The Adventures of Comma Mama

Sleep in 3Z and Technicolor

January 2015

Violet slept well for the first 9 months of her life, and then, not so much. For 3 years, middle-of-the-night wake ups and early rising have been her modus operandi. But recently, sleep has come easier. Her new “wake up” clock, combined with a doorknob she can open and a lamp she can easily turn on herself, has given her a newfound independence. Instead of perching on the edge of her bed yell-singing “MAMA, MAMA-MAMA,” she now waits until the green light glows on her nightstand, slips out of bed, and pads quietly down the hall. Usually, this means a much kinder wake up for me (though sometimes I wake to her nose inches from my face which does my heart rate no favors). And sometimes, reluctant to crawl from the covers just yet, I pull her into my own bed for an early-morning snuggle. If I am lucky, she tells me stories while I put in my contacts, and the best stories are about “pictures-on-my-pillow” (aka dreams). These “pictures” are wild and vivid—full of adventure and three-year-old intrigue.

I waked up and got out of my bed and I went to the stairs to find you but I couldn’t and there was a mean cat and it was trying to get my brudder but I yelled at it and chased it with a sword and then I almost fell down the stairs and I saved my brudder and I told the mean cat to be nice and he WAS and then I tried to find you again and you came and I told you about the cat. And wasn’t that a scary picture?

These dreams are just a little bit scary, but they are also exhilarating for her. I think I like best that I am present, but not looming—and most of all, that she is the hero of her own story.  May it always be so.


Holy Ground

October 2014

Sunday afternoons are a strange mix of rest and planning for the week to come.  Sometimes, in a semi-vain effort to prep for classes, I invite Violet to read with me in my bed.  Snuggling under covers, reading stories–all sounds so lovely–except that Violet usually chooses the loudest, most sound-effect-filled books she owns, and then reading time generally morphs into a sing-a-long.  Such was this afternoon’s tableau:  Mama and Moby Dick, Violet and Christmas in Happy Town.  Sorry, Ahab, but this whale was defeated by a bunch of singing rabbits and their happy cohort.  Violet, finally tired of the book and of my rendition of “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” offered to sing her own song, one that she learned in Sunday school that morning.  Tucking Moby away, I turned my full attention to her, and waited.

(to the tune of the B-I-B-L-E):  “The B-L-E.  I stand upon the Lord and I take my shoes off.  E-I-E-I-O!”

After this quick tutorial, she asked me to sing it with her–no shoes on the Lord, please, and  a quack quack, here, even.

And though I didn’t get much work done,  I did learn a few things:  Violet’s theology (and spelling) could use some guidance and, perhaps most importantly, the work will wait.  It did, after all, take Ahab over 400 pages to find that whale, and it didn’t go very well for him when he did (Thus, I give up the spear!).  E-I-E-I-O!

Backseat cooking

July 17, 2014

Both of my children like to cook with me, but while Owen has always been more interested in cooking actual food, Violet is just as content with pretend tea parties and imaginary picnics.  While we were on vacation a few weeks ago trying new foods and encouraging the kids to be culinary adventurers, she created a particularly fine dish from the backseat:

Hooty Booty Fish with Mean Frogs


1 Hooty Booty Fish

Hot Air 

Mean frogs (for decoration)


1.  First, you catch the Hooty Booty fish, but this is hard, very hard, because the mean frogs with teeth will chase you.  You don’t want to eat the frogs because they taste bad.

2.  Put the Hooty Booty fish in the oven and close it.  Wear the gloves to get it out because it will be HOT and it will burn your mouth.  (Editorial note:  do not, under any circumstances, try to take the fish out the oven with your mouth, however.)

3.  Run away from the frogs and watch out for their teeth.  When they are tired, you catch them and put them on the plate.  But DON”T eat them.

4.  Eat the Hooty Booty fish. It is soft, and it tastes like carrots.  


I love learning about a place through its food, but I have to say, the most memorable dish from this vacation will definitely be the Hooty Booty fish.  

Ballet is the New Yoga

violet balletMarch 17, 2014

Last year, when Violet started ballet, I couldn’t convince her to wear that incredibly adorable little leotard.  And so I sighed a little when I took her each week in her favorite “fuzzy pants.”

What a difference a year makes.

These days, I’m lucky if I can peel that nasty leotard off for the 45 minute wash-cycle (and even then, she wants to wear it before it is dry).  Forget yoga pants–this child wants tights and “twirly” skirts and tutus. She wears ballet clothes to the park, and sometimes (like maybe last night) under her other clothes when we go out to dinner. And though she loves her ballet clothes, so far–no inner diva.  She mixes ballet with bike riding and gymnastics; she prefers loud Irish punk to classical motifs; she makes a nice plié and immediately crashes into a “forward roll”.  She considers a helmet an accessory, and quite often, the feet of those tights are black from running (almost) barefoot on the driveway.  Perhaps best of all, her favorite exclamation as she twirls and runs and barrels forward is:  “Look, Mama, I’m brave!”  I don’t know how long this love of twirly and “bootiful” clothes will last, but I do know this:

If leotards really are the new yoga pants, I’m going to have to be a lot braver going to the supermarket.

Eye of the Tiger

August 2013

Our beloved dog, Grendel, had been failing for several months, and finally, last November, we had to say goodbye to him.  He was with us long before we had children, and he tolerated the invasion of his space reasonably well.  violet and grendel

Owen and Violet only knew him as an older dog–docile, quiet, sneaker of unattended snacks in his liveliest moments, snoring and peaceful the rest of the time (which was about 23 other hours a day).  Neither child missed him the way we did; he wasn’t “their dog,” but he was part of the family, and his furry 90-pound absence was sad for everyone.  A few months later, I asked Violet if she would like to get another dog.  I broached the subject gently, not wanting to upset her, and was surprised by her emphatic, “NO!”

“Why not,” I asked?

“I want a tiger.  Rawr.”

And since our local shelter has very few tigers, she proceeded to find her own imaginary tiger.  This is what I know about “Firework” (AKA “Orange,”  AKA “TIGER JUST TIGER”).

Sometimes, he is big. Sometimes he is tiny “wike a bunny”

He fits in your hand–until he doesn’t.

He is very soft.

He eats beans, breakfast, and grass.  Usually not in the same meal. (which is always breakfast?)

He lives in the flower bushes at our neighbor’s house.

He likes to take baths and car rides.

He likes me to hold him, but he likes Violet best.

He likes to sleep in the sun.

Tiger-Firework-Orange has incredible staying power in her mind.  He has a big roar, and last night, he kept her safe from a bad dream.  And though he may never grow old or sick like our sweet Grendel, I am sure he won’t stay around forever.  So I make him beans, and pet him and love on him.  And before he goes to sleep in the sun, I remind him to watch over his best girl.

Brotherly love

July 28, 2012

I love my brother, though I don’t know that it was always that way.  We aren’t very far apart in age, so I don’t remember much about how I felt about him when he was brand new.  I do remember some long summer vacation car trips, where we divided territory and bickered.  But from high school on, I remember thinking he was pretty awesome.  And to this day, I count him among my best friends.  I do know that my parents encouraged us to celebrate one another’s triumphs and talents.  And though our strengths are very different, we always find middle ground.  Just this past month, while visiting my brother and his lovely family, we laughed so hard that I fell down.  The kind of laughter that sweeps you off your feet isn’t easy to come by, but then, neither is a brother like mine.  

When I found out I was pregnant with Violet, I wondered about Owen’s reaction.  He was, of course, nervous at first, but he has grown into an attentive and amazingly gentle big brother.  After 5 years of being the glorious only, he now has to share the spotlight.  Sometimes he’s better at it than others, and sometimes she cramps his style, but he rarely complains.  He happily shares anything he has–whether it is a toy or a tasty treat.  And she responds–her favorite toy of all is “owah”.  When he was away for a week in the Canadian Rockies, she woke every night with “owah” on her mind.  She looks for him first thing in the morning and must “night night” him before she sleeps. She knows that sticks should be used for light sabers, and that peek-a-boo is a full contact sport.  My worries about their age difference have shifted now to how she will feel when he leaves home before she does.  (And recently her fascination with Owen’s propensity to relieve himself on the tree in the front yard leaves me a little worried about potty training).  

I love that when Owen meets new people, he mentions his baby sister and her accomplishments within the first minute (she has 4 teeth!  she can say helicopter!).  My job now is to figure out how to foster this great love they have for one another, to get out of their way as much as possible, and to show them how to translate the love they have for one another into a love for the world at large.  And of course, to take notes from them along the way.  


My Violet Hour

March 10, 2012

I have become accustomed to Owen’s demonstrative love–“attack hugs,” “tornadoes of kisses”. His is a running, leaping love, dynamic and wonderful and full of energy, just like he is. Nearly every day, he makes a card for me or his dad declaring his love for us. At nearly 3/4 my height and exactly half my weight, he still likes, late in the evening before bed, to be lifted up and hugged. When he was a baby, though, that impulse was less nuanced. At 7 months, he put his chubby little fingers in my hair and pulled as hard as he could. I spent the next 4 months growing out the lovely bald spot in the front of my head.

And so, when Violet first started to explore my hair, I was a little leery. But her little fingers are gentle–in and out of my curls, light as a feather. When I was a teenager, with embarrassingly (now) big hair, I loved to sit on the floor in front of my Mamaw’s rocking chair, because while she rocked and talked, she would play with my hair. I didn’t know anyone else in the world who would play with my hair for as long or as gently. Until now.

Every night, as the sun fades in her west-facing window, Violet holds her lovey with her left hand while her right hand searches for my too-long hair. Her fingers match the rhythm of the rocker, and I wonder what she thinks about. I stroke her barely fuzzy head, try to match the lightness of her touch. Wispy, like her own soft, downy hair, the moments slip into the darkness, and so I linger, maybe longer than I should, kiss her head and say goodnight.

Not SWAK, I hope

November 22, 2011

Every night, we take turns lying next to Owen at bed time, reading our requisite 2 books, saying prayers, and settling down.  I love these quiet moments, because no matter how many times I ask what has happened at school during the evening, all the important stuff spills out in these bedtime sessions.  Sometimes we have long talks about the state of the world, the differences between boys and girls (who underappreciate bugs, according to Owen), and what would happen if trees were made of chocolate.  Important things.  It sounds idyllic as I write it, and though it often is, it certainly doesn’t always go down that nicely.  Some days are hard and full of hassles, and sometimes bedtime seems more like a welcome reprieve than a moment for bonding.  But even then, Owen never ceases to surprise me.

We’ve been reading The Swiss Family Robinson at bedtime, and if you’ve read it, you might remember that there are some dry swaths–long natural histories of penguins, etc, etc.  On just such a night, after just such a day, I was struggling to get through the chapter.  Owen was wriggling about, and when I turned to scold him for not paying attention, he was looking up at me with a mischievous grin.  

“What?” I said.

“Did you get it?”  he giggled.

“No, what?”  

“My stink letter.  I just sent it.”  And sure enough he did, his very own creation (aptly described, by the way).  

The tension of the day slipped away, dissolved in laughter–and stink.  Hallmark may want to reconsider their slogan.  If so, I suggest “when you care to scent the very best…”

The Elegant Commute

November 4, 2011

Brian Green, author of The Elegant Universe and expert in string theory, said tonight on the radio that math was one of the keys to understanding reality. Math teachers everywhere should go out and put that endorsement on t-shirts (or maybe that would just be sad). Why nobody told me that in high school is beyond me. Certainly it would have tempered the frustration of geometry and the mystery of algebra. And while I know that Mr. Green was certainly not referring to my morning commute, I had to chuckle about how math and “reality” work in my life these days. You see, I was never a confident math student even though I loved school. And even now, words are my speciality. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I become a math queen as my mind calculates and recalculates how to get three people to three places in the shortest amount of time (and on time) while maximizing sleep, minimizing distance, and limiting caffeine.

For example:

A car, leaving at 7:23 a.m. and traveling at an average speed of 25 mph must deliver Person A to Point A which is five miles away. At 7:25, a train unexpectedly blocks traffic for 3 minutes at the 1.5 mile mark. How fast must the car travel (if all 3 remaining traffic lights are green) to make it to Point A by 7:35? And how much time does that leave to deliver Person B to Point B (3 more miles)?

Sometimes, the math doesn’t add up. My car still doesn’t have turbo drive (Oh Knight Rider, if I could only borrow your car just once!), so I know that unless I want to risk the wrath of the JCPD, I won’t magically appear on time. No problem, just recalculate…if I park at the main building instead of my office, it will take me 45 seconds to walk to the classroom. Perhaps 30 if I’m not wearing those blasted high-heeled boots.

It’s no string theory (I’m not holding my breath for a NOVA miniseries), but it is a little slice of reality. In fact, I realized this week that I sort of enjoy it–shifting into 3rd gear (25 mph folks) around the curve on Market Street, knowing when to turn onto a side street or go for the light. And even though the days when the trains and school buses and red lights throw a wrench in my perfect route, that’s okay too. The reality of those days is precious, too.

A Timothy Tale

Oct. 3, 2011

For many years I had a recurring dream in which my dad stopped by to visit.  In my dream, I had just baked sugar cookies, his favorite.  We would just be sitting down to catch up, when some unimportant thing called me to another part of the house.  I always return to find a note saying he loved me and would see me soon.  It’s been nearly 20 years since my dad died, and I always welcome that dream, however frustrating and fleeting, just for the chance to see his face again.  In fact, I’ve been looking for him for years–in the faces of other men his age, in the mannerisms of the men who have similar interests or jobs, in the way my own mouth forms a crooked smile, and most recently, in the face of my own son.

Owen doesn’t look much like my dad, but he has many of my dad’s mannerisms.  He is in every way his own boy.  But especially in the last couple of years, I have often imagined what their relationship might have been.  In the way that some men are men’s men, my dad was a kid’s dad.  He wrestled on the floor with us, read to us, carted us to piano, and just generally loved us to pieces.  He came home from work excited to see us.  He played ball with us and swam with us and rode go-carts with us.  He was proud of us–as ardent in his love for us as for my mother.  For all of these reasons and many more, I know that he and Owen would have been fast friends.

This morning at breakfast, Owen said, “Mama, I’ve been thinking.  When God gives us bodies that never die and no one is ever sick again, I think I’d like to get to know your dad.  I think we might be best friends.  And it would be so cool–Owen Timothy and Timothy playing.”

Like a note on my counter, saying “I love you, and I’ll see you soon.”

“Yes Owen,” I answered.  “I think he would like that very much.”

I would, too.