Children, Creativity

Cornsilk and Cloak

vampire intense
Karate class runs late and we stumble through the door 30 minutes before bedtime. Homework still needs attention, as do dinner and shower and lunches for tomorrow. It is into this briar patch of demands that Bug announces he’s changed his mind.

“I do want to wear a costume to the Monster Bash.” Continue reading “Cornsilk and Cloak”

Children, Friends

Trick of Light

The Boy who Refuses to Smile sits down on the low wall next to the girl in purple tights. He leans into her and she into him. She wears sequined high-top sneakers and sparkles like a star. The third child climbing onto the bricks is a nameless shadow, near but in a different frame, on another block, in someone else’s story. The Boy pastes on the requisite grin and stays still for one, two, three cameras. He angles towards her glitter. Their knees touch. She tilts her head and smiles like a diva.
“Oh, so that’s Bug,” the girl’s uncle says. He steps closer to me and introduces himself. “We hear your boy’s name around our house all the time.”
Tee and I grimace at the same moment. I brace for the kind-yet-careful description of our son’s latest wave of schoolyard tyranny. The aunt laughs. “Nothing like that. I think there might be a crush.”
Bug slides off the wall and darts ahead before turning and coming back for her. “Star, come with me!” She runs after him. They clomp up the steps, peering into an offered cauldron and digging for some just-right wrapper. When they hustle back down through the cluster of Iron Men (three of them) and princesses (countless), Star’s pumpkin swings from Bug’s forearm. Star pauses to beam up at the assembled adults.
“He’s carrying my candy for me because it’s so heavy.”
Bug races forward and doubles back yet again, calling into the little girl’s face as if from across a moor. “Star, this way!” He points to foam webs slung from the railing and plastic swords dripping like stalactites from low branches. “That house is for sure open.”
“Okay!” she cries, sliding the pumpkin back off his arm. He waits while she does this. They break into a run towards the orange lights flickering against dark faces, a glass door opening to greet them.


Happy 100 Days: 59

Ten unnecessary but welcome accessories to spruce up the fall wardrobe:

  1. A post hole digger
  2. A spontaneous hug from a new acquaintance
  3. Blistered palms and sore shoulders
  4. Purple earplugs and a mid-day nap
  5. A condo with peeling linoleum and lots of promise
  6. A green silk trench coat and a bagful of gold dubloons
  7. A sash tied from behind by capable hands
  8. Enchiladas hot from the oven
  9. Doing da butt (all night long)
  10. A salt water gargle song with a good man before bed



Happy 100 Days: 62

My pirate boy races down the neighbor’s driveway with his ninja friend. Light from paper bag lanterns dances low against blacktop. The two disappear into a pool of ink oozing from hedges. For all we know, they have slipped into the underworld. Silence. Dark. After a beat, the knock and the sing-song “trick or treat” drift back up towards us. The door closes and a gauze ghost billows from clothesline. The boys cut behind the houses, gone into night. We call and call but they do not respond. A few moments later, we hear them again, chattering as they clomp back up the hill. “Mommy! I got a soda!” Comparing the heft of their booty and ogling their matching ring-pops, they wind dizzy circles around each other. Candy measured, they break to spar with foam swords before charging off towards another doorway ringed with bones.


Happy 100 Days: 74

You Will Be Sorry to Go In Here
As soon as we walk in the door, Bug grabs the scissors and scrap paper and scoots a chair up to the kitchen table. He first draws a monster and then pushes that aside to create a row of pumpkins on orange paper. He asks me how to spell out a warning to the trick-or-treaters. I help him sound it out. He writes “Boo Boo Boo Boo” all on his own.
“What are you going to make, Mommy?”
Uh, dinner? And a bath? I force myself to leave the dishes for the moment. I pull up a chair and join Bug at the table. “Hmm. let me see. Something scary.” I draw a witch on a broomstick, snip her out, and paste her on a background of black construction paper. This satisfies my boy for now.
Dinner is ready. I heap the brown rice noodles and spaghetti sauce in bowls, hiding a few spoonfuls of cooked squash in the glop. Bug wolfs it down and even finishes his broccoli. I begin to peel an orange to add another serving of the good stuff to the meal.
“Wait!” He blocks me. “Don’t take the skin off! Can I have it?”
“Sure,” I laugh. I hand him the orange and take the second one from the bowl. “Can I peel this one?”
“Okay, yeah,” he says, but he is not paying attention to me. He has pushed his plate aside and taken up the marker. He draws on the orange and then cuts and colors a little strip of paper. He finds the tape under all this mess and sticks the little strip onto the top of the fruit.
“There!” He says, a big grin brightening his face. He turns the orange towards me. He has drawn on a triangle-eyed face and attached a makeshift stem. I laugh.
“That’s awesome, buddy! You made a jack-o-lantern!”
He goes back to eating his dinner. “Let’s make Halloween things all night,” he says.
“That’s a great idea,” I say.
After dinner and bath, we paste a few of our scary pictures on the front door. In bed, he takes up his clipboard while I read, drawing first a ghost, and then a vampire with red fangs, and then a leprechaun hiding a pot of gold behind a stone wall.
The papers flutter to the ground, one after the other, carpeting the bedroom floor.


Happy 100 Days: 95

After days of considering his options (Pirate? Harry Potter?), tonight is the night for the big reveal. “I know what I want to be for Halloween,” Bug announces at bedtime. A great pause follows, as if the moment requires a final gut-check. Then he tells me. “A leprechaun.”
I grin but hide it. If he knows I am happy, he will walk away and never look back. I nod slowly, forcing a poker face. “Hmm. I guess that could work. How are we going to do it?”
We have been reading a library book which is probably long overdue now because we can’t bear to part with it. The Leprechaun’s Gold by Pamela Duncan Edwards is a story about a kind old harpist who goes on a journey with his more ambitious protege. The harpist’s willingness to help one of “the little people” who has landed in a tight spot serves him well in the end. Four-leaf clovers are hidden among the illustrations, so Bug really examines the pages while I read. I like that the story offers up hope that generosity can beat out ruthless self-interest. Bug likes the Irish accents that I mangle as I read.
Bug does not know about my side trip to the Goodwill two weeks ago when I dropped nearly $40 on every green article of clothing I could find. An olive straw hat, a woven tam o’shanter, leggings, a fleece vest, a full-length silk overcoat in mint, a leather handbag, and a few other odds and ends. I came home and hid these items in random spots in our rooms.
“Leprechauns need something. . .” he says to himself. I do not fill in the blank. He opens his closet and gasps as the glimmering coat appears. He touches it. “That’s green,” he says.
“Let’s see what’s in my scarf bin,” I suggest. He discovers the two hats and he turns them around a few time in his hands, looking at them from every angle. In my bag drawer, he digs out the green handbag. He collects all these things on his bedroom floor, unzipping the purse and examining it. A few minutes later, I find him scrounging under his bed. He pulls out a cigar box where he has stashed all his “pirate gold,” an assortment of foreign coins Tee and I have let him squirrel away over the years. He begins to stash the coins in the zippered pockets. Before coming to bed, he picks up a crayon and a brown marker and starts writing on the side of the purse.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m drawing a four-leaf clover,” he tells me. When he is finished, he drapes the bag carefully over the corner of the chair and climbs in next to me.
“What else do leprechauns have?” Bug asks, eyes drooping.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Should we go to the library tomorrow and get a few more books about leprechauns so we can see?”
“Yep,” he says, ooching up close to me. “You can read, Mommy,” he says with a yawn. He opens the book for me.
Long ago, before even your great-great-grandfather was born, there lived in a small village in Ireland a man known to all as Old Pat.
This is one of those moments in which the payoff for the years of effort makes itself known. This is tonight’s truly big reveal: It does not even occur to my son that we will buy a costume. Bug knows in his bones that in our family, we rely on our inspiration and follow it up with imagination. Then, we use our hands.
The part he does not yet know is that we also stash the charms in exactly the right spots for being found when the moment calls for a little luck.



I allow myself ten minutes of self pity per day. It isn’t wise to take gulp it down all at once. Sipping is a better course. It whets the appetite but keeps some on reserve for when the mouth goes dry. After each taste, set it aside. Lift the eyes, take notice, breathe. Dig for a pen. Step into the music, call a friend. Give someone else a hand.

Over the course of a year or fifteen, perhaps the practice of coming up and out becomes the default. This is the hope, anyway.

So, please excuse me while I overindulge today.

Bug and I immersed ourselves in Halloween this weekend. Haunted mini golf, a raucous costume bash, and a pumpkin baking frenzy. I knew Tee would have Bug tonight as he does every Monday. Weeks ago, he asked if he could bring young Potter to my place for trick-or-treating, as my suburban neighborhood is a bit more pedestrian friendly than his town house complex. Last night when I called to confirm the plan – my Hermione costume ready, the house strung with pumpkin lights, a small mountain of candy by the door – Tee informed me he had changed his mind, “Didn’t we talk about this?” Miscommunication or oversight, not malice for certain. But still, my kid is not going to be here on Halloween.

We have had more than our fill of the holiday in each other’s company. Hell, he and I were singing karaoke and dancing until midnight on Saturday in our matched Gryffindor scarves. This is not a big deal. I even told the lawyer Halloween was not one of the holidays we needed to parse out in the Parenting Agreement, because it simply is not that important to Tee or me. Bug will be with the parent whose day falls on Halloween each year.

But, boy, did the news take a big scoop out of me. There was already a hole where my family used to be. The news is ice water on a cavity.

I do not want to go home tonight. Who can bear the chitter-chatter at the door, the pleas, the insufferable cuteness of their wings, their wigs, their gore?

This is a laughably small grievance. So many suffer much worse. The specters of lost children stab with acute, cardiac precision on the holidays. Friends I know have children across oceans, or who only come in the summers, or who are gone forever. Mine is not such a terrible fate. Bug will be with me on Wednesday, and on Thanksgiving, and again on alternating weekends into the only future I dare imagine

That still leaves tonight, and this insatiable thirst for self pity. The requisite moderately sexy Halloween outfit hangs on the back of my office door. I packed for work with a vague notion of something other than my house tonight. The streets here are lined with bars offering pub crawls and pumpkin beer to the childless and festive. Yet, I cannot work up the enthusiasm. Oblivion no longer satisfies.

I cast about for a texture for tonight’s indulgence. I open my tongue and taste the air. What is the craving? For ink? Steam? Curry? Stupid giggles with a friend? Silence? I circle back around to the same old place, the lessons not yet learned. When hurting, do something kind. Slow-dance the mind. Comfort the heart. Seek a source. Open the lips; take a long, slow sip.


Sail Cloth

It was one of many, undoubtedly, but it is the one I remember best. The costume was made of bright, sky-blue gingham. My sister’s was green. Knowing our competitiveness and our proclaimed “favorite” colors, mother bought matching fabric in different shades. She sewed the collars and cuffs, the puff-balls and buttons. They were billowing things, wide-legged bloomers in a single piece up to the ruffled neck. Then she painted on our faces. Mine was a smile and my sister’s a frown. Or was it the other way around? It is odd I consented to be a clown considering how frightened I was of the things.  Halloween gives us permission: embody that which you fear most. For one night that year, we roamed the neighborhood at sunset, throwing the demons off our scent and demanding our spoils.

In the chapter following childhood but preceding parenthood, I approached Halloween with a much more improvisational attitude. Patterns and forethought gave way to 11th hour leather, sequins, and duct tape. Keys and washers could hang from chains. A sharpie can turn a bedsheet into a flag or cape. Like concocting a dish without a recipe, all you have to do is open the cabinets and make use of what appears. Mash it together to yield something outlandish and utterly unrecognizable. Partake regardless.

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

“Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

“Built it (or, don’t even build ‘it,’ Just build) and they will come.”

Pick your dime store proverb. Any old one excuse for immersion will do.

Unfixed is still my preferred gait. If the activity involves a voyage and a bit of play, I give over and let the doing of it offer up what it will. This is why I have bins in the basement full to bursting with filled journals, but only a single publication to my name.  It is also why my resume reads more like a ransom note than a character study. Whether dancing, dating, writing or earning a paycheck, I follow impulses and revel in processes. The product is only an afterthought.

This time of year, the folks walking the streets as pinball machines and chess men are marvels to me. It is not my habit to set a goal and work it into being.

Like so many of us, I was fortunate – or so I believed – to find a companion as open to adventure as I was. The waters below so captivated us, we could not turn our gaze to the stars. Immersion failed us. In the absence of a navigator, our meandering course led us right into the Bermuda triangle.

But I digress. (As usual).

A freewheeling approach to craft and learning has served me well as the mother of a very young child. Want to play with clay? Let’s cook some up and see what happens! Paint? Here’s some chalk and glue. Go smear it on the driveway! Young children are enamored of materials and processes. Where other parents might grow impatient with the purposeless messes, I have found it easy to encourage Bug to make magic from sources at hand. Play with sounds, spices, worms, words. Mix the media. Simmer, stir. See what bubbles up.

The problem is this: On Halloween, you cannot dress your kid as a half-written sonnet.
Bug is no longer among the “very young” category of child. When this transition happened, I haven’t the faintest idea. I notice, though, that he is less interested in the path and more focused on the destination. My child begs for the concrete. When we break out the play-doh, he wants a gryphon or a sword. When I hum, he wants to know the words.

This year, Bug’s desire for a predetermined image at Halloween has me squirming. Yes, our overstuffed closets have supplied a robe and glasses, and my crafty mother has crocheted us matching red-and-gold scarves. It has, however, been painful to make real the pictures inside my boy’s brain. Somehow, he conjured up a picture of Harry Potter with a lantern. Despite my best attempts to replace it with something we had on hand, he dug in and stood firm.

I may tend towards open-ended processes, but I want my son to learn the beauty of drawing the vision to life. Knowing how to map a course towards a point on the horizon will serve him when we his parents are no longer at the helm. Like all of us, he needs to trust in his capacity to secure vessel, sails, skills, and crew.  Ambition does not come naturally to either Tee or me. This means I have to (get to?) turn out of the current and harness the wind.

In the end, we took out pen and paper. I had Bug draw this imagined lantern then describe the parts of his drawing. A five-year-old’s sense of dimension is screwy. To give his image depth by comparison, I took out oatmeal canisters and cookie boxes. Once his rectangle rose up off the page, we discussed handles and doors and reinforcement.

“How will it light up?” I asked. Bug had to wrap his mind around lenses and power sources. He may be dressing as a wizard, but light and object do not spring fully formed into being. Everything in this world came about by way of a process – chemical, physical, human – and the mechanics can guide us as we attempt to assemble our own creations. The lantern from cardboard and paint. The child from flesh and love. Our home from land and frame and mortgage payments.

I would like to believe that surrender to craft and chance would yield something more than just a mastery of the doing. Such faith is costly and not without its risks.

I cannot house my kid in a half-written sonnet.

I also cannot build a whole new life today. This is worth bearing in mind. If it is true that all of creation is the result of processes, then it follows that creation is itself ongoing. Genesis, germination, fruition, decay. Even those costumes my mother made have long since frayed. Back to mice and moths. Back to the threads. Back to beginnings, as Bug and I are now. As all of us always are. The fixed idea still demands surrender to the pace of its own becoming.

I would like to learn from my mother’s way. Choose a pattern, and take up the cloth. Piece something together. As imperfect and fleeting as it may be, clothe my child in it. Finish it. Believe my own hands capable of such a thing.