What Kind of Creature are You?

Mbot Fly 4

After a recent bath, Mbot, in his winged Red Fish towel, realized he might be wearing a garment that would allow him to fly. “Mom! I’m going to fly!” he announced. He mounted the steps of his bunk bed.

He raised his arms wide.

He leapt.

He landed. Ker-plop.

I waited.

He said: “I think I need to start from higher.”

He climbed higher.

He raised his arms wide.

He leapt.

He landed, ker-plop.

He said: “I think I need to flap my arms faster.”

 

 

Mbot Fly 3

He climbed up again. He raised his arms wide. He leapt. He flapped.

He landed, ker-plop.

He looked at me. He said, “I think I’m more of a gliding creature.”

And that was the end of that.

I thought, my heavens, if everyone figured out the truth about their own natures–and accepted it–so readily, what a different world we’d live in. I wondered about myself and some of my own unfulfilled ambitions, the terrycloth fins I spread.

Even if we dream of being flying creatures, is it so bad to discover that we are only gliding creatures, in the end?

 

Mbot Fly 2

He Breathed a Song Into His Bear

I shot a rocket into the air...

I shot a rocket into the air….

Several weeks ago, Mbot, in the backseat, said, apropos of nothing:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.

Whose woods these are, I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake,

The darkest  evening of the year.

 

He gives his harness bells a shake,

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

 

The snow is lovely, soft, and deep,

But I’ve got promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

Before I could fill the car with astonished applause, Mbot added, “I wonder why he has to go to sleep twice?”

Apparently, Mbot’s class had learned the poem in preparation for St. Peter’s Montessori Fall Festival. This was the first I’d heard of it. I knew they’d been learning songs–Gbot spontaneously throughout the day would lift his voice to sing that the autumn leaves were falling, falling, and (crouching down, hands at his feet) touching…the…ground. But Robert Frost?

The fascinating thing about the spontaneous recitation was the the expressiveness with which Mbot spoke–it wasn’t like he was reciting it by rote as much as telling me with great enthusiasm about what he did last night (in extremely articulate rhyming iambic pentameter). He owned that poem! And obviously enjoyed the tumble of it from his tongue.

It reminded me of the first time I can remembering hearing classical music (although I’m sure I’d heard it before)–in a gray-linoleumed, fluorescent-lit music room where my third grade class filed once a week to sing simple songs very badly. The music teacher lowered a record’s needle onto a vinyl disk, and the first notes of “Morning Song,” at the beginning of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite were breathed into my consciousness. I didn’t know what it was. I remember sitting in my metal folding chair as the music described the rising sun, transfixed with joy–I had never even imagined that anything that beautiful that could exist. I went home and asked my mom if it would be possible to actually buy it. Soon afterward, this appeared in our living room:

1-1119131434

I couldn’t care less about the Nutcracker. But I listened to the B-side of that record as often as my mother would agree to load it onto the turntable of my dad’s treasured hi-fi stereo, whose amplifiers he had built by hand (and whose vacuum tubes periodically self-destructed in a dramatic cloud of smoke that filled the house with the smell of freshly charred wiring).

Partly because of the vividness of that memory, I’ve never believed in dumbing down language or music for children. Sure, we read picture books by the shelf-foot, and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But I also read to the bots whatever they’ll sit still for–parts of articles from National Geographic or the New Yorker (Ian Frazier’s adventures in northern Russia, for some reason, particularly captured Mbot’s interest), and I intersperse what is now the Bot’s fave music–”beat music” (any popular dance song, whose lyrics they argue over, both of them wrong), with large doses of classical, and not the Little Einstein version, either. Once in a while they complain about it (Mbot: “I will NOT thank whoever wrote THIS music”), but not often. Who knows what the bots get out of all these grown-up forms of artistic expression? But if they’re ready to get something, it’ll be there for them to get, and they’ll get it.

The Fall Festival was just over two weeks ago. Mbot and the other kindergartners recited Robert Frost, almost incoherently–it was much better performed solo in the back of the car; Gbot performed his extremely brief song about falling leaves while waving a gauzy scarf in autumnal colors, and the elementary class recited Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Arrow and the Song”:

I shot an arrow into the air

It fell to earth, I know not where,

For, so swiftly it flew, the sight

Could not follow it in its flight.

 

I breathed a song into the air,

It fell to earth, I know not where;

For who has sight so keen and strong,

That it can follow the flight of song?

 

Long, long afterward, in an oak,

I found the arrow, still unbroke;

And the song, from beginning to end,

I found again in the heart of a friend.

Since the Festival, Gbot has been reciting bits and pieces of this poem, out of the blue. I provide the words when he can’t remember, but generally, he just seems to be enjoying saying a couple of lines at a time; his favorite combo goes straight from breathing a song into the air to finding it again in the heart of a friend.

Since Junebug has died, we’ve been talking about her almost every day; we’ve been talking about death lately, too, because the antique cat–after nearly eighteen years, having beaten diabetes but unable to conquer renal failure–is finally sneaking up on the end of his ninth life. Needless to say, there are way more questions in the house these days than answers for them.

Yesterday afternoon, I happened to say to Gbot at breakfast something like, “Goodness, your cereal just disappeared.”

At which point there was a brief pause before Gbot responded, “And June disappeared.”

“Yes,” I said.

There was another pause, and Gbot replied, “And you know not where.”

Gbot’s use of the poem’s antiquated syntax made me think that he was making a connection to the song breathed into the air, and its trajectory. It reminded me of the power of poetry–not only to create beauty in the presence of grief, but to connect seemingly disparate facts, objects, memories, experiences–and build a harmony of them filled with subtle and complex understanding.

Even as tears sprang to my eyes, I had to stifle a giggle. I thought for a moment. “Into the hearts of her friends,” I said. Then we went out and rode bikes.

Friends.

Friends.

Goodbye, Junebug

June, 2001 (copyright

June in 2001

Yesterday we said goodbye to Junebug.

Since I picked her in 2001 from among sixty inmates at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, where she’d been living for twelve months, we never really knew how old she was. According to the lady at the shelter, the scrawny black and white dog was one or two when she’d arrived, which would make her fourteen or fifteen this year.

Friends and I in Idaho’s Wood River Valley joked that she was a genuine Wood River Retriever. The product of ne’er-do-well parents sporting substantial doses of Labrador and Border Collie in their questionable pedigrees, these middle-sized, athletic, poorly trained hounds are ubiquitous in the Valley. The B.C./Lab mix gave Junebug webbed toes, an unquenchable desire to run far, far away, and a dense, fluffy undercoat protected by a long, oily topcoat, with which she performed Olympian feats of shedding.

Junie was as strange a dog as her appearance suggests, by turns cripplingly empathetic and discouragingly aloof. In spite of her flipper-like feet and waterproof coat, she did not like to swim. Instead, she preferred to wade, and after our first month as a team, during which together we watched dozens of tennis balls bob downstream and out of sight, she finally succeeded in training me not to throw tennis balls.

But if I demonstrated undue optimism in the early days, I wasn’t alone. Every morning she woke up knowing that this–this!–would be the day that she would finally catch a squirrel.

She chased cats (although it’s important to note that not once did she chase Tesserwell), and she chased foxes, but her quarry of choice was the squirrel. Idaho, where she spent her first seven years, is ideal for such pursuit, boasting thirteen species of ground squirrel. All of them were faster than June.

This morning, teary-eyed while tying his sneakers, Mbot asked me to tell another Junie story. “Juniebug woke up every morning,” I began, “knowing–just knowing!–that that day would be the day she caught a squirrel.” I zipped the bots into sweatshirts and we shuffled over the new Bermuda grass, glowing green around our shoes, to the car. “But she never did.”

“Never ever?”

“Well, there was one time….We were housesitting at Nanny and Poppy’s. Now, you know how Nanny and Poppy don’t like the smell of onions, right? For some reason I can’t remember now, I had one with me, and put it on top of my car overnight instead of bringing it inside. Then I did some gardening at Nanny and Poppy’s and Junie spent the morning racing around in the grass and woods after squirrels. Now, Junie was fast–fast as a cheetah on the African plains. But not as fast as a squirrel.

“Well, just as I was getting ready to get in the car and go home, Juniebug prances up to me, and by jigger if she wasn’t carrying a squirrel in her mouth. Oh, she was so pleased with herself! She was prancing and dancing. Can you imagine Junie prancing and dancing? I, on the other paw, was horrified. By the look of the squirrel, it had probably been dead for a day. That would explain why it was so stiff, and also why it couldn’t outrun Junie. I took it out of her mouth–she didn’t care, she was still dancing and prancing with glee to finally get a taste of squirrel–it tasted just like candy to her–Squirrel Skittles, and Squirrel Duds–and I put it on top of the car next to the onion.

“Then I went to get a bag to put it in. I didn’t want it stinking up Nanny and Poppy’s garbage. But I got distracted, and forgot about it, and finished up the gardening, and called Juniebugs out of the trees, where she was looking to double her score, and she leaped into the back of the car–can you imagine Juniebugs leaping? Just like a gazelle on the African plains. And we drove home.

“And out on the road, I said to Junie, ‘I must look awfully lovely today! Everyone we pass is looking at us. Aren’t we a couple of beautiful girls?’ And it was true: heads were turning on the highway the whole drive home.

“And then we got home. I climbed out of the car and Junie jumped out and sat looking at the car. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘It’s time to go inside.’ But she just sat looking past me, and so I turned around, and what did I see? There on the top of the car were the onion and the squirrel. I had driven all the way home with an onion and a dead squirrel on top of my car! Everyone we passed must have thought I was going to make squirrel soup. Junebug particularly wanted me to, because after all it was the first squirrel she’d ever caught. Oh, that was a happy day for Junebug!”

By that time, we’d reached school. We bundled out of the car, navigated the parking lot holding hands, hugged and kissed goodbye, Junie temporarily forgotten in pursuit of the day.

I have told the bots that we need to be thankful that Junebug was part of our family. I can’t with a clear conscious tell them that she went to heaven. Unless heaven is our collective consciousness, the narrative through which we navigate past and present and future, as real and powerful and invisible as oxygen or gravity. We’ll tell Junebug stories.

And so Junie’s having a good day, today, chasing squirrels, and catching them.

Nope, no squirrel here any more....

Nope, no squirrel here any more….

In Flight En Route To Tomorrow

2013 July 4 049

Shock of water like

knowledge of fragility

can buoy or break

On Monday, with 95% of the lab work in hand, an oncologist delivered the positive news of the negative: negative for cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Negative for invasive cancer in the breast tissue. Our road trip to Idaho would proceed as (re)scheduled! I’d been putting off booking a hotel room for the night in Cedar City, Utah, the halfway point, but now I did.

On Tuesday, my surgeon received the last 5% of the lab work, and delivered the negative news of the positive: positive margins at the excision site, meaning that abnormal cells–still noninvasive–had been found too close to the edges of the removed tissue, so more would have to be taken. I’m scheduled for a second surgery Tuesday. I cancelled the hotel room. I was further from the half-way point than I’d thought. A heavy disappointment told me that I’d let my positive thinking for a best-scenario outcome turn into expectation.

Note to self: Work on keeping these two separate and under control at all times.

Self to self: BWAAAAA ha ha ha ha. Whatevs.

Control’s not working so well these days. Which has forced me to investigate alternative coping methods.

A few days before the first surgery, I sat in the gray-toned waiting room of an outpatient clinic waiting for the “radioactive seed localization implant”–a painless procedure in which a tiny, ever-so-slightly radioactive chip of metal is implanted at the site of the DCIS-afflicted tissue, (for the surgeon to locate with a Geiger counter). And I decided that one reason–among many–like, say, having a radioactive piece of metal injected into my breast–that this whole experience with DCIS was so unnerving is that it brought me into strange and foreign places and unfamiliar situations.

Having had that thought, I was moved to a second waiting room, this one tiny, with two curtained-off dressing cubes, gray speckled Linoleum floors and walls the color of Silly Putty. My view was onto a hallway on whose wall was embedded an indecipherable piece of machinery. I decided to consider this place a foreign country, with its own strange architecture, customs, language, and way of dress. Like Paris, but without the good butter, crusty bread, Mansard roofs, and generally short men.

This helped a great deal. In fact, when I arrived home, there was a Skpe message waiting for me from my friend Solveig: “think of this as a big adventure–your one and only lumpectomy!”

“Like Disneyland, I wrote back. “Except instead of the Teacup Ride, it’s the D-Cup Ride!”

This frame of mind–or framing of events–is working quite nicely, but at some point, my subconscious begins to wonder why I am in Disneyland, and why I feel so unprepared to be here.

And so I’ve started to read about the most effective ways to assimilate such situations. I am not much one for rah-rah-rah self-help books, but I’m always open to suggestions. A dear friend suggested Pema Chodron‘s writings, and I’ve begun When Things Fall Apart; the same friend sent this URL to Brene Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Because behind my dreams–about Angry Birds costumes; about my sons, ill and injured; about leaving glass shards on the floor between me and my sleeping children; of tracking ink on my sister’s carpet–are feelings–absolutely and completely irrational feelings, mind you–not only of vulnerability and fear but of guilt, and shame, responsibility, and inadequacy.

Frankly, it’s a pain in the ass.

But I’m in a place of growth and learning. And so far, even including my deductible, it’s cheaper than grad school.

Now, on the morning of my second lumpectomy, I will keep this image of Gbot in mind:

2013 July 4 045

This belly flop is

beautiful! Style! Form! And the

laughter afterward!

What’s Underneath the Surface

Mbot: Blast off!

What’s underneath the surface?

One morning in May, I entered the bathroom to find both Gbot and Mbot standing together on the footstool. Gbot held a tube of some overexpensive, undereffective face cream and was nanoseconds away from squeezing. “Gbot,” I warned, “If you squirt that out, then I’ll look like an ugly old hag.”

Mbot looked up from the nail clippers he was attempting to use. “Why will you look like an ugly old hag?” he asked. “Because that’s what you really are?”

I think the babysitter had been reading them old-fashioned fairytales, in whose archetypal plots lurked witches disguised as beautiful maidens.

No, I told them. I’m gorgeous inside, but my skin is getting wrinkly, so the contents of the tube will keep me as lovely on the outside as I am on the inside.

That was at the end of May. The next week, I received a letter in the mail. I was being called back for a follow-up mammogram. “Heterogeneous tissue in the left breast,” read the letter. Do not be alarmed. Only four out of every thousand mammograms detect something bad. Two days later, I was staring at a black-and-white image of my left breast, magnified by four hundred percent, and Dr. Green, a radiologist, was pointing out a cluster of white specks that she called “calcifications.”

The next day, I was lying face-down on a biopsy table while twelve miniscule tissue samples were suctioned out for further study. Beyond the translucent shades of the corner room, the sun glanced off car roofs two stories down as they navigated the parking lot. Inside my own story, it was very quiet. I felt within those beige walls like part of an elaborate pop-up book, a parallel universe whose covers were these walls. Afterward, I smiled at the staff, because it was polite, but no one smiled back.

The next day, a woman’s brisk voice on the phone announced that she would put Dr. Green on the line to explain the biopsy results.

She used words I had never heard before, and other words I had heard before but not in the context of my life. “Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, Grade 3.” “Abnormal cells in the lining of the milk duct.” “Lumpectomy.” “Radiation.” “Hormone therapy.” “Tamoxifen.” And these, which I clung to: “Early detection.” “Not life-threatening.”

The rational part of my mind was not worried. I was grateful. During daylight hours, I packed lunches for summer day camp, swam with bots, made dinner, read Harry Potter, went to the Children’s Museum, oversaw time-outs.

The other parts of my mind were not so cooperative, especially at night. I began writing my dreams down in Haiku. Pressing the labyrinthine plots into the three brief lines of a poetic form I’d learned in childhood allowed me to, literally, synthesize my fears, understand them, and begin to assimilate them.

Dream #1

Hung over, wine glass

shards glinting, last night’s chicken

still out, breast sliced white.

Three days later, I celebrated my forty-sixth birthday by meeting with my OB/GYN. This sort of thing–early detection–probably noninvasive Stage 0 calcifications–is what gives breast cancer a good name, she told me. You’ll be fine. The chances of your dying from this are less than getting hit by a bus.

I drove home looking sideways at buses.

Quite unexpectedly, I found I had acquired a team: a breast surgeon, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. Every time I succeeded in forgetting about the disease I had, but could not see or feel, someone would call wanting me to make an appointment or register or preregister: for appointments. For a chest X-ray. For a radioactive seed localization implant. In spite of good medical insurance, everyone wants my credit card. I am earning air miles. I have a complimentary tote bag, heavy with literature and complimentary DVDs for cancer survivors. I have a new label.

Dream #2

I’ve promised to bring

the Angry Bird costumes but

they’ve all been rented.

Less than three weeks after the initial diagnosis, I was in surgery.

That was Wednesday.

The next day, we went to the circus. My mom’s in town–she’d planned the visit months ago, and bought the tickets in April as birthday presents for the bots. We’d planned to drive up to Idaho for the month of July. We will leave a week later than planned.

Dream #3

My son, three, standing,

neatly gutted. I wasn’t

there when it happened.

Both the lumpectomy incision and the incision close to my armpit, where two lymph nodes were removed for further study, are small, and in a few weeks will hardly be noticeable. Yesterday in the shower, I shaved my armpit and I might as well have been pulling the blade across the pork shoulder I’d cooked for dinner: nerves damaged during surgery had yet to repair themselves. Today, there is tingling.

Close Shave

We are not entitled

to feeling good. Or, to

feeling anything.

Results from the pathology lab will arrive Monday, and at this point the prognosis is very good. I’m lucky.

Dream #4

Gwyneth Paltrow is

having swimming lessons. What

an unflattering view.

I choose to interpret this last one like this: even though she doesn’t look great having swimming lessons, Gwyneth Paltrow is still the most beautiful woman in the world (according to People magazine). Ergo, although parts of me may look ugly as seen on a mammography film, I’m still not an ugly old hag.

A Small, Irritating Raccoon Celebrates Father’s Day

So, here is a confession: the Andrews family crest is headed by a small, irritating raccoon.

The small, irritating raccoon can even irritate another inanimate object.

The small, irritating raccoon can even irritate another inanimate object.

A small, irritating raccoon made from cotton pompoms, holding a pompom apple, both apple and raccoon circa 1975.

A small, irritating, inanimate raccoon by the name of Superpeeky.

There are actually two of him. Different generations. Identical except for the fact that one was acquired by my brother when he was five, and the other two years later. My brother carried them around everywhere, with a fist around their necks (an anatomical feature denoted by the layer of glue affixing the pompom body to the pompom head.) Over the years, their necks elongated and they lost any semblance of a chin they once may have possessed.

Over the decades, Superpeeky has contracted a personality like some contract a disease. He is an egomaniac; he thinks he can fly but is tragically anti-aerodynamic; his brain, such as it is, with just one axon spinning wildly in attempt to synapse with itself, actually resides in the apple that he carries between his front paws; he lusts after the female wild boars who root about the bamboo forests near my brother’s home in Japan, and he is suspected of having fathered several boar/raccoon offspring, probably born with their apples in their mouths, but no one knows for sure, as none have ever been sighted.

The Superpeekies have also acquired a brief but notable wardrobe. Grandpa Supes (the elder) wears a red-and-white striped suit that I hand-stitched for him I think when I was nine. He has not taken it off since. Over this, he wears a Magic Tanning Shirt. It is pale yellow with a white polo collar, fashioned by my mother long ago in homage to a ten dollar shirt my father wore for over two decades during annual family vacations to Hawaii, and which he insisted accounted for his deep and even tan, which was the envy of his teenaged daughters. (It was the eighties). The original shirt was immune to the ravages of time, the changing of fashions, and an onslaught of sand, suntan lotion, sloughed skin, and derogatory remarks. As though feeding on the negative attention, it only grew stronger (while growing shorter and more misshapen) as the years passed. Sort of like Yoda.

I finally forced its retirement by purchasing a new Ralph Lauren model in a similar shade of yellow, but like Freddy Kreuger or, more accurately, like a wolf spider, who carries its pinpoint-sized, newly hatched spiderlings on its vast back, and if crushed by, say, Harry Potter, Volume 3, in the middle of the night, lives on in the miniature versions of itself that are small enough to scuttle to freedom (until they’re sprayed with toilet bowl cleanser)*, the shirt found new life in Superpeeky-sized versions of itself.

(If at this point you are questioning the sanity of my family, I am in no position to offer you assurances of normalcy. But if you ever find yourself in an airport interrogation room being questioned about why a small, irritating raccoon holding an apple and made out of pompoms is wearing a polo shirt, you’ll be able to whip out an answer with convincing speed.)

Superpeeky the younger can often be found sporting the Magic Tanning Shirt, which he wears sporadically, as the mood moves his keepers (the Superpeekies rotate between my brother’s office in Japan and my parents’ bookshelves in Idaho, when they haven’t been kidnapped by other family members who have been known to demand ransom in macadamia nuts).

One could write a doctoral dissertation on the psychosociological ramifications of Superpeeky. In the meantime, he has several practical uses.

He makes an excellent foil against which to measure oneself and the situations in which one finds oneself (for example, “Wow, gout must really suck, but by God, at least your brain isn’t in your apple.”)

He also provides a good go-to subject for special-occasion customized greeting cards when the selection of eCards falls short. For example:

FATHER’S DAY CAN GET BETTER AS YOU GET OLDER

and your hearing starts to go:

img001

img002

I’m just saying, every family should have a Superpeeky. (But if ours disappears, we will track you down and make you wear a Magic Tanning Shirt.)

*Not that that ever, ever happened in real life in the bots’ bedroom, leaving Husbot to clean up the poisonous toilet bowl cleanser which presented much more of a potential hazard to bots than a harmless yet large and gross mommy wolf spider.

Bang! Bang! Bangs!

Carmen went a little overboard with the floofy ringlets.

Carmen went a little overboard with the floofy ringlets.

I know I just said that I like my hair. It’s true: I don’t want the lowlights that even Husbot had the nerve to suggest not long ago. But I have to admit I’ve been getting really tired of my face.

Pulling my unbrushed tresses straight back into an elastic band every morning while encouraging pottying, pouring cereal and milk into pouring containers so the bots can pour their own cereal and milk into bowls, mopping cereal and milk and potty off the floor, pulling clothes onto bots who would rather be playing, pushing toothbrushes into the mouths of bots who would rather be playing, and encouraging self-shoe-putting-onning of bots (who: that’s right….) wasn’t helping matters.

The answer to all my problems, of course, was bangs. Cheaper, subtler, and–ostensibly–less painful than a face lift. Which I don’t want anyway. And so on Friday, I finally got around to making an appointment. I didn’t care with whom. I called the Ulta next to the Barnes and Noble, which I’ve been to several times, and was told that Carmen had an opening at 3:30. The name rang a bell. Carmen had done something or other–probably given me a trim–a few years back. I remembered only that he was very young and flamboyant with sticky-uppy hair, half dark and half platinum blond. He was a bit soft around the middle, and he talked nonstop about Disneyland. I had no other recollections, except that I had no feeling of heavy trauma associated with the memories, so he must have done a passable job on my hair.

I remembered nothing more until 3:45, when I was in his chair, post hair-wash, avoiding looking at myself in the mirror as I always do in the hairdresser’s chair, and he got out his comb.

It was a hairstylist’s kind of comb, very thin and long, like a stiletto, with two hundred needle-like teeth. He combed once, twice, and then it happened: the comb, on its way from crown to hair tip, jammed into the top of my ear. Then he raised his hand to comb again, and again it flapped my ear painfully down on its way earthward. And I suddenly remembered: Carmen, in addition to enjoying Disneyland very much, wanted to be a spy. He was concerned, however, because he only spoke English. And he might need to learn, say, Arabic. Two years ago, I had kindly encouraged him–after all, there we were–a hairstylist who wanted to be a spy, a housewife/new mother/magazine writer-who-hadn’t-published-an-article-since-giving-birth who wanted to write a book. And then he’d gotten out his comb.

And I remembered thinking, Carmen, my friend, how can you possibly be a spy, when you can’t even sneak up on my ears?

I saw on Friday that Carmen had aged well: he had lost his baby fat, his hair was all one color, and he seemed more confident. I sat with those words ringing in my stinging ears, slightly concerned about what would happen to my hair, but not particularly worried that an international assassin would appear and put a bullet through his black shirt that would then travel through my head.

He started talking about Disneyland.

But then he started asking questions. Consulting the photo I’d brought, ripped from an overpriced hairstyle magazine I would never use again, and asking more questions. They were good questions. He snipped, he clipped, he measured with his hands. He shaped, he thinned. He shared a recipe for a killer white salsa with shrimp.

And I found myself quite happy that Ulta salon will probably never lose Carmen to the CIA, because my ears may be slightly the worse for wear, but he did sneak up on my softer, more feminine side, and tweak it on the ass.

And not once did he suggest lowlights.

2 Wheels + 2 Pedals = 1 Lone Mbot

2013 january 24 bike! 002

There is something different about this picture, and it’s not Gbot’s funky shades.

Learning to ride a bike seems somehow more important than the first day of school. Maybe because riding a bike is something you do–pretty much the same way–for the rest of your life, or at least until your get so old that your children tell you you’re in danger of breaking a hip.

Santa delivered Mbot’s 16″-wheel Giant Animator without training wheels, because I hoped, after eighteen months spent cruising around on his Strider, Mbot would have the balance and confidence to take off on a pedal bike, in spite of the larger frame and a seat so high that only his toes touch the ground. The training wheels were in the cupboard, just in case.

In the past three weeks, in spite of the cold, Mbot’s been out five or six times on the big boy bike, for a few minutes at a time, with me holding on, or cruising by himself down the driveway, pedaling once or twice before putting a foot to the ground. The seat was technically too low, but I thought being able to put both feet on the ground would give him confidence. It seemed to, but it also made it more difficult to get leverage on the pedals. A couple of days ago, I raised the seat. It’s still a little low, and I’ll raise it more in a week or two.

And yesterday, trailed by Gbot, still on his Strider prebike, Mbot rolled out his new pedaling skills for a ride that lasted a good three minutes before he put his feet down, at which point he immediately asked for a push and headed off again, and this time I didn’t look at my watch. The bot can ride a bike.

He toppled over a couple of times, and got up, unphased. I love to watch this version of human-ness–this super-elastic, Flubber-butted version, this unossified phase, as different from me as a caterpillar from a butterfly, although I am not the one with wings.

After twenty minutes of pedaling–getting the hang of turning in circles, going fast!, and avoiding his brother, who was zooming around like a Gretzky slap shot–Mbot steered up onto the sidewalk, lay down the wheels, sat down, and arranged two rocks in front of him. “Mom,” he said, “Is it okay if I play a little rock game with myself? I don’t need two persons.”

And, his cape of independence settled visibly around him, a big “M” emblazoned across his shoulders, that’s exactly what he did.

Warning: Those who haven't given birth may not be able to see the cape.

Warning: Those who haven’t given birth may not be able to see the cape.

Why Does Everyone Want to Lowlight Me?

Ten years ago, no one would have even THOUGHT of suggesting lowlights.

Ten years ago, no one would have even THOUGHT of suggesting lowlights.

I hadn’t even heard the term before July. And then, during a routine trim shortly after my forty-fifth birthday, there it was: “Have you ever considered lowlights?”

“Umm, what?” I asked the overcoiffed twenty-something standing behind me holding scissors.

“We could work them in with highlights, and you wouldn’t even be able to tell.”

I tried not to look completely baffled as I put my expertise in antonyms to work. “You mean…some darker, and some lighter?”

She nodded, and flipped her wrist in a hand-shrug to express how simple it was. The scissors glinted menacingly. “And you’d only have to get it redone like every six months. It would hide some of this….”

Her cheerful voice trailed off as she fingered my part.

“The gray?” I asked, feeling like we were discussing the Voldemort of the hair world: That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.

“It would look really pretty!”

I declined.

Several months later, I had almost exactly the same conversation with another young woman wielding scissors. I told her what I’d told the first one: “You know, I actually like my hair.”

There was a time that ponytails worked. The bangs, however....

There was a time that ponytails worked. The bangs, however….

It’s an unpopular sentiment, but it’s true: I like my hair. Except for the fact that it’s nastily staticky right now, and I never make time to style it properly, which results in my trapping it unflatteringly in ponytail each morning and my mother-in-law asking me repeatedly if I’ve ever considered bangs, I like my hair. It’s brown. I’m lucky that it’s about fifty shades of brown, and so the gray that’s been creeping in had always been mistaken for just another shade of brown. But in the past two years, maybe because of bots or maybe because I’m halfway to ninety, the increasing population of non-brown hairs can be positively identified as one of the fifty shades of gray.

My sole venture into highlights, fifteen years ago. The fishing trip was much more successful than the hair.

My sole venture into highlights, fifteen years ago. The fishing trip was much more successful than the hair.

My mother edged toward the cliffs of gray hair at about my age, maybe a little younger. She took it upon herself to fight it the way everyone fought it in the eighties. It wasn’t called lowlighting then, it was called L’Oreal. My adolescent siblings and I made ruthless fun of her at the dinner table the day she finally admitted to doctoring her ‘do. She stood her ground, refusing to give us the pleasure of knowing exactly how and when she made her magic.

Mom and Dad, when their hair was at its lush, brown peak. (Dad's peak was rather more of the crest of a dune not far above sea-level.)

Mom and Dad, when their hair was at its lush, brown peak. (Dad’s peak was rather more of the crest of a dune not far above sea-level.)

Not long after, though, she stopped. I’m not sure why, and hesitate to guess, because I’d probably be wrong. She eased naturally into salt-and-pepper, then steel gray, then a lovely silver.

Mom was slipping gracefully into gray; The Andrews, c. 1988. Dad was sliding down his dune of dudeness. David's hair had definitely hit an apogee, Susan remained a natural blonde for fifteen more years and I...wall, I still havent learned to shut my mouth.

The Andrews, c. 1988: Mom was slipping gracefully into gray; Dad was sliding down his dune of dudeness. David’s hair was definitely summiting, Susan remained a natural blonde for fifteen more years and I…well, I still haven’t learned to shut my mouth.

As far as lowlights, I don’t know which way I’ll go. I don’t want to look older than I am, although if I really wanted to look younger, I’d get a tattoo. I don’t want to appear any more unkept than I already do. I also don’t want to come off as a suburban matron grasping to look like what she’s not. I didn’t always like my hair. And I won’t always. But for now, I like my hair. So I’ll go with Nolighting today.

Okay, so I don't exactly like my hair HERE, but it still looks brown. Right? Right?

And when my hair is in a less-than-photogenic state, I use diversionary tactics, like sitting with Gbot. People look at his hair, instead.

First Day of School

2013 Jan 7 First Day of SCHOOL 012

The day began at 6 a.m. when Gbot, caught atop the box for his Fisher Price Circus in an attempt to extract marshmallows and sugar cereal (which is only in the house due to their inclusion in a Christmas cookie recipe) from the high cupboard, “I am checking to see if the marshmallows and poppers are not soggy.”

And then it was off to the potty. There are guinea pigs in the Montessori classroom, and Gbot adores anything guinea piggish or hamstery, and so I’ve been using that as bait to get him to the potty. For example: “When you go potty in the toilet like a big boy, you get to go to school with the guinea pigs!”

This morning upon successful pottying, he announced, “Oh, the guinea pigs will be SO HAPPY!”

2013 Jan 7 First Day of SCHOOL 013

Not as happy as Mama.

At school, Mbot led the family in one final flushworthy effort.
2013 Jan 7 First Day of SCHOOL 015

And then they were off.

2013 Jan 7 First Day of SCHOOL 016

I was thrilled. I was as thrilled as Gbot and the guinea pigs put together. I didn’t think, “Where has the time gone?” But I did want time to stop.

Maybe it’s having lived through the turn of the century that makes me so aware of the fact that it’s ’13, and to think about everything that happened in the ’13 that I’ve grown up with: 1913. Before World War 1. Before the Model T was in production. Before women could vote. Slavery had been abolished only forty years before. And in forty years, when I’m eighty-five, it’ll be 2053. The early fifties. In the early fifties, my grandpa was only just younger than I am now. He was born in ’15. It is impossible for me not to think of the young boys born near the turn of the last century, who I knew only as old men. Because for the children who will remember me as Great Grandma Etchart, wrinkly and white-haired, Mbot and Gbot will be those boys, who those children will know only as old men. I see this vaster span of time overlaid across every day like a web. And although I know it’s ridiculous, it makes me sad. Can’t we just replay the first day of preschool forever?