Friday, September 28, 2007

Get a grip

Earlier this week I was flipping through a book on Medieval manuscripts when I came across these images from the Lindisfarne Gospels. What caught my eye was the way Matthew and Luke were both holding their quills. With two fingers on top!

This was quite an epiphany for me, because I have always held my pencil the same way, which according to every teacher I ever had in elementary school, is the wrong way to hold a pencil. Mrs. Robins (my Kindergarten teacher who, I swear, also masking-taped misbehaving students to their chairs. We lived in mortal fear) even rapped my knuckles with her reading glasses whenever she caught me sliding back into “bad habits.” My teachers barked at me and held the freaky callous forming on my fourth finger up for ridicule before the other children. I took to scooping my left arm around my writing hand and hunching over so they wouldn’t see me giving in to my perverse addiction—I couldn’t have felt more shame if I had been sneaking hits on a cigarette with the lunch ladies behind the dumpster.

If only I had the Lindisfarne evidence 30 years ago, I could have proven that I was not, in fact, weak willed or digitally impaired. I was instead following in the footsteps, um fingersteps, of the great Evangelists themselves.

What’s really ironic is that now Gabie holds his pencils and pens with three fingers on top and I find myself correcting him all the time. He knows the “school way” to hold things and if I tell him to, he’ll quickly shift to one finger . . . which lasts right up until he picks up a new color. I think I’ve corrected him a thousand times (and I know his pre-school teacher did too and now his Kindergarten teacher must be doing the same). Still he persists and I wonder if it’s worth the battle. I say I’m just trying to help train him early to protect him from what I went through. But maybe I’m more Establishment than I’d like to think. Am I truly willing to perpetuate the myth that there is one God-given way to grip a writing utensil? Who cares? Honestly as long as he is writing something worthwhile, he should be able to hold the dang thing with his toes for all it matters.

And here’s what Gabie wrote (with three fingers on top) today: TOMOM FRMU GABRIEL MOM I LUF UTO FOREFR AND WIL FOR EFR NOMATRWAT!

Not exactly scripture, but holy writ as far as I’m concerned.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Hi. It’s Gabie again. Sorry I haven’t written on my blog for a while. Thanks for tolerating my Mom in the meantime. She’s a good substitute. (She’s also a good hair cutter, Ramen Noodle warmer upper, and double-knot shoe tie-er but I don’t tell her that or it might go to her head). I’ve been busy with Important Things lately. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

Going to school. I’m in Kindergarten now so this means I have to get up so early in the morning that after Mom carries me out of bed, I have to sit in my chair for at least 10 minutes staring into the cereal bowl to warm up my brain. Sometimes Mom asks me if I’m trying to glue the bowl to the table with my laser vision but I don’t laugh. Nobody’s mom is funny at 7:30 am.

I like school. Mom says that’s a good thing since I’ve decided that I’m going to be a doctor and all. She says I only have 24 more years to go. I think I’ll be able to skip a few of those since I already know tons. I’ve read at least five books about the human body and I like to use words like cartilage and kidneys whenever I can, especially when we have stewed chicken for dinner. (I asked mom to save the bones for me so I could study them.)

I drew these pictures yesterday of my brain and my mom’s brain. Mom wanted to know why mine is all loopy and hers is all “compartmentalized” whatever that means. I said boys brains and girls brains are totally different. Duh.

Nobody else knew that my pictures were brains except mom. She said she knew because she had seen the same shape in a painting by Michelangelo (then she actually showed it to me because she’s a serious art nerd!).

Sometimes Dad lets me watch Survivorman on TV. Mom says I shouldn’t watch so much Discovery Channel, but I tell her it’s educational. This week I learned how to boil jungle roots in a tin can to get rid of foot fungus. This will come in handy if I’m ever stranded in the Amazon rain forest. You never know. That’s why it’s so important that I don’t miss any episodes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Cool news: my entry won the writing contest at Scribbit.

This made my day and almost made up for the fact that all week long I have been trying to work on various writing projects but have been thwarted at every turn by the realities of motherhood, teaching and housekeeping. I had to laugh as I read something today from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. She is arguing that a writer needs a room that is quiet (even soundproof, can you imagine!) where she can be alone to work. She says, “a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will come from the writer’s mind whole and entire. Generally material circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt [may I add toddlers will climb on your lap and poke you in the nostrils as you type] . . . If anything comes through in spite of all this, it is a miracle, and probably no book is born entire and uncrippled as it was conceived.” Ah, Virginia, I may not be writing a work of genius, but I can certainly vouch for the crippling interruptions.

I've decided I’m in love with the word thwart and will henceforth strive to use it as frequently as possible. Thwart, thwart, thwart. You just don’t get much closer to a vowel-deficient freak of language than that. It sits right under thwack in the dictionary and contains words that mean “a hard tumorous skin growth” and “open armed conflict or military hostility” within itself. It has a taste of the onomatopoeia to it—say it a few times fast and it sounds like you’re shooting darts out of your mouth or maybe imitating the sound of a boat oar knocking someone upside the head, both things you might try if you were attempting to obstruct or defeat a person’s plans, which is what the word means.

I feel thwarted lately and so I hereby declare this National Thwart Awareness Week. You are welcome to join me if you so desire. Please aim your darts responsibly.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

“Mistakes were made”

I love the way politicians invoke the passive voice when they want to apologize for an indiscretion while simultaneously implying that they had little to do with it. Mistakes were made. I may have, in fact, been in another state when it happened; if you’ll give me a minute to check my appointment book I’ll verify, but in the meantime, I am deeply sorry for whatever it was.

I wish I had some invincible excuse for my behavior last night at the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. I wish I could say I was at my ranch in Montana at the time and so I could not possibly have been that blonde woman who totally lost her cool when she saw her son (who had spent DAYS working on his little wooden firetruck only to see it eliminated in the first round of the competition) wind up disappointed and hurt. I wish I could say that I’m on some kind of prescription medication that makes me irrational and liable to walk right up to the person in charge (we’ll just call her “Sally”) and tell her what I think of her decision to change the way the Pinewood Derby has been run in the past—from “everybody races everybody else and has fun” to “we must have ONE winner so we’ll embrace the NBA model and eliminate the losers one by one even if it means some kids get one turn down the track and others get 15.” I wish I could say my upbringing at the Kennedy mansion has regrettably given me a hot head, a temper easily sparked by rumors of missiles in Cuba or maybe infuriating ladies like Sally who see the graphite-streaked tears on my son’s face and then point to the sign that says “Sportsmanship” above the narrowing brackets of the elimination chart, and ask him sharply, “What part of that word don’t you understand?”

Well I was there. I have no ranch in Montana. And I must admit that if mistakes were made, I was the mistaker. I regret the whole thing, not because I shouldn’t have said anything, but because I should have handled it far differently (like in writing the next day, for example). Instead, I wound up making McKay feel even worse by embarrassing him. And I made myself look stupid. And, frankly, I should have known better. I have known Sally for several years and, in moments of sweet rationality, I am completely aware that Sally and I may live a few houses away from each other, but we come from two entirely different planets. She comes from the “PE teachers who quote Harvard studies which prove that children need competition or they will fail in the workforce” planet. I come from the “Moms who feel that competition trains children to see other children as rivals and squashes their natural gift of empathy and all those external rewards like prizes, trophies, and titles of victory don’t encourage appropriate kinds of internal motivation and I want to see a copy of that “Harvard study” you like to quote because if the workforce is learning anything it’s that models of creativity and cooperation produce far better results and if you don’t believe me just look at Pixar and good grief they’re only a bunch of CUB SCOUTS!” planet.

My planet is right and hers is wrong, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that when planets collide, it may not be the best thing for a little boy with an adorable hand-made Pinewood Derby car that looks like a firetruck (with a matchstick ladder!) and a very soft heart. And so for that, I am deeply sorry.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What is that maniacal laughter I hear coming from upstairs?

I am liking my blog again. I went through a little phase where I was proud of what I had written in the past but also feeling resentful and imposed upon to keep it up. To wax Brontë-esque, I was ready to move on with my life but I couldn't because I still had that darn lunatic first wife locked up in the attic.

This week, I am back to enjoying my blog and wanting to feed it and keep it happy. I think this is due in part to learning about blooks and also seeing my blog as more of an asset than a liability. A blog can be a great platform - to use the publishing lingo - from which to build other things, or launch a career, do some really wicked tap-dancing, or maybe guillotine some heads (whatever it is one does on a platform).

In that spirit, I'm willing to do fun things, like enter that lovely writing contest Michelle hosts every month. (The topic is "learning" so I submitted this post about blank slates). I also thought I'd post a little fragmentary idea that has been floating around in my head for a few days. If I had more time, I'd develop it fully and come up with illustrations to match, but of course (the overarching THEME of this blog if ever there was one) I have no time because while I may not have much of an attic, I do have 4 kids to deal with and I am my own crazy first wife.

So here's the idea:

You know those Usborne touchy-feely books where each one is based on the phrase "That's not my...."? We own That's not my train, That's not my puppy, That's not my lion, That's not my monster and I think one more but it must be buried somewhere under Gabie's bed. Inside each book, it goes through 4 or 5 pages of things like "That's not my lion. Its ears are too soft." and "That's not my lion. Its paws are too rough." On the last page, you finally get "THAT's my lion! His mane is so shaggy." Anyway, I think you'd have to know the genre to appreciate it, but I'd like to write a new one called That's not my mommy. Here's what I've come up with so far....

That's not my mommy. Her hair is too pretty.

That's not my mommy. Her face is too smooth.

That's not my mommy. Her eyes are too bright and perky.

That's not my mommy. She looks way too good in jeans.

That's not my mommy. She smells too sweet and clean (okay, so now it has become a scratch and sniff book).

(and finally,)

THAT's my mommy! Her lap is so wide and squishy.

I don't know, do you think Usborne will go for it?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

On wanting things

Wolfgang Heimbach, Maid looking at a table
A maid looks through the window at the remnants of a feast. And she wants. She wants what she cannot have—not just the things she sees on the other side of that window but the way of life she knows exists on the other side of an equally transparent but very real social divide. You can tell by her round eyes and raised brows that she is amazed. Such sumptuous foods!—the leftovers alone worth several of her own meals. Given the chance, she would drain the wine goblet, polish off that hunk of bread, and carry off the ham bone, still heavy with enough meat to feed her family for a week.

With her nose pressed to the glass and her fingers resting on the window ledge, she has a hungry “puppy dog” look; I half expect her to start howling any minute like a hound who wants the moon to not be a quarter of a million miles away. I am tempted to say her expression is one of longing, but it strikes me as a cruel word, one which implies distance even while it means that she yearns to close the gap. She will never taste the food or touch the starched linens and silver plates that rest few inches away because things more substantial than leaded window panes bar her from a place at that table. She will always be on the outside looking in.

The real appeal of this painting to me is the way it foreshadows Surrealism by 300 years and calls our visual assumptions into question. Is seems that we are on the same side of the window as the feast, and, unlike the maid, we are within reach of everything on that table. But then again, the trick is that we aren’t. We are just as much on the outside as she is. The picture frame, like a window, allows us to see things but never have them. Even if we stood in front of the original painting in the Staatliche Gemaldegalerie in Kassel Germany and risked a fit from the guards by reaching out a finger, we would feel only oxidized chemicals on canvas. The whole thing (as is all art, but we like to forget) is a hoax, a tease, an attractive lie.

The food isn’t all that appetizing to me, but what I want is for that scene to be real, or at least for it to have once been real. The more I look at her, the more I imagine that this woman once existed in the flesh. I have deduced a whole personality for her, a hungry family at home, an errand to run. I want to believe that she lived. And like her (who was never truly a her, but an “it”—an idea in the mind of an artist—and a “those”—the pigments spread by a brush) I want even more what I cannot have.

My daughter Nora is also going through a phase right now where she spends most of her waking hours wanting things. She wants up. She wants down. She wants to be outside. She wants to be in. She wants whatever anyone else currently has, whatever it is. She wants to play with the prohibited object you have just taken from her. This morning I confiscated the following contraband: a pair of scissors, McKay’s math homework, a tube of lipstick (which she was not too sad to lose since it tasted far less sweet than she had expected), two permanent markers, a bear-shaped bottle of honey that she was sucking on like a bottle, the dish detergent, my car keys, and a box of Kleenex—the contents of which she had been gleefully liberating one by one while telling each tissue what I can only assume was: Fly, be free, be free!

Nora only has four words in her English vocabulary, but—don't worry—she speaks 12 different dialects of Whine and has no qualms about making her wants known. If I’m carrying her around and she has a new destination in mind, she will grunt and try to steer me like a pack horse, turning my shoulders or pulling at the reins of my hair. She also points at things. Sometimes she aims both pointer fingers at what she wants and then vibrates them up and down furiously like she’s conducting a tiny, tiny orchestra made entirely of piccolos. If she sees anyone else eating or drinking something, she insists that we share. Yesterday I had to eat the last ice cream sandwich surreptitiously, ducking behind the screen of my laptop whenever she wandered through the kitchen. She caught me on the last bite and I gave it to her before wadding up the wrapper and throwing it away. She wailed for more but it was all gone. “Sorry kiddo,” I said sympathetically. “Life is frustrating. You’re just going to have to get used to it.”

At this stage, Nora’s whole life pretty much consists of longing for things she cannot have. What a drag for her. The most frustrating part is that she’ll beg for something and then decide that it really fails to give her utter fulfillment, so she’ll chuck it aside and look for something else. This makes me crazy and anxious so I cope by opening one cupboard after another in the kitchen hunting for a snack. Something salty? Nope. That’s not it. Something sweet? No, that wasn’t it either. Maybe I need a Diet Coke. Now I’m craving chips. Or is it chocolate?

And then I ask myself, mystified: What in the world is my daughter’s problem?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

12 things I learned today

1. When I have a doctor’s appointment at 8:30 for just a “quick check” of my eyes, it will last 90 minutes and I should take more than one bottle, one diaper and two, count them, TWO wipes because (by the fourth child you would think I had learned this already) I would rather be safe and over-prepared than oh so very sorry.

2. Unfrosted strawberry Poptarts have exactly the same amount of sugar as the frosted kind. Huh.

3. I should look at my calendar more than once a day because it is entirely likely that even though I have been looking forward to lunch at the park with my High School buddies Kathy and Debbie for weeks, I will completely space it and only when Debbie calls me from the park at 12:10 will I remember and then have to admit that I’ve just put Nora down for a nap so please could they come have lunch at my house instead of the park which they will agree to because they are T.F.F.s (True Friends Forever) just like they vowed they would be in my yearbook 20 years ago.

4. When properly motivated I can take the kitchen from Totally Shameful Squalor to Almost Not Embarrassing in 10 minutes flat.

5. (Gabie taught me this one) Lavender lotion and a treatment of water applied with 17 different Q-tips will make the skin on a 5-year old’s face “less pooky.”

6. WARNING: It is actually possible for a 23 pound, 16 month old baby to produce 5 completely full, red-alert, toxic blowout diapers in a single day.

7. Junior High kids can be such idiots, especially the ones who called my sweet Ethan mean names and have apparently singled him out for teasing. He especially hates being called a “nerd.” I try to tell him that those twits will be changing his oil, flipping his burgers and emptying the trash in his executive office some day, but it still hurts.

8. Ethan’s Dad will come to the rescue. Ken vowed to find out where these kids live and (if Ethan wants him to) go have a little chat with their parents.

9. The Pennsylvania Turnpike—been there, done that—was the first freeway in America. (The kids were watching Modern Marvels tonight.)

10. A new word: blook. It means a book developed primarily from material first posted on a blog. Turns out there are loads of people who have done it, some quite successfully. So there! It is not ethically outrageous to recycle one’s own writing.

11. I have awesome, supportive blog readers who give me great advice and tell me to follow my heart and say they’ll read whatever I write and remind me why I love having instant feedback (who knows how many months it will take to hear back from editors who may or may not read past the first sentence of the manuscripts I just sent them?). I love having an audience of people who are just plain NICE. But I already knew that.

Which is why I’d like to post more, even if it’s short stuff here and there and maybe the occasional burst of serious mental tesserae-ing. Because I enjoy writing for people who appreciate what I have to say. Plus, once again, I am reminded that it’s a great way to develop ideas into words that may later work their way into my blook (see, I’m already a pro at wielding this new vocabulary!).

12. Even at the end of a day that I imagined was completely boring and utterly un-blogworthy, there are things I want to say—things that if I didn’t say them and post them to my blog might drain out of my head tonight onto my pillow and dissipate into the stuffing and be lost. Maybe it’s good to just have a place to take notes on the lessons of the day so I’ll remember them tomorrow and (hopefully) avoid having to relearn them again the hard way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

to b. or not to b.

So here’s the deal. I’m having a mid-blog-life crisis. I suspect this is normal as people hit the one year mark in their bloggy careers, but I’m also struggling with more complex issues as well. I need your advice. Here are the facts.

Since I began getting more serious about publishing my writing, I have been neglecting my blog considerably. I’m lucky to get in a post once a week. I wish this weren’t the case since it was the blog (and subsequent encouragement from family and readers) that rekindled my lifelong desire to be a Writer. It may be lunacy for me to get so caught up in this obsession at this stage of my life, and I have tried to set it aside and focus on my family and teaching, but it’s like I have been bitten by a bug. Or maybe it’s more like a nasty virus. Or perhaps a blood-sucking vampire. Anyway, until I can get this out of my system—which may involve trying really, really hard to get something published and then admitting defeat—I can’t seem to defer the dream. Darn you Langston Hughes.

I am now spending most of my free time (or in reality expensive time, as it is purchased at the cost of time spent with my children or cleaning my kitchen) writing and revising essays for publication and reading other people’s (much superior) prose for inspiration. If I do have a random thought for my blog, I just can’t seem to find the several hours it used to take me to develop and edit an entry. If only I treated my blog as I had originally intended—a place to dump stray ideas—I wouldn’t have this problem. But I expect too much and I don’t want to disappoint my few, but loyal readers.

As I submit my work (3 in the mail already!) and research submission guidelines, I am discovering that some people are bothered by “recycled” material. This means they don’t like it when people send them previously published stuff, even if it has only been “published” on a dinky little personal blog. I am also discovering that once you launch something into the electronic stratosphere that is the WWW, you can never suck it back. I deleted old posts that I have since reworked for publication but they will likely be cached and readily Googled for quite some time. At this stage, the essays I’m trying to publish and the book I’m hoping to compile both involve cannibalizing my archives. Should I just close up shop?

And most disturbing, on three occasions I have discovered my exact words have been copied without my permission elsewhere on the web. (This does not include the whole “Convergences” freak-out, where I willingly flung something I wrote into what may or may not be a dark vortex of idea theft). The other day, a neighbor came up to me in church and told me she had read something funny I wrote on the internet. I asked her how she found my blog and she said she had no idea I even had a blog. Instead, she told me of a different site (one I have never visited before) that reprinted a story of mine. She only knew it was mine because of my first name and the names of my children. This was a bit creepy and made me want to double check everything I had ever written about my neighbors. (Ironically, this one is about that particular neighbor’s nephew, but since it was my son who wound up smelling less than sweet, I decided to leave it alone).

I should be flattered by the imitation thing, and normally it wouldn’t bother me that much, but my vain delusion of Writer-hood is based on the premise that I’m writing stuff that is totally original and unique. My blog friend Michelle once told me that you’ve got to try to be the purple cow. I’m feeling a sense of urgency to get my ideas in print before someone else does. What if I’m too slow and by the time I get into the field, there are purple cows mooing all over the place?

And finally, what I really need right now is feedback on the essays I’m revising and expanding for publication. My brother (who is writing a novel) plans to create a blog where he will post one chapter at a time for family and friends to read and contribute suggestions. I might do the same. If so, it would be a restricted site to avoid the aforementioned problems of having my stuff sailing aimlessly Out There. I would, of course, give access to any Mental Tesserae readers who asked. Every time recently that anyone has reviewed my writing, they have given me suggestions that lead to big improvements. (See, I had nobody to read that last sentence but me and just look what a mess it is!)

So, if you’re still with me after my spotty current posting record and today’s little soliloquy, I would love to hear your opinions on the subject. Just so you know, I don’t think I could ever torch this whole blog; I have put too much of myself into it and besides which, Gabie thinks it’s his blog and he would surely disapprove. But maybe a hiatus? Or a makeover? Please let me know if you have any suggestions. I am, as always, in your debt.

Julie Q.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

blank canvas

The blank canvas. The tabula rasa. The empty surface. It can be intimidating (what will you make of this Nothing and Anything in front of you?). But I actually find great comfort in the fresh start. I love to learn new things and especially when it comes to keeping a blog, when I start with nothing special I usually wind up saying something I didn't realize I wanted to say. Every time I write, I learn something new about myself. You'd think after 38 years, I'd have pretty much figured my own brain out by now. But nope.

I love the beginnings of things: births, baptisms, resurrections. And I love the crisp white look of that tiny little "New Blank Document" icon on my toolbar. Maybe I’m an optimist encouraged by latent potential, or maybe I’m just relieved to know that I haven’t screwed anything up yet. Either way, today I am energized with the thought of filling it up with my words. I may be about to write a bunch of drivel, but you never know, I may be about to write Anna Karenina.

All three of my boys started school this week. All three began at new schools they have never attended before: Ethan at the Junior High, McKay in a gifted class far across town and Gabie in Kindergarten. They were all a bit anxious about the unknown, but excited with thoughts of the year ahead and a fresh start. They have new people to meet, things to learn, blank slates (or notebooks) to fill. Ethan had never ridden a bus to school before (I think this was the single most important reason he gave me for wanting to attend public school this year instead of homeschooling). McKay is hoping for some new friends, maybe the chance to acquire one of those mythical Best Friends he pines for. Gabie is just thrilled beyond measure about going to Kindergarten. He had his backpack filled and parked by the door a week in advance (actual contents: three different spiral notebooks, about 20 pounds of art supplies, a water bottle, the family stapler, a can of Spaghetti-O’s, a change of socks and a tennis ball. I suggested he might need to add the can opener and kitchen sink.)

I am starting fresh this week too – preparing to look out over a classroom full of new faces on the first day of class. I am revising my syllabus, changing major aspects of a course I’ve taught for 13 years, tweaking my exams again, hopeful that this will be the best semester yet. The potential is all there; the future still as unwritten as my students’ papers. I am confident and rejuvenated, like I’ve just stepped away from the makeover counter with a flawless matte finish on my face, ready to conquer the world, or at least the Mall.

I belong to a church where every Sunday we take the sacrament – a token of atonement, repentance and renewal. Sometimes I look up at the vaulted ceiling and wooden beams (or more likely at the florescent lights and basketball hoops since I was late and am sitting in the overflow cultural hall) and I imagine I am in the Sistine Chapel where directly above the altar, Michelangelo painted a scene of God dividing the light from the dark. As the sacrament is prepared, I think back on my week and try to push the darkness – the depression, the frustrations, the many many mistakes – behind me and let the light fill me with peace and hope for better days ahead. In the Sistine fresco, God holds back the shadows with one hand, and with the fingers of the other he combs through clouds of white. In fact, the white paint seems to flow from his fingers; he not so much separates the two as he defeats the dark with an infusion of light. Michelangelo often talked of God as an artist, but in a sense, God is the opposite of an artist. Where a painter saturates a canvas with pigments, God is the source of all newness, the beginner of all beginnings, the Divine Eraser.

This scene was the last one Michelangelo painted on the ceiling; it is smaller and much less complicated than his others. I like to think this is not because he was tired and emptied of ideas and anxious to get his paint-encrusted self down from the crummy scaffold, but because this moment represents the simple seed of the whole creation process that follows. It is the moment we revisit every day of our lives when the sun rises, bringing light from the dark and giving us a chance to start over.

My boys tend to roll their eyes at me when I do it, but I like to quote Anne of Green Gables when they are bummed out by something they have done wrong. I float the words at them cheerfully: “Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.”

Can you imagine if we never slept? I don’t mean the kind of never-sleeping that parents with small children already experience, but what would happen if our bodies did not require a period of rest? If each day just flowed into the next? My first reaction of “How wonderful. Just think of all the things I could accomplish!” is quickly replaced with “Ugh. Every frustration, every worry would compound and build and pile up until we would positively sink from the weight of it.” How lucky we are to get a periodic rest mode where we have no choice but to shut down our bodies and brains for several hours. We need sleep; it’s a mandatory physiological thing. Psalm 23 says “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…He restoreth my soul.”

As anyone stopping by unannounced could attest, I have had no motivation for housework recently. At some point, the frustration anyone would feel if asked to “stand right here for a while and hold back this avalanche with a rubber spatula while balancing a baby on one hip” has driven me to give up almost entirely. What’s the point, when nothing I do seems to stay done? I’m no match for the natural forces that wreak havoc in my home. Lately, I have seen and embraced the irony in the cleaning product industry. I truly cannot stem the Tide of my laundry. My dishes indeed form a spectacular Cascade in and around my sink. My carpets are covered with the far flung debris of today’s Tornado and yesterday’s Wind Tunnel and last week’s Cyclone.

I can tell it’s time to get cleaning because I feel edgy and grumpy when the house is a mess. I think we all do. Humans crave the blank surface. We need the dawn, the Mondays, the New Year’s resolutions and the First-Day-of-the-Diets. And yes, it's important to at least occasionally live in a clean house. So, pushing past the sense of futility, I got up early this morning to mop the kitchen floor. A few scrubbed tiles are better than nothing, right?

Then, high on the cathartic mood or perhaps the ammonia fumes, I decided it was time to have a garage sale. I went through every room in the house purging things right and left: clothes dating back to the first Gulf War, books we don’t read (I think after four pregnancies I know better than anyone What to Expect when I’m Expecting, thank you very much), and a demonic black Hefty sack full of toys that let out a cacophonous burst of barks and honks and synthesized music every time I bumped it as I moved it from the playroom to the porch and finally to the lawn to be thankfully passed on to happy children and their unsuspecting parents. It was a joyous process and now my house contains significantly less flotsam and jetsam to drift about when the next hurricane hits.

After a long day of cleaning and selling and hauling the remaining unsold junk to the thrift store, I put my kids to bed and felt more content than I have in quite a while. I held Nora in my arms long after she had fallen asleep and I just stared at her gorgeous little face. She has the most perfect porcelain skin – not a blemish or freckle or scar on it. She is (as each of my babies were) still a blank slate. A fresh start. I will not be able to live my life over again through her, but I get to watch what she makes of her own. I think it is one of the things I love most about being a mother – my home is absolutely filled with latent potential. I get to participate again in all kinds of firsts: first steps, first days of school, first tastes of everything. I get to help raise a new generation. I have given birth to a tiny piece of the morning.