The Quilt Cocoon

Monday morning I walked into the kitchen and saw a giant cocoon leaning upright against the counter in the corner. After a short shock that ended with a blink, I see that the cocoon’s shell was of Grandma Mills’ quilt, the one she gave us when Will was a baby. And the tuft of black hair shooting out the top of the cocoon confirmed that it was in fact a boy wrapped in a quilt.

I remember this is Will’s quilt because I got to pick out his quilt from the three or four that Grandma had pre-made for great-grandchildren, plus it’s a fall quilt and Will was born in October. This fall, I had brought it out of the closet when I put up the fall decorations.

Of course, I also remember the quilt Liam was given by Grandma two years later. I didn’t get a choice for his, and I think by the time he came along, Grandma’s quilting had slowed a bit as it seems her inventory was short on boy-themed quilts. She gave us a quilt in lilac colors for Liam. I was slightly puzzled by the choice – and I still am today when I see it in the linen chest.

Inside the cocoon was Liam. Not yet dressed, he was managing to unwrap cinnamon rolls and put one on a plate to microwave, all while keeping this quilt tightly wrapped around him. I was in awe of his ability to hold it all together – and that he was getting his own breakfast.

I have no problem with Liam eating sticky cinnamon rolls while rolled in the quilt. We can wash it. The quilters I’ve known over the years would prefer this frequent usage of a handmade quilt rather having it gather dust and permanent wrinkles while tucked away on a high shelf or in a tub in the loft.

I want these handmade gifts out where they can be seen in our house; the quilts remind me of the person who made the quilt. And, in the case of my “heritage quilts,” they remind me of the person who used to wear the clothes that make up the patches and the pieces.

However, all of our quilts can’t be out or displayed. Our house is undergoing a restructuring. With 10- and 13-year-olds, many things from that first decade of their lives need to find another home. Things out of the closets. Out of the bookcases. Out of the drawers. Out of the toy boxes. Out of the storage room. As Will and Liam grow bigger, so many of the toys, books, and quilts look out of place. In their rooms. In our living areas. In our basement storage space.

The want for things to go to a good home hovers over me, as well as many of my friends. We want to make sure the thing is used, not destroyed. If there is life left in it, don’t throw it away. Work to get it up-cycled to a good home. And the same friends can attest to how full our houses are because of this notion.

I’ve worked this fall to solidly identify those things we have outgrown. Will agreed that the 10 tubs of LEGOS that were in the basement last spring and that we hauled to his closet in July could finally go to the loft. But we could NOT get rid of them! I agree. And I’m sad to hear him make this decision.

Also in the summer, we cleared all the toys from the basement living area and stashed them in the basement storage room. In front of the shelves where all the Christmas decorations are. I did it on purpose: I will need to get to those shelves. The toys will need to be dealt with. To a good home, of course. Hopefully, they are on their way to the local thrift shop where the proceeds will benefit adults in town who have special needs.

Will and Liam agreed that the children’s books should go into the Little Free Library on our front lawn. My boys are so brave in this growing-up business. I’m the one attached to “Sheep in a Jeep” and “Kipper.” I can see the sorting of books already: one for the library, one for the loft, one for the library, two for the loft. For the grandkids. I’m that age?!?! I’m putting things in storage for grandkids?!?!

I’ve found tubs with rubber seals around the lids. They seal tightly, safe-keeping the contents inside from the stale loft air, unplanned moisture, and nasty rodents. The tubs are clear so a visit to the loft will mean a poke to the old memory for me. I have one packed already with the oldest of Will and Liam’s baby blankets and small Thomas quilts. I kept three baby quilts out, determined to add sleeves to the backs of them and hang them as artwork somewhere in the house. Or, next summer, to put them in the trunk of the van to use as beach blankets. They are too small for cocoons… and not yet ready for the loft.

The Annual Autumn Dance

Head-banging November 1st, started with my hair dryer shorting out. There was a back-up dryer in the basement that our guests from England and Paris had used in October. With me, there is no direct route from A to B in my house. I stopped to wash dishes in the kitchen on my way to the basement when it happened: a long curl fell over my left eye. I gave my head a bounce and more followed. Earlier, while getting Liam ready for school, it was only 32 degrees. I knew we had a freeze the night before because Bill fell down our deck stairs on the way out the door at 6:30 a.m. I heard a rumbling and crashing noises then silence. I flew outside bare-footed and pranced as the bottoms of my feet hit a thin, cold layer of ice. Bill was standing, stretching his back, and wiggling his wrists. A taxi was in our drive waiting for him to start his bag drag to China. “I’m fine… really, I’m fine.” Afraid of missing his plane, he walked away with a cup of hot coffee all over his shirt and suit coat. Silly string from Halloween antics stuck to his butt and his bag. Yes, it had dipped to 32.

“Why do I have to wear this creepy equipment?” Liam complained as I re-introduced him to said equipment. Winter gloves. With one step outside, he knew. “Whoa! It is cold!” and he snuggled the hood of his winter coat around his ears. The rainbow of silly string all over the drive reminded him of Halloween night. “Last night was so much fun, but I hardly remember any of it!” Often, I take this boy’s statements and superimpose them upon a 17-year-old. And my eyes grow wide at that thought. Liam’s preschool teacher six years ago called him “spicy.” That still applies, plus he has a very funny, twisted command of his vocabulary. In particular, I love his “rainbow auras.” Translation: sunsets.

Back to my hair. It’s about the length of Steven Tyler’s from Aerosmith. And with it bouncing around, I start singing the chorus from “Sweet Child of Mine.” I fall into that lyric after a dose of the spice. I screech it like Tyler but discover that morning that it’s actually a Guns’n’Roses song. This kid has no ballad associated with him. It’s all “Oh, oh, oh, oh sweet child of mine…” screaming and racing up the staff then losing intensity and dropping back down with another “Oh, oh, oh, oh sweet child of mine…” And in my rendition, “nah-nah-nah” makes up all other words in the song.

That morning, I stepped away from my standards – away from country, away from Sinatra – one of Will’s favorite artists, away from the female swooner Adele. I fill up the feed with hard rock. The dishes get done to screeches, confident guitar licks, and songs for which I only know the choruses. I could be singing lyrics about any number of socially unacceptable events, but they are turned innocent with my “nah-nah-nahs.”

I’m letting it all loose dancing around my kitchen when I realize where I am in the year. November 1st. Life in October held an incredible, bursting intensity with good friends visiting from Paris and England, Will’s 13th birthday, our 24th wedding anniversary, a big kick-off event for scouts, yet another 50th birthday celebration for me with gymnastics moms, a weekend away with my quilting friend, and a decked out Halloween. October. I rode it like a roller-coaster, knowing it had a wild start and would come to a calm end. And although I’m a day late, I realize this is a very personal annual celebration for me.

In the shower seven years ago, I washed away stubs of hair from my buzz-cut head. And the intensity of life every October since then reminds me how lucky I am. And every year, I dance… with wildly happy hair.

P.S. Some days, like today, a beautiful liquid muse is most effective.

Do you remember "Dancing on Halloween Morn?"

The Drill

The Drill. It sums up last week. Will and Liam had dentist appointments. It was a 25-minute drive to the dentist’s office in the dark early evening rain. In the back seat was a re-hashing of every dentist appointment they could remember. Dentists were demons. Once this was agreed upon, Will and Liam went on to reminisce about strep throat tests. The nurses who did those were also evil, but not the doctor – no, she was really nice. (Well-played, Doctor, throw the nurse under the bus.)

“How long will this take?” Will asked. It’s this 11-year-old’s favorite question. He’s squirming in the waiting room. “Do you want me to come in with you?” I offered. “Only if you don’t restrain me,” he replied with annoyed emphasis on “restrain.” Yes, in the past I have put a full body press on Will and watched cavities filled and sealants applied. About six inches away from the action in Will’s mouth. He knows the drill; I pray I’m not called into restraint service today.

As Will settles into the chair, with book in hand, Liam is guided to the room next door to Will. He also carries a book. I anchor myself against the wall in the hall giving me full vision to both of the open rooms, chair backs facing me. Liam wiggles and giggles as the hygienist straps the bib around his neck. Once in place, he reads. When the dentist comes in, he notices the tools on cords. “Are you going to harm me?” Liam pointedly asks the dentist. He sees the drill; and again, I pray I’m not called into restraint service today.

Will’s cleaning is quick. He lurks in the waiting room and at my side still with the question, “How long will this take?” Liam is having sealants put on the back molars. The dentist sweetly says, “If your tongue goes over there again, we’ll have to start all over. Keep that curious tongue away!” Now I'm silently asking, "How long will this take?" I’m offered a seat near Liam. Really, I just want to stay against that wall, thinking how pleasant it would be if there was a hook for my collar, so when I feel weak in the knees I would still look strong standing against that wall, er, hooked onto that wall.

Finally, squiggly Liam is released. Bounding out of the chair, he laughs in the face of evil, “YES, I’M INVINCIBLE!” I’m not. In two hours, I’ve relived their childhood dental drama which has brought on flashbacks of my childhood dental drama. If they only knew what it used to be like. Leaving the building, I feel as heavy as the Nor’easter soaking us.

The van chat on the way home switches to the School Lock-Down drill. Will had his earlier in the week. Liam’s is the following day, and he missed the day of school that they practiced for it. I was obliged to prepare him. “You’ll be practicing what to do in case there is ever a dangerous situation in the school. The most important thing to remember is to listen well and do exactly what your teacher tells you.” Will embellished. “Yeah, someone came over the loud speaker and said, ‘The intruder is on the main stairs.’ And we were nowhere near there, so our class left the building.” Liam picks up on the word intruder. “Was there a real one at your school, Will?”

I grew up with tornado drills: preparing for a freak of nature. I struggle explaining the complexities of a Lock-Down drill. I remind myself that they learn this drill as a protective measure. It should give a bit of comfort, but it's a freak of nature less easy to understand than the tornado.

By the end of the day, we have lived the definitions of drill: as the known routine of how an event was previously carried out, as a tool that makes holes, and as training for a “what-if” scenario.

I’m fatigued by the English language. As in exhausted. Not as in dressed for war.

Happy Hump Day.

How is it that our kids went to bed at 10:30 last night?

One more. One sec. And it’s 10 p.m. Peeling them out of the house in the morning is like pulling four pieces of chewing gum off the bottom of my shoe. Only it’s accompanied by growls.

One shower lasted 15 minutes. “One sec.” “One sec.” “One sec.” Consequently, I put away the cereal, bowl, spoon, and milk. I knew it would be a granola-bar-in-the-car morning. Or no breakfast at all because, after all, how can one eat anything with the taste of toothpaste in one’s mouth? It ruins the taste of all food.

I’m a morning person. My candle burns low after 8 p.m., which is when I begin as the caller of this square dance, calling each move four times – finish your homework, put your homework in your backpack, put the books on the shelf, put your Bakugans away, brush your teeth, floss your teeth, wash your face, go to the bathroom, pick up your clothes, give me the book and the light under the sheets. Then, I just want to lie in peace for an hour. Until 11:00. And that makes me a night person. Unhappy when my alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. to be a morning person.

When I try my “Good morning, hun, your alarm went off. It’s time to get up,” it falls on ears of children that went to bed at 10:30. The utterance of these words fall harshly on non-morning children. I’m ignored or grunted and growled at. One grunts a pained “mmmmmm.” The other growls a guttural “rrrrrrrrr.”

While I goaded Liam this morning with ten minutes to get to school and a multitude of tasks undone, Liam leisurely explained that “it doesn’t take that long to get to school.” Yes, yes. So true. Wait right here – let me just warm up the Mom-mobile and get my super cape on so that I can fly you there.” Honestly, I want to be late enough one day that we don’t make it on time. I want him to explain to the teacher why we are late. I want him to give MY explanation (15-minute shower) NOT his (Mom). A broken strategy.

Perhaps I need a reward system, for my words fail me. Before I embark on another one of those, I’m going with two-word utterances in the morning. Directives. Unarguable. Because I’m the Mom. “Shower. Now.” “Dress. Now.” “Eat. Now.”

My attempt at pleasantries with supporting reasons “why” are lost.  The words of reason are swallowed on the sound waves like those of Charlie Brown’s teacher, even though there are only two feet between me and those young ears.

My gut says this two-word strategy may work. This morning, I landed at school with the other Mom-mobiles double-parked – their capes flying out their windows. Rather than saying “have a great day,” “we are here,” “put the book down” and other niceties, I used two words briskly spaced. “Get. Out.” Immediate action. “Backpack. Lunch bag.” And out the door he went. Two minutes after the bell had rung, but 30 seconds before the last kid entered the school.

Happy Hump Day.

White After Labor Day

Have you noticed how quiet the Laundry Maven has been? She was busy last weekend.  It was the white load washed on Saturday night, to be dried Sunday morning, that made her head spin a bit.

In that load were two favorite pairs of summer trousers: khaki and white.  And as they went into the washer, she wondered if it was time to put the white ones into storage until spring.  Was it okay to wear white after Labor Day?  Sunday morning as she pulled clothes from the washer, the words “winter white” confirmed her decision: white would be perfectly fine to wear to church that morning.

Pulling out the pants, the Laundry Maven noticed a pea-sized black spot on the back of the pants.  Reaching for the stain remover, her mind easily switched to the idea of khakis for church.  It was a sign – no white today.

Mave turned the pants around to check the front and was confronted by multiple huge black blobs.  She instantly knew she had washed an ink pen.  From Will’s uniform shorts.  She hadn’t checked pockets.  And, she hadn’t told Will that she never checks pockets.

Timidly, Mave pulled item after item out of the washer and gave each a quick shake to check for more ink spots.  Nothing.  The two pair of uniform shorts came out.  Nothing.  Perfectly fine.

Bravely those white pants had sacrificed themselves and enveloped completely around that ink pen.  Bless them.  Their summer season ended as the school season began.

Mave felt incredibly lucky but sad.  The pants had only been worn a handful of times.  But the Malcolms are recyclers.  Will and Liam have grand ideas of turning them into puppets.  However, after looking through pictures from an outing to Cape Cod this summer, Mave may hand them off to the gardener in the house come spring.

Mave is checking pockets from now on.

from summer to fall with a pocketful of prayer

From the outside, I may have wavy hair but on the inside, I’m sporting the Rosanne-Roseannadanna look: frizzled bushy hair standing straight out. The back-to-school factory went into full production at 6:00 this morning. Two different breakfasts, three different lunches, two fully-equipped backpacks. One bowl drawer filled only with lids. One snack drawer overflowing to the point of not shutting. Two different school uniforms all tried on -- except for one belt.

One last-minute realization that Liam had never operated a belt before left one worst-case scenario screaming through this one mother's head.

Bill left for school with Will at 7:15. I completed drop-off and flag ceremony at Liam’s school at 8:30.

One 30-minute lull before the library opened meant a cup of coffee and a heated-up omelet. In peace. That wasn’t easy, for there were two of me prattling on this morning: one wondered what I could clean-up in 30 minutes and the other told me to be still for 30 minutes.

My coffee mug has a chip out of the rim, just to the right of where I drink from it. I put up with the chip because I love the mug. Black tree branches radiate from the bottom of the handle. The branches are sparsely populated with bright red maple leaves.

We have been out on the thin end of that branch called summer. It started with a strong surge of freedom and ended with a push to the end of the branch where we splintered precariously. To get the most out of summer. Before it retreated.

With the boys both at new schools, the underlying edge is only somewhat smoothed with the first days of drop-off being behind us. The urge to swoop and rescue them from uncertainty started in my gut, raged through my heart, and stopped short of my tongue. For the last two days, at two different schools, this urge landed mysteriously as a supportive smile on my lips as they walked away. That's how motherhood flows.

As I drink my coffee, I take a walk down that branch of summer back to the stability of thicker branches at the base of the handle. And, I make a tight turn to that solid branch called fall. But my legs are still shaking from summer. Or caffeine.

I think of days when I have been strong, full of courage, and solidly grounded. Five years ago, I was moving through life with a pocketful of prayer. Today, I get that tool, use it, and put it in my pocket. Most of that prayer is still apt today. But I’ve added just a couple bits:

“Every day, may our minds grow and our hearts stay full.

And, please, let the bowl drawer, the lunch bags, and the uniforms be organized, full, and complete.”

I think He understands little things like this.

(This was inspired by Power & Prayer, written during chemo treatment for breast cancer in 2009.)


Meanest Woman in the World

Teetering. Teetering on the edge of summer. Writing. Writing on the edge of summer.

Camps. Camps teetering on the edge of summer so I can write.


On the calendar two weeks ago, it all made sense. Time for me to write. Fun for them to go.

This morning, I was working with rubble. Tired kids. Skipped camps yesterday. Absolute beach freedom yesterday. Late night last night. Wake up call this morning for camp... Rubble.

I found enough fresh clay to work the rubble into some semblance of my children. A barter with one and a subtle ultimatum with another. After two hours of this arguing, in front of house guests, I turned to rubble.

After the second drop-off, I had four hours of camp-freedom to write a clever Hump Day Short. There were no words in my body. Let alone a clever one.

I started the van and idled for seconds. I needed to do something mindless. I wanted to lie flat on the ground and breathe. Maybe cry. The wide open gymnastics parking lot was not the place to do that.

A discount home décor store was on the way home from Will’s camp. I grabbed a cart and pushed it slowly down the first aisle. My chest tight. My shoulders hunched. Retail therapy. Better for me than chocolate bars dipped in peanut butter.

Into the cart went a lamp for the table next to our guests’ bed. In went a mattress pad for their bed. In went a bedside table for Liam. In went a long ottoman for the living room. I hope it will fit in the car. Oh man… I don’t have the car! I have the van! The van is what our guests take to the beach. In the hub-bub of the morning, I took the wrong vehicle! They are on a beach holiday with no vehicle to transport them to the beach.

My phone whistled to me as a text came through. Could I have one of Will’s friends over after their camp ends this afternoon? Of course. No problem. The friend’s mom was picking up her two other kids from a camp and a play date - two towns apart - at the same time. Her reply text: “Thank you so much.”

Thank you… I needed that genuine “thank you” today. For today, I am the meanest woman in the world.

I took over from another friend who was the meanest woman in the world on Monday.

I pity whomever is bestowed this honor tomorrow.

8 Goals for Back-to-school

Back-to-school. The buzz, panic, duties, anxiety. The routine, brain power, confidence. In a word association game, the response to “back-to-school” would elicit numerous responses. My back-to-school started in the spring. It was a calm revelation that happened in the van. When I opened the door and had one leg in, I noticed rosary beads on the rear-view mirror. And in the tumultuous decision-making about which school the boys will go to in the fall, that rosary confirmed it: Catholic schools for both of them. I’m not Catholic. I closed the door on that silver van and walked two cars down to my own silver van.

A major change takes energy. We needed a powerful hibernation or building of strength for back-to-school in the fall. Positive affirmation, self-confidence, mindfulness. Hard-hitters, yet our mantra was...

On a recent gorgeous summer outing at a lake with several adoptive families, a friend summed up the summer well, "It's been a good summer. We've had one enjoyable event after another." As have we. Consequently, we shouldn't lament too much about this thing called back-to-school, right? It's the cadence of the season: With children, it will happen over 12 seasons.

Yet emotion took over reason last week when I felt a build in the momentum. One box of school uniforms arrived. Yesterday another. We have school supplies for Liam but not yet for Will. The last camps for summer will finish next week. Labor Day, September 1st, is early this year. School starts the day after.

We have a few weeks, and the days will fly. I’m not excited about putting Dream and Relax in a box. I’m not looking forward to the spin we enter September 1st and the dizziness we feel by October 1st.

What I want for my family this back-to-school season is this…

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.)

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.