Middle School Run

by Tanya Ward Goodman

spelling bee

I ran in the Jog-a-Thon at my son’s school this morning for a bunch of reasons. I ran because this is the first year in a while that I’ve had two kids at two different schools and the boy’s school is getting the short end of the volunteer stick. I ran because the boy didn’t get any pledges on his fundraising card and I didn’t make any effort to help. I ran because he asked me to run and because I thought it would be what our elementary school principal calls a “memory maker.” I ran because I thought if I made the effort to be with him in this shared activity it might take the edge off the pre-teen anger and sullenness that runs through our house like a lava-mudslide-blizzard-tornado all hot and cold and fast and slow and deadly no matter what.

As you might imagine, in the company of his friends the boy was not as thrilled about our shared Jog-A-Thon experience as he was in the privacy of our kitchen. When I (because I am sometimes dim about these things) jogged right up to him, he shooed me away with a tiny hand movement. With no words, he was able to convey to me that I should either be very far ahead of him or very far behind. I was a little hurt. In fact I might have decided at that moment that I would run more laps than he did. I would crush him. And then I came to my senses.

Why in the world would he want to run with me? I was happy to see him run with his buddies. It was great to see them joking and laughing and doing funny walks. They bounced shoulder into shoulder and poured water on each other. They had a good time.

And so did I. I realized that I was running with a bunch of middle school kids in a way I did not run in middle school. When I was eleven, our gym class was made to run a weekly mile on a dirt road that ran directly underneath a cement plant. It was dusty and hot and I never was able to jog more than a few steps without resting. I was a reader, not a runner. I was an ice cream eater and a daydreamer. The runners were tall, slim girls with long, long legs. I would never be a runner.

But here I was thirty-five years later, running. As I completed each lap, I was given a red twist-tie. Every time I gathered another one, I felt happier. I wasn’t winded. You never know what is going to happen. You never know what you’re going to be capable of doing until you do it. It may seem small, but today, on an asphalt school yard, in the company of the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, I realized that while I will always be a reader, I’m a runner, too. And I was okay to do it alone and to let my boy do his running alone or in the company of friends as he saw fit.

My boy ran a lap or two at my side, dropping in and then peeling off, and it was as nice to have his company as it was to see him speed out in front of me. At the end of the Jog-a-Thon, we compared our lap totals. He finished two ahead of me and I could see that gave him pleasure. A memory was made for both of us.

Tanya Ward Goodman is the author of “Leaving Tinkertown,” published by the University of New Mexico Press.


Halloween with the Red Van Raiders

by Tanya Ward Goodman


I was in third grade and it was Halloween. A bunch of people had gathered at our house to eat and drink before heading out to trick-or-treat. My mother was dressed as a gypsy fortune-teller. She swirled around the house in satin skirts and a patchwork vest, dispensing red wine out of a big green jug. My father took one of his sign-painting brushes and painted “5¢” on the bare flesh just under her collarbone. He added an arrow pointing into her cleavage and then painted a half moon on her cheek. She stood very still while he did this.

My father didn’t usually wear a real costume – that is to say he didn’t dress up like a vampire or a clown or a goblin. He wore his standard uniform of paint-spattered blue jeans, cowboy shirt with pearl snaps and Tony Lama boots. Over all of this, depending upon the chill of the evening, he might throw a fleece and leather coat with silver arrows on the collar. He might wear a grey felt top hat or a brown derby or maybe the big black Stetson. In our house there were a lot of hats hanging from nails Dad pounded into the ceiling beams of the living room. There were lots of cattle brands burned into the floorboards. There was a stuffed moose head wearing wire rim spectacles and a big glass cage where our iguana ate bananas and spent all day and night under a 40 watt bulb. What I mean to say is that Dad didn’t need to think about what he was going to “be” for Halloween, because he’d already decided who he was going to “be” for life.

Halloween was a big night for my brother and I. We often started planning our costumes in August. With the late summer monsoon clouds filling the New Mexico sky, we thought ahead to that night in October when the air would be crisp and cold and filled with the scent of woodsmoke. We knew there would be a pot of chili on the stove and a tray of caramel apples. There might be candied popcorn or cookies sprinkled with sugar. There would be empanaditas – the little crescent moon pastries filled with green chile and cheese. There would be the gutting of pumpkins for jack o’lanterns and the salting and roasting of seeds. And then, there would be candy. Free candy. While we planned our costumes, we also planned what we would do with the candy. We strategized. We plotted. We knew there would be trading and stealing and most certainly a fight over baby Butterfingers and miniature Snickers. There would be elation and awe and gratitude for the gift of a full size candy bar. There would be bingeing and hoarding and stomachaches and the inevitable let down that is the first day of November when Christmas is far away and Thanksgiving has only pie to recommend it.

I was dressed as the Pink Panther this year in rosy fur and a paper mache mask that smelled of flour paste and newsprint. I was disappointed that the costume had turned out baggy and shapeless – more like a Pepto Bismol yeti than a panther. The mask was bulky and awkward and made it hard to see. The big muzzle weighed it down and pulled at my hair. With the fur hood over my head and the mask on my face I could feel sweat prickle on my scalp. I wished I had chosen a more beautiful costume. I wished I were more beautiful. I had a big crush on most of the boys trick-or-treating with us. It would not be untruthful to say I had a crush on all boys. I kept these crushes very secret. I had already read my way through the school’s SRA Reading Series. I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in second grade. I was a smart girl. In my third grade mind smart girls were not boy crazy. They had more serious things to think about.

But I did think about boys. I thought about them the way I thought about store bought candy. They seemed as delicious and mysterious.

One boy was dressed as a Banshee, another as Big Foot. The Banshee was always losing the headpiece to his costume and Big Foot tripped constantly over his huge Styrofoam feet. The Banshee could draw any kind of animal, but was especially good at cats and hippos, which were my favorite. Big Foot had beautiful eyes and a sprinkle of freckles. He had a teepee permanently set up in the woods behind his house. In a perfect world, one of these boys would have taken my hand. In a perfect world, the Banshee’s grease paint would not have rubbed off on my pink fur and Big Foot would not have been so darned interested in my brother’s Matchbox Cars.

Bob Dylan was on the stereo and the grown ups were laughing in the kitchen. My aunt had wrapped herself in an old kimono from the closet and jammed chopsticks into her upswept hair. She rouged her lips. An impromptu Geisha.

“Are you ready?” My father bellowed. “Are you really, really ready?” He used his best carnival voice – the same one the midway ride boys working the Flying Bobs use when they ask, “Do you want to go faster?”

“We’re ready,” we screamed.

“Your chariot awaits,” Dad said ushering us all out the front door.

The Red Van sat in the driveway. This was Dad’s most recent set of wheels and my favorite ever. Dad bought the white delivery van used and had the whole thing spray-painted fire engine red. He cut a hole in the roof and installed a Plexiglas dome on top. Inside, he built wooden cabinets to hold his brushes and paints and added a sleeping platform covered with a thick foam mattress and patchwork quilts. There were velvet pillows and dangling crystals. There was a glass eye glued to the gearshift and plastic dinosaurs parading across the dashboard. Two big doors at the back swung wide and we all clambered aboard.

“Don’t forget your hat,” the Banshee’s mother cried.
“Have you got your feet?” Big Foot’s mother asked.

We had hats and feet and masks and paper bags to fill with candy. What we didn’t have were seat belts or even seats. The adults lounged on the mattress and the kids all crawled underneath the platform. We were squashed together in the dark with the smell of turpentine and enamel paint, wine and caramel. The engine revved and someone slammed the back door shut. We bounced up the driveway and onto the road. The night had begun.

This was no neighborhood to wander in careful groups. There were no sidewalks, no crosswalks, no streetlights and no close gatherings of houses. Trick-or-treating in the mountains meant driving down darkened driveways, up winding roads and rambling for miles in search of a lit pumpkin. We hit the Tiltons, the Mullendoors, the Chesters, the Fullertons. We tumbled out at the Houseman’s to find giant tombstones set up in the front yard and the soundtrack of wolves cranked on the stereo. At stop after stop, my father flung open the back doors of the van and we poured out, shouting and running, up the wooden boardwalks and gravel paths and dusty driveways. We opened our bags to receive chocolate, gummy skeletons, orange jawbreakers, candy corn. We opened our bags to popcorn balls and home made cookies in little wax paper bags. Back in the van, we peeled foil wrapping and sunk teeth into marshmallow and crackle.

“More?” my dad asked.
“More!” we shouted. “More.”

In the van, under the platform, the sway of the road jounced me into the Banshee one moment and into Big Foot the next. What if, what if, what if one of them opened their arms to catch me? My heart beat hard beneath pink fleece. My face felt hot and red under my mask. If I’d been a fortune-teller, I might have painted my lips, made them ready for kissing. I might have had skirts to swish and swirl and long, mascaraed eyelashes to flutter. The Pink Panther costume was for kids. It had been a bad choice – so frumpy and unromantic.

“Have you got your hat?” The Banshee’s mother shouted.
“Where are your feet?” Big Foot’s mother asked.

Dad pulled the van into the parking lot of the Bella Vista Restaurant. I could smell the all-you-can-eat fish and chicken from the parking lot. We teemed up the steps behind my father.

“It’s a restaurant,” I said. “Will they let us trick-or-treat?” I wanted to believe they would and that no one could say refuse my father, but I was also worried that this place with its white table cloths and fancy folk from up the city would not have us.

“Of course they will,” Dad said. “We’re the Red Van Raiders. We’ll take them by storm.”

At the bar, my father ordered a beer and the hostess filled our bags with starburst mints from the bowl by the cash register. A waiter brought a plate of French fries. We jostled against each other, shifting the hot fries from hand to hand. We pilfered wrapped toothpicks that tasted of mint.

My dad draped an arm over my shoulder and raised his beer in a toast.
“To the Red Van Raiders,” he said. “To you, daughter.”

I looked around to be sure that Big Foot and the Banshee could see that my father was the leader of the Red Van Raiders. He’d given them membership in something so great and powerful that a restaurant would give us food for free.

We tumbled out of the restaurant and back into the van, teeth chattering, tongues flapping, elated by our success. All night, we’d been welcomed, heralded, celebrated. Our paper bags bulged with treats, our breath was sweet with sugar already consumed. No boy held my hand that night, but I felt embraced by the world, filled to the brim with sweetness and excitement. Next year I might wear skirts and paint my lips, but for now, this, this was more than enough.


halloween 2nd gradeTanya Ward Goodman is the author of “Leaving Tinkertown,” published by the University of New Mexico Press


Not just a mom. Not just a writer.

October 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Family

by Tanya Ward Goodman
Since I last posted here at The Next Family, I’ve become a published author. My memoir, “Leaving Tinkertown” came out in August and was accompanied by a small flurry of interviews and readings. While I have considered myself a “writer,” for a long time, holding a book in my hands cemented this identity in my brain. The book is a “testimonial,” the kind that the Wizard of Oz bestows upon the Cowardly Lion and his pals. It wasn’t that they didn’t have courage, brains and heart, they just needed some tangible evidence to prove it. I get that. I’ve always had a problem answering the question “what do you do?” I stammer something along the lines of “I’m a mom, but I write a little.” The book has miraculously shifted the order of this answer. “I’m a writer,” I say. “And a stay at home mom.”

The stay-at-home mom business is a full time job if you go at it with a “bake-it-yourself” mentality. I know this, because for much of the past ten years, I’ve been baking and making. I’ve sewn Halloween costumes and prepared potluck casseroles. I made dinner every night and packed carefully nutritious lunches. I spent hours volunteering in school classrooms and baked hundreds of bake sale cupcakes. I’ve served on boards and committees and sat right next to my kids while they did their homework every day. And it has been great.

But it doesn’t allow much time for writing.

The book is a testimonial. A talisman. The book has my name on the front cover. The book has needs. The writer has needs.

“It’s just all about your book, now, isn’t it?” my daughter asks.

“Not all about it,” I say.

She yawns. My daughter will keep me honest. She will keep me humble.
“It’s an exciting thing,” I say.

“It is,” she says. “But you don’t have to talk about it all the time.”

I don’t have to talk about it all the time, but I want to. In those first few weeks, I crave to talk about it the way I used to crave cigarettes. I feel like I shouldn’t be taking up so much time and space talking about the book, but I can’t help myself and I begrudge the time I spend not talking about it and even more the time when I am not writing.

I stop baking and making. At first I feel guilty. I beat myself up for not writing. I beat myself up for not being a full-on-full-time mom. And then I get tired of beating myself up. For the first time in a long time, I cut myself some slack. I realize that having the book out has brought me as much happiness as having my children. I want both. And I deserve both.

I stop making dinner every night. I let the take-out containers pile up. The kids learn to make macaroni and cheese from a box. I let them turn on the stove and boil water with very little supervision. And no one dies.

But I feel guilty. I volunteer more at the elementary school and take on an extra tutoring session at the high school where I don’t even have kids. It only takes me a couple of weeks to realize that I am overcompensating.

I hire a babysitter to pick up a couple of days after school. My kids do not love me any less. In fact, they have enough love to love the babysitter, too. And I am nicer when they come home because I’ve had enough time to complete a thought, fill a page, be a writer.

A couple of months in, we are finding a balance. I’m getting a little more organized and the tide of take-out is diminishing. I can make a pot of soup in the morning and let the simmering smell keep me company while I sit down at the computer. I volunteer here and there and make time for exercise and meetings and seeing friends. I am not just a mother or just a writer. I want my kids to know that. I want them to know that I am a woman who is pleased and satisfied with her life and that I am willing to work hard to keep it that way.


A Mouse in the House

by Tanya Ward Goodman


The mouse is named “Candy Corn.” He is grey on the top and bottom with a white middle. When we first saw this mouse, my daughter proclaimed in very passionate tones that he was “the mouse of her destiny.”

In the words of Taylor Swift : “Trouble, trouble, trouble…”

“We have a dog,” I said. “A dog that really needs to be walked and fed.”
“But this would be my own pet,” my daughter said. “I would take care of him and train him to live in my pocket.”

Because I’ve recently set some mousetraps in the basement, I worried about what might happen if this pocket training exercise failed.

“We have to talk to your Dad,” I said. I acknowledge that I totally and completely took the easy way out by saying that. I knew for a fact that my husband was going to close down this discussion pronto. As an added bonus, he would look like the bad guy while I would come off as simply non-committal.

When my husband opened our door, our daughter jumped on him.

“Mom said we could talk about getting a mouse. He’s the best mouse. The most perfect mouse…”

My husband wondered if he could come inside before he thought about adding a member to our family. He wondered if he could take off his jacket and put away his bag. He wondered if it could wait until after dinner.

Our daughter grew stormy. The emotional clouds gathered, but they did not let loose their store of tears. A minor developmental miracle. But she did not relent. The mouse was ideal. The mouse was her soul mate, her best friend, her animal totem. The mouse was needed.

My husband wavered. It was hard to remain strongly against the mouse when the movement FOR the mouse was so intense, so heartfelt. We sent our daughter up to get her pajamas on and when she was gone, we huddled.

“Why not?” he said to me out of the corner of his mouth.

I shrugged. We’ve had small pets before. Two hamsters, “FlowersHeartsandStars” and “Sunshine” were short-lived furry friends. Their deaths left me strangely bereft.

“These things hit you hard,” my husband said. “This mouse might not live very long.”

“Mice live for three years,” our daughter called down from upstairs. It must be said, her hearing is very good.
“This is the kid we’ve got,” my husband said.

This is a kid who saves bees from drowning, who rescues mosquitoes from the bathroom and sets them free into the night. She mourns the death of an earwig. She recently asked to clean out the garage in the hope that we might turn up a rat. She’s decided that when she grows up, she’ll find nearly extinct animals and keep them safe until they have babies and then release them back into the world. She wants a horse and a cat and a bunny and a mouse. The mouse will leave the daintiest of footprints on our house – the mouse is basically a fish with fur. Why not a mouse?

My husband thinks we should wait until morning to tell her that her wish has been granted. He wants her to learn the value of patience, but me, I’m the kid who eats the marshmallow right away. Why prolong the moment when we can be the beneficiaries of her complete and total love? Why wait? Besides, what if some python owner buys Candy Corn for snake food? We can’t risk it.

Our daughter’s screams are joyful. Her hugs are fierce.

And our family has one more member.


A Loose Tooth

by Tanya Ward Goodman
My Grandmother’s death has brought the family together, but my daughter’s loose tooth has given us something cheerful to do. We are united by Sadie’s tooth. When she wiggles that darned thing, we stop thinking for a moment about how hard it will be to sell the house and what a waste it would be to send that antique cameo necklace into a hole in the ground. No matter how we feel about the President, gun control or healthcare, the loose tooth brings us all together. We plot and plan for extraction when wills and accounts and phone conversations with lawyers are the dark alternative.

Sweet Sadie with her big smile and her curly hair is an eight year old in a house full of sad adults. She feeds her virtual Ipod horse and talks to the very real cat. She curls up on the wingback sofa and flips through scrapbooks hoping to find photos of someone she knows. My uncle says we should reach up behind the tooth – get a nail under the raw edge. “Move it sideways,” he says. My brother makes a lasso of dental floss and spends the better part of an hour trying to slip it around the tiny tooth. Sadie chews gum and eats the hardened caramels we find in the kitchen cupboard. She wonders if she started running fast and fell down the big hill, the tooth would get knocked out on its own. When she is tired of grown up conversation, she cries and shouts that it’s not fair to have a loose tooth. It’s painful and keeps her from eating all the things she doesn’t like, though a child at a funeral can get by on only Jell-o salad and soft white rolls. She wiggles the tooth and lets others wiggle it. Fingers yellow with nicotine have touched the pearl of this little tooth. The funeral leaves us soggy with tears and chilled to the bone in the Dakota wind, but the tooth doesn’t come out.

The tooth is wiggly on the plane and in the taxi and keeps my girl awake all through our first night at home. She rages and gnashes and I think perhaps the tight set of her jaw will push the thing right out.

At dinner on our second night home, she asks for pliers. We have guests, but they seem not to mind, so I give her a Leatherman. We watch as she grabs and slips, grabs and slips. Someone suggests a paper towel. Once again this tooth is a project. We’re in it together and Sadie is happy to be right in the middle. There is wiggling and working. There is a ten-minute bout of frustration. Tears are shed. And just when we are all feeling like it should be over, just when we’ve begun to turn back to grown up talk, she pulls it out. Her smile is broad and bloody. The tooth is white and shiny in the black metal pincers.

And then, like that, we’re back on the girl.


My Two Moms

by Tanya Ward Goodman

tanya ward goodman

Though they couldn’t be less alike, I am lucky to have two moms: the one who spent 36 hours in labor before I was cut from her belly and handed over to the nuns in the small brick hospital where I was born and the one who wore a dress the color of jacaranda blossoms when she married Dad just before my twelfth birthday. They have both been such strong influences in my life that somehow even my body reflects equal parts of these women. I have the height and lean arms of my stepmother, the woman I call “La,” and the sturdy legs and curving hips of my mother. My hands are square and rough at the knuckles like my mother’s hands, punished by years of gardening without gloves, and like La’s, whose hands ache at the joints from the effort of turning cold clay into coffee cups and cereal bowls on a wheel.
It is not just my body that bears the imprint of these women. Thanks to my mother, I have the ability to identify plants and discern a raven from a crow (the raven is bigger and looks blue in the sun). From La, I get my drive to action, my need to fix things. These forces brought me to New Mexico to care for my father when he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Sometimes these two influences are at war. The shyness and insecurity I inherited from my mother battle it out daily with La’s brave and often blind self-confidence. Guided by the force of her will she is often able to muscle through situations that would terrify my mother. She is, for example, navigating the unknown territory of my father’s illness while Mom stands at the edge of the forest and waits for someone to bring a map.
The strengths and shortcomings of my two mothers are tangled up with all that I have been given by Dad. Dad shares Mom’s reverence for the beauty and uniqueness of the world, but his intense drive to create quickened his pace, kept his hand moving over canvases and sketchpads late into the night. That pace is slowing now, which trips up La and me. I have come home to be with him and share this time, and I want to follow Dad’s meandering, but my responsibilities often lengthen my stride.
When I look in the mirror, I see Dad’s green eyes staring back through mine. I see his long torso reflected in my own. If I cut my head open right now, would I also see a faint shadow of forgetting?

Adapted from my memoir, “Leaving Tinkertown” which will be published in August of 2013


Not a Penguin

by Tanya Ward Goodman


Way back in college, when I was a theatre major, one of my class assignments was to become an animal. I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and observed the penguins. Imagining that my feet attached directly to my hips, I cultivated the “penguin walk.” I stood contemplatively with one wing held out from my side. I blinked and turned my head. At my professor’s behest, I aspired to “be penguin.”

Now, I should say that, in college, I was a nervous person. I took small, fast steps and was prone to daydreaming. It is very possible that you might have caught me, standing with one arm held out from my side, blinking in the sun with only my thoughts to keep me company. It is very possible that I was slightly penguin-like to begin with. Perhaps we all have a little penguin inside us, but we also have a little lion or crocodile or condor.

My acting professor applauded my penguin and I was happy. For our next assignment, I was to be Blanche Du Bois from “Streetcar Named Desire.” I filled my mind with the fluttering of moth wings and silk handkerchiefs, I looked into the mirror and made my eyes into deep pools of sadness and lost hope. I wore a filmy, pink dress and carried a box of letters from my ex-boyfriend hoping that the residual regret on the page might rise up like a fine dust around my body on the stage.

“You’re still a penguin,” my professor said. “Isn’t she a penguin?”

When we transformed ourselves into characters based on inanimate objects, my “tube of oil paint” was also dubbed “penguin.” “Guest at a wedding,” was “the penguin near the punch bowl.” It seemed that when she looked at me, my professor wore black and white goggles. And, after a time, when I looked at myself, so did I. It was hard to slow my quick pace, my words came in quick bursts or not at all and on stage I retreated deeper and deeper into a kind of blinking trance.

At the end of the year, I transferred out of her class and changed my major. I had found that I enjoyed writing just as much as acting and, in my writing classes, no one ever accused me of penguin prose.

I think of all this now, because I am the parent of two growing children. My son is athletic and strong. His legs are meaty with muscle and he rarely speaks when he can shout. Other parents comment on his outsized energy and his sturdy body. He’s been compared to a bull in a china shop, the Tasmanian Devil and a force of nature. “Fearless,” these parents say. And sometimes “brute.”

My boy named our dog, “Grace.” He is afraid to go upstairs in the dark and is sometimes so filled with his own nervous energy that he chews a hole in his shirt. As much as he pounds on his sister, he always compliments her outfit when she comes to the breakfast table. He can be so quiet and light on his feet that he can observe a lizard from an inch away. He is strong and fast and wild and kind and gentle and frightened. He is cheetah and kitten.

It is almost impossible to resist categorizing people. It helps to look out across a crowded school auditorium or classroom or workplace and see “chatty,” “angry,” “friendly,” “sturdy,” “reliable.” But these simple categories don’t do justice to the whole person. In the case of my theatre professor, I saw her as “crazy” and “harsh,” but she was in the middle of a divorce and so she was also sad and disappointed and heartbroken. Under different circumstances, she might have been warm and compassionate.

I want my children to understand that they can be angry, but that doesn’t make them an angry person. They can be strong in one area and weak in another. I want them to grow without limits and without definition into their best selves.


A Gun in the Closet

By Tanya Ward Goodman


A boy in my hometown of Albuquerque shot his parents and his three siblings. Before he his shot his mom, his nine-year-old brother and his two sisters aged five and two, he went to the closet and got out a .22 rifle. Before he shot his father, he went back to the closet for a .223-caliber AR-15.

Five more people are dead because there was a gun in the closet.

It doesn’t take much searching to come up with more news stories just like this one. In fact, today while I was buying groceries and thinking about what to write in this blog there was a shooting at Lone Star College near Houston. Last night, a Las Vegas police officer shot his wife and child, and some taggers near my neighborhood shot a person who asked them to stop writing on things that didn’t belong to them.

People get angry. This boy in Albuquerque is reported as saying he was “annoyed” with his mother. We all have disagreements with our spouses. It might be a bummer to have someone try to stop you from expressing yourself with spray paint. But you get over it. Unless you have a gun. The gun denies you any chance to get beyond anger.

In my closet there are running shoes and raincoats. There is a set of boxing gloves and training targets that my kids will sometimes ask me to put on so they can “punch out some madness.” My yoga mat is in my closet. So is the fire extinguisher.

Every day people are dying because guns are kept “in case” or “for comfort” the way I keep a raincoat or a fire extinguisher or a yoga mat. Guns are being kept as a symbol of safety, but they are not keeping us safe. If there had not been a gun in the closet five people in Albuquerque would be alive.


Burning the Candy House

By Tanya Ward Goodman

Setting the candy house on fire fulfilled my son’s need to burn stuff and my need to clear the house of holiday detritus. It was a win-win situation.

I’ve decided to let this burning candy house be a symbol of all of my New Year’s resolutions. I have resolved to be more fun, to be more adventurous, to trust my children more, to keep a cleaner house and a more creative mind.

When I was a kid, we burned stuff all the time. Of course I grew up in the mountains where some of our friends relied solely on woodstoves and kerosene lamps for warmth and light, so often we were burning stuff just to get by. I have deep sensory memories of holding a lit incense wand to Styrofoam plates, letting the orange heat eat away bits of white. The aroma of patchouli combined with melting plastic was absolutely magical (if not more than a little toxic). My brother and I spent hours lighting candles and letting the wax drip hypnotically from one place to another, pinching the edges of one candle to form a reservoir then slicing into it with our fingernails to let the molten contents spill. We dipped fingertips into the hot wax, braving the sudden heat so that we might then peel off fingerprint castings, each whorl wholly our own.

“You were so lucky,” my kids say. “You nearly died every day when you were a kid.”

We burned piles of leaves and piles of wood scraps from my dad’s workshop. We had bonfires in the backyard and my dad regularly poured paint thinner into the fireplace just to see the burst of flame. On the 4th of July, the grown ups set off illegal fireworks and shot batteries through a plywood target with a cannon powered by M80s – tiny explosives powerful enough to take off a man’s hand.

Once my brother put a pile of firecrackers under a coffee can and the thing blew up into the air and cut a slice across the bridge of his nose. The face bleeds a lot.

“It’s good to do dangerous things,” my kids say.

And it is. It’s good to feel the heat of fire and see how quickly it can eat through a sturdy candy house. It’s good to witness this kind of power and feel like you have a little bit of control over it.

I resolve to be more fun and to be more creative. I resolve to let my children feel like they are risking their lives a little, while also doing my best to keep them safe.


After Newtown: Brave Thoughts

December 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Tanya Ward Goodman

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

Today is the first day of winter break. I am glad I did not have to send my children to school today. There is so much bad news.

Instead we are home under gray Los Angeles skies – winter to look at, but spring against the bare feet of my daughter and her friend as they skip shoeless across the grass. They have been building a garden, moving rainwater from the leaves of the agaves to fill a tiny Saran wrap-lined pond. They have pulled weeds from one part of the yard to plant in muddy soil around their newly constructed pond. I hear their voices as I type, high and sweet as birdsong.

The boys (both ten) are inside, drawing at the table and I am relieved.

My son and his friend spent the morning shooting each other with a Nerf Machine Gun that they dug out of the closet. This toy (one I had to be talked into in the first place) has not been in rotation for nearly a year. I’m not sure what prompted its return. The toy has a magazine of orange, rubber bullets. It can hold twenty or more in a neon green cartridge. The gun itself is green with bright tangerine accents. It looks like a toy, but the sound it makes when my son slides another cartridge of ammo into place is hard-edged and angry. They were in the middle of a game of “sniper” where one stood in the yard, while the other shot from the upstairs window when I stopped them.

“We’re just playing,” my son said. “It’s not real.”
“I know,” I said. “But it doesn’t feel good to me.”
“Mom,” he said. “It’s not real. It’s a toy. We are playing.”
He spoke slowly as if I didn’t speak the same language.

I wanted to explain why I was so anxious, why this gun and this sniper game seemed so completely wrong, but to do that I had to bring my own worries into the life of my boy. His worries are still small scale. He worries about whether the library will have the next “Amulet” comic, whether he will watch the Jets game when it airs or later on the DVR. He worries about middle school or that as goalie, he will let a soccer ball make it into the goal. But he doesn’t yet worry about being shot at school.

I read somewhere that a strategy for managing anxiety is to have one anxious thought and two brave thoughts. Trying to conjure a brave thought right after an anxious one reminds you that both are possible emotions. Even if you can’t let go of the anxiety, you know you have at least the capability of thinking bravely. The brave thought is always there.

I let my son go back to his game without making a big deal and pretty soon, they moved on to something else. The girls picked up a few stray Nerf bullets and added them to their garden.

“They are torches,” my daughter said.

I imagine them as bright lights, leading us into the peaceful garden. It’s a brave thought.


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