Tag Archives: children

Managing Expectations: Or how to drive a U-haul in San Francisco

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Well it’s summer and likely, if you’re anywhere over ten years old– actually even if you’re ten and under…you’re managing expectations.  Your mother’s, your father’s, your sisters’ and brothers’, your boss’, your children’s, partner’s, house guests’…everyone’s expectations.  And it’s also likely that you feel like you’re letting someone, or a lot of people, down.  It’s also likely that you feel that someone is letting you down.

Except for maybe the Culligan Man.  He showed up this morning and I looked out the window hearing that familiar diesel truck moan and sputter, and I smiled and ran to the front door because I knew it was for one thing and one thing only:  to find out if we have enough salt in the softener.  Salt in the softener so that we can have the best of our well water.  And then maybe he’ll check the filter to see if our reverse osmosis thingy is working well, or whatever he does in my basement.

All I know is that he shows up with big bags of salt like he’s Santa, smiling– always smiling, takes off his shoes at the door, knows just where the light switch is for the basement, (I’ve lived in this house 20 years and I’m never sure which of the three switches it is on the panel, but he does!), and marches down my stairs.  He doesn’t balk at the mouse droppings, or comment on the disarray of my son’s Man Cave.  He plows right through it all to the mechanical room that I try to enter as seldom as possible, and does whatever voo-doo he does.  I don’t follow him.  I don’t micro-manage his little tete-a-tete with the bowels of my home.  He has it under control.  He knows we need him, and it’s his job to show up and he does, like Swiss clockwork.  I even feel the house being relieved that someone competent and consistent is in charge of its digestive system.  The house has expectations too.  I try to meet them.  But sometimes…I just fail.  The refrigerator, lawn mower, and front stove burners are all currently broken.  The gutters are spilling over, and there’s a significant ground squirrel problem under my porch, and I missed last month’s electric bill.  I just can’t do it all or be it all.  I have to fail something or someone.

As I explained to my daughter, home for the Fourth of July:  you just can’t be all things to all people, even the ones you love most.  You’re just gonna let people down from time to time.  Even and especially when you’re doing your best.  Something’s got to give.  But there’s no shame in that.  You have to learn to let yourself off the hook.  And to let others off the hook.  And sometimes…all the people you think should be there to help you, won’t be.  And you’ll need to pay people instead.  Or you might be surprised at who shows up when the primary people don’t.  Or can’t.  Or won’t.  No matter how hard we try…people fail each other.  You’re going to fail people.  And I hate to say it, but ultimately…it’s not your problem.  It’s theirs.  Even if it’s your mother.  Or your child.

I can say this to her…but do I really believe it?  Truth is:  I haven’t had that much experience royally failing someone I love.  Recently, I had to.  I had to choose:  Move my mother?  Or move my daughter and son?

Pretty much every primary person in my life is in a major transition right now:  moving, going to college, going from college into the work force, down-sizing from house to apartment, changing jobs.  Everyone needs each other’s help and no one has the capacity to give it fully.  They can barely give it to themselves, teetering in the untethering.

Some of this is help we can pay for.  But a lot of it isn’t.  Like who gets Dad’s World War II army blanket?  And who gets Mimi’s crocheted afghan, lovingly knit with arthritic fingers, even though it’s in every shade of diarrhea?  And who gets the monogrammed wedding tray?  And what to do with the old letters?  And who will meet the roommates and get just the right toiletry case and put the Montana flag on the dorm wall, or christen the apartment with a bottle of prosecco after getting the right kitchen table that exactly fits the nook.  And who will drive the U-haul through the streets of San Francisco?  This isn’t just stuff you can do with a credit card online.  This is stuff that needs a daughter, a sister, a mommy.

I’m all three.  And I just can’t be all three right now.  Not well.  My plate is so full, it’s over-flowing.  I can barely be one person, never mind three.  I have to choose.  I have to say “no.”

Sure, I can take on a portion of the help that’s been asked of me, but not all of it.  Most of all, I hate that I can’t freely offer it, because I know it’s hard for people to ask—even loved ones.  I have to leave it to them to divvy up their needs with other people, paid and volunteered.  No matter how I shake it, no matter how much I know that I have to say “yes” where I must and “no” where I must…still, there’s shame.  Guilt.  Because I know that there are old, engraved, ingrown expectations attached to every request, especially the ones which are non-verbal.  People show up for people they love.  That’s just the way it is.  Especially family.  Especially when they are in big transition.  They get on planes and roll up their sleeves and help pack boxes, and bring tea and food and comfort and love to the one in need.  They don’t say, “no.”

Until this summer, I have never been in a position where I just…can’t…give everyone the support I want to give.  My physical world won’t let me.  No matter how hard I try to juggle my life, it’s just not possible.  I have to say, “no” to most and “yes” to the ones who truly are incapable of doing what they need to do, without me.IMG_3464

That means that I just drove a fifteen-foot U-haul through the streets of San Francisco with both of my kids in the front seat, to move my daughter from college into her apartment.  Yes, I drive a horse trailer, but not on insanely-vertical urban hills!  Where you have to parallel park!  I was afraid to drive a car in San Francisco, never mind a U-haul!  But I pulled it off.  She asked, and it was the best answer I could give.  “Yes.”  That was what I had to offer.  That’s what needed to get done.  My daughter:  the organizing and packing.  My son:  his strong back and football-honed muscles, the heavy lifting.  And in a few weeks, my daughter and I will do it all for him when he moves into his dorm room in college, thankfully midwestern-flat.  As for my mother’s move, thank God for my other family members and the professional movers.  I’ll come later to help settle them in to their new apartment.  I’ll do my best to manage their expectations then.

So far, I’ve been met with grace.  But I still feel awful about it.  Just awful.  Even my mother’s “Don’t worry.  I have help now.  You have enough on your plate with the kids and work.  You can come later,” doesn’t feel all that great.  I should be there.  I should.  Period.  But I do feel a little less guilty.  Thanks, Mom.

Here’s the lesson in it:  when I say, lovingly, responsibly, that I just can’t…people figure it out.

Or someone else steps in.

The world doesn’t rely on your shoulders’ ability to hold it up.  And it doesn’t end if you give it a much-needed shrug.  And…so far, no one dies.  And I’m not the bad guy.

I have to choose the expectation that I can actually manage, have to manage.  And let the others go.

Maybe the world works that way when we claim our truth and let go of our guilt.

So today, thank you, Culligan Man, for managing mine.  You do it so well.  I don’t even know when you leave, I trust you that much.  I just hear that moan and sputter down the driveway, and know that I have good water to drink.  May we all have at least a few expectations that manage themselves as easily as that.

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Breaking Point: #16

Today’s Breaking Point stories are about endings.  They’re about having to let go of “the way things were.”  If there’s one thing we can count on…it’s change.  Sometimes that’s good news.  Sometimes that’s heartbreaking news.  We want to cling to the past, to the myths that society spins about where our safety lies.  I have learned that our only real safety comes from within and I think that is excellent news:  because it means that we can feel safe no matter what’s going on in our lives.  Especially when we recieve the present moment rather than resist it, and learn to breathe into its groundlessness.  yrs. Laura

Both of these are about the end of marriages, the first from the perspective of a child…

Submitted by: Stefanie A. Shilling who blogs here.

“The Word”

It would be the last time the four of us crawled into my parents’ bed. It could have been the first time, for all I know, because that was also the day that my childhood not only ended but was erased. I have virtually no memory of my life before that day.

I was 9 years old.

I don’t remember the words leading up to the only word I really remember. I’m sure they told us they loved us. I’m sure they told us that it wasn’t our fault. I’m sure it was probably hard for them.

But they weren’t 9.

They saw it coming. They were witness to their arguments. They felt the unhappiness. They knew long before the day they told us.

I remember feeling completely shocked. I don’t remember ever seeing them argue in front of us. But I guess I don’t remember seeing them hug or be affectionate with each other either.

I don’t remember how, or even if, my brother reacted. His childhood had just exploded, too. He was 13. I’ve only known him to process things internally. I don’t know if he cried much before that day but I’ve only seen him cry a few times since that day.

I don’t know which one of them said the word, but I know the word that I kept yelling:

NO! NO! NO!

No! No! No!

no. no. no.

Of course it didn’t matter. It was another reminder that it often doesn’t matter when a child says no. It wouldn’t be the last time in my life that I said that word…but it was the first time that I remember.

…And the next Breaking Point story is from the perspective of an adult.

Submitted by: Gracie

It was last August and my husband was screaming yet again at the top of his lungs. About  how we were separated (even though we lived in the same house), that he could do anything he wanted, that he didn’t have to consult with me about anything, that everything was over and why wouldn’t I just get it?

I was silent in the face of his blasting furnace of anger and pain. He was a far cry, at that moment, from the man I had loved and been devoted to for 8 years, for whom I had left a husband and a life on another coast, 3,000 miles away from this home of ours in the woods. As I stayed silent and looked at his red face, his clenched hands, his rigid body, I saw that he was completely broken and that it was time for D. and I to go. I could not fix him, I could not reason with him, I could not make him see. He had problems that required the help of experts and professionals, far beyond anything either he or I could do, separately or together. But there was no explaining that to him. He just couldn’t hear me, so I left a few weeks later and took our 3 year old son with me. It was time now to protect him, more than anything else.

I had fought the idea of separating for more than a year. During that time, I forgave (I know people say they do but I truly did) a digital transgression of many months, the existence of which I thought explained a lot of the difficult and painful behaviors happening in our house. But that wasn’t all of it. Not by a long shot. There was more to come, Another 8 months of screaming rages, smashing pans and dishes in the kitchen, hateful invective, and lots of cursing. It hurts even remembering the unrelenting, seemingly inexhaustible tide of anger that rolled through our house. I did not scream in response. Having grown up in a house with a dad who was a crazy screamer, I actually hate screaming, doing it or being on the receiving end of it.

For months, I waited out the rages thinking: soon he’ll find the right meds and feel better. The rage will subside, he will be ok again. But it never came, at least not while we lived there. He cycled through a stack of prescriptions and medical and therapy appointments but nothing worked, until it finally did, after we were gone.

I don’t know why the screaming fit in August was the one that did it. It was no worse than any of the others. It was certainly not anything I hadn’t heard before either. But during this one, as I looked at my husband, I really saw him and I realized in his current state, he was beyond my reach and I was finally done.

 

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I’d love to speak in your neck of the woods!

Sooo…some shameless self-promotion:  if your business, school, social group, club, library etc. is looking for a speaker who is all about empowerment…pick me!  Here’s the scoop:   http://www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/laura-munson

LAURA MUNSON

A writer for over 20 years, Laura Munson is the author of theNew York Times and international best-selling memoir, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Passionate about “finding the intersection of heart and mind and craft on the page,” Munson shares a story that explores marital crisis and imparts a message of empowerment, the importance of living in the present, and the necessity of claiming responsibility for one’s own happiness – no matter what is going on in life.

It all began when Munson penned an essay, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” for the “Modern Love” column of The New York Times in 2009. Stunned by the firestorm reaction she received, Munson emerged as the face behind an essay that ignited dinner talk, office chat, and book groups around the globe. A short version of a memoir she had written during a rough time in her marriage, the essay touched people with its powerful honesty. And they wanted more. After having written for two decades, having completed 14 novels, and having endured countless rejections, Munson had a book deal within 48 hours.  Her memoir has been published in nine countries.

Munson’s work has appeared in the New York Times ”Modern Love” column, the New York Times Magazine ”Lives” column, O. MagazineWoman’s DayRedbook, Good Housekeeping, More magazine, Shambhala Sun, The Sun, and Big Sky Journal, as well as on HuffingtonPost.com and through many other media outlets. She has been on two national book tours with appearances on Good Morning America, The Early Show, London’s This Morning, Australia’s Sunrise, various NPR stations, and many other television and radio shows, including Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House radio program.

TOPICS

How to Turn Crisis Into Personal Freedom

How to Get What You Want by Getting Out of Your Own Way

The Power of Story in Times of Crisis

Please call 800.225.4575 or contact The American Program Bureau for more information on this speaker’s speech topics.

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Children’s Books

I did a poll on Facebook the other day. Here was the question: What are your three favorite children’s books? Within an hour, 50 people had responded. They’re still responding. I do polls all the time because I’m curious about the collective We…and this was the one that had the most immediate and passionate  response. This not just enlightened me as to what people love to read, but what people want to share bout.

And here’s the thing: there weren’t a lot of bad guy books. My son always wonders why there has to be a bad guy in all the movies and books in our lives. Why can’t it just be easy? Why does there always have to be conflict? We might, as parents, want to answer, “Because life is FULL of conflict.” But you know…sometimes life isn’t full of conflict.

In the books that people loved, I found that there wasn’t as much conflict as love. Few mentioned Harry Potter, in fact. More mentioned Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. Sure Pooh and the rest had their fair share of befuddlements. And rising to the sky holding a balloon, bees swarming all around, is not opportune. But the books people loved most weren’t full of real evil or real villains. It was more heart language. Here is that list. yrs. Laura

Laura Munson wrote: I’m doing a poll. What are your favorite children’s books? Mine are THE GIVING TREE, AMOS AND BORIS, and…THE COUNTRY BUNNY. And FLICKA RICKA AND DICKA too.”

Then thanks to people jogging my memory, I added: A TIME OF WONDER. THE HAPPY DAY. A TIME TO KEEP. And EB White. And of course ELOISE. And so much more…

Miss Rumphius
I’ll Love you Forever
Horton Hears a Who
Tigers in the Cellar
Plum Pudding for Christmas
Ferdinand
Polar Express and Eloise
Ping the Duck
The Giving Tree
Gerald McBoingBoing
Betsy-Tacy series
The Monster at the End of this Book

The Little House
Carl Goes Shopping
The Peculiar Miss Picket
Mandy
Mary Poppins
I’ll Love You Forever
The Fall of Freddie The Leaf
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See”
Where the Wild Things Are
The Three Trees
Green Eggs and Ham
Skippy Jon Jones
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Alligator Pie book
Cat in the Hat
Jelly Beans for Breakfast

Henry and Mudge
Mr Putter and Tabby
Good Night Moon
Pigs Ahoy!
Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches and Other Stories– my favorite being “What Was I Afraid Of?”
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
Mrs. Pigglewiggle
Anything Will Steig
And Barbara Cooney
The Happy Day
Ferdinand the Bull
The Five Chinese Brothers
Miss Rumphius
A Time to Keep
Emma’s Pet
All three books by E.B. White, especially Trumpet of the Swan.
Jellybeans for Breakfast
The Kissing Hand!
Llama, Llama Mad at Mama
Blueberries for Sal
One Morning in Maine
Miss Rumphius
Goodnight Moon
Make Way for Ducklings
Wrinkle In Time
all of the E.B.White books, especially “Stuart Little”
Seven Silly Eaters
A Fly Went By
Goodnight Moon
Now We Are Six (AA Milne)
The Story of Babar
The Velveteen Rabbit
A is for Annabelle

I Can’t, Said the Ant
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Sahara Special
Harriet the Spy
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Little Bear
Now we are Six
Babar…
A TIME OF WONDER
Eloise
Madeline
Babar
Winnie the Pooh
Goodnight Moon
Wodney Wat
Edward the Emu
I’ll Love You Forever
All I See Is Part of Me
Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book
Shel Silverstein

Harry Potter
Oh, The Places You’ll Go
The Tar Baby books
The Giving Tree
Guess How Much I Love You
Little Bear
Frog and Toad
Eloise
Madeleine

It’s Mine: the Greedy Book
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Now We Are Six
Epandimondas and his Auntie
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Be Nice to Spiders
Alice in Wonderland
The Little Princess
Chrysanthimum
Amelia Bedelia
Wynkyn, Blinkin & Nod
Goodnight Moon
I’ll Love You Forever
Velveteen Rabbit
What is God
A House is A House for Me
Olivia
The Polar Express
Dr. Seuss
Harry Potter

The Country Bunny
Make Way for Ducklings
Blueberries for Sal
Goodnight Moon
Judy Blume
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
The Day the Babies Crawled Away
Goodnight Gorilla
Guess How Much I Love You
The Giving Tree
The Lorax
Old Hat New Hat
Oh the Places You’ll Go
Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod
Now We are Six
Madeleine
When Luis Armstrong Taught me Scat
In the Night Kitchen
James and the Giant Peach
Winnie the Pooh
Trucks, Trucks Trucks
Guess How Much I Love you
The Henry and Mudge books
Theasaurux Rex
Courduroy
Miss Twiggly’s Tree
The “Fancy Nancy” books
Anne of Green Gables
The “Little House” books
Little Women
The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall
Ollie’s Ski Trip
Iggy Peck Architect
And Now Miguel
Farmer Boy
Ballet Shoes
Where The Wild Things Are
Little Bear
The Giving Tree
Ballet Shoes
The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew

Resources:
http://kids.nypl.org/reading/recommended2.cfm?ListID=61
Esme Raji Codell’s blog: The Planet Esme Plan, http://planetesme.blogspot.com/

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Free Boys.

I haven’t put my kids’ faces on my blog before, but I just couldn’t resist this. My son and his dear friend made up a song and they sing it all the time. May we all sing. And sing. And make up songs. And smile. And shout them. And share them. Without self-consciousness. Yes is a world that children well know. I want to live in that world. (my kid is the one on the right.)

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When you let go…


A friend and I were talking yesterday about how we want so much to “happen” in our family lives. That we have a hard time seeing any value in sitting around watching TV on a weekend day when there is so much to experience out there in the world. I used to be one who tried to impose this opinion of mine on my family. But I’ve learned that it only makes things worse. Begets even MORE TV watching. And what I’ve come to find is that really, it’s only a temporary thing. It’s not like they watch TV 24/7. It’s just a way for them to wind down after the long work/school week. We’re very active people, curious and creative by nature, always on the move. Sitting quietly watching TV now and then isn’t going to fry anyone’s brain or undo all those beautiful memories I’ve tried so hard to inspire. It’s a way for them to feel safe and even bond. How is it different than sitting on a boat fishing, for instance? Or in a duck blind? How is active always better than passive? I have found that the more I let go of active being the “right” way, the more active they become. This, for instance, happened last weekend. Log peeling for our friend’s cabin in the woods.
Lessons lessons, everywhere…when you let go.

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A Robin in the Woodstove

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A Robin in the Woodstove by Laura A. Munson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all

–Emily Dickinson

March 18, 2003
I was standing in front of the television this morning, watching the footage of last night: 48 hours for Saddam and his sons to get out of Iraq…or we’re coming in…when my daughter started screaming. I ran into the kitchen. “What? What’s wrong?”
“There’s a robin stuck in the woodstove!”
“Finish your cereal or you’ll be late for school.”
“Aren’t you going to get it out of there?”
“No. It can find its way back up.”
She looked at me like she did not know me. “But they only came back just last week.”
Countdown Iraq. Fabric softening commercial. A police stand-off in Washington: some guy on a tractor swearing he has explosives. Ari Fleisher condescending to Campbell Brown— I can’t help but think: CJ, on ‘West Wing,’ is better. Breaking news: High alert: orange. No fly zone over Disneyworld. Why does that one anchorman always look like he’s smiling?
I switch to Martha Stewart. A homemade lemon honey pot: it’s a good thing. Back to CNN. I feel it is my duty to watch CNN.
The robin flutters in the ashes.
I’ve done this before. Twice. Just get a sheet and open the woodstove, hope that he flies in. But he’ll fight me. His heart will rapid-fire into my grip. I might hurt him. I might shy and let go too soon and then what will we do with a bird in the house?
He flings himself against the window of the woodstove.
“Mommy, do something!”
“He’ll be okay in there until Daddy comes home. It’s cold out today. It’s like his own private birdcage.”
Driving to school. NPR. Toni Blair calling for unity. The French saying they might be willing to help in the case of biological warfare. Kiss the kids. Get a glare from my daughter.
At the grocery store, I buy three bags of lentils. I am not necessarily a lentil person. But they keep. I run into a forest ranger friend and ask him to tell me, once and for all, why the Douglas fir is not a true fir.
“Because their cones point down. For the squirrels. Subalpine and Grand point up. For the birds.”
I put on my best Naturalist nod. I do not tell him I am holding a robin hostage in my woodstove.
“Are you going over to Freezeout Lake to see the Snow Geese migration like you always do?” he says.
I remember the 200,000 white birds I long for all winter, and forget to answer him.
When I get back, I realize I have left CNN on.
So, what do you think, Bird? Did you make a mistake? Having so much hope in us?
He flings himself into the glass, falls sideways in the ashes, then stands still in the grey cloud.
I run through the living room despite the drumming of breaking news, despite the ice cream in the bag, go to my office and shut the door.
He might die. I can’t handle it if he dies.
I go back to the kitchen, blare NPR so that it’s dueling CNN and I can’t hear anything except for drumming and British accents, and I quick, put away the groceries.
What the world needs now, is love sweet love…call your travel agent. I think it’s a cruise commercial, but I don’t look.
I make a b-line for my office again, but I catch the bird out of the corner of my eye and I see that its feathers are askew.
So I sit on the hearth: please go back up the pipe. Please.
He throws himself against the glass. He is all black. Maybe it’s a grackle, not a robin. Like that would be somehow more forgivable.
I can do this. I should do this. I can’t. I can’t hold all that hope in my hands.
With NPR and CNN booming, muffling the flutter of tiny wings, I run up to my bed. I pull up the covers. I will wait here until my husband comes home.
Maybe I am this much of a coward. Or maybe it’s that I can’t bear to watch those blackened footprints hopping off into the melting snow.

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The Pack Rat Ate My Patagonia

Fred
The Pack Rat Ate my Patagonia by Laura A. Munson

I have never wanted to kill something before. Trap it live, and then shoot it. Or drown it in a glacially chilled grave. That thing—with the pretty little well-appointed pink nest, with its self-important aroma and little be-jewelled leavings. You see, I am planning a surprise party for my mother’s 70th birthday at her suburban Chicago country club from my rural Montana post, and I really could give a pack-rat’s ass whether or not Mrs. Who’s-who will eat blue cheese. So flush—down she goes. Her and her kind. The kind that is currently camping in the engine of my Suburban. The pack rat that broke the good-daughter’s back.

How is one supposed to carry on sophisticated conversations with the club manager about roast suckling pig in a port demi glace with wild mushroom risotto when there is activity in the garage of architectural proportions? Thievery from diaper bags when I’m trying to sort out the soup course from the salad course? Pillage while trying to estimate how many martinis Mrs. Who’s-who is good for? I’m talking about what floral colors lend themselves to the Persian rugs in the Hunt Room with Roberto the botanical coordinator, and a rodent the size of a Corgi dog is scurrying past my toes with insulation from the garage to beat the ensuing night chill. He’s heard the temperature is supposed to drop to eighteen tonight. Probably because he’s been sitting on my couch with a Budweiser in one paw and the remote control in the other while I’ve been in my office ordering five dollar a piece balloons.
packrat
The phone rings: “Laura dear, I’m going in for a little nip and tuck if you know what I mean, and I’ll be tardy to your mother’s big surprise ta-doo. So if you can arrange to have someone just spoon me into a chair for the party, I’ll be a definite oui to your respondez vous.”
At this moment, I am actually cradling a cordless in my neck, picking out– thumb to index finger– pack rat shit from my children’s car seats before I pick them up from school.
“Why of course, Mrs. Who’s-who, and by the way, do you like blue cheese?”
“If it’s Stilton, Dear. If it’s Stilton.”
It is then that I realize that my car smells like blue cheese. Like blue cheese atop a skunk canapé, served with a musk coulis.
So I run back in the house and I grab a stick of incense and light it off the cigarette burner while I’m mocking 90 down the highway so as not to be, yet again, one of those mothers who gets scowled at by crossing guards as she whips into the school playground fifteen minutes late. It is patchuli incense sent to me by my forty-five year old Deadhead brother who lives in a car conceivably better-smelling than my own, and I realize that my car now smells like a Grateful Dead concert, and I open the windows to get that smell out too.

My kids each have a friend coming over to play.
“What took you so long? Oh geez! This car stinks!” This four times.
“Get in,” I say, as a beer bottle actually rolls out from under a seat and clink clink clinkclinkclinks down the incline of the school parking lot. (I’m not sure I can blame this on the pack rat.)
A PTA mother looks at me, and ushers her perfectly clean child into her perfectly clean white mini-van.
“A pack rat is living in my car,” I say. Like that is an excuse.
It is at this point that I hear a sound– a pitter patter, coming from underneath my hood.
I get out, realize that I am not wearing a bra, open the hood with some odd posturing, and ploink– the damn thing evicts itself and slithers off into the soccer field, which is occupied by just about every kid in town, not to mention their myriad on-time type, non beer-drinking, non-pack-ratty parents.
I smile at them, hiding my pendulous post-breastfeeding chest behind my elbows, and pick out a pink nest of insulation from my car engine, replete with a few pieces of dog food, and one of my daughter’s barrettes. Then I cross the parking lot, and throw this vestige of Montana living, into the dumpster. It is here that my cell phone rings.
packrat
“Laura Dear, hi, this is Mr. Club Manager. Listen, we got your choices for hors d’oeuvres, and we think there might be a problem here.”
“Oh?” I say, slamming down the hood of my car.
“Yes, Dear. We noticed that you chose two Asian hors d’oeuvres. We think one is enough. Remember these people are WASPs. I don’t know how they do things out West, but in the Midwest, it’s still pretty much meat and potatoes, even at the Club. We would suggest the bacon and brown sugar.”
“Bacon and…what?”
“Brown sugar. Everyone in their crowd just begs for it.”
“What’s this black poo looking thing in my backpack?”
“Can we go—it stinks in here!” Times four.
“Laura, Dear? It’s your choice, really. I mean this is your party, after all—even if it is for your mother’s seventieth birthday. I mean everyone knows it’s a surprise party. So if you make a little mistake, they can blame it on you, if you know what I mean.”
“Huh?” I hear a squeal from the soccer field.
“It won’t be a reflection on your mother, is what I mean.”
“Oh. Okay. I guess you can exchange the Thai dumplings for the bacon and…brown sugar. Listen can I call you back?”
“Fine, Dear. But do call me back soonish. I still have to go over the color of the linens with you. The party is in a week. By the way, when do you arrive and what is your local number in case I need to contact you for any last minute details, like whether to serve during toasts or not?”
“Uh—I think my flight gets in mid-day on Monday. I’ll call you from the airport for any last minute details, because I’m…I’m going directly up to Wisconsin to visit a friend for a few days before the party. And she lives in a little cabin. And…and she doesn’t have a phone.” This is a lie.
“No phone? How about a cell phone number?”
“Uh—no cell phone service up there either. Kind of like most of Montana.” This is a lie as well.
packrat

“Mom! There’s that black poo-looking stuff in the baby’s diaper bag!”
Then the baby says, “Ewwww-ah.”
“And your fleece coat—it’s all—holey.”
“Hey—I’ve got a situation. I trust you guys. You do this all the time. I haven’t done it ever. And frankly, I think you know my mother’s taste better than I do. So– listen…you pick what you think is best. I’ll call to confirm…soon. Ish.”
I look into the back seat, and into the one nice thing I think I have left on this planet after two kids, two dogs, a cat and life in the country—it’s the Patagonia fleece my mother-in-law bought me last season. Just a little knock-about coat so you can look spiffy when you’re picking the kids up from school.
And I pick up my fleece, and hold it in the air, pack rat pellets falling off it as it lifts to the sun, and there is not just a little hole under the armpit, no– the whole thing is like a piece of polypropylene Swiss cheese.
That is when I open my mouth and these words come out: “This rat must die.” Then I spend five dollars of quarters at the car wash vacuuming out my car with a blaring Terminator-pitched hose so that all of the kids plus the baby say, “Whuuuht?” when I ask them afterward if they want to go for ice cream.
packrat

That night I take dry wall screws and drill them into the bottom of a rat trap the size of a flip flop. Then I mount it on a two by four and actually say out loud, to myself, “Ain’t nothin’ dragging that trap nowhere.”
Then I slather peanut butter on it and turn off the lights in the garage. “Nighty night.”
The next day there is nothing in the trap, but the inside of my car is covered in pack rat shit, and now, my other last nice thing—my $250.00 Pierre Deux diaper bag given to me by my mother’s suburban Chicago bridge group so you don’t feel frumpy, Dear carrying around all those horrible diapers and things—has a hole in the side of it the size of a softball.
I drop off the kids at school in a drive so silent, that they are afraid of me. And I go to the car wash, forgoing my hair appointment designed to assuage my mother’s comment on her last visit to Montana: can’t we do something about that hair of yours?
I am interrupted by a guy standing at the hood of my car. “Better be careful,” he says. “I just spent five hundred dollars fixing the wiring in my truck from a rat.”
The cell phone rings, then, in-between quarter-feeding rounds. “Laura, Dear, hi this is your Aunt Who’s-who (for some reason every woman in my mother’s bridge group refers to herself as aunt somebody—usually when they want something) “I hate to bother you Dear, but I thought I should let you know, Mrs. So-and So has her nose bent out of shape that she’s not included in the surprise party for your mother at the club. For what it’s worth.”
And standing there, holding the power vac, I feel my oats, because I actually say: “I’ll tell you how much it’s worth: fifty frigging bucks a head!”
Flash: a call waiting from my Deadhead brother: “Laura, hey dude, listen, I’m still a Vegan so like…could you make sure there’s something for me to eat at Mom’s party. Maybe some raw organic carrots and hummus at the cocktail party and like…a smoothie, maybe. I still do garden burgers so that’d be cool for dinner. Hey—and like is this a surprise…or does she know. Because I might have said something to her about it.”
“First of all, YES it’s a surprise! Generally speaking, a surprise party is supposed to be a surprise! And second of all, I don’t think the Who’s-who Club would know a smoothie, never mind a garden burger if it slapped them across the face, and third of all…” I can feel my heart beating in my temples. And it is here that I have a vision of my brother welcoming a pack rat into his Volkwagon van—befriending it, adopting it as a pet, feeding it lentils one by one, fastening a little red bandanna around its neck and naming it Magnolia Blossom. “And third of all…third of all…you can take your flippin’garden burger, and shove it up your–”
“Whoah. Hostility. What’s that about?”
“There’s a pack rat living in my car, okay? The pack rat ate my Pierre Deux diaper bag, okay? The pack rat ate my Patagonia!”
“It’s just a creature. He’s probably just looking for a warm place to get in from the cold. You should–”
“What? I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up.”
I beseech myself: Why am I trying to be the good daughter? At what point do we stop paying proportionally for our adolescences, never mind our births?
packrat

Another five dollars in quarters later, with no epiphanies to speak of and two more phone calls from my brother who is now trying to convince me to pass around a hat at the surprise party to fund his return airfare, I am at the hardware store again, investing in a live trap. Maybe he’s right. I am hostile. Hostile that this pack rat is making it impossible for me to go back for my mother’s surprise seventieth birthday party and look presentable. Hostile that I have offered to co-ordinate this party in the first place. Hostile that people get their noses bent out of shape, especially when they’re just going to go get it nipped and tucked anyway. Hostile that my mother can’t just fly out here for her seventieth and have a good old fashioned pot luc under a rain tarp with a keg and a DJ like everybody else in this country.
I buy the trap, put it in my car this time, bait it with a piece of old pizza and turn off the garage lights.
My ex-boss calls me later that night from a Christian conference in the deep South to tell me she is on fire for the Lord. I tell her about my pack rat. She says, “Jesus says you reap what you sow.”
Next morning at seven-o’clock, I am staring a terrified and noticeably cute little critter in the eyes, striking a deal. “I take you out in the woods, see…and you go make a nest in a nice old stump, see. I save your life, and you save mine, see. It’s a Jesus thing. Capice?”
packrat
And we go, me and my little doppleganger buddy, out to the woods before anyone wakes up. And I lift up the door. And he doesn’t go.
“Go on! This isn’t a Lassie episode! Get out of here. Shoo. Go! I know they don’t have Patagonia or Pierre Deux in the woods, but moss works just fine! You’re a rat! I’m the one with the WASP lineage to uphold. Go on! Git!”
And he goes then. Slowly, with stealth, at a royal’s pace, a little hobo stick over his shoulder, looking back once, his nose a little bent out of shape—he wouldn’ta cared, you see, if I double-Asianed his hors d’oeuvre choice, wouldn’ta cared, see, if I’d spooned him into a chair or hung him from a chandelier, given him a GD gardenburger or one of his own turds.
Aw shucks, little guy. Write when ya get work. It’s a cruel world out there. Ain’t it.

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Raven

Heart_Shaped_Rock

Raven
by Laura A. Munson

I know a woman who frequently finds hearts. In rocks, in the dish suds, in the shape of manure clods. She’ll say, “Laura! Come here.” And I’ll know that I am about to see some mystical arrangement of two curves, cleavage, and a point.
I know another woman who claims that whenever she begins a trip—in her car, on horseback, by foot, a hawk flies right across her path. “That’s how I know we are going to be safe,” she says.
I know a man who says that when he was a boy, his father told him that there was a magic place in the forest where there was a circle of trees. And if he could find it, and stand in the very center of the circle, he would get any wish he could dream up. So he was always walking around in the woods behind his house in northern California, in search of the Circle of Trees. He never found it. But now, as a man, in northwest Montana, he says that he cannot take a walk in the woods without coming upon a perfect circle of trees.
“Do your wishes come true?” I asked him.
“I’ve never made a wish there, actually. I just figure that the circle is, in itself, the proof that wishes can come true.”
I knew a girl when I was young, who was on the lookout for stones with perfect rings around them. “They’re good luck,” she’d say, squatting on the banks of Trout Lake in northern Wisconsin. She would pick them up faster than it took for me to imagine how a ring in a rock could have power; never mind believe in it. I wanted to believe—her bucket filling up with all that luck.
For a while it was blue sea glass. On the beaches of Lake Michigan. Green, white, and amber were abundant. Blue was hard to find. But not for me. Red was almost impossible, but I’d find red too. Then someone said, “Do you know what that is? It’s broken glass. It’s litter. Pollution. How can you find that beautiful?” So I stopped looking. Still, on beaches, I find blue sea glass. Put it in my pocket. Don’t tell anybody.
My daughter finds X’s in the sky. From airplanes. “Look, Mama. Another X. Isn’t it beeuuuuuuuuuutiful?” I don’t tell her that it’s exhaust from an airplane. She can find beauty wherever she wants.
Now, for me, it is the raven. Always a raven with audible winging, coming out of nowhere as if it is the same one, following me, flushing at my presence, performing its fly-by. It halts me. Reminds me to breathe deeply; say thanks.
My husband finds faces in coals. Usually late-night, around a campfire, when the fire has burned down and everyone else has gone to bed, and it’s just us. He is silent, staring. I know what he is doing. I leave him to his faces. I have never seen them. He says I look too hard.
I apologize to the coals. I assume I have not looked hard enough. I assume I should be the sort to see every design in all of Creation.
But I hear the winging; the raven being released into the night. So close I could reach up and let it skim my fingertips.
Breathe. Thank you.
I take a stick and poke into the coals, collapsing the faces I haven’t seen for whatever reason. I do not need to see faces, I say in my mind. I am the fire. The faces are me. I am not Narcissus of the fire ring. Nor an interpreter of Nature’s art. I do not need to see the designs as much as receive them when they come.
And still, there is the raven. And I wonder: are these things offered? Or are they beckoned.

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