being Mom

An English Slug

Jet lag. Lying in bed mouthing, “I must sleep.” And the mind is no where near contemplating this possibility. That is the back drop for the most recent philosophical chat with 8-yr-old Liam. In the dark at 2 a.m. in England over Christmas. The last big question he put out there was: “Are slugs nocturnal?” The question may have been cows in Iowa or the squirrels at home. But in England: slugs.

Honestly, I didn’t know, but it was a thought-provoking question. As Liam drifted off, my mind latched onto the question. I think slugs just move as they can where they can. Certainly they can’t think, “Ahhh, dusk is approaching! I must hurry to shelter!” No, I think they just sleep where they get tired, be it day or night.

We gave up trying to get the boys adjusted to English time; they slept until very late morning and went to bed no earlier than midnight. A week later, again another philosophical discussion in bed, in the wee English hours. “Mom,” Liam started hotly, “Slugs ARE nocturnal! I stepped on one tonight walking back to Grandma’s from Auntie’s! My socks got all sluggy!”

I nearly gagged. English slugs are big. This is a healthy English slug, next to my sister-in-law's finger:

Ooo-ga. I really felt for the kid! That was not worm squishin’ that was creature squishin.’ With only socks on to boot. I had forgotten our conversation the following morning; otherwise, I would have thrown that pair of socks away along with the ones caked in mud.

And now I'm wondering, in my cold-induced jet-lagged state, how big does a spider, worm, bug, or rodent need to be to elevate it to an unsquishable creature? Of course, there is no generic answer for that, for we all have different tolerance levels. From English to Iowan standards, I'm somewhere in between.

(These tolerance levels between Bill's family and my family are best portrayed, respectively, in Uncovering the Real England: Spiders and Dancing with a Foreign City Slicker.)

Rat on a Wheel

Rat on a wheel. The December hub-bub snagged me. Then, a pop on my backside from this summer reared its head and sent my sciatic nerve into high gear. “Do you want Valium for the pain?” No! How would I function on Valium? I want a magic wand waved over my butt and leg. Instead, I wear black pants every day. My three pairs of black pants are more comfortable than jeans. Consequently, I look pretty darn good. I look like I’m dressing up every day. Heck, one day I opened “Real Simple” magazine and saw I was wearing virtually the same holiday outfit as one of the models dressed in turquoise and black. And big earrings just like a model in the same spread. I didn’t have black feathers decorating a slim black skirt, but my pants were black and my chicken feather earrings matched my turquoise sweater. Rockin’ it.

Back from Iowa after Thanksgiving, Liam and Will were finishing last minute projects the night before they returned to school. Liam had to make a personal box: select a container that represented his personality and put 5 or 6 items inside that reflected what he liked. The biggest challenge was the container. Minecraft is his thing now. While in Iowa, he decided to make a Minecraft drawing and tape it to the side of a box. We went over the list of items he had decided to put into the box; I was at the ready to help locate the maze book, the football, a picture of bacon, chess game, etc. But his vision was different. He was going to draw a maze, a football, a self-portrait, another Minecraft scene and put the drawings in the box – with a picture of bacon I printed off the Internet. I walked away and sat on ice.

The next day, Tuesday, we took his box and his Benjamin Franklin poster to school. I handed the poster to the teacher. I placed the box on a low bookcase where we usually leave projects like this. Leaving for school Thursday morning, he was upset with me: Why hadn’t I taken his box to school? I did. You need to look around your classroom for it. Leaving for school Friday morning, he remembered he was still upset with me: I need my box! Why aren’t you helping me? I took it to school. I will help you look for it this morning.

Dressed in one of my magazine spread outfits, I went on the hunt after seeing that the box really was nowhere in the classroom. The only place I could imagine a box going was to the recycle bin; afterall, there were no things in there – only papers. A teacher gave me the hint of checking the teachers’ lunch room, that’s where all the recycling was stored. My heart sank at the sight of two small boxes on the floor in the corner. Neither was Liam’s. It looked like the recycling had recently been picked up. Three giant bins against the wall were also marked recycling. I lifted the lid on the first one and dropped my chin inside to look. Empty. The second one. Empty. The third one. A pizza box on the bottom. Wait… AND a familiar postage stamp on a box below it! The bins were pushing 5 ft. tall. I grabbed a chair and hinged my upper body into the bin. Flipping the pizza box up, there was the Minecraft box!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Even standing on a chair, my 5’4” body’s torso was two inches short of reaching the box.

I stepped down and looked eye level at the hump of the bin lid. Only one way. I flipped the lid back on its hinge and, squatting carefully, dropped the bin forward onto its side. On my hands in knees, I peered into the chamber. It looked even deeper lying down. No choice. I crawled into the bin. Feeling my toes bump over the edge confirmed that my whole body was inside the recycling bin.

Ecstatically, I found the flattened box and all of the drawings in perfect shape. Then, I had two thoughts: First, what a “selfie” shot this would be from the outside. Second, if this thing rolled, my simile of rat on a wheel would no longer be a simile. I shuffled backed out. A little dust on the black pants. A little static in my hair. I heard someone in the room. I stood and brushed myself off; I didn't’ recognize the woman who met my butt before my face. Ignoring this, I said, “Hi, are you a new teacher?” “Yes, I’m helping in the 2nd grade classroom.” “Oh, you must know Liam – I’m his mom.” “What a sweetie he is!” she smiled. I smiled, “Yeah…” He really is. I would go to the ends of the earth for him. Or even farther, to the bottom gut of a recycle bin.

Did I really say “no” to Valium?

(Taking a break from the wheel, our family headed to England for Christmas.  That's where the English Laundry Maven hit high gear.) 

The Tooth Fairy

This will make more sense if you have already ready My Letter to Santa. It's Tooth Fairy week. And conversations continue about Christmas gifts. This week I've learned that in Will's class he is the only one without an iPod touch, and Liam knows kids at school younger than him who have an iPod touch. Oh my goodness, the looks cast as these facts were laid out... eeks. Like glass splinters.

Late last week, Will’s first molar fell out. He put it in an envelope. He’s not a fan of licking envelopes, so I suggested he could just tuck in the flap. He wanted it sealed; he braved it and licked it. The next morning, he had $5 in the envelope. I thought the Tooth Fairy was a bit generous, but this was the first double-tooth to be lost in our house. Will watched me closely as he showed me the Tooth Fairy had tucked in the envelope flap. I shrugged, not realizing until noon that this may have been a small accusation.

Over the weekend, Liam lost a tooth while eating an apple on a 2-hour car ride to Maine. I stuck it in a baggie that was first used for goldfish. Then I carried it around in my purse for two days until we remembered it needed to go under Liam’s pillow. I gave him an envelope, and he decided to write a note to the Tooth Fairy: “can I have a ipod touch?” I only said, “I don’t think she has ever brought you anything but money.”

The next morning I awoke very early and went in to check on the boys. The envelope was still there with the tooth in it!! I scurried out of their bedroom. Thinking Liam must be last on her route that night, I took an early shower to give the Tooth Fairy a clear path to that tooth.

Liam came downstairs with a bit of a snarl. “There’s a dollar in it, and she left a note: ‘Ask Santa.’ That’s what YOU said, Mom!”

“No… I said I didn’t think you should ask Santa for a gift that expensive.”

“Well, the Tooth Fairy lives with Santa, so she knows what to do.” I’m sure the Tooth Fairy was trying to help, but she obviously doesn’t know this little lawyer like I do.

Would you believe Will lost a molar last night? I handed him an envelope. He decided to try another tact, with mostly correct grammar. “Can I have an iPod touch? I will share it with my brother.”

Well, here I am up early again. I slipped into the boys’ room to check on them and saw the envelope sticking out from under the Will’s pillow, flap open. I had to see if there was an iPod touch there too. Using Will’s reading light, I first shined it on the envelope. I looked no further after seeing the words, “Not from me!” in the same handwriting as “Ask Santa” from two nights ago.

Whew. Maybe they do live together and Santa shared the conversation he had overheard before the Tooth Fairy made her third voyage to the Malcolm house this week.

Happy Hump Day.

Cub Scout Camp Highlights

The annual fall Cub Scout trip was last Saturday night. Since our tent is a tight fit for three, I went for the afternoon and evening but volunteered to sleep in my own bed at home. From the comfort of my mattress, cotton sheets, soft blanket, and comforter, I reflected back on events from that evening and past scout camping trips. Last year, Bill was in China for the fall camping trip, so I went on my own with the boys. Friends helped me set up the tent. At 3 a.m. it started to pour with rain -- there had only been a 10% chance of rain in the forecast. While Will was sound asleep at 6 a.m., Liam and I were wide awake listening to the rain pellets bounce onto our tent. "Mom, it's like we are in a giant popcorn popper!" We use the old-fashioned whirly-gig popper to make popcorn at home and the sound was just like the kernels hitting the lid as they popped open. We giggled as our imaginations swept us into that whirly-gig. Until we had to break down camp in the rain. Outside the popcorn popper.

This year, Will and Liam took halogen flashlights with them that they had gotten from Bill's family. Amazingly powerful, the beam lit up the very tops of the tall fir trees around the campfire. From behind me, Liam shone the light on my head. "Whoa, Mom, has grey hair!" I'm not due for a color correction for two more weeks. Were the grey threads sparkling like diamonds under the halogen microscopic light?

Will found a new walking stick and carved his initials and markings into it with his knife. He earned his whittling badge a couple years ago so could carry and use his pocketknife on the trip. Liam also wanted to whittle but hasn't earned his badge yet. Bill loaned him his Swiss army knife and sat next to him as he broke the Cub Scout rule. At dusk I asked Liam if he needed a light, "No, I'm good, Mom. I can see just fine." We need to work on that badge.

While hiking through the forest, Liam stepped in horse poop. Bill told him those were called "road apples." The boys found that term hilarious. The next day, Liam created a verb out of the noun, "Hey, I guess I'm pretty healthy! I road appled today!" Impressed with his grammar creativity but wish the topic was different.

Happy Hump Day!

My Letter to Santa

Dear Santa, You have been Santa for much longer than I have been Mom, and I need some advice.

Two years ago, Will and Liam wanted the LEGOS Death Star for Christmas.  This chatter started in early November.  They knew that was a bit much for us to spend, so they decided to ask you for this elaborate LEGOS kit.  I don’t know if your elves churn out LEGOS at Christmas or if you contract with LEGOS, but either way I was uneasy with them asking you for a $400 LEGOS set.    I waited until late-November, hoping the Death Star conversation would quiet down.  But it just got bigger and bigger.  Plans were in the making for where they would build it.  The LEGOS catalog was ragged like the toy section in the old Sears catalog that my sister, my brothers and I would wish from every year.

During one of these wishful conversations, I had to hit the brakes for your sake.  “Boys, I have been thinking a lot about this; I just don’t feel right about it.  I need to tell you what I’m thinking.  That’s a very big gift to ask for.  I don’t think you’ve ever gotten anything that big from Santa.  Have you?”


“Some kids just ask for food or clothes.  So asking for this seems a little over the top.”


“Think about what Santa has given you in the past.  Maybe you could put LEGOS gift cards on your wish list to Santa.  It’s a little strange to ask for a gift card, but you could explain what you want and why you have a gift card on your wish list.  You could let family know you want gift cards too.  Maybe you could use some of the money you’ve saved throughout the year toward buying it.  Just something to think about…”

And with that, the Death Star idea dwindled over a few days and was eventually snuffed out.

This year, Liam wants an XBOX360.  I’m balking a bit, so he’s determined to ask you for it.  And he has threatened me with an out-of-the-corner-of-his-eyes look and the sneaky words, “If Santa doesn’t bring it, I’ll know he’s not real.”  Will flinched.

Santa, here I draw the line.  You don’t threaten Mom.  You don’t threaten Santa.  It’s just not cool.  So, you may get a letter requesting an XBOX360.  If you do, let’s talk before you load the sleigh.



Corn's On!

What will you do or did you do on your 70th birthday? At dusk on the eve of Dad’s 70th birthday, Will, Liam and I were helping Dad pick sweet corn.  We would be “doing corn” the next day, on his birthday.  In the corn patch, which was probably 100 yards long and 20 rows deep, Dad picked corn and filled 5-gallon buckets while I couriered full buckets to the Chevy S-10 and emptied them into the truck-bed.

The corn stalks shot way over our heads and were thick enough to hide Dad in the middle.  I followed his voice to find him and exchange my empties for his full buckets.

The boys and I over-exaggerated the steps we took over the electric fence. It lined the perimeter of the corn patch and was about 6 inches off the ground. The fence stopped the raccoons from entering the patch. If a raccoon family had a midnight feast, then invited their friends to come the next night and the next, a good chunk of corn would be stripped from the stalks in a matter of a couple days.

Shortly, this conversation between Farm Dad and City Girl ensued:

“How many buckets have you emptied?” Dad asked. “I don’t know, maybe 8 – 12,” I guessed. “Haven’t you been counting?” he asked. Then a flashback: yes, for some reason, I should’ve been counting. “No.” “You haven’t been counting?” “No, you didn’t tell me to count.” “We always count, so Mom has enough for 100 pints.” “Oh… well, I haven’t done this in 15 years – I guess I needed a reminder to count.”  Then good-naturedly, "Why, Linda Kay... I can't believe you didn't count."

At dusk...we had more than enough for 100 pints.  We had a truck-load.

 It sat in the drive overnight, and early the next 70th-birthday-morning, Dad and I started husking corn...

...and the boys joined us.

 Amateur corn-picker that I was had dumped corn haphazardly into the truck-bed covering the whole thing. Soon realizing I had goofed up the shucking system a bit, I reshuffled all the corn to the back of the truck to where we could reach it, making room to toss the corn husks and silks to the front of the bed.

“I bet I’m the only one in my school who has done this!” Will said, as we filled the coolers with corn.

Four coolers of corn on the cob equal 100 pints of corn kernels for the freezer. Once we had lined the coolers up in the dining room, Dad’s job had ended for the time being, and Mom took over.

Mom and I lined the kitchen table and floor with newspaper, and set up a de-silking station on one end of the table and an area to cut the corn off the cob at the other end.

Maureen, Mom’s friend since high school, arrived with her grandson and the setting was complete. It was time to “do corn.” The three boys used dish towels to brush off the corn silks... Maureen, Mom and I could start stripping kernels off the cobs.

The magic soon wore off the de-silking process. The boys took breaks when there was nowhere to pile the silk-free corn and came back when we called them. They were all such troopers finishing the de-silking, it was tough going at times, but they did it.

I had seen those piles through the eyes of a 7- and 9-year-old. I remember vegetables and fruit that needed to be cleaned, stemmed, broken, cut-up – they were monstrous. Here, much like walking beans, was the true-grit of farming. Of growing and freezing our own food.  Of sticking to a task until it was finished.

Mom’s job shifted once we had big pans of kernels. They needed to be blanched for three minutes...spread out to cool in front of the fan, then loaded into pint-size freezer bags that were labeled with “2013.”

Maureen and I kept cutting as Mom followed the circuit of those final processing tasks.  Aunt Alison arrived later in the afternoon, "I heard you were doing corn.  I thought I would come up and help."  Aunt Alison stepped into the blanching, cooling, bagging circuit with Mom.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Liam walked through the kitchen. “BLAH! YUCK! What did I step in???” Ah, yes, that feeling of sweet, sticky corn milk on the bottom of your foot and the dragging of newspaper along with you as you try to walk away from it.  My “doing corn” memory and his “doing corn” experience were now complete!

“Mom, there just aren’t many kids who have done this, right?" Will asked again.  "We picked it, husked it, cleaned it and bagged it! We did it all from beginning to end!”

Having the "corn on” during our Iowa summer visit was a gift to this Farm Girl and her family.

Happy 70th, Dad.

(Yet another hot, humid summer memory... When the headlights came looking for me.)

Walking Beans

Dad turned 70 in August. We flew home to celebrate with him; a weekend at my sister’s was planned after several what-shall-we-dos were considered. In the end, it was his words at every Christmas that finalized our decision: “I love seeing all my kids and grandkids together.” We arrived a little early on Tuesday, the day before Dad’s birthday. Driving out to the farm and nearing Dad’s first bean field, I saw his truck parked in the level ditch. Together with my sister-in-law and nephew, Dad was walking beans. Pulling weeds. I nearly wet my pants, for we had just rolled into a real farming experience!

My sons’ idea of farm is so different from the reality of the farm-life that I grew up with. The farm has changed over the years from a dairy farm to a beef farm with no other livestock. No more chickens. No more butchering chickens with your cousins. No more collecting eggs. No more pigs. No more twice-daily milkings. No more holding cow tails. No more warm cow barns. No calves sucking on fingers. My visceral knowledge of “farm” is very different from my sons'.

In their computer game Minecraft, they showed me their cows. “Watch this, Mom!” Will collected a bucket, walked up to a cow, bumped her on the hip, and his bucket filled with milk. Shocked, I said, “You know it doesn’t really happen that way, right?” I was answered by an eye-ball roll. But really, he knows where the udders are, but he doesn’t know the process of moving milk from a cow to the table. Will hasn't smelled, seen, heard, felt, and tasted that experience.

Walking beans to cut volunteer corn and weeds out was my first paid job. I had many others (see About Me for my bucket list lived), but getting up at 4:30 a.m. to be in the field by 5:00 a.m.: a visceral memory.

I wheeled our car into the ditch. “They are walking beans!” I shouted. “There’s Grandpa!” my boys shouted. “They are walking beans!” I shouted. “There’s our cousin!” my boys shouted. “They are WALKING BEANS!” I shouted.

We joined the bean walkers. After walking one loop, I said, “Well, I have groceries in the car. I need to get going.” And the boys wanted to stay. I drove away, knowing they would need to finish the field before Grandpa brought them home. This wasn’t a dairy barn where they could test that hip-bump, but those were real weeds they were pulling.

My giddy smile lasted all the way to Mom’s.

(On occasion, I get to take the farmer East... "How did your crops do this year?" was the beginning of one such journey.)

September 11, 2013

The TV in the YMCA lobby was running the complete footage from September 11, 2001. The fifteen minutes I watched was the turning point: The first plane may have been an accident. Then the second plane hit. And somewhere in that city on business was Bill. And somewhere else was my girlfriend since kindergarten. And somewhere else were our fish friends, a couple we met diving. Long hours after the attack, Bill was finally able to call me. He was fine, but how should he get home? He said there was availability to fly – what did I think? We agreed. Never would there be a safer time to fly. I emailed our friends. They were all OK. Yesterday afternoon I met with my oncologist – my 48-month check-up. All was good! However, I was concerned about my blood pressure. My doctor chuckled and explained that they didn’t really look at that, after I was coming to see my oncologist! I signed my name on the dotted line for another breast cancer study. This one is looking for other possible genes that may contribute to the disease. Mine was not genetic, but since I had been tested, I qualified to be part of the study. This one was pretty easy: they just needed three tubes of blood and my signature giving them permission to rip cells apart, perhaps create a cell line if the researchers find anything interesting while looking at my cells.

From the oncologist’s office, I dropped down one floor to the Infusion Suite. Where I go every month for an injection as part of another study. One shot usually takes 2 – 4 hours. The test drug is expensive and cannot be ordered from the pharmacy until I’m present and accounted for. This gives me time to wait and people watch. And some days it’s an easy day. And some days I can feel my blood pressure rise as my body wants to flee. I see Infusion nurses and techs more consistently than I see many of my local friends. My regular nurse was out on her honeymoon, but my fill-in showed me a picture of my nurse in her wedding gown with her husband. She couldn’t have been a more beautiful bride. I should expect no less. She is a beautiful person who slugged through every round of chemo with me, and now apologizes for the poke of every monthly injection.

While I wait for the medicine, next to me is another patient waiting for his chemo. He’s probably in his 60’s, bald, and has a backwards-C scar on his head that’s a bigger C than what I can make with my fingers and thumb. His speech is slurred, but he’s still insistent on telling his nurse his identifiers without his wife’s help. It takes seconds for him to get his last name off his tongue, but his birth date flies out clearly. After my injection, I open the curtains and he is still waiting for his chemo to arrive from pharmacy. I smile at him. He gives me the thumbs-up, and I leave.

My 4-hour’s at MGH puts me in rush hour traffic out of Boston. Moving at a snail’s pace, I see several enormous half-mast flags. Stars and stripes at half-mast look like they are crying.

At 8 p.m., I have picked Liam up from our friends’ house and Bill has picked up Will from gymnastics. All Malcolms are safely tucked inside our house where Tuesday night’s dinner dishes are still on the counter. Bill and I make swoops through the kitchen before moving the boys toward the bedtime routine. Picking up the shambles of 24 hours seemed like a gift. And not as important as reading in bed with Liam and talking about the school day with Will.

Summer Puked in my Laundry Room

Without warning, summer puked in my laundry room. Fortunately, what’s in the laundry room doesn’t smell. Unfortunately, the un-confessed yogurt smoothie spill under a booster seat in the van still smells like a dairy barn on a hot, humid summer’s day. With cooler weather this week, we are in a mandatory windows-down-airing-out mode.

The mess in the laundry room happened last week as I was making space for the morning race back to school this week. Intuitively, that mother’s reflex kicked in, and I held out my hands to catch what summer was throwing. But two week’s worth of piled up vacation mail sifted through my fingers and splashed to the floor. And the remaining deluge followed.

But I steered it away from the mudroom floor and the morning launch pad. And out of the hallway. And I made sure it veered away from the kitchen counters. So what may visually appear to be a failure to the untrained eye is pure and simple… success.

It’s good to be back. Happy Friday.

Random Summer Thoughts

Hump Day isn’t always on Wednesday, particularly in the summertime. Headline: The picture of me on this website is outdated. (Click here for a look.) For the last six months, my hair has been straight. Only two obstinate curls remain on humid days. One in the middle of my forehead and one at my right temple. As long as I have these two curls, I’m keeping my website title “From cornfields to Korea through chemo to curls.”

Today I had a visit with my breast surgeon: I’m over 4 years out from diagnosis. That’s good. And my doctor is great. She’s a lovely person with skills far exceeding her surgical abilities. She too struggles with time limits on electronics in her house. She too gets exhausted from the negotiation. Today, I needed to hear that. Today, I would’ve paid a $100 co-pay to have someone be on my team with that one. I didn’t need her skills in the OR today. I needed another human to be on the same page with my crazy-ass summertime restrictions on electronics. Between my doctor and her nurse, today, my surgeon’s office was the place to be for hugs and thoughtful conversation.

My birthday was nearly three weeks ago, and my birthday cake woke up a sweet tooth. In turn, that brought this little motto about: “Life’s too short not to eat ice cream during New England summers.” I’m taste-testing every “birthday cake” flavored ice cream I come upon in little side-of-the-road ice cream stands.

I climbed up and down a local high school’s bleachers 26 times today. I want strong knees, flexible hips, and a healthy heart... and no birthday cake ice cream accumulation.

“Hey, Mom,” said Harrison apologetically at the beach during an unexpected evening stop for swimming in clothes and sand castle building. “I’m so sorry… I forgot to wear underwear today!!” And you are just noticing this at 9 p.m., dear child?

“Olivia, please change out of your pj’s so we can go out.” And with that, Olivia peeled off her pj’s revealing a full set of yesterday’s clothes underneath. A look, a shrug, and she was ready to go.

Happy Summer.

Camp Mujigae

After Grandma's funeral in Iowa, the boys and I flew to Albany, New York, last Wednesday for a Korean culture camp: Camp Mujigae. In Korean, Mujigae means "rainbow." Will and Liam each attended half-day camps with kids their respective ages: 9- and 7-year-olds. Each age group was grouped into six kids per counselor. It was a chance for the boys to get to know other kids who were adopted from Korea and for us adoptive families to meet, chat, laugh, and well-up. The experiences are best summed up from the Harrisons, Olivias, and Moms at camp. (Have you met Harrison and Olivia yet?) One slight adjustment: they are no longer preschoolers.

“What do you think, Harrison?” Mom asked after the first day of camp. “I like it. I’m not the odd man out. Everyone here was born in another country.”

"I finally get to spend time with my friends!" said Olivia. Mom was confused as Olivia had just had a playdate with a good friend from school, but camp was different. Korean friends were different.

“Good luck finding your kids tomorrow at camp, especially from behind!” said Mom who has brought her kids to camp for several years. First-time Camp Mujigae Mom nearly yelled at a boy for not responding when she called his name… He wasn’t her son. From the back, all the boys had the same black hair, were the same height, and wore the same colored shirts. (Groups of kids in the same colored shirts are problematic for this particlar Mom... See Mother's Day from a Non-Soccer Mom...)

“Mom,” proclaimed Harrison, “I’m average! Everyone in my group is my age and I’m about the same size they are!”

Shared stories between adoptive Moms... "Olivia said, 'I’m not celebrating my birthday any more. It’s too sad to think of my birth mother being sad that day.' I said I really didn't think her birth mother would want her to be sad on her birthday.

“As for me, I have a lump lodged in my throat every year on Olivia’s birthday. What a painful decision her birth mother made to let another family raise Olivia. This beautiful girl, my daughter.”

There. Another adoptive Mom said it aloud. I’m not alone shedding tears on birthdays.

Facing the Wall

Obstacles. Fences. Walls. Roadblocks. Diversions. Challenges.

We maneuver around them daily. Sometimes with great skill and confidence. Sometimes bumbling along, bouncing into the roadblock headfirst a few times before working out a path to the other side.

When going through chemo, I felt fenced. In December 2009, my third month of chemo, I got through one treatment with a Hungry Cow Mentality. Head down, with a few strong kicks.

This week I faced a Wall. Working out with my team at the YMCA, we took on the challenge of climbing the rock wall; it soared to the ceiling of the gym. I have quietly wanted to attempt this since I turned 40; then I thought at 45 I would try it. But I was working on the aforementioned fence around that time. And since then, I have what I affectionately term a chicken arm: The underside of my upper arm has no feeling and the entire arm is slightly swollen. From surgery to remove lymph nodes, the nerves were shuffled around, so that wiggly part that most women hate, I can’t feel. I look at it and see a lifeless chicken wing.

Dressed in our team’s neon yellow shirt, I arrive early with my team mates. This is good, I think to myself. I will hoist this body with this arm at least two feet up the wall, see what it feels like, identify what muscles need to grow to make the climb to the top possible in the future. I did it! I made it two feet up the wall! My grips were strong, so I went a bit farther. I made one stretch with my left arm that was a little too big, but I had three other appendages firmly attached to the wall. I reversed that move and looked for a closer rock for the fingers of my chicken arm to latch onto. Holding that position for a bit, I let the sting of over-extension subside. I adjusted my sights and focused on the rocks that were comfortably within my reach. I saw the top three feet away. I felt a scrambling sensation. I felt my muscles twinge. I felt strong.

I slapped the top of that wall and yelled, “I DID IT! I MADE IT!” With the anchor man holding me in my harness, I clamored down the wall.

My body was shaking when I made it to the bottom. My fingers from the gripping. My legs from the energy they put forth. My biceps, both of them, from exerting power.

Focused on the weakness of my chicken wing and slightly swollen arm, I had not given much thought to the potential power in that arm: the bicep, the forearm, and my fingers.

Hidden strength. Combined strength of the whole was bigger than the weakness of one part.

Staying strong, Linda

68 years

There are 68 years between the youngest member of our family, my two-year-old niece, and my dad. With every new grand child, we get to see our parents and our kids bond. Each one a little differently. During the Easter egg hunt at Mom & Dad's, my niece soon sorted out the path to many an egg: Grandpa.

While Grandpa may have started out leading the way, he was soon working to keep up with her. I followed them snapping pictures. They were in their own little world, youngest and oldest. Both enjoying the thrill of the hunt, they were wide-eyed looking for the eggs.

My niece on little feet that bounced over the ground. My dad in work boots that lightened as he followed her bounce. When she spotted an egg out of reach, she turned, put her arms up, and Grandpa lifted her to the egg. Her big blue eyes spoke to his soft blue eyes with an occasional, "Up Grandpa!"

And when it came to counting the eggs and checking for the goodies, Grandpa was just as serious about the business as my niece was. With a few hundred miles between us, I'm not often privy to those little connections between my parents and all their grand kids. I don't know what their "thing" is. But on this day, it was Easter eggs.

When my boys were two, Will looked for surprises in Grandpa's bib overall pockets, and Liam learned how to hold a pencil under his nose by curling his lip up. While 50-pound Will doesn't sit on Grandpa's lap often to dig through those pockets, Liam still runs for a pencil when Grandpa is on Skype.

I don't remember my grandpa's voice. But I still have the little red pencil he gave me the last time we talked. I was 10. I remember walking through the barnyard with him looking for all the materials to make a corncob pipe. And I can nearly taste the Dairy Queen vanilla cone that we rode 10 miles in his Oldsmobile to get after school.

Happy 4th Monday in a Row

Hello, who are you today? Is this a Hump Day-less week? I can’t bale over the hump. I’ve been in four Mondays slid together.

The Laundry Maven is a wreck searching for a black shirt because the only thing clean is a black bra. And that makes absolutely no sense because today it’s going to be sunny and 98 degrees with 97 percent humidity. Imagining a hormone-less woman dressed in black dripping with sweat as she stands outside on a beautiful, sunny day makes the Laundry Maven cringe.

The school volunteer can’t get traction on the ground and is flying like a hovercraft crashing into year-end activities and trying to avoid the 8 p.m. question, “You need a WHAT for tomorrow?”

The baseball and soccer mom… well, she never really did exist… but the stand-in is counting down the last few games and trying to orchestrate better management of baseball belts, gloves and hats. She scored BIG last night though with an ice cream run for end-of-practice treats. Maybe she can just be the ice cream Mom next year.

“MOM!! MOM!!” has given up on verbal directions and calls for action. If she wants something done, she posts bribery posters: “Surprise! If you clean out the van, empty the dishwasher, pick up the toy room, pick up your bathroom, and pick up your bedroom, you can have ½ hour of electronics this afternoon!” This is so effective she’s pounding her head on the wall for all the words she has been draining into a black hole. Plus, Surprise Posters are much easier to manage than bribery star charts for a week. More pounding as she thinks of all those star magnets in her jeans pockets that the Laundry Maven has pulled from the washer and dryer.

The short-order cook is looking for the right sign to post in the kitchen. Something to the effect of take it or leave it, but don’t complain about it. And, eat protein. It’s brain food and you are a mess when you have too much sugar. She hasn't quite gotten the wording down on that one yet.

Linda Malcolm is screaming, “Hey, you stole my day!” at all of them. She gets all in a tizzy when she can’t empty her mind on paper.

All of this… like grabbing a galloping horse’s mane as it flies by or sitting in the back car of a roller coaster with my heading beating side to side and pushing my earring posts into my skull. Yes, that’s more like it. Because that is where I close my eyes and scream for the duration.

But it’s coming… Can you feel it? All this build-up? The energy whizzing in the air? All this magic we parents are making happen?

Summertime. When the living is easy. Er. Theoretically.

Happy 4th Monday in a Row.

(When summer finally arrives, so does my Hillbilly Joe.)

Great to Be Alive

I’m still making my way in this “stay-at-home” mom role, not knowing what exactly that job description should entail, but striving nevertheless to be really good at it. That usually means constant movement through each day, normally to fortify the Malcolms and keep them afloat. I needn’t list the tasks, for we all have them. And perhaps like me -- no longer a farm girl who can count bales of hay put up or fields planted at the end of the day -- you have no idea where the day went or what you actually accomplished. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done things a little differently: put an “X” through two days a week to focus on writing; started a 21-day sugar detox; and exercised nearly every day. As a result I see more of what I haven’t done: 8 loads of dirty laundry scattered in the hallway and laundry room; more dishes and pans in the sink than normal; a loaded countertop of mail, packages, and breakfast dishes at 5 p.m.

After a bike ride Monday, I’m more OK with all of that today. With a goal of riding 112 miles over two weeks, I organized a bike ride for the four of us on Sunday. We rode 7 miles. Thinking I could get at least 25 miles done on my own, I drove out to the same bike trail Monday – really looking forward to knocking out a quarter of what was left. After 1 ½ hours, I dragged my pedaled-out legs and sore bum to the van, anxious for the total mileage. TWELVE miles? No. Surely more than that…

Red-faced and sore, I kicked the gravel stirring up some dust. I had parked near the bike trail in a quiet area of Groton, MA. Sunday the gravel lot was empty, but Monday several buses were parked next to a bus garage. They must have been on the road the day before. My quiet brooding over my lackluster accomplishment of 12 miles was snapped to halt when a bus suddenly revved up its diesel engine. I jumped and looked toward the roar. This is what I saw. Sometimes when I'm cussing under my breath while doing laundry, I lift my head up out of the sorting basket too quickly and catch it on the sharp, sharp corner of the cupboard. I take that as a sign: Less complaining. More grace. "GREAT TO BE ALIVE" was like that, only less painful.

I get it. Generally, most of us have been in tougher places than where we stand today. Considering three years ago this week I was focused on recovering from chemo and radiation, I would say 12 miles biked is pretty darn good.

Great to be alive. More bus ticker signs... fewer sharp cupboard corners. Please.

(Need a little inspiration? Try Baggage.)

Mother's Day from a Non-Soccer-Mom

Since I became Mom, one of my most memorable Mother’s Days was when I explicitly laid out the day: Take the morning to go to church by myself. Go to a café with my scrapbooking bags and create Will’s life book, his story from birth. Have my three boys plant a Magnolia tree plant in the front yard. Eat one of Bill’s delicious dinners. That was the year I took the time to plan it. It was gorgeous – for all involved. One of my first Mother’s Days as a Mom I spent in Iowa at my sister’s with her kids and my mom. Three moms together. I don’t even know what we did. It didn’t really matter because we were together. And I love that picture of us – family – together on Mother’s Day.

No plan for this year. I’m avoiding the creation of a delicate balance: quiet time for something I enjoy on my own vs time together with the family. I haven’t made a plan. Planning is not my strong suit this spring. As much as I try, I miss the details and make mis-assumptions when making plans. Case in point: a recent non-soccer-mom day taking Liam to his 8 a.m. practice.

Arriving late for the 8 a.m. soccer practice, I scope the field for the team with the same dark navy blue t-shirt as Liam has on. (Bill took him to the first practice, so I don’t know who the coaches are or what they look like.) Scanning Field 1… Field 2… Field 3… Field 4, it’s soon apparent EACH of the FOUR teams is wearing the SAME color shirt! This age group wears the same color shirt. Little League is much more sophisticated: each team wears a different color.

I approach coaches on Field 1 & Field 2 to see if Liam is on their roster. No luck. I notice that each team has a different sponsor name on the back of their shirt. I peek inside Liam’s jacket and see “Harry’s Donuts.” Rather than stopping the practice of the other two teams, I look for the sponsor name. No where. I ask the coach on Field 3 if Liam is on his team, and I mention the fact that I can’t see “Harry’s Donuts” on anyone’s shirt.

At which point, Liam starts to sob, “This is last year’s shirt! That’s not what’s on this year’s shirt!!” We find the manager who happens to be English and happens to know Bill. “Hey, Liam! Come on over buddy! Here’s your team!” On Field 4.

I, non-soccer-Mom, cower at the far end near Field 1 – well away from Liam. With me out of sight, he will have a better practice.

Yes. Please. I want a break from the word “plan.” Yet by not making a plan that puts stress on the rest of the family to please me. How about I make a list of options and let the fam do the plan?

Here goes… Buy perennials Work in my new flower garden Bill’s pork paprika for dinner Homemade cards from the kids A walk on the beach Skype with Mom Read a book in the middle of the afternoon Watch “Julie and Julia” with Bill at 8 p.m. Skip brushing Will & Liam’s teeth before bed

A few of those will happily fill my Mother's Day.

Hugs to all moms, particularly one 1,600 miles away. I wish we were planting flowers together.

High Waters

On this beautiful spring day, I have just a couple minutes to gulp air before diving back into this race our family is running between rainy, snowy spring and hot, humid summer. For us, that race started right after spring break, and it’s a short powerful sprint to the last day of school in mid-June. Some race highlights:

The sun sets later making me yearn for summer nights. (“I’m NOT going to bed. It’s NOT my bedtime. The sun is still shining and you are trying to trick me!”)

I’ve moved away from cozy crockpot cooking and cleaned off the grill. We will start looking for Thursday afternoon ice cream treats rather than Dunkin’ Donuts. (“Here are your donuts, ma’am. Your food will be out in a minute.” Served up with distinct emphasis on “food” not “your.”)

More leisure time to do the things we love on the weekends. (“This isn’t fair! I don’t want to play baseball this early in the morning. I don’t have enough time for myself!” Tell me about it.)

I’m caught between the refreshing newness of spring and the cynicism brought on by this craziness engulfing spring. I must bail myself out. After all, I just told my son that sarcasm doesn’t look good on a kid. And I should model good behavior.

Alas, I say it all with a smile. For I must smile. We all smile when we realize we have been sending our children to school like this, right? ("Wow, look how much you have grown this winter!")

A problem that will be resolved with the first 75-degree day and a good pair of scissors to convert them from short pants to long shorts.

I can hear it already: “Cool, Mom!” (And that I will interpret as "Cool Mom!")

Happy Hump Day Short!

Shadows in the Bathroom

Swinging through the hallway to go to the basement, I caught a glance of strange shadows in the bathroom. The light was off and the afternoon light coming through the window was mottled. I stopped and said, "Liam?" To which there was no answer. I looked closer. I was sure he was in there. I approached the shadows. Headless Halloween story characters popped into my head. The Headless Horseman. But what I was seeing... just legs standing by the toilet. With the light on, it was clear my son had NOT left his legs in the bathroom. Only his sweatpants and boots... and a trail of other garments.

Obviously, the whole bottom half of his wardrobe was not agreeing with him this day.

Please, forward this to another mom or dad who just might need it. :)

Happy Hump Day!

(P.S.: Have you met my Hillbilly Joe?)

How about an 8 iron?

You can force bulbs, but you can't force spring. Oh, but wait... I live with golfers. And, I live with skiiers. Alas, the mountains have melted: the skiiers are saddened. We redirect with the promise of a lively golf season. Then, some how some way, our Malcolm family of four is on a golf course in early April. Where under the shade of a forest, spring has not sprung nor has the snow melted.

Where Liam is the only one wearing appropriate foot attire: boots called "Bogs."

Where the normally simple operation of a golf cart is not so simple: not too fast...the wheels will spin and sink into the bog, nor too slow... slow wheels will get sucked into that gulping mud.

Where the cold wind howls on the first hole -- a water hole: stirring up the overwhelming aroma of goose poop.

We worked out the kinks on the first hole, zig-zagging golf balls back and forth, and occasionally to another fairway. A half hour later we moved to the second hole. With less wind and fewer geese, our pace quickened.

I chose my three clubs for this season: the driver, 8-iron, and putter. I understand the purpose of open-face vs closed-face heads, that there is meant to be a correlation between club and distance. My body does not, particularly this early in the season. I choose to focus on getting the ball in the air and going straight with the driver and my 8-iron. I patiently listen to the chatter about what irons the three Malcolm boys are using, but I stand firm. About 50% of the time I accomplish my goal: shots that are airborne and straight ahead. Then, some whiz off beyond seasonal hazards. Since I picked up clubs 24 years ago, I have played with bright pink balls. Never were they so useful as this spring 9-hole-3-hour day.

To the question, "What did you get on that hole, Mom?" my consistent answer was, "I'll take ten."

I take great liberties with my game of golf.

Scoring is one thing I choose not to do.

My 8-iron is the iron I choose to use.

That's as serious as the game gets for me.

Plus, every season, I have the one great hope that I don't behead a goose.

Choose Kind or Right?

I ran across a quote while reading the book Wonder that really made me think: "When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." We have a lot of "I'm right & you're wrong!" going on in our house. Over such things as Mom-poured-the-milk-but-then-put-the-glass-out-of-reach. In time for dinner one night last week, I wrote the quote in big letters on a piece of paper and left it on the island where we eat dinner. Bill was in China, so he didn't get to participate. (He misses so many indescribable Malcolm moments.)

I started off saying that I thought it was a great quote but could see a potential problem with it. "Yeah!" Will agreed. "If there's a robber, you don't have to be kind to him!" Yup, when choosing between right and kind, you still have to abide by your conscience.

We had a bit more conversation, Liam mostly listening to this hyperbole. I wrapped up the lesson. "So at the end of the day, like with school friends, it's better to be kind than to be right."

"Well, Mom," Liam responded with a shrug, "at the end of the day we get to go home. So it doesn't really matter."

"Help," croaked I, just before a belly chortle.

Happy Literal Hump Day!