Jan 31 2010

Missing Everybody

In case you didn’t catch it, our little Buddy-roo’s name is derived from JD Salinger’s famous high school reading list title, Catcher in the Rye. Salinger happens to be De-facto’s favorite author, inspiring the nickname and prompting his email to me this weekend reminding me of its source.

I wonder how many people in the world, when they heard that Salinger died, walked to their bookcases and reached up to pull this dusty book off the shelf and skim through its pages. That’s the first thing I thought to do when I heard the news. How propitious to be at my mother’s house, I thought, where I lived during my high school years. Immediately, I pictured the thin paperback, the design of its cover and its exact placement – third shelf up, to the right – on our bookcase.

Except it’s no longer there. My mother didn’t even save it for the damn yard sale. I think she donated it to the AAUW book sale last year, or maybe the year before. The shelf where it used to rest is now barren.

I picked up the phone. Dialed a number I know by heart, still, all these years later. The man who answered was one of five boys who lived across the road, our earliest childhood friends. Now he has children of his own who are growing up in that very same house, a house filled with stories and mischief and crocheted blankets. A house that gave me my first sense of other – their books, their objects d’art, their print of the Peaceable Kingdom – where I got my first notion of the world outside my own family’s universe. It was other, and yet it was as familiar and comforting as anything I knew from our side of the road.

Twenty minutes later he rang the doorbell. He is as handsome as ever, an older version of his original self. He handed me his high school copy of Catcher in the Rye. “It’s red,” he said, laughing, “when you called, all I could think of was it had a red cover.” He also knew right where to go to retrieve it.

I loved that his memory of the book, like mine, was so visual and spatial. Maybe this ranks with questions like, Where you were when JFK was shot? or What you were doing on 9/11?
This major milestone of modern literature merits the questions that probably most of us can answer: What color was your copy of Catcher in the Rye, and on which shelf was it kept?

I handled the old red paperback with care, its pages more than yellowed, but still legible. Then, on page 28, halfway down there it was:

Be a buddy. Be a buddyroo, okay?

The satisfaction of finding this slightly obscure reference in the book was too soon replaced with a bittersweet longing for my own Buddy-roo and her sister Short-pants. De-facto is a most capable solo pilot, so I do not worry (much) about how things are going at home in Paris. But that does not keep me from missing them.

I think of all the stories I’ve told about being frustrated or fed up, about missing my freedom, or about how good it is to have time alone and time away from my children. All those tales are true, just as true as this: I miss them so fiercely right now. I wish they could be here, so I could get that little hit that comes when their faces light up to see me after being gone, even for just an hour. I wish they could be here, to comfort me in that unconscious way that they do, just by being who they are. I wish they could be here, just one more time, to see their Grammy, to crawl in bed with her, like they so love to do.

And so it is, then, just as Holden Caulfield says in that famous last line of Catcher and the Rye: “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

Jan 30 2010


I’ve been sleeping on the loveseat in my mother’s study. You would not think it comfortable, but curled into a fetal position within its square arms and rounded pillows I manage to find restorative sleep. Not that it is uninterrupted sleep, but at least there is plenty of it. I cannot help but compare the rhythm of these nights to those first ones just after bringing my babies home from the hospital. There is something satisfying about the tender caretaking that is administered in the quietest part of the night.

We are spun in the cocoon of Hospice. A cold and white winter waits outside. We are warm and attentive within the walls of this old, noisy house. When my mother sleeps, I hear the sounds of ticking clocks and shutters knocking in the wind. The furnace kicks in and rocks the whole house, just like it always has. I like all these odd, familiar noises, even in the night. They keep me company when my mother is asleep.

A social worker called and asked to come see my mother, who is not that interested in visitors, but we realized this is all part of the Hospice checklist. As it should be; aside from the furniture, the physical care and the advice about administering pain-relief, it is entirely appropriate to assess the dying patient’s need for psychological and emotional support. It’s not like everyone knows how to die.

She arrived with a notepad, an over-compassionate expression and a gift, a hand-knit shawl. She asked all the questions my poor mother has answered already a half-dozen times in the last week as each Hospice staffer has come to meet her and familiarize themselves with her case. And then more questions: Are you ready to die? How do you feel about dying? My mother has done much thinking about this topic, evident from that natural language she used to convey her state of mind. She graciously indulged the long string of questions, though it taxed her to talk for so long.

And then finally, she’d had enough.

“You know,” she said. “I remember something Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once told me…” (I wish I could repeat the rest of what my mother said, I’m sure it was wise. But I didn’t hear it because of the extra-loud Ch-Ching that went off in the back of my brain.)

A personal affiliation with the Guru of death and dying obviously trumps an inquisitive social worker. My mother has always known how to gently move things along. Her pointed comment led to a bit of final small talk, appreciative goodbyes and call if you change your mind about the Chaplain. Yes, of course, and thanks for the shawl.

(Kübler-Ross, it turns out, was a commencement speaker at a college where my mother worked. Mom really did have occasion to speak with her, at length. Who knew?)

After the social worker left, my mother eyed the shawl. “Make sure it ends up in one of the boxes upstairs, for the yard sale.” For years she’s been putting stuff aside for this heralded event. Even in the last days of her life, she is still anticipating the moment when her home will be free of the clutter she’s collected. I told her that in heaven there are effortless yard sales, managed by angels, where everything sells.

Jan 25 2010

What You Must Do

Once triggered, a strong memory can hover. It stays close to the surface, stretching its legs after being folded into the recesses of the past, aching to be a story that’s told again. Just a week ago I wrote a few paragraphs about a gripping period in our life, five years ago, when Short-pants had a medical crisis. I don’t mean to dwell on it, but it comes to mind again this week, with good reason.

It’s a story we try to tell enough so Short-pants can own it without shame. It’s a story we try not to tell too much, so it doesn’t become the dominant story of her life. Sometimes, when I visit her room to adjust her bedcovers while she sleeps, I trace my finger along the arced scar that crowns her head. I once told her it was a permanent tiara. I’ve heard her repeat the phrase with pride. That’s the thing about a scar; it’s a story you get to tell for the rest of your life.

Short-pants’ six-week stint in the neurosurgery ward started before Thanksgiving and spanned the holiday season. I was prepared to throw in the towel on Christmas; I had no energy to shop, decorate or enact the role of Mère Noël. But friends and family pressed the spirit of Christmas upon us. They sent gifts for the girls, optimistic that Short-pants would survive, determined that Buddy-roo wouldn’t go without the full-on holiday fuss. Our neighbors surprised us with a 6-foot Christmas pine. And there were angels – so many people sent angels. We must have received five or six hanging angel ornaments for our tree.

One angel in particular was – and still is – my favorite. It was a gift from one of De-facto’s aunts, a woman who sets a classy standard for the family, a woman who has navigated the burdens of her life with tremendous grace. The ornament is made of silver. It’s heavy in your hand, and when hung by its lace loop, pulls the bow of the tree low toward the ground. There are words engraved on one of the wings:

You must do the thing you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

About the time this silver angel arrived, I was at a wall. It wasn’t much fun, being a hospital mom. Every day, punching the intercom buzzer to be let in to the ICU, sitting at Short-pants’ side, worrying and wondering while trying to assure her and give her hope. At the same time staying alert to the nuances of the doctor’s throw-away comments, hounding them down to find out what and why and when. I went to the hospital every day; De-facto and I took shifts, morning and afternoon, overlapping a few hours mid-day to be there with her together. By the time Christmas was near, I was completely spent.

I remember opening the box and rubbing my fingers along the wings of the angel, touching the words, as though I might be able to physically absorb them. Isn’t it perfect how the universe knows when you’re desperate and sends you exactly the message you need to hear? I will always cherish this angel. I have a little moment with her every Christmas; I have not yet succeeded to place her on the tree without weeping.

My mother had planned to spend the holiday with us that year, so she came as scheduled, bewildered at first about how to help, but then finding her way, baking Christmas cookies, doting on Buddy-roo. The hospital was very strict about “parents only” in the ICU. Whenever friends came to support us there, they were obliged to do so from the waiting room. But on Christmas day, one of the more compassionate doctors had a word with the nurses on duty, and an exception was made.

So there was my mother sitting on one side of the hospital bed, me on the other. She reached across Short-pants’ sleeping body and rested her hand on mine. I had grown accustomed to seeing my 3-year old daughter tucked tight under the blanket, emaciated, listless, with a helmet of gauze wrapping on her head. I was used to the machines and sensors and tubes. For my mother, it was startling and disturbing. “I just don’t know how you do this every day,” she said.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mother in tears. She’s just not a cryer. But now she sat across from me, wet-eyed, pained to see what we were enduring each day.

“Somehow, you just do it,” I told her, “you do the thing you think you cannot do.”

These days Short-pants is fully recovered from that grim experience, immersed in her vibrant life, sometimes in the clouds, but with a well functioning intellect and imagination and a healthy emotional intelligence. My mother has relished the opportunity to watch her grow into the soulful young person that she has become.

But now I’m sitting by another hospital bed, the one that’s been set up in the study of my mother’s house, the bed in which she will be spending her last days. After a valiant contest with leukemia, an opponent that she held at bay for much longer than anyone – especially her doctors – expected, she is letting go. She will take no more treatments, no more blood transfusions. She has decided to let her life run its course.

This is hard. It’s hard to say goodbye, it’s hard to see her suffer. But I know what I must do. I will sit beside her. I will hold her hand. I will squeeze it so she knows I am there. I will hold it the way she has always held mine. I will do that thing – if I must – the thing I think I cannot do.

Jan 23 2010

All Blue

Her entire mouth was blue. Lips, chin, cheeks, and tongue – all blue. The initial shock (Is it blood? What is it?) was replaced too quickly with anger when I realized what it was. Ink. It’s always ink. Why her school insists the kids use a stylo plume is beyond me. It’s not easy to write with – especially if you’re a lefty, like Short-pants. It makes a huge mess on the paper and covers her hands with ink every time she does her homework. But it is required.

I looked down at the floor. The beige carpet, selected for neutrality and alleged durability, colored with huge blotches of blue. There were blue stains everywhere, on her bed sheets, on the comforter cover. The final punctuation on the wall: a perfect handprint, in indigo.

I’d like to tell you I laughed out loud and took her over to the mirror and showed her how silly she looked, like a creature from an Avatar tribe. I’d like to tell you I calmly asked her about the blue ink covering face and hands and clothes and most of her bedroom floor, inquiring, gathering data, seeking to understand what had happened. I’d even like to tell you I counted to ten, releasing my anger so that if I had to scold her, at least I could do it in a sensible, thoughtful way before asking her to disrobe for an impromptu bath.

But no. It’s a classic parenting scenario. And I blew it.

I yelled at her. Sharp, angry, questions: “What’s on your face? How did it get all over your hands? What were you doing?” And when I saw the blue on the carpet, I started firing ballistic missiles.

She exploded, of course, into tears. Repeating, again and again, I’m sorry, Mama, I’m so sorry. Breathless crying. I didn’t spank or hit her, but I suppose I struck her with the violence of my words. It took an entire bath for her to settle down.

“I hate myself,” I said later, tossing in bed, unable to sleep, “I should know better.” De-facto turned and spooned with me, wrapping his arm around me, pulling me close. “You have a lot on your plate right now,” he said, “don’t add this.”

There’s always a bit of stress when we have a job, but this week put me in a spin. To get the kids fed and dressed – let alone to get myself prepared to get out the door – and scurry them to school and sprint to the metro to make it to the meeting in time was a real grind. I only have to do this once or twice a month. I’m in awe of mothers with regular jobs who handle this every day, week-in-week-out. Three days in a row floored me.

That I am going away for two weeks (or more?) adds fuel to the fire. It’s less about getting ready to go and more about getting ready to be gone. Lots of little details: paying bills, organizing child-care, anticipating school assignments, leaving little notes for De-facto. The unspoken stress about the trip ahead, well, that just gets folded and packed in the suitcase with the rest of my clothes – all of which really could use an ironing out but I’ll deal with that – with all of it – when I get there.

I’m too often stretched to the max like this, squeezing in to the short days all the things that must be done so that when 4:30 rolls around, honestly, I’m not ready for them to be out of school. I want a few more hours of solitude. I’m not ready to scramble off and get one and take her here and go back to get the other and take her there and have you done your homework or please finish your dinner or get in the bath or brush your teeth. It’s not like they just take orders and say “yes, ma’am.” There is a fantastic production of lollygagging and goldbricking and stretching out of tasks on their part. I may need to move the night along chop-chop – so I can finish that project or prepare for tomorrow’s meeting or write the post that’s been seeding in my brain all day, or hell, just have a few minutes to sit quietly, read, watch a movie, or simply collapse into bed – but that doesn’t mean they will comply.

It’s not that they are so terribly misbehaved. They are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do! They’re playing. They are marvelously distracted by the present, by the current thought that just crossed their mind or by the toy they just happened to see in front of them on their way up the stairs to do something else, like, for example, that fascinating coloring book – the one with the ink on the pages and a stencil to scratch it off, and wow, look what happens to it when it gets wet. (The source of all that blue, we find, was not the stylo plume, but a high-tech coloring book.)

In order to let them play, I have to juggle what role I want to play.

I did not audition to be a nagging, scolding parent. I idealized a version of me: firm but friendly, rigorous but respectful. Strict but sassy. I usually start out that way: questioning, encouraging, firmly polite rather than barking orders. But sometimes things spiral down. There are those days when I just don’t have the patience, or the feelings are simply too strong, when I hear my own voice shift from being stern and admonishing to just plain hollering. The momentary release brings a very temporary satisfaction, but then it feels worse. And it doesn’t solve the problem the way I’d hope for my girls to learn to solve problems. I’m willing to “talk hard” as we say, but I hate it when I have to yell.

So we sit down to sort it out. I ask questions and listen. I tell them how I feel and what I need. There are tears. Some half-hearted smiles stretching into honest-to-goodness ones. Apologies extended all around. Hugs. Promises. Resolutions.

Then later, when it’s quiet, I go upstairs to check on them, leaning close to sweep the hair off their sleeping foreheads and to plant kisses on their spongy cheeks. Each has her own distinct smell, one like cookie-dough, the other like corn silk. In their slumber, they are oblivious to me and to the world outside their cozy attic bedrooms. They breathe rhythmically – even snoring lightly – sleeping still and sweet and I see how perfect they are, blue fingers and all.

Jan 19 2010

After Shock

When Short-pants was just a little girl, she had a big story with menacing words like convulsion, coma, and emergency surgery. A massive growth in the right frontal lobe of her brain was originally diagnosed as cancer, but post-surgery lab tests gave us a break; it was just a brain abscess. Still, there were complications: a secondary infection, meningitis and persistent vomiting as a result of the nasty cocktail of intravenous antibiotics that didn’t seem to be shrinking the abscess as predicted. The MRI made it look as if it was re-forming, like the image of a hurricane gaining speed and force on a tropical weather map. A second brain operation was required to remove the abscess for good.

All hands were on deck. De-facto’s family appeared en masse and quietly took over our home, attending to Buddy-roo, organizing our lives, making sure we ate meals of substance and nourishment. My brother the doctor was on call every night to interpret the medical-speak we encountered each day. My sister, who happened to be in Viet Nam at the time, managed to inspire the Archbishop of Hanoi to put his priests to work in prayer. An e-mail tree was established; we wrote a message every night that was sent out to a few people, who sent it to other people, who sent it to more people, until a web of friends and family had the latest news about Short-pants and put us in their prayers.

We were in crisis mode. We didn’t hesitate to ask for help, and people didn’t hesitate to offer it. Perfect strangers came to our emotional and spiritual aide. Doctors who were friends of friends reviewed her dossier and offered additional opinions. We accepted anything that was given to us, without quid pro quo worries.

As awful as it was, fathoming what life would be like if she didn’t survive, or what it would be like if she did survive but with serious complications, there was also something really simplifying about it all. De-facto and I had a crystal clear sense of purpose every day: to give emotional support to our daughter, to do the medical interface, advocate for her care and to try to hold each other – and our family – together.

A crisis can produce this kind of clarity. We do what needs to be done. We make quiches, soups and casseroles. We bring blankets, we send money. Priorities become certain, we function in highly effective ways despite the lack of sleep, loss of appetite, and moments of extreme despair.

In other words, we rally.

The nightly e-mail network we branched together pales in comparison to the force and velocity of information sharing that exists today. The brute force of the Internet is staggering: a well-loved blogger has a stroke, an entire on-line community assembles to support her family, not only with words, but with money and real-time assistance. When an amazing child whom everyone read rooted for doesn’t make it, there’s an outpouring of financial and moral support from an electronically connected community. An earthquake devastates an entire country and the world rallies to offer aide. It all makes you feel good about what human beings can do.

After Short-pants was released from the hospital and well into her rehabilitation, people started to forget about our family crisis. The urgency of our news diminished; without a daily calamity to report, our update messages went from daily to weekly to monthly to rarely. Everyone returned to their regularly scheduled life, and assumed that we had, too.

Except our life was still upside-down. We were thrilled that she was home, but schlepping out to the rehab hospital three or four times a week, juggling doctor’s visits and follow-up tests as we tried to recapture our own professional schedules was wearing us out. Being careful about keeping a steady stream of attention on Buddy-roo in the midst of all this took energy, too. This was when I was most afraid that I might break down. Not in the thick of the crisis, when everyone was cradling us, when there was clarity and singularity of purpose. It was just as hard – and I had less personal stamina – when we were “out of the woods.” The crisis was over, but our lives were still far from normal.

The awkward memory of this après-crisis phenomenon was prompted by reading one of the blogs in my sidebar, Generation Y, written by a Cuban woman who has to work miracles just to get her posts on the Internet without being censored. She writes, “It especially frightens me that three months from now the suffering will no longer be a headline in any newspaper and people will have ceased to feel the urgency of the Haitian drama.” I’ve thought about that, too. We send our money and we go on about our life. What else can we do?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The crisis in Haiti is still full-throttle, and will be for some time. Help is needed now. If you haven’t donated, here are some reputable aide organizations. (I donated here.) Or if you’re in the States, all it takes is a single text message. If you blog, here’s another creative way to raise funds. Sending $10 – the cost of two draught beers at my favorite café – will make a difference, when you consider how many millions of people are donating just that. It adds up, fast.

Just remember that the crisis may end for us when the media coverage dies down, but not for them. Whether it’s for Haiti or any other cause – the charity of your choice, or the friend across town who’s grandmother just died – it’s so important to follow up and check back in. Maybe it’s another donation, another mention, another offer to help – even just a quick hello that says you haven’t forgotten – that could mean more than we know.

Well, in fact, I know. It means everything.

Jan 13 2010

Dry with a Twist

It was a workhorse, working so hard – harder than it should have. European appliances are known for their interminable cycles, but even after the very dry setting, lasting much more than an hour, I’d have to add another 20 minutes. And sometimes more. The fatigue was apparent.

I should have cleaned the filter more often. Not the regular lint filter in the door, but the one in the tray underneath, the über-filter. It’s not that this didn’t occur to me. Along with the all other should do things that come to mind over the course of a day, it was on that list I never quite get to.

Last week it just gave up. It turns and turns and turns, but it doesn’t dry. The handy guy who always helps us out with these questions said the repair would be difficult and costly. And he’s a scrapper. If he wouldn’t fix it, then it probably isn’t fixable.

The dryer is dead. Long live the dryer.

Except there won’t be an accession. We’ve decided not to replace it. We’re leaning green, going line-dry.

We all say we care. We do care. But are we willing to change our habits – really change them – to help the environment? It’s easy to justify our choices in the name of convenience, or make excuses about how such a little energy-saving gesture saves nothing compared to the amount of energy wasted by entities far larger than our household. The same goes for recycling. What difference will one family really make, given the amount of garbage that is disposed of so carelessly? Is it even worth the time and effort it takes to wash those bottles and containers and separate plastic from paper from glass? Half the time I wonder if it all doesn’t just end up in the same landfill anyway. Do we really know what happens to the contents of our recycling bins?

In the scope of things, it is a small gesture. One tiny green decision not to replace an appliance. But I am reminded that small changes add up. Maybe the kilowatt hours of electricity we save won’t make a difference, but at least I can mean it when I tell Short-pants and Buddy-roo that I’m concerned and conserving. Walk the green talk, at least a little.

There is another reason that De-facto‘s so pleased with this decision: it’s cheaper. Except for the touchy issue of the crunchy towels. Fortunately (or maybe not) there is a laundromat across the street from our building. So when I’m not dutifully hanging small garments across the wires of the drying rack that creates such an elegant aesthetic in our living room, I’ll be collecting coins and running up and down four flights of stairs with a laundry basket, just to give those towels a softer touch.

How long do you think this will last?

Jan 4 2010

To the (Blue) Moon

Every Monday (and Thursday) the same familiar faces gather, parental brows furrowed with the end-of-the-day rush; a crowd of tall, coated strangers stand uncomfortably in a room with too few chairs. At 6:15, precisely, the torrent of children pours into the lobby of the conservatory, a parade of little people laden with black instrument cases and swollen school backpacks. I always crane my neck to look for Short-pants; vigilant for that precious moment, the very first instant when her searching eyes find me in the pack of parents. Her expression shifts in a nanosecond, from awkward to assured, leaving the realm of the unclaimed and taking her rightful place at my side. I never get tired of that look, or the zealous greeting that follows immediately: “Mama!”

Yesterday, her music teacher walked behind her, his hand barely on her shoulder. I couldn’t tell if this was by chance, or if he was accompanying her out of the class. When she called out to me, he smiled and raised his eyebrows, a warning, I suppose, that he was escorting her for a reason. He is celebrity-handsome, by the way, a blonde kind of creature who, were he not teaching music theory at the public conservatory, could as easily be modeling Calvin Klein underwear.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he said, “about your daughter. She was very nervous today.”

She was a bit flustered when I picked her up from school to take her to the conservatory. The frigid temperatures didn’t make playing in the school courtyard very pleasant; she’d gotten a chill after lunch and couldn’t shake it all afternoon. I explained this.

“Yes, that’s what she told me,” he said, “but she is very often a bit nervous and dans la lune.” (I’m translating this exchange from French to English, except for these few words, dans la lune, which mean, literally “on the moon” and figuratively, “in the clouds.”)

“It would help if you could work with her, between classes,” he said, “to be a bit less dans la lune.”

I understood exactly what he meant. He was telling me that Short-pants is easily flustered and a bit spaced out. Though she can be totally focused; she wrote and illustrated a 22-page hand-made book on how to make a Mandala, and worked at it tirelessly, without any prompting from us. But it’s true that often she has her head in the clouds, leaving her eye-glasses who-knows-where, reading four books at the same time, bookmarking them by leaving them spread eagled in every room of the house. It’s a little bit of a miracle that she gets out the door with all her belongings in the morning.

“Yes,” I said to him, “except she has so few years left to be dans la lune. It’s a pity to cut that connection while it’s still so strong.”

Oui, c’est dommage,” he acknowledged my point while standing firm: “but eventually, you must.”

Short-pants and I walked home without talking. It was too cold for words.

The much-heralded New Year’s Eve blue moon is waning, but the last few nights the sky has been so clear that I could see the unfiltered moon through the skylight, beaming in the girls’ rooftop bedroom, proud of its auspicious ranking. Tonight I stole upstairs and searched for that moon again – just a half-moon or even a sliver would be reassuring – but the cloud-cover lays a dark amber blanket over the city, hiding the moon from view. My heart is heavy, though it shouldn’t be. Short-pants is a resilient one. She’ll go to the moon if she wants to.

Photo Credit: Jean Paul Roux via Space Fellowship

Jan 2 2010

New Year’s Manifesto

Lest I become the cobbler with shoeless children, I am occasionally reminded to practice what I preach professionally and enact a few creative, reflective and even visionary exercises with my own family. This time of year is good for such activity; the idea of a new beginning conjures up a tabula rasa and the urge to rectify any imperfections of the previous year.

I had stellar inspiration: Four women, three of whom I don’t even know. This is the beauty of social media; if you follow a few new and fascinating people outside your circle of known friends, you’ll get a few new and fascinating ideas.

The zen-like social-media maven Gwen Bell wrote a blog post about creating a personal manifesto that I wanted to eat, it was so nourishing. Also via one of her tweets, I discovered the mixed-media artist, writer and designer Lisa Sonora Beam, who adds a special aesthetic to the activity of goal setting. Both of these women inspired me to be deliberate about documenting our goals for the coming year.

More inspiration came from writer Gretchen Rubin, who I really wanted to hate because she’s so, well, happy. Except when you make even a short visit to The Happiness Project, it’s really hard to resist getting in step with her life-is-short-why-waste-any-of-it-not-being-happy philosophy. Even my prickliest friends would agree it makes sense.

Then there’s my colleague facilitator Delphine, the Maman Creative whose blog is all about mindfully engaging her children’s creativity. From her I get ideas of things to do with my kids, not just for them.

So I put Gwen, Lisa, Gretchen and Delphine together and came up with the idea of the All-Family Personal Goal Manifesto Collage Day.

De-facto has plenty of fruitcake in him, so he was up for it. If it involves cutting and pasting, I can count on Short-pants and Buddy-roo to participate. So this is how we spent the entire afternoon on the first day of the year: I’d dug out every magazine in the house and set out glue-stick and tape and scissors so my peeps and I could create our personal manifestos for 2010.

I tried to simplify the process to three steps: 1) Imagine who you want to be in 2010, and make a collage to demonstrate it; 2) Make a list of goals that will help you become who you want to be; 3) Make a collage about those goals.

Later it became: 1) Just make a collage of your goals for 2010. (This was an instruction that Buddy-roo and De-facto could handle.)

The flipping of magazine pages and ripping and cutting began.

Short-pants and written her goals the night before, when I first suggested the activity. (She is not the recipient of the procrastination gene that De-facto and I both share.) She re-copied her first draft and set about bringing it to life with images. You might notice that the #1 goal on her list is “Get more independince.” She’s been walking around saying, “I declare my independence!” ever since she finished this exercise.

Buddy-roo didn’t seem particularly interested in articulating any of her goals; she was more in the mood to shop. Her collage soon became a book with six pages of pictures: women in elegant dresses, a pair of high-heeled shoes, a sterling-silver jeweled bracelet, a Dolce & Gabbana perfume flask and two designer kitchens. The visual cues were undeniable; It could have been a mood board for any luxury brand. I made a few gentle suggestions, like, “Can you add any images to represent things you’d like to do, or things you’d like to learn in the next year?” She answered my prompt by gluing in a picture of Jennifer Aniston. “Tell me about that,” I probed. “I want to grow my hair out,” she said. Then she pointed to another picture I hadn’t seen yet, “And I want a horse.”

De-facto finished his collage first, a complex composition of his aspirations for the year, which he prepared with running commentary about all the other facilitators we know who do strategic goal-setting activities. “This isn’t how Frank Prince would do it,” he said.

“Just pass the glue,” I said, in my newfound happy voice.

I was, of course, the last person finished, still searching for that perfect image to convey the rather abstract concept of “letting go” when our dinner guest arrived and I realized I had to clean up and start cooking. I thoroughly enjoyed this very tactile activity, elbow to elbow with my most loved people, the table covered in magazine scraps and sticky fingers. It was a vrai moment of being aware; I was happy, even in the midst of the simplest activity. (And that’s one of my goals.)

Gwen Bell says, about this process, “When you write your goals, the whole world opens up in front of you.” I know this to be true; when you write something down, it takes form and shape. But what happens when you wrap your goals in a picture of long, blonde Jennifer-Aniston hair?