Monday, July 31, 2006


My life is like a canoe. It glides along nicely with virtually no wake, as long as everyone keeps their hands in the boat and no one tries to stand up. Right now, the boat is a rockin’. The kids just want to be kids and I find myself urging them to be quiet and still. Our children are not of the quiet and still variety. Ours are more of the loud and antsy variety and no amount of urging is going to change that. Miguel is always singing loudly or asking questions or practicing Olympic dismounts from stationary objects. Zeca has been pinching and biting and pulling hair when she is not hurling things across the room when we dare to suggest that perhaps she shouldn’t do those things. Sugar and spice, my ass.

It feels like Luisa has the map and the compass and she keeps us moving. The children are standing up in my pretty, sleek canoe and they are laughing and slapping the water with the oars. We’re all drenched in water and I have a wet leaf stuck to my face. I’m sitting in the back, dragging my oar and thinking, “Wow, now I know why my family likes to wear beer cans around their necks…”* We have gone through a lot in recent months…construction on our home, a death in the family and, now, we are preparing for a long trip abroad. I need to relax. Maybe I should just strap on the life jackets and let the canoe flip. The water might feel refreshing.

*Picture these because, you know, the beer is then closer to your mouth.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

At the Lake

As a child, I spent most weekends at our cabin on the Lake of the Ozarks fishing, swimming, boating and exploring the woods. I was a bookish, woodsy tomboy. Well, I was a bookish, woodsy, fearful tomboy. You see, Missouri is full of poisonous snakes and if the water moccasins don't get you the copperheads will. I once saw a copperhead chase down and kill a baby bunny. This made quite an impression on me, so, I tried to stay away from snakes and places where there might be snakes and places that snakes might have given a passing glance. My mother was not afraid of snakes. Once, I saw her kick a snake off the dock. She didn’t kick and cower as I might have done - she was matter of fact and walked on without looking back. Another time, I watched as a copperhead was approaching her while she burned some brush. I was in a panic and, without a change of expression or missing a puff on her Viceroy Long, she scooped it up with her rake and tossed it into the fire. I remember my mom wading into a mass of tall weeds in the lake to pull them and clear the beach. When she insisted that I join her, I gently suggested that perhaps we should not invade the home of venomous snakes. She shrugged her shoulders and told me to get in the damn water. I did get in the water, partly because she seemed magically brave and partly because I feared her the tiniest bit more than I feared the snakes.

I reflect on these times when we go to our friends’ cabin as we did this past weekend. I wonder what my children will remember about these trips, what they will remember about me. I doubt that they will remember me as heroic or larger than life. I do hope that they remember my encouragement to confront their fears but also the comfort that I gave when they couldn’t. I hope that they remember how much we delighted in the natural world and how free they felt in those moments. More than anything, I hope that they will remember how my arms felt draped around their shoulders, how my fingers felt going through their hair and how much I laughed. If they remember me this way, I can do without bravery. I can do without heroic.

One thing they won’t remember from this past weekend is my tearful fit when I caught a fish and it swallowed the hook and the hook poked through its eye from the inside. They won’t remember the needle nose pliers and the eye bulging and the fish blood and the eventual horrible, floppy death. They won’t remember me putting the dead fish in a Curious George bucket and going out in the canoe in the rain (without a bra, no less) with Luisa and our friend, Peggy, to take the dead fish far away from the beach so that they didn’t have to see it the next morning. They also won’t remember how we then spent 10 minutes looking at the top of a tree, thinking there was an eagle on the very top because our friends had been gesturing wildly to us. They won’t remember that it turned out to be a bunch of leaves and they won’t remember that our friends were actually gesturing at a muskrat that was swimming right in front of our canoe. Considering they missed this whole incident because they were sleeping, I may still have a shot at heroic. Nah, probably not.

Friday, July 21, 2006

So Gay

Last night, I was guiding Miguel through his bedtime routine (read: using the parental cattle prod to get his ass in bed) and I was picking up a few of his treasures off of the floor (you know, a tiny blob of yellow eraser...a small globe key chain*). He was wearing a key around his neck on a ribbon. He got this key when he visited the Aboretum earlier this week and we have been told that this special key unlocks the secret garden. Anyway, he asked if I was going to put his key away. I told him that I wouldn't put it away because it was special to him. Then, the following conversation took place...

Miguel: What if I had something gay? Would you take that and put it away?

Me (neck still hurting from whipping around with tremendous speed): What?! What does that mean?

Miguel (playing with his key, unaware of the shocked mama eyes fixed upon him): You know, gay. Stupid.

Me (taking deep, cleansing breaths): Do you know what "gay" means? Did you know that "gay" actually refers to women who love other women and men who love other men? So, mãe and I are gay. We are two women who love each other.

Miguel: Well, I love you too so I'm gay.

Me: The fact that you love me doesn't make you gay. Again, being gay is about women loving women and men loving men.

Miguel: Then, I am gay with Augie (one of his best friends from way back).

Me: That may be true but the important thing to remember is that using the word "gay" to mean stupid is hurtful to people who are gay. Do you understand?

He said that he did. I'm not so sure. The fact that he then gleefully yelled, "Hey Zeca, you're gay" could be the confounding factor in my assessment. I thought Miguel had a basic understanding of gayness because of, you know, having GAY** parents and hanging out with so many GAY people and going to GAY pride and all. I knew the time would come when we would talk about this word, a word so easily thrown around playgrounds today, but I always thought he would be hurt by it, not use it so comfortably himself. I now know that I was wrong to assume so much. A few months ago, I wrote about the bubble bursting and I think it is beginning. Fucking YMCA day camp.

*A cute he was holding the globe keychain in the palm of his hand, he said, "Look mom, I am a god...I am holding the whole world in my hand".

**I don't actually identify as "gay". I prefer "lesbian" or "queer". I always think of Gay Women as lesbians who play a lot of golf and go on cruises. Gay Women wear visors, I'm pretty sure of it. I own no visors. This is not intended to offend the Gay Women who may be reading this. You are all lovely. Of course, as a good friend of mine used to say, "Label jars not people".

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Potty Talk

Do you sit on the toilet in public bathrooms and talk on your cell phone? Good, then it wasn’t you I just heard chatting happily on the phone with your pants around your ankles. Gives the phrase, "Can you hear me now?" a whole new meaning...

Friday, July 14, 2006

What's the Matter with Kansas?

I still remember Kansas Day in elementary school. We would spend the day coloring pictures of the state flag, meadowlarks, log cabins, bison and Jayhawks. All of these things were the defining symbols of our great state. When I think of Kansas, I don’t think of an imaginary red, white and blue bird. I think of barbecue. We really should have colored pictures of smoked meats and sweet and spicy sauces. I’m starting to think that good barbecue is about the only good gastronomical thing in the state.

Going back to Kansas reminds me that I have become a person with particular tastes. Some people might call this snobbishness but those people don’t read this blog, right? I’m particular. Right? Well, during my visit to Kansas City this time, my diet was less than ideal. Less than ideal, in this case, means that I ate vegetables only twice during the visit – twice in 9 days. I will come clean with you – I ate at McDonald’s…A LOT. I counted up my McMeals so that I could write this confessional. I ate two bacon, egg and cheese biscuits with hash browns and large Diet Cokes. I ate one breakfast burrito - cold. I ate two 3 piece chicken selects meals with large fries and large Diet Cokes. I ate one crispy chicken classic sandwich meal which also included large fries and a large Diet Coke. Did I mention that the visit only lasted 9 days? I’m no Morgan Spurlock but I think that shit is BAD for you. It is not surprising that I returned to Minneapolis with the worst case of heartburn and reflux I have had in 10 years. My partner and my children were subjected to a shorter version of this diet and my 16 month old had the foul, oddly colored diarrhea to prove it. The other terrible outcome of our life with Ronald McDonald is that our son, the very son who does not want to eat lunch provided at his camp because there are no vegetables and only white bread, said, “McDonald’s has the best food!” We might have to hire a deprogrammer that can take him to a hotel somewhere and feed him raw vegetables and tofu until he becomes the child he used to be. If this is how mainstream America really eats, then it is no wonder why we can’t compete in the global market.

The food was bad enough but there was also the coffee. I will admit I am a bean-buying, self-grinding snooty coffee drinker. I buy the good stuff a fair amount of the time and buy Starbucks when I can’t seem to make it to Linden Hills to visit the Coffee Guy. In KC, I discovered that the color brown actually has a taste...uh huh, Folgers. I drank Folgers coffee for 9 days. Two cups almost every morning for 9 days and it was definitely not the best part of waking up. One night when we were on the night shift caring for my stepfather, I decided that Folgers probably isn’t really that bad and that the problem was simply that my mother makes weak coffee. So, I used the amount of Folgers that I use when I grind my beans…a tablespoon per cup o’ coffee. If you are wondering if there can be anything worse than Folgers coffee, there is – strong Folgers coffee. When I came back to work on Wednesday, I spent half of the morning in Starbucks caressing and sniffing bags of beans.

Oh, I could go on…the beer, individually wrapped cheese slices, puddin’ cups and Jell-O salads but I am going to head home and have a heapin’ helpin’ of green beans and a Summit Pale Ale. Tomorrow morning, I’ll have a great cup of coffee and chant, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…”

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


On July 4, 2001, I watched my son take his very first breath. Five years later, almost to the very hour, I watched my stepfather take his last. There are many things that I could say about my stepfather but there isn't any easy or concise way to explain what he meant to me. So, I thought I would share a letter that he wrote to me on my 30th birthday. I hope the letter will show you the kind of man he was and the kind of love he showed us all.

August 31, 1998

Hi Vikki

I know you don't wish to hear about it but that dreaded "30" has crept up on you just as it did with us all! Anyway, Happy Birthday with all my thoughts and love just for you!

As a stepfather, I reflect back to many, many happy thoughts of you as a small girl, the things we did together. I can still see you clearly fighting to get up on a pair of little red skis. Oh, how you cried, "I can't do this!" The lake went up about a foot from all those tears! Then, a few years later, I was so proud of you when you skied slalom. You were so determined then as you are now!

Another time, we went car shopping for your first car and came upon that very ugly duckling you named Freddy Fiat. You said, "I can't drive a clutch. I can't drive a stick shift". But, we went down on Swartz Road one evening and you drove and drove until you mastered the stick shift. This brought on even more tears.

Then came the day Mom and I drove you to a college in far away Iowa. We took all of your worldy possessions into your dorm and made small talk before letting you off by the library. We said our goodbyes and you said, "I'll be fine". As we drove off, I looked in the rear view mirror to see you walk away and, now, I can tell you it was my turn to have tears in my eyes!

As always, you have been determined to complete what you set out to do and I am sure more tears came with the struggle. I can only hope the next thirty plus years are as kind to you as they have been to me and that you will have as many good memories of the past as I have.

All my love,

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Going to Kansas City

It was just a month ago when my family spoke of platelets, white blood cell counts and hemoglobin numbers. There was chemo and transfusions and hope for a few of those good days the doctors kept promising with each new treatment. Then, about a week ago, my stepfather said that he wanted nothing more. I was relieved and was ready for his pain to be over.

I was safe in Minneapolis with my own family and friends. I had geographical and emotional distance which lend themselves nicely to my defense mechanism of choice: intellectualization. I could provide support and suggest questions for the hospice nurse and social worker. I could review with my mother the health care directives that my stepfather had signed. I could do what I have always done in our family...I could guide them. I had made peace with the fact that I would never see my stepfather alive again. I planned to come down as soon as he died to help make arrangements and to provide support for my mother and sister. Then, something I never expected mother asked me to come help her care for him in his last days.

I came up with a long list of reasons why I could not help. I have no vacation or sick time. I have two small children. Our house is under construction and it's pretty chaotic right now. In the end, I realized that I needed to do it. So, I made arrangements with my supervisor to take Family Medical Leave and began planning with my family. I planned to fly to Kansas City for the last week of his life. I would keep in touch with the hospice nurse so that I would have information to help me decide when it was the right time to go.

I did not expect that time would come so quickly. I did not expect that my sister would call me on Friday morning and tell me that he had gotten much worse. I did not expect to miss my son's birthday. Yet, here I am in Kansas City, blogging on my mother's computer. I don't know what the next several days will hold.