Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Could Punch That Book

I have read more books in the last month than I have in the last year. Maybe in the last two years. It feels good to say that out loud, because it felt like a dirty little secret -- all talk and no read. I've dropped out of book groups because of the...shame, even the book groups where no one else was reading the books either, or at least finishing them: I wasn't even buying them. 

I'm not sure why this latest manic book reading started, but it's been a rabid obsession lately. I think it makes The Kid pretty happy, he being a consistent reader of all kinds of books. He'll go from a big chunky historical tome to some crappy spy novel or Templar pulp and then he'll pick up Camus and carry on. It's kind of irritating in a way, how his brain can switch like that, but not half as irritating as I am when I read. 

I laugh out loud. I sigh heavily. I feel the need to tap tap tap him on the shoulder and say, "Listen to this." I swear a lot and get wildly pissed off and seethingly jealous when I read something that is so excellent or so funny or so goddammit-why-can't-I write-that. I get completely wrapped up and utterly inspired and I stay up late for a few more pages, just the next chapter, a little more.

And I throw books. I throw them down on the bed or down on the couch and if I really really adored it, I'll throw a book clear across the room. 

I hurled "An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life*" practically into the neighbor's house when I was finished. Like I was mad at it for being so divine, which I wasn't, but I was probably mad at it for being done. I realize this is fodder for some shrink somewhere so I should add, while I'm on the couch, that when I was younger, like middle-school younger, when I saw something irresistibly cute, I had this terrible urge to punch it. (Look it up: it says this very thing in my ninth grade year book.)

Let it be known, that this urge has passed and I do not and never have actually punched or even pinched ridiculously cute things. But the fact is, love can be a very physical thing. And I don't mean the poetic lightening bolt that happens to a person (supposedly), but a lightening bolt that rises up from a person, from me at least, when some love button, some emotional wire is pushed or tripped and wham! There goes the book, splat against the wall or flat on the floor. There go my hackles or the shivers or the instant stomach ache, which is half like butterflies and half like hysterical laughter, and there I go again: sensitive? emotional? reactionary? crazy?

Who cares. 

I think this is why I can be a lump on the log, half dozing at ten, and hear a major thump from upstairs and leap to action like James Bond, completely alert and ready to perform CPR or lift a bookcase or scale a wall. I think this is why, after my terribly long and embarrassing absence, I am back in love with reading books. They are easy to haul around and use up little space on the table and take me away from and also back to myself. But mostly, they are light enough for me to send on an arc through space. I can really chuck those suckers when I need to and I think I forgot how good that feels.

Got any for me to throw around? Do tell.

* by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Read it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why Do I Bother?

The GFYO, who has the most kick-ass 70s-era hair right now (by the by), is experimenting with language. Which is not to say he is using precocious words like "ridiculous" and "absolutely" like his oldest sister did when she was his age. I mean that he is using words like "pretty" and "half blue" and "i love you mama sososososooooo much." 

He uses these words in combination after he says things like "mom, you are the meanest mom in the whole world" or "mom stinks" or "mom i don't like any of this food one tiny bit and i am not going to eat it and i am going to spit it on the ground." 


That's when he starts his manic spew of romantic prose, with gestures, kissy fawning huggy gestures, as if somehow complimenting my great and natural beauty and my sweet and loving nature will erase the fact that only seconds ago, he said "stupid" and "fart" in the same sentence. Directed at me. Oh, dear dear small boy: do you not know anything? 

Mama don't play that. Even though she digs dudes with cool 70s-era hairdos, she is not easily wooed by the dimple in your chin and the way you purr that my eyes are so pretty blue, half blue in fact, and prettier than any pretty flower and all the best pretty things in the whole big world. She is not wooed by your batting eyelashes and your four-year old poetry, even if it is ALL TRUE, because mister: we need to talk.

I explain to the GFYO that saying "sorry" (grandly) is good and always the right thing to do but it is never enough to un-do the way mean words feel. And that while I know that he doesn't really mean those mean words? He just shouldn't say them. Especially at dinner time. When I am five to ten minutes away from making everyone eat nothing but lukewarm spinach for the next thirty days or so.

So last night, Rory is cough cough coughing as she does every January and February and it's about 9:30. I have already been upstairs about six times scolding the short drunk people who cannot ever seem to stay in their own beds, so when I go up for this sick visit and hear more pitter patter of short drunk feet, my hackles... well, they raise. If I had hackles, that is. Maybe I do. I don't know.

Anyhoo, so I find Rory in her bed and I give her the teaspoonfuls and I say, why were you out of your bed again? Did you need water? Is it because of the coughing? And she says no, I wasn't out of my bed and I was actually asleep but you should know that the GFYO is under my bed.

Under this bed? I say (which was a dumb thing to say, I realize, but still). Yes, she says, under my bed.

GFYO? I say. Yes? he says, matter-of-factly.
GFYO, I say, get out from under the bed. 

I love you mama, he says. (OH GOOD GOD, I think.) He slithers out. I can see his hair and half of his face, and then his shoulder and then the rest of him, his jammies mismatched (part flannel rocket ships, part flannel dalmations) and unbuttoned. He turns his dimpled face to my ankle, the only part of me he can see and get to. And he makes his move.

If you kiss my ankle, I will not be happy, I say. 

He knows he is busted so he races for the door and rushes through it, a blur of wintery, flannely static and shouts from the hall on the way back to his bed, "I wasn't gonna kiss it, mama! I was gonna lick it!"

I consider chasing him down but don't bother. He'll be asleep in a few minutes anyway, as it is way way way past his bedtime, and I don't have the energy to fight against his dimples and his fuzziness and the way he will nuzzle me and coo. Soon enough I figure he will be embarrassed to hide under his sisters' beds, embarrassed to spit his food on the floor, and that's when I'll take credit, what with all my speeches and lessons. 

He better freakin' kiss me though, he better never get too cool for that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Strangers, Continued

The truth is, and this becomes clearer with the passing of each hazy day, that I am forgetting so many of the details of my meticulously average and amazing life. If I tell you that I remember cooking tortellini with store-bought pesto for 4 out of 7 days while living in Vermont, will it be enough to start a story about that amazing year when I was twenty? When I tell you that we couldn't afford cable TV so instead watched two VCR tapes (a Warren Miller ski film and Andrew Dice Clay Live) over and over and over again, will it be enough to reanimate the year I lived in a two-bedroom log cabin with four other people? Will it be enough to make interesting the year I skied every day and wore braids like Heidi and goggles only backwards and was the Employee Spotlight of the Month?

I remember their real names, those strangers I spent those months with, but I wonder if I could remember it all and it worries me, what I might be forgetting.

There were better parts of that year then what at first bubbles to the top, funnier parts and weird and scary parts too. There was a love affair kicked off over the telephone (in a phone booth! on the side of the road!) and there was another one that eluded me entirely because I thought I didn't actually know any lesbians. There was a turning point, a fork in the road, and I have no idea, even now, why I made the choice I did. Because until I did? I was sure I would stay there forever. 

I remember that Chris (or did she spell her name "Xis"? I think she did) ate little else but Fluff and chocolate frosting and that her dad was a train engineer from Indiana and that I am pretty sure she had sex with her cousin before she ran away from home. Mark was from Vermont and he was even shorter than me and when I slammed into the deer that one night, I remember how he shivered a violent kind of shake after he climbed back into my truck having "done it." It took five more miles for me to realize what he meant. Five long miles. He was such a good, tiny little person.

I remember the way my gloves smelled, all sweaty and wet and half-frozen. I remember how the cabin smelled when we would peel off our ski clothes after work, dump them in a pile by the front door. I remember how steam would billow from our hair when we would gather in our long underwear for another night of cheap beer and dirty, smutty, Dice Clay jokes. I remember I felt happy and terrified simultaneously almost every day. Store-bought pesto brings it all back in waves sometimes. I still use the same brand. 

I do not, however, remember what it was that made me leave. I can still see those nasty chin hairs on Jeff, the ones I wanted so badly to pluck and rip out of him, but I cannot remember the split second when I knew I had to go. These were strangers who I lived with and loved for a short and forever time and whose very presence, whose very traveled road was the one I didn't take. 

I doubt they remember my name now, that toothy blonde girl, the one they told secrets to on the hoods of cars when the mud took over the snow. I doubt they remember me because I don't do goodbyes and so just left, even when I said I was coming back, and so just left, because I felt regret instantly, and so just left, because once they went back inside and the cabin filled up the entire space of my rear view mirror, I knew that there was nothing more I could say and I knew I would never see them again and so, I just. Left.

There are the strangers like Dahlia and Sandy, and there are strangers like these: short-term strangers, people I actually know but don't keep. People I leave behind, who I watch walking away while I run away to another life in my deer-smashed car. All these people I keep in some pocket, in some tucked away place, with all the other memories or at least the detailed tid-bits of those memories, the smells and the sweat and the pesto even: the things I save like a child saves an acorn or a headless Lego guy or some meaningful sweet treat someone gave, now mushy and smashed and still yummy.

Months would pass and I would slide into my truck in some cut-off cords to another job, in some local place, near my home. I would be alone, without the love affair or the boyfriend who dumped me, and I would be literally in-between: waiting for four more months of no school and a resume-padding job in DC. No ski pants required, no Dice Clay, a basement apartment and a mattress on the floor. With students. Studying students. 

I would slide into my car and turn on the AC. I would hit the gas and gun it even. I would push in  the cassette tape and crank the volume. I would get three seconds from my parents house, barely out of the driveway, when the deer hair that coated my engine for months would unfurl itself and cover me, spraying out of the vents, shooting out like a hose, like God and Mother Nature combined into one, and while I could still see the road, I could see nothing else, feel nothing else, smell nothing else but that deer hair that coated me and covered me and got caught up in my own hair.

Someday, I will eat a clam on a half shell again or taste saffron or polenta or see some worn out bar stool or some other Sandy with her thread hanging out. Someday all of this day's memories will shoot back like deer hair out of a vent and I will cry on the side of some road. I will pull over and weep and feel some regret for not having felt it all, for not having felt it as much as I could have, or as much as I should have, or as much as I wanted to. 

I will sit in some car on some road and I will find some tiny memory, some tiny detail, to remind me of what I always forget -- that we can never remember things as well or as much as we want to.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I watched the speech today in a restaurant with three great friends in the City. I watched it with about a dozen strangers too and a TV crew there to tape a regional cooking show. We were the "studio audience" and production broke for an hour so the host and the chefs and the rest of us could stand around the bar to watch the TV above it.  

I am never at home when historic moments happen -- never, so this seemed both bizarre and perfectly normal. It was bizarre not only because I had makeup on during the day but because I was standing at the edge of a huge oak bar with a gaggle of strangers thrown together at this one weird and amazing time. It was normal because all I could think was "what are they thinking?"

I imagined the full lives of at least four of those strangers even before we huddled around the screen. I summed them up by their parts -- her tailored suit, his longish hair, the way she gnawed her fingernails, how he hung back and lowered his eyes. I created full personalities for them and their lives away from this place and I did it to entertain myself and also, because I can't seem to help doing it. I can't help it: the most fascinating person is the one I stand next to in a line, the one I will never meet, the one whose name I invent in my head to make a stranger less strange. For one small (or gigantic) moment, I make these people a part of my life in the realest way I can.

I am not sure why I do this, except that I was a curious kid so I guess it's in the genes. And after 9/11? I started to think that the stranger standing next to me might be my hero in some crazy split second or that I might be there's. I figured that at least we should know each other's names. Even if they were the ones I made up: which were Sandy, Jim, Dahlia, and Mike.

So Sandy in the grey suit with the one stray thread (the only thing about her out of place) will be the stranger I will remember most from this day. The way the pattern on the bar seat was worn where thighs had rubbed it over and over will be the thing I will remember most of how the place looked. I should know (by now!) that the details and unknowables seem always to enchant me, to entice me, more than the bigger picture. I get knocked about by the trees; I need time and space to even know I am in the forest.

So this day, this one of at least four "where were you whens" that I have had, it is seared in my brain thanks to the tiny details I keep. When someone asks, I won't tell them about Sandy or the nail-gnawing beauty, but I will remember every minute of this day thanks to them. They will become my mnemonic, my touchstone, my photo: I owe them more than they will ever know.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Things You Can Count On: School Concert/Public Speaking

Things you can count on; School Concert P(r)ep Talk:

1) You will remind your husband of the start time of the school concert.
2) You will remind him in person and via email. Twice.
3) You will still have your doubts.
3) You will explain to the GFYO, as best you can, what "in two hours" means.
4) You will say "not yet" and "not now" in about thirty different ways.
5) With 20 minutes to spare, your 2nd grade daughter will relent to braids.
6) But she will not tuck in her shirt -- no way now how.
7) With 10 minutes to spare, the GFYO will say "wait? where are we going?"
8) You will make sure you have the bouquets for the teachers and the other gifts and your very small speech on a note card. You will not forget to take your children with you. Hurrah!
9) You will, however, forget to put on a little blush.
10) Your husband will get to the concert before you.

Things you can count on; The Concert:

1) You will think there are more video cameras here then at Radio Shack.
2) You will whip out your own pocket-sized camera and pray that it is charged.
3) Your daughter will be in the back row with the tall kids. You will feel proud.
4) You will wonder, wistfully, what it's like be to be one of the tall kids.
5) You will whisper to your husband "so cute" and "did you see that?" and "omigod that's so cute". 
6) You will decide you overuse the word: cute shoes, cute bag, cute kids.
7) You will think that if all the world's evilest could see a bunch of toothless 7-year-olds singing an Hawaiian song (with coordinating gestures) then peace would fall at last upon the land.
8) And that would be cute freakin' awesome.
9) Your second grader will shock you with her flair for drama. And despite the fact that she would never sing one for you, she knows all the words. She will wave to you from the stage.
10) You will resist the urge to stand up and point and say "That's my kid! That's my kid!"

Things you can count on; The Speech Approacheth:

1) Your heart will beat faster when you realize the finale is coming.
2) The 3rd graders will do the jitterbug and you will clap like a penguin on meth. You will also cry a little.
3) Glenn Miller! Boys dancing with girls! Jazz hands! It is all so... freakin' awesome.
4) Applause. Applause. Standing ovations. Bulbs flashing.
5) You will realize what this means: now you have to stand on the stage and talk into the mic.

Things you can count on; The Speech:

1) You will feel relieved that the stage lights make the faces of your friends invisible.
2) You will make small talk with the people up there with you. But you won't hear a word they say. 
3) You will say, "oh? is it my turn?"
4) You will step to the mic. Which is back in its cradle. On a stand set to kid height.
5) You are short but not that short.
6) Despite years around mics, you will instantly forget how to raise one. You will also forget that the mic is meant to be removed and held in the hand ala Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett or you get the gist.
7) You will bend over, to kid height, and begin your 3.5 minute speech. Hunched, bent, at kid height.
8) 3.5 seconds later, the principal will remove the mic and hand it to you. You will stand up.
9) People will laugh.
10) So you will laugh with them. You are amongst friends!

Things you can count on; Never leave the script:

1) Then you will say "Oh, you know, I'm just so used to bending over like that..."
2) You will say this while you are holding a mic. Which looks like... You know.
3) Except you won't know. You will have no idea.
4) You will wrap it up, hand out the flowers, smile and say "Bravo!"
5) You are a school-concert-going-tear-shedding-public-speaking-clueless-PTO-ho.

Things you can count on; Someone Will Tell You:

1) You will cringe. 
2) You will die ten thousand deaths.
3) You will sputter "but I didn't" and "and I wasn't" and "really?"
4) Your husband will admit he thought the same thing too.
5) You will shake your fists at the heavens and say "MEN!"
6) Then he will say that he knew what you really meant. Of course I knew, he will say.
7) You will feel better.
8) For ten seconds. For ten freakin' seconds.

Things you can count on; After:

9) You will decide that the next time anyone asks you to say anything out loud in public while sober you will decline and offer up your best friend: Tracy Morgan.
10) "Deal wid it Cate Blanchett!" you should have said. You should have just left it at that.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Girl Fight

The girl fight thing, the Queen Bees, the verbal black eyes that young girls give: it totally freaks me out. While I understand intellectually that it happens and while I understand how hormonally it ramps up, I do not understand why, after all of everything, we chicks need to repeat this nonsense ad vomit for ever and ever. Like starting at age 9, in the 4th grade. Like it's starting for my kid. 

The drama! The holy drama surrounding this fly-weight girl who flits and flutters and bumps into walls and who can not seem to make it through one day without tripping over her own limbs! I am not even sure she sees the drama and what she does see, she doesn't see clearly (hence the wall crashing). I am on the fence as to whether this is a good or a bad thing, but she is about a half meadow filled with fairies and play dough from the fence that separates her childhood from her tween-dom so I want to scream: beware! They are mines buried along the way.

We could have held her back. But when she was just-turned-five, she marched off to kindergarten with a round baby face and we rationalized that she wouldn't be driving until late in her senior year (we know, too well, how bad things can happen with cars). Plus, I had two other kids at home (calgon!) and so, she was "ready." And she was. She always has been, at least as far as the alphabet and multiplication goes.

But the kindergarten teacher warned me that her immaturity might make a difference (her being younger, in some cases by a full year, than her classmates), and because everything we know about kids happens in kindergarten, naturally that teacher was right. (For instance, I am pretty sure it was Ms. Sessions who said I was a "leader" aka "bossy" with "much on my mind" aka "a big mouth" when I was in kindergarten.)

I don't think Bridget has done anything "not nice" on purpose, and I am pretty sure she doesn't even know when "not nice" things are done to her. But I have this regrettable urge to say "which one of my kids did it" when something breaks in the background, so I worry, worry, worry. Is there something I am not seeing? Not doing? Is there any way I can stop any of this from happening at all? 

Today we were watching Made on MTV (don't ask why: alright I will yell you: because Rory loves anything having to do with skateboards) and this girl, who had spent a year sick at home with allergies, had this mom who was so incredibly overbearing, it forced me to go off on one of my useless speeches. I started with "that mom is pretty much waiting for her daughter to fail at skateboarding because she is so worried that she will and that it will hurt and that what if she bleeds or cries or can't do it" and my kids were all oh wait, is mom talking so naturally I kept going (teaching moment! ding ding! ten extra points)... but I will spare you the details.

The point is, I realized that not only was I literally talking to my own damn self, but I was actually talking to myself. So I sat down. I shut up. I listened to what I was thinking. And, with two of my kids, I watched frickin' MTV -- MTV! -- the incubator of my music lust that abandoned me when it opted for girl fights over Art a long, long time ago and which now was making me think about parenting and also, well, um, girl fights. 

I hate it when reality TV serves a purpose. 

So we watched together for a while and then I got up to make dinner. The flame shot up as Bridget walked over. "Watch out," I hurled. "Hot!" I said. 

She looked at me with the same eyeballs she had when she lay on my chest after 36 hours in labor, and she said, Mom. 

Mom, um. Mom? It's not a skateboard.

(And Rory said "it's MY skateboard") (Naturally.)

So Bridget poured a box of organic noodles into a pot and stirred them. Not for the first time mind you, but it felt different this time. And I swear I heard the opening notes of Thriller when she did.

She can fight her own fights

Monday, January 5, 2009

People in my Neighborhood

There are two roads in and two roads out of this Small Town. The same two roads divide the Small Town into two straight lines with a mess of arterial roads that run, all clogged up, from the middle. There is no road that runs through it; there is no highway exit number that has it; there are signs you will never see that aim to guide you out. 

This Small Town is a peninsula and a literal dead end. I do NOT mean that metaphorically. 

The geography of this place means that I will see people I know all the time when I don't want to. It means that I will eyeball some strangers over and over and over again. 

Like the guy on the bike with spectacles. And the woman with the heavy make-up and her signs protesting nonsense on a big poster board I could never read. And her flower, always, behind her ear. She's been gone for a while and I wonder if the Big Gut Guy misses her. They were friends; he held her signs.

The Big Gut Guy stinks of a hangover. He roams the bars, but I don't know how he pays for drinks. He's gotten fatter and more desperate in the 15 years I've seen him. He wears glasses now and his belly looks like something I could pop.  He is a Small Town clock to me: when I go away and see him again, I know I am home. 

For so long, I have given him the kindness of my smile. I wonder if he sees the winks I give him some times, the heads up I offer to let him know that he is not the scariest part of my small town.

I like to think he knows me now, even though he never shows it, because sometimes I wonder if I am the freak in his 'hood.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Things You Can Count On, Issues A-F

Things you can count on; issue a) Christmas Day:

1) Santa will come.
2) Santa will leave behind a giant mess.
3) Because you were woken at 6am (aka: the middle of the night), your eyes will be working at fifty percent their normal power and therefore you will not see said mess until you return to it many days later. 
4) Your husband's family has never heard the words "plan" or "ahead" in the same sentence and even though you use those words together all the time (apparently to deaf ears), it will still be you who gets the evil eye. 
5) You will try very hard to be the bigger better person.
6) You will make a thousand promises to never do this Christmas day road show ever again.
7) Two out of three of your children will fall asleep in the car -- ten minutes before you arrive at your next destination.
8) Your mother will pour champagne for you and clink your glass and you will feel loved and happy and cozy and you will not care that your children are feasting on nothing but warm buttered rolls.

Things you can count on; issue b) Holiday Weekend Away:

1) You will ski. You will sing while you ski, but you will wonder why "Dream a Little Dream" is the song you sing and you will remember that the first cassette tape you ever bought was the Mamas and the Papas. You will love skiing.
2) You will play cards. For hours. You will lose and win and lose and cheat and you will initiate a teenage nephew into the cult. It is part of your plan, part of your legacy building plan.
3) You will help your mother cook and wonder why you don't do it more.
4) Your children will bowl and hike and play and hug you unexpectedly.
5) Your cousin who is like your sister will need a shoulder to bitch on and you will give it.

Things you can count on; issue c) Returning Home:

1) Even though you called it first as you were rolling into the driveway after your four hour drive, someone will get to the bathroom before you. You will do the peepee dance in your living room like a four year old.
2) Children can NOT make anything tidy out of brand new toys. 
3) Threats do not work. 
4) The couch feels better, the bed feels comfier, the empty fridge seems emptier when you get home. Exhausted.
5) Your husband will consider a vacation at home to be a vacation. 
6) You will not consider it that way so much. 
7) The Christmas bomb that went off the morning you left has sneaky time-release bombs attached to it: they will go off at intervals until you go officially crazy.

Things you can count on; issue d) New Years Eve:

1) It will snow. Hard.
2) Your husband will decide it is a good day to take the car in for a tune-up.
3) You will add the hours of sleep your children have missed and you will sigh, knowing that tonight is not the night to "catch up."
4) You will answer this question -- "when are we leaving?" -- about ten thousand million times. 
5) You will do so while trying desperately to get a draft done of the thing you are calling "the book." While your husband is at the car dealership. While the snow is burying every good intention you had of wearing something cute to the party.
6) You will show off your homemade manicure by white-knuckling it down a highway to another state in a snowstorm.
7) You will laugh and get drunk and fight for control of the Ipod with your oldest friends like you have done for the last 15 years. 
8) You will dance with your daughter at midnight. And your best friend's daughter. 
9) You will get drunker. 
10) You will think you are an excellent dancer. And wikkid smaht. And the funniest person ever.

Things you can count on; issue, e: 2009:

1) You will drink coffee on couches with your oldest friends and you will laugh and fight for control of US Weekly like you have for fifteen years.
2) You will talk about delicious foods that might taste delicious RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE but you will not have or eat any of them. 
3) In your jammies at noon snuggled in under blankets, you will love your life and these friends and your family and even his family. 
4) You will resolve not to make any resolutions. 
5) You have too many to make. 
6) You get depressed about that for a minute, but you let it go. You decide that deciding to be happy might be better than any drugs or any vitamins or any shrink, and you decide that deciding to be happy is what you will do from this.moment.on.
7) But quitting smoking once and for all would be good.
8) Still, deciding to be happy and completely cup half-full and silver linings and counting blessings is now once and for all gonna be your new way to be.
9) You fall asleep with a smile on your face, despite the fact that your dad gave you red feety pajamas for Christmas.

Things you can count on, issue f: Afterwards:

1) You will remember you have a blog.
2) You will write on it -- to it? because of it? 
3) You will write something down.
4) You will write something down. 
5) You will write something down.
6) You. Will. Write. Something.

(Not Mama Cass but Zooey, 'cause I love her, and not just because she is Bones' sister...)