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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Evan Kamida

I have been feeling heavy and sad all week, ever since I learned that Vicki Forman’s son, Evan, died unexpectedly.

I have never met Vicki in person nor spoken to her on the phone, and yet, I feel as if I know her. I suppose this speaks to the power of her writing. It was through her blog and her column at Literary Mama that I got to know dear Evan. So my heart is heavy as I think of her and her family and their terrible loss.

If you’d like to contribute to a memorial, please go here. You can also honor Evan by photographing flowers on a swing. Learn more here.

I hold my daughters especially close this week and will not take anything for granted.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

a quartet of mothers

Nanci Olesen of MOMbo fame will be performing "A Quartet of Mothers: The Familiar, Desperate Edge of Everyday Motherhood" this weekend at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis as part of the Fresh Ink Series.

Two plays are part of the event: "I'm Telling" and "Child of God." Shows begin at 8 p.m. tonight, Friday, and Saturday, and at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Nanci says, "If you aren't a mom, you have one. Come see and hear us!"

The Illusion Theater is on the eighth floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"6 or something"

Stella came home from soccer camp yesterday with a huge grin that revealed a gaping hole where her left front tooth had been just hours before.

“I can’t believe it! You’re such a big girl!” I gave her a crushing hug and demanded the story.

She reenacted the biting of a baby carrot and the way her tooth “fell right out.” She left out the parts about how she was covered in blood and she cried and cried, but D filled me in on that later.

Every fifteen minutes for the rest of the afternoon, she would jump up and run to the mirror to check the gap in her teeth. “I look like a real big girl,” she said proudly. “People are going to think I’m six or something!” Her eyes widened and she shrugged. “I just look like the biggest girl ever!”

She has seemed like such a big girl to me lately. Last week, she spent mornings at art camp and this week she’s at soccer camp. (Monday, she wore her new cleats, shin guards, bright red socks, and the Boca Juniors uniform that her uncle brought back for her from Argentina. I braided her long hair into two braids, and she looked so grown-up!)

She wasn’t too keen on art camp at first, and even told me in the car that “it just isn’t that interesting” because they were only drawing things, they weren’t getting to “make things.” But that changed mid-week, when they each made a magic bird. And by the end of the week, she had made a sparkly magic wand and a fairy house. (Camp ended up being interesting after all.)

Part of her seeming grown up is her decidedly teenage attitude, which rears its ugly head now and again. (She even said, “duh” to me the other day. I’m so sure.) This sort of thing makes me cringe and think I’ll have to grow much thicker skin in the next decade to prepare for the real teenage years.

But she is also incredibly sweet and verbal, and she loves being a big sister. She makes Zoë laugh and laugh by jumping and twirling across the living room, and she rocks and sings to Zoë when Zoë is fussy. And always, my heart breaks a little when she says, “You’re the best mama in the whole world and daddy is the best daddy and Zoë is the best baby!”

The other day her cousin Espen, who is two and a half, was over, and the two of them were sitting at the small table in the dining room, eating chicken nuggets. I walked out of the room, and I heard Espen say, “Ste-lla? Do you think I’m cute?”

“Of course you’re cute, Espen,” she replied quickly, almost indignantly. Then they both started to giggle.

I’m so proud of her. I don’t think I would have been brave enough to go off to soccer and art camps when I was not yet five. Of course, she didn’t have much of a choice, but still, I’m proud of her for going and learning new things and meeting new people all by herself. I love my big, big girl.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

i'm back

Sorry for my recent silence—we just returned from nine days upstate New York. We spent the first week at my aunt’s cabin in the Adirondacks, then drove down to the Catskills for my closest friend’s wedding.

There is nothing like leaving the Twin Cities and the day-to-day grind of life to put things back in perspective for me. My aunt’s cabin, which is on Indian Lake in the Adirondacks, is second only to my mom’s cabin on my list of favorite places. I love the deep, cold lake and the way the green mountains seem to rise straight up from its dark waters. I love the long, steep walk back to the cabin after being down at the lake. I love making hearty soups in her tiny kitchen and eating out on the deck in the chill of evening under tall trees. I love that there is no cell phone coverage or internet access.

Stella spent the days paddling around on her kick board with floaties on her arms and Zoë was happy as a clam as long as she was in the Baby Björn and moving. Though the days were sometimes long, it was wonderful to be together as a whole family and not have to worry about juggling the two kids on my own.

The wedding was here, and it was lovely. Claire and I have been best friends since 7th grade, so prior to the weekend, I spent some time thinking about all the things we have experienced together over the last twenty-some years and how integral her friendship has been in shaping who I am. Together we shared in the silliness of early adolescence, the challenges of high school and college and the huge changes of early adulthood. Our friendship has not always been an easy one, but it has proved strong enough to weather the challenging times, and for that I am extremely grateful. She is so dear to me, and I was so happy to be a part of her marriage to Ed, whom I also love.

My gratitude for my family and my friends has helped make me feel so much calmer as I re-enter daily life. I’m trying to be more deliberate about when I will work and when I will just play, and be more realistic about how much I can accomplish with my writing. (We’ll see if I can sustain this more balanced perspective.)

But I also want to give a shout out to all of you, my more recent friends. I am so grateful for your words and for these friendships that have blossomed over the internet. Thank you!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I’ve been feeling so stretched lately—juggling the two girls and work and life. D has been working long days, and sometimes I feel like screaming. (I did, in fact, scream in the car the other day when Zoë was wailing and Stella was whining. I just screamed, and I scared the sh*t out of Stella with my outburst. A really proud moment for me.)

Luckily, we got away to my mom’s cabin last weekend—all four of us! I spent months there every summer as a child, and it’s still one of my favorite places. Stella loves it as much as I do, and she was so excited. She chattered the WHOLE WAY (4 hours) up there, asking, “Are we there yet? How much farther? When are we going to get there?”

I went running a couple of times, read a little and napped. Monday morning was gorgeous. D and I sat on the dock drinking coffee as Stella threw pieces of bread into the lake for the sunfish. (Zoë was up at the cabin being bounced by grandma.) It was breezy, and I just lay on my back, listening to the rustling of the Aspen trees, their leaves waving in the blue blue sky like a thousand tiny hands.

Then D and Stella and I went for a canoe ride and saw two bald eagles perched in an oak tree. One flew off as we approached, but the other sat there, head tilted to the side, watching us paddle around the point. A bald eagle never fails to make me draw breath. I can’t get over the fact there were so few of them—I never saw even one in Minnesota as I was growing up—and now I can canoe 100 feet away from one.

I didn’t have a chance to pick up any of the wonderful novels you suggested, so I took up a book that has long been on my shelf: Before and After Zachariah by Fern Kupfer. It is a memoir about what happens to Kupfer and her family when her son, Zachariah, is born severely brain-damaged. It’s heartbreaking. But that doesn’t even begin to describe it. As I read, there was a jabbing pain in my chest, and I felt, quite literally, as if my heart were breaking.

As you know from the books I discuss here, I love honesty. I have so much respect for a writer who writes the hard truth, even when this truth may cast her in a less than flattering light. Kupfer is not afraid to put it all out there—the anger, the sadness, the way that Zachariah’s condition wreaked havoc on her family. She’s not afraid of writing anything (or so it seems), and for this, I respect her tremendously.

At two years, four months, Zachariah is institutionalized. He cannot walk or stand or sit or talk. He cannot hold up his head. His developmental abilities are that of an infant. He cries constantly, only ceases when he is being held and rocked. Kupfer and her husband pass him back and forth, becoming more and more distant and angry with each other. For years they don’t get answers from the medical community to their long list of scary questions.

She writes: “There is a part of me that unequivocally rejects Zach, rejects who and what he is, as part that turns from him, even as I hold him in my arms, delighted to feel his breath against my neck, to kiss his face.”

She writes: “I’m not sure anything we’ve done for Zach has really helped him—I know it hasn’t in any significant way. What has helped me more than anything else has been talking to other women who have handicapped children, a cruel common denominator that cuts across the divisions of economics, of education, of social class.”

She writes: “Often I’m angry at strangers. Dull, sloppy women in supermarkets blithely wheeling their normal kids. Sometimes any woman with normal kids seems to me carelessly unaware of her good fortune. Last summer in Virginia I was sitting with Jan, Eddie and Zach in their strollers, waiting to go into the therapy room. Across the room a woman was chasing a toddler who looked teasingly over his shoulder as he ran, shrieking with delight. But she meant business. When she caught him, she smacked his behind several times until his giggles turned to tears. “Stay put,” she commended, putting him down in a chair, “and don’t move. Don’t you ever move.” Jan and I sat looking at our children. Jan turned to me with clenched teeth: “I feel like shaking her,” she said.”

This book once again confirms for me the need to respect people’s lived experiences. There are those who judged the Kupfers for institutionalizing Zach. But how can anyone judge her, them, when they didn’t live their lives, didn’t survive the day-to-day with Zach and his many needs?

Some of the most heartbreaking parts of the book for me were the scenes with Zach’s older sister, Gabi. How faithfully she loved him, how graceful she was, at age five, when all of the attention was focused on Zach. At one point she says to her mother, “I’m just feeling very hostile toward Zach…I think he gets entirely too much attention around here. He’s all you ever talk about. Sometimes I just feeling like yelling, ‘You dumb baby, you stupid-liar-dumb baby.’”

Kupfer agrees to let Gabi yell that to him the next morning, but the next morning, when Zach wakes crying, Gabi calls her mother instead: “He needs you.” When Kupfer asks Gabi if she wants to yell at him, she says, “’No, I don’t feel like it anymore.” Then thoughtfully, ‘Maybe just telling you was enough.’”

This book was first published in 1982, and reprinted in 1988 and 1998, so the language she uses to describe her son’s condition is not the language most people in the special needs community would use today, but I hope no one will hold this against her.

Near the end of the book, Fern Kupfer addresses her readers: “Those of you who are reading this and have normal children, those whiney miracles, fall to your knees by their bedsides; let gratitude burn forever in your breast, an eternal pilot light.”

I promise, Fern, to be grateful. I promise not to scream in the car anymore. I promise to think of Zach each time I begin to complain about my hectic life with two healthy kids.