Wednesday, October 25, 2006

weighing in on madonna and child

i've been taking a wait-and-see attitude about madonna's adoption of an african child. i think it's easy to jump on the celebrity-bashing bandwagon, and i saw an awful lot of folks who don't know jack about international adoption ethics spouting some pretty strong opinions on an issue they've never given a second thought to before they read about it in some tabloid or celebrity gossip site . that bugs me.

i'll admit i don't actually know all that much about international adoption, although i'm learning. there was a time when i felt pretty superior to international adopters, to whom i self-righteously assigned all sorts of bad motives for choosing international over domestic adoption. as in most areas where i have formed strong, black and white opinions -- especially when they are not fully informed and when they are fueled by self-righteousness -- i have come to feel quite humbled by some pretty awsome folks who struggle with a whole host of issues i don't even know about, and who do it with incredible integrity.

so i'm not quick to jump on the celebrity-adopter-bashing bandwagon. my feeling is that celebrities get to build families too, and get to have all sorts of reasons for wanting to do so, and while the issues they face and how they can deal with them with integrity will certainly be shaped by their celebrity status, i'm generally going to be slow to judge without a lot of facts that i can be pretty sure are not distorted by our collective glee in tearing down celebrities just for the sake of it.

(and then there's the fact that madonna's music takes me right back, and can still make an afternoon of cleaning, or a long run, pure joy.)

but still. at some point even i feel like i have enough information to form a judgement, and here it is: i think this adoption pretty much highlights everything that is wrong with international adoption. i find it deeply deeply troubling. here's why:
  • there are lots of good reasons to want to adopt a child. unlike some adoption theorists/critics, i believe that wanting to help a child have a better life can be among them. helping a child have a better life is quite different in my mind than wanting to "save" a child. i don't believe that wanting to "save" a child is ever a good motivation for adopting a child. and i don't even think that wanting to help a child have a better life should be your first or primary motivation for adopting. first must be the desire to build a family. of course, i can't know madonna's heart, but it doesn't seem to me that she woke up one day and said, "i really don't think my family is done. i really want to mother another child. i'm going to spend some time learning about the ways i could bring another child into my family. if i do decide to bring another child into my family, and i do it through adoption, it will be important to find a child who will struggle with a very difficult life if he is not adopted." to me, that would be okay. somehow, i don't think that's the process that led madonna to adopt this particular boy.
  • when adopting, i believe that celebrities have an added burden, because of their celebrity status, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and not to take advantage of their celebrity. that means you don't get to work around the law. (of course nobody should, celebrity or not; i just think celebrities have an added burden to be ethical on this front precisely because it is so much more likely that the rules will be bent for them.)
  • if you spend about three minutes doing research on the ethics of international adoption, you know that one of the biggest ethical problems is that many of parents who are releasing their children for adoption have a very different understanding of what adoption means than westerners do. i believe that at the very least, western adopters have an obligation to make sure that the parents of the children they are adopting really understand the finality of what they are doing when they release their children to be adopted. clearly madonna did not do that with the father of the child she is planning to adopt. that means either that she did not do enough research about international adoption to know this is an issue (i.e. she didn't bother at all), or she knows this is an issue and just didn't care. either way, this is probably the thing that disturbs me the most.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

guilty pleasures

sunday evening julie and i went to see the queen, which i l*o*v*e*d. i will admit to a certain fascination with the british royal family -- when i was 7 or 8, i made my mom get me up at 4:00 a.m. so i could watch princess anne's wedding. and of course you can bet that as a teen-ager i was all over princess diana. i remember where i was when she got engaged (visiting friends in maine), and i remember vividly where i was when i heard she had died. it was sunday morning of the church retreat, and we were in the dining room waiting for breakfast. one of old first's many lively characters, ed, had joined us that year. as i sat down at one of the long picnic table benches with baby trixie, ed told us that princess diana had died, and he declared, "the pavarotti got her! the pavarotti got her!" i was a little skeptical about the whole thing -- ed didn't strike me as the most reliable source, and the fact that he was claiming some sort of involvement in diana's death on the part of luciano pavarotti seemed to me a little bit far-fetched. it took me several minutes to realize that he meant the "paparazzi got her!" not "the pavarotti!"

other guilty pleasures: a long-standing fascination with brooke shields (i did read her book on post-partum depression, although i didn't buy it; it only took about an hour to read the whole thing while sitting on the floor of barnes and nobles, sipping coffee. the fact that it wasn't very good in no way diminished my fascination); a growing fascination with angelina jolie; kraft macaroni and cheese; cheetos; pizza king pizza (one mushroom and "pepperoni" and one "vegetable" every time i visit my dad -- only my indiana readers will appreciate this guilty pleasure!); cop shows (although i'm a bit of a cop show snob -- i could mostly skip law and order, but the wire and the sheild i'm totally addicted to); abba.

how 'bout you? what are your guilty pleasures?

knitting advice needed!

can anyone give me, or direct me to, a simple, easy-to-follow explanation of how best to sew a zipper into a sweater? julie's sweater -- the one i've been working on for years, and my first adult-sized sweater -- is done except for the zipper. just in time for the cold snap!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

bad la leche league leader!

i went to the regional la leche league conference on friday night and saturday, and was completely and unapologetically self-indulgent! i booked a hotel room by myself on friday night, even though i could easily have left my house saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. and arrived in plenty of time for the first session. then, i shamelessly skipped all the leader meetings/celebrations (lll is 50 years old this year) and instead stayed in my room, eating junk food from the vending machine, drinking wine, watching csi and law and order reruns, and knitting. i slept for eight uninterrupted hours, had breakfast delivered to my room, went to four really interesting sessions, talked to almost no one but the one phila co-leader who was at the conference (and whom i really like), and then left. bliss.

i have to admit that the leaders at the eastern pennsylvania la leache league conference sort of scare me. have you ever heard the joke about how pennsylvania has philadelphia on one end, pittsburgh on the other, and alabama in the middle? yeah. like that. when i went to the conference two years ago, just before the 2004 election, the hotel parking lot was a sea of george bush bumper stickers. i kid you not.

i am very ambivalent about la leche league. and not just because the (catholic homeschooling mom of six, not to stereotype or anything) mid-penna leader in charge of leader applicants at the time i applied gave me a hugely hard time. apparently being a lesbian and an adoptive mom makes one categorically suspect when it comes to leadership. but that's not the main source of my ambivalence (just a lot of bitterness, lol!) -- maybe i'll blog about that more some other time. still and all, becoming a leader seemed to me at the time -- and still does, to be honest -- the best way to prepare for the sort of breastfeeding advocacy that i think may become my career someday. and going to the sorts of sessions i went to saturday confirms that for me; they were awsome, and the ibclc's (international board certified lactation consultants) who led those sessions -- lll leaders all of them, some for 35 or 40 years -- were truly inspiring.

still, no apologies for holing away in my hotel room and knitting! it was just what i needed, and i think i shall do it more often.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

hot on the heels of the blasphemy post ....

a post about spiritual gift assessment, in which marta discerns her spiritual gifts and discovers that she is in fact, the devil incarnate. and perhaps finds a new vocation.

my church is in a time of transition from an outdated organizational structure to a new vision that we hope will be more fluid, more welcoming, more spiritually enriching, and more mission-centered. the old structure, which worked well for years, invovled a fairly complicated committee structure (a history committee, membership and growth, worship and music, christian education, stewardship and finance, outreach, etc. etc.). there were six members on each committee (regardless of how much the committee did) and each member served two years, with two rotating off each year (regardless of people's passion or gifts). there was a nominating committee, which in its best incarnation tried to discern the gifts of the congregation and lead folks to the appropriate committee; in its worst incarnation it made cajoling phone calls which everyone involved dreaded, pleading with folks to serve on this or that committee.

this structure hasn't been working so much lately. people are saying yes to being on a committee, but then just not showing up for meetings. some committees just don't meet at all. meanwhile, unofficial ad hoc groups and some officially sanctioned "task forces" have risen up to do the work of the church about which people feel passionate. but still, most of the work is being done by a few core members, while new folks can't figure out how to get connected and end up fading away.

so last winter, the church commissioned a group of folks to study, pray, and discern a new direction/structure. we were commissioned as "the reorganization task force" but have come to call ourselves the "circle of friends." we're now in the process of introducing the vision for the church that we discerned over a period of about eight months, a direction we hope the church can get behind and begin to feel excited about.

i won't go into a lot of detail right now, but one of the major precepts of this vision is that the ministries of the church should spring up from the gifts and calling that members feel they have been given by god. so, if there is a group of people who feel called to serve the homeless, and who have the gifts to do that, then they should be empowered to do so. they should be given the authority and the responsibility to make that ministry work. those who feel this calling should not have to cycle out of this ministry because their two years on the outreach committee is up, to be replaced by someone else who actually feels a calling to teach sunday school, but who has been made to feel obliged to serve the homeless for the next two years because we need to fill that committee slot.

obviously part of this vision involves helping folks discern their spiritual gifts. a few members of our group have chosen a spiritual gift assessment tool to help us in this work. this tool is obviously directed at christians. i think with not too much interpretation, it could be used by any person of faith; with just a little bit more interpretation, it could be used even by someone completely secular. go check it out; i would be interested to see what you think.

my own assessment has confirmed and crystalized for me something that i have been coming to understand about myself for a year or so now: i am an administrator. now you have to understand that i come from a family of often-embattled teachers (mom, dad, partner, brother, sister-in-law), and was, in fact, one myself once (the first in a series of failed careers ... more on that in a minute). if you know any good teachers in most school districts or universities in, well, the universe, you know that administrators are the devil. the source of all evil. the bane of ones existence. the main obstacle in the way of actually accomplishing anything. the best you can hope for is that they will leave you alone, let you shut your door and teach. so, yeah, i greet the news that i am an administrator with some chagrin.

but there you have it, that's what i am: seeing the big picture, holding a vision, making a plan to get there; organizing ideas and people; keeping track of information and paying attention to the details; motivating, supporting, moving things forward, getting the work done -- that's what i love. this realization has been creeping up on me for a couple of years, actually; scoring 100% in the area of administration on the assessment tool only confirmed it.

i'm also realizing what i've been doing wrong all these years, trying to find a vocation/career. i've always focused on the issues about which i feel passionate, rather than thinking about what skills i actually bring to those issues.

for example, i'm passionate about public education, and i love literature and writing, so i thought i should be a teacher. and i loved everything about being a teacher -- planning lessons, thinking about the big picture, keeping up with the research, putting together really interesting units -- everything except actually getting up in front of real live students and, well, teaching. that i didn't love so much.

i'm passionate about justice so i thought i should be a lawyer. not surprisingly, i loved law school -- that's all about reading, research, writing, thinking about and discussing "big ideas." law school for me turned out to be an important crucible for thinking about race, among other issues. i always assumed i would be some sort of public interest lawyer, maybe a civil rights litigator. except the idea of the courtroom holds absolutely no interest for me. at all. i spent two years clerking for a judge, and was perfectly happy doing research and writing opinions, but the time i spent in the courtroom -- which for most clerks was the whole point? i. hated. it. later i moved on to an employee benefits practice, which was interesting to me because it's really complicated, arcane, tax-driven. but actually serving clients? real, live clients with questions that affected real live lives? not so much.

i'm passionate about breastfeeding, so i thought i should be a lactation consultant. as a step along the way i became a la leche league leader. but you know what? i don't really love helping real live moms with their real live breastfeeding issues. i don't look forward to staffing the helpline. i don't feel particularly skilled at leading meetings. direct service is just not my forte, not the thing that makes my heart sing.

now, instead of starting out with a topic i feel passionate about, i'm thinking about the skills i can bring to those issues. this may seem ridiculously obvious -- certainly i am asking myself why it took me so long to figure this out -- but for me it such a different way to think about what sort of career i might pursue one day.

these days i'm looking down the road and thinking about putting together a coalition of providers and researchers to study ways to overcome the barriers to successful breastfeeding experienced by poor, urban women of color. it's just a seed of a notion right now, but i'm clear that i'm not interested in providing direct service. instead, i realize that my greatest contribution would be as a writer and administrator of a grant.

so, what are your spiritual gifts? how do they or don't they correspond with your carrer/vocation?

taking the lord's name in vain

apparently i do it on a regular basis.

yesterday around 5:00, micah wanted to go outside and ride his bike. his friend a., who was over to play, was eating a bowl of peanuts and raisins (a staple snack in our house). she didn't want to play because she wanted to keep eating. micah was pretty tired, being "napless is seattle" as we say, so i was expecting a huge meldown. instead he went into the kitchen and started rummaging around in the drawer where we keep boxes of plastic bags, aluminum foil, wax paper, etc., along with lots of used plastic bags just stuffed in willy-nilly. it took me a minute, but i figured out he was getting a. a bag to put her snack in, so she could take it outside. great solution, i thought, and let him rummage a bit more. but alas, the drawer is so over-stuffed that sometimes the boxes of bags get stuck. micah's rummaging got progressively more frantic, and finally he started wailing "jesus! JESUS! jesus!jesus!jesus!"

i'm pretty sure he was not saying a little prayer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

a week in the life: a series in seven parts


  • micah slept through the night from 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. (he only woke once, before i went to bed, and only needed a 10 second pat to fall asleep, so i don't count that as not sleeping through the night.) even though i could have slept until 7:00 a.m., i woke up at 6:30, as i do without fail these days. i'd rather have the sleep, but if i can't have that, it's nice to read the paper and drink a cup of coffee before the kids get up.
  • i made julie lunch, got micah dressed, got the kids breakfast, made trixie lunch, pushed trixie out the door and into the carpool, took a shower, and dropped micah off at school. home by 9:15, i set about accomplishing the following list:
  1. call jo re: la leche league meeting tomorrow and to confirm playdate this afternoon
  2. write a letter to the redevelopment authority about our urban garden
  3. call peco about the double electric bill we received this month
  4. go through stacks of stuff
  5. send email re: a presentation i'm making during services on sunday
  6. send email to ceo re: capital campaign goals at trixie's school
  7. send quick bread recipe to someone at church for use in meeting i'm co-leading
  8. schedule interviews for several candidates to the board of trustees at trixie's school
  9. bake quick bread
  10. do laundry
  11. call mari
  12. review document prepared by a colleague related to church presentation
  13. clean kitchen
  14. clean kitchen
  15. clean bathroom
  16. take the rug to the cleaner (micah spilled a beer)
  17. call a mom at the nursery who asked me to switch co-oping days
  18. call or email my bro and sil about winter holidays
  19. pay parking ticket
  • items completed are in blue.... i guess that's about half, sigh. three hours flies by so fast.
  • at noon i picked up micah, we got some pizza and met jo and sophia at the playground. we haven't seen them for far too long, so that was fabulous.
  • at 2:30 we picked up a., the little girl i took care of the last two years. she's in preschool now, but we pick her up early on wednesdays to avoid a really long day, and so micah and i can have some time with her. then on to the school to pick up trixie and chauffer the car pool kids where they are headed.
  • 3:30 to 4:15 the kids watched some pbs kids and jumped on my bed while i checked email and began composing this post.
  • 4:15 a. accidentally poked micah in the eye and things deteriorated quickly. we went downstairs to read stories.
  • 4:30 julie arrived home, half an hour earlier than usual, and took the kids out to ride bikes. i lay on the couch and read about barak obama in a magazine, then joined julie 15 minutes later with beers.
  • at 5:00 i could no longer stand the way the older boys on the block were playing at execution-style gun violence with a fairly realistic-looking play dart gun; the way a group of young black men who routinely smoke pot, drink and listen to loud music were hanging out on the stoop, watching the kids without comment; or the way that micah was watching the whole thing with rapt attention. we all went inside and read stories.
  • k. came to pick up a., and micah and a. had nursies while k. and i commiserated about a couple of really troubling households on the block that are making things feel really unsafe. she, her husband, and a. are white, and are in the process of adopting an african-american child. we ruminated about the fact that we always believed that our neighborhood was an ideal place for us to raise black children, but sometimes lately we're not so sure...
  • the time got away from me, and sudenly it was 5:45 -- just enough time to heat up some left-overs before julie had to leave for a volunteer phone-calling gig with
  • micah was asleep by 7:30, trixie happily engrossed in a website associated with the warrior cat series she and the twin boys down the block are obsessed by (they trade books back and forth daily). i got in the bath and finished reading about barak obama (i continue to be pretty impressed by him).
  • i traded places with trixie and while she lounged in the bath, i read her a bit of the hobbit, which is taking us an inordinately long amount of time to get through. we're enjoying it a lot, but it's not a harry potter-esque page turner.
  • 8:45 trixie is tucked in bed.
  • waiting for julie's return, i accomplished a few more things on my list (in red). also followed up on some emails.
  • 10:00 CSI New York.
  • 11:00 bed.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

some of my favorite people: a series in potentially infinite parts


i've only met cate in real life four times (soon to be five!!). at least i think that's right ... it doesn't seem possible! we don't talk on the phone much at all. but i can't imagine my life without her.

i first "met" cate around eight or nine years ago on the gay and lesbian parenting board at parentsplace -- or was it parentsoup? -- before they were both gobbled up by ivillage. trixie was a baby, and cate and her partner were in the process of thinking about trying to conceive (cate is nothing if not a meticulous researcher!). roughly around the time they actually got started, we were thinking about number two. unfortunately, both our journeys involved infertility, and therefore a lot of anxiety and grief. fortunately, our journeys overlapped. fortunately for me, anyway, because when i look back over those years, i simply don't know how i could have done it without cate. we emailed every day, often multiple times a day. she knew so much about options and treatment possibilities, and had such a gentle, respectful way of sharing those with me without being pushy or making me feel bad when we ultimately made quite different choices than she had. julie called her my infertility doula.

i think for me one of the many difficult aspects of infertility was how isolating it was. it wasn't just that all of my friends were *freakishly* fertile; it's just that infertility is so fundamentally impossible to share. it's not that people are insensitive, or thoughtless -- i suppose some are, but that wasn't my friends, who genuinely grieved with me and were deeply sad about my difficulties -- it's just so deeply private and existential. it was even difficult for julie to know how to be supportive, difficult for her to understand how deeply and in what complicated ways infertility undercut so much of who i thought i was. and of course, each woman experiences infertility in her own way; there were many infertile women whose experience didn't connect with mine at all. but cate, cate was not only there, every step of the way, but she really *got it.* it meant the whole world to me, and she will forever have a huge place in my heart.

cate eventually got -- and stayed! -- pregnant, with her fabulous twins, henry and eleanor (by coincidence, my kids' middle names!). she had a harrowing pregnancy and a pretty damn hard birth, and the first few months (years? decades?) with twins are, well, as cate puts it, "extreme parenting." but even through all that she was so there for me. she continued to celebrate, in such a heart-felt way, our family-building when we turned to adoption. at one point we were feeling very discouraged and limited in our options; cate gently sent me a ton of research she had done about agencies in her area that might offer more options. when i said that our financial resources made those options unlikely, she offered, on the spot, to loan us pretty much anything we would need. to be paid back whenever we could. ("we'll just need it when the kids go to college.") at this point, i think i had met cate, live and in person, all of one or two times. can you imagine? in the end, we didn't need to take her up on her offer, but for a time it made everything feel so much better, knowing that we had that option.

perhaps my favorite way that cate has supported my family is through donating breastmilk when my stash had run out. i never developed a full supply for micah, but i had been pumping for a long time before he joined our family, so between my own supply (two-thirds to three-quarters of what he needed) and my extensive freezer stash (around 1200 ounces), i was able to exclusively breastfeed him until he was six months (i used a devise called a supplemental nursing system, or sns, to supplement him at the breast). around that time, cate went to a conference and fedexed me all the milk she had pumped! and let me tell you, this twin mama made a lot of milk! her donation and another local friend who was pumping for me got us through another month or so before we started supplementing with formula. then a couple of months later, cate offered to meet us at a hotel in new jersey where her partner was staying for a work meeting so that she could give me a cooler full of her freezer stash ("i really don't have any room for it, and the twins aren't drinking breastmilk in their sippies at school anymore.") and then she figured out a way to use some of her partner's frequent hotel user points to get us a free room.

if it weren't enough that cate is thoughtful, kind, generous, a meticulous researcher (she knows more about infertility than lots of medical professionals), and an awesome mom -- there's more! she's also an exquisitely talented fiber artist (addict? ;-). her work is truly inspiring. go check out her blog, mamacate, where you can usually find photos of her latest projects. and her really cute kids. and these days, the fabu addition being built on her house.

in a couple of weeks, cate -- and another friend from our gl parenting board days at parentsplace, sara of saraskates -- are coming to phila for a conference! can i tell you how excited i am??

Saturday, October 14, 2006

dean mcdermott's "adopted daughter" lola

Dear Editor of the [Philadelphia Inquirer] Newsmakers column:

I read Newsmakers daily, and I have noticed that it is your policy always to note that a celebrity's child is adopted, even when the story has nothing to do with adoption. It also appears to be your policy to do that by putting the adjective "adopted" in front of the word "son" or "daughter," such as in today's column, which notes that Dean McDermott has a son, Jack, and an adopted daughter, Lola.

I am wondering if you can clarify for me why you have this policy? I have two children whom I adopted, and I certainly think that adoption is a wonderful thing, and something that we in our family are very open about and celebrate. However, if you asked me to describe my relationship to my children and what it means for us to be a family, the fact that my children are adopted would only be one salient fact among many. Other salient facts would include that my daughter was conceived through donor insemination, and that my son is Black while the rest of us are white, for example. Yet if I were ever to make it into the Newsmakers column, I doubt you would describe me as "Marta, who has a donor insemination daughter and a Black son." So, if you wouldn't do that, why do you use the modifier "adopted" as a matter of course?

I'm not actually asking this rhetorically. It seems that this is a very common practice in the newspaper industry -- Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's kids, for example, are always identified as adopted, as are Chief Justice Roberts' kids, and on and on. I know this is a practice that drives many parents crazy, so I'm sure I'm not the first person to point it out to you. And I doubt that you will stop simply because I have brought it to your attention as being, at best, kind of stupid, and at worse, deeply offensive. So, I guess I'm really just wondering -- why?

Thanks for your time,



i never received a reply to this letter, but since i sent it, there has only been one mention of a kid whom i happen to know is adopted, and he was simply identified as angelina jolie and brad pitt's son, maddox. i don't think i've ever seen that kid (or any other adopted kid) identified that way, so maybe they've changed their policy? i'm a newsmakers junkie, so i'm keeping tabs.

Friday, October 13, 2006

who's imitating whom?

we hear so much about how the fashion industry's obsession with thinness is so detrimental to the healthy body image of young girls, and i think that's absolutely true. even my relatively media-free braniac 9-year old who disdains popular girl culture is worried that she's fat.

but it occurs to me that the horror of the size zero obsession is not just that our little girls are too often and at an ever-earlier age trying to imitate super-models; it's that our super-skinny super-models are trying to imitate little girls. heroin chic? how about pedophilia chic? this morning i was watching some of the little girls at micah's pre-school, one four year old in particular, and i thought "wow, she's got a super-model body!" and then i thought, "no, she's got a little girl body, and that's what the size zero super-models are after." i know this is not a new thought, but the whole catering-to-latent-(and no doubt not-so-latent)-pedophile-fantasies just creeped me out in that moment, as i watched these really lovely, totally unselfconscious little girls deciding whether they wanted to be the bell ringer today or the handy helper.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

payback's a bitch

the cost of dinner and drinks with really fun work colleagues at cuba libre: what? $30, $40?

a ticket to see "a prayer for owen meany" with your ap students and said fun colleagues at the arden theater: around $30 or so.

a partner who is at home, with the kids, figuring your interim grade reports which are due tomorrow?

so, what is priceless going for these days? any suggestions?

Monday, October 09, 2006

riddles on hawk mountain

we spent a glorious day hiking on hawk mountain today. julie, micah, trixie, trixie's friend m. and i headed out on a four-plus mile loop, but it turned out to be much more difficult hiking than we thought -- basically, most of the hike was through boulder fields created during the last ice age. very cool, but as it turned out, too much for micah. so a mile or so in, julie and micah broke off on what we thought would be an easier and quicker way back to the visitor's center (in the end, they got back after we did, having climbed practically straight up a rock face -- which, wouldn't you know, was the only part where micah *didn't* melt down. in fact he *loved* it; the simple walking along the wide, smooth path along the ridge, not so much...).

the girls and i continued on our original route, but cut maybe half a mile off by taking a short-cut near the end.

trix and m. are two peas in a pod: brainy girls on the nerdy side, pretty much oblivious of the girl culture swirling about them (and to the extent they are aware, pretty much disdainful of it). they both read, a lot, and mostly in the fantasy/magic/anthropomorphized animal genre.

they are also both great hikers.

here's what we did to pass the time:

what is black and white and read all over? (i realize that one only works orally.)

what walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?

railroad crossing, look out for cars, how do you spell it without any r's?

the person who made it doesn't want it, the person who bought it doesn't need it, and the person who is using it doesn't know they're using it.

so you're driving a bus, and the bus driver is wearing a green shirt. at the first stop, 5 people get on the bus; at the second stop 3 get off; at the third stop 2 get on; and at the fourth stop everyone gets off. what color are the bus driver's eyes? (also better orally.)

but this one was the best, a riddle from my childhood that totally stumped me, but i was *sure* these two girls would find the answer obvious. alas they didn't.

a father, who is a doctor, is driving with his son to the hospital where the father works. while crossing a railroad track, their car is hit by a train and the father is killed instantly. the son is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. the surgeon walks in and says, "i can't operate on this child, he's my son!"

trixie immediately suggested that the boy had two fathers, but the other possibility totally eluded both of them.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

some of my favorite people: a series in potentially infinite parts


i've known pat for over 10 years, and i remember precisely when i met her. julie was teaching junior high at a private school in philadelphia, which had just expanded into a new space, and julie was painting her new room. one of the parents, eileen, was helping; eileen is the sort of person who has exquisite taste and boundless energy, and is constantly repainting her own house. she was acting as interior design consultant to julie, and they had picked out a gorgeous yellow for the walls and a smooth periwinkle blue for the trim. we were all there painting -- was it summer? or on a saturday? anyway, eileen roped her cousin pat to come help; pat's daughter was about to start kindergarten at the school. so my first image of pat is on her knees painting trim.

it started out that eileen was really our friend, and pat just sort of hung out with us sometimes, but at some point the balance of the friendships shifted. we still adore eileen, but really, pat is the one who set up camp in our hearts. she's warm, funny, sexy, smart -- all with just the perfect edge to keep all that wonderfulness from being cloying.

pat is a psychiatric nurse, and she has x-ray vision into the deepest darkest depths of your psyche. in like ten minutes flat, no kidding. i've seen her do it over and over again -- she'll meet a friend of ours, or a member of the family, at a gathering, and spend maybe ten minutes talking to them. the next time we see her, she launches into a full psychiatric evaluation that is spot on. it's occurred to me that having a friend like that could be really intimidating -- i mean, what does she think of me, anyway? but i know she loves me, and she's got one of the biggest, most open, most generous hearts of anyone i know. so even when her insights are a bit brutal, it never feels like she's judging.

pat is part of a big, irish-catholic family, and while i know for a fact that her clan has as much craziness and disfunction as the next family, from my vantage point not-quite-on-the-inside-but-almost (that's the sort of folks they are, especially pat and her cousins, eileen and rose -- no matter how infrequently they see you, they always welcome you into the circle of their family as though you are long-lost kin), i yearn to be part of something just like that. the women are all warm and maternal, but with dry humors and sharp tongues to take any sentimental edge off. their husbands are each in their ways the salt of the earth -- the kind of men who give you faith that maybe the world is going to turn out okay. the kids are all drop-dead gorgeous and the kind of kids you hope yours will grow up to be.

at any gathering of pat and her family you can be sure to be well-fed at a table prepared and arranged with exquisite attention to detail. there will be fresh flowers and linens and good wine, but you will never, ever worry about which fork to use when. there will be toasts that are so funny and thoughtful and perfectly delivered that you will wish you could be the guest of honor some day, to hear folks say such nice things about you. you may worry that you have over-stayed your welcome, but not too much, and you'll stay anyway, because who would ever want to leave?

pat is deeply catholic, down to the marrow in her bones, and is one of just a few catholic friends who have made the struggle to keep being catholic make perfect sense to me. and it is a struggle. i always attend easter vigil with pat at the very progressive catholic church in my neighborhood (it's a gorgeous liturgy). last spring she and a bunch of other women staged a protest about women's ordination; more recently pat attended the ordination of several women priests, one of whom is a friend of hers. our shared faith is one of my favorite things to talk about with pat; i always come away feeling spiritually fed.

pat struggles with demons, as we all do, and while i'm not sure of the all the details, i suspect pat's demons are of the uglier-than-average sort. i sometimes worry, when we fall out of touch for months at a time that she's having a rough patch, and that i'm not being as good a friend as i should. pat is a caretaker extrordinare, someone for whom i'm sure it's hard to ask for help. it's so easy -- blissfully easy -- to let her take care of me; it's harder to know how to return the favor. it's something i mean to be more mindful of.

pat is one of my favorite people indeed. if she weren't happily married to a really wonderful man, and if i weren't happily married to a really wonderful woman, pat would definitely be on my short list of folks to fall in love with.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

the three best things

the three best things i've ever done for myself, excluding personal relationships that are just too obvious (i.e. relationships with spouse, children, other family, friends, god):

1. run the philadelphia half-marathon (i also ran the philadelphia marathon a couple of months later, but it was not nearly as exhilerating);

2. walk away from a job/career that i was good at and which paid an obscene amount of money, because it did not feed my soul;

3. breastfeed micah.

and you?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

three hardest things

the three hardest things i've ever experienced in my life, in order:

1. the grief of my mother's completely unexpected death when i was 24 and she was 50;
2. infertility;
3. struggling on a daily basis, in real and concrete ways, with staggeringly complicated issues of race and class.

how 'bout you?

Monday, October 02, 2006

the hikers have returned! Posted by Picasa

micah and i baked all day: whole wheat bread; apple pie; bacon and cheddar quiche; leek, asparagus and goat cheese quiche. yum! Posted by Picasa

update on sister in law

it's bad news, but it's good bad news. my sister in law has dcis (ductal carcinoma in situ) -- it means the cells lining the ducts are involved, rather than the breast tissue/glands themselves. as i understand it, this is a "better" tumor to have, if one has to have any at all. the prognosis with radiation is very good.

thanks for all your good thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

hiking the appalachian trail

julie and trixie are sleeping on the appalachian trail tonight, having started their first big backpacking adventure yesterday around noon. julie's done a lot of backpacking, especially with kids, but this is trixie's first time hiking with a pack and camping on the trail. we hike a lot around the park near our house, and yesterday when they called me (they're up on a mountain ridge almost the whole way, near harrisburg, and having no trouble getting a signal) trixie swore "i'll never complain about hiking in the wissahickon again!" she sounded content and pleased with herself though. they had hiked about 6.5 miles, the first mile or so straight up the mountain, and they made it to a trail shelter before the rain started last night.

i had to quell a lot of far-fetched fears about rattle snakes and copper heads and various other sorts of calamaties that only i could imagine in order to let this happen, and i'm awfully glad i did. trixie is not a sporting sort of girl, but my hope is that she doesn't wait until she's 35 to find the athlete in herself. i told her this on our drive to the trail (we went up in two cars, leaving one at the end of their hike and then taking them on to the beginning before micah and i headed home). i told her how very much i understand her antipathy for team sports -- one of the many personality traits trixie and i share.

"i'm not going to try to convince you," i said, "that you might some day come to appreciate team sports. maybe you will, but i certainly never have."

"i HATE team sports!" she said with a sort of dramatic conviction that isn't entirely artless. "i hate the way you always feel like you're letting everyone down. and when you mess up, there's all these 'oh mans!' and people grumbling under their breath."

i nodded in total agreement. but i was about to launch into what felt like an obligatory treatise on how what really matters is that you do your best, when she cut me off before i could even get started:

"and what i REALLY hate is when they tell you 'it's okay, at least you tried! that was a great effort!' yeah, RIGHT," and she rolled her eyes.

"yeah," i had to agree, "that's the worst."

but i assured her that there are plenty of ways to be an athlete that don't involve team sports. i pointed out that the vast majority of runners have never run a marathon, and i have. me! the one who hates team sports with an abiding passion because i'm so entirely lacking in any sort of skill or confidence.

trixie seems to have inherited a double dose of my personality -- i *so* get her, whereas julie is often just left scratching her head. but physically trixie is practically a little clone of julie. julie's orthopedist has suggested that we *try* to get her to 50 before replacing her knees. she's 41 now, and we have our doubts she'll make it that long. so i doubt running will be trixie's sport -- i'm waiting for micah to get a little older, although i'm sure he'll be outpacing me (which isn't hard -- i didn't say i ran that marathon fast!) by the time he's six. but i think maybe hiking could be. it's certainly something we all love to do, and in just a couple of years, micah will be ready too. we have dreams of taking a sabbatical sometime when the kids are older and hiking the appalachian trail, taking the kids out of school and setting off on a six month adventure.

in the meantime, i'm thinking about finding someplace warm where we could do some hiking over christmas. i was thinking of hiking a little ways in somewhere, setting up a camp, and doing a couple of day hikes before hiking out -- i think micah could handle a six or seven mile hike if he didn't have a pack and we paced ourselves over a whole day.

any backpackers out there with ideas of where we should go? we will probably get enough christmas money from relatives to cover plane tickets just about anywhere, so the only requirements are warm, beautiful, and relatively easy hiking.