Thursday, June 28, 2007

Princess Froggy Veronica

keep art alive; photograph by Julia

Veronica is all the things I wish I was at her age, and beyond. She is bold and bright, and emenates such a strong sense of self and spirit that I half expect her to take a running leap and fly right up into the air - with or without wings. She has a superhero's nature, brave and daring, yet she still possesses that ever-fragile and illusive wonder and innocence - you can recognize it in the way she asks why, with a slight lift in her voice and a tilt of the head, and in the way she takes in the world around her.

She has an artist's viewpoint on everything. She is happiest when painting and drawing, or making "craps" at home, at her Grandparents, and her birthday-twin Auntie Kate. She is giving in her art, too. She colors pages for the grocery store clerks and baggers, marks up dream castles in chalk on the pavement, and paints garbage cans into unique works at home, and for Auntie Kate.

I love to watch her when she does not notice my gaze, to see the way she examines everything around her, painting everything with this storybook imagination that I can see coming to life with every blink and wide open stare of her eyes. She notices the tiniest details in this world, the ladybug hidden among a patch of weeds and flowers, the glitter stuck in a mess of hair on a girl at the park; she is a discoverer of the beauty in everything.

She is fearless, and although it often scares me, I am also delighted in how I see her in the future. She has a bit of fire to her, and it is known to strike and burn at times. But, I see this as another of her gifts that will help her as she grows. This strength and passion are such gifts, and I sit back knowing that she will be able to set out and conquer anything she comes up against, and forge on through to fulfill any dreams she decides are worth fighting for.

She loves with just as much fury as she can battle with, and she is endlessly generous with those she takes into her heart. Veronica is open with her heart, too. She embraces people in general, never seeming to notice the differences. She will tell stories and her daily news to the homeless man at the park with his cart of belongings just as earnestly and with joy as she does with the women behind the perfume counter at the expensive mall department store. She would probably offer them all up a freshly picked wildflower, and a drawing, too.

Five years she has been in my life, forever changing it, and making it more color-filled and beauty bright. She is amazing and I love her so very much.

Saying "You can call me anything you like,
but my name is Veronica"

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Three is the magic number

keep art alive; photograph by Bree

My darling boy turned three on the last day of May. Three years ago he came into my life. I remember the first night with just him and I in the hospital room together. I was lying there with him crooked under my arm thinking you will change my life forever.

When I first discovered I was having a boy I panicked. The kind of fear that grips you far below the surface and nags at you, whispering doubts and worries as you try to drift off into sleep.What on earth did I know of boys? It seemed so unimaginable and foreign, especially after being the mother of a daughter -- or two, eventually -- for over a decade.

I remember Kate assured me that there would be a bond I would never have known before, and that we would teach each other. That I would do just fine.

What he has taught me, in the mere three years he has been in my life, is immeasurable. I feel like there are parts of my heart that he has cracked wide open; pieces that I did not even know existed, until Max. He is a quiet strength in a family that is a bit more boisterous than most, and who tend to wear every emotion pinned right on their sleeve.

He has taught me to listen more, to learn from silences, and to notice some of the more intricate details of this world.

What he does share with all those in his family is a love of music. Whether he is singing into the vacuum cleaner, banging away made-up melodies on the Sesame Street piano inherited from his sisters, dancing around to the likes of 90's boy bands, Babyshambles, and electro clash -- he definitely has the music in him.

Cars and playgrounds, ghost words, and nicknames; Teletubbies, English football, and Thomas the Train; Jay Jay the Jet Plane, following his sisters, and stealing blankets and spaces in bed; Telling knock-knock jokes, saying "my friend Momma", and "I love you" in a soft whisper; trying on lipstick, inflections that go from highs to lows, and being our Pizza Man-Pip-Bubba-and Maxie. Those are just part of what makes up Max.

His party was celebrated at one of his favorite parks. His sister picked out a special pairing of Sally and Lightning McQueen in their "cruising" get-ups. McQueen is all chrome and white wall tires, reminds me of this drive-in and hamburger joint we went to when I was a kid that would have waitresses on rollar skates, and classic cars with dice hanging from the rearview mirror. It was his favorite of his gift, even the train sets and football. Veronica may torment and tease, but deep down she loves her brother, and seems to know him best of all of us.

Max licking the side of his birthday cake, then checking around to see if anyone was watching, and sneaking another lick and a bite, was by far the highlight of the party. I remember getting his own tiny cake for his first year party, and he just sat there and stared at it. Eventually his puzzlement took a bit of action, and he touched the frosting with the very tip of his finger to taste. For a moment I could see the just turned a year baby boy in him meeting up with the learning to be a bit sly boy he is becoming.

As we grow do we not all carry pieces of each year in our lives? If you look closely you can see the baby, the three year old, the teenager, and the adult in everyone you pass in this life. And, when I look at my newly three year old, I see all of it, and more.

He is more that a bit of magic and full of love, this boy of mine.
Happy Birthday, Max.
Thank you for coming into my life.

A man and a woman
had a little baby
Yeah they did


Friday, May 11, 2007

Co-pilots and wingmen

art by tara mcpherson; keep art alive

There are many challenges you face when you become a parent, they say your life will never be the same, and that sleep will not be the only thing that irreversibly changes. We start and stop and stumble through the beginnings of parenthood, some of us clinging tightly to the What to Expect... self-help type books that often skip on the some of the rougher edges of raising a child. The books never clearly describe what it is like to smell of sour milk for months at a time or how it feels to hold your two-year old daughter's shaking hand as they slide her tiny body into a menacing Death Star looking machine meant to take a picture of her brain.

Those are the moments when you must pull from within yourself, locate the strengths you may not have know you had. Parenthood requires you to develop a technique that masks fear and loathing, turning it into confidence and make-believe bravado. It also helps to have an imaginative partner in crime to step in and save the day with you, or to run out for ice cream, when needed. This does not have to be found in a spouse, or even from your own familiy. Parenting wing-men and Clydes to your Bonnie can be your best friend, the across the courtyard neighbor, or another fly-by-the-underside-of-a-spaceship parent you may meet at the playground, the grocery store, or the hospital waiting room. Sometimes the best team is made up of mismatched players drafted and promoted as time goes by. They are all part of what I like to call your family of choice.

Mine has been sewn together by place and circumstance, and a rocket size blast of luck. My best friend of twenty-six years lived three houses down from me growing up. We met because our mother's were best friends at the time, though the bond Kate and I have has outlasted their relationship. We have been each other's strength and compassion when the world took upside down and inside out turns of fate; we have been each other's shipmates in the storm. There are things she knows about me that no one will ever know, and she knows every side of who I am, good and bad.

Our lives have had parallels, most likely due to our similar views and upbringings, or possibly because the major hops and steps in those rites of passage days were done with hands held. We traded notes and borrowed each other's text books when it came to sex and love and rock and roll, and as we grew older, to family. We both have three children, have been single mother's at different times, and have stood by each other through births, illness, catastrophe, and divorce. She is the one person I want to call when ever I am stuck in a situation that I feel lost in, and she is also the one I want to tell all my joys to right as they happen.

My oldest, Julia, once told me that "you and Auntie Kate are alien crazy, it is like you two came flying out of some far off planet". I smiled and thought to myself that she is right, but at least we speak the same language and know how to steer the spaceship. She is the one I turn to when life outside of the How-to books happens, and I believe I am on her quick dial list for those turn of events, as well. We all need to find those links to our sanity and companions to our hearts. We all need to have our chosen family members held close in our lives.

I remember the ones my mother had, the aunts and uncles with no blood ties, but who connected deeper to the core of who are family was then our actual family ever did. She chose who to gift our craziness and chaos to, and it is a tradition I am trying to continue on with. Kate is one of them, forever a part of the leaning to the side of the sun tree that we call family. David has picked a few to hang up in our family branches; Julia has, too.

Eventually I will sit back and watch as my family grows and changes. All of our pieces will press together forming a unique puzzle picture. All the cracks will smooth and fade in time, but we will know where they came from. We will know all the stories. I know that the family we choose is made more solid with each and every flaw, laugh, love, and heartache. We recover and glue ourselves together with each day we share, slowly turning our family into something beautiful.

I get so tired of
working so hard for our survival
I look to the time with you
to keep me awake and alive

In Your Eyes ~ Peter Gabriel


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Re-told happily ever after

art by daniel danger; keep art alive

We all want answers, easily drawn maps and charts that lead all the way to the last page of the book, and the predictable happy ending. Is there not a part of us that still hold some of those fairy tale stories to be true? That some nights when we toss and turn in sleepless anxiety, worrying over budgets and college funds and pre-school selections, do we not hold our breath for even just a second hoping the slightly older and carb-friendly fairy godmother will appear making everything alright? When faced with ditched classes, wet beds, and throw your body to the ground tantrums I know that I have harbored that fleeting wish that Alice will take my hand and lead me out of this upside down bizarro wonderland of being a grown-up; or that like Dorothy I will wake up from all the catastrophe and chaos to find only compassionate faces around me, nodding in understanding when I recall the troubles I had seen that they all held a role in. "And you were there, and you, and you."

The thing is, even if I found that my red shoes (that are really black) could click-clack together and get me the hell out of here, I think I would shove them off to the nearest thrift store, and stay. I would want to hang on to the parenting play-by-play book, though.

I cannot think of a harder job I have ever held, or heard about, then being a mother. Add to it the adjective, or really the active verb, of being a working mother and you are definitely in the hardest job ever category. That guy on the Discovery Channel who has that show called Dirty Jobs, where the host spends a day doing jobs that make us all groan in disgust and awe; why do they never send him off to be a working parent for the day?

I can see it now, the commercial break ends and you focus in on the host waking up to his son holding out a busted cup that was shoved in some ancient relic hideaway spot in his room that once contained some kind of milky concoction inside. Watching it you can almost smell it, wafts of sour and rot filling the room, but it does not end there. Next is the slightly older sibling stumbling into the room in a half-asleep stagger, she is holding her favorite blanket up to you as if it were a dying soldier in need of resucitation. At a closer look you notice her clothes sticking awkwardly in places, the new smell competing with the science sippy cup experiment, now adding the Sorry, I wet the bed odor to the mix. Only moments before he was in dreamland, and as the camera pans in a bit closer you see his eyes shut tight in that futile hope for escape, or at least the relief of a commercial break.

The early morning story arc concludes. The new scene looks brighter, kids cleaned-up and sitting around a table shovelling spoonfuls of cereal into their almost smiling mouths. There is the piped in soundtrack of soothing music, the kind you would hear in your Grandfather's old Caddilac, or a hospital waiting room. You know instinctively that he should be afraid, even if you are not quite sure why. Then it is all so suddenly made clear, in the corner of the screen you catch a glimpse, the undead has arrived with their bedhead disaster and zombie-grumble coming right for him. The viewers at home all simultaneously scream Run!

She was once a beautiful girl, you can sense that some of that may still exist under the decaying eyeliner and last minute term paper up-all-night pallor. For a moment she fools him into thinking she is harmless. Reaching over him for the cereal box she begins uttering soft compliments about his hair and choice of dress for the day. The flattery is pulling him in, leaving him at a vulnerable disadvantage, and he is almost caught in her coooing trap of can I stay home from school, just this once?

The last thing we see before the producers realize this is more than one show can handle is the attempt to leave for work unscathed moment. The walk from the kitchen table to the front door may only be a mere seven steps, but everything shifts into slow motion. Each step releases an obstacle to overcome, a puzzle that requires a secret code to pass, and the inevitable search for the missing keys. There is screaming, runny noses wiped on pant legs, while sticky breakfast fingers pull and grab, trying to keep him trapped in their clutches. The escape is narrow, he barely makes it to the car alive. His pulse is still racing as he starts up the engine to go, but by the time the freeway entrance looms ahead the sight of bumper-to-bumper traffic actually seems like paradise found.

Is this the happy ending we viewers have been waiting for? The office looms ahead and our surving host's briefcase swings back and forth in an almost jaunty bounce. There are no more funky smells permeating the air. There are no more teenage mutant girls. The yells and shouts seem to be just a residual ringing in our ears. Is this the tied up in a tidy bow curtain close? Is this a message of hope that no matter how rough our jobs may seem, it could be so much worse?

The show ends with an elevator opening, and our trusty host taking a step inside, proud and triumphant. It is then that we see it. We wonder how we missed it before. The sticky marshmellow encrusted cereal spoon stuck to the back of his suit jacket.


The real happy endings are hidden and hard to see. They are the tiny moments that we often forget when we are overwhelmed, overworked and overtired. The two youngest sharing a book together, the older one teaching the younger colors and the many names of things. The oldest choosing you as one of her heroes in a place she thinks you will never see. The ecstatic squeals of joy when you walk through that door at night of Momma, you're home! Those are the mis-matched glass slippers and golden eggs we are actuallygifted. Those are the stuff of our own happily ever after endings.

Like a good book
I can't put this day back
A sorta fairytalewith you


Friday, April 20, 2007

All Dressed Up

art by fafi; keep art alive

When I was a young girl my imagination was quite possibly my most treasured posession, and best friend. Some of this stemmed from being a voracious reader who consumed stacks of books carried home from the library, or brought home for keeps after visits to a few bookstores that my grandmother would take me to. It was also most likely inspired by the love for movies that my mother helped to introduce me to, most often during middle of the night insomnia-fueled viewings of musicals and classic films. We went to the movies often, too. I remember vividly going to see Disney's Robin Hood, the release of the Star Wars films, and the re-release of The Sound of Music. My imagination and I loved to create characters, often on paper in numerous spiral bound notebooks, but also in myself. Creating a new me was one of the best games I could ever think up -- one day a gypsy fortune teller, another as Maid Marian, the next Holly Golightly, and the week ending as Princess Leia -- when everything else seemed stagnant, I could always change myself into someone else entirely.

Julia was a princess kind of girl. She insisted on only wearing dresses that would spin, and that were of the brightest hues. She was a Disney girl, full of those happily ever after fantasies. That said, she also admired the animae versions of the adolescent heroine, in shows like Sailor Moon and Muldiver. Most of these stories contained similar themes of an outsider girl -- different in some way, or craving something different -- is somehow given the power to change her existance either through love or some supernatural power. Mostly, though, it comes down to love. Granted, most of these stories are filled with very limited and unrealistic versions of love. My mother used to joke that you never saw what really happened after the princess married the prince, that if you had you would most likely see her doing dishes and cleaning after the prince's horse. Somehow, though, it was never the promise of a prince that seemed to interest Julia; instead it was the fanciful garb and the idea of having something "special", be it powers or title.

Veronica takes to more than just the costume of a princess. She seems to adore the prospect of being treated as a princess should be. She wants things to be beautiful, flowers and rainbow colors everywhere, and she strives for attention. I watch her in just about any situation and she has this power to charm just about anyone. Part of it is her outgoing personality, she will literally talk to anyone and is very generous with her words and what she is willing to give. Her new favorite pastime is to gather up flowers, or draw pictures, and gift them to the everyday people she encounters. A freshly picked rose is given to the person who bags our groceries, a painted castle left at the neighbors front door to greet them on their return home. One memorable Veronica encounter happened when we lived in Chicago. We were riding the train and she decided to re-name all the passengers that sat in her close proximity. By the time we reached our stop everyone around us were laughing with each other, and waving goodbye to the charismatic toddler who christened them names like Eggbert and Leeloo. It does not take a very big suspension of disbelief to see her ruling over a kingdom of her own.

Max is fascinated by the costumes Veronica wears. His favorite token of imaginative royalty is the crown. Back when we lived in the small one bedroom, in Fullerton, the kids used to play this game out on the balcony. Veronica, and my roomate at the time's children, used to set up this throne with the wood planks that were left by the previous tenants. Max would excitedly sit on them and the kids would then find any object within their immediate reach and try to balance it on his head. They would call Max the king, and after awhile he caught onto the game and would say "the king! the king!" I think the fascination with Veronica's tiaras stems from Max's memory of his past reign as household king.

Perhaps I am raising a future realms great leaders. Or maybe we all secretly long to play at being someone else. It is just as we grow older that we save such desires for Halloween, or the occasional masquerade parties. What would we dress as if it was socially acceptable to put on different costumes regularly. Who would you be today?

I pack my suit in a bag
I'm all dressed up for Prague
I'm all dressed up with you
All dressed up for him too


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Hide and seek

art by rusty wex; keep art alive

Spring is alive in our neighborhood, I can feel the honey bee buzzing of energy and heart-beating reverie. Sitting in the corner of my kitchen by the two open windows, my favorite place to write as of late, I watch the signs of the season in the tiny details of life outside. The woman from upstairs who has the newborn baby, she usually walks about with the red-eye squint of sleep deprivation and a scowl on her lips, a non-verbal curse at the morning sun. But, this morning I noticed a every so slight bounce to her step, and an actual smile as a hello when our eyes met and I nodded to greet her. Later in the afternoon, when school had let out, the teenage daughter that just moved in across the way went running -- no, it was skipping -- past my window and into the parking garage. I heard giggles that you know came from a blushing girl, that were loud and raucous, and so infectious that I had to giggle a little myself. She came out eventually, with a shy boy in tow, his eyes on nothing but her. The looks on those just been kissing faces were the sort of thing that line of birds on the line should be singing about. They were every pop songs favorite couple, with her hiked a bit shorter parochial school uniform and his ripped jeans and torn at the sleeve t-shirt, they were Southern California's post-modern Jack and Diane for a mid-afternoon moment.

Last night Veronica refused to wear any clothing beyond her polka-dot underwear. She told me that her skin was too hot for such things, and that clothes would only slow down her dancing. Julia put on the classical music channel, by request, so the scarcely-clad Veronica could practice her self-taught ballet. "You know, she is actually a good dancer, Mom. We should get her into a class," Julia remarked. And, she is right, Veronica has the agility and sense of balance of a dancer; or, a fairy. Some nights I peek under her nightgown to see if her wings have arrived. After the dancing, and a bath, she told me that there would be no getting dressed unless we went outside to talk with the moon. This is a warm evening ritual we started when she was barely walking, around the time that she fell in love with the book Goodnight, Moon; and, spent more time wishing the moon a fair evening than all the times spent reading and re-reading that favorite book.

On our walk back into the house Max looked around furtively, scanning the sky, asking me finally "Where moon go?" Veronica answered authoritively, with hands firmly on her hips, "Max, the moon went to play hide-and-seek with the stars." Veronica being the family expert on all lunar playtime activities, of course.

Julia has been spinning about the house in the glow of love's soon arrival. She kisses everyone as she walks by, and is constantly singing even when her iPod is gifting her ears with song.

As for me, I am just hoping to catch some of the fever around me. The blues have taken resident in my skin this week, and I am waiting for it to take the first bus, and leave. I want to trade my mood in for Spring's bursting pallet of color.

spin me round again
and rub my eyes
this can't be happening

when busy streets
a mess with people
would stop to hold their heads heavy

hide and seek

Hide and Seek ~ Imogen Heap


Friday, March 30, 2007

Save the world

art by ray caesar; keep art alive

Questions are something that I have always been rather fond of. I have an ever curious nature that is not easily sated by surface small talk. Long, deep conversations that last well into the early hours of morning are some of my most favorite things be a part of. Perhaps it is the writer in me, or the fact that humankind just interests me, but I have this need inside me to know people's stories. The truth that I have discovered, through my inquisitions of those I meet or come in contact with, is that people love to discuss themselves; they enjoy having a reason to expose their plots and unearth their mysteries to a someone who is actually listening. We are all suckers for surveys, magazine page quizzes, and even truth or dare games. Casual therapy between friends can be the building blocks to connection and healing; and, at times I do believe we all need a prescribed dose of that.

Veronica is at the question-asking stage. She throws quite a bit of what I say back at me, wondering at what it all means. This is not a ploy to change my responses, or instigate anything. Nor is it a bargaining tool to navigate things to go her way (though she does possess quite a bit of bartering techniques). Instead I see in her just this enormous curiousity and a burning need to know. Tonight she asked me two different questions, one that I found amusing and could answer easily; the other took my breath from me, and made me momentarily pause to sort out how I would answer her. This is a change for her, this new tiny detective who peels apart words and phrases, sights and sounds. And, I think I am still trying to get a grasp on how deep and detailed she wants my answers to be.

The simple question was "what does already mean, momma?", as she had just used the word in her impatient tone of "let's get out of the car already." I love that she questions things that she not only hears, but says herself. She picks up sayings people utter around her; overheard conversations, teenage vernacular from Julia and her friends, slang lifted from television shows or heard in song lyrics. Most times she uses the new-to-her phrases correctly, she has a strong vocabulary, a good grasp on language, and a sharp ear for how things should sound. But, when she is not completely sure what something means she tries it out, then asks for confirmation that she has used it right. I told her "the way you used already means hurry" and she smiled at me, pleased with herself for expressing her feelings correctly. For a second she glowed enough to light up the dark parking garage.

"What is the end of the world, momma?" was the trickier question she threw at me. It gave me quite a pause, and I admit my first instinct was to change the subject. She has inquired about death a lot lately, especially asking about my Grandmother who passed away long before she had the chance to meet her. I was not sure if this was a question that veered into the realm of death, or if this was something she had pictured in her mind as an actual end of the earth. There was some cartoon that ran through my memory-scape, that I cannot clearly recall. It had a character standing at the end of the world, as if the pages led to something blank and final, and there he was standing and looking straight into an endless abyss. I also pictured Jim Carrey's character in The Truman Show finding the far edge of the set, the flat surface appearing to him as if it were the end of the world. Was it this kind of ending she was seeing in her mind's eye?

These mind wanderings and imaginings just lengthened my hesitance to respond, and for a second or two I thought I might escape without having to come up with an answer. Veronica would have none of that and asked again, "what is the end?" I told her the only thing I could, that I really did not know. Perhaps it would be if the whole world were to die. She mulled that over for a bit then responded with another question, "you mean like the dinosaurs that all died?" I said "yes, something like that." The conversation was put on hold as we went into the house and she was distracted by her brother who had fallen asleep on the couch, and her desire to have some of the dinner that was now ready for us to eat. It was a bit later, as I tucked her into bed that she said to me in an almost whisper "we should be like superheroes, momma, and take care of the world so it does not end."

I smiled and agreed with her, told her that her papa already prepared her for that job by giving her a superhero middle name. Veronica Hawkgirl, she is making plans to save the world.

So I walk up on high
And I step to the edge
To see my world below
And I laugh at myself
While the tears roll down
'Cause it's the world I know
It's the world I know