Monday, July 26, 2010

Quite Possibly My Dumbest Idea Ever

(This was originally published here.)

Once, before I had kids and therefore would even consider such a thing, I took a road trip from San Francisco to Seattle with my new husband and his college buddy. It’s a dramatically beautiful ride and I saw some things I will never forget, but mostly, I sat in the back seat and listened as the two of them regressed with each mile. It was dumb joke after dumb joke, silly insult after insult, so that by the time we reached Oregon, I’m pretty sure they were emotionally and mentally, somewhere solidly in their sophomore year.

They argued over which mixed tape to play, which cereal was best, and debated who was better at their vast range of individual skills; I didn’t see many. When they were getting along, they high fived their brilliant ideas over the steering wheel, including one that had us venture 50 miles off our route to hit a casino. The casino had no air conditioning – in 90+-degree summer heat – but it had a lot of lukewarm Pepsi (no diet) in paper cups. They found a “camp” nearby in what was ostensibly a parking lot with water flowing through it and that was conveniently placed near one of our nation’s biggest supermax prisons. I knew it would all go horribly wrong after I read a sign above the public toilets forbidding “hair-dye flushing.” Um, what?

Of course, it did go horribly wrong. If the snoring and the slurp of sweaty skin ripping off plastic tent floor wasn’t enough, it was the animal (a wharf rat? a badger? a land shark?) that attempted to claw in directly under the spot where I was “sleeping” that finally pushed me over the edge. I spent the next six hours wide-awake in the car, on the look out for any sneaky hair dyers or invading animals. When the morning finally came, I threw one of my more historic temper tantrums.

My camping days were officially over. The road trip would continue only under new rules -- my rules, which consisted mainly of hours of silent meditation until we found the nearest (clean) motel. Luckily for us all, my rules were heeded: I’m still married and the road-tripping college buddy remains one of my favorite people.

I have not gone camping since.

But I’m about to.

When my friend mentioned the overnight tenting trip her family took last summer, I thought --what??! Are you nuts? And then, so shockingly quickly that I shocked even myself, I decided that maybe we needed one too. With all the rush and race of our summer, a little North Country quiet tempts me: some water without salt, some roads without street lights, some place where this Small Town seems massive and noisy. I’ve been researching spots and scouting out gear to borrow and I am rallying my somewhat wishy-washy troops for the trip.

The irony is not lost on me.

Truth be told, I’m even getting a little swoony, just imagining it. There we’ll be: gathered around a perfectly maintained and non-threatening campfire, mosquitoes and land sharks far, far away, singing James Taylor songs in perfect tune and eating non-sticky s’mores. Our tent will miraculously build itself. A cool breeze will blow, crickets will chatter, the lake or river or creek will ripple gently in the moonlight. Not a drop of rain will fall. No one will fight or feign boredom. We will be Swiss Family Robinson and Grizzly Adams and the Duggars (minus a couple dozen) rolled into one!

Fantasy? Perhaps. After all, I imagined that San Fran-Seattle road trip to be the stuff that National Geographic documentaries are made of; instead, it was your basic D-list reality show. But I’m older now and while my expectations might remain high and undoubtedly delusional, I am fearlessly going for it -- even if it means picking a spot in short driving distance of my Vermont aunt and uncle whose tidy bathroom and hard-working stove might come in handy. Last time, it was three clueless young adults. This time, it’s two clueless adults and three young kids.

What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Safe Travels Blond Bald Girl

My cousin Delia (yeah that one) came to see us. After we snuck away from my kids to talk about what she's really dealing with (graft vs. host being the bitch she can't ignore), we also made plans to work on her LSAT Personal Statement. I have no idea what that is, but I do know what it means: life goes on.

But GvH is a tyrant of a roommate. It moves in and creates unlimited problems. After three (wait?! has it been four?) years of beating back leukemia and undergoing a marrow transplant, Delia's body still plays tricks. She is now in another battle, a chronic one: her old blood versus her new life.

She thinks her face is swelling from the drugs. I look her up and down and sideways, and all I see is a face all peaches and cream with blue eyes so shiny in love (and she is!) and I remember what she once looked like. She says she feels out of it and overly anxious at times, and I remember when she was too sick to talk.

She suffers, but yet, does not suffer: she is more aware of what was than I could ever be. I tell her I hate that she has to deal with all this stuff. She tells me the alternative is worse.

If I could, I would write every bit of her application to law school for her, but I'm pretty sure that kind of unethical behavior would be frowned upon by lawyers. Instead, I'll just fill up her car with crap from my basement for the tag sale she'll have tomorrow. Out goes the easel and an old table and bunch of silk flowers I once (and I use the word loosely here) decorated with. Out goes a bolt of fabric I hung on to for far, far too long.

She crams it all into the hatch back, hugs the Short Drunk People goodbye, and takes off. This departure is an easy one: in a few weeks, she'll move to another state. With any luck, she'll start a job there in a real office with real people. It's been nearly a year of her isolation -- no restaurants, no movie theaters, no parties -- so an office? Who knew bad lighting and cubicles could be so...awesome?

She'll go with her sack of meds, with her aches and side effects, and with a referral for a local doctor. She'll go to her cute and perfect boyfriend and a life she was forced to put on hold for so, so long. She'll go with her fingers crossed, because, goddamn, she could use a little luck.

I've thought about standing atop a Mass Pike overpass, Short Drunks in tow, waving a giant sign in the air as she drives under us and away. I've considered hanging a sheet over the edge, an old sheet spray painted with our bon voyages. But I know better: that girl will be cranking her Ipod to eleven, rocking out and sipping her iced coffee, and she won't have a second to notice the four crazy people freaking out on the bridge. And you know what? I couldn't be happier.

Couldn't. be. happier.

She's on her way. At last.
See you soon, Blond Bald Girl: may daisies line your path.

(Delia: 1994, Picket's wedding)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Missing Shoes

There is one thing I can absolutely count on during summer: while I might lube my kids enough to avoid a blistering sun burn or yell “Stop!” loud enough before a trip to the ER, it’s a known fact that at some point all three of my kids will be shoe-less. I pretty much start counting the days after the 4th just to see how long it will take before every one of them loses a shoe. And I don’t mean under the bed or in the laundry hamper kind of lost, I mean lost as in forever. Gone for good. Disappeared. Vanished. Sorry mom, no clue.

Sometimes I walk the beach wistfully hoping the ocean might return that one blue flip flop. Sometimes, while weeding, I dream that I will find the missing Croc among the coneflower. Sometimes I eyeball shoes dangling from phone wires or crushed on the side of the road, and I think – is that one ours? that one? – until I realize that though my kids are big-footed, a mammoth size-12 Nike is kind of pushing it.

I am pretty sure that the missing shoes live somewhere with the missing mittens. And the missing shin guards. And the water bottles and the lunch boxes and the hooded sweatshirts. I think there is a secret world hidden beyond all the places I usually check – the trunk, the backpacks, the neighbors’ houses – where my children’s stuff gathers to mock all our best intentions to hold onto to things until we no longer need them.

Despite the camp fees and the industrial sized and not-cheap sunscreen (that empties in about a day and half), I’m sure the budget could allow for a few new pairs of shoes. But, what’s the point? They’ll lose those, too.

So I remind my children that callused feet, tougher than any New England shoreline, are the hallmarks of a well-spent and genuine summer. Plus, there’s an upside for me: when all the signs say “no shoes, no service,” its very easy to deny another stop at the toy shop for more tie-dyed rubber bands (which, no matter how they are shaped, my dear sweet children, are still just RUBBER BANDS).

Little do my kids know, but I know where extra pairs of sneakers and flops are stored for each, but I keep them out of reach until it is entirely necessary. I do this not because I have become so perfectly prepared for summer, but because I know that at some point I will be too lazy to run into Dunkin Donuts for an iced coffee or because the air conditioned movie theater seems like a day at the spa. Like the ice pops hidden at the bottom of the freezer, I keep this stash of shoes for these types of non-emergency emergencies, so that we can make a quick escape without anyone clamoring, “Mommmmmm! Where are my shoes?”

It’s sneaky, but it works. And when it’s 90+ degrees and a kid-style rumble is about to break out, it’s wise to have a back-up plan with soles.

(This was published first here.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fiction***Non-Fiction: Or How a Movie Collided With A Very Terrible Day

As it turns out, I am completely average in my angst.

I know this because Uma Thurman showed me so. I should say, Uma, playing a harried, blogging, trying-to-look ugly mom in the film Motherhood, showed me so. The actual Uma and I have never met, and though I am sure we would be fast friends, I think her fictional self is good enough for me. Or bad enough. Or just enough to remind me how petty and trite and normal all my deep, intensely important issues are.


Today was a very bad day in the House of Picket, or, maybe, it was the culmination of a bunch of bad days. Maybe it was just a typical day and it was I, Picket, who was very bad.

All I know is that somewhere between gagging over maggot-covered rotten fruit at the bottom of a trash can in the playroom and using change from the laundry room's piggy bank to pay for a diet coke and a new trash can, I managed to lose my last proverbial marble. Throw in a sneak-attack dinner guest and few thousand guiltless blinks from the eyes of my negligent fruit tossers and stinky life jacket throwers and I became a mother on fire so hot, I'm still stamping out embers. Might be stomping 'em out for days. Maybe weeks.

You know those nights when you lay in bed, cringing over that horrible thing you did or said or didn't do right for your kids (or your friend, or your neighbor, or your husband)? Your head's on the pillow, the night and lights gone black at last and the only sounds you hear are the wind or the rain or the breath of the people sleeping around you, and yet, you find yourself racing around that mistake, that hurt you might have caused, that trouble you didn't fix all the way? While slumber comes down on your house, you take careful hold of your pillow so that if you cry, your tears will be muffled, so that no one hears you, so that no one stirs, so that no one knows, and you promise, you swear, you will do better tomorrow? You know those nights?

Tonight, I didn't wait for bed; I sobbed on the couch in my kitchen in front of the TV.


I sobbed while Uma Thurman, pretending to be dowdy, pretending to be a struggling-writer blogging-mother-type, spoke words I think I may have spoken (or thought I was speaking; I am always more eloquent in my head than I am out loud) and which, in some form, I am pretty sure I have written. I know well the dirty sock, the brainless work, the bitter passage of time and all the metaphors to hold onto it -- been there, written it. It makes me incredibly sad to feel this typical -- which is really fucking ridiculous and also, a load of completely self-absorbed arrogance -- but that's not why I cried.


I wept because today I was not only nasty and fed-up, but I went silent. Silent. To my children.

I spoke to them -- but that's different. I told them to clear the plates and get their jammies on. I told them that I could not stand one toe outside of their beds, not one sound, not one peep tonight. I kissed each forehead and I walked away. No chat, no sweet good night words, just silence. I withheld my love on purpose -- kept them, these tiny people who by description and nature are supposed to make mistakes, at a distance from me. I punished them by not giving them me: the one person who could have fixed it all, the one who should have known better.

I think I thought I was making a point.

Maybe I did; I'm pretty sure it was the wrong one.


While Uma, playing the stressed-out-middle-class pissed-off-at-her-husband New Yorker, tried to run away to New Jersey, I got teary as I waited for her car to crash. I thought -- this will be the way this story becomes entirely different! The harried, dowdy, wannabe, ungrateful, hostile, disloyal writer-blogger-type dies in a fiery crash of her own making! I'm not even spoiling the ending when I tell you what you already know: the main character rarely ever dies. Especially if that main character is a mom.

I'm glad Uma lived, but not so much because it was she I loved in the movie. Her daughter, or the kid who played her daughter? Yeah. I loved her. Sometimes I wished Uma would stop taking pictures of her and stop writing about her and just hang out with her...


And... sigh. I could cry all night thinking about every stinking horrible potentially ruinous thing I have done, so instead I'll just focus on this one thing, this one night, this one day that was built by so many days. I'll think about it, mull it over, rationalize, analyze, weep and wish to wish it all away, and then, like always, I'll wipe my tears before anyone sees and move on.

The upside of crying it out before bed? New sheets stay clean and crisp, and the head meets the pillow as I guess it always should: unburdened for a while and waiting for a new day.


I swear I will do better tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sweet Dreams Sweet Sweaty Prince

The GFYO is at his first sleepover tonight, with an even more giant GFYO. They make quite a pair: both super-sized, speech-impeded and teeth either dangling or all the way out. They look like two goons after a bar fight. It's so sweet, really.

I sent the GFYO off to gather clothes for his backpack. Fifteen minutes later I went to check on his progress and found him shirtless, still in his sandy soaking swim trunks, with one dirty tee-shirt (plucked from the hamper) wadded into a ball. He smiled so hugely, I was sure right then his tooth would pop out, and he said, "All set, mom!"

Oh little dude, I said.

A clean set of tomorrow clothes, a dry pair of board shorts, and a tooth brush I know he won't use, and he was good to go. "Wanna bring your blanket?" I asked. Naaah, he said. "Your dog?" Nope, he said.

A quick round of two-on-two soccer in the back yard and off we went, the two GFYOs, and Bridget and Rory and Sam the Dog too. All of us packed in the car, for what? A two minute ride two streets away? I guess that's how we roll for a first sleepover.

Sam the Dog seemed unimpressed (except for "weeeee! I'm drivvvinnnggg!") but the girls were entirely undone. "Omigod, mom, is he gonna be okay?" "Omigod, mom, what if his tooth falls out?"

I shouldn't have told them that the GFYO was gnawing the collar of his clean shirt not two seconds in the door -- "oh, he's so gonna call home later" one of 'em said. Maybe I should have told them how he barely said goodbye to me, barely listened when I reminded him to be polite and sweet and a good listener. And that I loved him. I should have told them that this is how the first sleepover goes: half crazy nervous, half see ya homies.

Like they did once, so will he now -- sleep in someone else's house, without me, without us, for the first time tonight. And as I have done two times before, I will pretend to be cool about it, I will act all wikkid awesome seasoned mom about it, but when I peak in his room later and see his empty bed, I will be none of those things, not one.

Tomorrow however? When I am not awakened at 7am or some other ungodly hour (I am not a morning person) with a question about raccoons or tornadoes or the usual -- is today the day we talked about the other day, like, is today that day now? Yeah. I'll be okay skipping the early morning, pillow-headed existential philosophy chat with my GFYO.

I'll be just fine. Tomorrow.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Let Me Make Something Absolutely Clear

I did not in fact cancel summer.

(Is that even possible, even for a mothereffingmother?)

Life goes on, as it has for me. Kids go sailing, kids play sports in heat that could cook them, I drive from place to place to get them, to save them. I am nice for a minute.

Hurl your towels on the porch railing, I say; don't leave your stinky life jackets and your lunch pack filled with the food you didn't eat in my car!

"Dear man, my sweet boy," I say, "It's a new car! Remove your stank!"

No one listens. Nothing's changed. I haul bags and clothes and debris of all kinds in and out every day.

WHAT'S NEW? I just kicked off getting emotional here in a column they pay me for and I got downright Politely Fictional here writing about what happens to people after the worst does. Starting tomorrow, I'll be part-time working for a living money so little money even my college diploma shrugged. And it's good.

But let me make something perfectly clear: in the whirlwind of busy and heat waves and work and fiction and towels and laundry and lunch -- in the tornado of husbands and family and friends and all the other things I find it impossible to be good enough for -- in all the ways I sink and swim and yet never swim with my kids...

I know this one thing to be true:

And I hope you do to.