbitant total cost for expediting three kid passports?
  8. Scurry around the house like nincompoops, scanning, printing, and peering at new copies of his license for what better be the ultimate passport application submission attempt.
  9. Revisit post office from few days previous, nice clerk nowhere to be seen. Dispondently hand over application materials to new clerk, who, when you mention the license issue, looks and says it should be fine, but she’ll submit both copies just to be sure. When clerk questions your departure date and whether you’d like to expedite, answer ‘no’ so quickly, she jumps back. When she reminds you the passports may not arrive in time, with a twitch of the shoulder and giggle so borderline psychotic she looks uncomfortable, tell her, ‘Well, we just won’t go then.’
  10. Hand over a ridiculous amount of checks and funds and get the hell out of dodge.
  11. Resist the urge to dwell on the fact that you’ve wasted a week of your life – especially when you discover that all your children need to pass over the northern border are their birth certificates.


Field Trip Mania

Two little second graders were in my charge today – as their class and two others descended upon a living maritime museum.  They were cute, the scenery was beautiful, I am exhausted.




The official documents for the Acushnett, the ship Herman Melville sailed on and whose voyage inspired Moby Dick, were housed in this actual box!




Turns out the junk is not in the trunk. Who knew?

Dark Matter

Where does a backpack go
confined inside four walls?
Does it sprout legs
and walk off?
Will the underlord of the couch
reveal his hostage?

Where can a blank book hide
from prying eyes?
Filled with private words,
its thick cover is not enough
to disguise it from vengeful fingers and pens.

An errant sock, a puzzle piece, a lego gone astray –
inanimate things seem to take on a life of their own
when children roam the home.

image by Terry Broder

image by Terry Border

Hold on Loosely

I dropped some balls.

Not all of them. In fact, there were some added ones more involved than the usual ones. I’ve been getting a lot accomplished, doing a lot. But it’s hard to see the progress when some of the more essential tasks have fallen by the wayside.

Sleep. Sinus health. Writing. Clean dishes.

It seems like the mania that accompanies summer weekends has followed me into fall and beyond. And chock full days are not conducive to sleep, when late nights are the only chance for a quiet respite. And hay fever season compounded by a deviated septum and lack of rest, forcing of fluids, and neti-pot usage is just nasty.

The treadmill I’m on seems to have unrolled and stretched to the horizon like a ribbon of roadway.

I need to say no. I need to relax. I need to prioritize.

But, aside from the mundane daily requirements, a lot of what we’ve been doing is fun.

I was bone-tired by the end of last week and the attendant bunkbed mania that ensued. And I’m still digging out of the misplaced objects and displaced duties that occurred as a result. My chi is not where it needs to be. And it snowed for the first time today and my husband is leaving for a business trip. And I’m a worry-wort who does not take things one at a time.

But I stayed in my pjs till early afternoon yesterday and wrote an exciting short story in its entirety. I’m catching up on laundry and the pile of dishes in the sink is not as high as it was. Only one half of throat hurts now and I’m not drowning in mucus. My daughters are thrilled with their three-quarters of the way done big top bedroom. And tight squeezes from beloved family members feel even better when your body is battered and broken.

After all, the object of juggling is not to hold all the balls at the same time, but to rotate and transfer them, holding each one only lightly at a time

Back to Nightmares

I taught for seven years seven years ago.

I still have back-to-school nightmares.

It’s the first day of school.  My new charges have entered the room, sitting wherever they want, class begins and they won’t stop talking.  I try all the little tricks in my arsenal.  Waiting silently in the front of the room, a glaring sentinel.  Looking at the clock.  Greeting them in my let’s-get-to-business tone.  Finally resorting to screaming at the top of my lungs while the party continues and I go red in the face.

What kind of year will this be if I can’t make them quiet down in the first minutes?

Now, I have this dream randomly whenever I’m experiencing a stressful time or approaching any event or new beginning with anxiety.  Seven years out and this is still my psyche’s go-to when it needs an exemplar of anxiety.

Last night, though, it changed.  I’m sure I had some flavor of the back-to-school dream because I’m anticipating my daughters’ return to school next week (any nerves they might have with the unknown of a new year and my own worries about the onslaught of morning rushes, homework duty, adhering to schedules).  And the start of my baby’s preschool, which I suddenly was wracked with guilt for last night (i.e. Shouldn’t I just keep her home with me?).  But it was different.  Decidedly so.

I’d gone to a school event with a colleague with whom I still keep in touch regularly.  Groups of kids ranged around a large space, seated at tables with staff interspersed.  They seemed to be grouped by their team designations.  The main event was food.  It was some sort of eating contest, as in who could eat the fastest or the most or something like that.  I bounced from table to table with no real spot to land.  At one point, I found myself in front of a turkey dinner, but quickly abandoned that when I found not one, but four consecutive strands of hair in it.  I asked if I got extra points for eating the hair.  Yes, this is the point at which I got increasingly snarky.

My former colleagues kibitzed together or mixed with their students in a way I could not as I no longer belonged to that club.  I didn’t know the students; I didn’t know the ins and outs of their day or of the school building at large.  I was no longer privy to the culture of the school and tenor of its staff.

I ended up extremely cranky and ornery, off to the side by myself under a tree.  Yes, the setting had morphed outside.  And the game had changed.  Apparently now it was some sort of role-playing game.  And I got to watch as my husband mock-proposed to another woman.

My psyche just threw me under the bus!  It went for the insecure jugular of losing connections, people I care for and who care for me.  My close ties.  My sense of belonging and acceptance.

It was no mistake that my subconscious served up this dream on the eve of another school year.  As my career and profession, teaching was (and still is) a large part of my identity.  At a time when structure is supposed to ramp up, I float listless.  Yes, mothering is a vocation.  But my charges are headed off to something other than them and me while I sit at home.

I need to find something new on the menu – other than hairy turkey dinner.



If you’ve ever watched a three year-old dance, you will quickly realize that rhythm is innate.

Is it the way the earth turns below us, the pull of the tides, the swish and wash of our mothers’ womb that makes our bodies able to move in time to the music?

And what is it about growing up that makes us lose this innate ability?

If you’ve ever seen a thirty year-old twitch on the dance floor, you realize that some of us indeed do.

When we knew we would spend our lives together and started forming dreams of family, my husband and I imagined bringing our barefoot babies to outdoor concerts where we could watch them twirl and bounce them on our knees and hips.  When the time came, we were either too tired or it was the children’s bedtime or it was simply too much work to pack an army of little people and all their accoutrements for the park.

Three kids and several years later, we actually achieved some of that dream last night.

A local tribute band to Bob Marley and The Wailers was playing on the beach a town over from where we live.  A beach concert with a picnic supper would probably be enough to lure my husband and the music of one of my favorite musicians – albeit covers – was more than enough for me.  The kids were impressed with the novelty of sitting on the beach listening to live music, aided by the fact that they got to peer through their father’s binoculars to see the action on stage.  My eight year-old made me burn with pride, when just by the opening chords of a song, she said, “Mom, isn’t this one on your CD?”  She has a great ear for music.  She skipped through the waves crashing on the shore as the music played, her sisters quickly following her lead and soaking the one pair of clothes they each had.

photo courtesy of Tunes on the Dunes

photo courtesy of Tunes on the Dunes

Just as the riveting bass line of “Could You Be Loved” surged through the speakers, not one, but two daughters expressed the urgent need to use the facilities.  I heard what turned out to be the last song of the concert through the bathroom walls.  I hadn’t exactly envisioned this in my dreams of family concerts.  But it was a nice night with a good vibe and the girls were having fun by the water, so we decided to hang out and let the crowds disperse.  Many others decided to do the same and the band apparently decided to do another set.  I was psyched.  ‘Redemption’ from my bathroom run!

But my youngest was soaked and sandy, my husband was getting cranky at running interference with the girls, and the tide was coming in.  In resolute denial that I wasn’t watching a show in my peasant blouse cuddled with my fiancé on our Guatemalan blanket, I turned away from the shore in my mom capris, huddled with my toddler on our picnic blanket – determined to enjoy the show.

My husband finally sat down.  My older two finally buried themselves in the sand at my feet.  And I got to rock steady to the beat.  I was rewarded by deep tracks only on my Bob vinyl.  By the time the finale came, I rocked and bounced my youngest in my arms.  We had our own extended “Soul Shakedown Party” as the sun faded.  She laughed and anticipated my moves, bobbing her head one way as I bobbed mine the other.

Time seemed to stop.  No, suspend.  As the band played an extended version of that great song, the minutes spooled out with the sound, a treasured pocket of time where my daughter and I moved to the same driving rhythm.  In synch.  In tune.

I saw a mother a few blankets over rocking and bopping with her infant and I flashed back to the times I’d worn tracks in our living room rug doing the same thing.  It occurred to me that rhythm may be innate, but we help transfer it to our children.  Or make the tendency stick.  And they in turn remind us of our primal instincts.  The marrow of  our being, what we came into this world knowing and needing to do.

Moving, grooving, and enjoying the rhythm of life.

Critical Mass

Taking three small children to church is always a crapshoot.

Taking three small children to mass after a long night of merry-making and a morning of present-opening and candy-eating ups the ante even more.

Our three made it through the three readings from the Bible and the pastor’s homily surprisingly well.  I’ve found, however, that it’s always the second half of mass where the clapper hits the bell.

The fidgets start: the foot-thumping, kneeler-diving, seat-switching.  And that’s only the non-verbal.  Then you have the inter-sibling jibes and jokes, the giggles and snorts.  And the doctrinal observations and questions, which at any other juncture would be welcomed wholeheartedly, but not when presented in a stage whisper in the midst of a lull in the sound issuing from the PA system.  They never make noise when the organ is grinding, do they?

My five year-old came out with some good ones this Christmas mass.  When a prayer included a request for “eternal rest”, she turned to me incredulously: ‘a turtle?’  During the prayer of the faithful for the departed, I hushed her vehemently when she said what I thought was, ‘this is boring.’  Then I realized she was adding to the prayer, ‘like Grandpa Warren’, my deceased grandfather, the great-grandfather she never knew.

At what point do we as parents and parishioners expect children to behave “appropriately” at mass?  There is no magic age at which they suddenly will learn to sit still and attend – especially if they’ve been excluded from mass up until that point.  In my constant vigilance to keep her quiet, I nearly reprimanded my daughter for realizing the importance of a prayer and adding the memory of a loved one to it.

If we shut them down totally, we’ll miss gems like my two year-old last Christmas, who asked loudly enough for all those around us to hear, “Where’s Baby Jesus?”  A woman with three teenaged boys approached me afterward and commented on how nice it was to hear her little voice, to see the innocence and wonder of the young; that she knew the true meaning of the season.  At first, I laughed it off, a bit embarrassed at our disturbance, but then realized how nice it was to hear this older mother’s comment; a validation that this is how children are supposed to behave, that we need to appreciate it; and that it’s not a failing on the mother’s part to seal her child’s lips.

My favorite church faux pas by far, though, is when my eldest daughter was maybe four years old.  She proudly belted out the words to the closing hymn of mass, “All the Ends of the Earth”.  Only she didn’t know that was the refrain.  Instead, she sang, “All the ants of the earth.”  Classic.  All of us can see the power of God if only we look closely enough.  And watch for lessons all around us – even in the wee ones kicking the back of our pew as we try to pray.

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