Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small

I wrote this on Memorial Day, right after attending a memorial service for baby Sara Lorraine, but waited for the intensity of my emotion to ebb like a receding tide before posting. The pain is still there, but now it's swimming along with the glee, hope, melancholy, joy, peace and all the other feelings in my ocean of emotion, and it is no longer cresting, violently smashing down on the shore of my heart. I post this on her birthday, just after we release balloons with messages of love for her.
From ainslee

It's been nearly 7 years and I thought I was over it. Not really over it, but in control of it.

I went to the service to show sister-like solidarity and support, to let a mother like me know I share her pain and her journey. But Father Time and Mother Nature had other plans for me. As I walked into the chapel and saw the tiny white casket draped in baby roses, the home-made perfectly scrapped "It's A Girl" banner hanging over it, and the wee footprints marking her minutes long life on the pearl pink program, I was taken back. Literally traveling through time. No longer merely a survivor of this pain, I whirled through the sands of time to a place I had left long ago.
From ainslee

Suddenly, it was a cold dark day in January, 2003 (truthfully, now I don't even remember if it was actually dark, or it just felt dark). I had meticulously done the girls' hair and dressed them up in their red velvet Christmas dresses made for all the girl cousins by my mom, trying to forget how happy and naive I was just weeks before as they wore those very dresses while I snapped a photo of them in each other's arms under the Christmas tree. The woman who took that picture was no longer me. She was someone with big plans: tickets bought to go home for Christmas, invitations sent for Ellie's 3rd Princess Birthday Party, visions of decorating the nursery in pink satin after the holidays. She was clueless about sorrow and grief and fear and despair. Sometimes I really envy her.
From ainslee

But it was January, and I was wishing I could be anywhere else in time. I had knelt beside my husband in the home of his childhood, holding his hand desperately as if it would ground me to sanity, while he offered a prayer for our family and teared up when he swore he heard "daddy" in the distance. I was standing outside at a cemetery burying my baby, trying to hold myself together for the two I had with me still, when all I wanted, more than even to take my next breath, was to be with the one who had left. It was a dark place for my soul, where the seed of hope was so small and so hidden from view I could barely muster the energy and courage to try to find it.

My heart has since been patched. I've wrapped the wounds with memories of better times, with perspective on God and attachment, with feeling her love and presence, and most importantly, with a greater appreciation for the circle of life and the meaning of those who touch ours, even if their footprints are smaller than my pinky, or their weight is measured in ounces.

The grandmother at the service today quoted Dr. Seuss from Horton Hears a Who:

A person's a person, no matter how small.

I couldn't agree more. And when I think of my own loss and the reality of who this tiny baby really was and is, I am humbled at the impact of her life. What person has taught me grace and perspective and gratitude for the everyday more than she? What experience has given me more grit and empathy? And whose soul has spoken the truth of how interconnected we all are more than hers?
From ainslee

So I'm missing you today, Ainslee Sarah Butterfield, and a twinkle in my heart tells me you might be feeling the same.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Simply the Best

I live for Halloween.
From halloween
While I get into the pumpkins and the scary stuff, it's really the costumes I adore. Originally, people dressed like ghosts and ghouls in an effort to make themselves less appealing for the evil spirits to possess the next year. I would say we've moved from that to some sort of version of Straight Pride, where women are expected to be a sexy whatever their costume is (sexy cavewoman or sexy nurse or sexy schoolgirl). But neither of those is really at the heart of Halloween for me.
From halloween

Halloween for me is about the thrill of becoming someone and expressing something that is well beyond my everyday. I love sharing that with my children and watching it in others. Even if that "something" is just funny or outrageous.
From halloween

This year, I decided to be someone I've been admiring for years - Tina Turner. She made a huge comeback in the '80's when I should have loved her, but I didn't learn to appreciate Tina until I was an adult. Not until I heard Brittney and Mylie and the other junk passed along as music to my children could I hear the soul in Tina's singing, not until I became a suburban mother could I see the sassy in dancing in your late sixties. And not until my own body morphed into a conglomeration of post-5 pregnancy meets yo-yo diet meets half-marathon meets chocoholic could I see the perfection in a pair of nice legs like Tina's.

The great part about Halloween is you don't have to actually be that person in real life, you just get to want to be them for a night, and only the parts of them you imagine. It's like a vacation for your personality. You don't have to want to live in New York City (although I do), you just have to want to visit it to have a good time there. You don't have to experience all the nitty-gritty details of living there, you can just visit the parts you like. (Which is why I let my daughter dress up like Marilyn Monroe one year and Lady Gaga another)
From halloween

From halloween

And visiting a moment as imaginary Tina Turner was a thrill. With my hair cut (shout out to Cheryl!!), my fishnet stockings, my tight pleather knee-pants and my pumps, I was transformed. I was having such fun I didn't want it to end when the clock struck 8 and trick or treating was over. My friends said they never saw someone enjoy a costume like I did.

At the end of Halloween, when I just became me again, I took a bit of Tina with me like a souvenir. I kept an appreciation for the perfection of my body the way it is right now and a renewed desire to live my own joy regardless of my age. And I kept a bit of the sassy.
From halloween

Maybe it's because I'm uncertain of I want to become the other 364 days of the year that Halloween gives me such joy, or maybe it's because I'm scared that what I want to become might be too outrageous. Either way, every year after I take this trip to Halloween, I say it was the best!
From halloween

(Oh, and I hope he keeps the live long and prosper for his souvenir)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coming Up for Air

From middle school miracle

Today is National Day on Writing, and I celebrate by reviving this old blog. I love to write, but my thoughts have been swimming, surfacing piecemeal. The water feels so wide as some are upsetting or hard to put into words, so I have ignored them hoping they disappear in the deep end, because, like Eva sings, "I know not if I sink or swim."
From middle school miracle

Until today, when I was inspired to swim.

I went to the closet to pick my clothes for the day, struggling to appease competing interests fighting within me - the woman who doesn't want to look like a mom and the mom who doesn't want to over do it so as to embarrass Kennedy, now in the wilderness known as middle school. Nothing is worse than having your mother come to your classroom, nothing except having people notice your mother came to your classroom. The intent to blend in was there, yet I was unable to resist the boots.

From middle school miracle

Her English teacher (they call it Language Arts now, but the nostalgic in me can't let go of quintessential English teacher) is oh, so young and fresh from college, I silently wonder if she has the life experience to teach my daughter about English and literature and the arts of language. Just as my doubts begin to surface in my mind, Ms. H. wins me over, with, of all things, lighting.

I left behind the glaring of the fluorescent lights from the hallway and entered what had here-to-for been an oxymoron to me, a cozy classroom. Pink lamps illuminated the quotes from Twilight scattered across the walls, the skeleton book reports hanging from the ceiling and the faces of the middle schoolers, giggling and gossiping as they sit in a circle awaiting the feather stick ceremony. The institutional levelor blinds were barely noticeable swagged by a medley of pink animal prints. And on the wall, in coordinating pink and animal print words read "writing is a gift." Her room was such an expression of who she was that I almost felt like I was trespassing her personal study, yet the ambiance made my experience there timeless, awakening the middle schooler within me.

"Writing is a gift, and so we share it," Ms. H said. And with that, several members of the class read their Eerily True story - the assignment to pick a frightening real life event and fictionalize it into something scarier. Tears welled in my eyes as I heard brilliant expression in the story of the escalator eating its prey with its steel jaw trap. And that wasn't even my kid. When it was Kennedy's turn to share I sat there paralyzed by my amazement at the depth and complexity of the words forming ideas that jumped off the page and out her mouth.
From middle school miracle

I was witness to the miracle of middle school. This teacher who loves to write, told her students they were authors and then taught them to be such. She refuses to let them apologize for their work, insists that they share it with their peers and then assigns them thank-you note writing as listeners. Writing is a gift, one I wish for every child.

Writing for me is like that breath of air you gasp when you've been underwater too long. It releases those ideas churning from within my soul to the paper (or in this case the internet) and even if it only makes it to my journal where no one will ever read it, I am able to breathe again. Until the next time. And as I reviewed my backlog of half-baked posts I realized I've been under water too long this time, nearly drowning in my own silence.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Daze

I loved this summer song growing up:
Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you swim in a pool, to keep yourself cool,
or swing in a tree up high?
Is that what you do? So do I!

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you march in parades, or drink lemonades,
or count all the stars in the sky?
Is that what you do? So do I!

I don't know about the equinox and solstice, but for the Buttcho's, Memorial Day is the beginning of summer, a season with two requirements: 1. the pool is open, 2. school is closed.
From grad

As a child, summer meant freedom from the days stuck at a desk in school, from early bedtimes and even earlier mornings, and from smelly stale lunches in the cafeteria. It meant playing Charlie's Angels on our bikes with our walkie talkies (I was Kelly) in the big dirt field all day long. It meant trips to Lake Powell, and a week by myself at grandma's house.

Summer remains my favorite season, I don't even resent the bugs and humidity, they are a necessary evil in my green world with lazy sweltering days. Is there a taste that screams summer more than crisp cold green grapes munched on by the pool on a dreamy steamy day? Is there a place more hopeful than a backyard at dusk full of children chasing fireflies, grabbing for them just as they go dark? Is there a sound more heavenly than the jingle of the ice cream truck when your clothes are doused with sweat and the heat is threatening to break you? Is there a smell more scrumptious than the perfectly blended mix of toddler skin, sunscreen and chlorine from a pool?
From grad

Every Memorial Day weekend, I have the kids make a list of the things they want to do in the summer. The list has a very small affect on our actual plans, but a bigger affect on their ability to dream and to sense the season of summer upon them.

Kennedy wants to sleep in (Ellie asked what "a sleep in" is)

Steve wants to go to the pool every day

Wally wants to ride bikes

Ellie is too busy with her social calendar to come up with a list

I want to enjoy the simplicities of summer by going on a serious screen and shopping diet. How long can we live without TV or Facebook?!?!?

Randy wants to hike on the top of a big mountain

So, what do you do in the summer time?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mama Drama

Every Mother's Day I feel like renting a limo to take on the guilt trip. It's inevitable, and I wish I could at least ride it in style.

Leading up to this day of celebration, stories of the women who gave all they have for their children seem to come out of the woodwork. Mothers who happily go without personal time, adult interaction, exercise and even sanity to make time to play with their children. Women who go without any kind of luxury and sometimes even food to make sure their children have the very best. They are women who know their most important job is raising their children. They embrace it and honor it and are fulfilled by it.

I start to wonder if I'm that kind of mom. And then Wally sneaks up to my Diet Coke to steal a sip and I squawk as if he's robbing an egg from my nest. And I know. I'm not. I never was. And (tearing up) despite my best efforts, will never be.
From Mother's Day

Instead, I'm the kind of mother who counts the minutes until bedtime, and skips the story if I'm too tired. I'm the kind of mother who turns all the field trip forms in late and serves cold cereal for dinner. I'm the kind of mother who uses the TV as a babysitter. I'm the kind of mother who (ouch) yells when I'm at wit's end. I'm the kind of mother who does not thrive on self sacrifice, but feels lonely and resentful and completely unfulfilled by motherhood. None of these make me proud.

Normally that's where my story ends. I vow to do better and then spend six months belittling my abilities and wondering why I ever even had children since I'm the world's worst non-abusive mother. And wondering what deficient character trait makes me unable to "know" like other moms.

But this year, I'm crashing my own guilt trip. I'm realizing that the pieces of motherhood I resent are a part of, but not the definition of the job. The part of motherhood I love, the part that energizes me and sustains me and I do well is worth celebrating.

Because I'm also the kind of mother who follows her hair-brained ideas, children in-tow. I'm the kind of mother who takes (drags?) her children to political rallies, unusual churches, family reunions, recitals, museums, roadtrips across the country and anywhere I can to show them the greatness of the world.
From Mother's Day

I'm the kind of mother who camps even though she hates it, who plays in the snow even though it's miserably cold, who jumps off the high dive even though she's terrified, who wakes up at 5am to run even though she's tired and slow, and who plants a garden even though she's suckish at it (their word, not mine) to help them understand grit and determination.
From Mother's Day

I'm the kind of mother who makes wickedly cool costumes for Halloween and book reports, dances to salsa music for breakfast on Cinco de Mayo, and is always good for a prank on April Fool's Day, so they feel the celebration of life.
From Mother's Day

I'm the kind of mother who relishes her child's friendship with the girl at school who speaks no English and "barks like a dog", who sings Happy Birthday with her kids to the homeless man at the restaurant, and who shows up at service projects, even planning a few of her own, to show them humanity, that there's a need for us beyond ourselves.
From Mother's Day

And I'm the kind of mother who would be honored to die saving my child's life, who stood between the angry dog and her 8 year old, who steals kisses every chance she gets, who goes to check in on them "one more time" before going to bed, and who will always make them call home, because I love them to pieces.

But I'm the kind of mother who has passions beyond them. I'm the kind of mother who loves alone time with their father, working with her sister, and retreating with friends. And so should they.
From Seattle

I'm starting to embrace the idea that despite the moments of despair, I am actually getting more out of this arrangement we have than they are, I am the one doing the "growing up"; better yet, that they do not expect nor want me to sacrifice my hopes and dreams and friendships and self in their name.

And that they love me too.

From Mother's Day

What kind of mother are you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


"Why did you want to bring us here - we're going to FREEZE?" Steve asked with complete sincerity about an hour into our Inauguration "picnic" at Centennial Park.

He was right, there was no reason to corral everyone's hat and mittens, all the spare blankets we could scramble together, and our camping chairs. It made no sense to take the kids out of school, squeeze 6 boxes of Mac N Cheese into the thermos while still piping hot, or spend 10 minutes convincing Ellie she was really not going to want to wear the culottes, even though they were adorable (the girl is just like her mother).
From inauguration

But when we got there, and I detest the cold as much as anyone, I felt I had come "home". It's the same reason I drove Kennedy to South Carolina to canvass for Edwards, dragged the children to every political rally I could find this year, went public on marriage equality, and waited 2 hours as it got dark and cold for Bill Clinton to show up and speak at a college campus. Politics is my boyfriend - I love to flirt with it, think about it, and show up for the public events for it. Like a giggly high school girl chasing boys at the Homecoming football game, I feel alive when I join with others I don't know anything about to voice support for causes and beliefs I hold dear. These strangers are my people.
From inauguration

So, when CNN showed pictures of the moving van at the White House and the crowd around me cheered, when Obama took the oath of office and we literally danced with glee (Stevie included), and when we all stood mesmerized by the inspiring speech, I knew why the bitter wind and frigid air did not deter me. I wanted my children to tell their children where they were when the country "picked itself up, dusted itself off and began again with the work".
From inauguration

It was like a family reunion, I wanted them to know their heritage, to see all those who believe freedom is not defined by the right to shop at the mall of one's choosing, prosperity is not limited to the the state of our household budget, and citizenship includes paying a price for the better good of the community, not just our own self-interest.
From inauguration

Though they are too young to "get it", I thank the Ice Queen of January and her ruthless cold, for she cemented this day in their memory like initials drawn into a newly poured sidewalk. Now when my children feel their fingers and toes begin to tingle with frost, they will think of that day as they cried from the cold and huddled together under blankets, and they will joke at the craziness of their mother, and they will remember.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Getting things done

When I was a teenager in church I had a teacher who I didn't relate to very well. She gave a lesson one week about how if she did x (I couldn't even tell you what x was, though I was clearly not impressed to begin doing x) she could "get more things done". I vividly remember thinking to myself, "what are THINGS, is life only about getting THINGS done?" I assured myself I would never have that life.

Then I became a mother. . . of four. And it seems now, life is about getting things (read: laundry, dishes, housework, homework, taxes, bill paying, and so forth) done. Last year I got so sick of getting things done that I tried to count the things I got done that could not be undone (dishes, laundry and housework clearly do not qualify). I felt like it was a total waste to clean up one mess while the next room over was being destroyed. And you wouldn't think it was that hard, but I found I was thrilled if I at least got one of those every day.
From Christmas

Then I started having my mid-mother-life crisis. My middle child is half way done being home (they are SO leaving when they are 18) and I wondered, does she find my life as dull as I found my teacher's?
From Christmas

Then yesterday I watched Wally button his shirt, a feat for which he refused assistance and took no less than an hour to complete. I thought, "I couldn't be 3 again - are you kidding, if it took me an hour to button my shirt I wouldn't get anything done. But then I thought of little Wally, and how he could look at that shirt all day long and feel a huge sense of accomplishment. And how I look at all I get done with amazing efficiency, yet feel like I accomplish nothing because there's so much more to do.
From Christmas

In response to all this waxing philosophical, I am instituting "more fun, less done". I'm hoping fun takes many forms, learning new skills, discovering more about the people I love, making time for the tasks that bring me satisfaction, regardless of my efficiency. I'm not saying more play less work, but more meaning less mundane. I have finally done the math (with some help from a calculator) and doing it all is impossible, so I refuse to measure my existence by how many things I got done. Don't worry, Randy, I'll still do the laundry since I am still too poor to hire it out. But I will dispose of efficiency in favor of what makes me feel alive.

And we're starting tomorrow with the return of the sit-down hot breakfast. It's technically more work than the "throw it down the hatch in the car breakfast bar as we rush off to school hoping to beat the bell" (which totally works if hot breakfast doesn't make you feel alive), but oh, the joy of eating muffins with the people I love while talking about the hopes and dreams for the day, even if they are limited to getting one's shirt buttoned.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Therefore, be it resolved . . .

I've heard and read this phrase more times than I can count from my debating days of old. Be it resolved that Latin America needs political stability, that old people have a secure retirement, that jails and prisons be less crowded, blah blah blah. Only these resolutions were all for the federal government, much easier to resolve for someone else to do something than me.
From new year's eve

As for personal resolutions, I've had more than my fair share. I love to set a new goal, to write it down as if it were a reality, to picture myself 6 months down the road as a veritable icon of perfection having mastered these habits. And then, life happens. I see my messy closet I need to clean, I sign up for a project I have no desire to be a part of, the phone rings, etc etc etc and suddenly my resolutions have been put in the pile of unmated socks, scattered among childhood dreams and birthday wishes, once valued, now left in a pile to get to later. Could I even tell you what last year's resolutions were?

It must be a weak resolve, a lack of focus, a twittering will, or all of the above.

I'm coming to realize that it's more like my boys on the merry-go-round (we found a park that still has one) When you jump on and begin to spin the wind blows in your face, your hair flies free, and you still see landmarks as you pass them. But as it spins faster and faster, dizziness sets in and you no longer recognize anything you pass in form or in substance. I am spinning, holding on as tight as I can so I don't fall off, frightened that if I slow down, the exhilaration will fade and I won't like the things I pass by, the life in which I am surrounded. Yet the dizziness is overtaking me.

So this year I have only one resolution. Therefore be it resolved that Mel says yes. That I affirm the things I really want, those landmarks to spin by, and let the no's just happen, or fall by the wayside of the unpaired socks. There are some things I hope I say yes to this year:

homemade bread
weekly blog posts
early morning runs
anything my personal trainer asks (can't wait to start, Santa was very kind!)
weekend dates
eating more locally
extra snuggles with the kids
organized photographs
balanced budgets
clean closets
visits with friends

oh, the list could go on ad nauseam. But mostly I hope whatever I say yes to brings me grinning, cheek to cheek with Somebody New Year's Eve 2009.