Category Archives: crazy personal stuff

road trip

A few weeks back, I got offered a free night’s stay at a family resort called Great Wolf Lodge.  Which is in Dallas.  Which is 5 hours from where we live.  And part of the offer was a brand-new Chevy to borrow for the drive up.

And I’m not really a big vacationer.  We go to visit family every summer, but we don’t usually take vacations just for fun.  I guess we have enough fun around our own house that we don’t usually go seeking it out.

But once the offer was out there, I got to thinking that my kids would probably really, really love it.   And so I just went ahead and said yes.

So, on Saturday, we drove up to Dallas.   And, after snagging a photo of my toes, I gave my kids our snapshot camera to take photos of the trip.  When I got the camera back, I had about a hundred pictures of the car floor, the kids’ sneakers, and the back of my head.  But mixed in among them were a few beauties:

And the kids did really, really love the trip.  And it made me so happy to see them so happy.  And taking a family vacation like that–just the four of us, mom and dad in the front seat and kids in the back with crayons–felt like another official stamp in the parent passport.  I really am a grown-up now. I’ve made it around to the other side of the circle.  Whatever I saw when I looked at the back of my mother’s head from the back seat of our station wagon, my kids now see when they look at me.  Whatever she meant to me then I now mean to someone else.  Which is a tremendous and terrifying honor, when I stop to think about it.  And also, more than anything, a blessing.

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it turns out, my dad used to be four

I am scanning photos for my dad’s 70th birthday.  Which is, actually, impossible–because my dad is 45 years old.  He has always been 45 years old, and he will always be 45 years old.  Period.

Except that here I am scanning his baby photos.  Which means at some point, he must have been four.

The same age my son is now.  And he must have played the same little-boy games and built forts and run around.  My dad at this age actually looks a lot like my son.  And the truth is, even though my dad has drawers full of family photos that he’s collected, I have not seen that many of them.  It never really occurred to me to look at childhood photos of my dad.  Because he never had a childhood.  Because he has always been 45 years old.

Like he is here:

Circa 1983.  My mom, my two sisters, my dad, and me.  I’m the supermodel in the sailor hat and braces.

I’ve seen this photo a thousand times.  It’s one of those favorites that make it into frames and holiday cards.  But it’s been a while since I looked at it.  And looking now, in this context, makes me see it differently.  I can’t help but feel so sympathetic to all these people–these younger versions of ourselves.  I know so much that they don’t know: All the things that are waiting for them, and what those things will mean, and how they will linger or be forgotten.  I know what will happen next to these people. And for that reason, more than anything else, the only thing my eyes can feel when they rest on this photo tonight is a fierce and inexplicable tenderness.

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my exhausted heart

We’ve been sick for two solid weeks around here.

And I am a champion worrier.   I can worry you under the table.  You don’t know what worrying is until you’ve met me.  If I could take my worrying to the Olympics, I’d bring home the gold, baby.  I’d have my own line of sneakers.

Though, sadly, of course, I cannot take my worrying to the olympics.  But I can take it–and my two stuffed-up children–into our bathroom with a box of tissues, run the shower, and call it a “sweat lodge.”  Which is what we did today.

And I can let that worry bring my blessings into sharp focus.  And I can give thanks for my little ones and their beautiful hands.  And I can promise myself, again and again, not to take even one single second for granted.

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time in the country

We’ve spent time in the country the past two weekends at my grandparents’ ranch.  This is my favorite place to be.

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“winter”

Down here in Texas, we have to work hard to create winter.

It’s not really a season in Houston, exactly.  It’s more like a series of fronts that blow the heat away for a few months, a couple of days at a time.

So holiday decorations have a kind of make-believe quality.  Like we’re pretending it’s winter.  We’re insisting it’s winter, dammit.  And the whole city has to work together as a group to pull it off.  And we’re going to make cider and feel cozy even if we have to run the air conditioner to do it.

So, in honor of “winter,” my kids and I have been stringing our house with twinkle lights, and making hot chocolate, and cutting snowflakes.  Dammit.

Just because we’re pretending doesn’t mean it’s not real.

(And PS:  I accidentally taught my 4 year old the word “dammit” today.  And then I went on and on and on about curse words versus regular.  And, yes — there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll see this conversation in the novel I’m writing now):

I said, “We just don’t want to use dammit, okay?”

“Why not?”

“Well, it’s a thing called a curse word, and it’s not polite.”

“Why not?”

“Some people think it’s rude to use curse words.”

“Do you think it’s rude?”

“I think you want to be careful who say them to.”

“Like who?  Who can I say them to?”

“You can’t say them to anybody because you’re a kid.  Only grown-ups can say them.  But they really aren’t supposed to.  Unless they’re really frustrated.”

“What if I get frustrated?”

“Then you say darn. That’s why they invented darn.”

“Darn‘s not a curse word?”

“Nope.  Darn‘s a regular word.  A regular word that is like a curse word — but without the cursing.”

“Why?”

“It just is.  And it’s a good word, too.  Try it out:  Darn.”

“Darn.  Darn, darn, darn.”

“See?  Darn is awesome.”

Darn is awesome. But dammit’s better.”

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my exquisite mother

I have one of those moms who’s a superhero.  There is nothing she can’t handle.  She should have been the President, and I’m not kidding.

But then I never would have gotten to see her.  And I love to see her.  So it was a good deal for me that she wasn’t the President.  But I’m not sure it was a good deal for the world.

She just had her 50th high school reunion, and she pulled out a bunch of old photos.  Here are a few. I could flip through her old photo albums all day long.

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something we got right

I spoke on a panel last weekend at the Texas Book Festival with the very charming Jancee Dunn, who has a baby.  Fellow panelist and Houston author Gwendolyn Zepeda and I wound up giving her parenting advice.  And while we were talking, I heard myself say something very true.  It can be so easy to second-guess the parenting choices you’ve made — but there is one thing I know for sure we got right: Audiobooks.

As babies, both my kids hated the car.  Like, any time I drove anywhere for the first two years of their lives, they cried.  It was awful.  It made me completely crazy.  ‘Cause Houston is a driving town.  If you don’t drive, you just stay in the house.  So that was my choice: total isolation or baby torture.  

Until I discovered quite by accident that my infants found Garrison Keillor‘s voice soothing.  Which is not surprising, really, because I myself find it soothing.  One day in the car, I turned on his audiobook Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, and the crying stopped.  

From that moment on, we have never been without an audiobook in the car.

Now, at 4 and 6, my kids are audiobook champs.  They prefer us to read to them, but they’re perfectly happy with audiobooks, too.  It’s how I make dinner every night–them in the living room, playing trains and listening to the Chronicles of Narnia, or Katie Kazoo Switcheroo, or The Magic Treehouse, and me in the kitchen, listening to NPR

After all this time, I have some favorites for the 3-and up set.  Here they are, my Top Five kids’ audio books — though they are just as good for grown-ups.

5. The Tale of Despereaux

This story is totally spellbinding — and way better than the movie.  Because, as with so many books, it’s not what happens that really gets you — its how Kate DiCamillo tells the story.  And the voice of the story, the way it reveals itself, is magical.

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4. Little House on the Prairie Series

I was raised on the 1970s TV show, so it’s hard not to picture Michael Landon as Pa.  But I’m very glad my kids are starting off with the real thing.  The books are warm and dramatic and very engaging.  My kids love hearing about life in the Olden Days, too.  And Cherry Jones, who narrates, has the most wonderful, buttery voice…

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3. The Cricket in Times Square

My son used to be obsessed with this one.  Every time we got in the car, he’d say, “I want Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon!”  And I totally get why:  it just makes you feel good.  The voices are fun and engaging, and the story is sweet-natured.  And children of the ’70s will appreciate that narrator Rene Auberjonois used to star on Benson.

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2. Harry Potter, Books 1-3

A little on the scary side at times, so depending on your kids, you might stop at Book One.  But absolutely, completely addictive.  We read the books first together, and then listened to the audiobook of Book 1 on a car trip.  The kids were mesmerized, and so was I.  Shoooowee, that J.K. Rowling can write!

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1. James and the Giant Peach (and also pretty much every single thing Roald Dahl ever wrote.  Except The BFG is a bit too scary for little ones…)

What I particularly love about James and the Giant Peach is Jeremy Irons doing the voices of all the insects.  He makes it better than it sounded in your head when you read it as a child–and better than you could do now if you were reading it out loud.  Sorry, but it’s true.  There are so many different insect characters that it can be hard to keep them all straight.  But when Irons reads the book, the Earthworm has a thick, deep, earthwormy voice, and Miss Spider has a prim, spiderly voice.  Not to mention Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker!  It’s beyond great.  I never, ever get tired of listening to this one–and I’ve probably heard it a hundred times by now.  At least.

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