The Power of the Pencil

Earlier this school year, we got the news that Milo is showing signs of dyslexia. After a school assessment, the dyslexia was confirmed, and we are going down the path of getting a more thorough evaluation. I’ll write about that in more detail when I know more.


Homework is hard for Milo (and us). He charms. He stalls. He eats. He pitches fits. He does everything he can think of to avoid sitting, pencil in hand, facing the blank worksheet. This battle makes more sense now, knowing he has a learning disability. But what is hard about it — getting started? Facing the struggle? Making mistakes?

Last night, I think we got to the heart of the matter. I gave Milo a very special pencil: the Palomino Blacking 602. I explained that this was a pencil used by artists, writers and architects, which got him instantly excited. Then I showed him the special replaceable eraser. "Why do think the people who use this pencil need to replace their erasers all the time?” I asked him. And he said, “Because they have to erase a lot?” “That’s right,” I said. “When you are an artist or an architect, you have to be okay with making a lot of mistakes.” I could see this idea settle in, and we both smiled.

I am not saying a pencil is the answer to the struggles he will face. But if he can be brave enough to make mistakes, erase them and try again, he’s off to a decent start.

The Kids Went Back, the Sun Went Black

Lucy started eighth grade today. She planned her outfit, which after much thought, was effortless and cool. She was upbeat on her way out, fairly cheery when she got to the office. She talked a little more than she has lately, but she still rolled her eyes because I AM THE WORST.

Milo started second grade today. At first, he resisted physically, as in a stiff-bodied "I AM NOT GETTING OUT OF THIS BED." We subdued him with bacon. He wore his skateboard shirt. Later, when asked how he'd rate the day on a scale of one to ten, he said "8000!"

The moon stood between the earth and the sun today. We communed in crescents with strangers on the sidewalk and resisted the risk of blindness. The next time that happens, these children will be 20 and 14. These orbits are magical and relentless.


Family Portraits

I hate seeing photos of myself. For all the dumb vain and self-loathing reasons you would guess. This is why we have never had family photos taken, unless at the behest of some larger family group. And that is just sad.

So when a friend who takes artful, emotional, not your run-of-the-mill "family holding hands in a field of wheat" photos offered up a spot on a weekend shoot, posterity prevailed over vanity.

These are some of the pictures she made. Despite the aspects of my own physical appearance that dissatisfy me, they take my breath away.

There Will Be No Letter Grades

When you are slogging through adult life, when in a single day, you have cleaned the poop of your mom and the poop of the dog, when you wake up and get the kids out the door and want to go back to bed for the rest of the morning and somehow don't...there is no one to give you credit. There is no applause, no gold star, rarely even a thank you. Because you are doing nothing more heroic than being an adult woman of relative means and good circumstance, with a great life and kids and partner, who happens to be facing the same generational pulls as any other upper middle class white lady.

And yet, it is a lovely thing to be acknowledged by your sweet friend. To be seen.



There is paper evidence of her decline. In July, she paid the bills, recorded the checks, marked the bills PAID and filed them. In August, she paid them, recorded the checks and marked the bills PAID. In September, she paid them and barely marked the bills PAID. As the months of summer passed, her handwriting grew wobbly and veiny: written proof of what she was losing. Had I seen this feeble writing instead of her perfect Palmer method cursive, I would have known.

Instead, I found out when we had brunch with her in mid-October, at her invitation, and she admitted she’d fallen the night before and had to call EMS. She was so frail. She proceeded to fall three of the next four nights. We hired help. The help worried. We added hours of help. Her beloved housekeeper Leonor found Mom on the ground the morning of her regular cleaning day, and when I rushed to meet her at the house, we were both in tears: ¿qué le ha pasado? Leonor agreed to stay the night as long as we needed her. Leonor, who calls Mom “mi Dianita.” Leonor, who’d been making her meals and caring for her far more than I’d known.

Over the course of three weeks, we cobbled together 24-hour care. And yet she (we? I?) needed more: more skilled, more consistent, closer to us. I began to look at personal care homes — basically group homes for older people that have some level of nursing and a high level of service.

We found one: a sweet place in our neighborhood, halfway between the office and the house. We see her every day, sometimes more than once a day. It is a miracle this place exists. She is close and cared for, and that feels good.

And yet she’s so far from us. In such a short time, she’s gone from confusion about her September bank statement to not being able to work a phone to being lost about the day’s events and losing words. I can’t reconcile the dragon lady of my childhood with this docile mother I am now mothering. I just can’t.

I am not giving up on her, even though I’m getting little support that there may something acute going on beyond the cruel progress of dementia.

I feel so guilty for all the ways I failed her and am failing her.

And if she wakes up from this fog and sees her hair, which I haven’t had time to get cut and styled amid her many more urgent appointments, she will beat my ass. It’s one of the things I pray for.

At Your Service

Dear Children,

I love you. I made you. I am devoted to you.

And yet.

This is not the White House. While your respective jobs of being awesome 12 and 7-year-old humans and students are super important, you are not running the free world. And you don't have "staff." You have parents.

And today, just one day in the life of this family, one parent or the other (not a staff member)...

...drove carpool, made both your lunches, washed the dance clothes, volunteered at library, came home to find dance clothes still wet, put dance clothes in the laundromat near the office, drove you to get your head re-checked for lice, raced back to the office to deliver the dance shoes mistakenly taken in the car, spared you the horror of gymnastics by letting you hang out at the office, took you to get more dance shoes, drove you to dance class, bought you dinner, stopped at the grocery store to buy your lunch items. Oh, and then did homework and bedtime.

We do a lot for you two. Cut us a little slack.


The Management

It's Lunch, Okay

Lu got her "expander" yesterday, which is part II of the semi-medieval thing we call braces. As a result, she was suddenly tender-mouthed and rejecting many normal foods. So, at her request, I sent her to school with a can of soup. Not homemade, not even organic. Just sodium-laden, old-fashioned Campbell's.

Only it was the condensed kind. And she was faced with having to try to add water from the water fountain or something humiliating. And then she was rescued by Frank, whose classroom at Kealing is basically a dorm room, complete with microwave, fridge, coffeemaker and more. The price of his saving lunch? Judgment: