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Monday, January 25, 2010

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Arrow of Light


My newly minted eleven-year-old crossed over to Boy Scouts tonight after five years as a Cub, a monumental achievement, given that his mother barely lasted two weeks in Brownies. I was as proud as if I had produced the first college graduate in our family history. It was an elaborate ceremony, with the Boy Scouts and Troop Leaders sitting opposite the Cubs, waiting to admit them to their ranks. I may have briefly struggled with the urge to lead the assembly with the Spongebob Movie anthem, "Now That We're Men," but mostly I had to blink back tears, watching our solemn and proud boys face us, their parents and den leaders, and prepare to shift their allegiance. Every single one of them so fine, straight and true. Every one of them so ready to make that crossing, like every eleven year old boy that ever lived.

It deserves a ceremony. Some say it requires one.

As I watched them waiting for their names to be called, the cheesiness of the props and the cliche of the Native American references fell away, and I felt like we were all participating in something as sacred and as old as time. Whatever it's called, however it's done, it serves a purpose. The boys were almost visibly vibrating with the resonance of the symbolic call to cross over.

I have my issues with the Boy Scouts of America, as I do with just about any institution, and from time to time, I've been known to poke fun at knee socks on grown men in short pants. Also, if we stay married through one more Pinewood Derby, it will be a miracle. But I've come to appreciate it for what both my sons (and next year, I imagine, a third) get from it: guidance, adventure, and exposure to organizational skills that--face it--are in short supply at home. (A requirement in my son's handbook: "Make a list of maintenance tasks required to keep a household running smoothly." Me, to my son: "Just walk around the house and make note of everything you see.")

But there's more to it than that. I don't have the first clue how to raise boys into men. Their father does, but it takes more than one role model. There are no male teachers at our elementary school, and while I don't consider it a handicap to be surrounded by strong, loving, capable women, something's missing from my kids' education. They find it at Scouts, thanks to the wonderful Dads who serve as our pack and troop leaders. And so I'm grateful to them, knee socks and all, for being there, tonight and every week, ushering my sons safely forward, welcoming them to the company of men.



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Thursday, January 07, 2010

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Dancing Clothes

After nearly thirty minutes of holding up tops and bottoms and guessing at sizes, I had settled on the soft mint green ones. "Gilligan O'Malley pajamas," my mother had said, when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She loves to shop at Target when she comes to visit, and she particularly loves that line. The green flannel set was just like something she would pick for herself, I knew--comfy and cuddly. Just the kind of thing a grandma would wear.

I was about to wheel my cart down the aisle toward the shoe section, to see if I could find a pair of coveted high heels for my five year old niece (a calculated move in a campaign to get elected Favorite Auntie for Life), when I brushed past a rack of silky nighties.

Negligees, I thought, remembering my mother's word for her sleepwear when I was a little girl who played dress up in her strappy evening shoes, pretending it was my turn to go to the ball. I reached out and fingered the satin, recalling her in the mornings, her cropped chestnut curls tousled, her lovely long legs moving beneath something sheer and flowing as she made us hot breakfast, her always-tanned decollete soft and warm when she pulled us close. My father bought nightgowns for her as birthday and Christmas presents, and she would always vamp for him in the newest one, as my sister and I admired. They loved each other beyond divorce, to the end of his life, but back then there was a passion between them of which my sister, three and half critical years younger, has no memory. But I remember them dancing close on the living room floor, seeing them kiss in the kitchen, hearing curious noises from behind their bedroom door at night, before the sad and angry sounds replaced them.

They divorced, and he died, and she lives alone now in the home she made for herself, overlooking a sea that is the same blue-grey as her eyes. Her hair and skin are still golden-brown, and her bosom is still a warm and welcoming place to rest a child's head, as my sister's children, who live around the corner, well know. She has many, many friends of both genders and all ages, but there has been no man in her life to replace my father. She used to talk lightly about finding someone, but not so much anymore. I think maybe she has given up, if she was ever really looking. I think she feels that part of life is behind her. She jokes that she has gotten too old and too heavy, but she is sixty-six, vibrant and still beautiful. I know there is someone wonderful out there who would love to dance close with her.

She doesn't need anyone. She is complete and her life is rich. But I would love for her to find romance with someone kind and adoring, who would give her lacy things and awaken the vamp again. Passion with more laughter, less heartache. Easy for me to say, from my forty-year-old vantage point, I know. I shouldn't presume.

I slid the hangers along the chrome rack like abacus beads. Calculating. This one. It was a satin leopard print, elegant but unequivocally sexy. It annoys me when people invoke the dead to approve their own agenda, but the thought came with quiet certainty: Daddy would want her to have this. This and more.

I took the flannel p.j.'s out of the cart, and put the leopard print negligee in, adding a few pieces in her favorite color, a deep burgundy, to mix and match with it. All together, two gowns, palazzo pants and a wrap. An ensemble she could wear unblushingly while cooking porridge on a Sunday morning for my niece and nephew, but at the same time feel glamorous in. I finished my shopping and went home to wrap the presents and meet the international shipping deadline.

As I tucked all the pretty things in tissue paper and white boxes, I imagined them being unwrapped on arrival. I hoped my niece would open her gift at the same time as Mom. The little shoes were satin too--black, with sparkly rhinestones--a child-safe, but genuinely high heel that I would probably forbid if it were my daughter. I smiled a little wickedly, feeling like a devilish fairy godmother: magical wardrobe mistress, grantor of secret wishes, maker of dancing queens and princesses. Wishing I had wings, and could be there to see them vamp.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

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Little Who Two


My five year-old loves his position as the baby of the family, but since Roscoe came, is glorying in finally being bigger than someone. "We could call him Little Who Two," he suggested, on the night the Christmas puppy arrived. Little Who One has scarcely put him down since. In spite of Roscoe growing at an alarming rate of 100 per cent a week, he lugs him everywhere: to the food dish, to the chew toys, to bed. He runs a kind of frantic interference between the puppy and Lucy, our calico cat, who is so far unamused, and has left strategically placed poops telegraphing her deep displeasure.

Our dautweiler, Fanny, is mostly an outdoor dog, with a fenced yard, a heated shelter and a daily walk. She is not a good family pet, but I don't feel like I can make her anyone else's problem either. I have a foolish hope that the puppy might calibrate her pack instincts, and integrate her more into our lives.

"Santa's bringing you a baby," I told her, on our walks leading up to Christmas. She wagged her tail.

On Christmas morning, and most days since, I let her and Roscoe have a little supervised bonding time. Roscoe is way more into Fanny than she is into him.

"Why do you keep bringing me this dog?" she seems to say, jumping up on me with a slightly panicked grin and crazy eyes.

So much for an adoptive mother for Roscoe. A deranged aunt, maybe.

Patrick, whose big idea this was, is staying true to his word that he would be the primary caregiver. "Your dog needs to go out," I say, and off he goes into the cold pre-dawn without a word. "Your dog left you a little something on your office floor," I tell him, and he duly gets up and fetches the paper towels. The boys help too. It's nice. I feel like a father from the fifties. There's nothing for me to do but chuck the puppy under the chin when he's looking cute.


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