Have I seemed a touch bitchy to anyone today? Those of you who don’t know me personally may be a bit perplexed by the question. Those of you who do know me face-to-face, remember that although you may be reading this August 1, I am writing it July 31. So? Have I been a bit abrasive? I’ll tell you why.
It’s my anniversary.
Don’t correct me; don’t tell me it used to be my anniversary. Whatever may have happened in the interim, I was married on this day, nine years ago.
Last year on this day I was getting my hair cut and mentioned to Christy with a grimace that it was my anniversary.
“Uh, uh, uh!” she chided, “it USED to be. Now it’s just another day.” I was chagrined, as though I had inadvertently revealed something about my heart. I was having a hard time getting used to the language of being divorced anyhow. I didn’t always know how to refer to him. If I was telling a story from when we were married, should I call him my husband? Or my ex husband? I didn’t want anyone to think I had forgotten that we had been divorced three weeks before. Yet he wasn’t my ex on the day our first son was born. He didn’t star as my ex in a thousand other important stories about my life. How confused does it sound to say “My ex husband and I went to the Grand Canyon on our honeymoon”? He wasn’t my ex on the honeymoon.
Well, I’ve figured that one out, for the most part. Usually I settle for the cumbersome but clear “my husband at the time.” I hate inserting the term ex husband into otherwise happy memories. It’s like paging through old, precious photos and finding the leering face of an enemy in the corner of each. He wasn’t an ex. He was my husband. At that time.
So if I seem a bit cross, it’s because of the split in my head. The memories starring my husband at the time, vs. the reality of my ex out there somewhere today.
Today is my anniversary. It’s not a sweet day anymore, but at least it marks the end of July. RIP, July. For one more year, pack up your memories and good days gone sour.
August should be better. At the very least, it should feature fewer whiny blogs, and that’s always a good thing.
I just love summer. I love all the fruit that’s available, and don’t tell me about those Chilean peaches you can get in January. Ick. Do you know what sorts of chemicals they allow farmers to use in Chile? Me neither, but I can never feel quite right about eating fruit from there. Plus, they taste like cardboard. No match for drippingly sweet, perfumed peaches that were grown in our own state. Peaches that reach out and grab you with their scent as you walk by them on the counter. Real peaches. And watermelon. Oh, and any day now, cantaloupe.
I love that I don’t have to find socks for the boys in summer. Half the time I don’t even have to find their shoes. They run wild through the neighborhood in bare, grubby feet. No digging out coats and trying to find matching gloves. Just a “Mom, we’re going to Craig James’ house,” a slam of the door, and they’re off. Oh, the freedom.
I love all the kids that are around in the summer. My house has been occupied this summer with dozens of extra kids. At least it seems like it. They swarm in, eat our food, scatter the toys, fill the rooms with projects and noise, then the whole crew will stream out the door, off to another house. Another adventure. You just never know what they’re going to do or say. This afternoon Max was playing with play-dough with three of the neighbor girls, Kelsey, Natalie, and Megan. They started making cheeseburgers, and someone put play-dough mushrooms on theirs. This caused a heartfelt discussion of who liked mushrooms and who didn’t. It grew quite heated, until the question arose whether or not the mushroom haters could even play with the mushroom lovers. Megan was quietly playing this whole time and at this point she piped up with a serene, “I kind of like the way people be different.” Well, that put an end to that argument. Peace reigned.
I love the outdoor projects that arise among the neighborhood gang of children. Tonight after dinner I went outside to see Tre and Max joining six or seven other kids, sitting in the gutter. Someone was watering their lawn and the runoff was making a little river down the street. The kids were floating sticks in it, and excitedly hollering ideas to dam the stream. “Ok, everyone, places!” someone yelled, and nine kids laid down in the gutter, positioning their forearms to stop the flow.
It was muddy, it was noisy, it was weird, and it was wonderful. Summer. Gotta love it.
One of the many gifts of having kids is their ego-deflating ability. Not that I’m in danger of having my perspective skewed by the adulation of thousands or jaw-dropping successes, but if I were, my boys would save me. They reliably put me in my place.
This morning, as I was reading my email, Max came up next to me. He rested his hand companionably on my knee. Moments later I glanced down to see him running both hands up and down my shin, brows knitted in concern.
“Max, what are you doing?”
“Mama, you’ve got about a thousand slivers here! That must hurt! Want me to get a tweezers and needle?”
Slivers? I ran an exploratory hand over my leg.
“Oh, honey, those aren’t slivers. They’re hairs. I need to shave my legs.” He hunkered down on the floor and brought his eyes within about an inch of my leg.
“It looks like a little forest,” he said dreamily.
“OK, Max. Enough.”
“Does it itch, having all those pokey hairs sticking out all over?”
Raphael, of course, is a natural at helping me keep my self-image in perspective. If he’s not adorning my clothes with handprints or shrieking in the middle of church for “Dee Dee,” he’s pulling down displays in stores or yanking the hair of another child in the baby pool. No matter how good a mom I think I am, Raphael is there to remind me that I don’t have it all together. Not yet.
But my favorite instance of ego-deflation came from Tre. About six months ago I was tucking him in bed. He had recently gone to a birthday party at Build-A-Bear. He and his friend had both chosen these soft fluffy teddy bears that they had dressed as policemen and named “Fluffy.” Both bears. Two cop bears named Fluffy. I dunno.
Anyhow, that night Tre was explaining to me the difference between Fluffy and his beloved stuffed Monkey named (ready for this?) “Monkey.”
“See, Fluffy’s kind of tough. He’s a police bear, so he’s not scared of anything. But Monkey sometimes gets scared.”
“Really? What’s Monkey scared of?”
“Oh, the dark, a little. And roller coasters. Being left alone.” Now, these are all things Tre happens to be scared of. A little light bulb went off in my head. This was not just chat about his stuffed animals. This was a Psychologically Important Moment. I sat down on the edge of Tre’s bed and picked up Monkey and stroked his brown fur.
“You know, as Monkey gets older, he’ll probably start to feel better about those things. Everyone’s scared of something, but if you keep taking care of Monkey and loving him, he’ll start to feel better. He’ll learn that you love him and you’re not going to leave him.” I smiled at my sweet boy, who was looking at me very soberly.
“You know Monkey’s not real, right?”
I have a shocking confession to make. I listen to country music. Love it. Now, I know there are people out there reading this and thinking, so? Are you trying to imply there is something wrong with country music? And those people are right. There is good country music out there, true artistry. Being a fan is nothing to be ashamed of.
Yet I am, because what I like about country is what the rest of you are shaking their heads over right now. I love the hackneyed lyrics, the heart tugging clichés. A good sob story, set to song. C’mon, baby, me cry.
I know, not something to be proud of. I’m baring my soul here, and it’s not pretty. I am pitifully affected by these songs, so much so that I had to stop listening to them in the car when I was pregnant. I was too emotional and would cry so hard I couldn’t drive.
It gets worse. Sometimes, I try to explain songs to people. Now, that just ends up with me reciting the lyrics to someone who is staring at me. The thought Why? Why is she doing this to me? is practically hovering visibly over their head, yet I am driven.
“See, she’s singing about her dad? And he never said he loved her? And then she goes, ‘the man I thought would never die (pausing here to blink back tears), has been gone almost a year.’ Isn’t that sad?”
Picture now my poor victim (usually my mom…sorry, mom, but you’re the least likely to walk away from me mid-sentence), looking at me with glazed eyes. Her will to listen has been drained, sapped by my ragged rendition of yet another stupid song. And I know it, but I’m all into the stupid song.
And you know what? I’m going to do it again. To you. Here goes, a glimpse into the workings of my mind, as I listen to a song. In this case (blush), She’s Gonna Make It, by Garth Brooks.
He followed her to work this morning,
Oh, I remember the first time I heard this song.
He’d never seen that dress before.
What was it, four years ago? I was still married.
She’d seemed to sail right through
Thought it pretty shrewd of ol’ Garth.
Those dark clouds forming,
Pandering to the divorced woman.
That he knows he’s headed for.
After seven years of marriage,
He wanted out.
Yup. Sounds familiar.
After seven months of freedom,
It’s clear that there’s no doubt.
She’s gonna make it,
Better believe it, baby.
And he never will.
He’s at the foot of the mountain,
She’s over that hill.
He’s sinkin’ at sea,
And her sails are filled.
That’s just how it is, too!
She’s gonna make it,
And he never will.
And you know it’s not like she’s forgot about him,
She’s just dealing with the pain.
That’s right, dealing with it. Like grown ups do.
And the fact that she’s survived so well without him,
You know it’s driving him insane.
Loser. Grow up.
And the crazy thing about it,
Is she’d take him back.
Well, I don’t know about that…
But the fool in him that walked out,
Is the fool that just won’t ask.
She’s gonna make it,
Yes she is!
And he never will.
He’s at the foot of the mountain,
She’s over that hill.
He’s sinkin’ at sea,
And her sails are filled.
That’s right, baby!
She’s gonna make it,
And he never will.
Tell it true, Garth!
Ahem. Well, let me never be accused of putting myself on a pedestal. There you have it, the unvarnished truth. Hope you can deal.
And again, I’m sorry, Mom.
Ok, I started Jennifer Weiner’s other book tonight, In Her Shoes, and…umm. Well. See, I’m not that far into it, just (checking here…) 23 pages. I really enjoyed her other book (the title of which I’m not repeating because my priest may read this), and don’t want to judge this other book too quickly, but. Hmmm. How can I put this? So far it’s a touch…sex soaked.
Ahem. Acutely aware of who may be reading this now.
Anyhow, just 23 pages into the book there are two ill-advised acts of carnal activity. I’m not a prude or anything (as if anyone EXCEPT prudes even use the word “prude”), but it seems a bit much to start off with. I mean, if I care about a character I will grit my teeth and get through the most harrowing of scenes. I want to know what happens. But one of the characters in this book is introduced in a toilet stall. She’s quite drunk…and she’s not alone. And she can’t remember the name of the guy in there with her. Already I’m not so much caring about her as cringing at her. Not a good start.
Well, as I said, I just started the book. I’m going to give it a fair chance, and I’ll let you all know what I think when I’m done. I know you’re all on the edge of your seats. Sorry.
I’m a touch flaky tonight anyhow. I spent most of the afternoon pulling weeds. It rained last night, and the dirt was perfect, soft and crumbly. Most roots slid right out, and it was very satisfying. So satisfying that I spent something like three hours total pulling weeds. In the vegetable garden, in the lawn, in the flower beds, in the stupid, ill-advised strip of rocks bordering the lawn. My finger sting from stickers, my shoulders ache, but it’s done. And so am I. I think I may have worked in the sun a bit long without enough water breaks. My head hurts. My blog is boring. And I’m going to bed.
Better luck tomorrow.
¶ 7/27/2003 09:42:00 PM
Thursday, July 24, 2003
By the time anyone reads this it will be Friday, July 25, and my eldest boy will be officially eight. We had his birthday dinner tonight, because we’ll all be out tomorrow. I was remembering today when he was a tiny little newborn, just a few days old. I had to take him back to the hospital so they could draw some blood for mandatory screening for certain genetic disorders. Now, I was as newborn of a mother as he was a person, so I marched right into that lab without a qualm. The nice phlebotomist (vampire) showed me the card with the little circles that needed to be filled in with blood. Oookay, I thought. I guess. She seems to know what she’s doing. She wrapped a tiny heating pad around my son’s tender heel, explaining that the warmth would draw blood to the surface, making it easier to get a sample. Ok, I thought.
Then she pulled out a razor and sliced his foot.
A small cut, you understand. 1/8 inch on the curve of his heel. I stared at her. Tre stared at me. We were shocked. She started squeezing his heel, a drop of blood pooling between her gloved fingers. Tre caught his breath and screamed. I looked from him to her; unable to comprehend that this woman was doing this to my baby. That I had brought him to her.
The wound dried up before she could saturate the circles on her hellish little card, so she plied her razor again. And again. Tre thrashed in my arms while I clung to him and wept.
Finally she was done. She covered his chopped heel with a Band-Aid and I pulled him close. Both Tre and I were drawing shuddery breaths, calming down. I glared at the phlebotomist. It was just so wrong.
This morning Tre and Max came screaming into my room, mid brawl. There were tears, and hurled insults. It was a few minutes before I could calm everyone down enough to get the story. They had been sword fighting with toy swords and shields. Impressive acts of swashbuckling had ranged all over the house. Finally the fight had wound down, and Max wanted to put his sword and shield away in his room. Tre was adamant that both sets of sword and shield belonged in his room. I started to declare my decision in the matter when I took another look at Tre. He was fairly dancing with anxiety. His hands grabbed at the sides of his shorts, reached up to pull his hair. His eyes were wide, but the rest of his face was pinched. I know that look. This had something to do with his dad. Somehow, this was about his dad.
I try not to say anything derogatory about my ex here, in this forum. But let me state this, as a matter of fact. It has been well over a year since he has seen his sons.
I took Tre aside and looked him in the eye.
“What is it about the swords?”
“Nothing! It’s just that…who gave them to me?” He plucked at my sleeve, shifting from foot to foot. I took his chin in my hand, redirecting his eyes to mine.
“You bought them at Kazoo’s, with Amma.” His shoulders sagged with relief. Or disappointment. I’m not sure which.
“I thought…maybe…it was Daddy.” And then, although he gritted his teeth and stared at the ceiling, his chin wobbled and his eyes shone with tears.
“Oh.” I sat down on the floor and reached out to hug him. He climbed right onto my lap and buried his face in my shoulder.
“I’m starting not to remember.” His words were muffled by my t-shirt. We talked for a few minutes about his dad. That he misses him. I was realizing why Tre has been so moody lately. Small irritations have been huge deals to him, complete with screaming and foot stomping and rivers of tears. His birthday was drawing near, but his Daddy still isn’t. Gotta grieve somehow.
Even now, after all this time, Tre has a hard time talking about his dad being gone. Don’t look at that. It hurts. He only stayed on my lap for a few minutes, then bounced up and away.
But for a moment I remembered that day, in the hospital lab. Here I was again, holding my baby. Helplessly watching someone wound him.
Just so wrong.
¶ 7/24/2003 09:27:00 PM
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
I was at the supermarket checkout today...ok, hang on. I have to go on a tangent here. Do you notice how many of my blogs include the supermarket? I seem to live there, yet do you think there is ever any food in the house? It’s pathetic, that’s what it is. *sigh* I have no life. Moving on.
As I was saying, as the cashier was scanning my items, she started looking in and around my cart, mentally tallying the boys I had with me. Here it comes, I thought.
“THREE boys? Are they all yours?” she gasped.
“Yup. All mine.”
“Wow,” she eyed them in amazement, and then leaned in to speak confidentially, “don’t you wish you had at least ONE girl?”
“Nope. Wouldn’t know what to do with a girl.”
“Yeah, but you can do their hair, and dress them in pretty clothes…don’t you wish you had ONE?”
Now, I never know what to say to this. I hate it when I hear parents of all girls wish in front of their daughters that they had a son, or the other way around. I knew a woman who had four boys and used to comment frequently that the only reason she didn’t abort the fourth is she hoped it would be the daughter she longed for. This was said in front of her youngest son. I could be wrong, but that seems just…mean.
So although there is a part of me that aches just a little when I see a dress with little rosebuds, I wouldn't admit it. At least not in front of the boys. I smiled at my grubby-faced, goofy-haired tribe of boys, and then leaned in to speak to her confidentially,
“Boys are better.”
Her eyebrows rose. She was taken aback. That’s a heck of a thing for one woman to say to another. I nodded seriously.
“They are. Friends of mine come to visit with their daughters and,” I whispered the shocking truth, “those girls talk waaaay too much.” She was literally at a loss for words, so I smiled and let her off the hook. “Actually, girls are fine. I’m just used to my boys. They always surprise me, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.” She said something like “Oh…ok. Umm… that’ll be…”
Well, I don’t think you get it if you aren’t the mother of sons. Before I had Tre I pictured myself raising a sweet little girl. After all, when I was a kid all my dolls were girls. I guess I assumed the small size of our species mostly comes in pink.
But then I had my boys, and now I see things differently. Boys actually live up to many of the stereotypes surrounding them. Sometimes I’ll see two of my sons, walking innocently past each other, and something happens. Some sort of signal, invisible to the womanly eye, passes between them, and in a heartbeat they’re rolling on the floor, trying their best to kill each other. Gleefully. They tend to climb things, and come up with systems for flinging things that hadn’t occurred to me should be flung. They like to make farting noises with their hands in their armpits. They chase anything that will run away. They’re weird and smelly and happiest when they’re grubby.
They’re amazing. After a whole lifetime of cherishing girly things, my sons have converted me to the culture of boy. Ok, not entirely. I still don't get the farting noises in the armpit thing. But I do take way more interest in things like Bionicles and dinosaurs than I once did. When the kids are watching tv and an ad for some girl toy comes on, they moan "Ick, Barbie!" Doesn't matter which girl toy it is, Barbie represents all things icky and pink. Although I played with Barbies when I was little and loved them, I tend to think the same thing now. Ick, Barbie.
As a former girl myself, I’m sure I would have a wonderful time with a daughter. But I don't have a daughter. What I’ve got is this awesome regiment of boys. Wouldn’t trade them for anything.
¶ 7/23/2003 10:56:00 PM
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
I got my hair done today. That’s right, everyone, my fetching gold highlights are fake. Every six weeks or so I go to get the gray covered (yes, it’s noticeable), while I listen to the woes of my current hair genius. And oh my, the woes she has. But it’s worth it because she’s a genius. I love Christy. That’s why I’ve followed her to three different salons now. I even let her cut my hair when she was about eleven months pregnant and CRAZED. Because I love her.
Actually, like most things, it’s not about her, but all about me. I think my hair is my super power. When it’s right, I am invincible. As I was heading to my car after my appointment I flicked one strand over my shoulder and thought, bring it on, world. No more roots here, I can take you.
Not that I have great hair or anything. Sometimes my hair turns on me. I wake up, shower and struggle mightily to wrestle it into some sort of acceptable shape. But it defies me, snickering as it frizzes and falls and flips out all wrong. On those days I am wan. I glimpse my sad head in the car window and suppress the urge to apologize. It’s just pitiful.
So I buy the best products in an attempt to appease the mighty follicles. If something displeases them, I throw it away. With extreme prejudice. I pamper and cajole. Hey, if you’ve got a super power, it pays to treat it well. Don’t want it turning to the dark side.
Of course, I am anthropomorphizing a bit here. I shouldn’t do that. My hair just hates it.
¶ 7/22/2003 09:48:00 PM
Monday, July 21, 2003
Today at the pool Raphael crossed some emotional/developmental line. He went from being a touch leery of the water to being KING OF ALL THE BABY POOL. He splashed and leaped and kicked and spluttered for the whole hour we were there. Not only didn’t he need me to stand near him, he told me, “Go ‘way, Mama.” This with a stiff arm waved at my poolside chair.
So I retreated, feeling a bit dismissed. This was good, I told myself. I had been growing weary of entertaining Raphi for the 55 minutes that he wasn’t spending in the pool, out of the hour we were there. So I pulled out my notebook and proceeded to write. Sort of. I mean, I still had to watch him. He’s only two, after all.
But although I’ve gotten pretty good at writing down little bits between kid interruptions, I was not able to focus. I was restless and distracted. I’m not used to not being needed.
Later I spoke to my friend Amy on the phone. As we were talking her two kids went to the neighbors to play. This is a new dynamic for them; they’re just getting old enough for that sort of behavior. I heard her giving them directions, then she turned back to our conversation and admitted that she just can’t relax the whole time they’re gone. She frets until they come back home.
Moms know that time alone is precious. I read an article recently that suggested this is a huge problem in a lot of marriages, because by the time the kids are in bed the mom is thinking “Finally, a moment to myself,” while the dad is thinking…well, what men always think about. So she ends up feeling pressured and stressed because she never gets to be alone, while he ends up feeling rejected.
So if we know the value of time alone, and we crave it that much, why does it undo us to actually get a moment’s breather?
I think it’s because the moment’s breather is a mirage. We’re going to be on duty any moment. It’s not safe to relax, because we’ll need that adrenaline soon. So Amy peers out the window periodically until her kids come home, and I babble uselessly in my notebook while Raphi swims. No wonder we’re tired.
Linda Sherwood’s blog today talks about an incident she had with her six-year-old daughter. You really should go ahead and read it in her words; she’s a great writer. But for those of you who haven’t the time/inclination, here’s a synopsis. Her daughter shoplifted some candy and when Linda took her back to the store to return the candy and apologize, the cashier they talked to felt sorry for the little girl. Expressed sympathy that she was scared. This frustrated Linda, who felt this was an important teachable moment.
And Linda is right. I run into this problem a lot. I have expectations for my boys. Fairly strict ones, compared to many of my peers. Nothing horrible, but they are supposed to address adults as “Mr. So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so,” they are supposed to say “yes please,” or “no thank you,” when offered something. They are expected to look adults in the eye and answer them to the best of their abilities. I say to the best of their abilities because Max is horribly shy at times and a mute nod is the best he can manage sometimes. That’s ok, as long as he’s making an effort to be polite.
Now, I understand that it’s a touch unusual these days to hear children speak respectfully to adults. (Dang, my bias sort of showed through just then, huh?) But what we all should be able to agree on is that they’re my boys. I get to decide that sort of stuff for them. I’m the one doing midnight barf duty when they are sick, I’ve earned the right. To discipline or not is my call, people.
But when I’m in public I get contradicted. Not by my boys, but by adults who should know better. It’s one thing if I tell my sons “This is Mrs. Doe,” and Mrs. Doe says, “Oh, no, they can call me Jane!” Fine. People can choose how they want to be addressed. Not a problem. But other times they out-and-out tell my kids they don’t have to obey me.
The other day I was in the grocery store with the troops. Tre was standing on the end of the cart, swinging back and forth. He bumped into an elderly woman who was peering at the apples. She looked around, startled.
“Tre, you need to apologize,” I told him. She interrupted me.
“No, no, that’s ok, he doesn’t need to.” I smiled at her but turned and gave Tre the look.
“Sorry, um, excuse me,” he muttered.
“No, honey, you don’t have to say sorry. I’m ok. Aren’t you adorable!” Tre was looking around uncomfortably. How is a seven year old supposed to respond to that anyhow?
“Tre, say thank you,” I said. And you guessed it.
“Oh, no, that’s ok. You don’t have to.”
Now, I realize that learning to respond graciously to grandmothers in the grocery store is not a skill that will make or break Tre. NOT THE POINT. The point is, as his mother, I had chosen that moment to try to teach him something. Learning social skills is a long and arduous process, particularly for boys. And this woman, taken by the adorableness of my son (which I will grant you is considerable), felt ok about trying to get between him and the lesson I was trying to teach him.
At the other end of that spectrum are people who see my three boys and decide they must be some sort of gang. Clearly children in need of a firm hand. Their firm hand. Recently, at the grocery store (are you getting a sense of my life here?), Max and Tre went up to a sample table to try something. Chicken or jellybeans, I don’t remember. Doesn’t really matter, because if they’re serving it in little paper cups, my boys will eat it. We love the samples.
Anyhow, as they took their samples of whatever, they said “Thank you,” in unison. Sweet little voices, shining eyes…did this mother’s heart good. And in response the cranky sample lady says,
“You’d better say thank you. Kids aren’t allowed to have samples from me if they don’t say thank you.” This confused the boys. They had said thank you, right? Why were they getting lectured? It confused me too. But I shrugged it off and reached for a sample for Raphael. I handed it to him, and she started in on HIM!
“Now you have to say thank you. You’re not leaving here until I hear thank you, young man.” I would have told him to say thank you if I had gotten the chance. But instead she jumped right in there, setting him straight. By this point I’m looking at her, thinking what an unhappy life she must have. Raphael, however, does not take to being lectured well. He glared at her a moment, then sang out, “MEANIE!”
That’s my boy.
¶ 7/20/2003 10:14:00 PM
Friday, July 18, 2003
It’s raining at the moment. I’m sitting in the sunroom, so there are windows all around me, and on every side I see flashes of lightning. A wild summer thunderstorm – with drenching rain. Gotta love it.
After the last few years of drought I don’t think I’ll ever listen to rain in the same way again. Having lived in the desert southwest I always appreciated rain. Rare=precious. But the last few years in Colorado rain has been more than precious. It’s not just that we loved it when it did rain. The lack of rain was frightening at times.
Last summer, as Gov. Owens said, all of Colorado was burning. Wildfires burned all over the state. Some days the air was yellow with all the ash, and you could see a film of soot on the cars. Sunsets were spectacular, but the air was so thick with smoke that asthma attacks were rampant.
Now, usually I don’t get too upset by forest fires. I have a stubborn refusal to fear things that are out of my control. Forest fires definitely fall under the category “out of my control.” So usually I just shrug off news of another fire. That’s too bad. Another reason I will always live in the city.
But last summer was different. The very sky darkened as a testimony to the vastness of the fires. A few days the sun shone red. It felt awfully apocalyptic. And at least once a day I would hear someone mutter at the sky, “If it would just rain…”
But it didn’t. Oh, there would be a sprinkle here and there, but what we wanted was a gully-washer. Douse the fires and scour the air and drench the crispy brown grass under our feet. If it would just rain…
A dry summer became a dry fall became a dry winter. I took to informing people mid-winter that the drought was over. Just wait. While the newspapers direly predicted empty reservoirs and a ban on all outdoor watering, I planned my garden.
And I was right. Starting in March with a blizzard of immense proportions, we have had the downpours of our dreams. Some reservoirs that ended last summer at 40% capacity – OR LESS – are now at 99%. It rained through the spring. It rained through the early summer. And now, after a short break, it’s raining again.
How did I know? I didn’t. I HOPED. What I meant when I confidently predicted an end to the drought was “If it would just rain…"
And finally, it did.
¶ 7/18/2003 11:20:00 PM
Thursday, July 17, 2003
My friend Tori has a blog beyond compare. It is witty and interesting and funny enough to make me spray tea out my nose. BUT Tori’s blog has this freaky color-changing action going on. Now, to tell you the truth, it doesn’t actually bother me all that much. But she had asked her readers to vote: ditch the color strobe or keep it. I voted to ditch it and was massively outnumbered by votes to keep it. Like I said, the colors really don’t bother me. Being voted down – now that bothers me.
I’ve decided to wield the power of my massive readership (never mind that I’m pretty sure Tori makes up about 20% of my massive readership), and sway the vote. So I’m begging you all, go to Tori's blog and vote in the comments section to LOSE THE COLORS. You’ll be glad you did. Well, maybe not, but I’ll be glad you did, and it’s all about me.
I’m such a good mom that I made buttermilk pancakes from scratch this morning, and Max got his long awaited chance to help. He climbed right up on the counter and dumped things in the bowl as I measured them out. He chattered about everything, cracked the egg all by himself, and when I scooped out a cup of flour he pointed to it and said, “Don’t forget to level off the soft.”
I’m such a bad mom that I sat at the computer first thing this morning to check my email (told you I was obsessed), and took so long Tre was lying on the floor, chewing on my ankle to demonstrate his hunger by the time I moved into the kitchen to make the aforementioned pancakes.
I’m such a weird mom that I spent the evening spitting ice into Raphael’s wide-open mouth because it made him giggle.
And now, because I’ve been reading when I should have been blogging, I’m a very tired mom. Good night.
¶ 7/17/2003 10:58:00 PM
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
I discovered Jennifer Weiner has a blog, and I’ve been spending way too much time there, reading through the archives. I also popped right over to Amazon and ordered a copy of her new book, In Her Shoes. Should be arriving in a few days now. AND I sent her an email, giving her unsolicited advice about her daughter’s colic. Um…that sort of behavior doesn’t make me a stalker or anything, does it?
The thing is, it’s not just because she’s this wonderful, successful author. I mean, while I aspire to some sort of writing success, it’s not in the world of fiction. I’ve tried; writing fiction makes me want to drive pencils into my eyeballs. Ok, maybe not, but it’s not my gift. I admire her, but I don't really want to be her. So it’s really not awe over her professional achievements. It’s…gee, I hate to admit this…it’s her baby.
There, I said it! She’s got a gorgeous new baby girl named Lucy. And to clarify, I’m not coveting her baby. But I am coveting this time in her life. You can hear it in her blog posts; she’s ga-ga over her daughter, and amazed that motherhood has happened to her. She and her husband might as well be the only two people in the world who have achieved the birth of a baby.
I remember that time, when I had one perfect little baby. I remember holding my newborn Tre, and watching other moms with their toddlers, or preschoolers, or God help us, teenagers. I felt sorry for them. They must be so sad, I thought, that they don’t get to hold a heart breakingly beautiful newborn like I do. Poor souls.
Then when Tre got a little older, and started sitting up and cramming everything he could into his mouth, I felt sorry for anyone whose child wasn’t that exact age. And when he started crawling…you get the point.
You only get to be that obliviously enchanted with your firstborn. When Max was born I was enthralled with his squinchy newborn self. But I also had an amazing three year old that I adored with equal fervor. I remember hearing a quote once, that having a baby is like agreeing to let your heart walk around outside your body. With Max’s birth I realized that when you have another you agree to not only let your heart walk around outside your body, it can take off in two directions at once.
Now, with my heart racing around in three different directions simultaneously, you can hardly blame me for looking back on those early days with nostalgia. Yup, I remember when the whole world fit safely in the Snugli strapped to my chest.
¶ 7/16/2003 10:38:00 PM
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
This week a woman in our church lost her grandson. Now, as she says, she not only is grieving the loss of a boy who was precious to her, but she has to watch her daughter grieve her only child as well. I spoke to her on the phone yesterday, and the pain in her voice made my knees weak.
There’s no point in advising a person that overwhelmed by sadness. It would be presumptuous and cruel. She’s got a journey ahead of her, and only she can go through it. As much as I'd like to ease that trip for her, I can't. But if it were possible, this is what I would tell her.
God is there. Just keep looking.
I met a woman recently who told me a story. She and her husband were raising five kids, four of whom were adopted with special needs. They were homeschooling the whole brood, and life was good. Hard, but good.
One morning her husband died.
The paramedics came, the fire truck came, and the police came. There was nothing that could be done. As they wheeled his body out, she turned to see her five children, and moved to hold them. But try as she might, she couldn’t get her arms around all of them. One of them was outside the hug. She looked up, and caught the eye of one of the firefighters who was still in her living room. They exchanged a look, and he understood. He stepped up to hold the one left out.
Later, she sat down with all five. She couldn’t remember who had been the child that had been left out. She was worried, because the adopted kids had abandonment issues, and she didn’t want anyone to feel neglected, especially in such a terrible time. But when she asked them, all her kids remembered being in her arms.
In an impossibly painful time, He sent arms to hold a child with such love that they were indistinguishable from a mother’s arms.
And just like that, there is God.
¶ 7/15/2003 10:52:00 PM
Monday, July 14, 2003
Raphael has a mouse. It lives in his room, and he tells me it's a happy and nice mouse. He seems very sincere about this. Every night as I tuck him in bed he jumps a little and exclaims, "A Mouse!"
"Really?" I say, "Where?"
"Unner dere!" He points under his crib. He's so excited that night after night I get nervous and look for the mouse. Of course there is no mouse. If there were a mouse in our house it would be down in the kitchen, with the food. Right? Also, if there were vermin among us, our beautiful, stupid cat Claire would be on the job. I mean, I've mentioned here how she's a heck of a huntress. Why, she struggles mightily every night to rid our house of the menace of the goldfish. Surely if there were a mouse she'd be aware of it, sniffing around and running into walls in an attempt to catch it. Right?
Yet every night Raphael pronounces the existence of his mouse. He seems so sure...
Then again, Raphael is sure there's an elephant in the field near our house, with all the horses. Every time we drive past the horses, after the ritual goo-bye, Raphi shouts out, "Ewphant!"
"You see an elephant? Where?" I ask, just a touch worried. He gazes serenely out the window, raising one arm as a trunk and making elephant noises in reply. Ok, maybe he just has an active imagination. Maybe he's starting to have imaginary friends; only in his case it's an imaginary menagerie. Max had an imaginary robot for a while, named John. That was a hairy time for a while. I was always stepping or sitting on John, who was not as forgiving as you might imagine a pretend robot would be.
But I think there's something else to this mouse thing. After all, it comes up every night at bedtime. I'm hoisting him into his little crib-prison. I'm saying bedtime prayers, smoothing covers over him. I'm telling him I love him and good night. This whole time he's casting desperately around for anything that will stop me from leaving him to the horror of sleep. He's tried saying "Mama? Mama? Mama?" but he has no follow-up question and has learned that that doesn't hold me long. So instead he's come up with this mouse thing. It's a bedtime delay.
Max used to be a master at the bedtime delay. He'd wait until I was almost out the door, then call out,
"Mama?" Now, mothers will understand how this feels. You're almost out, you've gone through the whole bedtime routine, the finish line is in sight. For me, it takes all the strength within me not to spin around and snarl "Sleep, you wicked child!! Question me not, but lie there and SLEEEEEEEP!" But I've got gentle bedtime fantasies to uphold, so I'd usually say sweetly through gritted teeth,
"Yes, honey?" To which he would respond with,
"Mama? Um, Mama? How... um... how..." picture him here, looking around frantically for anything to talk about, "how...old...how old were you...how old were you when you painted this wall?"
Or some such vital question.
So I'm sure there's no mouse. Every night, as I furtively peek under the crib I tell myself, "There's no mouse. This is silly." But every night I still have to check.
¶ 7/14/2003 10:06:00 PM
Sunday, July 13, 2003
Oooh, it is far too late to be blogging now. I just finished the book Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner. Great book. Although I’ve read a little of Weiner’s other writing, and interviews with her and I think Cannie is just her. Not a character of her imagining, but her. She talks like her, is funny in the same way, works on a newspaper (as did Weiner), and seems to me IS her. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…I couldn’t write a novel if it was a stirring tale of a woman who finds herself suddenly divorced with three wonderful sons, and living with her parents. My point being even if her novel draws heavily on her own experiences, it’s amazing. I just wonder what’s next for Weiner.
Also, I’m becoming aware of another point here, that I shouldn’t be blogging this late at night. I’m rambling. Sigh.
But here I am, blogging anyhow. Here’s what I have to say at 11:03 on Sunday night. I should have been in bed hours ago. Well, at least an hour ago. I should have put my book down earlier this evening and watched The Iron Giant with the kids, instead of glancing up and saying, “Mmmm-hmmmm,” or some such non-committal comment at the exciting bits. I should have put the book down and looked people directly in the eye during several conversations I had this evening. But I didn’t. I dove into this book.
So tomorrow I will wake up all gritty eyed and irritable. Monday. Ugh. I’ll pay. And then there’s all the people I neglected all day today…must make amends. So, anyone out there think I’ve learned my lesson? Think I’ll reform my wicked book-diving ways?
Say it with me – “The first step is admitting you have a problem.”
The second step?
Well, it’s called Comfort Me With Apples, by Ruth Reichl…
¶ 7/13/2003 11:07:00 PM
Saturday, July 12, 2003
Took the boys to the library today. This is beginning to be a bad thing for me. It’s sad, because I remember my childhood trips to the library with such fondness. It was a wonderland. All those books. But of course, when I was a kid I didn’t have to unearth the due library books, find everyone’s summer reading program envelopes, argue about how many squares should be colored in, find library cards, but shoes on the baby, make everyone go to the bathroom, put shoes back on the baby, get everyone in the car, drive to the library, discover that one summer reading program envelope has been left home, drive home to get it (swearing under breath), drive back to the library, put shoes back on the baby, and get everyone across the parking lot alive. So it would have been more fun back then.
We finally got to the library, and I have to whine just a bit here. Why do libraries have to have all those videos and computer games and stuff? I hate starting every library trip with a discussion that ends with me snarling, “I SAID you can get ONE video. THAT’S IT.” Sort of takes away from my love-of-reading fantasies for my children when they race in the doors and right over to the videos.
Eventually, however, I was able to lure them away from the videos and into the actual stacks. There was a puppet theater for the kids to play with and they put on a show for me that went like this:
Shark (played by Tre): Hmm, hmm. Nice day here. I guess I’ll just sit down here.
Whale (played by Max): What?
(Furious whispering, during which Tre threatens to take away Max’s role and play the whale himself if he doesn’t pay attention and come attack when he’s supposed to)
Whale: I’m going to eat that shark!
(Dramatic fight scene, culminating in whale puppet being stolen by the baby brother of the two actors, who chase him off stage, yelling threats that earn stern looks from the circulation desk)
From there we moved into the actual picking out of books. Tre picked out a stack of Arthur books. 16 Arthur books, all of which he’s already read. I, being the one who pays the overdue fines in our house, told him he could choose two. There was great sorrow over this. Huge brown eyes, disbelieving my cruelty. I was firm. “TWO BOOKS,” I told him, “we can come back next week.” Now, I know that sounds harsh, especially from someone with love-of-reading fantasies, but understand he doesn’t actually read the Arthur books. He has a stack of books at home that he’s actually reading. He’ll bring home a great armload of books like this and have no interest the books themselves. As near as I can tell, it’s a hunting exploit. He’s happy to have bagged every Marc Brown book. Very manly.
Max, on the other hand, was into the books. He studied the shelves, then pulled down a volume and sat on the floor, lost in its pages. He was totally absorbed until I came up to him and gently asked, “Is that one you want to take home?” Then he looked up at me, blinked, and discarded his book in the re-shelving bin. “Nah. I don’t want this one.” And he was off to commune with another book that he ultimately wouldn’t choose. Over and over again. He finally did pick one, and I picked one other for him.
This whole time Raphael is enjoying the library as only Raphi can. He raced around, pulled books off shelves, and drew a lovely mural on the coloring table. Not on some paper at the table, you understand, but ON the table.
Finally we were ready to check out. Tre wanted to use his own card, and we discovered it had $4.60 in fines. Sigh. Ok, I paid it. The librarian was somewhat grim about that. Max wanted to use his own card, but had somehow managed to lose it between the time I handed it to him while we were parked in our garage and when we arrived at the library. So the rest of the books went on my card. Which had (are you ready) $18.40 worth of fines. Now, I KNOW this is an error. I just paid a bazillion dollars in fines. But the librarian, who clearly felt my literacy should be revoked for such grievous crimes against the library’s trust, was not in the mood to discuss it and was not going to let me borrow my stack of books until I paid the fine. So I did, but I DIDN’T say thank you when she gave me my receipt. Hah.
The boys got their reader reward coins to put in their envelopes, and finally, FINALLY we were ready to leave.
As we made our way across the parking lot, me with a stack of books on one hip and a screeching, wriggling Raphael on the other, it occurred to me what was the problem with these trips to the library for the boys.
It’s the boys. I gotta leave them home next time.
¶ 7/12/2003 11:16:00 PM
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Lookee there! Two blogs for the price of one! I’m trying to atone for my sins of yesterday.
I was out in my garden this evening, pulling out pea vines. The sugar snap peas have come and been eaten, and the vines were dry, dull green and brown, wilted reminders of their former glory. So I was yanking them out, and as I was doing so, something caught my eye. There, on one of the tomato plants, was a tomato. A little green marble of a tomato, with the papery remains of the flower clinging to it. I was surprised, and set out on an exploration of the garden. There were no less than four baby tomatoes, and one round little button of a baby bell pepper. Two nubbins of jalapeno, and at least a dozen velvety slivers of green bean. I was amazed.
I love to garden, and I’m fairly successful at it. However, this does not stop me from being somewhat dense on the subject. Every spring I put seeds in the ground, and then hover over them until they come up. I fret, I check on them several times a day, and I make everyone come out and admire the seedlings when they do poke through the dirt. I’m vastly relieved when they sprout. Again. Just like last year. And the year before, and the year before…and like they have since the beginning of time.
This year I grew lettuce for the first time. One day I glanced at the calendar and realized that the window of spring in which I could grow lettuce was fast closing. So Dad ran to the store for a packet of seeds (he’s great for stuff like that – and making tea unexpectedly. A gem.), and I sprinkled them on my carefully prepared soil. Then I fretted. I misted them. I weeded around them. This was April, not much to weed yet. But I was out there no less than five times a day, poking around and inspecting the ground for signs of lettuce. And (I know you’re all on the edge of your seats here), they sprouted. Beautifully. I grew eight heads of lettuce, ruffled rosettes of green and red. They were just beautiful. And I was amazed.
The thing is, I know too much to be surprised by the facts of gardening. Yet they sneak up on me. Like the flat-leaf parsley. I grew some last year, a plant I bought from the local gardening center. Parsley, you should know, is a biennial. It grows for two years, flowering the second year. I know this. Yet I watched as my transplanted parsley grew lacy flower heads. Watched as they bloomed and faded. Watched as my sons took the remaining seedpods and broke them apart and scattered them throughout the garden. So why would I be surprised this spring to find eight ZILLION little flat-leaf parsley plants throughout my garden?
I also watched as the chives bloomed. Gorgeous purple spiky globes of flowers. I even picked a few and dried them. The rest dried there, on the stalk. The other day I felt one of the papery flowers and noticed tiny black seeds sifting down through my fingers. Here we go again. Next year I’ll be staring in awe at an army of green hedgehogs springing up in my garden. Chives as far as the eye can see. That is, if they can compete with the parsley.
¶ 7/10/2003 10:36:00 PM
Alert readers (and morning people) may have noticed that there was an entry here this morning that is no longer. Interesting story, that.
See, here’s my blogging schedule. As soon as the last boy is in bed (which would be Raphael), I head down to the computer. I sit in the dark, usually, and pull up a blank Word document. I stare at it for a few minutes, thinking, “That’s it. I’ve had my last idea. There are no more.” Until I start typing. When I’m done, I read my email, check out a few web sites, generally fritter some time away. Then I go back to whatever I may have written, edit a bit, and post it.
Well, last night I sat in front of that blank screen. And sat. And sat.
I read my email, and then back to the blank screen.
Claire jumped up on my lap, shed a few million white hairs, and left.
I fed the fish.
I read a few ideas from Blog Ideas.
I was tired. I wanted to call my brother. So I pulled up some files, old writing. I found one essay I had submitted to an anthology something like three months ago. Hmmm, I thought. Well, they don’t seem interested in it. I need a blog for tonight, and this actually seems fairly similar in length and tone to most of my blog entries.
So what the heck? I cut, I pasted, I went to call my brother. (Hi, Sha!)
This morning I was making pancakes for the boys. Tre helped me, breaking the egg into the bowl, pouring the buttermilk, and generally flinging ingredients about. Max was lying on the floor, wailing that it wasn’t fair, he NEVER gets to help, when does HE get a turn? (The answers to those being, Fair is for games, you got to help last time, you will be able to help next time, and stop screaming or go sit on the stairs to scream.) Raphael was pulling the contents of the fridge out and strewing them about, so I scooped him up and put him in his high chair with a juice box. And on my way back to the stove I swung by the computer and clicked to get my new email. Because I am compulsive about email. It’s sick, really. I check it seventeen times a day.
I had several new messages, but three hungry boys, and email doesn’t scream or try to kill each other if it is neglected. So once the boys were all elbow-deep in syrup, I sat down to read. I love email. I belong to a pretty active list and get about 60-80 emails a day. Most of these messages were from that list, one was from a friend, gushing over some pictures of the boys I’d sent her (always good to hear), and then there was one from a name I only dimly recognized. It starts, “I’d like to use this piece in my new book…”
OH. MY. GOODNESS.
It’s the UNPUBLISHED essay I submitted a million years ago and just self-PUBLISHED twelve hours ago. Whoops.
Now if a blog is considered “published” is a gray area, from what I can tell. But I yanked the piece anyway. Because one of the things this editor said in her email is that she’d love to see more of my writing, and I’m “very good.” So I love her more than any of you now. Sorry.
¶ 7/10/2003 03:28:00 PM
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
I glanced at a magazine today and the date caught my eye. June 17, 2003. June 17, now what is it about that date? I puzzled for a few minutes until I remembered. Raphael’s due date was June 17. So although he was born on June 13, cementing that day as precious for the rest of time, the 17 still hovers in the back of my mind. A nearly special day. An almost anniversary. For months, after all, I went around answering people’s questions with, “Yes, it’s another boy. He’s due June 17.”
There are the due dates that didn’t pan out, one sort of almost anniversary. Those are gently sweet, but never seem worthy of their own celebration. Then there’s the other sort of almost anniversaries, the days of note that aren’t something you celebrate. These memories are bitter. For me July is full of them.
There’s July 4, when I caused that car accident. With Tre in the car, on the way to swimming lessons. Three years ago now, but I can still hear the screech-slap-shatter of our world changing.
It was in July that my ex and I had our first kiss, ten years ago. It was in July that we married, nine years ago. It was in July that we divorced. One year ago. Today.
This morning I woke up, grimly determined not to observe the day. The almost anniversary. How do you remember a divorce, anyhow? Do you go around, tearing things asunder in memorial? I’m sick of grieving, sick of weakening at the memories.
So I didn’t mention it to friends. I didn’t allow for time in my day to cry. I would not be sad. Mom asked last night if I was going to be ok and I said yes. We remembered last year for a moment. Every so often you have to go back and feel the edges of the wound, assess the healing. But today I turned away from the thoughts of then. Life goes on. I resolved to keep my gaze on the future.
And now, with the day behind me, the first year behind me, I’m allowing myself a brief look over my shoulder. Remembering.
I guess that’s the point of these almost anniversaries. They may not be to celebrate, but to hold in your heart. Whether it’s the day you imagined your baby would be born or the day you couldn’t imagine how you would go on, they’re yours to ponder.
Unless you have a blog and get to inflict them on others.
So I was racing around, flinging sunscreen at exposed skin, towels in the swim bag, and orders at boys, when Raphi trotted up to me.
“Ah eat mummy byoo cawwot,” he announced.
“Mmm-hmmm,” I replied supportively. I was busy trying to get sunscreen on Max’s neck, who seemed to feel that was some sort of threat to him. But the words slowly sunk in. Did he just say he ate a yummy blue carrot? I looked at my little angel Raphael, and his mouth was ringed with bright blue. He opened wide to show me his bright blue tongue. That color blue can’t be good for him, I thought, and he made a face.
“Yucky,” he confessed. Yes. I would think so.
“Where’s the blue carrot, honey?” I simply could not imagine what he could have gotten into. He danced off, deciding he was tired of the blue carrot game. So I dropped everything to search the house for what on EARTH he could have been chewing on. You’ll all be pleased to hear it was just a stick of sidewalk chalk. I took it over to show it to him.
“Don’t eat this,” I instructed sweetly, “this is not food.” He regarded the chalk soberly for a moment, and then licked it. “NO,” I said with somewhat more intensity, “DON’T eat the chalk. Yucky.” This time he tried to bite it, before I snatched it away and put it up on a shelf.
“Meanie!”He yelled happily. He ran away, and announced proudly to his brothers, “I talk a meanie.”
Well, the sidewalk chalk box says it’s non-toxic, so I guess he’ll be ok. And we made it to swimming lessons more or less on time, so that’s good. And no matter what Raphael eats next, no matter how long he enjoys the thrill of the “talk a meanie,” I cling to one thought.
Eventually they all go to bed.
¶ 7/07/2003 10:04:00 PM
Sunday, July 06, 2003
I didn’t blog last night because I got home late. I’d gone out with Amy and Heather, to celebrate Amy’s birthday. We went to dinner, then to Borders bookstore. We usually go to the fabulous independently owned local bookstore, Tattered Cover. But that’s downtown, and Heather didn’t want to stay out too late, so we opted for the McBookstore down the street.
We laughed and ate too much and I for one bought too many books. And if I had sat down and blogged instead of diving into one of the books I bought (didn’t come up for air until I finished it at 2:30 a.m.), this is what I would have said.
Friends like Heather and Amy are a gift. I truly believe only women can understand this dynamic. When I am with friends like these, I find my voice. They listen, and because they know so much of my stuff, they hear things beyond what I’m saying. They knew, for instance, why I hated our waiter on sight, and they called me on it. I didn’t even realize why until they said it (then it was obvious, and anyone who knows my history already knows why. Not that deep, but I can be dense).
When I am there, with friends like these, I find myself expressing thoughts I only dimly knew I had. It’s like a free write, following the current of conversation, only to discover yourself somewhere you never expected. Light bulb moments.
If I sound self-absorbed in describing what my friends give me, it’s only because I don’t want to speak for them. But I believe the process is reciprocal. We come together to form more than we are apart. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
So since last night I’ve been contemplating the great gift of women friends I’ve been given. There’s Amy and Heather, and the whole of women’s group at church, members past and present. Kim from college. Mom. Women who have stood with me, strengthened me. Made me laugh.
¶ 7/06/2003 09:48:00 PM
Friday, July 04, 2003
Although there are very few minutes of the Fourth left, I have to confess my attitude on this holiday. I hope none of my many loyal readers are offended or put off by this, but I have to be honest here.
I love America.
I know, childish. Looking at how we treat the rest of the world, even how we treat our own citizens at times, our checkered past, our shadowy future, our disproportionate consumption of the world’s resources, how can I be so simple-minded?
But I am.
When I was sixteen I was an exchange student to New Zealand. Great place. Beautiful and clean, astonishingly so. I went there as a kid who had bounced around quite a bit. I figured people were pretty much the same all over, and I could live practically anywhere. I mean, I’d lived on some fairly odd American soil. How different could NZ be? At least they spoke English.
And they actually weren’t all that different. Just another collection of people, with all the accompanying strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed being there, interested in all the differences and similarities. But I never quite felt at home, never quite settled in.
About a month after I got there, I went on a camping trip with the 6th form (11th grade class). Now, the expectations of students in New Zealand are a bit more…intense then you might find here. A camping trip there, I soon found, was something more like a forced march. Lord. With great whacking packs on our backs, we hiked, and hiked and hiked, for days. I don’t mean strolling and chatting, I mean lines of sweaty kids, grimly making their way through the wilderness. I had a lot of time to think.
And what I thought about was my unease in this country. I considered what bothered me. Was there something wrong with the society I had found myself in? Or (more likely), was there something wrong with me? I thought a lot about me. I was 16.
Before long, it hit me. New Zealand was fine. There were great things about it. But it wasn’t mine. As simple as that. I could spend the rest of my life weighing the pros and cons, the good points and bad about each nation. But America was mine. Like a mom, spotting her own child’s goofy hair sticking up out of a crowd. Her heart melts for that one. Her own.
I spent the rest of that trip singing patriotic songs in my head. At the campfire that night, someone jokingly asked me to sing my national anthem. I jumped to my feet and sang it with great fervor. And passable accuracy. Because I meant it.
The year I spent in New Zealand was amazing. I hold that place pretty dear. But it’s just not mine.
Happy Independence Day.
Summer is really here now. We’re knee-deep in swim lessons. It’s a delight to see Max taking to the water fearlessly this year. Last year he was a touch more timid. He managed to finish one three-week session of lessons. More or less. After the first week or so he started hopping out of the pool and trotting over to me midway through his 30-minute lesson. We could usually coax him back in to finish the lesson, but not always. Then, when the second session started, he simply refused. He’d sit right down on the concrete and look at everyone with that special Max mulishness. I decided not to push it. Give him some time, I figured, maybe next year.
Much to my surprise, I was right. From the first day of lessons this summer, Max has loved it. He says he wants to take swim lessons for the rest of his life. The next six weeks will have to do. It’s starting to feel like the rest of my life. Four days a week of lessons, half an hour for each boy. Raphael excluded. They only have those parent-n-tot lessons for kids his age. Some baby is always screaming through their entire half hour, panicked by all the water. Torture sessions. At least, for those of us on the side of the pool, listening to the screaming. I don’t think the babies like it either.
Tre is doing marvelously, of course. He started in a class that was a bit too advanced for him, but doesn’t seem to mind having been switched to the “lower” class. He’s just glad we finally got him goggles. He got to wear them in the lesson, and is now pretty sure he did everything perfectly. That’s a quote. He really is amazing. I’m usually fairly blasé about him in the water, but occasionally I’ll catch a glimpse of him, swimming across the deep end, and it stops my heart. GRAB HIM, I think, before I remember that he’s fine. He’s a great swimmer and he’s just doing what the instructor tells him.
Raphael loves the baby pool. It’s only about a foot deep, and bathtub warm. He’s getting pretty comfortable in it, squatting down until the water laps at his ears. He charges around, swiping pool toys from the other kids, and mostly has a wonderful time. But occasionally he tips over and I splash over to snatch him up. He splutters and coughs while I say calm, happy, reassuring things. Can’t have him getting a phobia. Meanwhile, I end up needing my Lamaze breathing to calm down.
About half the moms at swim lessons drive me bonkers. If I have to listen to one more mom whine at her kid to “get out, now, please, now, I mean it, now, come on, I’m getting hungry, aren’t you hungry, ok I’m leaving then, I’m going, come on, aren’t you hungry, we’ll go to McDonald’s, look, I have your favorite towel, come on, I mean it, please” – well, someone’s getting a swat. And it’s not the kid.
It’s amazing, the amount of things necessary for swimming. The towels, the toys, the juice boxes, the sunscreen, the snacks, the goggles, the swim diapers. The organizational skills to get everyone there and home again should earn me some kind of award. Ok, I did lose one beach ball, but I didn’t really like it anyhow. It kept rolling out of the van in crowded parking lots. So you could say I donated it, I didn’t lose it.
There I am, a packhorse and CEO of summer, four times a week. I slather them with the proper SPF, get everyone in their suits and to the classes on time, and hover over Raphi while his plays in the baby pool. In return I get a damp butt from trying to perch on the side of the pool, a wicked farmer’s tan, and seven total weeks of life-disrupting schedule.
Ahh, who am I kidding? This is life.
¶ 7/03/2003 09:58:00 PM
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
This from today’s Rocky Mountain News: “The spiraling number of cats found eviscerated in and around Denver is attracting media attention from around the world.” I’m reading this and I’m thinking, cats? Not really, right? Somehow I’ve missed the spiral up until now. I was unaware of cat mutilations in our area. Up to 39 by now, according to this article. And another eleven were found in Salt Lake City, although the cops don’t know if the two cases are related. The article went on to say that “the cats were mutilated with what appears to be surgical precision. In many cases, the cats were missing their organs and appeared to have been drained of blood.”
Now I’m really freaked out, and I wish Claire, our beautiful stupid cat, would come back inside. She’s out there somewhere, hunting. She’s quite the huntress. Why, every night she tries to catch the goldfish, often banging her nose against the aquarium glass. She’s beautiful. She’s stupid.
And she’s precious, at least to our odd assortment of family. Raphael loves to chase her. Max loves to feed her, pet her, and lie down next to her in the sunlight. Tre loves it when she comes to sleep on his bed at night, although he would prefer she not lie in the very middle of the bed. Mom and Dad and I love to laugh at her goldfish hunting exploits. I love the way she visits me every night while I blog. She jumps up on my lap and sits for a while, and then she’s gone, leaving a healthy dose of white cat hair behind.
The thought of someone out there who could cut Claire up with surgical precision is a tough one to grasp. The chill down my back, though, says it’s true. Another face of evil. I know, melodramatic. But I believe in the existence of evil. Beyond human failings, beyond mistakes. Evil.
And now I hear the soft flap of the cat door, and Claire is back. She brushes against my legs. I pull her up onto my lap to hear her purr. My shirt is already covered with cat hair, and my nose is tickling. Yet I’m satisfied. Evil may be out there, but some nights it’s enough just to know all your loved ones are inside.
¶ 7/02/2003 10:18:00 PM
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
If you have small children, and you take them out in public, this has happened to you. A sweet grandmotherly type has approached your darlings, admired them effusively, and then taken you by the elbow and dispensed the advice. You know the advice. “Enjoy these years. They grow up so fast. You just blink and they’re gone.”
When I’m in a particularly irritable or irreverent mood, I respond by widening my eyes and breathing in an awed tone, “Really? Just blink, you say? Tell me, how do you do that – EXACTLY?”
But the truth is, they’re right. They do grow up so fast. I do my best to enjoy these years. I really do. It’s something of a balancing act. I mean, you can’t enjoy these years so much that you don’t ever stop to find their shoes. You have to stop partying long enough to make lunch, things like that.
So I try to stop and play the games when I can. I listen to the re-hashing of conversations they had with their friends until I could cry from the boredom. I say, “Who’s there?” to every joyful “knock-knock!” even though the jokes almost never make any sense. I watch with them, I laugh with them. I enjoy these years.
It doesn’t work. They still seem to be growing up.
I see it the most in Tre, probably because he’s the oldest. Breaking new ground. For instance, when we were on vacation. We stayed with my Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Larry, in a house that was filled to the rafters once you added the six of us. Tre ended up sleeping on a couch. In a room that was several rooms away from me. In a strange house. And he did just fine. It didn’t bother him one bit.
Today, at the pool, he was having trouble with his goggles. He brought them to me to fix, but on his way over to me started following another mom. He was looking at the goggles, and she must have looked like me out of the corner of his eye. I was calling out to him, but he followed her almost the whole length of the pool. Now, this is just the sort of thing that would have once freaked him out, looking up to find a stranger beside him. I couldn’t run after him because Raphael was in the middle of the baby pool. So I watched anxiously. Finally, he glanced up and realized this woman was not mom. He laughed, apologized to her, and trotted back to me. “Silly me!” was his only comment.
Tonight I crept into his room to watch him sleeping. At nearly eight years old, I suspect he’s out of the range of SIDS danger, but I still like to listen to him breathe. He was lying there, with his many special blankets kicked carelessly to the side. Gone are the days when he couldn’t sleep without his fingers tangled up in his lovey. Now he doesn’t want his friends to know he even has one. I’ve seen him hide it under his bed. I’m not allowed to kiss him in front of his friends anymore, either. But I can while he’s sleeping, and that’s just what I did. I smoothed his sleep-damp hair back, and kissed his forehead, and enjoyed this time.
I hope I remember this when I’m a grandmother. I hope when it’s my turn to give the advice I say, “Enjoy these years. It won’t make them go any slower, and it won’t make it any easier when they fly by. Just do it.”
¶ 7/01/2003 10:18:00 PM