Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On taking a chance: my interview by Michael Lee West

Most people like to read about things they know about as well as what they don't, and everybody likes to read about people they know... or think they know. That's how it felt when I started reading the novels of Michael Lee West many years ago: not only do the characters and dialogue ring true to this Southern lady, but the setting was eerily familiar as well, and talk around town was that the town she set some of her novels in, especially American Pie and Crazy Ladies, was a shadow of the town Mrs. West and I both reside in: Lebanon, Tennessee.

I devoured every novel she'd written up until the point I started reading them, and then awaiting each new one. My copy of Mad Girls in Love literally split in half from me wagging it around and reading it for weeks.

Mrs. West and I have kept in touch over the years, starting with us meeting at the Tennessee Writers Alliance writing conference at Cumberland University in 2004, I think. Then I joined the board of the TWA and had Mrs. West involved in its quarterly newsletter and then, last year, asked her to be involved in Milk & Ink: a Mosaic of Motherhood, the literary anthology I helped edit and contributed to.

So, as a fan of her work and a fellow writer I was thrilled when she asked to interview me for her stylish and popular blog, http://designsbygollum.blogspot.com/

In my interview I talk about my trip to France last year, my writing habits and even give the recipe for the favorite French dish I make at home, chicken ratatouille.

Here's the link - I hope you enjoy and come back for more!

Monday, May 30, 2011

On Mayhem: Living with kittens

The thought "I wonder where my Coke is - I sure would like a sip" had no sooner entered my mind then I heard the thunk and splash. The sticky, delicious liquid was already dripping off the edge of the white bureau in my den and soaking into the beige carpet before I could moan a curse and shove my laptop aside, tripping over The Best Comforter in the World to get to the mess.

I have one mama cat, Gatsby, and three kittens. We had five kittens but have managed to unload two of them so far. I fear we are keeping the rest, as they have found their way, quite relentlessly, into our hearts.

Monster and The Dude

I've never had cats before: we are dog people in my family. My dad and stepmother have a lovely Siamese, Jasmine, but she pretty much lives under their bed and is rarely seen in my presence. In fact, I was severely allergic to them until either A. I had my son or B. he decided he needed kitten about a year and half ago. I don't know what happened, but my severe allergy was downgraded to mild when Gatsby found her way into our life as a kitten just a little younger than hers are now.

Gatsby on the ride home

My son and I hadn't been living at The Cottage for very long before I returned home one day to find our front door slightly ajar - it had been that way for hours, apparently. Obviously distressed, I burst into the house with little thought to a knife-wielding stranger camped out inside but more along the lines of "They took our stuff! Our STUFF!" Nevermind we have very few things of any value to anyone but us: it is our stuff.

Our stuff was all still there, from the ancient, Jurassic analog TV to my pretty but relatively inexpensive jewelry. Everything, that is, except our beloved cat.

I talked to neighbors, I made calls: no one had seen her. Not knowing anything about cats or their... habits... I threw up my hands and prepared to tell my son that his cat was gone. The recent move and my even more recent bout with kidney stones resulting in an extended stay in ICU with sepsis had been unsettling enough - now the cat was gone.

She wasn't gone for long. Two days later we spotted her on the front porch as we returned home. She wasn't alone.

"Gatsby's back," The Dude cried out, pointing from the backseat. "And she has a new husband!"

"Oh hell," I muttered, eying the orange, quite pedestrian friend who had escorted our little slut cat home.

Of course you know how the story goes. I, again, knew nothing about pregnant cats. I thought (and prayed) that she was just getting fat. I convinced myself that she was just getting fat even if I convinced no one else. As the truth began to literally show itself I relented to the fact that we were about to have several new additions to our small family.

"How many kittens do cats have?" I wondered aloud to friends. "Two? Three, maybe?" This resulted in amused snorts from my best friend Sarah, a cat lover from way back.

In late February I returned home from a trip to a local walk-in clinic to treat a hellacious sinus infection to my jubilant son meeting me at the door, jabbering, "Gatsby had her kittens! There are FIVE of them!"

Horrified, I stumbled to our laundry room to find Gatsby, even more irritable than usual, curled around a nest of mewling, slick and gorgeous kittens.

Since then our little home has gone from manageable and pleasant to unpredictable, often messy and delightful. Things are suddenly knocked from shelves and tables, there are unexplained messes in unexpected places, and forget about sitting for any extended period of time without having a small knot of fuzzy kitten for company.

Here are some things I have learned from having kittens:

1. Your stuff is no longer your stuff. It's their stuff. Feel privileged for even being allowed to remain in the house.

2. Don't leave your purse on any sort of elevated surface. Don't leave anything on any sort of elevated surface, for that matter, because it will get knocked off and things will be scattered. Lipsticks and earrings will disappear forever.

3. Your days of laying down and reading peacefully are over. Your reading view will either be blocked by a sleeping cat on your chest or you will become part of the track they are using to run laps through the house.

4. Forget about privacy, period. Whether it's just sleeping (they will find a way to enter your bedroom unless you just plain ole shut the door, and then they will mew pitifully and mercilessly outside the door, and small paws will appear beneath the door, patting inside desperately) or what was once considered private bathroom time (bathing alone is unacceptable, you can't be trusted to be alone in their bathtub, don't you know that's where they get the best sips of water?), you are now at their mercy at all times.

5. Your vocabulary will now include phrases like "sifting litter pan liner" and "odor control for small spaces" which, actually, can be applied to other parts of your life.

6. There are few things softer or more precious in this world than the belly of a sated, sleeping long-haired kitten purring, curled around your neck. This will become a soothing and necessary part of your writing routine, like ambient music.

7. Get used to waking up and having at least a small part of every room scattered, including piles of books knocked over every single day, several times a day, and DVDs knocked off the top of the DVD player because one of the kittens just loves napping on top of the warm machine.

So, there are sacrifices that must be made, time that will be carved out of your day to do anything from change the litter box (constantly, at least twice a day, at least in my house) to pausing to let a passing kitten nuzzle your nose or weave between your ankles as you try to complete a hurried meal. These are the little things that change your life and make you adore these little darling creatures that, at one time, made your eyes swell and your back prickle in annoyance.

Because, looking at them, how could you not love them?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Telling Tales: A Forward

Time for a laugh

Trust me – you’re not the only one who’s felt this way.

You’re not the only mom who has opened your sliding minivan door (Minivan? When did you agree to drive a minivan?) and had all sorts of clothes, food packaging, plastic cups, lost homework and various sports-related articles spill out onto a parking lot.

You’re not the only mom who has had to make two dozen last-minute cupcakes for class, or walk, without makeup and with flyaway hair, your child to class as he clutches a tardy slip, irate because it’s actually your fault he’s late. Not the only mom to worry about whether your child makes the football team, makes the grade, makes the right choice.

You’re not the only woman who’s worried about what sort of mom she is, whether her decisions are correct, whether or not to console the child you just disciplined. You’re not the only woman who has had to turn to another mother instead of her husband or mate for consultation and condolence.

And, most likely, you don’t have time to sit down and read a whole lot of a book, no matter how much you’d love to and how great it is.

Only part of the funny, touching, validating and entertaining book you’re holding in your hands is that is can – and maybe should – be read in sips. Telling Tales is a compilation of weekly columns by Angel Kane and Becky Andrews, two intelligent, professional, compassionate women who happen to have a lot of children and a lot to say about what it takes to keep their family, their careers, and their sanity in tact.

Telling Tales is about the bonds between mothers and their children, their mates, and their families, but also about the imperative relationship between mothers and their friends. No woman, despite how urgently we wish to be sometimes, is an island – and our life preservers can be the phone calls, the understanding nods, and the time our friends take to share our burdens, our stories and our lives.

Telling Tales is a life jacket to grasp when you need just a little something to make you smile and hold up your head, turn your face to the world and think, “I’m not alone, and I can do this.”

I have read the columns written alternately by these two women in The Wilson Post newspapers for years, but it wasn’t until I read them all together in a complete manuscript that I felt the strength of their friendship and the honest, wry wisdom of their words. I’m honored to be a part of this collection of columns, and I know you will enjoy each little sip of the cocktail and come back for more.

And, like any good diversion in life, this one’s better shared with a friend.

Tomi L. Wiley
October, 2010

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Short Short Story *or* A Beginning....

The first cake I tried apparently had way too much explosive agent inside because when I tossed the damn thing out the front door of my bakery and into the street the tow truck it splattered against exploded.

I was walking back into the shop, wiping buttercream icing off my hands with the hem of my apron, when the bakery floor buckled and the glass shelves in my display cases fell, sprinkling a dozen cooling cupcakes with slivers of glass. Smelling smoke, I turned, my lower lip caught between my teeth, and saw the truck on fire in the middle of the street; dollops of buttercream icing and a few pink roses dotted the sidewalk between the front door of my bakery and the smoldering tow truck.

"Aw sugar," I said.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Joseph Devon's new book launches today!

My talented writer friend Joseph Devon has worked for years on the sequel to his novel Probability Angels. The result, after many readings, rewrites, edits, texts, emails and arguments, is Book Two: Persistent Illusions, on sale today for Kindle and paperback. Below is a review I wrote of Probability Angels after first reading it, originally published in The Tennessee Writer, a quarterly newsletter for the Tennessee Writers Alliance.


Every once in a while I start a book that, a few pages in, I feel the need to turn back to the first sentence, slow down, take my time and truly enjoy. Because I read so much for work, and there are never enough hours in the workday to see the bottom of my Inbox, I tend to scan, to skim, to let my eyes slide over words, digesting them enough to get the gist of what I’m reading without actually tasting it – more like chewing gum than enjoying a snack. Rarely do I find reading material, particularly that I’m reading for pleasure, that forces me to slow down, to cock my head and consider each sentence, each description, turn of phrase and idiosyncrasies of dialogue – Joseph Devon’s Probability Angels is one such book.

The concept of the novel is intriguing and original – mortals who give up their own lives to save that of a loved one and in turn spend eternity “pushing” other mortals to go as far as possible and create new ideas, art, and technological innovations: such examples in the novel are Isaac Newton, Bram Stoker, and Shakespeare.

These “angels” are trained by masters, such as Epp (Epictetus), a one-time slave from Ancient Greece who has pushed mortals and trained angels for centuries. Epp is powerful and smart, tough and brave – and other elder angels think his time as a deified master has come to an end, sparking a battle between the angels and the “other things,” described as zombies, for the soul of Epp and the position of power he holds in their eternal universe.

I won’t go into the details of this novel because I think everyone should read it for themselves, but the themes of this fascinating, thought-provoking read have been tackled and tossed about through the ages: the choices we make affect more than just our lives and create a ripple affect, touching the lives of others for years to come, and making difficult choices – or choosing not to make them and allow life to just “happen” – are how people grow, change, and adapt.

The choices the angels make to forfeit their lives as mortals and spend eternity “testing” other mortals is one of immense, eternal pain and sorrow, but, as Epp tells protagonist Matthew, the reward for the excruciating decision long outweighs the temporary pain.

“The upside is that you can be greatness itself. You could be Shakespeare’s broken heart, Beethoven’s deaf ears, Van Gogh’s madness. You could be Kellar’s scarlet fever, Roebling’s crushed left foot, the color of Dr. King’s skin. You could be the entry for light to pass into the soul. You could be the reason everything worth doing on this rock ever gets done.”

While the notion that our most difficult decisions, and their life-changing results, are “pushed” by angels who are constantly surrounding us and interacting in our lives in ways that we never realize, is not a purely novel concept, Devon’s characters and methods are original and wholly captivating. His ear for dialogue and knack for character development is to be admired, and I closed the book feeling not only as if I knew the characters but felt invested in their lives. Succinctly, I wanted more but was satisfied in the moment with a fully realized experience. And like any good meal savored slowly and carefully, relishing each moment and morsel, I can’t wait to return for a second course.

Book Two: Persistent Illusions launched today, Thursday, April 28. Find Book One: Probability Angles and how to order Book Two: Persistent Illunsions at http://josephdevon.com/novels/probability-angels.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Motherhood: Working title (a poem)

Swathed in my sheets
my son, sweaty and five,
sighs, reaches out a plump palm.

Even in his dreams
he has been waiting for me.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On Mayhem: For Whom the Heart Bleeds

I'm part of a fun, interesting project called Dorothy: Locked and Loaded, which is - in creator Scott Meek's words - the serialized, collaborative novel effort of five writers, each of whom will play a very specific role within the story of the return to Oz of "Dorothy". Only this time, it is not "Dorothy Gale" of the original; it is "Dot", her granddaughter, who grew up listening to the wild and hardly believable tales of her grandmother's adventures in the land of Oz.

What fate awaits our heroine in an Oz that has evolved, or dare we say "devolved", over the course of fifty years? What new or old dangers lurk? What has been the fate of Dorothy's old companions? Will they still be there to help the newest stranger in the land? Will they be who she's always heard they were, or have they changed? And was it for the better?

Stay tuned and find out right here as Dot, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, as well as your faithful narrator, tell the story of "Dorothy: Locked & Loaded". Toto is a little more lethal than he ever was, but this isn't Kansas or your grandmother's Oz!

Here's the beginning of my latest installment, posted today:

I thought that they could never die. That’s what I was told. That no one in Oz ever dies.

It was a lie.

Scarecrow sat by my side while I was on the throne. While I was Emperor of the Winkies, he traveled with me, chattering ceaselessly, reciting poetry he learned from his professor friend. What I wouldn’t give to have him here with me, now, on this lonely road to the Emerald City. For these are hills familiar to him, forests deep and known, and I should know them, too, but my head is filled with nothing, with dust rising in a wind of thought, of need, my mind dusty and rusting and turning on itself.

This was the road we took to find her. To find my Nimma, my rose, my love.

But then, she was called Nimmie Amee.

I pause on the edge of a forest, eyeing the trees shivering in the fading pink light of dusk. Leaves turning over, silvered, offering themselves to a coming rain. I have to get out of the open, under cover, before it comes. Ignoring a groaning that rises either from the wind through the trees or my own aching throat, I start toward the dim, the depth, the held breath of the forest.

My steps echo on the flaking brick road, bounce off the trees and back to me, bounce off the tin that is me and back to the trees. We are playing, the trees and me. Calling out, step step step. Knock knock knock. Tik tock. Tick tock.

The trees are reaching arms and gnarled grey bark faces. Maybe it’s my tired eyes, my rising mind, but they seem to yawn and snarl, to eye and scorn me. Last time they punished us for Dorothy’s collecting their fallen fruit. They were hateful and scorned. But that was then, when our world was different, before my empire of shining tin crumbled into dust and ruin.

What's the Tin Man's deep, dark secret? How many beating hearts did he carry in his metal chest?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Media: On the General Jackson

General Jackson’s new season has something for everyone

Whether you like current country, your grandfather’s classics, or get down with gospel, this season’s General Jackson show cruise has something for you.

Country Music USA is a nostalgic take on country’s past and present, showcasing the talents of country, western and gospel stars from Hank Williams, Sr. and Patsy Cline to Reba Williams and Rascal Flatts. The show gives a nod to its country roots in the Grand Ole Opry, reverence to the religious roots with a gospel medley, and a shout out to today’s stars with current hits straight from country’s Top 40.

But the music’s not the only thing to enjoy on the General Jackson, which was named after President Andrew Jackson and has been a Nashville staple since 1985. Tourists and locals alike enjoy views of the Cumberland River and Downtown Nashville singular to the cruise, as well as gourmet meals prepared with care by Gaylord Opryland Resort’s award-winning chefs and served both “family style” and as three course meals, depending on the cruise.

“The General Jackson Showboat has a proud heritage here in Nashville. From the moment our guests board the boat, they are treated to a one-of-a-kind experience, which starts with our well-known Southern hospitality,” said Dennis Schnurbusch, general manager of the General Jackson Showboat. “Guests get to see the sights and sounds of the city as the boat travels the Cumberland River, all while enjoying Tennessee’s temperate climate. With excellent music and wonderful food, the General Jackson is where memories are made.”

Country Music USA features the talents of Brian Glenn, Chad Hudson, Paul Vann, Lori Beth Hogan, Jamie Godfrey, and Natasha Noack. The high-energy show begins with an Old Time Gospel Medley, then moves into Country Roots and Grand Ole Opry staples, such as “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and “Salty Dog Blues.”

Fans of classic country will be tapping their toes to the two Classic Country Medleys, in which songs and artists range from “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash to “Why Haven’t I Heard from You” by Reba McEntire.

Prefer current country? The cast jams their way through a set list with hits from Garth Brooks, George Straight, Carrie Underwood and many more – including, of course, the omnipresent Taylor Swift. Filled with great food and thrilled by an excellent show, General Jackson cruisers enjoy a patriotic finale with “In God We Still Trust” and “God Bless the U.S.A.”
But don’t think you have to sit still the entire time – a mid-show intermission gives cruisers an opportunity to explore the General Jackson and enjoy the great views of the Cumberland River, green banks and finally, the sparkling skyline of Downtown Nashville over the splashing paddlewheel. Bring your camera.

The General Jackson Showboat, built by Jeffersonville, Ind.-based Jeffboat, was launched April 20, 1985 and was christened July 2, 1985. The boat can hold 1,200 passengers and 157 crew members. The paddlewheel riverboat stands 77 feet tall, making it one of the country’s largest showboats. The paddlewheel itself is 36 feet long, 24 feet wide and weighs 36 tons. Two Caterpillar 3512 engines, each with 1050 horse power and 880 kilowatt generators, are responsible for powering the boat, which has a maximum speed of 13 miles per hour. Most recently, the General Jackson, with its beautiful surroundings and one-of-a-kind experiences, was named “Best Place to Kiss” a distinction from the Tennessean newspaper.

Special event cruises for Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Tennessee Titans football games, Halloween and even New Year’s Eve make the General Jackson a popular choice for people looking for a safe, memorable time.

Country Music USA is a three-hour evening cruise and runs through November 13. Ticket prices range from $55.52 per person to $87.95 per person, plus tax.

Boarding takes place at 6:15 p.m., with the boat returning at 10 p.m. (Monday through Saturday). Sunday evening cruise times are one hour earlier.

The General Jackson Showboat offers both midday and evening cruises with a variety of entertainment options throughout the year. Holiday cruises begin mid-November.

For tickets or more information, please call 615-458-3900 or visit www.generaljackson.com.

Have a program, show, book or event you'd like me to attend and review? Email twileypr@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Motherhood: How much info is too much?

My mother tells this story of a time when I was “sick” – from what I can ascertain, I probably just had a bad cold. Of course, to hear Mom tell it, I was languishing, knocking on Death’s door pale-faced and clammy.

Our memories of a particular doctor whose care I was in only briefly when I was very young is subjective and suspect at best: my only memory of this doctor’s office is of sitting on an examination table, trembling, as a nurse with the long red nails and gravelly voice of a storybook stepmother gripped my wrist in one fist and used the other to walk her fingers, spider-like, up my forearm and bicep.

This is where my writer’s imagination kicks in, my mother always says at this point of the story, although she’s never flat-out denied this happened.

Here comes the kitty cat,” the nurse growled, and slammed the needle – easily the length of a ruler, shining and dripping before it pierced my skin – into the pliant peach flesh of my toddler arm.

That’s my one story from this particular doctor. My mother’s is quite different.

She had brought me to the doctor with, as I said, what I assume was a cold. She was frantic about my fever, nearly comatose concerning my chills. After examining me and (I can only assume) dispensing the witch-nurse to give me a shot of sudden cure (penicillin, which I was later diagnosed as allergic to, which could explain the severe reaction memory), the doctor walked my mother down the hall, and they peeked into the open doors, glimpsing pieces of the lives of sick children.

According to my mother, there was one child that had been recently diagnosed with cancer but was in that day to treat a cold; one child lay shivering beneath a blanket on an exam table, staring at the wall with clouded hot eyes, who was about to be admitted into the hospital to be treated for pneumonia; another child was inconsolable, racked with a cough you could hear in the waiting room, pink phlegm spraying his lap and hands, his mother a sunken heap in a corner chair, haggard and helpless.

“These,” the doctor told my mother, “are sick children. Your child has a cold.”

I hear these words any time my son gets sick – even if, as in the past few days, he has been vomiting without warning, sobbing on the toilet with diarrhea, listless and silent with fever. I took him to the doctor after a night of this, after running through every piece of linen in my house – from towel paths on the floor from each room to the bathroom, because he couldn’t control his vomiting, to sheets and pillowcases, washcloths and dishtowels, anything to wipe up the sick and replace what had just been replaced and he had soiled. Pajamas, underwear, my sleep shirts and hands, hair, and feet – all bile-slicked and stinking. It didn’t help that the last meal he had before the virus set in was fried shrimp, coleslaw, chips and salsa.

The doctor, who seemed more removed and distracted than usual, which I didn’t especially appreciate, diagnosed my son with a stomach virus. I continued to list everything my son had eaten the day before, in case it was food poisoning or too much candy at the funeral home (my aunt passed last week, and the funeral home is lousy with mints and candy vending machines) the fact that he’d been congested and maybe it was sinus drainage into his stomach and making him sick, it could be anything.

It wasn’t anything. It was a stomach virus, and he’d be over it in a few days. The main concern was keeping him hydrated, which would be a slow and persistent process. If he didn’t “tolerate” fluids consistently by yesterday afternoon, my son would need to be hospitalized.

Once he was home and in bed, he slept nearly the rest of the day. Almost as soon as he was settled and sleeping, my body decided to let go and succumb to the virus as well – I hadn’t felt so hot myself all night but had concentrated so fully on him (and cleaning up after him) that I had barely noticed.

In these days of constant status updates, Twitter feeds and texting, there was many time that I wanted to update my Facebook status about my son’s health: that he was so lethargic and quiet, the consistent giggling, muttering and thumping as he leaps off his bed or swings into action as Spiderman was non-existent noise from his bedroom, and it worried me. He had to tire of me popping my head in and squinting at his lifeless lump beneath the red comforter on the bottom bunk, my palm against his forehead, my knuckles on his cheek as he tried to sleep.

But I found myself hesitating and often not updating my status because I immediately thought of a friend who’s son has cancer and who’s daughter has donated her own bone marrow to help save him. The thought of her reading my update about being worried that my son was still sleeping, or wasn’t laughing with me at The Simpsons, or vomited again after several calm hours, shamed me, made my fears seem gratuitous and silly.

I thought of when I worked in Mt. Juliet at the newspaper and there were (still are) at least a half dozen children under the age of 12 who are either currently battling cancer or have succumbed to it in recent years – a rather high number, in my opinion, in such a small square area, but that’s another story for another journalist. I never had the courage or tough heart enough to take it on. I simply told their stories – both encouraging and of dwindling health – and went about my way, telling myself I was grateful for a healthy son, and any little cold or sickness he came down with I’d keep to myself as much as possible.

But is that any way to live a life? If I can’t share my concerns and worries, no matter on what scale they compare to someone else’s, with my friends and family, who could possibly have tips or advice for me during my own trying time, what good is social media and networking, anyway?

Should I feel bad about worrying over my son, who is sick, although not as sick as other children – those with cancer, or genetic diseases, or any other debilitating situation spiraling their lives out of their control? I’m profoundly grateful that my son is in overall wonderful health, but when that does falter should I constantly keep the problems of other children in mind and my fingertips silent?

Basically, how much information shared on social networks is too much?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On Mayhem: Life, in general

Admittedly yes, it's been a while since I've blogged, but inevitably life gets in the way, we wander off sidetracked, become caught in brambles, lose our way.

I've lost a lot in the past couple of weeks, but I've gained even more: time. Time for my son, time for myself, time for my writing. I have some amazing opportunities and chances and changes on the horizon, and I'm pretty excited about that.

But in the meantime, I'm volunteering at my son's school.

The Dude is in Kindergarten, and apparently it is common for mothers who either don't work or have the free time to volunteer in the classroom for several hours in the morning. My son was ready for me to join the Mommy ranks immediately after I left my job, but I needed some time to prepare. It's a good thing I did.

His teacher, whom I consider a princess because she's beautiful, patient, put-together and delightful, told me to wear "old clothes" because I'd be painting with the children. The thought of painting at all makes me bite my lip, much less throwing 27 excitable five year olds into the mix. At least most of my clothes can be considered "old" by most anyone's standards, so I didn't have to worry about what to wear.

Decked out in all black, The Dude and I arrived on time at school. I parked and looked at him as he clamored over the console and into my lap, the usual way he climbs out of the car to go to school.

"So look, Mom," he said, settling into my lap and tapping the steering wheel. "Just because she sits beside me and sometimes I have to talk to her doesn't mean that Sarah and I aren't still broken up. Because we are."

Now this was unexpected.

"Well, okay," I frowned, trying to gather his backpack and my purse as he struggled in the opposite direction to open the car door. "But, just because you're not boyfriend and girlfriend any more (might I add, they are five) doesn't mean you can't still be friends. I mean, I'm friends with almost all of my ex-boyfriends. It's natural if you had a healthy relationship you want to continue."

"That," The Dude said, hopping out of the car and straight into a mud puddle with both feet, "is not the situation here. And that's all I have to say about it."

Now, I have always liked Sarah. Always since, oh, August, when the kids started school together and I watched this little girl greet my son in the hallway with a bright smile and a kiss on the cheek. (Yeah, I was a bit taken aback by that, but all right.) She obviously was crazy about my son, and she's a quick, friendly little thing with strong opinons and a confidence that belies her age. She gets this from her mother, I think.

That said, I immediately greeted the sunny little blonde, who happens to still sit beside The Dude in class. He glared at me for this blatant act of traitorism, to which I shrugged, and smiled, and went about my volunteering business.

I passed out stickers for homework and worked in the students' reading folders, in which each child is sent home with a book about a letter, such as A - Andy the Ant, or something to that effect. This was how I learned that my son, and one other child in his class, does not use those letter books - he and his friend are sent to the library, where he chooses a book each day from those reserved for students in the second grade.

The second grade. I blinked at him when he told me this, non-chalantly, as if he'd just said he gets to pick out his own tater tots at lunch, or his preferred milk of choice is strawberry. As if I should know that he's in Kindergarten but reading books for second graders.

One interesting project I worked on was in the students' Memory Books. These are plastic binders in which each month is filled with writing projects, photos, art attempts. I was working in February, and I had to call each child over to me and ask what three things they love, and then what (or who) they love the most.

The answers were funny and unpredictable. It was interesting to see which students listed things instead of people, like their toys and pets and stuffed animals. My own son gave macaroni and cheese as an answer, which surprised me, since he's only lately started eating it - and that's just because he tried some of my Easy Mac with red chili sauce in it. Now that's the only way he'll eat it. He said he loves me "most of all."

"Of course you do," I sniffed, and kissed his nose.

Two other children listed either my son or something he had given them as things they loved, and one little boy said he loved The Dude most of all.

"Huh," I said, jotting down the answer. "Okaaaaaay."

It was near time for lunch when my son, distracted and watching me, clearly bereft at the fact that I'd be leaving soon, backed toward his tiny chair and tried to sit down - without looking. He tumbled backward into the floor, all flailing hands and kicking knees. I covered my mouth with my hand and called, "Are you okay?"

He scrambed to his feet, red-faced and already wet-eyed. He glared at me. "I NEVER should have asked you to come here!" he cried, sitting carefully and covering his face. I called out his name.

Sarah, an arm's length away from him, peered into his face, touched his fingers. She turned to me. "Miss Tomi? He's crying."

"I AM NOT!" He shrieked, and we all jumped. His teacher glanced over, but I waved a hand. "I just never should have asked you here!"

This is a typical reaction of my son: he can't just be upset that this isolated incident happened and embarrassed him for a moment - he is responsible for the entire rotten day and everything that happens to everyone. He flings himself to the extremes, while I tend to languish more close to ambivalence.

I never cease to be amazed at the traits and characteristics of my family that surface in my son, or the aspects of his personality that are completely his own.

It's fun, this Mommy gig.