Discontented

The cold and snow are starting to get to me. The stress of a week of school closures, work deadlines (that were already delayed due to an office move) and my mother’s recent accident that’s required my attention and numerous trips to town, in addition to all the daily chores and must-dos, finally came to a head this evening as I suddenly had to rush from the office to pick up Red when the after-school program decided to close early ahead of the current storm. I was in the middle catching up on a back log of work, was supposed to guide Girl Scouts through a project later (which I hadn’t prepared for, see above), and had just pulled together the cookie order spreadsheet, and was attempting to draft the skeleton of a presentation I’ll be making in the spring.

Spring. Remind me what that is. I almost remember being warm. I almost remember the exquisite dullness of an average boring week where you can stroll outside. I almost remember a time when I could simply stroll outside with a bag for the compost bin without stumbling in the darkness, without bundling up first. Without cursing as the bitter wind finds that one uncovered spot at my neck despite all efforts to wrap two different scarves around it. Clearly I haven’t mastered that skill. The doors must stay closed to keep out the weather but they also block when little sun there is these days. The house plants are disconsolate. Despite my garden planning, the ordering of seeds and plants, the things I do to remind myself that this won’t last forever, this dreadful horrible winter, nothing’s working this year. The SAD is kicking in and kicking my butt. Any positive, happy feelings are hard to come by.

It feels like End of Times. Suddenly, this song popped into my mind.

It’s funny what will suddenly pop into your head. I did just want to cry but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Regardless of what Rosey Grier thinks, sometimes it just doesn’t make you feel better. Sometimes you just have to push through. Do what needs to be done. Get to the other side, assuming there is one.

And, of course, school is closed again tomorrow. It’s the winter that never ends. The winter of my severe discontent.

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Love Affair

When I decided to have kids – though, really, I don’t remember any decision other than when – I had no idea the depths of love I’d feel. And feel again and again as they got older. It’s the kind of thing you can’t really prepare yourself for, unlike (maybe) a zombie apocalypse. You can’t prepare for things you’ve never experienced before. And even books don’t do it justice, this love, this sudden wave of emotion you feel that is so NOT what you might feel for a lover, a spouse, a parent. It isn’t. It’s different. And better, to be honest.

Part of it is that you create this….person that has never existed before (unless you believe in past lives which I happen to but that’s another conversation) and you have the distinct pleasure, the unbelievable privilege, of watching them grow up. Of being key to the process. Of BEING the process (to a certain degree).

I’ve spent a good amount of time this evening scraping old decals off Dusty’s walls – swirls and planets and glow in the dark stars. I’ve removed screws and shelving and pulled dozens of anchors out of the walls in preparation for a new coat of paint. For the teenager she is now. She wants a grown up room. She’s wanted something different every year of her life, just about, and I’ve made it happen to the best of my ability. I’ve spackled probably a hundred pinpricks where she’s hung pictures and posters – first animals, now rock stars – over the years.

When I was a kid, my mother would throw a fit when I used tape or pushpins to put up a poster. I was ruining the walls! Walls that were hers! I was only borrowing that room! Oh, the work she’d have to do – theoretically – to remove all traces of my life there! God forbid.

I’ve taken a different tact as a parent. This is your space. Live in it. Be who you are and find out who you are in these walls. Don’t like something? Let’s figure out how we can change it, within our budget.

As I worked I found little messages she’d written to herself. In her closet, she’d written “Dusty’s Hideout” and a chart with “Lonely, Mad, Sad, Fine.” Lonely had no check marks. Sad and Mad each had one. Underneath them, she’d written an arrow with “Same thing” under them. There were 10 check marks under “fine” which pretty much sums up her childhood.

Feeling wistful (though I don’t think that’s the right word), I wrote her an email,

“Hey. I have been in your room tonight scraping and spackling and removing screws and anchors and star stickers from your walls and thinking about all the different changes we’ve made to your room over the years. And all the ages you’ve been in that room. Sappy, I know.

“I just wanted you to know that I love you and think you are one of the most amazing, intelligent, beautiful, creative, unique people I’ve ever known and I’m so proud to be your mom. Don’t ever let anyone make you think you’re less than that. Don’t ever stay with a friend or a boy who makes you feel less than what you really are. Everyone I know who meets you comments on how nice you are and how caring and beautiful and special you are. I can’t believe I was so lucky to have you as my daughter.

“Please remember this when you’re feeling sad or down. You really are one-of-a-kind.

“I love you. Mom”

Everything I do for them, I do with love. And then I have to remember to stand back and let them be who they are. And it is more than enough. It really is.

Peek-A-Boo!

So, also on that last roll of film, and this is why I date it to 2006, are these adorable photographs of Red as toddler. She got this little wardrobe for Christmas of – possibly – 2005 (I think). That right hand door didn’t last long. The hinges (specialty hinges I’ve never been able to find to replace) broke and the wardrobe as been one-doored ever since.

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Who’s there? Who could be in there? Knock knock!!

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Aw! What a scamp. Red loved to hide and climb and explore and was an all-around handful of a kid. She really hasn’t changed much except now she “uses her words” which….are quite colorful and plentiful.

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I don’t remember as much of her babyhood as I’d like to. Those years were exhausting and thank god for photographs because without them I’d probably have forgotten most of it. Dusty was always interested – deeply interested – in this and that and the other. Reading and crafts and painting and doing and pretending and dressing up and star gazing and cooking and needlepoint and sewing and latch hook rugging and….whew! Everything. She kept me mentally busy and Red was a clinger, always needing to be carried and held so there was the physical exhaustion too.

Red was into everything and drawing on walls and eating books and being smack IN YOUR FACE all the hours of the day.

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But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tea Party!

The final roll of black and white film was shot in, I’m guessing, 2006. Though, these photos may have been taken earlier. I really don’t know. Dusty had set up a tea party in her room. The guests seem to have enjoyed themselves. Particularly Kermit who appears quite garrulous.

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Barbie shoe, anyone?

Discoveries circa 2002

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In a frenzy, recently, I cleaned out the Hoosier in my kitchen. The top cabinet had become, over the years, a repository for just about everything. Pens, pushpins, boxes of tea, Red’s nebulizing medicine and equipment, scotch tape, buttons, check books, my husband’s prescription receipts, scraps of paper with phone numbers written on them, pins and IKEA S-screwdrivers, the odd Playmobil thingummy that held the houses together.

Amongst all the detritus, I discovered 5 rolls of unused film (which I gave to Dusty, the family photographer) and three rolls of exposed film. I had no idea how long they had sat in there or what was on the rolls, if anything. One was color, two were black and white. Like a lot of things, at some point, my husband, who had previously enjoyed taking pictures, gave it up. Abruptly. I don’t know why.

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So, at a certain point, I became the family photographer, documenting the children’s growth. There are boxes upon boxes of photographs in the bedroom closet and many flash drives and hard drives filled with digital photographs.

Two weeks ago, I took the rolls in to be developed. Today, in the middle of preparing for a (non-event) snowstorm and dealing with my mother’s recent hospitalization, I picked up the photographs. I gave them to Dusty, forgetting that they weren’t photos she’d necessarily taken. She pulled them out, amazed. “What…who…when was this?”

The color roll was ruined. Blurred photos of nothing distinguishable. The black and white ones, though…..

The first was a series of photographs of the first real beach vacation we took with Dusty. She was 18 months old. We stayed in a horrible, noisy, hotel with a kitchenette. What stands out for me about this vacation was that Dusty ended up with a stomach virus that landed her in the hospital by the time we returned. She’d gotten dehydrated and had refused to drink anything but her soymilk. Which only made matters worse.

But before that stressful end, we’d had fun.

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Dusty loved hats. And there’s something about a mirror that attracts any right-minded toddler. Pretty sure we played this game for long stretches when we weren’t out on the beach (the ocean was another thing Dusty loved and still does). These photos remind me that despite the bad ending to this weekend, we had some fun nonetheless.

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It’s a Hard Knock Life

Man, this week has kicked my ass.

First, let me just say that raising children – raising children with thought and care – is not for the timid. Or the lazy. Or the stupid crack whores. It’s exhausting. Especially when you have a smart and beautiful but very private teenager (should I be monitoring her internet use or does that invade her privacy? How far should I trust a trust-worthy child?) and a super emotive drama queen who notices every nuance and asks a million frank questions about these observations? All after 8pm.

These kids, I love them. I try to do my best for them. I work hard to NOT be the mother mine was but the thing about breaking the mold you know, the familiar, easy way out, is that you’re left on unsure and unstable ground. I constantly second-guess myself. Am I doing this right? What’s right, anyway? So far, so good, but will I misstep and cause one to get pregnant before she graduates high school and send another down a spiral of depression that ends in substance abuse? Are any of those tendencies hard-wired and thus inevitable? Yes? No?

I don’t know. I do my best. It’s all you can do. Guilt is in there somewhere. I should be paying more attention, right? Or, is that smothering? I don’t know.

This was a week in which money just drained away. Money that is theoretical. Money I don’t have except in “credit”. Credit I have plenty of but also “debt”. Debt is mounting. I took my car in for a $1,500 repair which ended up being two repairs for $2,000. A bargain! A bargain I can’t afford. Who can? Nobody I know. And what can you do? Nothing. I have to have a car.

On top of that, I received a statement that my safe deposit box fee was due. It’s gone up to $50 a year. Used to be $30. I considered getting rid of it, surrendering it, but….one of the keys was in the wallet that was stolen back in October. The other one…is missing. Presumed missing. To replace a key is $30. To rekey the box is $200. The annual fee was due today. I searched for the other key over the weekend and never found it. So….I paid the $50. I had to go in anyway because if I’d done nothing, it would have been automatically paid from a savings account that no longer exists. So, I had to switch that anyway. I paid $50 to buy me another year’s time to find that other key. There isn’t much in it right now. The deed to my house. My kids’ birth certificates. Some pearl earrings I wore when I got married that probably aren’t worth much. If I don’t need that deed when I work to assume the loan on my house, I’m good. If I don’t plan on getting passports this year, I don’t need the birth certificates. As if. Wishful thinking, that whole thing about passports. Like I’ll ever be a person who needs a damn passport. I certainly don’t need those damn screw-post earrings. I’d rather sell them than keep them. But…if I don’t find the other key, I’m looking at $200 to get my stuff. But I’ve bought some time. Time is getting more expensive.

I had hoped 2014 would be a year of paying down debt, being careful, living lean. I hadn’t realized quite how lean it will be. I’m still hoping there will be money to go to the beach this summer. We shall see. First world problems.

The roof is leaking and it won’t stop raining. I sat in the living room on Saturday and listening to the drips in the fireplace behind the wood stove insert. It almost drove me mad. The contractor hasn’t called me back. It’s another worry to add to the others. It has to be fixed. But, it’s money. Money, money, money.

Is it a first world problem to feel horribly guilty after ordering a $30 pair of pants (to replace a pair that is giving up the ghost) and a $30 dress I will wear but probably don’t need? Maybe, maybe not. Every dollar I spend feels wrong. I don’t live extravagantly. My new hobby is to eat all and any leftovers in the fridge so as to not waste food which is not cheap. You may know this already if you’ve purchased any lately. We don’t buy much processed food. We don’t buy many snacks. I cook from scratch almost every single night. My kids don’t eat the same food as me or each other. I’m a full-time short order cook. But because they eat real food, I don’t mind. I am not complaining. But, jesus, where’s the give? Where’s the break? I am not losing weight on this plan.

You pare down and pare down and focus on the things that cost nothing. The gorgeous view on a sunny day. A cat licking your nose – his version of a kiss. The smell of bread baking, coffee percolating, fresh rosemary from the herb garden. A child’s hug. Her fart in retaliation of your own (see: eating all the leftovers). The laughs over stupid celebrities. The spontaneous cookie making. The quiet, stress-free evening watching tv alone with a cold beer.

The dark, cold  endless mornings that start with an alarm clock and a hot shower (something I never take for granted) and then coffee brewing and waking up the grumpiest child….hard but rewarding in tiny ways. The older child is in the shower having woken herself up day after day. The slow unfolding of these children growing older and more independent and doing for themselves. I am grateful for it. I had something to do with all these incremental changes, yes? All those onesies changed and laundered, the diapers changed, the noses unclogged with the horrible plunger thing, the many days and nights of nebulizing and measured cups of Tylenol and ibuprofen, and cleaning up vomit and back rubbing and monster chasing and bed sharing and kissing and hugging and art admiring and framing and hanging on walls. It’s still not second nature to remember to verbalize my love, congratulate them on good grades and efforts made. It really isn’t. It should be but it takes conscious effort. I received love as a transaction – I say I love you and you go down the kitchen and clean it and bring me cookies and that wine bottle and don’t forget to check the dryer for laundry. Love shouldn’t work that way, should it? I don’t think so. My marriage was also very lopsided. I did and did and did and it was all taken. The end. How do you ever know how it’s really supposed to work?

I’m not going to feel anything but gratitude for the days and nights I have to myself now. The hours and days alone, with myself, to walk through the rooms of my house and see all that *I* did to make it so. All the fixing and planning and hammering and nailing and drilling and hanging and painting and arranging and buying and choosing and calling and arranging and paying for. All the millions of little things I did to make all this so. To make it what it is, good or bad. It’s mine. I claim it. I did it. And I will continue doing it. It is my hard knock life and I have no regrets.

Questions…Answers…

I am continuing the Big Clean Up and have unearthed all number of treasures from my past so, I may have blog fodder for some time but I do have a few more questions to answer. Let’s get to them! I’ll do my best to be concise.

1. How many books have you read that you absolutely hated and detested?

Billy Budd by Herman Melville rises to the top of the list. I had to read this in middle school. My mother insisted. She forced me to read that one and Pilgrim’s Progress which was annoying for other reasons. I hated every word of Billy Budd. And to make matters worse, it is an incomplete novella. So, there wasn’t even the payoff of a real ending after all that. Plus, it was one of those ship-adventure stories I don’t particularly like. I’d read it again but, to quote one of Melville’s better stories, I would prefer not to.

Other books I’ve hated so much I actually threw them across the room, unfinished: White Noise by Don DeLilo and something or other by Patricia Cornwell. Man, she’s a terrible writer. The DeLilo book I attempted back in the ’90’s and I didn’t even know what I was reading. Words swam, unformed and reformed into meaninglessness. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Life is too short to spend time reading books you don’t like. I pitched it across the room in disgust and never looked back.

In preparation for this post, I checked my “gave up” Goodreads list – books I started but just couldn’t finish. There are 17 on that list. I really do try to give every book a fighting chance. I want them all to be good or, if they aren’t at first, I at least want to give them a chance to redeem themselves. Some just can’t. And as a person who has written three bad novels, I know how hard it is to write something adequate, much less good. So, I want them to receive at least a bit of attention. Sometimes, I just can’t struggle any longer and they must be closed and gotten rid of. Here are a few I tried to read by authors I otherwise love:

– The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo.
I love Nesbo and I particularly love his Harry Hole character but this one started slow and got more confusing rather than less and then it was due at the library so I sadly turned it back in unfinished.

– The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears. I really like his books but this one was tedious. I listened to it in the car and continuously lost the thread. My mind wandered. I gave up.

– The Women by T.C. Boyle. When Boyle’s good, he’s very good. This book….is not really very good.

– The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel. Her two memoirs were just astonishingly wonderful. This first novel was such a disappointment. I couldn’t keep reading it. It made me sad. As a reader and a writer.

2. Who is your hero (real or fictional)?

It’s a tie between Cassandra Mortmain (I Captured The Castle) and Flora Poste (Cold Comfort Farm). I like a strong, female go-getter. Flora might edge out Cassandra by sheer force of her will. Everyone needs a little Flora in their lives.

3. Where would you go if you got a free trip anywhere in the world (alone or with your kids, good childcare provided if they don’t go along) and had to take the trip during June 2014?

I would go almost anywhere if it was free. If we’re talking a week’s vacation, I’d love to go to a secluded beach. Any beach with a lovely comfortable beachfront house with lots of food and adult beverages. Kids allowed but perhaps the cabana boy can take them off at certain times of the day so that I could sit on the deck and close my eyes and not have to pour milk in anyone’s cereal or apply sunblock to their skin.

If we’re talking a month or longer, I’d love to travel to Europe – England, Scotland, France – or Australia. I’ve never been outside of the US and don’t own a passport. I’d like to change that. And of course I’d take my kids with me. They love adventures and I like to provide them for them.

4. Why did you get into your profession, and what do you still like most about what you do for a living?

I had planned to be an elementary school teacher because I didn’t know what else to do with an English degree all by itself. So, I tacked on a Masters of Teaching. Why the hell not? Well, I sucked at it. Really, really sucked.

Meanwhile, my student work study job was in the university’s fund raising office. In the research department. I got to be a little Nancy Drew and figure out which donors had given big bucks to other organizations and who owned big fancy houses. I got to file stuff and organize it. It was fun. It fed my natural nosiness and curiosity. I loved using my research skills for interesting things beyond essays and papers for professors. This was all before the internet existed. You had to search for information the hard way.

So, after graduation I was hired as a researcher (their first ever) at the local chapter of the Red Cross. Twenty five years later, I’m still poking my nose in other people’s business at a college. All for a good cause, of course.