The Dog in the Trunk

dog leashCarol was 80 years old and, for most of the past 40 years, had lived alone in the small house she’d grown up in, on a shaded street in a tiny town in Indiana.

She had had no husband. No children. But many years of work at a desk, first in the accountant’s office, then at the concrete foundry. Tallying the balance sheets, recording the accounts. Looking after her elderly parents till their passing. It had been enough.

But as the years streamed by, she understood more deeply the meaning of death (and consequently life), and when she retired from work, the house felt increasingly empty—the air too thin, the TV voices turned up to fill the silence. When she turned 67, she began craving the warmth and attention of another living being, and so she got the dog — a golden retriever for her golden years.

Molly was 3 months old when Carol brought her home, a fuzzy golden bundle, the last female of the litter. Never having raised a dog, Carol found the initial months of puppyhood intriguing and exhausting — the whimpering through those first nights, the sharp teeth nibbling at her hand and, oh, the frustration of housebreaking – the soggy newspapers, puddles in the corner. As a puppy, Molly was a clumsy ball of fluff. As a dog, she grew slender, with a feathery tail and a slobbery grin.

They’d gotten there together now, into old age. Carol had seen Molly through a diagnosis of epilepsy and three surgeries to remove ingested socks. Molly, in turn, lifted Carol’s spirits after a hard fall on the unforgiving church floor, the broken elbow and leg keeping her in the hospital for a dozen weeks.

Now, here they were at the veterinarian’s office. Molly had stopped eating and was vomiting strings of foam.

“Well, girl, it’s time to say goodbye,” Carol said as she sat by the exam table, stroking the gold and graying fur around Molly’s ears. She couldn’t put the dog through another surgery to straighten out that twisted colon, but she dared not think about returning alone to a silent, barren house.

“Thirteen years gone,” she said. “You’ve been a good dog.”

Molly lifted her head to lick Carol’s hand.

When the vet confirmed that the drug injection had worked, Carol walked slowly out to her car in the cold parking lot and opened the trunk. The vet’s assistant followed, carrying Molly’s loose body, and laid the dog gently on the green blanket, which Carol had spread in the trunk. Molly had lain on that blanket on the way to the vet. Neither knew then whether they would go home together again.

Carol had already decided not to bury Molly in her yard, as was the custom for family pets in that town. Instead, she drove the 30 miles to the pet cemetery, where Molly would lie with other family pets beneath a low headstone that would be weathered by wind and rain.

 

March 8, 2016

Grapefruit

Kay pulled her car into the garage on a murky Thursday night after a round-trip drive from Seattle to Florida. It was just this sort of weather that had convinced her to go, to get out of the persistent rain of November and search for the golden globe of the sun, which, she believed, was embodied in the yellow sphere that was a grapefruit.

When the idea first claimed its place in her thoughts, she considered it ridiculous. Why would anyone drive thousands of miles for a silly looking yellow fruit? She could just pick one off the produce table at the local grocery (and mischievously imagine sending the whole pyramid cascading to the floor).  When she announced her plan to her teenage son, he looked at her obliquely, as though he wasn’t quite sure who this woman was.

“When the rain begins in the fall, I’m going to go south and find the perfect grapefruit,” she said one evening in February, before the cherry trees began to bloom and made her forget the inky weight of the winter clouds in Washington State.

“How will you get there?” her son asked as he sliced carrots in the kitchen for the salad.

“I’m going to drive,” she answered pensively, looking into an imaginary distance over his shoulder.

“Drive?” he asked, puzzled. “But how do I get home from school? And who’ll make dinner?”

“Well,” she answered, “by Fall you’ll be 16 and can drive yourself to school, and you and Daddy do pretty well in the kitchen when I’m not around. You’ll manage it.”

After staring at his mother for a moment, the boy went back to slicing carrots.

And so, when the first rains roared in with the wind one November morning, she set off, stopping first in Arizona, and then in Texas, looking for the perfect grapefruit. The ones she found were large and smooth, but the skin wasn’t quite the right hue, and so she drove on, across the bayous of Louisiana, through the hills of Alabama, to the Sunshine State.

And there she saw it, just outside Homestead on her way to the Keys, the very fruit she’d been looking for in a grove of roadside trees. The dark glossy leaves of the trees sheltered the heavy, shiny fruit, whose dimpled skin, a vibrant yellow, bore a subtle blush of pink.

She pulled the car to the side of the road and calmly climbed over the slatted metal fence that surrounded the trees. In just a few steps, she arrived under the arching branches of a tree and absorbed the cool air and pungent fragrance of the yellow globes clustered above.

Then, in one fluid motion, she reached up and plucked the fruit hanging right over her head.  The stem gave way with a snap and the branch sprang upward, relieved of its weight.

And there it was, round and warm and glowing in her hand, like a perfect sphere of flame.

grapefruit

March 8, 2016

Insurance

For my daughter on the eve of her departure for college

 

I hand the white plastic card to youInsurance card

over the hard, gray kitchen counter.

On it are embossed the numbers you need:

the ID number,

the group number,

the number to call for health claims and emergencies.

 

What the numbers don’t show,

Daughter,

are the years you have been a part of me.

 

18 chances for me to get it right –

day by day, month by year —

to prepare you:

to feed yourself

and your soul;

to clean your body,

and your dishes;

to organize your room,

and your mind;

to defend yourself,

and your words.

 

Together, we’ve watched the strong women on film:

Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side,

Viola Davis in The Help,

even Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

She rides and fights and finally

goes mano a mano

for all us women fighting in a man’s world.

 

This card,

cracked and faded in my wallet,

will now reside in yours.

 

September 2015

 

Sport Authority

Soccer shirtYou step into manhood
in your yellow and black uniform,
whistle wrapped round your wrist.
“Blow the whistle a little louder ref!”
shouts the coach of the Lightning Strikes,
a band of 8-year-olds in neon green,
already imagining themselves, one day, on the big screen,
the crowds, arms raised, deafening with their cheers,
waves of sound banging through the skies,
shouting as their parents and coaches do now.
Five years ago, you were one of those boys.

Today, authority rode nervous on your shoulders on the way to the field,
chattering, fretting, words stuttering out.
Fidgeting with your uniform, checking for the quarter in your pocket,
“I didn’t practice blowing my whistle,” you worried.
And me, the mom, how little I know:
“It’s a whistle. How hard can it be?”

The youngest of two,
authority is not often yours.
Your sister,
so damn sure of everything she thinks she knows.
Her criticism descends, and you retreat.

But you know the game —
playing on the field,
watching on TV —
as the black and white ball knows your feet.
Smallest on your own team,
you steal past the tall, staggering boys,
unafraid of what you know.
Instinct.
Communion.

Your first game now as ref,
it’s you and the boys (and their dads and their coaches).
They all know the game, or
think they do.
The coach of the Strikes,
burly and red-faced,
he would be the ref too,
if not for your yellow shirt.

You know this game.
Now it’s time
to grow
into your Authority.
Your name now: “Hey, ref!”

whistle

Posted in Poetry. 2 Comments »

The Dog Explains (or Why I Ate the Chocolate Cake)

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Dear Big Female,

Look, I know you got really mad at me a couple of days ago, when I leaned up on the kitchen counter and took a bite out of the cake the young male had just finished baking, but you know, I just couldn’t help myself. See, it had been a tough day in the dog world. It was that day after the two days when all you people are around, coming and going, zinging in and out of doors all day long.

After those two days of activity, I’m used to having a day of rest, when I curl up in my white domed house outside and sleep all day. Yeah, it’s kind of depressing, but I’ve gotten used to it. Matter of fact, at this point in my life, I need that day of sleep. And if I get too bored, I get out of my house and run around in circles trying to catching that stump on my backside, just for the hell of it. I haven’t managed to catch it yet. I’ve seen other dogs do it, but it’s easier for them. They have those long droopy sticks on their backsides. I might have had one once too, but I don’t remember.

Our days here usually begin with the opening and closing of doors before I’ve been let out of my crate down in that room with those scary white boxes that bang and hum. Most of the time, you make those machines bang during the day when I’m not in the room, but sometimes at night, after you’ve brought me into that room to go to bed,  the machines are still banging and humming and I see you open the doors on them and move clothes from one to the other. I know these are clothes for everybody because I see them on your bodies on different days, and I’ve figured out which ones you wear for the night when everything in the house gets real quiet. I refuse to get in my own box at night until I see you or that younger female in your night-time clothes. (I know you and she are females because you smell different than those other two, with their shorter hair and harder voices). I figure it this way – I ain’t gettin’ in that box to spend all those dark hours, and some of the light ones too when the air is warmer and the trees have those flat things hanging on them . . . what ARE those flat things anyway? They just look like grey blobs to me.

As I was saying, I’m not gettin’ in that box till I know the house is going to quiet down. And I know the quiet won’t come till you’re in those night clothes. I just hate to think I might miss something, you know. And yeah, sometimes I get funny and refuse to get in the box till it’s YOU who puts me there, not that younger female. Sometimes, I just like to see how much control I have. I’m a dog. I can’t help it.

So anyway, it had been two days of the coming and going. The voices of all of you, the footfalls in and out. First, the door out to that place where you keep those other two big white machines, the ones with the wheels. Those are the machines that come and go, that make creaking noises in the room where my box is. When I hear the first creaks, I know the day is about to begin. After the creaks stop, I wait in my box for awhile, hoping someone will come let me out. If you make me wait too long, I get frantic and scratch at the box, start in with that high-pitched bark that I know will get your attention, until you come to let me out. When you do let me out of the box, though, I just can’t go through the door to the yard right away. I need you to pet me for a while, and I make sure I get you to do that by looking up at you with my pathetic expression and sitting on your foot. You grouse about that, but it almost always works. If it doesn’t, I do my doggie bow – front legs stretched out, head low, tail up. I’ve heard you call it the “downward facing dog” pose and I’ve seen you try to imitate it. Frankly, I can’t figure out why you humans would want to be imitating us dogs; it’s you guys who have all the power.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut back to the day of the cake . . .

After I had been let out of my box, the younger male plonked my breakfast down in that shiny bowl outside the kitchen door, the spot where I spend many hours practicing my sad look through the glass. I had already done my tour of the yard, to make sure no intruders had appeared in my territory while I was in the box. Sometimes, I can tell those puffy gray critters with the stripes on their tails and faces have been snooping around again. They leave behind a nasty fishy smell and they never clean up after themselves. You pulled me away once when I had one up a tree and another time when one was hiding under the deck, but they’re enemies, I tell you. All my barking at them is just my fair warning that they’re on my turf and should expect consequences.

That particular morning, the yard was pretty clear of invasion – just a few slugs headed for the garden and those black things that move through the sky. (Some of you people call them crows, some of you say they’re ravens. Frankly, I don’t care what you call them. I just know they make a lot of noise. Between watching them and those other white ones that sit on top the house dropping clam shells on the driveway, I get a crick in my neck.) But that morning, there was that other male in the house, that tall one with the light hair who’s been coming around recently. He stays real close to the other female. They watch a lot of moving pictures on the screen downstairs, in the dark room with the big couch. I’ve convinced you to let me in the house more often, You older people have gotten older too, gotten some of those light hairs on your heads like I now have on my snout and you’re gettin’ a little soft about where you’ll let me be, especially when I practice my pathetic face through the kitchen door or it starts to rain again, like it does so often here. When you fall for my trick and let me in, I figure it’s wise to be polite and I offer my thanks by stretching out in my down-dog bow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo as I was saying, I’ve convinced you to let me in the house more often. The room where the food is served is my next target. I’ve managed to sneak over there from the kitchen a couple times already. The advantage of being an Aussie is my grace. I may be male, but I am dainty, I tell you. The hard brown floor scares me because I can’t get any traction on it like I can the white tile in the kitchen, but I can tiptoe soundlessly from the kitchen to the rug in the eating area without you even hearing me, especially when my toenails are clipped, like they were at that dog hotel you left me at a couple weeks ago, the one where they got me wet and rubbed foamy stuff all over me. I loved the rubbing, hated the wet stuff, and that scratchy, funny-smelling paste they scrubbed my face with. It makes me itch and then you fuss at me for leaving wads of fur on the downstairs carpet from my scratching. Don’t EVER let them use that stuff on me again.

Besides the outside, I figure it’s my job to watch the intruders in the house too. This new male smells pretty safe. He must hang out with a lot of other interesting animals, dogs among them, and he knows how I like to be pet. But the young female is different when she’s around him. She shows her teeth more and changes the way she walks. She likes it when the new male gets really close to her on the downstairs couch, and especially when they start rubbing their faces together. But I just can’t allow anyone to be touching anyone in this house besides me. I get agitated and just have to speak, which usually stops the touching. I suspect you just might be letting me in the house on purpose when he’s here, just so they won’t be touching.

So there was that male in my territory, and the young male, the one who actually lives here, is always noisier and more active when the other one’s around. They wrestle around sometimes like they’re litter mates trying to determine who’s the alpha dog. That morning, they started playing with the little machine that zips around the floor making a loud whine, a smaller version of those white-wheeled machines that make my room creak. For this, the young male holds some sort of gadget in his hand to direct it. He thinks it’s fun to make the thing chase me, and it hurts when it bangs into my ankles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALater that morning, the three of them were moving around the kitchen cutting up round yellow things (at least I think they were yellow; I’m never too sure of my colors) and squishing the juice out of them with another type of buzzing machine. Then they were banging the dishes around and making tantalizing food smells. And then the big male and female went down to the beach with a couple of puffy shirts and some long sticks. I wanted to go with them to see what they were going to do. You KNOW I hate to miss anything. That’s why I follow you wherever you go, even if it’s back up the stairs you just came down. But this stupid band around my neck, the one with the little box attached to it, started beeping when I got to the edge of the yard, and I knew that, if I didn’t stop, I was going to get zapped like I have sometimes.

I usually stop when I hear the beeping, but sometimes the temptation is just too much to ignore, like the time you and the little male put that smelly food out on the upper lawn, where I’m not supposed to go. It had something to do with a project the young male was doing for school. I knew that if I didn’t get to that food first, those brown things with the thin legs and pointy sticks on their heads would get to it first. The taste of that stuff was well worth the momentary zap.

I also needed to go with the young female and her friend because it’s my job to keep my people together. You know, I get really anxious when you all split up and two of you go off one way while the other two go another. It just feels wrong, and I worry that I’m not doing my job. Like when we ran into that bunch of goats on the beach one day. They were wandering in all different directions, the silly things. I know they didn’t belong to our pack, but y’know, something just came over me and I had to gather them up, get ‘em in a tidy group, even if it meant nipping their ankles. You stood by horrified (after all, who would expect to find goats on a beach?) but the owner of the goats knew what I was doing. HE knew, and didn’t mind.

So when the female went off with her male friend, I got nervous. Things appeared to be spinning out of my control, so I did what I always do when it seems that way, especially when that nasty neighbor comes down the path with his big black and brown dog. It’s not the dog I mind because he and I are of similar mind. It’s that human. There’s something wrong with that male – even the female trainer you hired for me once said so, and I can never know when he might decide to throw stones at me again. Never mind that we both saw him beating his own dog with its own leash in our yard that one day when the dog wouldn’t come after he called it. Or he would prowl around our house with his dog if I wasn’t out barking at him. When he comes down the path to the beach, I run madly along the edge of the lawn and bark and bark and bark. Sure, all the running and barking is exhausting, but in the dog world, things must be kept in order.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell after awhile, I got bored with running and barking while the young female and her friend were down at the beach, and you know that didn’t take too long. You know, I’m a smart dog, smarter than those dumb yellow dogs up the street who spend their days chasing the same ball hour after hour. They’re always just thinking “throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball!” It must drive their people nuts. See, I figured it out pretty quick. If I bring back the ball you’ve thrown, you’re just gonna throw it again, and that’s no fun. I was willing enough to learn “sit” and “down” in that class you took me to, but when you got to telling me “stay,” I thought, “Unh-uh. No way. I ain’t doing this anymore.” First off, if I stay, I’m probably gonna miss something interesting somewhere else. Second, responding promptly to commands just means you’re going to be ordering me around all day. In that case, I might as well be as dumb as those dogs up the street. I may be just a dog, but I have to have SOME dignity.

After I got tired of barking along the lawn’s edge, I came back up to the kitchen door and pulled the usual stunt: park myself outside the glass, perk up my ears, cock my head slightly to the right, and look into the kitchen with my big brown puppy eyes. (OK, OK, so I just turned 9, but you know we dogs are always puppies, till the day we die.) This trick almost always gets to the young male, and I hear him say, in a tone as pathetic as my expression, “Mom, look at puppy. Isn’t he cute?” And sure enough, one of you will come to the door and let me in. Sometimes, when the older male is home, even he will fall for it. He’s the one who first started letting me lie on the floor by the downstairs couch while he watches his own moving pictures.

So like a charm, my pathetic pose worked that afternoon, and in I came to watch and sniff while the young male banged around the kitchen concocting more food and more tantalizing smells, this time with something smooth and dark brown that involved eggs.

They say dogs like these things called eggs, but I don’t know. I never had a chance to eat one before. Blueberries and strawberries, yes. Even spaghetti. Those long strands wrapped themselves around my snout. I used to pick blackberries off the vines at the beach, but gave up because I didn’t like getting scratched on the snout by the thorns. Give me a piece of bread and I’ll pick it up tenderly in my teeth and tiptoe away, so no one can steal it from me before I have a chance to eat it. I may be a gregarious dog, but I fiercely protect my food. And I know that, when one of you drops something on the floor and loudly shouts “Oops!”, you’re not fooling yourselves. Or me. I know that’s my signal to come get the food you’d like to feed me without feeling guilty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo there was the young male, mixing things in a bowl with yet another one of those noisy machines, this one with silver things that clattered and spun around. This food didn’t appeal to me at first. The smell wasn’t quite right. But then he poured the stuff in a pan and stuck it in that big hot box, the one with the window in the door, and left the kitchen. Awhile later, he came back, opened the door, and pulled out the pan, setting it on the counter. You didn’t see this because you were somewhere in the house that I’m not allowed to go (yet). But I noticed. And sniffed.

After another little while, the young male came back and took the thing out of the pan, setting it on a plate. It looked to me like a dark round loaf of bread and smelled warm and slightly sticky. Then he did it again – poured more dark stuff in the pan, put it in the hot box, and – when the bell dinged – pulled it out and put it on the counter.

While he was doing all this, the female and her male came back to the house, and once again doors were opening and closing, people came and went, up and down stairs, in and out of rooms. So much commotion. I had a hard time keeping up with it all.

Eventually, the female and her male settled on the couch downstairs to watch their moving pictures (but mostly they were rubbing faces), the young male went off somewhere I couldn’t see, and you went downstairs to the room where you often sit staring at a glowing screen and talking to yourself. I decided to lie down where the young female and her friend were. Someone had to keep an eye on those two. (Better me than you, eh?)

A little while later, I awoke to voices – yours, the young male’s, and a new voice I’d never heard before. It was coming out of a small box you were holding in your hand and then laid down on the desk where you were sitting. You and the young male were peering at the screen and talking to each other and to the voice in the box. You have to forgive me – I was sleepy and confused by this strange voice with no body, and so I had to come into the room and bark. Loudly. And when I did, you got up from the chair, pulled me out of the room by that band around my neck, and then shut the door in my face! Well, I thought I’d better speak louder, to let you know I was there, ready to be of service in case you needed protection from that voice in the box.

And just then, that bell rang, the one with the two tones that mean someone new is here. Now this is a noise that just sets me off. Something about the tone hits me at a place I cannot master, just like the sounds the young female makes with her fingers on that big black box downstairs, the one with the white sticks. The sounds from that box make me sing. This bell makes me bark.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo there I was, barking downstairs, frantic because people were jumping up and moving, the young male ran up the steps to open the front door, which is what makes that bell stop ringing. A minute later, he came back down the stairs into your room. The voice in the box was still talking to you. Then you ran upstairs and then came back down to talk to the young female and her friend, who were slowly getting off the couch. The young male was still listening to the voice in the box and pushing buttons to change the pictures on the screen at the desk. Then the young female and her friend went upstairs, you went back to the desk and continued to talk to the voice in the box, and the young male went upstairs too.

I was getting dizzy watching all this and I finally decided to go upstairs to see what was going on. That’s where most of the pack was. I could hear the voices near the front door – the male friend of the female was putting those things on his feet that you all put on when you’re getting ready to leave, and usually leave me behind. The only time I ever get to leave this place is when you put me in one of the big white machines with wheels and you take me to that place where they look in my ears and try to poke something in my backside. Oh, I fight that, I do! Even after you wrap that blue thing around my snout and two of you hold me down in a corner of the room. Or you take me to that place with all the cages and other dogs, where I get lots of attention and play time. I pretend not to like it and grab your leg with my front legs when you turn toward the door to leave. I can’t have you thinking that I really want to be there, but if you let them scrub my face with that stinky scratchy stuff again, I just might decide I really don’t like to go there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo what with all the noise and commotion of the people at the front door and all that running up and down steps and the bell and the buzzing, beeping, clattering machines, and the smells still wafting from the kitchen, well – I don’t know what took hold in me. As you know, I have never put my paws on the kitchen counter before. Oh yes, I’ve done my circus dog act, prancing on my hind legs when there was something particularly luscious-smelling there. But I’ve never made contact with the countertop. Even when I’m overcome by the doggie devils, I’ve tried to rid myself of them by bashing an empty milk jug around on the porch or by charging insanely around the flower beds in the yard.

But this time, they got the best of me. Up I went on my hind legs, my paws rested on the counter, and before I knew what I was doing, my snout was in the brown loaf the young male had made. One bite, that’s all it was. And it didn’t even taste good. Too sweet. Not a hint of meat.

And just then, the young female saw me. All the noise at the front door had stopped and she had come back into the kitchen. She shouted my name and grabbed that band around my neck to pull me away. And then, the last doggie devil was let loose in me. I turned my snout and tried to grab her arm with my teeth. It was my food, you see. I had to protect it. I missed grabbing her arm, but she shouted, “No! Bad dog!”

And with that shout, the doggie devils disappeared and there I was, shoved rudely out the door to the porch, banished from the smells, the kitchen, and, sadly, from my pack of people.

Later, I heard the young male and female telling you what happened, gesturing toward me and the broken loaf. I saw the young male standing stiff, arms firmly crossed, with a hard, hard look on his face. The female was pointing to that spot on her arm where my teeth grazed her skin. I sat looking through the glass, feeling very, very sad. Even after 9 years, enough years to render me older and wiser, sometimes, the devils still win.

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Thank You, Jennifer and Jason

It’s August 23, a Friday, and where we live, the kids still have 10 days of summer vacation before they go back to school. I have to say that the kids have had a grand summer. Lots of time off, sleeping late, visits with friends for swimming and parties, soccer for the boy, sleepovers for the girl, golf outings for both, their first trip to Yosemite (before the fires). And a Mom (and Dad!) making it all happen. Paying the bills, driving the car, cheering them on. Good for them.

But a hard season for me.

Tired of being in the house. Tired of being in the car. Tired of being surrounded by bodies. When you’re a mom, any time your children are anywhere within earshot, a measurable portion of your brain is ALWAYS in monitor mode. It’s rather like being on call 24 hours a day, all week, every week.

As a basic introvert (the cool thing to be now if you measure all the attention given us recently), summer for me is one long, slow leak of energy as from a battery. Constant. Relentless. The drips of energy slowly draining the tank.

This is the reason moms count down the days till school starts, the reason moms like this one do a happy dance when the school bus pulls away from the curb on that first day of school.

It’s not that we don’t love our kids or enjoy being with them. Never that. (OK, so maybe when they’re whining or rolling their eyes at us we don’t necessarily LIKE them.) But when they overstep their boundaries, pervert their privileges, and need to be grounded, it’s as much a punishment for the parent as it is for the child. Maybe more so. When your parents said, “This hurts me more than it hurts you,” they were right.

It’s tough to balance the daughter pulling away to spend more time with friends and the ongoing thrill of the first boyfriend and the son seduced too often by the ubiquitous screens – TV, computer, and any other flat surface with moving images, especially animated ones. (Some day, Bill Gates and the ghost of Steve Jobs will have to answer for creating a nation of zombies.)

So it’s no wonder some parents prefer going to work somewhere else. If co-workers roll their eyes or whine, you at least know you aren’t responsible for their bad behavior. You can chalk it up to their own bad parenting. (I’m convinced that we’d never have gone to war in Iraq if Saddam Hussein weren’t the victim of bad parenting.)

But it’s not just the kids that siphon off strength. It’s the additive effects of worrying about elderly parents far away, changes in job responsibilities, the dripping showerhead needing repair, and the dog commanding as much attention as possible to make up for all that was denied him last school year.

So on this Friday afternoon, when I’m so mentally tired I can’t string two sentences together coherently, the best I can do is slip into that space of escape known as the local movie theater. “We’re the Millers” won out over “The Butler” because I just didn’t want to think about class, race, and power structures, the things that go on in secret in the halls of power, even if the story involves the ubiquitous Oprah. Enough of mental gymnastics.  I’ll leave those to my academic colleagues for now.

I wasn’t expecting much from “We’re the Millers.” Apparently, few others were either. There were only three of us in the theater this afternoon. The move presents a conventional story – a group of down-on-their-luck people who learn to become a loving family. Lots of plot twists, R-rated language (and gestures), and the seductive stripper scene where Jennifer Aniston proves she still has it. Not Oscar-worthy (despite the coy look Jennifer and Jason Sudeikis give the camera after a remark about the dual roles they play in the movie), but very clever, worth the price of a matinee. I laughed at the scenes and admired the finesse of the actors. As their story unraveled on the screen, so too did my dark mood, and that too was worth the price of admission.

So thank you, Jennifer and Jason. Thank you for reminding me that family life is always challenging, but not without humor, and that “parent” is a role, not a person.

Gatekeeping (Or How I Spent My Christmas Vacation)

English: Closeup picture of a miniature Christ...

January 4, 2013

Two days after Christmas,
The glow draining from the season,
The caroling voices fall silent.
The tree lights blink mutely at me.

*

Entering the daily days again is hard.
My husband’s shrill alarm at dawn
He groans his way to the garage
To the refuge of his car before he confronts his day.
And I am again alone
To bear, Atlas-like, the weight of home.

                    *

 Downstairs in the afternoon
My daughter, budding in her 16-year-old sexuality,
Sits too close to her new, first boyfriend.
Their intimacy tugs at something in me.
I am unsettled.

*
At night, my son sneaks from bed
To steal more minutes of video games
Online, with a partner in Finland
Where the day blazes while we (should) sleep.
This is not the first time he’s been seduced into darkness
By the technological siren.

*
Even the dog, in his wonder of fur
Slinks from the kitchen
Where we’ve given him respite from the rain.
He breaches the firm, invisible line at the kitchen door
Wanting to be with us near the couch.

*

Here I am
A latter-day Holden Caulfield,
Dismantled tinsel in hand.
I push them back,
Penalize
Stand firm.
Holding closed that door to freedom for a few years more
Pushing (back) against the boundaries of my heart.