Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Greatest Love of My Life

I have lost more card and board games to preschoolers than is respectable, I believe. It's just one of the perks of being a stay-at-home mom. My days right now are full of matches. I play some combination of mini pool, Skip-Bo, Sorry, UNO, Doodle Dice, and Brain Quest every single day of my life.

A friend, in talking about phone apps and online games, said to me recently, "Nobody plays board games anymore." I didn't contradict her, but I was thankful that I actually do. Through board games I have taught colors, numbers, math, the alphabet, and fair play to all my children. Daniel is the only one at home now, and he loves them. (I like to think they're keeping my brain sharp as well.)

But my stay-at-home life has been full of more than those awkward folding boards and tactile game pieces of days gone by. A great many parks have I explored in this town, trying to give my city kids a taste of freedom as I scrambled on the play equipment behind them, and many green spaces are familiar old pals now after regular visits. Library story times, play dates, nap times and community classes have also been my friends in child rearing. I will not deny PBS, either, for I love its lessons and have always said very loyally and half-jokingly, "I have raised my kids on PBS - hours and hours of it!"

I realize my luck as a stay-at-home mom. I realize it when I am losing my temper after losing my patience. Then the kids say or do something goofy or karma smacks me in my ludicrous face by making me stub my toe or trip on toys, and I crack up before we all burst out laughing. The discipline goes out the window, but my sanity is saved by laughter. I know my blessings when I can watch my child's sleeping face for a moment during naptime quiet  - missing them right after I was so desperate for them to sleep - or hear them laugh with that childhood laugh that is pure magic for inspiring joy but disappears somewhere around kindergarten. I know it when I'm there to silently hold them as they nurse a booboo. Every time we dance around the living room like apes, and I marvel at their agile, carefree moves I am aware of my good fortune.

Every week at least I find myself staring at my children's faces as they laugh, concentrate or tell a story, just marveling at the gift of knowing them and raising them and watching them grow. I get to experience all of these small but incalculably beautiful moments in time with them.

How miraculous is it? And yet sometimes I forget my luck, like in the morning rush to school when my kids decide to do anything rather than what I, like a drill sergeant, have barked out at them countless times, "Eat breakfast, shower, get dressed completely, brush hair, brush teeth, pack lunches!" It makes me want to rip out my freshly washed but wildly uncombed hair on the drive to school when they've done nothing but squabble from the time they woke up. Frustration prickles me when Daniel, who finally gave up naps this last busy December, comes to me continually as I'm writing and demands to be entertained despite the dozens of educational, creative toys cluttering our home. Irritation threatens to rule when I have chores to do or items to collect before we can leave the house for errands, and my little guy waits by the door and asks repeatedly in boredom, "Can we go yet?" I forget when I pick up the kids from school, and they seem to have been waiting all day just to resume their squabbles, or when I turn around at the grocery store to see my youngest ones scaling a stack of prepackaged food like it's El Capitan.

I have a selfish, unadventurous love of home, peace and quiet, so I have sadly been known to declare before my kids, "The constant fighting is my least favorite part of being a mom." And lately, I am ashamed to say, I have balked at all the running around we will have to do every day of our week save Sunday with the my kids' spring sports schedules. Amid the consistent disagreements between siblings, I have even cried out occasionally, "I just want peace and quiet. Can't I have peace and quiet?"

But instantaneously I feel like arresting my own words and trying them for ingratitude. No, I don't want peace and quiet, God knows. Thank God for my children's laughter, their interesting morning conversation for which we have so little time, all our child-parent dialogue on important issues, every cry of surprise, laughter or triumph as they play some rowdy game together while brutalizing the furniture. Thank God for it all, for he knows full well that I cannot imagine my life without my children. And it is true as well that I, if left to myself as a lover of home and quiet, would have far less interesting things to write about without all the energy, clamor, pain, joy, busyness and laughter wrapped up in the greatest love of my life: family.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Colds, Batteries and Bunky Boards - Isn't It Romantic?

On Friday my husband came home from a business trip, and, deprived of my fair company for far too long, he rushed home to my arms - after getting his oil changed. While waiting he was actually going to buy me overpriced chocolates, but the line was long with hapless men who had no clue what they were getting. So my man came home, and I offered him my cheek, because I had a nasty cold, passed on from our rotten children. He then sprawled on the recliner, having gotten up at 4:30 am, and watched a MeTV marathon. I languished on the couch, giving him a watery look of longing every half hour or so.

On Saturday morning - Valentine's Day at last! - the battery died in our van as we were leaving for Matthew and the kids' soccer game; Matthew flexed his muscles and jumpstarted it with his manly cables and SUV. The game went well, except for the fact that we tied an old nemesis again and some moms from the other team, upset over perceived fouling on our part and probably high on milk chocolate kisses, challenged a few of our dads to a fight, one of them throwing her fancy phone down as a sort of dueling gesture. (I missed all this.) Leaving the field of goodwill, the van wouldn't go again, so we begged friends to aid us. Matthew, afraid to stop the van, very authoritatively and romantically demanded, "Get out!" as we passed the house, kicking the kids and me out of the vehicle on his way to the dealership to replace the battery. He spent a few hours there, contemplating how he was coming down with our cold x 10 because of his plane-weakened immune system and his reentrance into a house of germs.

Meanwhile I was home yelling at the kids, having inherited the BeEverAngryandRagewhileSick Syndrome, otherwise known as BEARS, from my dad. In between my bouts of extreme irritability I cleaned the house, told my kids to stop being bums and searched for the illusive lasagna recipe I was supposed to make for V-Day dinner.

Matthew came home, and not intimidated in the least by my out-of-control BEARS, shuttled the family back out of the house to shop for bunk beds. After hastily navigating several stores and eager salespeople, we finally realized the first store had a far better price then anyone, so in conclusion to weeks of waffling, we decided to purchase it. We really liked the sticker price until the salesman said casually, "Now, you know about bunky boards, right?"

I might have said, "No, is it some kind of torture device?"

He then showed us how without bunky boards the so-called "bunk beds" could not actually support the mattress, something which any reasonable person would assume they had been designed to do. But no, as I understand it, without bunky boards we risked our top kid falling on our bottom kid or we risked mattresses that could turn into hospital beds without all the fancy controls, folding our kids up slowly into precious upside down caterpillars.

Then we had to choose a mattress, but because the board shock had gotten to us first, we settled on a mattress that could possibly be viewed as a torture device by sensitive adults. Matthew, always the pragmatist, said it wasn't that bad. I comforted myself with the fact that the young uns' backs would surely recover someday, at least when they left home for college, and we could always buy a foam topper in the future.

The salesman cordially invited us to sit for the final total. He graciously told us delivery would cost us another $69. We then told him we would pick up the bed, board and mattress ourselves at which point he informed us that they didn't keep the merchandise in store. No! They kept it in a warehouse so far out west in the virtual wilds of this metropolis, that it could only be delivered to the store for a price.

Weary, ill, and stripped of all romance, we were about to drop out of the deal until he said he could waive the charge.

At home, our pockets whistling with the breeze as the money blew out of them, I told Matthew flatly, "I can't find my recipe, so I have no clue what's for dinner."

Not about to splurge on even the most economical take-out, he began a frantic search for it. I then finally remembered where I put it, and he insisted on helping to make it until I realized I didn't pick up fresh basil. We had bean, green chili and cheese burritos for supper, because the romance had so far removed itself from us that we no longer worried about gassiness.

The next morning our main sewer pipe backed up. I prayed the plumber would come in time for all of us to shower and leave for church. He did, and we bid a fond adieu to more of our money, took hasty showers, and made it to church on time. Then Matthew took a long nap in hopes of recovery from the weekend while I read the paper. Sadly, I had to wake him rather abruptly, so he could climb a ladder with a long, heavy, dangerous pole to poke some kid's football out of the high branches of our gargantuan eucalyptus tree.

Needless to say, there were no amorous interludes this weekend. The most romantic moment happened when we were watching episode 7 of Downton Abbey, and I cried because Robert's dog Isis is dying. Matthew glanced at me for a moment, his big brown eyes shining with something between sympathy and humor, before going back to his phone.

Then I exclaimed, "That was the best episode ever, don't you think?"

He responded a little too exuberantly, "Oh, it was!"

I think he was being sarcastic, the sexy devil. Isn't it romantic?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Reaction to A Child Called It by David Pelzer

My husband was out one night before Thanksgiving, and as I sat in a chair reading, I forgot that my oldest boy was still in the dining room. He was up way past his bedtime. He must have made a noise, because I was surprised and exclaimed, "Berto, what are you doing? Go to bed!"

He then slowly came over to me and said, "Mama, you won't believe this book I'm reading. This boy's mom is normal and then one day she changes for no reason and starts doing crazy stuff. She even stabs him!"

As a parent you don't look forward to your children saying such things about a book they've been reading - of which you had no knowledge.

"What? Let me see that."

He handed over the paperback. It was A Child Called It by David Pelzer.

I glanced at the pages where my boy was, examined the face of the little boy on the cover and asked, "Where did you get this, Berto?"

He told me a friend at school had been talking about it obsessively, how no one could believe what this boy's mother made him do. She piqued Berto's interest; he must have been listening and asking questions, because she offered to lend it to him.

As he was telling me this I was reading the words at the place he left off. He saw my face.

"You have to go back and read the beginning first," he insisted. "He gets rescued."

If I had known about its content, it was not a book I would have let him read at 12 years of age. I sent him to bed, and I was alone with this story of which I had never heard but knew with certainty had opened my son's eyes irreversibly to the bizarre, absolute evil in this world.

When my husband came home, I had read about half of it.

"We have to talk about this book our son is reading," I said. Then I, too, added, "You won't believe it."

My husband listened as I revealed the terrible details of this little boy's life, all the abhorrent, twisted punishments he suffered at his mother's hands, how his dad did nothing, and how his brothers ignored him or joined in tormenting him.

"It's awful. It's really bad. I can't believe Berto is reading this. Should we let him?"

"Well, it's too late now, isn't it?"

"Honey, it's really bad."

"It'll make him realize how lucky he is. We just have to make sure to talk to him about it."

I don't think lucky is the word, but I knew what he meant.

Sucked into David Pelzer's story by the need to speak with my son about the evil people do to one another, I was horrified and demoralized by what Pelzer endured as a child. The effect the book had on me was so apparent that my husband said, "No more for tonight. Let's go to bed. Come on."

I wept as I revealed more details to my husband. Then I tried to fall asleep. It was of no use. I couldn't stop thinking about Pelzer's excruciatingly long childhood nightmare. I crawled out of bed, grabbed the book and took it to our bathroom. Sitting on the hard floor, finishing that book, I sobbed as I dwelt on Pelzer's pain, mourned for every hurting child, and longed to wrap every abused kid in the world in my arms.

Such was the power of his story that I had many uncomfortable thoughts. I found myself regretting times when I lost my temper with my own kids, gave into anger and yelled so badly, I frightened them, and those thoughts caused me to regret any unpleasant memories I have given my children. I found myself regretting times when I noticed things that seemed off or suspicious in the life of another child and didn't say or do anything. At one point Pelzer reveals that his heart was flooded with hate for his mother, for his dad, for his brothers, and for every person who knew something of his situation and did nothing. And he said that he hated God most of all, because if anyone knew what he was going through, it was God, and I thought, I can't blame him for thinking that in his situation.

That was a very uncomfortable thought, for I love my Heavenly Father and know he is not indifferent, and I am not trying to be blasphemous, just honest about a reaction. I understood how a child could think that in Pelzer's chronically endangered situation. I know what Christians believe about free will, Original Sin, and Satan, the fallen angel whom Jesus described as a "murderer and liar from the beginning", but I also know that we address the problem of evil as "The Problem of evil" for a reason. We cannot fully explain it with our theology. There is no pat answer.

But I feel, too, that every person who was aware that something was terribly wrong in that young boy's life and did nothing failed as a child of God when they were so desperately needed. God uses us in community to help one another. We must be in tune to our heavenly Father's nudges. This is why I do not believe we should ignore the urge to do something or to speak to someone, even if we don't fully understand it.

I couldn't comprehend the horror to which Pelzer's spiritually and mentally ill mother subjected her son, but I did recognize in his story the truth of how evil breeds ever greater evil; it is never satisfied. We can't feed it by dismissing our vices or by giving power to an addiction that weakens us and alters us in increasingly terrible ways.

The only hope in the story is found when he writes of the courage and the wits he always kept about him to survive, the will and wits that bought him time when his mother attempted to burn him on a gas stove; when he sat in a cold, dirty bathroom and pushed all the puss from his stab wound while wiping off the infection with dirty rags; when he repeatedly scrounged for food while on the brink of starvation; and when he used his imagination to sustain hope as he sat on his hands for hours in some starkly inhospitable place, purposefully isolated from the other members of his family

How my heart ached and broke for this child! I can still see images from the book that distress me, such as the times when he lay submerged for hours in an ice-cold tub of water at his mother's command. Pelzer's mother attacked his dignity, his natural right to happiness, and his health in such vile ways that it seems miraculous he lived to write about it. His case apparently was the worst recorded case in California history, and one can easily believe it.

There is hardly any love mentioned, except his painful love for and misplaced trust in a very broken, cowardly father and his fascination with a baby brother with whom he was not allowed to interact. In the prologue he acknowledges that by the grace of God, he is able to know what love is through his relationship with his own son.

After his father left the family, abandoning his son to his evil mother, Pelzer wrote of desperately clinging to a package his dad had given him and, as his brothers ate their fast food in the car beside his starving frame, bowing his head and saying the Lord's Prayer. A couple of months later, he was finally rescued through the efforts of brave and compassionate teachers, a nurse, and administrators at his school.

A Child Called It haunted my Thanksgiving. Recalling vivid scenes of torment from its pages, I wept often that long weekend for David Pelzer and every child who has ever known anything like what he knew.

My husband and I both agreed that this book wasn't something we would have handed to our son, but we also believed that it would enkindle in him greater compassion for other children, that when he meets a kid who is dirty, smelly, wearing old or too-small clothes, or one who is being ostracized by other students because they're "weird" or "different" or just "not cool" he will remember David Pelzer's story and consider his actions more carefully, more fully respecting the dignity of everyone whom he encounters.

As for me, this is a book I could never forget, and I hope it will make many of us more aware, more courageous and more compassionate in confronting evil in our community and in protecting each child's rights to emotional, physical and spiritual health.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Art and Value of Entertainment

My husband recently asked me if everything I listened to, read, or watched had a positive value.

This was after we got into a fight over the Superbowl halftime show. I had to leave the TV for a bit, because I found the spectacle, like every single Grammy's Award show I have ever subjected myself to, annoying. I left, but I did not leave my husband and son alone; I had an ear cocked, because I did not trust Katy Perry. Nothing had seemed visually indecent, but the lyrics to her songs are extremely frivolous and often raunchy. So, overreacting as I tend to do, as soon as I heard the song "California Gurls", I blurted, "This song isn't appropriate for Berto!"

Yes, I am really that protective when it comes to material that may form my son's opinions about women. I turn the station on the radio all the time. And, yes, I am very likely - not positively, mind you - too sensitive.

I told my husband flatly and haughtily, "When it comes to entertainment, I do not believe in pure entertainment. Everything has either a good value or a negative one."

That has always been one of my favorite pet sayings. It's very pithy, isn't it? Well, it was my favorite until my husband called me on it, made me stop and think.

"So everything you listen to or watch around the kids has a positive value? Nothing inappropriate at all?"

Whooo....."Well, nothing explicit. I mean, most of it is probably neutral, come to think of it - neither good nor bad. [As if he didn't know what neutral meant] But....uh....touché."

So I was wrong, but I amend my ways by asserting that most entertainment has a good or bad value. I still really like the saying.

I can find the value in stories that others would challenge. Take, for example, the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. That romantic comedy, a childhood favorite, has a wealth of value based in the story of a selfish, self-centered, pride-filled man who over a seemingly endless day confronts the truth about himself and his ambitions and gradually learns to use his excess time, not for pleasure, consumption or self-aggrandizement, but to grow in kindness, humility, selflessness and skill. And he does it at first to win the attention and love of a woman - not too bad thing - but in the end continues because he grasps the value in doing good and helping others.

On the other side of the coin, I detest Adam Levine's song "Animals". Though just a song, some might say, to me it has terrible, unhealthy, carnal lyrics. I do agree with others that it sounds like a disturbing and explicit stalker song. The imagery has nothing to do with a loving relationship, and I have had a few talks with my 12-year-old son about it, because it seems to be a very popular song with his age group.

My husband and I also had a recent, quite lengthy discussion with our oldest boy about movies and books. Berto was upset that we didn't want him to read the book American Sniper until one of us had read it or until we had spoken with Uncle Dave about it. He was very distraught about the whole thing, and I couldn't understand why until it came out that his friends had told him repeatedly that his parents were too protective. Apparently, they also regularly spoke of usually vulgar movies that we wouldn't allow him to see because of content, and he felt completely left out of conversations, the odd man out of classroom culture, because his parents were "overprotective".

Well, what could we say but tough luck? I feel for him, but as I told him, I have myself walked out of or stopped watching many movies, because I found them offensive or too disturbing. I also have, regretfully, persisted in watching or reading things that I wish I had given up on much sooner, because the junk still clutters my mind.

My husband made the best point. He said that many times at work he has encountered the same situation. He doesn't pretend he has seen the movie or is going to see it. He says clearly that it is not a movie he has or will see - if asked. Then my man pointed out that it is our responsibility to raise our son to know healthy boundaries. God has given us that responsibility - to form his character, to foster good judgment, to teach him to swim against the current of the culture. We couldn't really care much less what other parents allow.

But....I have allowed Berto to read and watch things that other parents would not allow for their 12-year-old, including The Hunger Games (well, not the first violent movie). I believe that story has value in its commentary on good and evil: in its promotion of sacrifice, its lack of promiscuity; its apt portrayal of a society so disordered in the Capitol that people have lost their depth and discernment and parade about like outrageous plastic figurines, completely wrapped up in the superficial, in the sensory. I can say similar things about the value of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars and the Harry Potter series, the latter of which I allowed my son to read when he was too young for it according to one of his teachers; my mistake, I admit. All these fantasy tales promote courage, community, love, honor and justice while not avoiding the intense heartache, cynicism, death, moral struggles, physical limitations, compromises and discouragement that come with personal and communal battles against evil.

In fact, any tale that promotes the best gifts we humans have and can foster, like love, hope, and courage, in battling evil have my support. There are millions of these stories for a reason.

Yet, I have also allowed my oldest children to watch things or read things, and later I regretted it. Berto watched Captain America and Iron Man, for instance, and they were both far more violent than I anticipated.

Recently I also allowed Ana to read The Princess Bride. Truly, I love the movie. Like many people, I grew up on it; my brother and I would watch the fencing scenes over and over again. But the book? Not so charmed. I am not sure what William Goldman's experience with women has been in general, but in his tale it seemed to me that he mostly portrays them as vain, capricious, simple creatures who once they have lost their looks, lose a good portion of their value and self-esteem. You can imagine I talked quite a bit to my girl about what she thought of his portrayals of our gender. Though he has a satirical writing style that grows on you, I most certainly could do without his anemic portraits of the female sex, and I'm glad that some of that was excluded from the movie.

Yet no one would argue that Buttercup and Westley fight for the right. They fight for love, the greatest thing. Even poor Inigo, lusting after revenge, is battling evil in his convoluted, obsessive way.

I really must wrap this up, for I believe I have lost my point and possibly my credibility. (Let me 'splain. No, it is too much. Let me sum up.) My point is that, for my own family and my own children and my own self, I do often find that "entertainment" either promotes the good or that it glorifies evil - sometimes in clever ways. I will not subject myself to gory horror movies or allow my children to ever play certain video games, because I think they intrinsically have a negative value based on their promotion of death, lust and violence. But I will someday (and I say someday because children can miss the central message in material that is too mature for them to handle) allow them to watch movies about the Holocaust, various wars, and mysteries, because they so powerfully express just how great the problem of evil is and just how bravely and inexhaustibly it has been challenged, contained, or transformed by mere mortals.

My family and I have discovered some really great stories lately that I believe promote the good. I will rattle off a few:

The Fifth Quarter movie: The story of a high school boy's death in a tragic car accident and how his family comes to grips with his senseless death as their community embraces them. His older brother returns to his college football career, and the whole team dedicates themselves to winning for his deceased brother. Powerful based-on-true-events story of faith, courage, community and one family's profound loss.

Get Low movie, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray: Wow, I loved this movie, far more than my husband thought I should, but it so eloquently expresses the effect of our sin in an unusual, brilliant way. Truly, you want to know what penance and confession might look like after years of silent guilt? Watch this. I balled like a baby.

A Child Called It memoir by David Pelzer: A memoir about surviving child abuse that is too powerful for me to sum up effectively. Nevertheless, I will try to review it in another post. Too disturbing for children.

Grantchester PBS TV series: Ah, murder mysteries. I love them, because they always get their man but do not overlook his humanity. Grantchester is an excellent series about an intelligent, nonjudgmental Anglican priest with great instincts and a gruff, cynical, but goodhearted policeman and their respect for each other as they work together solving crimes.

Ghost No More memoir by CeeCee James: This is the heartbreaking story of a childhood nearly devoid of love and the dignity that belongs to every human being, a girl's constant yearning for love, recognition and mercy from her parents. I will also review it in a post.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas movie: My husband had to hold me at the end of this movie, because I was sobbing uncontrollably. It is about the friendship between a boy whose father is a commandant of one of Hitler's death camps and a boy who lives behind the fence of the nearby concentration camp. It is understandably controversial in its portrayal of events and people, but I thought the message of its final moments was powerful.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sunlight on the Forest Floor: Children of God

The altar and crucifix of St. Augustine By The Sea Church, Waikiki, Hawaii 

A while ago I read an article from someone who was debating the Catholic belief in the Eucharist. He essentially asked, Why on earth would the King of the Universe lower himself to become something we eat and digest?

The questions that must follow such a query are: Why would the King of the Universe die on a tree for us? Or be born as one of us, a dependent infant, in a stable?

The cross was considered a very humiliating death, and yet God suffered it for us as only God could. And the manger itself speaks volumes about how much our God values humility, honesty and simplicity, not the transient wealth, station, or power the world esteems.

Why is God present with us? Why was he born among animals and crucified with criminals?

Read More.....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Post in Pictures: Superstitious

I found our camera. Nothing is free, they say, so in exchange, I have lost my will to write. Therefore I present to you a true post in pictures - all those photographs I took on our Christmas Eve hike in the Superstition Mountains to Weaver's Needle on the Peralta Trail.

Sunshine on a tree's shoulders makes me happy.

An aloe shoot towers above saguaros

We shimmied through this miniature slot canyon...

And peeked through these rocks on the other side

Saguaros framed by red rocks? Truly beautiful.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Identity Crisis....On Paper

Signature rehab. That is what I need, and I need it now.

By that strange statement I do not mean I need to go to an extra-fancy, personally-tailored rehab for some well-researched issue. I mean I need to seriously go to signature rehabilitation where I figure out how to properly sign my own name in a hurry...with style. After all, if I haven't worked out how to write my name nicely by 35 years of age, it's time to call in the professionals. Perhaps I need some tough-love boot camp where they make you do manual labor, take cold showers and eat nothing but stale grilled-cheese sandwiches until you straighten your cursive alphabet out.

Every time I sign my kids' agendas in the morning, I stare in horror at my handiwork, dreading what the teachers must be saying in the break room about how my kids can't get their mother to sign their agenda but have to enlist their little brother's help instead.

I'm so paranoid that I've asked my daughter Ana, "Has your teacher mentioned my signature? Does she know it's mine? What did she say?"

"Nothing, Mama...really. You're fine."

Yeah right.

I'd like to own my own signature, be proud of its "uniqueness", but as it is I really don't know who I am. I just can't figure out what it says. It could be my name - at least a couple letters from it (like the H and a...uh....hmmmmm) - or it could be some lost orc-speak from Middle Earth that could pull the whole world under the power of the one ring.

Scratch that. It's not pretty enough. Even an orc, twisted elves as they are, would be repulsed by it.

Every time I scrawl my X on the line of our tax forms or a check, my husband grunts in pure disgust. Each and every time. Yes, that is very ungallant of him, I agree, and you would think he had gotten used to its illegibility by now. I really can't call him on it, though, because "to love for beautiful cursive or for chicken scratch" wasn't in the vows. I probably shouldn't provoke him, either, because if he sees my signature too many more times, it could be bad.

I recently applied for a passport, and the forms asked for my "legal signature". I froze, started to sweat and stared blankly at the Postal Lady. Honestly I don't think my signature is real or "legal" in any language. Even if the US government accepts it, I could be dragged to the basements of foreign airports, detained by strange men with funny accents as they slam the table in front of me and shout ominously, "Our patience has run out! Now who are you really? Tell us what this says!" Covering my face with my hands and sobbing, "I don't know! I haven't known for years!" probably won't cut it.

If I'm to be brutally honest with myself, it's not just about the signature. My handwriting is atrocious in general. When I was in high school, I'm certain my teachers couldn't read my writing more than half the time and only gave me As because I did well on multiple choice tests.

As I persevered in writing a paper in my excruciatingly hideous scrawl one day in History, the pretty boy in the desk behind scolded me with, "Your handwriting looks like a man's!"

I didn't see what was so wrong with that at the time. It wasn't beautiful or feminine with soft curved letters or artistic curlicues, but what's wrong with writing like a man? Of course, judging by the tone in which he said it, what I think he meant to say was, "You write like a Neanderthal man, and not one who reproduced with modern humans!"

And that brings me to the love letters I wrote to my husband before we lived in the same state. He asked me to send them to his grandmother's address, because he was too embarrassed for his roommates to think he had an ape for a pen pal. His grandma opened a letter from me by mistake one day, and she apologized profusely. Matthew laughed and told her not to worry one bit. Then he held up the missive to show her.

"You wouldn't be able to read this anyway," he insisted.

She agreed, shaking her head and no doubt bemoaning the type of unruly girls her grandson insisted on courting.

But you have to give my man props for that. He spent a good deal of time deciphering each letter before he wrote back....or at least I assume so. Maybe that's why I received far fewer letters than I wrote; he couldn't quite make out my words or my feelings.

But at least I signed them.