Monthly Archives: May 2017

Backpack Treasures

Yesterday and today, all the stuff from school came home in backpacks. Besides random Pokemon cards (the boys were thrilled), I found such delightful things.

You guys. From the beginning of the year until sometime in February, Levi apparently kept a journal at school. I cannot even handle it.

my least favrit seasn is summer because there is no snow. We also haft to swim more and I Don’t like to swim. We also haft to do more farm work.

my saddest molmen was wen my drother punched me right in the fase.

He had some problems with Bs and Ds. These aren’t even the best entries, I don’t think. Just the ones I found right away. It’s fantastic. I almost threw it away without looking, but I thought maybe there would be blog fodder in it somewhere. Thank you, readers, for existing, so that I looked in this notebook. I would never have known that his dad is his role model because he lets him play the computer for 30-45 minutes every day.

I am dead. Also, I am never throwing it away. I’m going to bring it out at his graduation. And his wedding. And I want to read all the other second grade journals.

Elias showed me his special treasure himself. Everyone signed his notebook, including his teacher. (I’m not sure if this was his idea or the teacher’s. His narrative is unclear.)

Levi had the same teacher for kindergarten, and we will forever get her name wrong, because she wasn’t married when we first knew her, and we are creatures of habit in this house.

And also there was this.

This is cute in sort of a standard way, but that is not why I love it. It tells me when he’s going to graduate high school without having to count in my head, but that is not why I love it.

I love that his construction paper face is brown. I know it’s a small thing, but in an overwhelmingly white district, I love that his teacher took a little extra time to make sure he matched his own emoji. Thank you, Mrs. Beichler. We love you, too.

It was a pretty good year.

Disappearing Shampoo

Sometimes the boys shower in the master bathroom. Leaving aside for the moment the amount of water that ends up on the bathroom floor, I don’t much like it when they do, because the shampoo disappears at an alarming rate.

It’s not like I’m buying expensive shampoo (Suave, I love you), but still. It’s not for pouring down the drain, or on your brother’s behind. They think I can’t hear what’s happening in there. They are wrong.

So I talked to them about it yesterday. We need to get clean, I said, and it’s true that you are sometimes very dirty, but you must stop wasting shampoo.

Elias isn’t wasting shampoo. He swears this is so. Levi either. For real, Mom. No? Who, then?

It must be Dad, Levi said, his face lighting up at the conjuring of this convenient scapegoat.

This is Dad’s current situation.

Well, Dad said, he has a point. If I use any, it’s a waste.

The Scent of Memory

There was a lilac bush by the house I grew up in, by the little balcony on the one side of the house. The house was built into a hill, so if you ran up the stairs on the outside, you’d end on the second floor. The balcony was at the top of the stairs, by a door that opened into the living room.

The lilac bush of my childhood was huge. Once, my mother was up in the middle of the night (going to the bathroom? tending a sick child?) and hadn’t put her glasses on. She looked out the window of the door on the balcony and shrieked fit to wake the dead. When my father darted up the hall, she told him a man was standing outside the door. Just standing there, looking in. My father, having grabbed his own glasses, opened the door and found … the lilacs. We are, all of us, blind as bats. Thank goodness the boys don’t share my genes; they might have a chance.

I used to sit there in the early summer and take in the smell until my allergies drove me indoors. I’m not much for strong floral scents as a rule – I don’t wear perfume and use unscented soap – but lilacs have always been an exception.

We left that house when my father died. Nearly a decade later, when I married and moved to the farmhouse, there was a lilac bush. I wished aloud that I had a cutting from my mother’s lilacs at the old house. Well, my mother-in-law said, I got that cutting from your Aunt Roberta. I’m pretty sure your mom did, too. Probably it’s the same plant. 

We built a house and moved up the lane. This time a cutting came with us. It started small and has grown to the height of the windows. We’ve been sleeping with the windows open in the heat, and the scent of lilacs is always in the air.

I don’t know if I remember all of this exactly the way it happened. I don’t know if my mother-in-law remembered it exactly, either. Memories grow hazy and eyewitnesses are unreliable. It’s a nice story. I can’t swear that it’s true.

But it’s true enough for me.

So this spring, as I drift off to sleep, the last thing I know is the scent of my mother’s lilacs. And it is the first thing I know when I wake.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Levi Z (b. 2008)
Self-Portrait, early 2017
school paints on construction paper

Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Z

Artist’s note: “I forgot I have grey glasses now.”

Curator’s note: I told him it was fine; we all have a little trouble seeing ourselves with absolute clarity from time to time.


Empty Frames

We don’t have any pictures of our boys’ birthmothers.


I am sad about this for my boys. They have asked about pictures, a little, and I think it will be more important to them later, as they grow up and think more about what adoption really means. Perhaps when they are first asked to make a family tree, or write an autobiography.

Each birthmother made the choice not to give us a picture. And so even though I would have liked those pictures for my boys, I wouldn’t change what is. They had their reasons, I am certain. And from women who were already giving us everything — their children, their hopes, their trust – to insist on more would have seemed cruel.

Mother’s Day is an obvious one, but I think of them often, our birthmothers. It has been some years now, and the faces I thought were seared into my brain are fading. We met them each for just a few minutes, all of us with fear and hope and adrenaline surging through our blood, and what I remember now are flashes and impressions. Long black hair. Shy brown eyes.

I try, when they ask me, to make word pictures of their first mothers. I tell them how they looked, and I tell them what they said, the best I can remember. Mostly, though, I tell them how they were; the things I will never forget.

She was strong.
She was kind.
She was generous.
She loved you so, so much.
She was afraid, but she was brave.

If I could, I would tell this to the mothers who gave me my children: We remember your names. We remember you. You are honored in this house. I hope, this Mother’s Day, that you are well. And I hope that alongside the bitter, there is sweet.

All About My Mom

These will never, ever get old. 

Levi, 8 1/2 years, second grade. 

How to Fix Pants

If you have raised a boy or observed someone raising a boy or in fact encountered a boy at any point in your life, you may be aware that boys are very hard on the knees of their pants. Sometimes the pants seem to have been worn only once or twice to family weddings before they appear in the laundry with a gaping hole in one knee. Usually the right, although I cannot explain why this is true.

If you have experienced this problem, I am here for you. I have found a solution. (Remember, I am very crafty.) Even better, this solution takes less than five minutes including cleanup.

See these pants?

They are good pants. Hardly any wear (except for the gaping hole in the right knee) and they still fit. These pants need to be salvaged. Here’s what to do:

  1. Lay pants out carefully on a flat surface.
  2. Mark (just in your head is fine if you are experienced like I am) a location about an inch and a half above the gaping hole.
  3. Fold pants over so you can make a cut at the same location on both legs.
  4. Using the good scissors (the ones you hide from everyone else in the house), make a careful cut straight across both legs. Like this:
  5. Hand the boy his new shorts.
  6. Throw the rest of the legs away.
  7. Re-hide the scissors.
  8. Reheat your cold coffee.

You’re welcome.