Thursday, March 29, 2007
Thin and Beautiful
Of the comments made (And, can I just say? I love comments. You people who bother to click and type, that just makes my day. Every time.) the other day on my grocery store post, one stays with me. And, perhaps surprisingly, it's not my husband's plan to take me roughly by the tabloids, although that does suggest to me that maybe we should plan a grocery-shopping date soon.

No, what stays with me is Erin's comment, which starts, "Actually, you are beautiful." I'd been surprised that a stranger was flirting with me, because it's just not a common thing. "I'm neither thin nor beautiful," I wrote, which was sort of shorthand for a larger mindset I have, and I can totally see how that came across as being self-denigrating. There have been p-l-e-n-t-y of times in my life when I was my own worst critic, refusing to believe that I carried an ounce of attractiveness in my body, not understanding how anyone would give me a second glance. Paradoxically, these were also the times when I looked closest to the traditional version of American Pretty: thin, long hair, good skin, no facial lesions or disfiguring scars.

But I was wading through a big old pile of PTSD and dating a serially unfaithful frat boy. Which, I didn't know he was unfaithful at the time, but I wonder how much I knew anyway. You know? I don't know. Anyway. I wasn't healthy, and my self-esteem was messed-up and based on the entirely wrong activities and attributes - though I do still feel a certain hubris at my ability to drink a Wendy's Frosty, with a straw, immediately upon pulling out of the drive-thru. Capice?

But two kids, a good marriage, and 40 pounds later, and I've reached a very Zen place in regards to my own appearance. I'll never be a camera-hog, and I just don't have a sufficient give-a-frog level to properly apply makeup and accessories, but I've learned how to dress for my figure, how to wear my hair like it's on purpose, and how not to obsess over every photograph and all its flaws. I'm not beautiful in a magazine/celebrity sense, but I'm comfortable with my life, serene in my husband's attraction to me, and my efforts to improve (a la losing 20 pounds since New Year's) are geared in a positive, health-and-buying-less-clothing sort of vein, rather than a self-critical one.

So, thanks, Erin. Thanks for the support and kind words, and I completely agree that thinness is not necessary for MILFness.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Your Good Deed for the Day (and Tomorrow, too)
Melanie doesn't want her job anymore. She wants to blog, and stuff. If you know her, she's fun and funny and deserves to have her ass form into the shape of her home chair instead of her office chair. And if you don't, well, it takes like two seconds to click here and then click on the Vote thingy up in the corner. And then go on about your day, feeling smug because you've Done the Right Thing.

See? I'm all about uplifting the masses. And, oddly enough, I'd rather do my own job than blog for a living, so I won't even compete.
I Just Pea'ed on the Floor of my Minivan
I was already a little weirded out, because in the self-checkout line at the grocery store, a normal-looking man may have been flirting with me over my choice of lunch. "Looks good... want to share?" about my self-serve plastic-encased salad. That's flirting, right? Right? I've been married almost 7 years, I don't know anymore.

It was weird, because for one thing I am neither thin nor beautiful and strangers don't come on to me, and for another, I was also buying two packages of training-pants-diapers for Jacob, which seems like it would be discouraging for even the most desperate of individuals. He looked sane and well-groomed, but maybe he was blind. Except he could see my salad. I don't know.

Anyway, I made some comment about how if the salad looked that appealing, he could have it and I'd go find myself a steak. Got in the minivan, thought briefly about putting everything in the back, and decided it'd be safe on the passenger seat for the drive home.

And then some bozo pulled out in front of me about 1/4 mile from my house, and I chose to step on the brakes rather than introduce my bumper to his passenger-side door. This caused the plastic salad box to leap off the seat in gleeful abandon and disgorge its contents all over the floor of the minivan. Quite a bit was still safely within the box and unspilled, but the act of spilling apparently caused some sort of light-speed orgy amongst my greens, because there were easily 15 pounds of sunflower seeds and peas and cucumbers dispersed throughout the winter's worth of sand and grit down there. When things like this happen in my house, we call it the Brita Pitcher Effect. Guess why.

So I still had a salad for lunch, albeit a smaller one. I should've just gone for that steak.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
My Heart Hurts
I cried at work today.

I entered the patient's room, and asked his permission to turn on the lights. In this hospital, the lights come on at a low level and then slowly brighten, resulting in less wincing and squinting. He didn't sit up for the interview, but he maintained appropriate eye contact and spoke intelligently.

We talked for a long time. He told me that his 22nd birthday was a week ago and not one person, other than his mother, had even acknowledged it. He told me that his mother had told him, a day or so later, that she blames him for all of the problems in her life. He told me that his life is filled with so much pain and heartache that he has found himself fantasizing about hurting the people who have hurt and neglected him, which makes him feel even worse about himself. He told me that he has not left his house in over a year, except for two trips to the emergency room for panic attacks and suicide attempts. He told me that if he could, if he was physically able, he would kill himself today.

He told me that he has muscular dystrophy.

I walked out of the room, maintained a steady pace and minimal eye contact in the hallway, entered the office, and closed the door. The patient's doctor asked me what I thought, and at that precise moment I lost any semblance of professional composure. I, who have never even gotten misty at work before, cried.

No fooling around, my job can be intense and emotionally draining. I've had clients who have touched my soul, my ID badge and my clipboard. I've felt unwanted empathy while speaking to women with late-term miscarriages, and felt the sinking familiarity that comes with certain repeat callers. It can be stressful, and sometimes intimidating. But I'm able to maintain a certain distance, a certain professional detachment, that allows me to get through each case and each day, recognize my own limitations and needs, and shake it off. It's a job requirement, I think, although that's hard to specify in an HR document.

When I first started the job, someone asked me whether there were any clients I just couldn't work with; any type of person that I found particularly challenging or upsetting or inscrutable. I said no. I thought about how some people are unpleasant or vulnerable, and that can create difficult interactions; but I couldn't think of a situation that would just, on its face, damage my professionalism or distance.

I didn't think I would end up sitting at the bedside of a 22-year-old man with muscular dystrophy. I didn't think I would listen to someone describe a life circumstance that is so painful and empty that my heart would ache right up to my throat. I didn't think I would take it so personally.

My sister Mary, who is 16 and one of my favorite people in the world, also has muscular dystrophy. A different type than this patient, but po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe. There were marked physical similarities - an aching thinness and eyes that hold far too much knowledge at the age. And muscular dystrophy isn't the kind of thing that greets you on the morning news on a daily basis, so even without similarities there are inevitable comparisons.

Mary is 14 years younger than I am, and my relationship with her has always been marked by a certain balancing act. Just the age difference alone creates a choice to make: am I an authority figure or a rival? We knew from the start that something wasn't quite right with her muscle development, but it took more than a year to get a diagnosis (nemaline myopathy). That diagnosis did not bring with it a cure, or a satisfying treatment, or even a clear prognosis. The disease is just so rare, and so insidious, and so unfair. And it brought with it a new tightrope to walk: do we protect and indulge her because she's this poor thin weak baby, or do we treat her like any other kid because she's smart and fun and as normal as anyone in my family ever will be?

We've reached a comfortable vibe, I think: we're friends, and I treat her as normally as I can while acknowledging her limitations, enjoying some extras (someday I'll write about the Children's Wish Foundationtrip to Florida), and appreciating the close-up parking spots she earns. My children just adore her, and I have loved watching her grow from a whip-smart and artistic child to a still-smart, cynical and even more artistic young adult.

Most days, I don't even think about nemaline myopathy in reference to Mary. She's just my sister, and I wonder about her latest mosaic project or giggle about our upcoming trip to Paris. Then I think about my sister Sarah's knitting schoolwork, and the fabulous chaos that is my mother's life, and what's for dinner, and the normal everyday chaos of my kids and my life.

But every once in a while, something blindsides me, and I end up sobbing in front of coworkers because the similarities, and the complications in providing basic care, and the sheer emotional overinvolvement, all get the best of me.

And I hope, with all that I have, that my sister knows how much she is loved, and appreciated, and welcomed with open arms, no matter what the circumstances. Because life is hard for everyone, and harder when you're faced with the limitations of illness. It's dangerously near impossible when you're dealing with it all alone.

Monday, March 26, 2007
I Beg to Differ
You know how some people sign off their emails with catchy little phrases, "siggies" in the world of message boards and the like? Usually they're cute and pithy and instantly forgettable. But this one just astounds me in its sheer inaccuracy:
"If a person does enough thinking, a certain amount of knowledge is sure to follow."

That's just wronger than Dr. Laura at a Gay Pride Parade. People with severe schizophrenia do lots of thinking, and I suppose one could consider the results to be knowledge, but... no, we really can't, actually.

And in the disclaimer department, if I wasn't supposed to receive a copy of that email, well, then, you shouldn't send childish and dramatic emails to my husband. He knows that I am a connoisseur of personal instability, and he would never be so cruel as to withhold such a lovely example of proof that temper tantrums don't stop just because someone is so unfortunate as to be older than 5.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Never Go to Blog Angry
The fundamental difference between a blog and a journal finally presented itself to me this morning. I knew they were different; I have never, ever been able to keep up with a journal with any regularity, and you can't shut me up here. But I'd never bothered thinking about the stylistic and purposive differences of the two; I'm pretty much open-book, I don't have the energy to tell lies or keep secrets about myself because it's too hard to remember to whom I've told what, and I type fast enough that my blog-voice is pretty similar to my actual one. Though I stutter more in real life.

But this morning, I was perturbed. Angry. Mad. Irritated. Frustrated. Piqued. Agitated. Rageful. Hostile. Unreasonable. Inarticulate. Pissed.

It was for a series of stupid reasons that piled up, one after another from the moment I woke up until they dislodged an avalanche of longer-standing gripes and hurts and wellsprings of angst, and I was on a roll. I had lots of negative things to say, and I even said some of them. Loudly. And then I cried.

But I did not blog. I didn't even consider doing so. I let it burn off, which my anger typically does in a matter of minutes if I'm given a little solitude and maybe some chocolate. Then I sulked and brooded for a while longer, which is not as quick to pass but, as long as not prodded into rediscussing the wrath-inducing topics too soon, I can be polite and even child-friendly. Then we all picked up our egos, brushed them off, and moved on with the day.

Venturing forth into the blogosphere at any point in that process before the end would have been wrong and inappropriate and stupid, not only because I have been known to come up with some nasty and cutting phrases when angry but because once it's there, in brutal pixels, it never really goes away. No amount of backspacing and editing fully exorcises those words, even if they go unread by anyone but myself. I firmly believe that the written word takes on its own substance, creates its own imprint upon the world, and yes, if the word falls onto a screen and no one is around to read it, it does still have an effect.

So I didn't blog. And won't the next time, either.

Unless I'm mad at, say, a coworker or the operator of a vehicle or the mother of a perfectly normal teenager. Then I'll write about it to my heart's content.
Friday, March 23, 2007
A Little Weekend Entertainment
Because I'll be sitting here on the couch all weekend watching this over and over again...

An Entire Religion Crumbles
I can't remember the adjective I've previously applied to her, but I work with The World's Most Annoying Woman. I know, I know, you have other nominees, and we can compete some other time.

But Annoying C, her job is to bill clients and insurance companies, and she therefore spends a lot of time on hold. And randomly talks at me, without bothering to turn around and face me or enunciate. And complains a lot, and whines about her grandkids, and is generally just, ugh. [whine]I don't liiiiike her.[/whine]

Whatever. You get the idea, I don't need to set the scene. Just let me share the most recent mind-erasing interaction.

She waddles over to my area of cubicles, because I have windows and she does not. She has purchased a sheet of Jell-O Jigglers-like gel window clings in an Easter motif. Bunnies and eggs and stuff.

She peels off the first one, and sticks it on Perfect J's window. Never bothers to say anything, such as, "Excuse me," or, "Do you mind if I put these up?" Just slaps 'em up, haphazardly to my eye, and waddles away again.

Then she says, "Oh. I didn't even think. Do you think anyone will mind about those being on the window? I just think they're cute, and they're not that religious or anything. No one would be offended, right?"

Sure, no, they're not that religious, symbols of Easter and miracles and rising from the dead and the basis of an entire freakin' religion.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
What is this "Real" of which You Speak?
Well, I suppose it was inevitable. I've been tagged, and while I can quite blithely ignore the cute blanket "everyone who reads this post has been tagged to copy it!" statements at the end of some memes, I apparently possess just enough social conscience to respond to a specific by-my-very-own-name tagging.

Of course, because I'm lucky this way, it's not one of the lists of 400 books in which I lie, fudge, self-promote, and sometimes just honestly display my literacy (yeah, or lack thereof). Nooo, instead, my loss of meme-ing virginity, courtesy of Jack's Raging Mommy (let's see if she still respects me after I put out) has to do with an undefined definition of Real Moms. Which, apparently, falls under the strictly policed domain of, "The only rule is that there are no rules," as far as structuring posts and thoughts.

So, fabulous. I get to think. Last I checked, today was Thursday and therefore my day off. And yet, here I am, thinking.

Because I don't have the vaguest idea what a real mom is. I know lots of them, and I've even been known to be one on occasion, but [cue the music!] how do you define it? How do you put it into few enough words that blogger doesn't simply stand up, crawl through your computer screen, and bitch-slap you before dredging up the old Blue Screen of Death? How do you solve a problem like Maria?

I do know that the realness of motherhood is easiest for me to comprehend by focusing on the paradoxes, the spaces between two equally legitimate and true statements. Such as:
  • A real mom would unflinchingly remove her own arm if it would somehow benefit her child. But she will also guiltlessly root through the Halloween candy after the children are in bed, and will give a dose of Benedryl one extra night after the end of the cold because now that the child is sleeping again, she needs to, too.

  • A real mom will be able to admit, at least deep within her soul if not crassly out loud, just how embarrassing it is when your eldest gets on stage with the rest of the K-3 grades at school for the Christmas concert and then spends a full five minutes up to her elbow in her nose, and then eats it. A real mom will laugh at her children's mispronunciations and criticize their table manners and question their intelligence, artistic skill, athletic ability and basic humanity. But that same, real mom will summarily shoot laser beams from her eyes and slay you in your tracks if you, as non-parent, dare to say the slightest negative thing about her precious spawn.

  • A real mom knows what it's like to have her heart exist outside of her body, and will feel a whole-body ache at an odd moment because her child makes a perfect sigh, or facial expression, or stillness. She will, ten minutes later, flail about the kitchen for the nearest large spatula to be able to pry this barnacle child off her leg and will choose to eat dinner standing over the kitchen sink rather than sitting and, therefore, at risk for someone else in her lap.

  • A real mom will regard the father (and, sometimes, the gestational mother) of her children with an intensity and gratitude that isn't quite definable, just because, without that person, this child wouldn't exist. That same real mom recognizes that birth status and genetics have nothing to do with loving that child to the point of breathlessness and pain.

  • A real mom knows that what she is going through, as parent of this child in this moment in front of all these people in the line at the grocery store is unique and special and lonely and humiliating. She also knows that countless other people have gone through precisely the same experience, and she craves that recognition and understanding and absolution.

And so on. A bunch of paradoxes that add up to, motherhood is just another one of those life circumstances that allow you to simultaneously exist on both ends of the same spectrum. And what's even more fun is, you don't notice you're doing it until you think about it. A bit like a bumblebee in flight: we're not built for it and it's technically impossible, but as long as we don't stop to think about the mechanics, we get through it just fine.

So, there's that. But, because I don't feel like stopping and you can't make me, I do have another way of thinking about this all. (What? Shut up! I don't always twist discussions around for just one more perspective. I do not! Hey! You, there, in the back. Yes, you. I saw you rolling your eyes. Can it.)

Because, okay, then, I can't define a Real Mom with any level of intellectual satisfaction. Let's try defining a Fake Mom. Somehow that's easier.
  • Fake Moms love and like their children 100% of every day. They never resent the constant demands on their time, money and emotional energy, and they don't miss a thing about their life before children.

  • Fake Moms have never felt ambivalent about whether it's really a good idea to be bringing another child into the family. Especially not at the first meeting, the loudest tantrum, the walk toward the kindergarten classroom or the wave as the child heads down the aisle or into the back of the police cruiser.

  • Fake Moms don't have guilt. They accept their own limitations (which are, to be true, merely theoretical, because a Fake Mom has never actually reached a limit) and they placidly and gracefully set boundaries and accept failures, large and small.

  • Fake Moms don't pass gas. And they have cute, perky, braless breasts. Through their 80s.

  • Fake Moms actively enjoy children's media. Always, without exception, and without a longing glance toward their own premotherhood choices. And they never, ever put the child off for "five more minutes while I finish what I'm doing."

  • Fake Moms know there is a single, right way to do everything.

  • And they do it.

There. Phew. That was work. Let's see... how about Nisa, Mel, Melissa, Sara, Bob and Jordanna? What's a Real Mom? Any idea? Clearly I'm just casting about randomly here without a clue of my own. And no fair wussing out just because you've never been anyone's legal guardian; just as I am able to recognize a drunken horny frat boy from a few feet away, so too do you not have to be one to know one.

Wow, I've never tagged anyone before. It's an awesome responsibility. Let me offer a blanket apology now for any prior eye-rolling at the people who blanket-tagged everyone; that's a much healthier and less stressful approach to this. If I didn't tag you, it's only because I think it's unreasonable to tag more than six people - somehow seven is past my limit.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
She sat on the raised hospital bed, knees propped up as close to her chin as she could get them, belly swollen with 34 weeks' worth of pregnancy. Her husband slumped in the recliner next to her, nodding off and oblivious to the chaos in the room. Her four-year-old son fiddled with the buttons at the foot of her bed, which, according to the nurse, had been unplugged a half hour ago precisely because of the child's constant readjustments. Her two-year-old daughter struggled, strapped into a chipped and stained umbrella stroller, releasing piercing, unpredictable, intermittent screams that caused everyone - except for the semiconscious father - to jump every time. The dull roar of this young family was audible around the corner at the nurses station, even over the laboring moans and newborn cries of the other patients in the Birthing Center.

Though her adult status had been established by motherhood at 18, her face was pale and open enough to have allowed unnoticed passage through the hallways of a junior high school. She was in the hospital for a Non-Stress Test following irregular, preterm contractions. The test was uneventful from her stomach inward, but was characterized by the uncontrolled impulses of children taking advantage of their mother's physical restriction by medical equipment and their father's mental restriction by heroin withdrawal. In a rare quiet moment, the nurse asked, "How have you been feeling, emotionally?"

The girl murmured something about having a history of Bipolar Disorder and addiction to pain pills, and currently being off her psychiatric medications, though she was being treated with methadone for the addiction. "It's been hard. Really hard. Sometimes I think I can't live my life for one more day." The word suicide came up, though only in hushed, indirect tones.

The combination of the desultory presence of the husband, the unkempt and unhappy appearance of the children, and the lethargic and sad posture of the mother led the nurse to call for an emergency psychiatric evaluation. "I've never had to ask for this on this floor before," came the intense and somewhat baffled voice over the phone, "because most of the women we see are optimistic and happy. Or at least on pain medication. But I'm afraid to let this girl go home." The nurse, also, was not able to overcome years of training in political correctness; we know we're supposed to refer to a female over 18 as woman but the aching vulnerability of this particular female insisted that she is still girl.

Using free food and television as bribery and babysitter, the husband and children relocated to the waiting room and, with luck, avoid major incident during the next few unsupervised minutes. Once alone, the mother-to-be dug hungrily into her tray of french fries and cafeteria chicken, then laid her head back on the pillow and sighed, deeply and with knowledge that this respite, this quiet, was temporary. "I didn't know I was pregnant," she said. "I know that sounds stupid, especially since I've had two others. I knew, with them, right away. I knew as soon as I got pregnant, and I got cleaned up. And I stayed clean, right through the pregnancies. I even breastfed them. I love my babies."

She sighed again, and paused for a while. "But, somehow, this time, I just didn't know. I still bled sometimes, and I didn't get sick like before. And I guess I was using heavier, probably. But only when the kids were at school. Only when they were sleeping. I love them."

The next silence was long enough to require a question or two to encourage more information. "I was using. They told me I was six months along when I found out. I stopped right away, and it almost killed me. So I'm on methadone, and off my bipolar meds, and now I don't know what's going to happen. They tell me this baby is healthy, physically. But I just don't know about the mental effects. The emotional problems. It was too late. I'm so scared for this baby. I screwed up so bad this time. I don't know what to do."

"No," she said, later. "No, I would never actually commit suicide. I know that it would put my kids in such a horrible lifestyle, and I know they love me and they know I love them. I'll stay here for them. And I would never hurt myself while pregnant. This baby has already been through enough because of me."

"But I think about it sometimes. I think about how hard my life is, and I think about just laying down and letting it all go. I can't tell whether I care too much, or if I just don't care at all anymore."

Arrangements were made, to get her back on non-teratogenic medications to control her mood swings and anxiety attacks, to organize transportation to see a therapist, to set her up with free food and medical care for herself and her children. Arrangements were made, to provide follow-up care, to assist in getting her husband into rehab for the next few weeks before the new baby comes, to notify her mother that they need more help in the three-room apartment that the little family already fills to the straining point. Arrangements were made, to load them all into a taxicab and send them home, because we have reached the limits of help that we can offer and she doesn't want to be in a hospital just yet.

"I need to tuck my kids in at night," she whispers. "They still need me. Someone has to take care of them."

It is unclear, though, who is taking care of her.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The Ides of March, 5 Days Late
I think it's something to do with the stupid new daylight savings time, because it took a while for the true terror which is the month of March 2007 to catch up with me. But, ugh.

First of all, I discovered that the amazing, seriously wonderful, touch-yourself good (they really are!) Snickers Easter Egg candy has been discontinued. DISCONTINUED. Oh, there are just not words. I have gone to so many stores, in hopes that someone is willing to stock their shelves with last year's old, stale candy, just to redeem my Easter season... but, so far, no. No. I am woeful.

Next, I don't know who you are, you person in the silver Mazda pickup with the snotty grin and Massachusetts license plates, but, yes. You win. Your iPod-to-stereo converter thing is stronger than mine. So, you know what? GET OFF MY BUMPER. I wanted to listen to my music this morning, not your boring Podcast. And it wasn't like a quick passing interference; we were stuck waiting for a godforsaken train to drag by. Endlessly. And every time I crept up that bare inch to get myself out of your converter's reception, you crept even closer. You have no idea how close I came to slamming it into reverse and flooring it. Creep.

Third, I don't know what it is with women and their reproductive systems, but you're all having a rough time this month. I get that. I'm sorry. Please be gentler with yourselves, because meeting with me in the emergency room following a suicide attempt is not the best way to get out and make a change.

Fourth, I got about 5,000 words into a novel - writing, not reading, because God forbid I read something new - and realized it was (a) too autobiographical and (b) not as fun to write as I'd hoped. Maybe I need to write nonfiction. Or just not bother. Argh.

Fifth, ENOUGH with the weather. Seriously. When I figure out where to lodge my complaint, you'd better believe I'm going to lodge it really far up there.

And the thing is, it really wasn't a bad day. I got to do some decent work at work today, instead of the frequent chair-riding of many cold winter days, and I got some time at home in the middle of the day. My husband made almost-Snickers-quality banana bread, and I was able to page through a few years' of entries without needing a suicide risk assessment myself.

But still. Let's get it together, March, okay? We don't need a total waste of a month.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Bad Citizens in Washington
There have been times in my life when I'd have loved a good protest march. Or a halfway-decent, mediocre protest march. Perhaps even a half-assed complaint march.

But not this weekend.

This weekend, I was in Washington, DC, on a family vacation, and I was interested in being as obnoxious a photograph-taking tourist as I could possibly be, in between mediating 6-year-old sulking fits and agreeing with a 2-year-old's running commentary on the presence of birds and taxicabs. I had already spent an unreasonable amount of time self-congratulating because, while, true, the weather wasn't great in DC, it was a whole lot better than the weather in New Hampshire, and we traveled at just the perfect times so as to avoid delays on either end of the trip. We spent the rain/hail/snow of Friday inside a few of the Smithsonian museums, and were all set to brave the sunny-but-cold of Saturday amongst the monuments.

And then there were protesters. So our cute little narrated tour bus was over an hour late getting started in the morning, and then abandoned us for 45 minutes at the Jefferson Memorial. They blamed the delays on the protesters, even though somehow the other cute little tour bus company was in constant and regular rotation. I'm mentally drafting a nasty letter to them now, and hoping that I stay motivated to actually send the thing, because that lost two hours really screwed up the day.

But, for now, they're blaming it on the protesters, so I'll blame it on the protesters, too. Those mean, bad, patriotic, actively questioning people. I'm all for ending the war, but seriously. On St. Patrick's Day? During my vacation? Sheesh.

It was a good vacation, we crammed as much as we could into it, and we still like each other after it all, so I consider it a success. I learned, and reaffirmed, a few things while traveling:
  • My minimal standards for cleanliness collapse in airports. "Sure, kids, you can lie down underneath those chairs, I'm sure they vacuumed and mopped just before we got there. Just don't actually lick the floor directly, okay? What? It's too late? Ah, well, just don't do it again."

  • I am constitutionally incapable of lying on a bed in a dark, quiet room and staying awake. We'd start bedtime with the kids around 9:00, and I'd pass out moments later. Presumably Willem slept. Sometime.

  • My children bound out of bed at first light as though sprung from a slingshot. They would rush to the window to stare in (loudly vocal) ecstasy at the enormous construction project and fire station - oh, yes, really - directly below our window.

  • My husband and I, meanwhile, lay in bed and writhe in vampiric misery as the parted curtains allow blistering, burning, agonizing sunlight to burn our winter-white skin. And retinas.

  • Big cities are expensive.

  • Really, really expensive.

  • Unless you've figured out a way not to eat. Then they're not so bad.

  • We didn't figure out a way not to eat.

  • Ben's Chili Bowl is both not expensive and a far more authentic eating experience than the other tourist meccas.

  • Travel is hard work. Especially when you choose to check your bags and sit with your kids, instead of vice versa.

  • But it's worth it.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
C U Next ... Sunday.
Though if it were next Tuesday I could officially be adolescent and inappropriate. I consider it a lost opportunity.

Anyway, we're leaving tomorrow morning for the weekend, and I'm *gasp* not bringing my laptop, so there shall be deafening silence from me, computerally speaking. I know, woe is you all. I bet you'll suffer through.

We're flying southward, which is great fun to try to explain to a 2-year-old who's never been on a plane before. Apparently, Jacob views airplanes as cute little accessories in the sky, purely decorative and not functional in the least. He really, really wants to know what color plane we'll ride in. I don't even remember what airline we're flying, off the top of my head. Probably should figure that out before tomorrow.

Emily remains obsessed with seeing the Hope Diamond. I told her it was cursed, and after an hour or so of being freaked out, she has decided she HAS to see it. I've tried to warn her that they won't let her touch it, and she is unfazed by this.

Otherwise, we don't have specific plans while there, more just a series of general things - we'll take one of the trolley or bus tours, we'll eat in overpriced restaurants, we'll go do something Irish on Saturday. We'll just not be in New Hampshire, where there's almost a foot of snow on my front yard but it was warm enough for me to walk out to my minivan in bare feet last night.

And Willem is also not bringing his laptop, so we may actually spend some quality time as a family instead of congregating in the living room and indulging in separate interests for the evening. What a concept.

So, we're off. Au revoir!
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Heathens with Faith Insurance
My poor kids. They're so unprepared for the inevitable springtime door-to-door religion salespeople that stalk our neighborhood. We live in a pretty quiet area, good for walking, lots of houses and not a lot of traffic; it's ideal for taking the kids on walks and bike rides, and that also makes it ideal for the faithful to come share their enlightenment with me.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not mocking religion, nor am I mocking those out sharing the word, or the light, or the truth, or whatever it is they have that they'd like to share. They just have different priorities and hobbies than I do. I don't expect them to sit down and play Scrabble with my husband or knit a sweater, and as long as they don't expect me to instantly share in their enthusiasms, we'll all get along just fine. Though, I'll admit, I do have a really big, bite-your-head-off problem with those few rare individuals who can't take "No, thank you, now is not a good time, we're in the middle of dinner and both children are practicing their synchronized meltdown skills and I'm frankly not interested, no, wait, why are you still here? Really. Please leave. No, that was not an invitation to come in. No, I don't want that book. No. No. No."

Thankfully, that's rare. The vast majority of interactions are polite and pleasant and undisturbing. They don't make a huge, and certainly not a negative, impression on me, and the only reason I'm thinking of them now is because it's starting to be - dare I say it? - springlike outside. I'm not ever going to let strangers into my house, unscheduled, when I am the only adult at home, and so once the weather starts to warm up and move into traveling-religion season, I feel obligated to at least clean up the front flower/plant bed and remove the obstacle course of shovels and formerly-snowman-adorning hats from the yard.

And as my kids get older, they're increasingly aware of their surroundings and able to ask questions, such as, "What was that person selling? Why were they here?" And I feel guilty with a flippant, "Oh, they're selling enlightenment, two for one if you buy today," type answer, so I try to explain, to the best of my ability.

Which, admittedly, isn't very good. I attended church through junior high and high school only because my mother insisted that I had to go to church if I was going to attend youth group on Sunday evenings. One might suspect that she realized that the youth group I attended was far too goofy and risque to qualify as a spiritually enlightening experience. Once I got to college and could hang out with my friends whenever I wanted to, I stopped attending church, except for a brief foray into Catholicism with my first college boyfriend, who was feeling guilty about all that sinning we were doing and thought maybe if I started to feel guilty, too, it would balance it all out. And Willem, though graduating from a Jesuit high school, was raised aggressively anti-religion and never, to my knowledge, had a nodding acquaintance with guilt in college.

So, Sunday mornings have traditionally been just another weekend morning for us, often characterized by loud music and housecleaning. We did have both kids baptised; not so much out of a religious imperative, although I do think it's nice that they, like myself, have a sort of faith insurance policy that they can cash in if they ever do decide to join a church. "Look, see, I hold policy #5438973H6, I can join."

Instead, our choice to have them baptised was to formalize their relationship with Grandma Judy and Papa Al, very dear friends of the family whose views on faith and spirituality are so accepting and down-to-earth and wonderful that they balance out every prosyletizing, sanctimonious individual I've ever had the privilege of glaring at during staff meetings and sports after-game interviews. They just seem to derive such joy from their faith, and they share it openly with whoever wants it while not ever pushing it on anyone who might not; they live by a simple, goodhearted code that doesn't shake its finger at alternative beliefs or sexual practices (their daughter, in fact, was in a long-term homosexual relationship with a woman of another race, and all were welcomed with open arms at family events).

They're not blood relatives of ours; my mother used to work with Al when we first moved to the area; my parents were babies, themselves, 20-year-olds with a 3-year-old in tow, living 3 hours from all friends and family. Al and Judy sort of adopted them in for holiday dinners and random weekends, Christmas-tree hunting and Superbowl overeating. I've known them most of my life, and they're my middle sister's godparents.

When I was pregnant with Emily, Willem and I discussed the whole religion thing, and while on his own he'd have pretty much ignored the topic, he had no objections to the idea of having them baptized with Al and Judy as godparents. It solidifies our family's relationship with them, and allows a clear response to the, "What is God?" questions that have started to pop up in recent years. We have a routine, now: I answer as best I can, Willem answers as best he can, and then we get on the phone with Grandma Judy and both of us snuggle up as close as we can to the phone to hear her answers to the wildly unpredictable questions of an Emily. It works for us, sort of a living reference book.

So, bring on springtime, with its flat brown grass and earnest young (and sometimes not-so-young) individuals on a mission to bring enlightment to my front doorstep. I've got my back-up plan in place.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Seven Ain't So Bad, Either

But, if you're ascribing to the Bowling Alley School of Birthdays, it's a muted sort of celebration, marked by calm and contained contentment as opposed to wild and reckless enthusiasm.
It's Good to Be Six
Dear Emily,

Yesterday, you and I had a moment. Several, really. Nothing spectacular or headline-making, just a series of quiet, fun interactions that remind me that someday you will grow up and be entirely your own person. With a little luck, you'll still be a person whose company I will willingly share. For all of your intensity and drama, you can be just the coolest kid... sometimes at the same time.

It started with plans for a haircut for you and shopping for a birthday present for Emma. As foreordained by the universe at large, things didn't go quite as planned. The $7-haircut place was packed, so we made an appointment, and we squabbled over the proper gift for wicked smaahhhht Emma, because you saw a Go Diego Go backpack in a store somewhere months ago and insisted that this would make Emma very happy, but I was equally insistent that I was not going to buy a "3 and up" gift for a "7 but decades smarter" birthday girl. We reached a compromise under the "Let's go wander somewhere until we find something we both like" category.

So we went to BJs, where we proceeded to buy one of everything in the store. I tell you what, "Sure, why not?" is a very, very dangerous phrase to say in any wholesale/bulk store. $388 worth of dangerous. At least there's no sales tax in New Hampshire.

And throughout, you and I just chatted about things and discussed personal preferences and talked about pricing, and generally shopped together. We found a gift for Emma in the books section, and a bath-toy organizer that was clearly the coolest thing ever, and a bazilion other things.

Afterward, we went to lunch at Panera, and you ate as though you were about to be mailed intercontinentally and needed to stock up. A good appetite is not a given with Miss Pickypants, though I've had those Cinnamon Crunch bagels with the honey walnut cream cheese, so I understand. And we indulged in good old-fashioned gossip, which entailed one of us saying, "Psst... c'mere... I have a secret." And then whispering about how annoying the group of older men in the corner were, the ones who talked at the top of their lungs about sports and laughed like emphysemic horses, or how your art teacher told your that you are her favorite, or how we're really excited but a little nervous about flying to Washington next week. And about how, really, though we try to pretend it's not true, girls are just better than boys. We can't help it.

Then we came home, and after unloading the 47 metric tons of merchandise into the house, you requisitioned the bath-toy box and spent the next several hours creating a robot. How cool is it to be six? I mean, seriously.

And look! Handmade socks!

Just, thanks. I needed some sweetness and imagination and new perspectives on things. It was a lovely day.

Love you, love you, love you,
Friday, March 09, 2007
Too Much Cold
Rumor has it - and boy, I tell you what, I'm heading down to Pennsylvania to have an up close and personal talk with the AccuWeather people if this proves to be unfounded - that we might start getting warmer weather soon. Within the week. There is hope.

Just in case, we've planned a family vacation to Washington, DC, next weekend, just to GO somewhere and DO something and NOT BE HERE. We got a pretty good deal on one of the travel sites, so off we go. Jacob is most excited about going on the airplane. Emily wants to see the Hope Diamond and no one knows why.

In the meantime, I'm shivery, but honestly not as cranky as I often am during this time of year. March just irritates me, with its springlike taunts and frigid temperatures and dank, dirty snow everywhere. I was even optimistic enough last night to go out and meet - *gasp* - new people. At a bar.

With our knitting.

Yes, I joined a group, at least for the night. Of course I had some trepidation beforehand, because, really? A knitting group? The average age would be 67, the average level of conversation would be genteel and sweet, and the locale would somehow involve tea. Right? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. I was not the youngest there, and the oldest couldn't have been 45. The conversation included efforts to come up with a joke to match one woman's newly engaged friends, a man who is legally blind and a woman who is in her first heterosexual relationship: "A blind man and a lesbian walk into a bar..." And, speaking of bars, this get-together was in one. An almost-seedy, college-like place featuring a mannequin wearing split-front red panties and Mardi Gras beads, loud music, and RC Cola instead of Coke or Pepsi products.

It was fabulous, and even more so to spend time with people who share a hobby with me and don't roll their eyes when I talk about gauge or needle size.

Look at me, being social. Rock on.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Chapter 3
I wasn't planning on inflicting y'all with another no-books-in-my-life post, but I really need to start shoving the commercials lower and off the screen because they make me a little insane every time...

Although, let me just say, I've gotten some reactions off this blog that have informed me that the little-guys-fighting ad is NOT racist because the creator didn't intend it to be racist and I'm just being oversensitive. Which, I respect that opinion... and flatly ignore it. In my world, the very worst type of racism (okay, second-worst after tying someone to the back of your pickup truck and driving away) is the insidious, unrecognized type. The times when you've just said something so offensive that the other person can't even draw a breath to defend themselves, and you don't even realize you've done it. That, in my head, is true ignorance - not the ignorance of consciously ignoring another point of view, but the ignorance of not even realizing there is another point of view. So, if I'm going to be generous and allow that the Advertising Geniuses at Mars Inc. may not have intended to be homophobic/racist, that doesn't undermine my original assertion that the ads are inappropriate - it just means that instead of an assertive beating with a pool noodle, these Advertising Geniuses could stand an extra few hours of sensitivity training. You don't get to decide whether your words or actions offend someone else - respect for someone else means acknowledging their reactions even when it's not what you intended.

Okay, I'll stop, I promise. Just, please, don't get me started again.

As for the books. Sara wrote a post in response, talking about how her book-karma has clearly balanced out mine. While I have two perfectly appropriate, appealing books from a friend sitting on my bedside table, unread because I just don't want to start anything new right now, she is breathing into a paper bag at the knowledge that her library will be closing for renovations soon. (Deep blue ocean, Sara... it will be okay. I promise.) She suggested that her voracity might be related to a lifestyle that is often isolative and an impending event that is happy yet not within her direct control. Makes sense to me.

And it made me, once again, think. Maybe my apathy - and it is, truly, just apathy, not actual antipathy or avoidance - has to do with the fact that, for the first time that I can remember, I'm truly content in my life. Sure, there are things I would change if I could... like, say, not working out of the house... but that's a low-grade wish tempered by the belief that, someday, Willem will be done with school and will be willing to support my slothlike, unmotivated ass at home again. But by and large, I like my routine now. I'm happy with my situation in life, I've reached peace with my career trajectory, and I have long-term goals that are intriguing.

In short, I'm boring.

But the thing is, I've never been boring before. I had many years of emotional unpredictability, and while that may have been fun for the audience, it wasn't all that enjoyable a ride for me. I had years of grad school and young kids and planning for a demanding career, always characterized by stress and time management and worry and mommy-guilt and so on. I've had major depression. Been there, done that. But until recently, I've never been boring. It's kind of exciting in its newness, still; this feeling like I don't need to escape or expand my horizons because where I am is comfortable and predictable is a uncharted territory for me.

I know, I can hear you cultural people, you teachers, you brave explorers out there, simultaneously gasping at the idea that we can ever be content with inertia. And I'm sure that, at some point, the boringness will get, well, boring, and I'll want to do something new.

You'll all be the first to know.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
My Social Conscience is Warring with my Taste Buds
I'm going to feel really guilty in a few more weeks.

Because my favorite, seriously favorite, even more than Cadbury Cream Eggs, touch-yourself-good, Easter treat are the Snickers Easter Eggs (which I can't find online - a shame, truly, though on second thought, anything that helps prevent me from licking my monitor is probably a good thing). I don't know what about them is different from Snickers bars, but Oh. My. God.

And now, given the recent state of affairs in Snickers' advertising department, I'm going to feel guilty, because I really really like those eggs and I really really hate the Snickers commercials.


First, there was the infamous Homophobia Superbowl Ad.

Which didn't tickle my fancy, but whatever. Everyone has a lapse in judgment. I could see why people found it funny, and I could see why lots more people found it offensive, and no big deal. I don't buy candy bars much during the year, so it wasn't going to be a life-changing event in any way.

But then there came this one. Let's call it the Gratuitous Violence Toward People of Different Colors Ad.

There is just so much wrong here, most of which is encapsulated within my title for the ad. But also... sorry, maybe I'm just dense, but how, exactly, does this make me more prone to biting into a chocolate/caramel/peanuts/nougat concoction?

No, seriously, don't just nod along. HOW?

Argh. You know I'll have to buy the Snickers eggs, because in a battle between my morals and my gluttony the outcome is foreordained. But the experience will be tainted.
Story Time
It's nice to know it's not only me, who has fallen out of the literary universe and considers it a cultural event if I page through a complete article in Entertainment Weekly while watching American Idol. I don't know whether that means I'm pulling the rest of you down into the Abyss of Mindlessness with me or if we were all just on the same train anyway, but it's nice not to be alone.


The general theme, in the comments, seems to be about time. Finding time to read, finding uninterrupted, childless, focused, conscious time to get involved in the story and immerse oneself in someone else's world. I get this, I really, really do. I'm working 50 hours a week, I have several dozen (or, at least two) short demanding people in my house, plus a tall demanding one, the dishes and laundry have not yet learned to wash themselves... so, yes, time is not exactly an abundant commodity in my house. But I find the time to reread, sometimes a few times a year, my old favorites, which include almost-enriching things like Pride and Prejudice as well as a host of what I refer to as "mental floss," authors like Nora Roberts who provide a predictable story without requiring my brain or emotions to actually get involved. (A bit like having a television on in the background, when I'm eating lunch I like to have a book open, but I don't want something that I would resent putting down, so in comes the chick lit.) I also find the time to knit, sometimes several hours a day, and ramble around online. So, if I wanted to find the time to read new books, I would. I can even read while knitting, so I wouldn't have to carve out any extra minutes.

But, the sad truth is, right now, I don't want to. It's not, for me, about time management, or distraction. I read quickly, and absorb quickly, and for many years I felt off, dismayed, incomplete, if there was not an active book, or often three or four, within arm's reach at any given moment. I just don't have that same drive, at the moment. I don't choose to pick up a book. And while I don't regret that, because I know the pendulum will swing back eventually, I also am not proud of it. People who do read everything on Oprah's book list, who visit the bookstore even when they're broke, whose library cards wear out on a regular basis, they have a certain pride in their obsession. Reading voraciously, even at the expense of relationships and personal hygiene, is generally accepted as an admirable, or at the very least uncondemnable, habit. I like being seen as "wicked smahhht," as cooler people than I say in the Boston area, and I like being able to say that I've read the important books, seen the important movies, somehow absorbed intelligence and insight and culture in my daily life. But I don't care enough, at the moment, to do anything about it.

Maybe soon. Maybe all this blogging about it is my subconscious' way of signalling a change is gon' come. We'll see.

And as an aside, Corey, being Corey, found a way to change the paradigm just a bit, and talk about deciding what to read, and later, about releasing books back into the wild. I don't know if he rereads comments after posting them (what is the blog etiquette around that, anyway?), so I'm bringing it up again here. There actually already is a club, a program, whatever you want to call it, that does exactly that - after you read a book, you leave a note or label in it, and leave it in some public place for someone new to pick up and, in theory, read and enjoy. There's a website where you can post when you find one of the books, which could help you to track the books you've released, assuming you trust your fellow human to actually bother to keep up the trend. Anyway, it's at and Nisa was able to Name That Site before I got in touch with my father, so she wins the big prize. Whatever that is.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Closed Book
Where has my reading voracity gone?

For the first two and a half decades of my life, there was no better word for my reading habits than "voracious." I read everything I could get my hands on, memorized the layout of the library, including large chunks of the Dewey Decimal System, and looked upon people who got motion sickness as pitiable and deprived. When I got my learner's permit, I didn't know how to get to a single thing in my town because, as a passenger, I had my nose in a book before we backed out of the driveway. It was a way of life.

And now, between a few years of grad school and a few years of parenthood, I don't want to read new things. I reread fluff and old favorites, but I lack the ambition to dive into something new, even if it's similar to what I've already read. It's very sad, really. Something I miss about myself, but don't quite have the motivation to change, just yet.

I've reached a similar plateau with movies. I'm content to watch the same ones, or none at all, but have no desire to expand my mind with new ones. I haven't seen a single thing nominated for an Oscar this year; in fact, the last time I was in a theater was in early 2004, and I've only watched one new-to-me video in the past year.

I've just sort of burrowed down into a very comfortable, dare I say stagnant pattern. And until it starts to make me uncomfortable to be so comfortable, I'll probably just stay put.
Monday, March 05, 2007
The Day I Grew Up
The concept is not for the weak-hearted: yesterday, I ran out of shows on my DVR saved-shows list. Yes. It was horrifying. Here I had an hour and a half of uninterrupted child-naptime to watch something, anything, and had nothing saved up to watch. I could have watched something in real time, but the concept was just too appalling to entertain. Watch commercials? The horror.

So I flailed around for a bit, and found a show on TLC called The Day I Grew Up, which featured several vignettes of people whose lives had some drastic turning point. It was sappy and not especially enriching or fulfilling television, but at least I was able to eat lunch while it recorded and then fast-forward through the commercials.

And, even worse in the Realm of Horrible Concepts, it made me think. These were people who had lived through violence, death of a family member, and so on, and then said, "After that, everything changed." So, okay, then. What day did I grow up? I've been through some relatively big events, positive and negative, in my life, and can pinpoint a bunch of watershed events, after which everything changed. But the title of the show wasn't And Then Everything Changed, it was The Day I Grew Up. And I don't think I took that step from adolescence to adulthood immediately after, or as a direct result of, any specific event. I was raped, twice, and didn't cope well or move on or grown up for far too long after either of those experiences - the first at 12 and the second at 17. I lost a close friend to suicide when we were both 14. I have had hearing loss and migraines diagnosed since 16. I had a pregnancy loss and deep relationship turmoil at 19. And so on, and so forth. None of it ever made me grow up. In fact, in some ways, I backtracked after each event.

And my life has not been a long list of woe and crisis and misery; I've had a bunch of life-altering positive events, too. The birth of each of my sisters, when I was 9 and 14. The long quiet summers with my grandparents. The Children's Wish Foundation trip to Disney World when I was 20. The first kiss with Willem in his dorm room while listening to Candlebox, at 17. But again, those were things that shaped and changed my life, but made me grow up? Not exactly.

The moment I keep coming back to wasn't a containable event that caused me to mature; instead, it was a moment in time after which I knew that it was time to be a grown-up, and I couldn't step back into childhood anymore. Even if I wanted to, which I really did not.

I don't know the date, only that it was sometime in summer 2000, but I have a crystallized memory of the experience. I was 23, Emily was a few months old, and we had just moved into a new apartment in Salem, MA. It had been a roller coaster of a year - well, two, really - leading up to that moment. In 1998, I graduated college and moved to Boston for grad school. A few months later, I learned that though we'd been together for two and a half years, Willem had only been faithful for about a week. I was floored, shocked, hurt, all of that. Not a good time.

To pour lemon juice on that particular paper cut, I didn't find out from him. I waited a few weeks - he was in New York for grad school, so it's not like our paths were crossing on a regular basis - and then, after the wedding of mutual friends in New York one weekend, he drove me back to my mother's house and we broke up on the way. I returned to Boston, and the next few months were not good. That's another story for another day, I think.

Then in February 1999, about three or four months after we broke up, I was away for a weekend with my ex-and-ex-again-fiance, when I sort of had a lightning realization that no matter how nice that guy was, no matter how much he said he cared about me, he wasn't right for me. And, what's worse, Willem was. I fought that particular awareness for a while, but then we had a series of late-night telephone calls. I presented him with an insistence that he provide a list of everyone he'd been with - because there were many - as well as documentation that he was HIV negative (along with whatever other creepy crawlies one might pick up while one-night-standing), and I laid down an ultimatum that he had used all his strikes, so if there was ever another instance of infidelity, ever at all, it would be over for good. And we got back together.

It was hard. Easily the hardest process I've ever gone through, far harder than living through any of the previous traumas or losses and harder even than parenthood, because all of the other things - even Willem's infidelity - were not my fault. I wasn't always 100% well-adjusted around that knowledge, but at least on an intellectual level I could recognize that I hadn't caused or deserved those things. But this, the choice to re-enter a relationship that had damaged me so deeply, this was up to me. I could have walked away and never looked back, and would have been not only supported but applauded by those who knew me. By returning, I was taking a conscious, deliberate risk, and if I got hurt again it would have rested squarely on my own head. Except for the parts that I blamed on Willem.

But I loved him, he completed me, however you want to look at it. So we took turns driving the 8 hours between his college and mine on the weekends - which involved me renting a car because my poor little truck had committed Mazdacide - and in June he finished the classroom part of his degree and we got an apartment together in Salem. It was better.

Around this time, I started seeing a therapist, and continued for about a year and a half. Which is a long time, by most measures. I had worked through a ton of shtuff, and my only regret in my whole life so far is that I didn't get into therapy and stick with it sooner. I was 21 at the time: nine years after the first rape, which is far too long to carry around that baggage and garbage. I hadn't magically attained mental health, but I had worked and struggled and slogged through things until, bit by bit, I felt okay. I felt normal. Happy, even. Except when I was unhappy.

We took a trip to Europe, three weeks backpacking around at lightning speed. That was fantastic, and the first time when I really let myself believe that this relationship might actually work. We got engaged in Brussels, and, though I didn't find out until a month or so later, I got pregnant in Luxembourg City. We postponed the wedding until after Emily was born, and things, finally, were good.

On the surface.

What was not good was inside my head and inside my heart. I was still hurting, and so insecure and doubtful. I had trust for Willem on an in-the-moment, superficial level, but I kept waiting for the next bad thing. Let's also remember that I had a newborn and was psychotically sleep-deprived. Which does not tend to be good for my coping mechanisms. Maybe I'm just weird that way.

So, this all brings us to The Day I Grew Up. Sometime in that summer of 2000, after we had moved from our tiny one-bedroom apartment to a much larger place, still in Salem. I had a habit of standing at the back window, sort of blindly gazing out toward Gallows Hill, and rocking or pacing with the baby, and I had a mantra. "I can't do this," I would think. "I can't do this." I can't raise a baby with someone I don't trust and whose emotions for me are unclear. Sure, he said he loved me, but he always said that before, too. I can't continue to struggle between my fiance and my mother, neither of whom ever said anything outright against the other but both of whom were clearly waiting for the attack in some form or another. I can't marry someone whose mother so blatantly despises me. I just can't do this.

And I would angst and pace and rock the baby some more, and then repeat the cycle over again. I was lucky enough to be able to stay home with her for about 16 months, but the flip-side of that coin was that I was living in a town where we knew no one. No family, and only one friend close enough to be in touch with outside of school - and she had a baby a month after I did, so she was in the same sleep-deprivation haze. Plus we'd just met around the time we each got pregnant (though not, like, at the same wild orgiastic party) and I didn't feel like I knew her well enough to share the details of my relationship. I felt isolated and alone.

So, one night, I was standing out the window, rocking the baby, and indulging in my mantra. "I can't do this. I can't do this." When suddenly, I realized, "Yes, I can. I already am." I had been doing it, taking one step at a time through every day, loving my daughter and loving my fiance even when they, together or separately, drove me insane. Through all of the self-doubt and Willem-doubt, I was pushing through and making plans for the future and living my life. Sure, there were dark spots, and those were going to continue to happen, but pretending that I couldn't do this was just delusional. I could, and I already was. I had gone through the worst-case scenario and was salvaging something wonderful from it, and spending any more time trying to convince myself that I couldn't do this was just a waste.

So, I grew up. Of course, it wasn't like flipping a switch; I wasn't suddenly filled with optimism and strength on a daily basis. I waivered a lot, even after we were married and legal and stuff. My doubts continue in some forms to this day; I trust him now and I don't spend my time wondering when the bad news will come, but I don't know if I'll ever feel confident in my own ability to engender enough loyalty and steadfastness to hold someone without an ultimatum. Which I know is stupid, but since when are doubts smart? But underneath it all is something fundamentally good, and strong, and right.

And I have to say, while there are any number of down-sides related to responsibilities and demands and worries, growing up was also a pretty good thing.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Touched by a Stranger
I went with two very dear friends yesterday to indulge in some serious estrogen enhancement. We left our respective children with our respective husbands (and Willem really deserves a prize for this, because he took the kids to the Home Depot craft in the morning AND to a birthday party - at Chuck E. Cheese - in the evening, all by himself), and we went out to lunch and then got massages, manicures and pedicures. The lunch part is not unusual; we try to get together at least once a month on our own. But the fondling by strangers, that was in honor of Carolyn's birthday.

It was blissful.

Though, admittedly, odd. My masseuse was named Therese, and she is from Ireland. That is all that I know about her. She knows quite a bit more about me, though not demographics or verbal details. There's just something off about walking up to a stranger and saying, "Hi, rub me."

I discovered that manicurists can have a sense of humor, or at least they wait a while before reporting you to Child Protective Services. When I sat down with my hands in this woman's face, she said, "Oh, you have nice nails already. How do you keep them nice with kids around?" (Bearing in mind, I have not used nail polish on my fingernails since... hmm. My wedding, maybe?) And without thinking, I said, "Oh, I just make sure to put gloves on before I beat them." Ha, ha, wink, wink, don't call the authorities, I'm kidding.

Now I'm crashing back to reality, trying to get my kids to leave each other's eyeballs in their heads because they have just as nasty a case of cabin fever as I have. We could go out somewhere, but it would just be a case of going from one indoors to another indoors, and what I really want is to be outside. Soon... I hope.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Pink Sucks
I know, I'm offending untold numbers of breast cancer survivors, 8-year-old girls and gay triangles, and truth be told, I don't always hate pink. But when it's the pink of a weather map, then that is not a good pink. Observe:

We're in the pink right now, have been for a few hours, will likely remain here for a bit more. It doesn't even look pretty from inside my nice warm house, because it's all white from the snow earlier but now it's warm and raining hard and a bit foggy and just blech.

My poor obsessive-compulsive neighbor, the one who snowblows his driveway hourly and then goes on to snowblow his yard, can't even keep up with this meteorological vomit. He was out earlier, flinging aside any snowflake that dared desecrate his property, and I could watch the arc from his big bad snow removal machine get heavy and sad and limp and unmanly, until finally he had to admit defeat. If the cord was long enough, you know he'd be out there with his Shopvac right now.

So I'm on-call from home, hoping very much that everyone decides to keep it together for a few more hours because I just don't wanna. Plus last night I was too sleepy to work on the sweater or scarf I have in progress, so I started a hat/scarf set for Willem... a plain old watch cap, ribbed for his pleasure, and a scarf. But not just any scarf, not for my math-geek beloved. No, he's getting a scarf with alternating stripes... in the Fibonacci sequence. I have plenty, then, to keep me occupied right here.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Cry Pretty
To sum up this week's American Idol thing...

1. Far too many of these people cry pretty. I get all blotchy and puffy and shiny. It's not fair.

2. The guy I couldn't remember, AJ Whatshisname, got kicked off. They'd better start sending me personal letters if they want to stay, because clearly it's my awareness that determines their success... even though I've never actually bothered to pick up a phone and throw it at the TV, or dial, or whatever.

3. Clearly, this year, instead of being put on a plane and sent home, the losers are being taken out back and shot. Why else would Sundance cry (prettily) after every single elimination?

4. Is it not weird to anyone else, anywhere, that Leslie Hunt and AJ Whatshisname, both of whom were escorted directly to the firing squad, sang the same song? In the same week?

5. I hereby submit that in at least one future show, the audience should be armed with some form of projectile, or should all wear scary masks, or perhaps should just arrange for synchronized bodily functions at key moments. Time to liven things up.