Nice to "meet" you

I've had sick kids for nearly two weeks now. They've missed school, been to the doctor, received anti-biotics, passed germs back and forth to each other, and briefly to me. They've laid, miserable, on the sofa, and run through the house, too ill to let out but too well to lie down. They've played video games and had entire novels read to them, made cupcakes, and curled up in blankets. And watched lots and lots of one particular tween show that makes me think I should be the perky mom that makes the home fun all the time, but I'm too tired to even really feel guilty about that.

Today was the day I thought they'd be on the mend, and maybe be back to school... at least one of them, but no. One of my favorite times of day is when I pick them up from school, when my mom friends all descend on the school at the same time, and we catch each other in the parking lot to ask how soccer games went or if they're volunteering for the class party and when we can we all have coffee again. It's when smiles are exchanged and hugs are given and waves are passed around and it's a great little boost. Add a latte, and I'm good till the the next day. I don't need a lot. But it's been two weeks since my last trip to the parking lot, and with my husband on the road, the familiar twitch I get when I've been isolated too long is setting in.

And then I was given a gift. On a comment thread on Facebook about, of all things, internet stalking and the dangers of people we don't know being invited into our lives, I met a new friend. It's a small thing, I guess, a friend request on Facebook from someone you don't know, but she came with such a glowing letter of introduction, (yes, in the form of a Facebook comment), that I immediately scrolled through her Timeline. She loves words, and uses them like someone who loves them. And not in that way that people do that's both skillful, but stinging. She uses them kindly, but masterfully. I was impressed. And I felt connected. And tonight, as I tucked my kids into bed (for the fifteenth time because they can't stay there) by myself (because my husband travels as part of his job) and without a dog at my heels (because of some wrong turn the universe took that I can only attribute to a butterfly flapping it's wings in Tokyo at exactly the wrong time, because nothing else really explains my not having a dog)... I felt... not as alone. Because somewhere, in a city I've never visited, another mother, with three kids of her own, who loves words like I do, and with whom I felt some kind of kindred solidarity, was probably tucking her children in also. Probably not for the first time. Or maybe it just takes her one. I don't know. She maybe a far better bedtime enforcer than I am.

What makes it even better, is that I met her through someone on Facebook that I'd met in the same way, by an introduction from a different friend. And I was just discussing with him how we need to a new way to define "meet" because although I'd never stood in a room with him, I'd certainly met him. And indeed, I'd met him, through another friend, who I (don't think) I've met in this outdated corporeal sense, but because he argued with me about the Lost finale on the thread of someone I actually did know, we became friends. (The Lost finale was amazing, by the way).

 I know the Internet can be seen as an open door in our homes that needs guarding. And at times, we need some sort of cyber pit bull (have I mentioned, yet, that I still don't have a real one?) sitting at attention, so danger doesn't walk through. At other times, maybe we need a nice, homey wreath hanging under the peep hole so that good people feel welcome. Because there are a lot of good people out there. And sometimes that's how we meet them. It's definitely how I hold close to friends who aren't near enough to see in the school parking lot, or meet for coffee. So tonight, the door's open, and I (and my cyber pit bull) would love to "see" you!

Perspective, hobbit style

I've been reading chapter books to the kids every night. I try to pick books that my 4 year old boy, 7 year old girl, and 11 year old girl will all enjoy, but truthfully the 4 year old doesn't always make out so well. We've read through the Chronicles of Narnia, the first three Harry Potter books, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and contemporary books by people I admire and people I know (which is so fun), like Jonathon Stroud's Heroes of the Valley (a book my 7 year old loved so much she named her sparkly red betta fish Sven - we won't discuss the tragedy of Sven's life span here), or The Incorrigibles of Ashton Place about three children who were raised by wolves and are now in the care of a very austere young governness.

Just now, I've started The Hobbit. As I got started, I wondered if I remembered much of it, or if I was confusing it with Lord of the Rings that I'd read (and seen) many more times. As Bilbo was inundated with dwarvish guests and heading out on his adventure I thought maybe I was misremembering things. I thought for sure they were about to run into three trolls and have a fight of some kind, but I pictured it so differently than where the adventurers were now, I thought I must be mistaken.

And then. Bam. Trolls. Out of nowhere, or so I thought. I looked back into my mind and realized, that I did remember Bilbo journeying out of the shire and into the path of three trolls around a campfire. But in my mind's eye they were journeying down hill, from left to right, and then found themselves in the trolls camp. But as I read the book many years later, they were going uphill, from right to left, and I drew the landscape differently, and so the trolls took me completely by surprise. I had similar experiences rereading the Chronicles of Narnia. I'd read them enough times to know I hadn't forgotten anything, but I realized that as I read them as a kid, I saw the pictures and felt the imagery so much more deeply, especially in the underground lair of the Green Lady. As an adult, I felt the character's conflicts and disputes and connected on an emotional level so that the scenery took a backseat to how they felt and treated one another. I've always been taught that what the reader brings to a story is so important, but I hadn't had the experience before of bringing different things to the same story, as the same person, but standing in a different place in life.

Yesterday, I snapped a picture of my oldest daughter with my phone.
She said, "Is that going on Facebook?"
"Yes," I said.
"Sitting in the car doing homework after a volleyball game while my sister does hula?" She said, quoting word for word the caption I was about to type.
"Uh, yes," I said.
"I know you," she said, smugly.

And she does know me, quite well, probably better than she knows anyone else she's met in her 11 years. But my mother knows me also, quite well, possibly better than anyone, and so does my husband. And yet, they know me differently. And I imagined my daughter looking at me as someone might look up from the bottom of a hill to the top, because I'm older and taller and in her world more powerful than she is. And others must know me as though standing from a different place in the mountain.

I thought it's a good thing to keep in mind with friends that I feel like I understand, because I only understand them in this moment in time, in this situation, looking at them from the side of the mountain where I stand, and bringing my own perspective. Their trolls might take me by surprise, or I might be expecting trolls and be taken by surprise to only find hobbits.

And of course there's the writing... I feel like a really good children's book is a joy for children and parents alike. Some kids' movies try to do this with humor meant to fly over the kids' heads. But you can write in layers with imagery that captures the children's imagination and relationships that make adults think and ponder their own friendships and reactions. The words can make the children feel larger than life and they can please adults as they flow rhythmically and effortlessly off their tongue as they read aloud.

I love that books can make us think like this. And we're only on chapter four of Bilbo's grand adventure. There's so much more to learn as we journey there and back again! *image released into the public domain by Wikipedia user "Arun Nowhere"

My coping strategy for the next 6 months

I live in Seattle and I make no secret that my most favorite time of year is September through December. The pressure of summer is off - no more moaning if it isn't sunny or warm enough to play in the sprinkler - no more pressure on the days the sun *does* come out to do something epic. Plus, I tend to get heat stroke really easily. Maybe it's to do with drinking too much coffee.

But then September comes and the kids go back to school, and I *love* school - not just because I'm kicking the kids out of the house, but I just love helping with homework and seeing the other moms again and getting back into a routine. And the promise of the holidays loom. Yes, the days get shorter, and darker, and colder. It's Seattle. By November if you work in an office you feel like a mole because you leave in the dark and come home in the dark. But the dark is *perfect* for the holidays. You get to make fun, festive food like pumpkin pie and mulled cider and mashed potatoes and put meals in the crock pot. Christmas music starts up and people put out lights and you pray for snow - just a little. And everyone has this feeling of anticipation and hope.

Also, the themes - you can decorate for each month - bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils in September, jack o' lanterns in October, wreathes made out of leaves in November and little pilgrims on your table, and then there's Christmas.

But now, it's all done, and contrary to the song, Christmas is not in *mid-winter* it's at the very beginning of winter. We Seattlites have all of winter to go now - black as ever, with no twinkling lights, and more rain than snow... till June. But usually till July.

This is my least favorite time of year and it goes on for six months. Or seven.

I decided a huge part of it is that there aren't anymore themes. I mean, if you're looking at a drugstore calendar, they'll show snowflakes in January (but it probably won't snow) and heart's in February (I dislike Valentine's day) and then pastel eggs and Easter bunnies (and yes, I celebrate Easter. It's a very powerful holiday, but I really can't stand pastels or candy coated almonds) and then there's spring, which here just means more rain.

But this is not a complaining post - I know, I had you fooled. This is the year I do something about it!

I'm inventing my own themes. I don't have it all worked out yet, but one month will be Harry Potter month and one will be Narnia, and maybe in the spring (ick) we'll do a Secret Garden month. Doesn't that sound like more fun than Easter eggs and hearts?

We'll make butter beer

and Turkish delight

and Yorkshire pudding (ok, I googled Yorkshire pudding and we may need something else for Secret Garden month).

I figure there are all sorts of wreath possibilities, too.

What do you think? Crazy? Or a lemons and lemonade sort of thing. Let me know if you have any great ideas for themes. I'm still working it out! I figure till the tree comes down (tonight, I swear!) I don't have to start in on January's theme...