I suddenly cannot stop blogging. Perhaps it's the idea that in a few days I'll be in a communist country from which I'll only be able to get to my favorite sites if I make my iphone's VPN work. I don't know. But let's roll with it, shall we?
Today I took Max and Claire to a new pumpkin patch and we spent an absurd amount of time there. Here are my favorite shots from our hours and hours and hours in the country.
Perfect, oyster-translucent skin. Ribs that heave as you breathe. Your arms bent, legs taut, ready to run at me.
You all but puff steam from your nostrils. When you charge, you try to knock me over, but your eight-year-old body isn't substantial enough yet. You are angles and bones.
Your torso rams into mine and I purposely fall back. I know that in a few years you will be able to take me down, but for now you are still a small boy.
Earlier you looked at yourself in the bathroom mirror, arms up, studying your biceps. "Do I look strong?" you kept asking.
"Yes," I said, even though you just looked skinny and cute.
You are energy and exuberance embodied right now. You exhaust me.
But you also give me so much more than you know.
Max got in trouble last week for writing "You are a dumbo," on a classmate's math sheet. The sheet belonged to Max's friend and Max was trying to be funny and make his friend laugh. On our way out of school, Max's teacher confronted him about it in the hallway. Claire and I watched Max's face turn crimson. He almost never gets in trouble. Once in first grade for crawling under his desk during Music. This time, I wished his teacher had pulled him aside and talked to him privately rather than shooting questions at him where anyone could hear.
Some kids at school are making fun of Claire and I can't quite figure out why. It has to do with a game and the others telling her she's not good at it so she shouldn't play. I want to go up to each of these children and flick them on their small heads. I won't, of course, but the meanness...it starts in first grade. Damn.
J. is working like crazy again. He hates it. I hate it. It negatively affects the family dynamic in a major way.
Every time his work consumes him like a licking, snapping house fire, I fear that everything we've built will disintegrate into a pile of fluffy ashes.
Claire was home sick two days last week. We had a decent time together. She stood with me, shivering and feverish in her thick winter coat while I strung lights on the two tiny shrubs in front of our house. I made her french toast, which we can never have when Max is home because of his egg allergy.
At the end of the second day Claire felt good enough to pluck tags from her school's giving tree and go with me to Target to buy the presents. We went a little crazy. Because when I saw slips of paper that said One pair of boy's black socks, size large and Sleeper for an 18-month-old and A pair of girl's leggings, size M, and Hygiene products for a 22-year-old woman, I couldn't not take them.
I had to stop reading the tags. I shoved them into my purse and dragged Claire out before I swiped them all.
More rejections on Spectacle. I feel like a massive loser. Still, that doesn't stop me from pathetically starting a new project while I continue to seek representation for my finished manuscripts. I need to be stopped before I start slapping them all up into Amazon's e-books site while frothing at the mouth and gulping chablis like water.
Max wrote a school report on Ireland. This was his chapter on Food and Drink:
There are many foods and drinks that Ireland likes. Some foods Ireland likes are potatoes. Some drinks Ireland likes are beer. That is all the stuff Ireland likes.
And this, despite our shitty, shitty mornings, is why I like being a mom to these two goofballs.
Maxwell had his annual food allergy testing today. These particular appointments used to push my sanity to its limit. Sitting in a tiny, hot room with two little kids for hours while Max was pricked and then we waited. To be blandly given the news that peanuts and tree nuts could kill him.
Now it's easier. I've been through it eight times. I know the drill. I know that peanuts, pistachios, cashews, and walnuts will be deemed lethal. I pretty much get that, as much as I want him to outgrow his dairy and egg allergies, this won't be the year. I don't expect much.
So, today, when he tested negative for almonds, Max and I grinned at each other and then we both burst into tears. He apologized for crying and buried his head in my lap. I didn't let myself think about all the high positives still ticked across his chart and enjoyed the moment. Almonds! Almond extract in cookies. Roasted almonds as a snack and new protein source. Granola bars with almonds. Almond milk.
"We'll start with a sliver," I said. "Tomorrow. During daylight."
He nodded and we high-fived.
What a sweet development for us.
Burying myself in the newspaper, before having children, was a highlight of the weekend.
There's still not a lot of lazy time, not the leisurely perusal while sipping multiple cups of coffee that I used to look forward to. But we've started the paper back up again.
It feels like a milestone.
Max and Claire just started piano lessons. It's hard to convey how happy this makes me.
The lessons are a huge investment of both time and money. And in some ways it makes me feel like just another upper middle class mom over-scheduling her children.
And yet...I love that they're going to learn music. I love listening to them plinking the keys and singing along. In some ways, their taking piano makes me feel like I'm doing my job well. Like I am enriching their time on this earth. Which is important to me.
When I was growing up we had an upright piano brush-painted blue. I remember desperately wanting lessons and asking often. Had I actually gotten my wish, I'm sure I would've balked at the practice. But I never got the chance. Back then, I didn't realize how expensive piano lessons were and my parents, on a teacher's and nurse's salary probably weren't in a position to shell out the bucks necessary. I totally understand and don't begrudge them. When I was sixth grade, they rented me a trumpet and I sucked at it and didn't practice and generally decided I wasn't put on this planet to make music. Later, I picked up the guitar and worked at it for about six months before setting it aside for more fun things, like drinking with my friends.
My lack of musicality was disappointing to me. Especially because my dad, my sweet, sweet dad had a crazy awesome musical streak. He taught himself to play piano, guitar, and banjo. I also remember bongo drums, recorders and harmonicas around the house. He loved music and was pretty good, too.
He used to have a reel-to-reel tape recorder and these massive microphones on stands, into which, every Christmas eve, my sister and I would squeal, excited by Santa's imminent arrival, and sing carols and talk about school.
The reels never completely erased, so that if you taped over something, which we often did, you could still sort of hear whatever had originally been recorded. In the background of many of our Christmas Eve tapes, which still exist but which I can barely stand to listen to, you can faintly hear the hippy singing of my dad, mom, and several of my dad's high school students.
The reels have been transferred to cassettes. But the remnants of early 70s harmonizations remain behind my sister's and my youthful musings.
I don't know if Max and Claire will take to the piano. I don't know if they'll show any sort of musical inclination or if nagging them to practice will just become too much and we'll all collectively sigh and say, "Screw it."
But I want to try. I want to see what, when we give them the opportunity, comes of it.
You are my one dad. A person I can spend weeks with and not feel a twinge of annoyance. A man I admire and love purely. You make me laugh like a kookaburra whenever I see you, your jokes so awful and funny at the same time. As a kid, I thought you were the smartest person in the world. I still respect your intellect. Theobromine. You were the only one who knew the answer.
I remember slipping my little girl hand into yours--big and dry and safe. You made me feel valuable and capable and like I could do things in life. You were gentle and fair when I was young, as you are with my children. They adore you. Grandpa, Grandpa, Grandpa! You give them tractor rides and play games and let them pick your potatoes and pumpkins.
And then this weekend your heart betrayed you. Even typing those words, I have to wipe my face and blow my nose on scratchy coffee shop napkins. You were gardening and when you stood, you felt pain that was your heart gasping for blood and oxygen it wasn't getting.
You and mom were wise to drive to the hospital right away. That night I went to bed, knowing you'd had chest pains and were there in a room hooked to monitors. I hoped you weren't anxious or lonely.
The next morning, mom called at 7:30, waking me out of a light sleep to tell me your chest pains had, indeed, been a full blown heart attack and that it was likely still happening.
Nervous, I called your room, but you were unconscious by then, your arteries being probed and widened. The nurse had moved you ahead of everyone else in line that day to get a heart catheter, and for that we will always be grateful.
I checked flights. Miraculously, I had enough miles to fly to Michigan. But J. was succumbing to a painful virus he'd rather I not name. It was a bad time for me to leave. When I got you on the phone later that afternoon, you were still a little drugged, but your usual whip-smart, coherent self. I missed you. I missed mom and Carrie. I wanted to be in it with you all. J. encouraged me to go, despite how he felt. But you said there was no need. You joked. You reassured me.
I must've refreshed Delta.com twenty times in the course of Sunday afternoon and evening. Should I go? Would I be extraneous there while J. needs me here? What do I do?
Now you're back home, letting out the dog, resting your stunned heart, looking over your fields of seedlings. And I am in Seattle. Thanking the God I don't believe in that you're alive and well.
A bubble has burst, though. A quivering sphere of safety has popped and now we're all out here, vulnerable to the whims of your arteries. Keep them strong. Will them strong. Be alive and well for another decade or two. Maybe three?
I want to snorkel with you in Hawaii next winter, help you arrange your market flowers--assuming mom lets you continue with that :)--, watch you rumble around your acreage with Max and Claire next to you on the John Deere, and sit on the porch with you this summer drinking beer (can you still?) watching the sun dip below the western trees.
I've found that browsing the internet for Paris apartments while sipping a glass of red is a lovely way to spend a spring evening.
I did that last night, after Max and Claire had finally quieted, both buried under sheets and quilts, breathing loudly. J. has an especially hard case right now and, while I stretched out on the couch clicking away, he sat at the table with his big, black, legal binders and laptop, getting ready for court today. I felt only a little guilty drinking wine and fantasizing about our upcoming week in France. Research, I told myself. I'm doing essential research.
Lately I've been feeling much like a single parent. J.'s gone before the kids and I get up in the morning. He usually returns home between 6:30 and 7, not long before Max and Claire's bedtime. Often when he is here, he's mentally elsewhere. I know that I don't get to have him right now, while he gives himself to this other project. It's painful. More than painful, it's damaging. He tries hard to be available to us. So, so hard. But when he's wrapped up in a case, he rarely reaches for me. His eyes fix glumly somewhere in the middle distance instead of alighting on me or the kids. And he's more frequently short-tempered. (I think I've written this exact paragraph in a previous blog post. Forgive me.)
He's come right out and asked me not to forward job openings or encourage him to brush up his resumé. The only way I can think of to help, then, is to spend less money so he can retire sooner. This is hard to do while planning a trip to France.
It will be our 10th anniversary voyage, to celebrate a decade of marriage. This is how much J. loves me: he's already been to Paris and doesn't especially want to go again. He'd prefer something more rustic and exotic. (He's spent a good chunk of time in Africa, and loved it. He likes the idea of Indonesia.) But he knows I've dreamed of France for a long time. When we first met, I was taking a French class, broke and with no real plans to travel there, but a desire to be familiar with the language (How stupid I was not to traverse the globe before having children!)
So, now, in 2011, I plan the trip and he makes the money to send us there. I drink the wine and he attends to the binders and laptop. I take care of the kids and he makes appearances at Little League games and to help put them to bed and do multiplication flashcards. It's our division of labor right now.
I'm reading Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. My mom brought it to me when she came last month. I love Anna Quindlen novels. I love her politics. I saw her speak at Elliott Bay Bookstore once and loved her. Recently, a site I used to write for, Momicillin, recruited her to live chat with readers about Every Last One. But that's all beside the point.
I'm reading this novel and it's clipping along at a nice pace: enough tension, slightly rocky family issues, exemplary writing (of course), and then this big horrible tragedy happens and, despite skillful foreshadowing, I didn't see the magnitude of such a disaster coming. It's 11:30 at night (after my pleasant time looking for Paris apartments), and I'm wide awake in the dark, a little reading light illuminating my stricken face. I'm so upset by what I've read, I want to curl into J., but he's asleep and not very receptive when he's immersed in a big case anyway.
And holy shit, everything falls away. The small issues with the kids, my petty grievances about J.'s work, fears about never getting my writing published. It's nothing, I think. Look what can happen.
This fiction is so good, so believable, that I am shaken. And I can't lay the book aside and close my eyes because I need some sort of resolution, some sort of peace to come out of this crazy awful event so I can sleep. So I read and read and read, searching and hoping.
And when Max comes in at 6:50 the next morning and climbs into bed and pats my head, asking me to go get him some food, I'm exhausted but also profoundly grateful. He's here. He's boisterous. Claire is slumbering down the hall surrounded by stuffed animals with the book A Barbie Pet Vet next to her bed. J. is on his way to a courthouse in Tacoma and I have a day of bland errands and work in front of me.
What more could I ask for? I think. This division of labor is doable for now. Completely doable.
I have an aunt. Two actually. Two left in the world, anyway.
But this aunt, this one used to be my favorite.
She's only 10 years older than me. She let me listen to Queen through the huge headphones hooked to her record player. She smoked out her bedroom window and dated a drug dealer. She worked in a bar and, over lunch in said bar one day, retold the entire Flashdance film to my parents, my little sister, and I. It was totally inappropriate and I was rapt.
In the late 80s she got married, adopted two cats, and all seemed fairly serene for a time.
I went to Michigan State, in East Lansing, about twenty minutes from where she lived. I visited sometimes, sitting on her deck under massive oaks while she drank can after can of bad beer and smoked. Often, she'd feed me hearty dinners of bean soup or turkey burgers.
She worked for a nonprofit and appeared content with her childless, substance-infused life. She had OCD, like me. But, as far as I could tell, kept it in check with alcohol. Or denial. Or both.
She didn't resort to pharmaceuticals like I did.
Then my grandma and grandpa, her parents, died. Simultaneously, her husband asked for a divorce.
And she slowly began to crumble.
Max and Claire were tiny, a toddler and a baby, and she would call me, drunk. Like a flea-bitten dog looking for a place to lie in the dirt, she would circle around and around an inane topic. Usually she gnashed her teeth over money. She'd been told she needed medication, but kept insisting she had always been "so strong" and that taking meds was like admitting failure.
As someone who'd accepted, at age 27, I would need SSRIs in my system for the rest of my life, her insistence that swallowing a small pill once a day meant certain weakness pissed me off. True strength is the recognition of your deficiencies and the wisdom to work on them and correct what you can. That's what I think anyway.
The last time I ever talked to her, I asked if she was wasted. She said no, that she'd just had some teeth pulled, hence her slurring. I didn't believe it, but I pretended to.
A few days later, I sent her an email asking her not to contact me anymore. Kind of chicken shit, I know, doing it that way. I have more courage in writing than I do verbally, though. I told her that I saw her OCD, that she couldn't hide it from a fellow sufferer. And that once she'd gotten herself medicated, she could contact me again and we'd talk.
She hasn't called or written since.
I have dreams about her sometimes. I think about her a lot. I imagine her with long, white hair, a bloated belly and no teeth.
It makes me sad.
My crowded life has no room for someone who won't tackle her issues, but I miss the cool, slightly abrasive, bean-soup making, well-spoken woman I grew up knowing.
All content on this site is Copyright 2007–2013 by All Adither