Liner notes

I admit some nostalgia for the era of the mix tape. I started off my career with a Sony boom box (or some manner of Chinese knock-off). I’d sit on the floor (shag green and yellow carpet) of the bedroom I shared with one or the other of my sisters, the radio tuned, my finger at the ready above the record button. I’d wait for the first few bars of a song to play (I got really good at recognizing a song by its opening notes) and make a split-decision. Much rewinding and resetting. Finding ways to stay occupied while I waited for the next song (a decent metaphor for what being a adolescent generally entails).

Eventually I got a double tape deck, and things really took off. When I sat on the bus to and from basketball games I’d be listening to tapes friends had made me (Peter Gabriel, The Indigo Girls, Crosby Stills and Nash, Mr. Mister’s version of “Kyrie Eleison”, Bob Dylan and U2) as the popular girls had Bon Jovi singalongs in the back of the bus. Those were the days. I still have exactly two of those tapes. I’m not sure how they survived the rewinding and fast-forwarding. I fear getting them out because G has already dismantled a favorite tape I made while in England.


A lot’s happened since I last published a post here. Too much to catch up on, and I’m no good at playing catch-up because it usually ends with giving-up, the writing abandoned all together. So let’s get back into the swing of things with a good old playlist. I’ll try to keep the liner notes short.

1. Jonah’s Birthday
On Tuesday, Jonah turned 7. There was (still is) a mammoth Spiderman balloon. Chocolate cake and buttercream frosting. Chocolate chip cookies to take to school for friends. A modest celebration. Enough I hope. He even let his brother open one gift, though G still thinks the jump rope he pulled out is his and not J’s. It was a good day, and stray packages keep arriving by post, the highlight of which (I’m a little embarrassed to say) was a plastic pool of fake vomit. Other than his Hagrid keychain, it was pretty much the only thing he asked for.

2. John left for Boston. My mother simultaneously arrived from Kansas.
We passed the ten minutes waiting for her to arrive at the airport (we had just dropped off John) talking to a colleague/friend of John’s who was waiting with his daughter to pick up his wife. Actually, he mostly chatted with Jonah while I tried to keep track of Gabriel. The timing felt like good fortune—or is it a happy accident? We’ll call it serendipitous and let it be.

3. John came down with a stomach bug gifted by the boys. I did likewise.
I stumbled around for half a day, making excuses for the strange feeling in my stomach. By afternoon, I gave in. By evening, I was curled up in the fetal position in my bed while my mother tended to the boys. John pushed through valiantly as he attended a conference and socialized with friends. We sent pitiful pictures of ourselves by text in commiseration—him from the train, me from the front seat of the Subaru while Jonah was in dance class.

4. Gabriel had his three year well child check-up.
Ear canals finally clear. Still almost off the charts for size. Declared healthy and strong, if a stinker. Charmed the nurses with his antics. Impressed the doctor with his vocabulary. I’ll stop bragging now.

5. Jonah jumped 120 times (without stopping) on his pogo stick.   
All of a sudden he’s a master on the thing, and his balance is astounding. He’s even starting to steer and can jump down the driveway and back up again. He says he’s chasing squirrels. Click HERE to see. He saw a unicycle in an I Can Read book at church on Sunday and said, “I want one of those!”

6. My mom and I drove to Cleveland to hear Temple Grandin.
She’s a kind of animal rights/autism activist, but not like you might think. She’s designed humane systems for the handling of cattle and a hugging machine for the calming of agitated humans who can’t tolerate human touch. She calls herself a “grey hair” and has no use for handling high functioning autistics with kid gloves. Not much use for labels either. “Don’t let autism run your life!” she proclaims. “Do stuff. We’re forgetting how to Do Stuff.” “Get out of the basement, away from the video games. Get a job!” She’s against the abstractification of education and for any kind of hands on making. She’s currently working on a book about the way different brains work (particularly the autistic brain). She is autistic herself. She is hilarious. Clair Danes portrayed her in the movie Temple Grandin. The event was held at the Cleveland Public Library, a beautiful and worthy destination in and of itself.

7. Late Saturday John returned from Boston. 

8. Early Sunday my mother fell ill.
She too tried to deny the obvious. She had to change her flight (to the delight, if confusion, of Jonah). She slept for almost two days straight. She is now feeling much better and is currently reading books to G so that I can write this.

9. The boys and I attended Church.
If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you probably know the portent that sentence can hold. See the fire alarm story HERE. The morning started with the annoying reality of Daylight Savings Time, followed by my misjudgment in allowing G to take his entire toolbox in the car. He was told he could bring one tool into church. Having chosen the Phillips head screwdriver, he promptly wanted the flat head. After entering the church, he could not do without his saw and threw a fit for not having it. I finally scooted J into church to sit with our friend Melissa while I tried to talk G down from the edge (and a full blown tantrum). The promise of nuts and a mint finally did the job, after which he was ready to light our candles. We three headed to the candle stand at the back. G was doing his skippy, trippy run and, characteristically, tripped, falling and hitting one of the very wobbly legs of the unsteadier than I knew candle stand. Before I could stop myself (because that’s how bad habits work), I whisper-spoke “Shit!”. I’m pretty sure only a few ladies in the back row heard me, and I sometimes imagine (or not) they give me dirty looks about the behavior of my children anyway, so I tried to focus on the reality of my own sin and added swearing to the list of habits that need breaking this Lent. After that near catastrophe, it was (relatively) smooth sailing.

10. John wore a t-shirt.
I have not, in the almost eleven years I have known my husband, ever seen him wear a cotton t-shirt by choice (under extreme duress, yes, when required by a collegial event). He, of course, stepped out in style. I only wish he would have also bought me a Walt Whitman “Yawp” shirt at AWP. I would have promised never to wear it on the same day.

11. John and Gabriel built a G-sized work table.
It’s in the garage. Finished in the hour it took Jonah and I to take our Sunday afternoon walk/bike ride. G finally has a toy saw in his possession (thank you Grandma Debbe), as well as numerous screwdrivers, a level, and a pipe wrench, so the work bench was essential, not to mention inevitable.

12. Gabriel is actually Spiderman.
Jonah was likewise enamored at age three. G wears the same musclebound suit, which consistently stirs in J the need to wrestle him to the ground. Sunday night G was allowed to sleep with the suit because the thought of not being able to wear the suit to bed sent him into a tailspin. When G is not Spiderman, he is a dog who crawls around on all fours and pants and eats up pages of books.

13. Godfather Joshua came for a visit.
He was in town with his cousin (Jack Korbel) for a coffeeshop concert. Jonah radiated delight. Godfather Joshua read him Calvin and Hobbes cartoons for an hour while I prepared dinner. Godfather Joshua brought an All Saint’s Day of the Dead decorated mirror to hang by Jonah’s bed to ward off bad dreams. Godfather Joshua taught him the word “onomatopoeia.” J was mournful to see him go so soon. G lamented: “I want Godfawder Yoshua come back now.”

Today my mother flies back to Kansas (she’s much better), and we return to the quieter activities of our slightly-crazed clan. Jonah might cry. But there are summer plans to travel, provided my faith and stamina hold out. Picture collage follows. Shorter (I promise), more regular posts to come…

jonah stocking hat cropgreen god skycleveland libraryjoshua and jjohn sickjenny sickspidey trikespidey fightyawpjonah question croppinwheel jonahg check




Invisible Me

Jonah is a great catcher of dreams. Almost every morning, he asks first thing, “What were your dreams?” And he’s got some good ones himself.

When I relayed, with some excitement, my dream about John being Spiderman (though he didn’t have the suit) and him saving Jonah and me by tackling a Venom-like bloke (also without a suit), J just couldn’t get past the fact that the super suits were missing. We talked about it all the way to school. We talked about it after school. We talked about it that night in bed. “But where was his suit?” John demonstrated how you didn’t have to have a suit to have skills and proceeded to hang upside down from the ceiling by his hands and feet. Okay, so he was laying on the top bunk about 3 1/2 feet below the ceiling, and okay, J didn’t believe him in the least. But still.

When J couldn’t remember his dreams he used to insist he had no dreams at all. That’s been revised. The following conversation is a condensed version of several different conversations over the course of days. The opening phrase is something J’s taken to using all the time. Even when he’s just starting a story. It’s hilarious.

“Where was I?” asks J. “O yes! Sometimes my brain catches my dreams and watches them but my eyes don’t see them.”

“Is that why you can’t remember them?” I return.

“Yep yep!”

I notice a faint scratch on his cheek and ask him where it came from.

“I sended it from my invisible brain and it smoothed it down. It had claws inside the invisible brain that came down and scratched me.”

I should add here that J has a very interesting relationship with his brain. On a walk over the weekend he (Jonah, not his brain) plopped himself down in the middle of the sidewalk in a pensive mood. When I asked what he was doing, he replied:

“My braincilator is just thinking about doing a parachute or maybe just crawling like a baby or something.”

Yeah, you read me right. Braincilator. I love the machine quality of that. It really emphasizes the way it can work for you.

So fast forward to the invisible brain day. (Still following? I know. It’s quite a trip.) After school, J continued to wax eloquently along this vein:

“Mom, can I tell you something? So, as was I was saying, I have an Invisible Me. He tries to help me with his invisible brain. You know what he has in there? Invisible guts!”

Unfortunately, the conversation was interrupted by Gabriel’s sighting of a garbage truck and his subsequent petition— “Gaba dwive dat gaw-bage gwuck!” —repeated in an increasingly loud voice ad nauseam until I conceded, “Yes, you can drive that garbage truck.” By that time Jonah had entered goofy town and an intelligible conversation was pretty much impossible because it was all he could do to stay on the sidewalk. Much flailing of arms and shouting of “Whoa! Whoa!” followed by a slightly maniacal laugh.

Invasion of the Invisible Me?






I should be writing a review of St. Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen. And I will. In a minute. First, I need to share a bit or two of dialogue between Jonah and me.

He’s been pretty much obsessed with Spiderman since his cousins sent him a puffy muscle suit when he was two. And these days, the cartoons aren’t cutting it. He wants the “actually real Spiderman,” which means the live action movie. We found a copy at the library and talked about watching it together (so John or I could edit out the too violent violence and/or disturbing weirdness). And that’s All we talked about, from the moment it was in his hand until dinnertime. At which point we started the movie, and he became obsessed with the actual moment when Dr. Octopus becomes Dr. Octopus. Watching a movie with Jonah requires an entirely different approach to movie watching. There’s no blank staring at the screen or getting transported into a couch potato funk. It’s a highly interactive experience.

So anyway, as we walked home from the library, I told Jonah that Spiderman kind of makes me crazy. All that flying around and sailing from building to building gives me vertigo. Couple that with the movie’s generally high volume, and it’s enough to make me want to go into a dark quiet room by myself for a couple of hours or on a long walk. But I loved J’s response:

“Is it artificial colors for you? Does it make you crazy?”

The connections he makes! He knows that artificial colors mess with his system, by which he intuited that crazy action movies do the same to me. John called him a nexus, and it’s a fair representation of how Jonah operates—the center through which everything connects. And it’s hard not to get sucked into his “the world revolves around me” reality. Balancing our lives in relationship to him will always take some doing. When I told him that I hadn’t even met John when I watched the first Spiderman movie, he couldn’t quite understand.

“You didn’t even KNOW John Carl Estes?”

No, I explained. I haven’t known your daddy for most of my life. This is a relatively new thing we’ve got going on here. I met him at the bookstore in Kansas where I worked. His response:

“So did you be friends and decide to make a kid?”

Yep. Something like that.

Superhero Super Power

Please forgive me if you find the following image disturbing (though it causes me to consider what fun the caricaturists and Saturday Night Live impersonators would have with Newt, were he the Republican nominee, and God forbid, future president). I myself was struck by the likeness. When I pointed it out to John, Jonah piped up, “Let me see! Let me see!” And what do you think he noticed first?

Nope, not the sweeping bouffant. Wasn’t the prominent ears or bushy brows. Immediately, and by immediate I mean a split-second, the J-man asked, “Why does he have such a little nose?”

Okay, so I had to search for a few moments even to find Newt’s nose in this picture. And I’m pretty observant. His nose? What kind of eyes does this kid have? We call Jonah’s attention to the smallest details (often at the expense of the much larger picture) his superhero superpower. His teachers regularly comment on it. The flip side is he doesn’t have much in the way of a herd mentality (one of John’s favorite Jonah-rific traits). He may have trouble working with others. And as much as most all of the kids in his class seem to truly like him and even seek him out, he’s just not sure what to do with them when they do.

Case in point: on Friday a boy in J’s class called out to him from behind the playground fence as we were walking home from school. “Hey Jonah!” he yelled. I had to remind J to say hey back. “Jonah, I’ll miss you.” J just kind of stood there, stone faced and dumbfounded. “You could say I’ll miss you too,” I suggested. “I’ll miss you too,” Jonah repeated. Then (we’ll call him) A called out, “I want to hug you.” I’m sure Jonah heard him, but he just kind of stood there, stuck, until I asked, “Do you want to give A a hug?” Still seeming confused, but willing and wanting to return the gesture, J ran to the fence and two very funny five-year-olds attempted to hug through a fence.

Here’s the thing. I bet you that if A was all the way across the playground yelling out to another kid, J would have piped up and exclaimed, “Hey, I hear A! A is so funny! Do you know something? Today A said…” and fill in the blank with a nonsensical incident that only two five-year-olds would find hilarious. Or say that A had a tiny tattoo of Spiderman on his arm, just barely peaking out from under his coat. J would be All Over It.

So is this why, when asked to brush his teeth before bed, Jonah (I mean, The Pink Panther) responded: “Do you know something? Pink Panther doesn’t brush his teeth? I don’t think you understand. I’ve never seen him brush his teeth. He doesn’t talk! He just coughs! Why don’t you understand?” I was trying desperately not to laugh, because The Pink Panther was entirely serious, and even a little distraught. The other morning before school he asked John, in all earnestness, “Why didn’t God make me a cartoon character?”

Sorry J-man. Sometimes life just ain’t fair.