Camping with Elena

We're marking yet another "would have been" this weekend. This would have been Elena's first girl scout overnight camp. Her troop is spending part of the weekend in the same campground where Maggie's troop will stay all weekend.

As my flight from San Francisco touched down last night, Kim and Maggie were driving with the other troop members for this semi-annual event. In the past, Elena was either too young for girl scouts or in a troop that was too young to go as well. So she and I had our own camping routine while Kim and Maggie were sleeping in a cabin.

First, Elena and I would go to the store and shop for food that could be cooked over a flame. This usually meant hot dogs, Jiffy Pop popcorn, and marshmallows. The Jiffy pop was important to her because we never had that kind. Usually we would take down the heavy calphalon pot and heat it, add a bit of oil, and then throw in a handful of kernels before closing the lid. During home camp outs she requested and got a container of Jiffy Pop.

The other big decision was marshmallows. Elena really liked the small ones, but for toasting you need the large ones. Once you've decided on the size you want, you have to settle on the brand. Elena took her marshmallow shopping very seriously. She'd hold up a bag of the multicolored minis.

"What about these?" she'd ask.

"You can't really toast those. They're too small. The stick would just break them in half."

"Dad," she's say rolling her eyes as if it was completely obvious that that wasn't what she had meant. "These are for eating."

"We're not going to toast marshmallows then?" I'd ask.

"Of course we are, we're going to toast these," she'd say holding up a second bag that I'd somehow missed. "We'll eat the tiny ones while we cook the big ones."

Some times I'd make her choose and other times I'd hear Kim's voice in my ears asking "oh what's the big deal? Her sister is going camping and she's staying home, why not buy both kinds of marshmallows?"

Next, we'd go to the library and take out a couple of movies that Elena wanted to watch. Some show that she wanted to see.

"We'll camp out in the living room in front of the t.v." she'd say. "I'll bring down my blanket and pillow and sleep on the couch.

We'd go back home and unpack the groceries while the long wooden skewers soaked in water.

"Why are we soaking the pokers?" she'd ask.

"So they don't catch on fire when we put them over the flame."

"Ooooh. We learned in safety town that that would be dangerous. I wouldn't do this except that you're an adult. We're aloud to be near fire if we're with an adult. Just not a stranger."

I smiled. I put a hot dog on a stick and handed it to her. I put another one on a stick for me. I turned on the front burner and we held out hotdogs over the flame.

"I bet this is how the Pilgrims cooked hot dogs daddy," she'd say.

"I don't think the Pilgrims had hot dogs."

"Don't you think the Indians gave them hot dogs. Something for days when it's not Thanksgiving."

I'd smile. She always made me smile.

She'd get tired long before her hot dog was done. I had water boiling over another burner and we'd place the hot dogs on sticks across the pan above the steam and cover it with another upside down pan. While the hot dogs cooked we'd take newspaper and lay it out on the living room floor. Normally food isn't allowed into the living room, but this was a special picnic spot that was officially designated with yesterday's sports section.

We'd put the hotdogs on a paper plate along with chips and take it into our special picnic area in the living room.

"This is the best hot dog, daddy. I think hot dogs taste best when you're camping." She'd lift her can of fizzy water and hold it towards mine and say "Cheers." We'd clink our cans together.

We'd head back to the kitchen and the soaking sticks. I'd load them up with marshmallows and we'd hold them over the flame.

"Keep turning it," I'd advise.

But hers would catch on fire. Sometimes she'd blow it out before it was too charred. Other times she would let it go too far and hand  it to me when it was burnt beyond recognition.

"Here," she'd say, "you can have this one."

I'd toast a few for her and then she'd want me to cue up a movie for her. She'd watch a while and ask for the popcorn. We'd sit together on the floor eating the popcorn right out of the tin foil. After the movie she'd gather up her blanket and pillow.

"Aren't you going to sleep down stairs?" I'd ask.

"No, I don't think so. I'm going to sleep in my bed."

I'd straighten up while she got ready for bed. Hot dogs, marshmallow, pop corn and a movie. As it turned out, it was the only camping out that Elena ever knew.

Published in: on May 20, 2006 at 3:31 pm  Comments (2)  

Ghosts in the Queen Anne

There's a ghost on the top floor of the Queen Anne Hotel. Three times a week a ghost tour begins in the lobby downstairs. After an excellently delivered welcome and introduction, the tour guide leads the group up stairs. I've seen this introduction several times during the many years of staying in this San Francisco hotel.

I love it here. When I come to town for conferences I try to stay here. The price is right and it has a very homey feel. The rooms have high ceilings, tall windows, beautiful wood furniture, and many of them have fire places.

I'm sharing a large room with Chris. Both of us are on east coast time and so we tend to wake up well before five. He works on one part of the website we edit while I work on another portion. The room is comfortable, except . . . except that the last time I stayed in this particular room I was with my family.

Maggie refused to share a bed with Elena because "she smells like pee in the morning". Elena was two or three. How else was she supposed to smell in the morning?

Maggie decided to share a bed with Kim and Elena set us up in the other bed.

"Here dad I plumped up your pillow."

"Thanks, Elena. How come you have two pillows and I have one?"

"I just do," she answered.

She flopped back on her pillow, pulled the covers up to her neck, and reached over and placed her hand on my bicep. As the night went on and she grew colder she would burrow under me a bit. I was always afraid of rolling over onto her. Having that thought planted in my subconscious seemed to be enough to keep it from happening.

We woke up and went down to breakfast. A little juice and coffee while we waited for James. The girls couldn't wait to show him the hotel. The dining room, the beautiful piano in the sitting room, the glass chess set, and the fireplace. They also showed him where the put out cookies late in the afternoon. They told him about the ghosts on the fourth floor.

"It's a friendly ghost," said Elena.

"How do you know?" asked James.

"It just is," she answered.

Maggie added, "The man in the hat, the one who runs the ghost tours, told us that this ghost was a friendly one. It haunts the fourth floor."

"Woooooooo," Elena made ghostly haunting noises.

"Nuhh uhhh," said Maggie. "You don't actually hear it. It's just there."

The room I'm staying in has a little alcove above the front entrance. The girls had set it up as there secret little area and laid out their stuffed animals and books at the little desk there. They'd heard the fog horn at night while they lay trying to sleep. At first it was an unfamilar noise that seemed quite loud. Then it had faded away, the way familiar things do. In the morning they'd run to that window over there and looked outside to see what kind of a day it was going to be.

They loved to come down the long staircase. They would send me on ahead so they could come down by themselves like Cinderella entering the ball. Coming upstairs the stairs weren't nearly as dramatic. They preferred the elevator. It wasn't an ordinary elevator. It had a chandelier on the ceiling in the middle and a love seat along one wall.

"Dad," Elena yelled, "it was my turn to push the button."

"You push the one inside for the floor, Maggie pushed the one outside."

"I did not," sulked Maggie. "The elevator was already here."

"Well is it her turn?" I asked.

Maggie glared. Too honest to lie but too mad to give in easily. "I guess." While Elena pressed the button, Maggie ran to the love seat and sat in the middle so that no one else could join her.

Elena tried. She planted her behind between the arm of the love seat and Maggie's left leg and tried to wiggle her way back. "Mooooooove," she whined.

"No," Maggie snapped. "I was here first."

Our long journey to the second floor was over. The elevator door opened. I handed Maggie the room key.

"No fair," complained Elena as Maggie opened the hotel room.

From that visit on, the girls always had a picture in their minds of the hotel that I stayed at when I was away. I felt that kept us closer while I was gone.

"Are you staying at the Queen Annie?" Maggie would ask.

"Anne," Elena would correct, "it's called the Queen Anne."

"I know that," Maggie would retort.

Not wanting to be left out of things, Elena would play along. "Dad, aren't there ghosts at the Queen Annie?"

There are. As I sit in the same room where we all stayed I am surrounded by ghosts. There are everywhere. Some have followed me from Cleveland and some were here in San Francisco when I arrived.

All of them are friendly.

Published in: on May 18, 2006 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  

My Road Family

Kim used to tease her dad about his other family on the west side. She never really thought that her dad had two separate families with two wives and two sets of kids, but she loved to give him a hard time about it.

Kim has worked for the same hospital for ten years and so her group of co-workers feels a lot like a family. They know each others strengths and witnesses and know which buttons can be pushed. In those ten years I’ve worked for many different companies – for me much of the constancy has been provided by the people I see at conferences year after year.

This is my tenth year at the JavaOne conference. The first few times I attended, I was working for my sister. She assembled a bunch of writers and geeks to come in and crank out a ton of articles providing coverage for the week. It’s where I met some of the friends I value most to this day. These are part of my “road family”. These are the people I grab a cup of coffee with, laugh with, catch up with, go to sessions with, and exchange ideas with.

At this year’s JavaOne I don’t seem to be able to walk ten feet without bumping into someone else I’ve known for years. It’s been two days and hundreds of hugs. Support and love from yet another community that has embraced me figuratively in the past and literally here this week.

And the news.

One friend has shared his home and his life with the same woman for more years than I’ve been married to Kim. They’d never gotten married during all those years and now it seems as if they are getting married all the time. He ticked off six ceremonies between last July and next month.

Another friend probably won’t be showing up to give his session tonight. His son was born yesterday. It’s a small connected world. The birth took place less than an hour from San Francisco and yet this morning pictures are mailed to me from a friend in Mexico who got them from another friend in Portland.

Friends have grown or shaved beards since I saw them last. Others have gained or lost weight since I saw them – what was it two, no three years ago. Some are in the same job as last time, many have moved, and still others are looking. Some I share a room with, others a cab, or a meal, or a ride on the bus or subway.

It’s not like a college reunion. Except for the people I keep in touch with, I haven’t seen many of my classmates for two or more decades. This feels more like a family reunion. Sure there’s a conference going on and sessions to attend, but I’ve gone out for so much coffee with friends that I may not get a proper night’s sleep for a week.

Published in: on May 17, 2006 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  

A Card from Elena

Late in the afternoon on Mother's Day, Kim was in the kitchen talking on the phone and I was opening bills. For historical reasons, there are some bills that Kim tracks and takes care of and some that I do. We write the checks from a joint account but we split the administrative tasks. She takes care of the medical bills and so she's had to handle the stream of little claims for Elena's last day. Forty dollars here, fifty dollars there.

Among the bills I take care of are those from the funeral home. The last envelope I opened was from Schulte and I assumed it would be for some amount we had overlooked.

It wasn't.

Kim could see on my face from the other room that this was different. She wrapped up her phone call and joined me in the dining room and asked what it was.

I shook my head.

"It's Elena, isn't it," she said.

I nodded.

"What is it?" she prodded.

It was Elena's death certificate. Another document to file. The last for her short life. It listed her as being six years old. As if it wasn't obvious from that fact, there were also notations to indicate she'd never been married and had never been employed.

I folded the paper up and put it back in the envelope. Kim picked it up.

"Don't do that," I said. "Not now." The unspoken thought between us was "Not on Mother's Day."

But how could she not look.

She had to open the envelope and pull out the full sized document. She had to open it up and read the same details that I had. And, like me before her, she couldn't stop looking. She couldn't put it back down. She sat with it for a long time while I stood and watched.

In a way, it was a card from Elena. A last note from her on Mother's Day.

Published in: on May 16, 2006 at 7:59 am  Comments (1)  

Pear Crepes

I don't know how Pear Crepes got to be Kim's annual Mother's day breakfast. She asked for it once and we've done it every year since. This didn't seem like the year to interrupt the tradition.

Mother's Day is in many ways yet another gift that a mother gives. The yearly ritual of preparing this special breakfast for Kim was more of a gift for me than for her. The girls always feel so special getting to do something for their mom that they know will be so well received.

Sure we cook for Kim many other days during the year. But this is the day that the girls shush each other and follow me quietly into the kitchen and put on aprons. This is the day that they help without losing interest half way through. While performing simple tasks like measuring the flour or cracking the eggs they can hardly contain themselves. "Ooooh, mom's going to love this," they say.

And she always does.

The trick to mother's day crepes is timing. There are many different components that need to come out at the same time. Freshly made caramel sauce, cold whipped cream, pears sauteed in butter, and, of course, the pancakes themselves.

It is harder, but infinitely more rewarding, to have help in the kitchen. Each year when I crack the eggs I remember Maggie cracking them on the back window when she was not yet two. She stood by the door with the carton of eggs at her side,  proudly showing me her achievement as the yolks ran down the glass. When I measure out the flour I hear Elena saying "oops" and giggling as she dumped the over filled cup of flour in the bowl before leveling it off. No big deal. If you put in too much of the dry you just add more of the wet and everything works out. It's just cooking. Mom'll still love it.

And she did.

Elena loved the subtle differences you could get with different types of pancakes. She liked the thick fluffy kind, she loved crepes, and she had taken to the kind we learned how to make in Amsterdam. A little thicker than crepes and quite a bit bigger. Finished in the oven with various toppings both sweet and savory.

She was puzzled for the longest time about the difference in terminology. Why is it that pancakes and pizza dough are made with the same basic ingredients but one is called a batter and one is called a dough?

With these happy memories I make up a double recipe of crepe batter and set it in the refrigerator to rest while I prepared the other components. This year I'm cooking alone. Maggie has had a bit of a relapse of the flu and Elena, of course, can't be physically present. In some ways its easier. I don't have to step around the chair she always stood on to help me cook. Every time I move to a different task she would get down and move the chair to stand right next to me.

"Can I measure?" Sure.

"Can I stir the batter?" Let me get it started then you.

"How's that?" Great. Now it's my turn again.

"Can I have another turn?" Sure. Now let it rest. Let's do the pears.

"Can I peel them and you be the cutter?" That's a good idea.

Maggie would pull up her own chair. "Can I cut?" Sure. Just tuck your fingers under so you don't cut them. "I know."

Elena would peel and Maggie would cut the pears. Before tossing them in the pan I'd take a paring knife and shave off stray bits of skin that had been missed or cut out pieces of the core that hadn't been cut out.

This year I peel the pears myself. It goes more quickly. And yet it doesn't. As the last pear is diced I smell the butter melting in a saute pan. I scrape the pears off the cutting board into the pan and give the pan a shake to coat the fruit. The smell of pears cooking in butter is heavenly. I have some strawberries that need to be used so I dice them and cook up some of them in a simple syrup so that Kim canß have strawberry crepes as well.

For me, caramel is magic. It is the science experiment I love to teach the girls. It is chemistry. It is test tubes being mixed and then heated over a bunsen burner.

Put sugar and just enough water to dissolve it in a sauce pan and cook it until it is amber and smells the way you remember good carnival caramel corn smells. Off the stove you whisk in heavy cream. Two white and one clear ingredient cooked to a thick beautiful brown sweet sauce. Magic.

With the stage set, the other pint of cream comes out of the freezer where I've put it to chill. Into the mixer while two pans heat on the stove begging for batter. The cream comes to perfect peaks as the pans come to temperature.

This year Kim helps with the breakfast. She makes coffee in the french press. She's been asking to help with something for an hour. Why shouldn't a mom get to join in the fun on her day.

It's a hard day.

There's so much not said. People check in to see how she's doing. Her first mother's day after her baby has died. Someone has taken the time to write a note and slip it through the door. It's nearly three months since Elena has died and our extended community still has us wrapped tightly in their thoughts.

I spray the first pan with a butter flavored spray and ladle in the perfect amount of batter swirling it around until it stops running and sets in place. While it cooks I do the same with the other pan. Where's the dog? Usually the first crepe in each pan belongs to her after they cool off.

They come out perfectly. I put pears and caramel in one and strawberry in the other. I roll them and top them with the whipped cream. Kim sits at the table eating them. It's a happy mother's day and a very sad one. I stand in the kitchen and eat while I continue to cook. It's what I always do, but usually she is sitting in there with the kids. I bring in more crepes and see her sitting alone eating her mother's day breakfast by herself.

I sit for a bit and we eat together. No knowing what to say. Not right now. Before the day is over we'll have plenty to say and share. But not right now.

She takes the dishes into the kitchen and I follow. I clean up the pans and mixing bowls. She goes and checks on Maggie. She feels the forehead of her daughter and brings her more ginger ale and heats up some chicken soup.

Because that's what a mom does on Mother's day.

Published in: on May 15, 2006 at 10:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Mother’s Day

Published in: on May 14, 2006 at 12:53 pm  Comments (7)  

Time Bombs

I pulled my suitcase out of the closet this morning and found something I'd bought for Elena at MacWorld in January. I'd put it in my suitcase because I was supposed to travel the week before her birthday and this way I couldn't help but find the two computer programs I'd found for her. They were perfect. She would have loved them. If she hadn't died a week before.

But I didn't go to Denver the week before her birthday. And I didn't go to the four conferences I was scheduled to go to between then and now. So the software sat in my suitcase forgotten. A silent bomb that detonated when I pulled the bag from my closet this morning.

Kim has been able to give away some of the clothes that Elena had grown out of. She was done with them. We would have given them away anyway. Once in a while one of those outfits walks in the door on another child. Neither of us feels particularly sad. That's the part of Elena that was already gone. Kim has not been able to go through or part with any of the outfits that Elena could still wear when she died. She can't give away any of the clothes that she'd bought to give Elena on her birthday or beyond.

Looking at the software I understand. What do I do with it. It's kind of stupid not to give it to someone. But, for now, I can't. I had bought it so that we could explore a drawing program together and so that we could build funky gadgets out of animated gears. She and I would have had a bunch of fun with it.

I used to have trouble buying birthday and Christmas presents ahead of time. As soon as I found the perfect gift for someone I'd want them to have it. Why wait. I may go back to that. Not that I would have felt much different if Elena had played with the games for a couple of months.

I came upstairs and pulled out my laptop. When I'm home I don't tend to keep the email up to date on my laptop. I only check mail on the desktop and use the laptop for other tasks. But I'm about to travel so I needed to synch up my mail.

BOOM. Another time bomb.

Mail from IMAP accounts is exactly the same on any of my machines that check mail. When I delete a message from an IMAP mailbox on one machine it is automatically deleted from other machines when they synch up with the account. But POP accounts are different. I don't keep the mail on the server so the messages are downloaded locally to whatever machine I'm on.

The explosion was me seeing messages about Elena that had been downloaded to the laptop on her birthday. We were in Wisconsin with the Shen sisters on Elena's birthday and so there were sixty messages I hadn't synched up with my main account. I've been saving all of the comments on this blog as text files so that I have them in case anything happens to the web site. They come to me as emails. I had read the comments two months ago but hadn't archived them. I read each one again as I saved it to disk

As painful as these detonating bombs are, they are also wonderful. I'm looking to plant some more. I want to make sure that on a day when I'm not expecting it that Elena explodes into my consciousness. As we think about how to spend the money in Elena's foundation, we've considered Art programs, Music, and so on. We've also thought about saving some money to be awarded at graduation to some child in the class Elena would have graduated with.

A time bomb set to explode eleven years from now.

Published in: on May 13, 2006 at 10:13 am  Comments (3)  


A week ago the phone rang and it was the art teacher from Boulevard school. Maggie was supposed to stay after school for an activity but wasn't feeling well. She was in the nurse's office. Could I come get her.

Maggie in the nurse's office. That's unusual. When she was in kindergarten she used to get bloody noses so she end up there now and then. But nothing like Elena. Elena loved the nurse's office. She would find a reason to be there all the time. From time o time she would actually need to be there, but mostly she was escorting other children there to help them get taken care of. She would bring someone in from the playground who needed attention and show them the ropes.

Maggie was lying down with a heating pad on her stomach looking sick. The nurse explained that it was probably the flu but that we should get a strep test. Kim picked up some ginger ale and motrin on the way home from work and we got Maggie set up on the couch downstairs. She looked so pitiful.

Probably just the flu.

Yeah that's what we'd thought a couple of months before with Elena. And it was initially just the flu. As Maggie sat up to vomit into the same trash can Elena had back in February Kim and I each struggled internally not to over react while trying to be careful not to under react. So many things we couldn't say out loud. Each of us reliving that horrible February afternoon when Elena didn't look so bad.

Just the flu.

Kim slept on the other couch. She couldn't leave Maggie and didn't want to wake her to make her go up to her bed to sleep. In the morning Maggie felt fine and looked much better. I wanted to send her to school but instead Kim took her to the scheduled doctor's appointment. Everything was fine.

It was a scene in a horror film where the music swells and the strings screetch and you're sure that something lurks behind the door that the hero is about to open – but there isn't. They open the door and nothing is there. So we relax and then something jumps out at us.

Me, I turn it off or change the channel. I don't think I can take any more surprises right now.

Published in: on May 12, 2006 at 5:58 am  Comments (2)  

Happy Endings

In Henry Jaglom's movie "Someone to Love" Orson Welles explains to the camera that the way to have a happy ending is to stop your movie before the story comes to an end.

But you can't yell "cut" in real life. A perfect scene is marred when someone goes too far and says more than they should. There's too much time to fill that wouldn't be shown in the movie version. You get on the bus and greet the driver and he responds with something witty and poignant and your day is off to a great start. But we don't dissolve to you entering your office building and exchanging pleasantries with the receptionist. No, in real life you have to sit through the bus ride. Get off the bus, trudge the few blocks to your building, wait for the elevator and ride it up with a handful of people, none of whom are getting off at your floor.

But a map is useless if it is only available at the same size and level of detail of what it represents. I need a map that condenses large areas onto a sheet of paper or a computer screen that I can comprehend at once. It gives me perspective. It let's me know that just out of my vision in the real world is the street I'm looking for.

And so the movies of my life that replay in my head do condense time. They don't replay my twenty minutes on the bus reading the paper and not saying much at all to the people around me. The scenes tend to end while something is going on and don't just fade away into nothingness. I don't remember editing them and yet when they play back they are edited. I'm sure they are filtered as well. I don't remember consciously selecting a lens to use for each scene, but I must have.

Chris explains to me the Japanese notion of "mono no aware". This is, as I understand it, a notion of sensitivity to things that is tied up in a recognition of the essential impact of impermanence.

A flower is beautiful but there is a sadness in its beauty because it won't last. The flip side is that this lack of permanence makes the flower more valuable because its beauty will not last.

You take time to enjoy that moment with the bus driver or exchange with the receptionist. Those special moments are fleeting. You pause when the sky is just right. You close your eyes and slowly inhale when the lilacs are in bloom.

To have a happy ending, our movie would end before the lilacs wilt and drop from the trees. But the fact that the movie will soon come to an end makes us both value the moments shown in the movie more and makes us sad for the fact that they will soon be gone.

Published in: on May 11, 2006 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Family Meetings

For a while we tried to hold semi-regular family meetings. These events were more ritual than content but a small shared ritual can provide lasting memories. They always ended with a special snack that one of the girls would pick. We stopped scheduling the meetings so often when it got to the point that the choosing and serving of the snack dominated the ritual.

I'd be in the grocery store with one or both of the girls and they would spot a snack that they were pretty sure I'd say no to. They'd ask about it and quickly before I got to the point of actually saying no, one would say "we can serve it after tonight's family meeting."

"But we aren't having a family meeting tonight," I'd point out.

"We really should, dad. It's been a long time and there's things we need to talk about."

I might cave on the snack they requested or I might steer them to something else, but the family meeting was now scheduled.

After dinner, we would clear away the dishes. Maggie would go get the matches while Elena put two candles in candlesticks on the table. I would help each girl light the candle nearest them and then we would turn off the light.

When we were all seated and quiet I would begin by asking each person to talk about something special that had happened that week. "Maggie," I'd say, "why don't you start." Elena's hand would shoot up. Her hand was always in the air she could never contain herself. "What Elena?" I'd ask.

"This week I was at Mama's house, and " she'd begin.

"That's not fair," Maggie would say, "he called on me."

Elena would look offended and say "you interructed me."

"Interrupted," I would correct. "Actually, Elena, it was Maggie's turn. You'll be next."

Maggie would then talk about something that happened at school or some book she was reading or some fact she had learned that she wanted to tell us about.

Elena would go next and tell a story about something she did that her grandmother had just loved. When she had finished Maggie would say, "oh, I just thought of something else I need to go again."

"O.K." I'd say, "you can go as soon as mom and I have had our turns."

Maggie would finish and Elena's hand would shoot up into the air. Each girl had been brief on their first time around but this time it was a competition. Elena would tell a long and rambly story without taking a breath that was long enough for any of us to "interruct". Towards the end she would start singing her story like a twelve bar blues. "Oh, then I went to the library. At the library I wanted to play outside on the playground. My dad, he said it was too cold. But I told him he was wro-ong. He said he didn't think so. I told him I did think so. Oh oh oh oh oh oh – oh oh oh oh oh oh. And then on the way to the car. I asked him to hold my books. He turned and asked me why-hi. I told him so I could play-hay. And then he let me play-hay."

We'd then go around again and everyone would share some story they had heard. In another pass we might all talk about a project we'd like to start. Sometimes we'd go around the table and all talk about something we'd like to do better this week. I might say I would try to eat more vegetables. Maggie might say she would try to read a little longer. Elena might say she would wash her hands every time after using the bathroom. Kim would tell us what she would like us to work on.

"I would like us to not just dump our bookbags everywhere this week," she would begin. "And when you bring a stuffed animal downstairs, you need to bring it back upstairs. And when – yes Elena?"

Elena's hand would be in the air again. The hand taking on a life of its own pulling her out of her chair.

"Those are my stuffed animals but Maggie brought them down."

"I did not," Maggie would protest. Maggie would always get indignant when the facts weren't right. It seldom worked in her favor.

"Did you?" Kim asked Maggie.

"No," Maggie growled sullenly. "I sent her upstairs to get them for me."

These discussions might be appropriate for a typical moment in a typical day, but this was a family meeting. I would try to bring the meeting back to our topic. Some times it would work, other times it wouldn't.

At the end of each meeting we'd turn the lights back on and each girl would blow out the candle that the other had lit. It was part of the ritual that encircled the meetings. Then one of them would go get the snacks for after the meeting and we would sit and enjoy the snacks and spend a little more time together.

Published in: on May 10, 2006 at 9:05 am  Comments (1)