Friday, October 28, 2011

Cold, white and perfect

 There is nothing less conducive to sleep than cold snow on bare feet.

 We went out there anyway, just before bed time, with no shoes on, to cool off after an impromptu after-dinner dance party.

 The snow was fluffy and cold and perfect.

 Impossible to stand still in. 

 It was still there in the morning, quietly waiting for us.

 Like a loyal dog,

or sturdy little mountains that are always there

right where you left them, when the clouds lift.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This snow, I could eat it

It's snowing!
It's snowing!
It's snowing!

I woke up this morning wondering if I would ever wake up without my first word being "shit," ever again.

There is hope.

I can lament all I want about being old and jaded, with not one speck of childish wonder left in me, but it seems I am mistaken.

Snow still excites me. And the first snow of the season is the mot exciting of all.

It is falling steadily outside my windows. I am in a snowglobe, within a snowglobe. Cozy, dry, and warm, mesmerized by the steady rhythm.
Not drifting, but falling
with purpose,
with conviction.

I am not exaggerating when I say this fills my heart with the purest joy I know. 

It never fails to make me just as excited and full of hope today as it did was a little kid pressing my face to the sky, with tongue outstretched. Okay, I'm going out to do that right now.

I'm tempted to go yank my kids out of school just so they can run around and scream and give the snow a proper welcome. I bet they are climbing the walls.


"Hello Mr. Principal. Esther and Isla have an, um, errr, special appointment. It can not, under any circumstances, be missed. "

Should I? Could I? 

And I am reminded of a Japanese poem, is it a haiku?, by Issa:

This snow

That wafts slowly down

I could eat it

Monday, October 24, 2011

Through a new lens

Okay, I did it.

Even though I am driving an old jalopy Volvo wagon, which my sister refers to as a "horror," and which my mechanic has taken to pleading me to break up with, and now even my kids are turning on, I've been far more open to and concerned with the fact that I needed a new camera.

I've been in denial ever since my trusty Panasonic Lumix drowned in the lake way back in July. I resuscitated it in a bowl of rice and rebelliously kept snapping away with it, subjecting you all to my flawed images that had enormous potential, but all seemed to harbor a white blotchy ghost, symbolic somehow, was it Ian, my missing husband? floating, weightless, somewhere off to the lower left, which spoiled the whole effect.

Ghosts be gone.

I marched into Staples this past Saturday, after spending hours standing on the side of a cold and blustery soccer field watching Esther run wild like a frisky pony in the wind, and went directly to the camera aisle. I am a salesperson's dream: Absolutely no research, no price comparing or bargain hunting. I simply said to the first person who came to assist me, "I need a new camera to replace this one. Show me which one is comparable and won't cost me more than $150."

He asked me a few questions and pointed to the Nikon Coolpix and I said, "Okay, I'll take that."


I find technology overwhelming and the more information I have the more confused and conflicted I get. I prefer to get the choosing part over with. Luckily I only do this with inanimate objects, and not with people, husbands for instance.

But I do have the urge to do the same with cars. I hate car shopping. I don't want a new car. I love my car, despite how much it looks a lot like a hearse and despite the fact that the doors are so sticky you have to dislocate your shoulders to open them, and despite the fact that every month it needs a new pricey repair and the front right axel sounds like it's going to give way at any moment.  Oh, and the way the back hatch door doesn't stay open and has a habit of falling down on my head, and once on Esther's back, is annoying, potentially hazardous, and leads to profanity in front of minors.

But I bought it outright, used with 80,000 miles on it,  and haven't had a car payment in about six years. It's got built in booster seats, love those Swedes, and a rumble seat in the way back that makes it just as kid friendly as a mini-van without the school bus effect. It's got 157,000 miles on it and I thought I would be able to drive it for at least another 50,000. Turns out, leaving it sitting in my dad's garage while we were in France was not the best thing for it.

But, honestly, this consumer talk is getting boring. I was going to tell you about the other cool, ├╝ber-cheap thing I spent my hard-earned money on at Staples, but I don't want to put anyone to sleep. Instead, I'll see if you can spot it in one of the pictures taken with my new camera. Hint: I'm in the picture with it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It can't hurt to ask

When relating our family' s little immigration saga to a friend who went to hell and back to adopt a baby from Rwanda, said friend mentioned a woman who works for our state senator and might be able to help us:

"She has phone numbers, direct lines, civilians don't have access to," she said.

I was appreciative, but humbled, especially in the face of the crazy bureaucratic hoops she and her husband had to jump through over the course of several painfully long years. My initial instinct was, well, our problem isn't so big to warrant calling Senator Leahy's office. Is it?

But when I recently overheard the girls playing a game called, "Daddy died in the war," then Ian called to say he had seen some really cheap airline tickets from Boston to London over Christmas, I realized this was getting serious.

"Christmas?" I shrieked. You mean you really won't be able to come home by Christmas?"

"I don't know," he said. "But it doesn't look likely, and if you have to come over, we better plan it now."

As I mentioned, we received notice that my petition for alien relative had been received and was being processed. We were given a receipt number and a website to consult to find out the status. As of now, the status is under "initial review." Then there is a section where you can enter the type of form you have submitted and it will calculate processing times. When you do this, it says 5 months. Five months. Since the petition was received on September 29th, that means Ian definitely won't be home for Christmas.

But does five months really mean five months, or is that the worst case scenario. It's in the Vermont Immigration office, how many of these applications could they have to review?

Turns out the Vermont immigration service center is one of just three immigration service centers in all of the United States. There is one in California, one in Texas, and one in Vermont. And the answer to how many cases they have to review, is thousands. Who knew? 

So I called my friend yesterday and got the name and contact info for the woman who works for the senator. I hemmed and hawed and practiced what I would say to her, then I called the number. She was out to lunch and I was directed to her voice mail. While waiting for the greeting to end, I chickened out and hung up.

"Vermont is plagued with problems right now," I thought. "Bigger problems than mine."

That afternoon Esther overheard me telling someone it could be five months before Ian comes home. "I thought he was coming home at the end of this month," she said. "We're never going to see him again."

"Yes we are," I said. "We are. It's just complicated."

After a long, sleepless night with the wind howling in invisible swirling assaults around our creaking swaying treehouse, the sun rose to display almost totally-bare trees. Seeing the trees stripped of their leaves like that reminded me of just how long and cold winter is. Isla came shuffling into my room, as she often does, and snuggled up beside me.

"My warm, beautiful Mommy," she said.

"How come you always wake up so happy," I asked.

"Our life is wonderful," she said.

Where did I find this kid? 

My courage and self importance restored, I called the number again today. Miraculously, the woman I was looking for picked up the phone. I sheepishly got around to explaining my problem and apologized for bothering her with trivial matters, and she cut me off:

"This is what I do," she said. "This is my job. Problems like yours are exactly what I am here for."

Having a warm, friendly, experiential wisdom-infused voice in my ear was profoundly encouraging. While she made no promises, she assured me she would call and check on the status, and she would also send me plenty of other info about what happens next after our petition is accepted. I hadn't realized there was a "what happens next" part, but apparently, there is, and it is just as daunting as, and even more expensive than, the first part. It was at this point I cracked a joke about the dog house I was building for Ian to live in once he finally got home. She laughed.

She was all ears, soft sympathetic ears. The concern in her voice validated my stress which I've been doing a really good job at denying. She also had access to lots of information, and said, with confidence, that it wasn't likely any of this would be worked out before Christmas.

And now I'm wondering just how cheap those airline fares to London are.

Knowledge is power. Even though the facts are not what I was hoping for, now that I know that these bureaucrats mean business, as daunting as it is, I feel better. All this not knowing is not good for a person. It a strain to see in the dark. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fallen leaves and circus acts

 We had a remarkably relaxed weekend, including an anxiety-free Saturday morning. It wasn't a conscious effort on my part, it just seemed to work out that way. On the menu today: Supreme contentment and nothing else.

I made waffles and we ate them with butter and maple syrup.

It was blustery.  The kind of day that would make Piglet's ears stream straight back behind him.

We made a  wet leaf pile and Essie and Isla jumped in. Essie's jumps were hesitant. She's grown so much. I think she remembers leaf piles being much bigger and softer. She tried her first leaf angel. It worked okay, but not as good as it does with snow. Isla learned the importance of keeping your mouth closed when getting buried in leaves.

 The girls retreated upstairs and entertained themselves. Then they called me up for a "circus." Essie introduced the circus in French. Mama bliss. Can I tell you how worried I've been about their French disappearing into the ether.?

Then she put on some beautiful music and Isla came out, in a shimmery- perfection pink tutu, just inherited from her cousin Emily, and danced the sweetest dance.

I begged them to pause the show so we could invite Ian. I ran and got the laptop and called him on the phone.

"Want to come to our circus?" I asked him. "Sure," he said.

I carried the laptop upstairs and sat down in the chair they put for me in the hall, put the computer in my lap and waited for Ian to call us on Skype. He called. I answered and the show began anew.

There were a few technical difficulties, mostly in the form of skipping music when Isla jumped too high and stomped too heavy.  Ian loved it. But I'm sure it was also killing him to not be here.

Later on that day, we were listening to more of the same music in the car, and Isla said,
"When I hear this happy music I feel like daddy is with me. "
"He is with us," Esther said. 
"He's in our hearts."

Mommy bliss, again. The achey, raw kind. 

"When I get bigger and I am a rock singer," Isla said, "I'm going to write a song about Daddy."

"What a great idea, Isla."
What a great idea. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Past lives

I’m not sure my parents knew what to think when I brought Mostafa, my Egyptian boyfriend, home for dinner, on my 21st birthday.

It was 1986. When we walked into the bright kitchen I felt the urge to say, “Mom, Dad.... this is Muammar.”

I met Mostafa in Switzerland while I was "studying" abroad. I went to Zurich to study German, Swiss culture and history. I spent much of my time speaking English with my friend Gretchen, drinking and smoking in cafes, shopping for cheap scarves, and hanging out with an Egyptian and a Turk.

Mostafa was our waiter at the Cafe Odeon, an always-crowded, gay bar that-- it was said- was once frequented by Lenin and Mussolini.

When Mostafa, tall and thin, with mischievous dark brown eyes, full lips and a broad nose, approached our table, we asked him to suggest a drink. He looked us over and suggested Kir, a sweet cocktail made from white wine and creme de cassis.

As he set the drinks down, he asked us where we were from.

“America,” we said in cheerleader unison.

“His eyes grew wide. “America?” he said, pausing a moment to think.  “America is fantastic. Everything is plastic.”

Mostafa spoke Italian and French, as well as German, Swiss German, English and his native Arabic.

Gretchen and I went back to the Odeon the next night.

Mostafa told us he had been “stuck” in Europe for 11 years, ever since he ran away from mandatory military service when he was 15. After leaving Egypt, he fled to Milan, where he worked “black” in the circus, swallowing swords and eating fire. He eventually landed in Switzerland where his passport ran out and he found himself trapped in a cold, wet, xenophobic city in a country the size of New Jersey.

Rather than return to Egypt and risk prison and or substantial fine, he found a Swiss woman to marry him and he stayed in Zurich, where he cursed the long winters and served outrageously- priced gin tonics to customers who insisted he put their change on the table, for fear their hands would touch. He was 26 and hadn’t seen his mother in 11 years. I was 20 and hadn’t been away from my mother for longer than a few weeks. 

By the end of the evening, Mostafa had introduced us to his Turkish friend, Ersin. We all sat on a bench overlooking the Zurichsee, smoking and talking (sometimes in English, mostly in German) in the raw February night until it was time to catch the last train home.  

A few nights later, I went back to the Odeon alone. I was on a mission to shed my privileged -American skin and get worldly through osmosis by glomming onto my intriguing new friend. When Mostafa’s shift was over, he took my hand in his and we walked through the cold, damp alleys of the Altstadt, smoking a hashish-laced cigarette. Then he took me to a “friend’s” apartment where we listened to Om Kalsoum, drank Earl Gray tea and smoked more cigarettes.

The next morning, when my host mother asked me where I had been, I didn't know the answer. 


When the semester ended, Mostafa made me promise we’d see each other again. Back in America, feeling like a different, new person, I robotically broke it off with my childhood boyfriend of seven years.

I met up with Mostafa again in Spain later that summer. We spent two weeks eating, drinking and sleeping at the beach and masquerading as a married couple in a lovely farm house in the country. At a bull fight in Madrid, I left the arena in tears at the sight of five or six cowardly men tormenting a bloody, disoriented bull.

When I left him at the airport in Madrid, I figured we wouldn’t see each other again.


Then, one blustery evening in December, I got a phone call at my college apartment in Burlington.

“Ciao Baby,” he said. “ I’m in a taxi. I am here. I came to you.”

Mostafa in Vermont was like a mitten on the beach. Mostafa in Vermont seemed a little more exotic, a lot more foreign, than Mostafa in Europe. Still, we had a party and I introduced him to all my immature, carefree, American friends. He scared some of them with his dark eyes. He made some of them laugh with his Tracy Chapman impressions: 

“Sorry.. Is all that you can say. Years go by and still.... words don’t come easily. But you can say baby, baby can I hold you tonight. Maybe if I told you the right words, at the right time, you’d be mine.”

Was it the lyrics or the melody that captured him so. I don’t know.

He spent his days drinking espresso and making friends at an Old World Cafe on Church Street while
I worked as a ski instructor at a nearby resort. I would come home from my frozen, snowy job to find the windows of my apartment steamy. Foreign smells, foreign voices, and the sad, mystical croaking of Om Kalsoum --he brought his cassette--floating across the driveway.

Mostafa carried his passport with him wherever he went, just in case anyone asked to see his papers.

"People don't do that here," I assured him. What did I know. I had never been a foreigner in America. I was born with white skin.

I brought him home to meet my parents and to celebrate my 21st birthday. We ate my favorite meal, chicken picatta,  and then chocolate cake. My sister, Nancy, had a friend over who just so happened to speak Arabic. There we were, at a dinner table in tinytown America, listening in awe to two people converse in a language none of us were offered in high school.

Then my mother wheeled my present, a shiny yellow mountain bike, into the dining room. Mostafa watched me closely. Later, on the drive back to Burlington he said, “You are still a child.”

How silly I --  a seemingly grown woman, rejoicing in my shiny new toy -- must have looked to this man, forced to into manhood at fifteen. 

On New Year’s Eve, while traipsing, mid-blizzard, through a foot of snow in downtown Burlington in search of a party, he complained bitterly in German:

“Ich kann nicht weiter,” (I can’t go any further) he said. “Gibt es nicht ein Taxi?” (Isn’t there a taxi?) I laughed at him and pulled him further. 

Not long after he went back to Zurich, he called to tell me he was in trouble and needed to leave Switzerland. I didn’t ask him why. His voice was quiet and sad. He wanted to come to America and asked me if I would marry him.

I said "no."

"I'm sorry, but I can't do that."


I’ve got this postcard, from somewhere in Egypt. I keep it stuffed into a book on the shelf in our office. Mostafa sent it to me many years ago, before I was married and had children. It’s written entirely in Arabic and I’ve no idea what it says.

It would be relatively easy for me to find out, but I still haven't.

There's always new stuff to read over here at Momformation. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fire on the mountains

The whole of Vermont, everywhere I look at least, reminds me of a sprawling Cliff Huxtable sweater. (My apologies to anyone who does not remember The Cosby Show.)

Death, it seems, can be stunningly beautiful. Stylish even.

I could wear it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Can't talk now

I've been busy blowing my nose with one hand and folding laundry, or stacking wood, with the other. Why is it that Fall colds invariably coincide with Indian summer. Is it so freaking hot out or do I have a fever? The sun is trying to kill me.

The majority of this unfolded, clean laundry was never dirty in the first place. It was, however, suspect, since it had been lying on beds or floors or unfolded in baskets on the floor in a house that seems to be infested with fleas. My biceps are bulging from the 345 scrubbing steel wool baths I have given my poor raw dog, yet still, they hop across my laptop when I'm in bed. Yet still my dog wakes me up in the night with her incessant scratching.

So I brought out the big guns, said to hell with environmental friendliness, clove shampoo and diamataceous earth or whatever it is called and went to the vet for some flea-be-gone of the poisonous persuasion. They gave me a bazooka bottle full of toxic spray and I followed the directions:

First I vacuumed, after having bought myself, on impulse, a brandy new vacuum cleaner, a Eureka Mighty Mite, seeing as how the one I was using was on loan from my parents, not that they knew I had it, and in all honesty, didn't suck. This, in vacuum speak, is not a good thing. Not the same thing as a date that doesn't suck, or a vacation that doesn't suck. A vacuum that doesn't suck, not to confuse anyone, sucks.

At age 45, I think I deserve a vacuum cleaner that sucks.

House vacuumed, dog and favorite stuffed animals on the porch, children trundled off to friends' houses, beds stripped, I wielded the spray can and had at it.

Every minute or so I pushed my face into a window screen and gasped for fresh air. After I was finished I retreated outside to wait. The can said the house is safe to return inside in an hour. I waited two, for good measure.

Once the coast was clear, and the toxic cloud had settled, I came back inside, said a prayer for all the dead fleas and their offspring, boing, brought the dog back inside and immediately dragged her upstairs into the bath for a final, ceremonial bath/flea drowning.  Then I applied Advantix, a topical poison, to the back of her neck, right where Isla's nose ends up when she hugs the dog.

If this doesn't work, I'm moving back to France. It's as good an excuse as any.

 What the wood pile has to do with all this....?
Well, it glowers at me, much like the laundry does, to stack it before it rains again, and before the next load, and the load after that, and the load after that, gets delivered. Any native Vermonter knows not to be fooled by the tease of Indian Summer. Winter is still coming, and it could be here tomorrow.

All the more reason to go for a walk today....

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

On the way to school

 Our school is celebrating National Walk to School Week this week.

 We have left the house at 7:20 a.m. without a hitch two days in a row.  Having somehow volunteered myself to be the parent leader, being late was not optional. Isla is not sure why we call it the "walking school bus" when there is no bus at all.

 Though it's been foggy and wet, gray and grisly, the scenery is striking.

 There was a brief fracas discussion regarding who got to hold the dog, Ruby, but Esther worked out a schedule and Isla finally accepted it: Monday and Wednesday, Isla holds the leash, and Tuesday and Thursday, Esther takes charge. Friday is reserved for me. Clever possum!

 Here is the part where I wow you with our Vermont-made views, just in case you were wondering where to take your next vacation.

 Would you believe I see this every day, yet still claim to "need" antidepressants?

 The way the clouds hang low and heavy over the valley, like the ghosts of glaciers past, gives things a mystical quality.

 Walking to school is conducive to deep thought.

 We also see things we might not have noticed before. While we were waiting for other walking families, the ones who never came, we discovered this fairy bath.

 We waited a while for a dirty fairy to come out of that tree stump in her towel, but none came.

 Signs that cows, or was it sheep, once grazed these lands.

 Can you hear me panting? I am an expert panter.

 One last hill to go, and we have 7 minutes to spare before school starts. This, in itself, is amazing. We have never been so on time two days in a row. What else is amazing is, this morning, sorry no pictures to document, our new school principal came walking up the street out of nowhere to join us on our walk.
Isla was struck dumb to see her principal, in jeans and an anorak, so far away from the school, and hear him ask if he could walk with us. How cool is that?

 Principal or no principal, could we possibly keep doing this every day? I would like to try, but I'm not making any promises.