As a child, I tried to practice safe smoking


When I grow up, I want to smoke like that.

The first time I smoked a cigarette, I inhaled. After I stopped coughing and wiped the tears from my eyes, I inhaled again. That’s what seven-year-old children do. Or at least, that’s what my seven-year-old self did. I have a strong compulsion to finish what I start; something I learned at the dinner table. (See here for that story.) Some people think I am persistent; some think I am stupid. I try to see both sides of an issue, so I agree with both.

Although I received a 25-cent weekly allowance, it didn’t usually last very long. To feed our addiction to chocolate, my best friend, Terry B., and I collected coke bottles to redeem for cash. At one or two cents a bottle, we needed just a few to buy a five-cent candy bar. That’s why I cannot speak too highly of chocolate; it made me the recycler that I am today. Persistent, with fluffy hips.

Terry and I were regulars at the local convenience store. I think it was a 7-Eleven, but it could have been a Circle-K. (Ask my sister, she’s the keeper of memories in the family.) At some point, we decided to buy some cigarettes. As impossible as it sounds today, back then children could run to the store to buy cigarettes for their folks. We either pooled our allowances or saved up coke bottle money because we had enough money for a pack. At that time, probably around 25 cents.

One of us lied to the clerk and said the cigarettes were for a parent. I think it was Terry because this is my side of the story and she’s not here to contradict me. She brought the matches and we headed straight for the ditch.

In mid-century America, everyone smoked cigarettes. Movie stars inhaled and exhaled their glamour, neighborhood gossip flamed up as their small fires burned on women’s lips, and their smoke rings floated above our heads like forgotten halos. What was not to like about smoking?

At some point in that ditch, however, I stopped inhaling and put the cigarette out. I much preferred chocolate and still do.

Unprompted, I confessed to my mother that I had tried smoking. The business about how we got the cigarettes was left unmentioned. She seemed unfazed and only smiled when I said, “Don’t worry. It was mentholated.” In my muddled mind, I thought it made a difference.

At 17, I began my five-year smoking career. My father was long dead by then, and mother said she would rather have me smoke in front of her than behind her back. In mother’s muddled mind, she thought that made a difference.

For several years in a row, I got a carton of Winston cigarettes in my Christmas stocking: my reward for being an honest child. Had I shown an honest interest in bank robbery, she probably would have included a stocking cap and possibly a small revolver.

Mother was muddled but she meant well. Like me. And maybe, like you.

(picture on loan from:

The six-year-old criminal


An early run-in with the law ruined my smile. I'm the sullen one on the right.

When I was a child, I had a knack for getting caught. It never held me back, though. Trouble interested me and punishment was the price I paid for pursuing it.


Terry B., who lived on the corner of our block, was my best friend because we shared this same interest. In the summer, we were just this side of feral, in the sense that we played outside from morning until just past dark almost every single day. During the day, we found food where we could; everyone’s screen door was unlocked and every mother had large jars of peanut butter and jelly to spread on white bread. And Kool-Aid. Always a pitcher of Kool-Aid.


Where I grew up, children were expected to play outside. My mother, like every other mother on the block, never posed “Why don’t you kids go outside and play” as a question. They meant it as a command, one that we were happy to obey. While they made coffee cake and wandered back and forth to each other’s house to drink coffee, smoke, play cards, or gossip, the kids had the whole wide outside world to themselves. Our moms had to holler us back for dinner, but as soon as that was done, we joined our tribes outside until the darkness came and one of our parents hollered us back for good.


In my sixth summer of freedom, Terry and I decided it would be fun to switch people’s mail. We knew all of the neighbors, knew which houses we could go in, and which to avoid. Our next-door neighbors, the Coles, were an older couple. We were fond of Grandma Cole and her delicious cookies, but we had to eat them on the porch. Her husband liked to hold little girls on his lap, and even though our mothers never spelled it out, we understood and stayed away from him.


One afternoon, after the mailman made his delivery, Terry and I went to several houses and took the mail. We couldn’t get everyone’s mail because many of the mailboxes were too high to reach. In spite of the inconvenience, which seemed a marked lack of consideration on the part of our neighbors, we mixed up the letters and re-delivered them. Then we were off to our next adventure. Probably something involving matches.


Not once did we consider that we were doing all of this in plain sight, that most mothers were at home with the curtains and the front door open. Terry and I lived in a world of our own choosing, and all those adults with their watching eyes weren’t a part of it. Once the sun went down, we returned to their world, but daylight belonged to us.


We had telephones back then, the kind that were tied to the wall. Neighbors called my mom and told her what we were doing. She called my daddy and he called the police.


Yes, the police.


They arrived at our house right around suppertime. I don’t know if my empty stomach led me back home or someone was hollering about dinner, all I remember is the police car in front of our house. My daddy walked out of the house to greet the officer, and then called me over and made me confess what I had done.


I don’t remember a single word of what was said that summer evening. I probably cried, and if I did, my daddy held me.


Daddy just wanted to teach me a lesson or two. He did. I never messed with people’s mail again. It took me longer to learn the other lesson: the same broad daylight that made it so easy for me to find trouble was what made it so easy for grownups to find troublemakers like me. We roamed the neighborhood creating kingdoms, fighting wars, lighting fires, and creating as much mayhem as we could get away with, but the grownups were there, invisible, ever-present, and, it seemed at the time, ever-seeing.








From slug to superhero


Thank you for dinner, dear. I think I'll just crawl over to my rocking recliner if you don't mind.

At night I often try to write something for the blog, but there’s something in the food I eat at dinner that turns me into a slug. A rocking slug, who sits in her rocking recliner reading blogs and growing more and more sluggish.


I trust that when I awake I will be able to crawl to the coffee pot for some of that magic potion that transforms me from slug to the little known super hero called The Texan WordSlinger. That’s what all my imaginary fans call me. Armed with a dictionary and a thesaurus, I go through the day slinging words at the less fortunate. Very much like Robin Hood, except that I merely borrow words from the treasures of the OED, and I always put them back. And yes, sometimes they get mangled in the process, but I mean well.


And since we are on the subject of hoods, I am reminded of the unnamed girl who had a red one for riding. And since we’re on that subject, here’s a revised version, good for raising genius children or grandchildren. It has big words and a lot of awesome and almost aimless alliteration.


(Note to reader: My morning brain tells me what to write each day, and I always listen to it because it’s very loud. Today, it gave me a choice, this story or some of my poems. Be glad I chose this. And remember, people in China are counting on you to read it all the way through.)



         One time before this time, there was a little lass with the nickname of Small Scarlet Steering Shroud. She domiciled with her female human parent in a habitation hard by a heavily wooded area. One out of every seven solar days, Small Scarlet Steering Shroud would traipse through the timberland to tend to the mate of her mother’s male human parent.

During a certain twenty-four hour period, Small Scarlet Steering Shroud’s primary care giver solicited her to tote some tasty treats to the moldering matriarch.  Shouldering the sweets and swaddling her own person in her scarlet steering shroud, she sallied forth.

At the selfsame second, a large predatory mammal of the genus Canis lupus was masticating the mother’s mother that Small Scarlet Steering Shroud was meaning to meet!  After digesting her, he donned her duds, placed her spectacles on his proboscis, simulated her smile, and awaited the arrival of Small Scarlet Steering Shroud.

When she appeared at the abode, she announced her advent.

“Oh, issue forth Small Scarlet Steering Shroud,” the pretending pettifogger peeped forth.

“Why, mate of my mother’s male authority figure,” she marveled, “what huge hearing organs you have!”

“Most preferable for perceiving your parlance, my pretty peach,” he proffered.

“And what whopping winkers you have!” Small Scarlet Steering Shroud spoke, as she sauntered within spitting distance.

‘An advantageous assistance in appraising your appearance,” he


Nudging near the nefarious no-good, the chary child chimed in, “What monumental molars you have!”

“The more desirable for devouring darlings like you,” he declared, diving out of bed to dine on the dainty dear.

Unexpectedly, upturned the underbrush and timber trimmer, who heeded the hollering he heard rising from the residence. Availing himself of his axe, the feller of forests proceeded through the portal and cracked the crown of the miserable miscreant. The delighted damsel arranged her upper appendages around the area of the Adam’s apple of the axe applier and asserted her affection and appreciation.

After a few rotations of the earth around the sun, Small Scarlet Steering Shroud marched through maturation into matrimony with that male mower of green growth.  And they existed endlessly enjoying each other.




After exhaustive research on the web, which is to say, several hours, I have been unable to find any reference to what my mother called bonking. Yes, I know it’s a euphemism for sex and that’s not what she meant. People, including me, use it to describe colliding into another object, something my head does when it goes in search of open cupboards. It was also used during World War I to refer to shelling with artillery fire.

The manic metronome illustrates what mother meant by bonking. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

But not a single reference to how my mother used it. When I was little, my favorite method of comforting myself was to rock my body back and forth, as if every chair, couch, or car backseat were a rocking chair. I would start with a gentle rocking motion, and slowly build up speed until I reached competition-level rocking. Thud, thud, thud, back and forth, like a manic metronome, I pounded out the rhythm of whatever music was playing in my head. This is what mother called bonking. I broke the springs in one of our couches because I could not sit on the couch to watch TV without bonking the entire time.

I also bonked across state lines. We used to drive from Texas to Arizona to visit my grandma, and I remember asking my mom once when we were going to get there. She said, “If you hadn’t been bonking so hard, we’d have already been there.” I guess the force of me bonking so hard in the backseat cancelled out the force of her foot on the gas pedal. One mile forward, half a mile backward.

Rocking is fairly common in babies. It soothes them. The rhythmic movement is calming, and most stop doing it around the age of three. I obviously needed a lot of self-soothing and comfort because I bonked passionately until I was at least eight years old.

I don’t remember anyone ever talking to me about it or trying to discover what compelled me to do it. My parents just accepted that I was a weird kid and that I’d probably grow out of. I did, kind of. I still love a rocking chair better than other kind of seating arrangement. And I still do some gentle rocking at times when I’m standing and waiting. And who doesn’t rock while listening to the blues?

Caption #1: Yearstricken rocks! Caption #2: Apple rocks! Caption #3: Yearstricken is off her rocker!

If I were a child now, I’d probably  have to see a shrink once a week, be on medication, have two or three psychological labels sewn to my psyche, and attend special classes for children who bonk.

Sometimes children have behaviors that require intervention, sometimes not. Sometimes kids are just weird. That, after all, is where all the weird adults come from.


This post was written from a rocking recliner.

One chance, one opportunity


Yesterday I drank a cup of green tea while I did my Japanese calligraphy. The smell of green tea calms me so that I can focus on the ink, the brush, and the strokes. I enjoy it hot or cold, and loved drinking matcha-flavored soy milk or matcha frappacinos when I lived in Japan. Matcha is a kind of powdered green tea that is used in the tea ceremony.

I experienced the tea ceremony only twice. It is a highly ritualized event that gives meaning to the mundane. What could be more prosaic than making and drinking a cup of tea? Yet, in the tea ceremony each and every act is filled with meaning and purpose. The simplest act of stirring the tea, pulling the sleeve of the kimono away, or turning the teacup is noticed and appreciated. For a brief period of time, all that exists is this exquisite act of making and drinking tea.

When else do we make time to marvel at the ability of the body to kneel or enjoy the incredible ability of the wrist to rotate so delicately? During the tea ceremony, this moment, this bending, this pouring, this stirring becomes the sole focus of life. No thought is given to what happened before or what will happen next. What matters is what is happening now.

And it is a communal moment – the shared cup of tea, bitter but lovingly and tenderly made and offered, along with a small sweet. So like life itself. During the ceremony, time is tamed. Tea brings the participants together, and in that moment they belong to the tea and to one another.

Children understand these things so much better than adults. They love rituals. They do something over and over without tiring. The way the page is turned, the voice is modulated, the neck is kissed,  the pillow fluffed, and the last goodnight said – all to be done without variance. And loved for that very reason. The child leads the parent into the ritual – to share the moment, to be together in time, or better, outside of time as the parent usually experiences it. The parent may try to cheat, but the child will rarely allow it, or if the child does, it will be reluctantly and out of obedience or resignation. The moment will be lost.

Although I need time to look both backward and forward to understand this path I am on, I don’t want to miss this moment. There is still much I want to see, do, read, and experience, but the tea yesterday reminded me that I also need time to enter the familiar dance of ritual that brings me into the moment and gives meaning to the mundane. One of the phrases associated with the tea ceremony is “ichi go ichi e” ( 一期一会 ), which means one chance, one opportunity. That’s all we get. Now is our only chance to live, to see, to love, and to share. Let’s not lose the opportunity.

How to play “Push Up”


About yesterday’s blog. Some people apparently never played “Push Up” as children.

Here’s how it works. You lie down in the grass, bend your knees, and then pull them toward your chest with the bottoms of your bare feet at an angle. After your playmate places her hiney on the soles of your feet, you give a push and propel her forward in a nice little arc.

One day, my sister, who is older and wiser, said that instead of propelling me forward, she was going to propel me upward. Who was I to disagree? She was the tall, photogenic one who was smart enough to skip a grade. I was the short, not-so photogenic one, who was smart enough to skip a rope. If she said it was up, then up it was.

But, of course, every up has its down.

Which is how she broke my arm. Which is why I write with a limp to this day.

The leading cause of writer's limp

Potty Humor


In spite of the post title, this is a family-friendly blog. Of course, I’m not talking about my family; I’m talking about yours. Families where older sisters don’t break the arms of little sisters who trust those older sisters. In those families, when the older sister lies down in the grass, bends her legs, and then tells the little sister to sit on her feet, the older sister pushes the little one forward. In a nice arc. And the little sister lands on her feet. Can you imagine a family in which the older sister tells the little sister to sit and then pushes straight up so that the little sister, bless her gullible little heart, lands on her arm, and it, along with her tender little heart, gets broken? I thought not.

I can almost hear the click, click, click of someone’s fingers typing a not very nice comment below.

Be that as she will, I wish I worked for the company in the photo below.

Hiney Hiders: We've got something to hide! So do you.

Internet friend: So, what you do?

Yearstricken: I  hide hineys for a living.

Internet friend: Pardon me?

Yearstricken: (face flushed with pride) I work for Hiny Hiders, and we’ve got your back covered! We are your #1 and #2 go-to place if you need to hide your hiney. And we are quick: we do not stall around and make you wait. Would you sit down on this little white stool while I go get a business card? Stop, internet friend, where are you going? Not there!

And finally, have you have ever wandered into a room and asked yourself, “What did I come in here for?” I do that all the time. Thankfully, whoever designed the bathrooms at my school put in this sign in case I get in the stall and forget what I came to do.

Helpful reminders: In case you forgot what you came into the room to do.

Please note: I realize this is a very low and somewhat crass level of humor, but my therapist says I shouldn’t worry about it since  I am still working through some very traumatic experiences I went through as a child with you-know-who.

Learn to read before it’s too late


Sometimes truth is written in large, bold letters, in plain English, and yet we do not comprehend it until it is too late. I know.


I married late, just shy of my thirtieth birthday. My husband and I are particularly suited to one another, as we both suffer from mild cases of Foerster’s Syndrome that manifests itself in compulsive punning. I highly recommend marriage between people with the same brain disorder. Neither of us see anything wrong with the other but find it odd that so many other people suffer from compulsive eye rolling when they are around us.


For two people to be so manifestly suited to one another, you would assume they lacked nothing. And yet, there was this nagging desire for children. After several unsuccessful years of trying to plan parenthood and a long journey of knocking on various medical doors, there was no “in” in the womb. The best option became adoption. Miraculously within just one year, we were blessed to receive a child.


To say that having a baby in your family changes your lifestyle is like saying that a tornado rearranges your furniture. Being subjected simultaneously to sleep deprivation, lack of adequate food, repeated exposure to prolonged periods of piercing noises, to say nothing of the sights and smells of a creature that secretes at both ends, is normally considered a violation of one’s human rights. However, because parenthood is voluntary, it is not against the law. I have never fully recovered and still wake at the slightest sound, always expecting a shrill cry of terror or the dread sound of someone deciding that they didn’t want their dinner after all.


Not that there were never moments of bliss. The cooing babe, the laughing cherubic face, those small chubby fingers grasping our hands–all of these soothed the heart and calmed the sudden fears.


As if one child were not enough, we decided we’d like to have two children. Again through a number of unusual circumstances, we were able to adopt a  five-year-old when our first child was three.


Little did we realize the imbalance of power this would cause. It was double the fun, double the pleasure, but now we were clearly outnumbered.  After marching backward in retreat for sixteen years, we stopped one day and looked at one another. It was painful as we both now resembled something that had been left in the dryer too long.  Who were these two former adults, reduced to tears, begging a child to obey, spouting threats, stomping feet, and shouting for the hundredth time, “I’m not going to tell you again.”


We were reduced to mere shadows of the bright, articulate, patient, wise people we used to be. Almost effortlessly, our children could initiate a major storm in the home and within the hour forget the quarrel while we were left stunned and shell-shocked.  If you had asked them about it that same evening, they would have been unable to tell you what all the fuss was about. Meanwhile, upstairs, we would be brooding, wondering where we failed, why we lost our temper, should we consider sending them to military school or a nunnery (can parents still do that?), have we lost our minds and don’t know it, does it matter, and was the point of paying thousands of dollars for braces so that they could sass with straight teeth.


It was in just such a mood that I happened to read the message that someone in the United States government has been trying to get across to its citizens for years.


Normally I do my reading outside of the bathroom.To me, the bathroom is like the train: get to where you are going, then get off. I always take the shortest route. I have friends who ride the train for fun, but not me. On that day, however, the station hadn’t arrived, so I cast about for something to read while I waited.  The only available reading material was a can of air freshener.


Imagine my shock when for the very first time, I took the time to read what it said. There in lettering which stood out from the rest of the text it said, “KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN.” It was a warning, and one that I had read repeatedly on a variety of products, yet never understood.  How many times had I read that or some variation like “KEEP OUT OF CHILDREN’S HANDS”?


Why had I never once understood the message? Once you fall into the hands of children, your life, as you now know it, is over.  Money that might have been there for your retirement is tied up in hundreds of stuffed animals, plastic action figures, gym shoes, and enough fingernail polish to paint a car.  All your illusions of being a patient, reasonable, logical adult will be shattered, and you will find yourself lying on the living room floor screaming and crying out, “Because I said so, and I’m the boss.” Meanwhile your children will be in their room playing Monopoly or surfing the web because it is no longer interesting to see you throw a hissy fit.


This government warning is pervasive and yet so few read or heed it. Instead of all the debate about teaching children phonics versus sight-reading, shouldn’t we be teaching adults to read warning labels? In college and graduate school, I spent hours explicating Shakespeare, yet never learned to understand the simple meaning of a warning written in bold letters on a can of air freshener.


Go ahead and have kids if you must, but don’t say you were never warned.

The government has been trying to warn you!


Their arms are short but their reach is long.

To All the Real Mothers Out There


Both of my children are adopted.  Our first-born is now our second child, and our second child is the first-born. It’s okay if you need to re-read the last sentence. When you give birth to children, this kind of thing is impossible; the rules are fixed. With adoption, there are no formulas. Birth order in an adopted family is based on when the child is birthed into your family.

Let me explain. Our youngest was adopted first. The second day after the birth, my husband and I went to the hospital to get our first-born child. The birth mother chose us to be the adoptive parents after viewing a group of portfolios she was given by the adoption agency.  I suppose, for precision’s sake, we could call her the birth-to-the-second-day-mother, which would make me the third-day-on-mother, but I ‘ll talk more about names in a moment.

When we arrived at the obstetrics ward, we met not only the birth mother but her mother and grandmother as well. No one could speak. Our nervous smiles held back the wild joy we felt; their smiles held back a fierce pain. When that young woman placed her baby in my arms, the pronouns all changed, and every one of us began to cry. We stood in a circle, each struck dumb in different ways. Only the social worker could speak, so she offered a prayer.

Normally, even in adoptive families, people do not  upset the chronological birth order, but we did. The first child was three when we adopted the second who was five. Some things are more important than birth order, like love.

We were living in Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, when we found out about our second child.  We had to travel  the full length of Japan to an orphanage in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. We never met the birth mother.

From the beginning, both children knew that they were adopted. We were careful to use the proper terms and explain that they had a birth mother and a birth father, but now we were their mommy and daddy, and we loved them very much.

What are we three mothers involved in these children’s lives to call ourselves? Birth mother fits the other two women, but then what am I, the “after birth mother” (too messy), or the “life mother” (more appropriate for a goddess), or simply “mother” (what I generally use.)

The word that has been raising its hand and waving it wildly in order to get our attention is  that four-letter word, “real,” as in, “Will the real mother, please stand up.”  If by this term we mean the woman who carried the child and gave birth, no small gift, then I am not the real mother. Each of us can have only one of those. The two women who gave life to my children are real mothers who physically sheltered and nurtured them nine months, and then willingly went through the pain of childbirth knowing they would release these beautiful babies to strangers. They were, and are, much more than mere incubators of my joy. Only those who are real can pay such a price.  I love and appreciate these mothers though one I have never met one and the other only once for a few minutes.

It is difficult for our language to accommodate the idea that children can have two real mothers. In the plainest use of  language, it is contradictory. Two parallel lines can never intersect, something we’ve known since Euclid. In an Euclidean grammar, the lines are clearly drawn: there can be only one real mother, and the other must be the birth mother or the adoptive mother, depending on who claims the title of “real.”

There is a geometry besides Euclid’s, however, where these parallel lines do not exist. In elliptical geometry, all lines on a sphere eventually meet. I choose to use a grammar based on that, so I can say without hesitation that there can be two real mothers–the one who gave birth and the one who adopted.


“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

(from The Velveteen Rabbit)