• Great Escape

    Painting mode turns everything I see into a painting to be dissected and reassembled on paper. Lately, I’ve been in writing mode, which usually lends itself more to doodles. This time around, however, it’s also been driving a different rebirth.

    Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and before the evolution of digital devices, I was a book addict. When my parents said lights out, I heard the cue to walk to the light switch by the door and read by the light from the hall. Footsteps coming up the stairs sent me and my book under the covers with a flashlight until my parents caught me and let me have it. I’d get scolded in grade school for reading ahead in class because I needed to know what happened next.

    Even then I knew that diving into the fantasy on a page was a socially acceptable and effective retreat from signs of depression that had only just begun to make themselves known.

    Over the last few months, pictures that often require meditation to be seen have failed to form against the backdrop of the chaos that is life. That same noise has whipped up inner dialogues in a flight of ideas have brought me back to reading for pleasure.

    Our kids are growing up watching me read mostly reference materials and magazines, which while vital are inherently functional. They don’t see me reading books as a primary source of entertainment, and, too often, my failed example is reflected back in their lack of interest in reading for its own sake. To be sure, Thing2’s Harry Potter obsession began with the series, but his second grade teacher deserves full credit for sparking it.

    As I have resumed reading for reading’s sake, it has not only been the escape but a grounding force. Now, preoccupied with work and necessities, usually sitting near if not completely with the kids, reading wards away life’s frustrations and fears.  I’m not escaping my boys, however. I hope, instead, I’m leading them toward something that may be only entertaining now but, maybe someday when they really need it, so much more.

  • A Birthday Oddity


    I honestly wanted to do nothing more than absolutely nothing yesterday. 

    Yesterday, I woke up as a square.  An odd square.  A product of two odd primes. It’s the fourth time I’ve been the square of primes, and, in all probability the last, as I’ll have to be 121 to celebrate the next truly odd birthday.  For this birthday oddity I’d planned a trip to the University of New Hampshire for the last college visit before my first son has to figure out which dotted line he’ll sign. 

    But that wasn’t what made it odd — or wonderful.

    For the past two weeks Thing1 has been dealing with anemia brought on by his disease. He could not tolerate a drive of any length, so we had postponed the UNH visit already.  The newest drug, however, seemed to hit pause on his symptoms, and his affable nature had re-emerged over the last day or two. We knew this was the last best chance to go.

    We got Thing2 to school and then headed down to the hospital. Thing1 needed bloodwork to check trough levels for one of the five drugs trying to control his auto-immune disorder.  It was already 9 by then, and Thing1 was ready for Breakfast Number 2 — a side effect and a sign he was starting to feel more himself. 

    Treating the day like a field trip day (if it were run by an really over-indulgent teacher), I took him to our favorite diner in Bennington (my next blog will be titled ‘Diners I have Known’). We’ve been going there since Thing1 was in a car seat carrier, and my eyes started sweating as I watched my gentle giant pick out two entrees for a ‘snack’ (although it could have been tears brought on by the impending dent in my wallet). 

    “Mom,” he said in that tone that said other people could see me getting emotional as my baby prepared to leave the nest.  There would be a few more warnings.

    After breakfast we headed east toward the other side of Vermont and then to the east side of New Hampshire.  

    We stopped for a break during the three and a half hour drive. A girl playing scratch tickets, reminded me of a failed lesson in probability from another road trip a decade ago.  On a whim, I bought a ticket, thinking he’d be my good luck charm again. Ten years ago, I’d told him we’d paid a tax on people who are bad at math and wound up winning on three $50 scratch tickets in a row. I’d chalked it up to some ‘magic’ which had everything to do with being with my seven-year-old and nothing to do with Math.  Yesterday I lost, of course.  Thing1 is too old and skeptical to channel that kind of magic anymore, but we were both laughing as I scraped the silver goo off the losing numbers. He’s still my good luck charm.

    It had been a long time since I’ve heard Thing1 really laugh. 

    We got UNH and asked our questions before walking around.  Thing1 loved it and was even more undecided about his future. A few more drives around the bucolic campus, we headed back to meet the Big Guy and Thing2 in Vermont for dinner. 

    It poured most of the time until we got near the Vermont border.  It rained from Bellows Falls to Londonderry and got foggy as we headed over Bromley mountain to Manchester. 

    My body was getting weary from the travel and from the constant travel and worry of the last few months. It was as if a day of not worrying — of seeing Thing1 happy and debating over pleasant aspects of his future —  had let my muscles relax too much for a moment. 

    When we got the the restaurant, Thing1 mentioned a worrying symptom that had appeared, and we knew the tension release was temporary.  In reality it’s always temporary, but it is always welcome.  

    When we got home, I got my sketchbook, planning to doodle and promptly passed out on the sofa with Thing1 next to me and eleven year old Thing2 draped over the cats that came to sit on my legs.  I woke up long enough to send Thing2 and myself to bed for the dreamless, satisfying sleep that only an exhaustingly perfect day can produce. 

    And the oddest thing was that it was the best present I hadn’t even thought to ask for.

  • And You Still Don’t Need to

    I said it to my kids last year, and I’ll say it to them this year. I’ll bet you say it to yours, and I’m pretty sure your mom has said it to you, but no matter how sappy it sounds each time, it’s true.

    “You don’t need to get me (insert image of your mom talking here) anything for Mother’s Day (or any other day).”

    But just in case you feel like getting your mom a little something, signed copies of A is for All-Nighter can be ordered from Battenkill Books in Cambridge, NY.

  • What’s Hers

    Last week, Princess Calamity Jane (whose name evolves as we learn more of her personality) decided to switch up her routine.

    Monday morning I let her and our orange tabby, Gentleman Jim-Bob, along with Katie the wonder dog, out through the sliding door as soon as I got up. As usual, Jane was the first to confirm that no new mice need to be stalked near the house and demanded re-entry two minute after she’d gone out.

    I padded back to my studio office and Jane padded behind me.

    I settled into my purple easy chair and pulled my tray table close. I’d been illustrating with good old fashion watercolor again — the iPad still isn’t quite as efficient and doesn’t provide the tactile pleasure of putting a brush on paper.

    Calamity Jane jumped up on the table as I dipped a brush in my fifty-cent plastic water tumbler. She sniffed my forehead and then gave me a silent meow as she gracefully inspected the tumbler and the pan of paints. Then she bent over the illustration as if she was evaluating it.

    Gentleman Jim-Bob had already put his stamp of disapproval on a painting the week before, so I readied my swooping hand to swoop her back to the floor.

    I dipped the wet brush in a pool of paint, and she made a high pitched purring sound before wedging her head in the tumbler. She drank and then looked up at me and purred again. She walked around the perimeter of the painting and paint tin, daintily avoiding my work and looking regal as all cats do.

    Then she came back to the tumbler and wedged her head for another drink. I finished coloring in a shirt and went to rinse my brush. I tried scratching Jane’s head to distract her from the colored water, but she wrapped her paw around the tumbler and pulled it closer to her.

    It was a not-so-subtle reminder of why we added the title ‘Princess’ and that, as with kids and every other cat a human thinks they own, what’s mine is hers.

  • The Good, The Bad and The Pointlessly Angry

    Things to do in the ER, Pen and Ink

    <<There’s more blood again,>> Thing1 texted. And suddenly I was trying not to cry at the country store.

     I had left the house about 9 to work because our internet sucks on the weekend. Thing1 had been sleeping, the Big Guy was still in bed on the iPad, and Thing2 had been watching TV when I left.

    The country store’s round table had been crowded with a few farmers and the family of one of the store’s teenaged employees discussing frustration with regulations on moving firewood from the NY border 3 miles away to VT and then moved on to haying and who needs new layers this spring taking me out of my troubles for the moment. The others left for chores, and I got online to handle support tickets.

    Nothing is working. Not a second, drastic change in diet. Not any of the four pills or the biweekly injection. The four month “acute” flareup that initially responded to in-patient treatment has fully regrouped.

    But giving up is not an option, so Sunday after work, we went shopping for food for the doctor’s recommended diet. Thing1 insisted on making the first recipe. As he mixed the gluten and sugar-blueberry muffins, symptoms forced him to take breaks. When the muffins were in the oven he casually told me that he had lost over 10 pounds this weekend, and I could see he wanted to cry — and didn’t want to as well.

    Knowing from experience that the ER would only give him IV fluids and a referral and that we had to wait to call the doctor until Monday, I gave him a hug and kiss goodnight as he headed up to his room. His groans of pain echoed down the stairwell as he got into bed, and I felt like kicking something.

    “He’s a good guy,” I whispered angrily as I got into bed.

    “He is,” The Big Guy murmured.

    “Why am I so angry?” I asked.

    “I don’t know,” Chris answered in a tone that told me he was just as frustrated.

    “He’s done everything right,” I said.

    He has. He has educated himself and taken responsibility for his diet. He’s taken every prescription as instructed. He’s kept up with his school and work responsibilities and still retained the kind, affable demeanor that defines him for us.

    “I don’t even know who to be angry at,” I said as I punched the pillow into a comfortable shape. I set the alarm on my phone and, knowing if I even glanced at a single social media app, I would get even angrier, put it facedown on the nightstand.

    I’m not religious at all, so I don’t get angry at a creator or even at the force. As I tried to force sleep to come, however I tried to think who there was I could blame. Had I had too many Diet Cokes before I was pregnant? Had Chris ‘inhaled’ when his sperm was forming?

    I got angry at him and then at myself for all the things we could have done to cause this and then stopped. What did it matter?

    There’s a part of me that wants to believe that being good creates more good that will ultimately find its way back to you, hopefully in this lifetime. I’m deeply flawed, but Thing1’s only flaws are youth and inexperience, and they haven’t had enough time to send anything out into the universe.

    It’s easy to lie in the dark, believing some cosmic force is out there punishing him for my mistakes, but it changes nothing. Every moment spend raging at the fates in the ceiling will only make it harder to stop hitting the snooze button in six hours, and he’ll still be sick in the morning.

    So Sunday night I made my choice. I forced my eyes closed and turned over on my side with the blankets high enough to block out sleep-stealing anger and frustration.

    Monday morning, I called the doctor. We still don’t have the right answer, but banishing last night’s anger — even if I have to do it again tonight — makes it easier to remember that not having control over the situation doesn’t mean we’re completely helpless to help him unless we start to believe we are.

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