Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I tried, but I didn't inhale:

Belly Laugh

wind takes hold of tree’s
overlooked girth sending light
signals from each leaf

Black-Eyed Susan

Textured orb anchors
sun’s wings resonating in
universe of air

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Two more poems to be published in VLQ (see LINKS): The Domestication of Geese (now retired from MAAP) and Overlook Outlook. I'm so happy, I could rhyme . . .


my jeans are clean
and fit great
my son ate all his eggs

today my poems
got published
walk off on bamboo legs


Poets "need" all sorts of props for writing: number 2 pencil on onion skin paper or ACME fountain pen in Moleskin, antique typewriter or laptop, pre-dawn or late at night. I recently visited the Carl Sandburg home in East Flat Rock. I didn't actually go on the tour since much of his papers and items are packed away for renovations until sometime in January. However, I did watch a video on the house, in the house, strange. It showed the room where he wrote all night long then he napped during the day. He called the room his "crazy corner." In it, his typewriter sits on a portable desk, i.e. wooden crate, surrounded by a landscape of papers and books. Made my own crazy corner look quite tame. I have a poem brewing about his wife, Lillian Sandburg, who wrote poetry too and bred champion goats. Stay tuned. In the meantime, please share your own writing needs and crazy corners.

Oak Desk Ode
J.B. Rowell

At home with hand-me-down furniture,
discount couch aerated by scissors
and spotted with dog-drool.

Hulking compared to grandma’s
barber table, mirrored door
for girl’s play with fingertip key

to open a secret garden
of napkin rings, stale smelling
linens, and ivory tapers.

The oak desk homecoming from
used furniture store, assembled,
three parts stacked heavy into place.

Mismatched nobs, missing handle,
slots revealed by lifted roll top
pre-labeled: glasses, keys, bills.

Colored beads roll in file drawer
when opened, scars of burns
and scratches welcome more.

A poem calls to create the man
who sat here, on layers of life,
granddaughter dropping

treasure between important
files, but no, this is my desk now
dark in the corner as I descend

the stairs each morning
papers accumulating
slots filled with moments

reclaimed as I open the blinds.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Package of poetry books waiting for me on the porch when we finally made it home last night - nice. I was so excited to read Mary Oliver's 42 new poems in her New and Selected Poems Volume Two. I was not disappointed. She continues to amaze and uplift. Her poems remind me what my ultimate goal of poetry has always been - to praise. She did throw a curve ball - a poem with politics - which, I believe, is someplace she said poetry shouldn't go. But in these times, who can resist?

Percy (Two)

I have a little dog who likes to nap with me.
He climbs on my body and puts his face in my neck.
He is sweeter than soap.
He is more wonderful than a diamond necklace,
which can't even bark.
I would like to take him to Kashmir and the Ukraine,
and Jerusalem and Palestine and Iraq and Darfur,
that the sorrowing thousands might see his laughing mouth.
I would like to take him to Washington, right into
the oval office
where Donald Rumsfeld would crawl out of the president's
and kneel down on the carpet, and romp like a boy.

For once, for a moment, a rational man.

Thank you Mary Oliver!

Sunday, November 27, 2005


How surreal have the holidays become? If you think about all the trappings too much, you can get carried away, or freaked out for sure. My kids are so enthralled by the magic: one-horse open sleigh ride (through a parking lot!), and sitting on Santa's lap (with beard falling off). My daughter was very upset when she was waiting in line to see him because she couldn't think of anything to ask for, so I made suggestions: peace on earth, health and happiness. Those wouldn't do. Finally, relief, she throught of something - roller skates. She had to think of something materialistic - that's how the system is set up. Meanwhile, my son was on his dad's shoulders trying to get our attention - pointing - tiny voice carried away above the holiday din. "Look, a twinkly star." Yes Liam - look.

On another very exciting note, my poem More About Blackberries will appear in the next issue of Verse Libre Quarterly ( Thank you Rae Pater ( for coming to MAAP and finding it. Merry Christmas to me!

Olde Time Holiday

for Mary Bailey

synthesized caroling (fa-la-la)
town crowds bandstand
sings him near (the Pied Piper
in reverse) countdown to light
the right angles of buildings
make the pine flash

send own children to sit
on the lap of a stranger
(in disguise no less)
listing items guaranteed
to lure them into his sleigh

I feel I’m in a movie
(and say so) and my mom
says she knows which one,
and we, in character,
run down the sidewalk
as the corner clock strikes

shouting, “It’s a wonderful life.”

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Here is a poem of mine posted earlier that I worked on at the North Carolina Writer's Network fall conference. Novelist Sean Murphy suggested taking a scene, in my case a poem, and trying to cut away half. I only could only cut away a third, which was difficult, but I think it worked. If you're a glass half full kind of person and have trouble making such severe cuts, you can highlight the half you want to keep instead. Either way, the idea is to get you to the heart of your work and tighten it up.

Getting Lost in My Own Neighborhood
J.B. Rowell

We set out on a mother-daughter walk.
At the end of my hand a full smile,
I smile back. Down the trail
in our still-new-neighborhood,
to the lake with strategically-placed boulders.
We sit on the one with a cradle
for our conversation, listening
to each other, to the ebb and flow
of bug sounds, not-so-distant highway.
Geese flying, we name colors
as the sun sinks beyond the static
of the lake surface.

Suddenly darker than expected,
sooner than expected,
the conversation changes
to reassurances
about the woods at night.
No there are no bears here, no lions,
definitely not monsters,
not the kind you’re thinking of anyway,
besides, here comes the streetlights.
We’ll turn right, I’m sure it’s a shortcut,
now left, left again,
I had no idea the neighborhood
went on and on like this.

We end up outside
of it walking down a road
toward the entrance I hope
is just ahead, six-year-old daughter
in my aching arms, heavy head
on my shoulders, asleep but talking.
Currents of speeding cars
pulling us under.

I become the mother I need
to be, hold her tight, whisper
I know just where we are,
we’re having an adventure,
we’re almost home,
it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.

Friday, November 25, 2005


"When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I'm wondering if poetry is supposed to cleanse, or serve any other specific purpose for that matter. Does poetry have a use or function in society besides the role of art? Maybe it's to tell the truth whenever it can - and that can be cleansing. I'm fairly certain Bush does not read poetry!

As for more practical matters of cleansing, I'm always amazed how we spend the day of Thanksgiving preparing a glorious meal, and before you can digest, the tide has turned and the mad dash to get the dishes done begins. Of course, there are a few who just go and sit - watch football . . . but that's another post . . .

J.B. Rowell

Filled again not with one bowl—
pristine grains dried and clinging to the curve
of ceramic glaze cupped in meditation—

but with the sudden abundance of sippy cups (some way overdue:
lost yet found) and too many spoons
chosen by a fickle four-year-old

through the course of a dinner

greasy chicken pan—floating fat—
lemon pepper olive oil coating
plastic marinade bowl

pot of murky corn water and
to the side
two crystal wine glasses stand


cracked red eyes—
the bottom of arid lakes—
searching for peace down in this basin.

Remembering my grandmother’s
back facing me as she
did the dishes

enjoyed it she said

gave her a sense
of accomplishment

says a child seeing senselessness
in a menial task done soon to be
redone like making a bed

when you will pull back the covers
and lie down in your undoing

I stand after protest—
with only the dishes before me
I pick up a bowl perfumed

with the life that is and begin to scrub
making wine into water
before the white of the sink

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I'm starting my Thanksgiving day here, at MAAP, with thanks to Julia for making it a good place to be. The poem that follows is a new one that reflects my ever-changing perspective of my parents and grandparents. Things change and things don 't change, and in the end, a lot of what seemed to matter so much doesn't really matter at all.


At fifty-nine, my father
sleeps in his childhood bed
while his mother lies on the couch,
He’s a good boy, she whispers
in a voice I no longer recognize
but need desperately to hear

and I try see him the way she sees him
but struggle past the white beard
balding head, body thick
and battle-weary after failed diets
and failed marriages and self-inflicted loneliness
and neglect of his health and children and their children
and work that no longer fulfills him.

A good boy, she says again
with a sharp squeeze of my hand
and I nod my head, her grief also mine,

for the child who is my father
and her only son,
the child refusing his mother’s death
the way a four-year-old stonewalls broccoli,
and I realize what she’s asking me to do
is forgive him.

- Irene Latham


I'm thoroughly loving my new poetry pruchase - Jane Kenyon Collected Poems - such a hefty collection of her simple, straight-forward, yet unexpected poetry. And what a concept, all of her poetry in one book - over 340 pages. Happy Thanksgiving.

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,

or the way it turns up like a prodigal

who comes back to the dust at your feet

having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?

You make a feast in honor of what

was lost, and take from its place the finest

garment, which you saved for an occasion

you could not imagine, and you weep night and day

to know that you were not abandoned,

that happiness saved its most extreme form

for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never

knew about, who flies a single-engine plane

onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes

into town, and inquires at every door

until he finds you asleep midafternoon

as you so often are during the unmerciful

hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.

It comes to the woman sweeping the street

with a birch broom, to the child

whose mother has passed out from drink.

It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing

a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,

and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots

in the night.

It even comes to the boulder

in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,

to rain falling on the open sea,

to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Favorite poem of mine (which probably means it's lousy) fresh from rejection, sort of. I had a batch not actually come back at all. They were lost at the pub or on the way back somewhere, or maybe they never made it there in the first place. What's worse: little rejection slip or disappearance into thin air? My total number of submissions out there have now dipped below 20.

About Blackberries
J.B. Rowell

Family tension rose
in rows
in just days

until we reaped
along a path down
to the organic farm,

into a greenhouse
where hints
of pure green

are coaxed
under cover
under grey August sky,

past the heft
of tractors
yellow among green

hills softened by fog
pulling itself over
to soothe sacred land,

to overgrown
blackberry bushes
where we ate standing,

skimming a universe
of tangled life,
a family of deer famished.

Hands to mouth
went the blackest among

on tongue pressed
to palate
skin stained

a surprising red
to be found in nature.
Everyone intent

on their own search,
everyone content
to hunt for their own food.

Monday, November 21, 2005


My apologies for a blank blog all day, MAAP was MIA. I finally discovered this was due to a mysterious disappearance of most of the template. So, I re-selected the template and had to redo my links - felt like starting all over again. To celebrate this foible, here is my "woe is me" poem:


“I am nobody, and little likely to be heard . . .”

I am nobody.
Worse, I am a nobody barely published.
Worse, I am a poet who lost a decade.
Worse, I am a poet, who is a mom,
married, living in the ‘burbs.
Worse, I teach third grade.
Worse, I write about motherhood.
I am nobody.
Are you?


Wet Stone

Took all the professorial advice,
and visiting poet’s insights,
started small, right out of college
with my brave degree in poetry.

To my local reputable pub
I sent my best bunch folded
sideways in manila,
and a SASE with more than
sufficient postage.

I was ready for the first
little slip of rejection, ready
to eventually paper a room with them all,
and equally ready to be the anomaly
and publish from the start.

Months later, a call from down the street,
mother of eight children,
the cool mother of cruel kids,
let them eat too orange chips,
cereal spattered with sugary sponges,
and always stocked the pantry
with stacks of sodas.

Told my mother about a hand-delivered letter:
Had it for weeks. Been meaning to call.
Poetry maybe?

Back in my hands
they return well handled,
jagged opening,
read by the family around
the dinner table.
A good laugh.

This I didn’t foresee.
Faceless rejection is one thing,
but an editor dropping off my first batch
to someone else
because she was about my age
with a name near to mine?

And of all places, at the house
that always went all out
at Christmas, runway roof,
waving mechanical Santa,
every living branch
and angle of the house stapled
with strings of lights.

This was enough to stop
me, enough for me to launch it
like a flat stone
against my childhood
wallpaper: blue and yellow flowers
laced with yellow ribbons
like worms.

Sunk behind my vanity
mirror, drowned
until a decade later
my son was born, a baby muse,
started sending them out,
but at the top,
receiving each blind
paper with a thrill.

Getting ready to paper my walls.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


This poem from Verse Daily (see LINKS) is about writing for me, but also about what I’d like my husband to have – space – to build with wood; sort washers, nuts, bolts in baby food jars; find solitude.

Al Maginnes

Given enough space, each man believes

he could raise cathedrals, construct

furniture whose nails would outlive

six generations, so he stakes

claim to some part of the basement,

a corner of the garage, even

a small building divided from

the hothouse of family noise

where most of his life is rooted.

There, he might stand amid

drafty fumes of gasoline, sawed wood,

and the smell that, thick as old dust,

bakes deep in the handles of tools,

combustion of sweat, sore fingers,

old solvents. Bunker of small labors,

this is where husbands repair

for the quiet beer, the unfettered cigarette

while sorting nut, bolt, washer

by size into baby food jars.

The larger tasks—lamp

that demands rewiring, table leaning

on the absence of a leg—lie

incomplete, monuments

to the ambition of self-reliance.

See how the ordered tools hang,

box wrenches and saw blades arranged

largest to smallest, orange cords

coiled tight. Brother of labor,

what comes here needing repair

is often fixed without lifting a single tool.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Beth Ann Fennelly's poem about the first day of daycare (when the mother smells another woman's perfume on her baby) hit a chord, and reminded me of this poem of mine which I dug up. Whether childcare is a purposeful choice for you or not, there are always strange moments that occur when someone else is taking care of your child. My daughter was lucky enough to have a woman who took care of her when she was a baby who truly loved her: played with her on the floor, talked about professional wrestling, made her laugh. On my daughter's last day at that center - when I took a teaching job that had on-campus childcare - I called to check on her. The woman was in tears, and told me she was going to jump in her car with my baby and head out of state. Scary moment. Here is the resurrected poem, my children still love school, and still love to let their mom "have it" when picked up.

Pent-Up Mantra
J.B. Rowell

Not until he sees me
before that I saw him
through the framed glass door
a fish bowl of
toddlers toddling and
baby’s propped up.
He takes it all in
with smiling eyes
watches his caregivers
to and from:
bottles to crock-pot
toys to shelves
spoons to mouths
as he fists inner tubes of oats
nursing them with his tongue
until mush.

He is perfect-
ly content until I walk in
heard over the pleasant din
and although I have been
gone for hours gone
every weekday
to be with the children of others
his head rivets at the sound
of his mother the familiar sound
of the milk processor
the womb he tore from
the comfort he goes without.

And he lets me know
lets me have it
releases a pent-up mantra
sounding something like
Ma Ma and Da Da rolled
into a language of hurt.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Tracking Andrea Yates
J.B. Rowell

Like a Hitchcock movie,
camera lenses lapping
low-res dense clouds
circling aged fissures
levees crumbling
slow motion rage

luck of city runs course on shore.

Not hindsight
warnings unheeded,
released again and again,
switched to less expensive
options, temporary patches,

trickle down theory of budget cuts.

Children unknowing except
for stir of dark coming,
drowned in basin
looking into calm,
dimmed eye of mother
earth waiting for each
to stop fighting,
before tucking in
side by side.

We pump the water out. We patch again.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Some days the only thing that makes me feel better about my own plight is to think of others whose plight must be worse. Tacky, I know. But consider Mrs. Noah:

Mrs. Noah

Once the doors were nailed shut
and the rain was pounding the roof
how she must have wept for the children
she watched the water swallow.
How she must have held her own to her breast,
their stink and the animals’ stink
reassuring and warm. How she must
have blamed Noah for her plight,
hating him for believing in a god
that would make her Mother of All
and he their keeper. When the dove
came with its tiny branch how Mrs. Noah
must have ached to snatch it from its mouth,
to take something
for all that had been taken from her.

-Irene Latham

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Poem sample from Tender Hooks by Beth Ann Fennelly (see LINKS)

Making an Egg for Claire, Sunny-side Up

I find a blood smear on the monstrous yolk.

Dead child, first love, there's a place for you, too,
at my table, but how shall I call you?
You died without ears
in a town so far away and cold with snow.


People look at my baby and wonder whom she favors. Because she doesn't look like me, they decide she looks like her father. I nod. I nod and nod. But really she favors the great dead one. My own bad Dad. She favors him, the same brown eyes, the same scooped out philtrum, that valley leading from nose to mouth, as if the warm fingers that formed her stroked a perfect pinkie tip there to sculpt it, a valley filled with orchards where dusk brings cinnamon-velvet deer who crunch sweet apples beneath the bee-buzzing, white-blooming trees. See, I love her, so even from the grave he spites me. Look at him, winning again, crying in the bassinet. Here I come on quick feet unbuttoning my blouse.

Interpreting the Foreign Queen

I rush home after class to slurp her thigh,
to pounce on baby belly, press my lips deep
to spray wet-raspberry kisses. They make her writhe.
I'm spilling giggles, nibbling ticklish feet.
My husband, the anti-tickler, disapproves.
He says she'd just been resting in his lap,
she'd just had food (she's always just had food)—
now, overstimulated, she won't nap.
He swears I shouldn't toss her, not so high.
She gives a shriek—pure terror, pure delight?
We read our own emotions in her eyes.
If only she could speak to say who's right—
to say I am. For him, I put her down.
Just two more days till he goes out of town.

First Day at Daycare

My daughter comes home smelling like
another woman's perfume.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Amazing what our grandmothers and mothers did when they were pregnant, before the medical field new better. My mom tells me how I was laid in the backseat of the faux-wood paneled station wagon in a bassinet contraption. Here is a poem from Tar River Poetry that makes me feel better about the wine I drank in the first couple of weeks before I new I was pregnant, and the Krispy Kream doughnuts I couldn’t help but eat after I did know.


The only photograph that I have of myself

before I was born is the one that I

keep in my underwear drawer.

In it, my mother sits at the kitchen table.

My eight months stretches the gingham of her

sundress underneath her breasts,

suggesting my presence at the scene.

She grins, her body having accepted this heavy

company four times before.

A column of ash balances on top of her

filtered cigarette like a shadow of her

inhalations. The boy who would become

my brother stands behind her and

rests his hand on her freckled shoulder.

Her feet are propped up on the table,

lightly, so as not to shift the tumbler,

half-filled with amber and ice,

which is within her measured reach.

Twenty years and a month after this photo

was taken, my mother pushed the softened

picture into my palm and shrugged.

The explanation she offered now hangs

over her face in this one picture like a joke,

protected by a cartoon bubble.

Monday, November 14, 2005


There once was a woman so sleepy,
She put her brood next to the TV
And said, "You woke up at four,
Now I need to snore."
Nice try, but the kids all got weepy.

Discovered this limerick on a web site for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers (see LINKS). In their Backtalk section, they are calling for limericks to go into their next issue. I haven't written a limerick since grade school, but I think I'll give it a try! Who's with me?

Here's more information on the magazine from the web site:

Brain, Child is a quarterly print publication that reflects modern motherhood-the way it really is. It's been called "The New Yorker for cheeky mothers" and "a literary time-out for moms." We like to think of Brain, Child as a community, for and by mothers who like to think about what raising kids does for (and to) the mind and soul.

Brain, Child isn't your typical parenting magazine. We couldn't cupcake-decorate our way out of a paper bag. We leave the tips and professional experts to the traditional publications. What we do offer are words from women in the field: mothers (who also happen to be great writers) like Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, Alice Hoffman, and Susan Cheever. Each issue is full of essays, features, humor, reviews, fiction, art, cartoons, and our readers' own stories.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Risking Sentimentality

And why not, who says that a mother’s love is sentimental?
Why can’t we write about the depths of our frightening
feelings? Why can’t I describe what my son’s sleeping breath
does to me. It hurts.

I’ll take that chance. If I don’t recognize it, give it a name:
love, then what will become of it? I need to tell you how
I’d take on my daughter’s facial tics as my own, if I could,
I’d carry every hurt and fear for both of them,
and of course, I’d die.

Some moms scrapbook, paste each remembering
into well-documented milestones. Photos with scalloped edges
arranged on decorative paper with stickers. And that’s fine.
I have a box of photos, layers of labeled envelopes,
I’ll get to them someday.

In the meantime, here is my scrapbooking,

My love is a many splintered thing, gets me out of bed,
helps me rise to the occasion after I screw things up.
I offer my life up for them, try to be an example
of a human being who makes it a point to say, “I love you,”
every day in what I do.

I hold their faces in my hands and tell them we are rich,
but not with money, and they don’t know, money
hasn’t taken hold of them. If we all tell our children
it doesn’t matter, then someday, maybe it won’t.
Maybe then

the earth would run on a different type of currency,
with the ideology of Bhutan growing like the second coming
of the great flood, Gross National Happiness washing
away strip malls, pollution, political parties, even violence,
like a reset button.

If the last Buddhist country can be so idealistic, measuring worth
by something immeasurable, then I can write this poem
about a mother’s love
to the world.

*For more info on GNH, see LINKS

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I have 24 poems out there, submitted to a variety of print and online pubs. I've never sent out so many at one time before. I think I was hoping that if I sent out that many it would be easier to wait, but it's not. While of course I'm hoping to publish at least one or two, I am also relieved when they come back rejected. I have a pile of very handsome rejection slips in a drawer of my roll-top desk waiting for more.

The Secret Life of Rejection

When they return with a
slight slip
I thrill as if it were my will
all along
the words come rushing back in
mine again
relieved in a way
never shared
out loud.

Ink letters temporarily lost
in entropy
to the unknown musings
of experts?
and lackeys looting through
paper piles
and mine among
waits quietly
for release.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


The Kind of Mom Who Runs Out of Things

Like milk, for instance. Carton sitting on empty, still taking up space in the fridge, undiscovered until the morning rush of finding shoes and making lunches and pouring cereal, which, thank god, the children who belong to a mom who runs out of things have learned to eat dry. Asking the neighbor, Ms. Perfect Mom Who Never Runs Out Of Anything, to borrow some milk is always an option, and one well-used, whatever Ms. Perfect may think about it.

What’s worse is when the pull-ups run out and it’s late and no amount of finger-crossing will keep the sheets dry, and no matter how many times it happens, no matter how much longer it takes to do the laundry the next day, the kind of mom who runs out of things can’t kick or scream because long before the job is done, she runs out of energy.

And why waste breath? There’s only a few words left anyway, like dammit and I should have and next time, words that the mom who runs out of things absolutely needs never to run out of. So the kind of mom who runs out of things learns the value of cell phones, 24 hour Wal-Marts, and the Internet. She knows there’s no problem that can’t be solved – it’s just a matter of adjusting your expectations.

The kind of mom who runs out of things can and will make do, and along the way she’s tucked away bits of wisdom like one hundred and one uses for scotch tape. The kind of mom who runs out of things tells herself that she’s showing her kids how to be creative, teaching them to be resourceful, and imagines that someday they’ll use their skills and win a million dollars on “Survivor.”

The kind of mom who runs out of things knows to wait when her patience dashes out the door, because she’s learned it always returns. The kind of mom who runs out of things knows time is neither friend nor foe, she knows how to forgive herself, and when she looks at her children, she knows, without a doubt, the really important stuff you never run out of.
-Irene Latham

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


I know you are scheduled to post today, Irene, and then start on a weekly schedule. Please don't let this post stop you. I just had to put up this NY Times article that ran today about the taboo theme. I can see both sides of the story: sometimes you want to be in a kid-free zone, and sometimes you want your children to be given the benefit of the doubt and not be judged so severely. Other parents and children can certainly ruin things for the next - when everyone's just waiting for your child to misbehave. The extreme opinions are stunning. ALL mothers think they and their children are the only ones that matter, are former cheerleaders and beauty queens, are well off? And what about the feminist bookstore? Children First - but only if they behave by some unrealistic standard? It's absurd that Mr. McCauley thinks that his stance against children is up there with Irag and Katrina!

At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops

New York Times
Published: November 9, 2005

CHICAGO, Nov. 8 - Bridget Dehl shushed her 21-month-old son, Gavin, then clapped a hand over his mouth to squelch his tiny screams amid the Sunday brunch bustle. When Gavin kept yelping "yeah, yeah, yeah," Ms. Dehl whisked him from his highchair and out the door.

Right past the sign warning the cafe's customers that "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven," and right into a nasty spat roiling the stroller set in Chicago's changing Andersonville neighborhood.

The owner of A Taste of Heaven, Dan McCauley, said he posted the sign - at child level, with playful handprints - in the hope of quieting his tin-ceilinged cafe, where toddlers have been known to sprawl between tables and hurl themselves at display cases for sport.

But many neighborhood mothers took umbrage at the implied criticism of how they handle their children. Soon, whispers of a boycott passed among the playgroups in this North Side neighborhood, once an outpost of avant-garde artists and hip gay couples but now a hot real estate market for young professional families shunning the suburbs.

"I love people who don't have children who tell you how to parent," said Alison Miller, 35, a psychologist, corporate coach and mother of two. "I'd love for him to be responsible for three children for the next year and see if he can control the volume of their voices every minute of the day."

Mr. McCauley, 44, said the protesting parents were "former cheerleaders and beauty queens" who "have a very strong sense of entitlement." In an open letter he handed out at the bakery, he warned of an "epidemic" of antisocial behavior.
"Part of parenting skills is teaching kids they behave differently in a restaurant than they do on the playground," Mr. McCauley said in an interview. "If you send out positive energy, positive energy returns to you. If you send out energy that says I'm the only one that matters, it's going to be a pretty chaotic world."

And so simmers another skirmish between the childless and the child-centered, a culture clash increasingly common in restaurants and other public spaces as a new generation of busy, older, well-off parents ferry little ones with them.
An online petition urging child-free sections in North Carolina restaurants drew hundreds of signers, including Janelle Funk, who wrote, "Whenever a hostess asks me 'smoking or non-smoking?' I respond, 'No kids!' "

At Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg, Calif., the owners declare "Well-behaved children and parents welcome" to try to stop unmonitored youngsters from tap-dancing on the 100-year-old wood floors.

Menus at Zumbro Cafe in Minneapolis say: "We love children, especially when they're tucked into chairs and behaving," which Barbara Daenzer said she read as an invitation to cease her weekly breakfast visits after her son was born.

Even at the Full Moon in Cambridge, Mass., a cafe created for families, with a train table, a dollhouse and a plastic kitchen in a carpeted play area, there are rules about inside voices and a "No lifeguard on duty" sign to remind parents to take responsibility.

"You run the risk when you start monitoring behavior," said the Full Moon's owner, Sarah Wheaton. "You can say no cellphones to people, but you can't say your father speaks too loudly, he has to keep his voice down. And you can't really say your toddler is too loud when she's eating."

Here in Chicago, parents have denounced Toast, a popular Lincoln Park breakfast spot, as unwelcoming since a note about using inside voices appeared on the menu six months ago. The owner of John's Place, which resembles a kindergarten class at recess in early evening, established a separate "family friendly" room a year ago, only to face parental threats of lawsuits.
Many of the Andersonville mothers who are boycotting Mr. McCauley's bakery also skip story time at Women and Children First, a feminist bookstore, because of the rules: children can be kicked out for standing, talking or sipping drinks. When a retail clerk at the bookstore asked a woman to stop breast-feeding last spring, "the neighborhood set him straight real fast," said Mary Ann Smith, the area's alderwoman.

After a dozen years at one site, Mr. McCauley moved A Taste of Heaven six blocks away in May 2004, to a busy corner on Clark Street. But there, he said, teachers and writers seeking afternoon refuge were drowned out not just by children running amok but also by oblivious cellphone chatterers.

Children were climbing the cafe's poles. A couple were blithely reading the newspaper while their daughter lay on the floor blocking the line for coffee. When the family whose children were running across the room to throw themselves against the display cases left after his admonishment, Mr. McCauley recalled, the restaurant erupted in applause.

So he put up the sign. Then things really got ugly.

"The looks I would get when I went in there made me so nervous that I would try to buy the food as fast as I could and get out," said Laura Brauer, 40, who has stopped visiting A Taste of Heaven with her two children. "I think that the mothers who allow their kids to run around and scream, that's wrong, but kids scream and there is nothing you can do about it. What are we supposed to do, not enjoy ourselves at a cafe?"

Ms. Miller said that one day when her son, then 4 months old, was fussing, a staff member rolled her eyes and announced for all to hear, "We've got a screamer!"

Kim Cavitt recalled having coffee and a cookie one afternoon with her boisterous 2-year-old when "someone came over and said you just need to keep her quiet or you need to leave."

"We left, and we haven't been back since," Ms. Cavitt said. "You go to a coffee shop or a bakery for a rest, to relax, and that you would have to worry the whole time about your child doing something that children do - really what they're saying is they don't welcome children, they want the child to behave like an adult."

Why suffer such scorn, the mothers said, when clerks at the Swedish Bakery, a neighborhood institution, offer children - calm or crying - free cookies? Why confront such criticism when the recently opened Sweet Occasions, a five-minute walk down Clark Street, designed the restroom aisle to accommodate double strollers and offers a child-size ice cream cone for $1.50? (At A Taste of Heaven, the smallest is $3.75.)

"It's his business; he has the right to put whatever sign he wants on the door," Ms. Miller said. "And people have the right to respond to that sign however they want."

Mr. McCauley said he had received kudos from several restaurant owners in the area, though none had followed his lead. He has certainly lost customers because of the sign, but some parents say the offense is outweighed by their addiction to the scones, and others embrace the effort at etiquette.

"The litmus test for me is if they have highchairs or not," said Ms. Dehl, the woman who scooped her screaming son from his seat during brunch, as she waited out his restlessness on a sidewalk bench. "The fact that they had one highchair, and the fact that he's the only child in the restaurant is an indication that it's an adult place, and if he's going to do his toddler thing, we should take him out and let him run around."

Mr. McCauley said he would rather go out of business than back down. He likens this one small step toward good manners to his personal effort to decrease pollution by hiring only people who live close enough to walk to work.

"I can't change the situation in Iraq, I can't change the situation in New Orleans," he said. "But I can change this little corner of the world."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


When they just start crawling, when they’re putting everything in their mouths, when they become obsessed with the tangle behind the TV - it becomes continuous vigilance for mom (and dad). I remember being in a kind of zone, a kind of "physical meditation." Here is an old poem about when I was constantly following them around doing damage control - seems so long ago since they are now 3 and 6. Although, the youngest did recently decide to aerate the couch with scissors!

Daily Practice
J.B Rowell

repetition speaks the second time
with the first you wonder of it is all
fruitless and endless
righting the spill-proof cup over and over
pulling him away from the cords


when it wavers into a game
when you see eyes gleam
you put the cup away
startle with a last-ditch “no” and clap
as he reaches for the plug

again always again

now I know it’s going somewhere
that he will learn it someday
and the repetition will slip by
replaced by new daily practice
physical meditation

until then you wonder: Who is training whom?

Monday, November 07, 2005


Do you ever wonder why you ever wanted to be a mother in the first place? I mean, isn't it ironic that most of us chose this job? In fact, many of us have even gone to great lengths to be here. Yet so often it seems the rewards come in fleeting moments and mostly it's a matter of plugging along, telling yourself "it's just a stage." Here is an old poem I wrote on the topic.

About Motherhood

They call it motherhood -
this process of
wiping and changing
loving and teaching
comforting and scolding.

They expect you to know
just what to do
when he falls off his tricycle
wakes from a bad dream
or takes a toy from his brother.

And they say you are responsible
for his self-esteem
his social skills
and his intelligence.

They say motherhood
is a wonderful experience.
And I wonder

just what is so wonderful?

The long hours?
The endless piles of laundry?
The not knowing what to do?

Then I see him.
to be a train.
His little shoes
shuffling along the carpet.

Choo-choooo, he says.
Then I remember.

-Irene Latham

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Okay, I'm going there, talking about the p-word. I do know that there are actual and very serious cases, but what I'm talking about in this poem is how every dip in life can now be labeled and/or medicated. Maybe we'll get a Tom Cruise/Brooke Shields type of debate going . . .

With a Label Comes an Excuse
J.B. Rowell

Sure my hormones are flux,
but they’ve been that way since my first
period, and maybe before that,
preteen, teen, weren’t we hormonal then?
How else can I explain my crush
on the boy with the girl’s
name and bad shirts?
The one who used me and I knew it and I let him.
The one who drank Tang
and played the sax.

Now I have a second baby
with the man I love,
the one who is following his bliss by still
being in grad school, the one I resent.
And I can’t seem to get myself off the coach
or do housework of any kind anymore.
So I can blame my blah way of being
on my baby (who is really now a toddler)
or maybe on the fact that I stopped nursing him,
yeah, I have the post-weaning blues.

When my children grow up and out,
I’ll have an empty nest to wallow in
with more handy excuses
having to do with getting old.
Put a pre- and a post-
before the word menopause,
and you can really drag it on until
death. So the label I’m really looking for,
for letting go, is called life,
Full of hormones and disappointment.
That’s enough of an excuse,
and not one at all.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


I'm pretty sure one version of Hell is being a mom trapped in a van with the brood she was blessed with. Unlike the restaurant or grocery store, at least there are none of the glares from strangers, but in some ways it's worse -- you are alone, you are responsible, you are falling apart. In my next life I will be an inventor, and the first thing I'm going to come up with is an eject button that will lift my screaming children up and out of the van and dump them (safely) at our destination. Meanwhile, here's a poem:

Are We There Yet?

If it was only that innocuous question,
I could and would tune it out. But
it’s high-pitched MomMomMom
and one of them is sticking his tongue out
and the other one’s kicking the back of my seat
and if I could reach them I would pull
one’s hair and if I believed in that sort of thing,
I would slap the other’s face and if that didn’t work,
and if I wasn’t on a busy highway
I would open the door and shove them both out
and drive away. Oh sure, I’d come back
for them later, after I’d cried and gotten a handle
on myself, and after they’d had a chance to feel
scared and alone, but I can’t do that, no, I’m driving
and I am stuck in this seat at this red light
that so far is not changing and these kids
are pushing me pushing me over the edge
and my arms aren’t long enough and
there’s nothing to stuff in their mouths
and I don’t know what to do, I don’t
know what to do and you have the
audacity to call me on my cell phone
to ask me how’s my day.
- Irene Latham

Friday, November 04, 2005


I understand that everyone does not want to be subjected to other people's children, especially in certain places: airplanes, fancy restaurants, serious movies . . . but why is it that some people so easily judge others by their children's behavior? Last night, while my family was eating dinner at the Whole Foods cafe, a lady kept disapprovingly turning around to look at my three-year-old who was trying to make a sound louder than the beeping microwave. Now, I know she was trying to read, and we did try to accommodate her by reasoning with the three-year-old, but I also wanted to shout, "Three-year-olds don't have volume control!" and "This is not a library!" Here's a poem on the subject, or maybe more of a rant.


Children still have their place,
should be seen and not heard
at the store, at this function dressed
to see their father receive an award.

They are free game to the judgment
and comments of anyone, including
this teen, who decries within earshot,
"I would never bring my children here."

Go ahead, take a shot,
I’m ready with my standard:
"Why did I ever take my sister’s kids out?"
Seems to crack their expert
parenting-from-afar gaze,
drops their eyes,
but really I want to say:

May you be blessed with a brood.
May your life turn elliptically
around them.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


My oldest just turned eleven, but I still remember what it was like ten years ago, when he turned one. It's true what they say: time passes so fast - better enjoy them while they are young. And yes, I know how difficult that can be when the kids are sick and you are sleep-deprived and have company coming for the weekend. But still....

First Birthday

Soon you’ll take your place in the center
surrounded by aunts and grandmothers, cousins and friends,
sit in the old oak high chair, well-worn
by your father and his father, see a candle flicker,
hear a song, taste the chocolate swirls of icing
on the cake I’ve baked just for you.

But now you’re sleeping, oblivious
to the decorations, the gifts so carefully chosen
and wrapped, the plates of tiny crustless sandwiches,
the punch bowl that’s been garnished with handpicked berries.

You’re sleeping,
breathing the short shallow breaths of dreamers,
your legs tucked tight under your body,
back a turtle’s shell, and in your dimpled fist
the blue silken edge of the blanket
I swaddled you in the day you were born.

I must wake you for the party.
I hum softly, stroke your face, then pull
you to a breast that has little milk left for you.
Your eyelids flutter, not quite opening,
and as you latch on you reach your hand to my mouth,
as you have always done, and I kiss each finger.
This is the part I hope you’ll remember.

-Irene Latham

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Now I hear that the air inside of the house is more polluted than outside, so what’s the point in eating all organic, and hand-grinding baby food? A friend just bought an air purifier for each of her kids’ rooms; I’ll have to talk to Jason about that. Most of my friends can’t handle staying home full time, they crave adult interaction, but I’m OK with it. Besides, I have scrapbooking once a month, and the play group, and I do make it a point to go out with my girlfriends once in a while even though I’d rather just sleep. It’s not really a sacrifice to give my children their own mother. It’s definitely a choice though. I clip coupons, gladly take hand-me-downs, don’t get massages anymore, eat out less. It’s worth it. I’m OK. It’s full on now, no breaks, but then they’ll be gone. I don’t want to miss it, so I’m OK.

I stop just outside the front door to take a deep breath every morning. It’s not relief, really. I just need a moment after leaving them to make sure I have clothes on, matching shoes, and basically to remember who I am. Mornings are a whirlwind you know. Then it’s off to work where I forget about them entirely until their faces pop into my head, I know that sounds horrible, but the day is just so busy. Then I call to make sure Liz is feeding them the right snack this time, to see how the baby’s runny nose is, and to make sure they are on their way out for their walk. This is how it needs to be. If I stayed home I’d never have enough patience, I’d never be able to stick to my own schedule. Really, I’d just go crazy. And If I get out of my job now, I’d never be able to get back in. We'd never be able to live on one salary anyway. So, this is the way it needs to be, and when I get home at night, I always make it up to them.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Home means different things to different people, but I think most parents associate home with their children, and most children, however old, associate home with their parents. The following is my attempt to capture what "home" means to me.

If it has a heart

it is not in the kitchen
where you chop
and I stir the sauce

it is not on the couch
in front of the fireplace
where the cats curl
and stretch

or even in our bed
where we have loved
three children into
existence --

It is found in the oak
planks of the hallway
that connects our room
to theirs,

its pulse is the groan
and creak
left from nights
spent pacing,

small hot bodies
moved from my arms
to yours
then back again

and in the mornings
you can hear it
racing in sock feet,
fast-flight toward day

then later at dusk
in the steady fall of your shoes
just before you drop
your keys into the bowl.

- Irene Latham