A new poem by RJSL


Because there aren’t enough warm days to sit on the porch

Because it’s fun to pair tabouli and pussy willow together

Because a photograph isn’t worth a thousand words

Because it’s tiresome to complain about the weather

Because my husband is kind when a relative makes fun of my father’s cell phone

Because my six-year-old tells me she loves me more than I love her

Because the world is full of North Face jackets and Coach bags

Because the bark of birch trees peels and curls

Because my mother can make flowers bloom in unlikely places

Because when I see a goldfinch at the feeder I want to put it in a cage

Because poets can fly



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Marathon Monday 2013

This year the marathon monday was different to say the least.

I took my three girls to the dentist for cleanings in the morning. It took longer than usual because one of them needed to have her sealants re-done. So we were later than I would have liked getting out to Natick to watch the marathon.

We also stopped to pick up my dad. My dad is usually the one who gets the Globe and knows who the favorites are; he’s the one who directs me where to park in Wellesley and finds the best place to stand so the little ones can see. But since we were already so late because of the dentist, we decided to stay at his place and watch the  women finish live on t.v.  Once we did that, we were tempted stay on to watch the men’s finish.

So by the time we got to Natick, there were more paper cups on the course than runners. And there were no crowds. Kids were actually on the road giving out high fives, and Laila soon became one of them. We watched a juggler/jogger go by. We admired people’s dogs. We sat and enjoyed the sunshine. We clapped as the few runners who were still coming went by.

At this point, I began to regret having watched the ending on t.v. rather than get to the race in person. Next year, I’ll plan better, I thought to myself. Maybe even take the girls into Boston to the finish line.

The Boston marathon is fun it’s fun to watch and to cheer on the hot, hot days, the too cold. I love the anticipation of seeing the first wheelchair racers, then the first men, and then the first women. I yell and scream as loud as I can for them, and it takes at least an hour of un-ending cheering for me to get tired of watching runners of all shapes and sizes go by. Last year, we had not been home for the marathon. Last year we had been in Morocco visiting my husband’s family, staying in the same house with his parents, his grandmother, his brother and sister-in-law, and their three children.

If the marathon monday hadn’t quite worked out as I had planned that’s mostly because I didn’t really have a plan. I didn’t have anyone specific to cheer on, as I sometimes have, so no one was counting on me to be a certain point on the route at a certain time. I didn’t really have to be there. On the other hand, going late did beat staying home and did the job of keeping my mind off of my cat Luis who was in the hospital with a less than 50% of recovering from kidney failure. It had been a tough weekend.

It was on the way to see our Luis cat around 4 pm or so that I first heard the news of the bombings.  At that point nothing was clear about what had happened other than an explosion had killed two people. In fact, the radio station I was listening to said authorities were going out of their way to not categorize the explosions as terrorist related.

My husband was home when we got back and I knew he was worried. He didn’t know that Sonia had asked if we could go into Boston to watch just hours earlier. He didn’t know to be worried about us. But he was worried about what the news would bring.  Please don’t let it be Moroccans, I knew he was thinking.

This bombing is more personal to me than 9/11. The Boston marathon is my marathon. Boston is my city. The runners are my runners. The spectators are me, my friends, my family.

And so my mantra becomes the same as all the Moroccans I know: Please please please, let whoever did this, let them not be Moroccans.




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On Writing and Jealousy

I read an article today in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette about a woman in Upton, MA who has recently published a memoir about her chickens. Upton is probably about an hour or so from where I live with my chickens.

I could have written that! I thought indignantly. 

Yes my initial reaction on reading the article about a woman who had blogged for 3 years about her chickens before being “plucked from obscurity” was this: such a book is not worth my time since I already know what it’s like to raise chickens.

Nevermind that the memoir, at 241 pages, has to be about more than just that. Nevermind that I love memoirs.

I especially love memoirs about writers and in the past few months have read Marge Piercy’s Sleeping with Cats, and Richard Russo’s Elsewhere. I was not jealous reading these memoirs because they are by writers so far out of my league that I couldn’t compete with them even if I wanted to. Also, they are older than I am, so it is easy to give myself a pass, hoping that maybe, just maybe, by the time I’m in my  sixties and seventies, I will have written a book or two myself and have lived a life interesting enough to warrant a memoir. (Such a pass gives me plenty of time to procrastinate further!)

The article about the local woman, on the other hand, hurt.  Her chickens had cute names and individual personalities. And so do mine! There’s Snowball, Penny, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (I’ll be honest I can’t tell those two apart), Marshmellow, JJ, and PomPom to name a few from my flock. I know what breeds they are and what color eggs they lay. When I go out in the morning to feed them, they come running and greet me. Why didn’t I think to blog about my chickens?

The similarities do not end there. The newbie author works as an illustrator but has always wanted to write. I assume that what she means is that she always wanted to be a successful writer, an author. Or perhaps that she always wanted to write a book. And have it published.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been attracted to the writer’s life. I like solitary work. I like to be alone with my thoughts and surrounded by books. I like the physical act of writing — of being absorbed by words and sentences and the satisfaction that comes from creating something original. I like that writers read a lot. That they are friends with other writers. That once they have written something good, they get to travel around and promote what they have written. And they get so say, “I wrote this. This is mine.”

There’s only one problem. Writing well is hard. And time consuming.

And so I didn’t write the chicken memoir, a woman from Upton named Lauren Scheuer did.  Nor did I write an article about breast feeding while watching the Rosie O’Donnell Show even though I did that almost every day when my eldest daughter was born. When another woman did write such an article, and it was published in the New York Times, I remember the same roiling in my gut, the feeling that I had been cheated by the publishing gods. “I breastfeed! I watch the Rosie O’Donnell Show! I could have written that!”

But the thing is, you can’t be cheated by the publishing gods if you haven’t submitted  anything to be published. And you can’t submit anything to be published if you haven’t written the article, memoir, story, novel or poem in the first place. Damn!

An experience is just an experience. An idea is just an idea. Transforming it into art or even just a finished product is something else altogether.

Which brings me to my next point.

Yes, I raise chickens, but do I really want to write a memoir about it? No, I really don’t. So can I be happy for Lauren from Upton? Yes, yes I can. Maybe I will buy her book in order to support a local author and fellow chicken lover.  I will even be happy for her because she wrote about something that she is passionate about, and perhaps in doing so she will get more people interested in backyard chicken farming, which is worthwhile and fun. And maybe I will even like the book.

I once took a writing workshop where the teacher said something like this: Being a writer is not about wearing a special cape and flying around like a super-hero. Writers write. If you aren’t writing, you aren’t a writer.

True that. And so I’ve learned that it’s not just the “great idea” that is important. Writing well is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. And I’ve found that when I am working at my writing, even if none of it ever gets published except on this blong, I am less prone to be jealous, more open to reading others’ work with a proper attitude: that of  respect for someone was able to snatch one of the many great ideas that are always out there floating around for the taking and make it be something.

So congratulations Lauren, I look forward to reading your memoir, Once Upon a Flock: Life with my Soulful Chickens, with its 400 illustrations and photos.


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Truth and 5-year-olds

Yesterday was my daughter’s 5-year physical. My kids have always enjoyed going to the doctor and this appointment was no exception. Before we were set to go though, she wanted to know if she was going to have any shots.

I told her the truth which was that I wasn’t sure. I knew that kids needed to have three chicken pox vaccines before starting kindergarten, but I didn’t know if L. had had three yet or not. (I had gone through an afraid-of-vaccines stage where I had delayed vaccines for as long as possible. Can’t remember now why this seemed like a good idea at the time.)

My daughter trusts me and so she took this answer at face value. Why wouldn’t she? I am a grown up, and in her eyes, I know everything. Also, I’m her mom, and at this point in her life, that makes me her most treasured person in the whole world. At night, when it’s my turn to put her to bed, she will run her hands all over my face and whisper sweet-nothings to me. “You’re my favorite person,” she’ll say. “I love you more than anyone. More than God.”

My daughter’s trust in me can be heart-breaking and I would never want to break that trust. I want her to know that I am her rock, her one person in this world who will tell it to her like it is, with no bullshit and no I’ll give you the answer that is the most convenient for me crap.

Then we got the doctor’s office where apparently telling a 5-year-old she will be getting 3 shots is simply not done until said child is safely restrained on her parents lap. 

As I checked her in, L wanted me to ask the receptionist, whether she would have any shots. And so I asked her. “Five?” she whispered,  holding up her five fingers. “I think so.”

“She thinks so,” I repeated back to L. “But we’ll check with the doctor to find out for sure.”

First though came the nurse and measurements. L., like most little kids, took these tasks most seriously, standing carefully on the scale and then against the wall with her knees straight. She asked the nurse about the shots. The nurse said she didn’t know, that the doctor would have to check in her computer. You could tell she was lying though because her voice went way up.

I began to feel badly for my daughter. It was such a simple question! Why didn’t anyone have the balls to give her an answer?

Finally the doctor came in. She said hello. She opened The Computer. “Excuse me,” said L, in her shy, sweet little voice. “But um, will I be getting any shots?”

And guess what the doctor said? That she “didn’t know” that first she had to check L. all out. Why L. accepted this, I don’t know. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was surprised to find out that the all-powerful-Oz didn’t have the answer either. This was The Doctor afterall, and everyone thus far had said that The Doctor would have the answer. Or if not The Doctor, then at least The Computer. But still L. was being told to wait, though I was told on the down-low that she would be getting three: her 2nd HepA, her last polio, and the DDpT.

I bit my tongue at first. The Doctor seemed to think that we shouldn’t tell the truth, at least not yet, that we should let my daughter sit with the uncertainty that something unpleasant might happen in the future, or it might not. The Doctor seemed to think it would be best if my daughter be anxious for bit longer, even though she’d been concerned about the shots since before we left the house — a good hour ago now.

So she checked L’s ears, mouth, nose, throat. She checked her privates (“and you know why it’s okay for me to see you naked, right? Because I’m your Doctor.”) She had her stand and touch her toes. We discussed tooth brushing, flossing, night potty training, and L’s dislike of school. The Doctor seemed surprised that a 5-year-old would dislike pre-school.

“Really?” she said, turning to me to wink. “Well, you know what I think? I think school is really, really important because next year you’ll be going to kindergarten! Won’t that be fun!?”

Nevermind that my daughter, as a pre-schooler, doesn’t really know what kindergarten is, other than another unfamiliar word.

After the exam, once L. got dressed, The Doctor was back at The Computer and Laila again asked about the shots. “Well, right now it’s time for you to play a fun game with your ears and eyes,” The Doctor told her. Did I detect a tone of annoyance in her voice?

That was is it. I couldn’t take it anymore. “Yes,” I told her, “you’re going to have some shots.  At least two.” It seems all the vague answers, and subterfuge had rubbed off on me. As if the whole truth would have knocked her over. When in my heart, I know she is not that kind of kid.

The Doctor looked up, perhaps bracing for WWIII. L simply looked disappointed. “Oh,” she said. Just “oh.” Then she had her ears checked, and her eyes and then she got the three shots — one in one arm and two in the other. She cried but she didn’t have to be pinned down. She was clearly scared, but she didn’t scream or yell. And I knew she wouldn’t. Why? Because I know my kid. And my kid does not need to be lied to about shots. I’m not trying to be a show-off; it’s nothing I did to make her this way. It’s just the way she is.

I’m sure many kids do have melt-downs in the doctor’s office. And obviously The Doctor knows many who if told they would be getting shots would try to run out the door, scream and cry. But you know what?

I want my child to trust her doctor. If she thinks her doctor is trying to trick her, that is not cool.

I want my child to trust adults and by extension, the world. I want her to grow up knowing that if she asks a reasonable question, she will get a reasonable answer in return.

I want her to grow up knowing that her questions are important (especially if they have to do with her own well being and body) and will be treated with respect. If she grows up thinking that her perfectly reasonable questions are going to be ignored by adults, that is not cool.

I do not lie to my own kids, or any kids. I respect their serious questions, and hope that they will be able to handle the answers. No, L was not happy to hear that she’d be getting shots, but not everything in life is lollipops and toy stores.

Here’s an idea, how about explaining to her why the vaccines are important? You know, treating her concerns as a (barf) “teachable moment” by using, oh, I don’t know, science and history? It wouldn’t have to take long, I promise.

What if The Doctor had said, “I know shots stink. But you know what? They help keep you from getting some really bad diseases like polio which killed and crippled lots of kids when your grandmother was little. You don’t want to die or be crippled, do you?”

Okay, maybe that’s a little bit too much truth. But you get the idea.




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