Monday, July 27, 2009

Home. Work.

This is where I work:  at the kitchen table, partially cleared.  On my bed, not yet made.  On the couch, recently re-slip covered (and still not replaced).  In my office, piles pushed aside.  In the TV room, late.

Work spills into work spills into life and all the edges get blurred.  I have been known to shout at children, "I just need ten minutes if you give me quiet!  Hours if you don't!"  And I bill that way. Conscientiously tracking my time, remembering when I mentally or physically checked out and subtracting those hours from my day, making them up at night, or the next day (the "off" day.)

In four years contracting for the same desperate multi-national, I have watched people more competent, more necessary, more confident, more reliable... get laid off.  Get end dates, or not. Get escorted out, or told when it will end.  It is frightening to be this dependent upon something so clearly so shaky.  And it is this, my low-commitment, flexible, no-benefits, frenetic lifestyle that saves me.

Deadlines loom, and stuff on stuff on other bits of stuff is due - or should be done.  And some of it is not particularly trackable or traceable - some of it is mine and only mine within this company that spans countries, this job that spans departments.  Working with clumsy web content tools and internal clients spread across aforementioned lands and duties.  Working some, too, with words - amorphous and gooey and always positive.

So the home work breeds homework. The 'to do' list that only sometimes gets items ticked off.
Mostly not.  And I have survivor's guilt, and 3 AM panic.  And hours that spill over my allotted 24/week, and other hours that I know I shouldn't add on, and do - to my day, but not to my time sheet.  

And in the spaces in-between, in the summertime, pools are visited, and bathing suits eventually put away.  Groceries are purchased, and children are eventually fed , dirt is tracked (good outdoors brought in)  and the floor is eventually vacuumed. On camp days, bags are packed. Walks are sometimes (but not enough) taken and some evenings, we go to the park.  We eat out a few times too many.

And school will start, and their homework will begin again.  And mine that comes from theirs- papers to be signed and registrations to be completed and checks to be written and field trips to man.  And I will miss some of it - not show up, forget to send the check, not sign the slip.  And I will feel myself slipping.  And I will question my own competency.  

But in This job, I cannot get fired.  My littles, at least, won't let me go - and when they do, I will still show up for work. Trying to win them back, wanting to be needed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I planted stuff today.

We drove back from Maryland yesterday.  11 or so hours in the car - and came home to a yard that needed attention after three weeks' neglect.

So we weeded a little.

Today, wanting to connect with people I just left, I shopped places they would shop, bought organic foods and groovier snacks than usual, and then found myself at Home Depot buying plant stuff.  Tree stuff, flower stuff.  Vegetable stuff. Bug stuff. Dirt.

Which is not what I do.  Traditionally, historically.  In my heart of hearts, I imagine I am that person.  I think of myself as a tender of living things, with fresh-grown veggies and flowers on the table.  The reality is starker.

To be fair, this isn't only because I am too lazy to garden (though I am).  We are in our first house - having rented for years.  For ten of them we moved from place to place across three states. From newly-wed to graduate school to a prep school with housing.  Then back again. Our first house, our seventh move.

But Mom gardens.  And Grandma, Mia, Grampa and Gamps ... Grann and Nana.  My sisters.  I have it in me through association and family.  

I found myself buying things - dirt and tomatoes.  Citronella because I couldn't resist the nostalgia of the smell.  Basil because I like to eat.  Flowers, because our mailbox is surrounded by dry, brittle dirt.  

I got home and realized I had no spade.  This seemed unfathomable - this most basic of gardening tools.  but then, I guess, why would I?  I tried to fake it - digging holes with my hands, with the hands of my littles, with a sharp edger.  But I finally relented, headed to the hardware store.

I bought spades and one of those big forks and a pokey thing for cutting weeds, and some sheers that don't really work.  (And, because it's That kind of hardware store, some great-smelling organic handsoap for when it was all over.)  My nails were black from my human spading efforts - so I (late) even bought gardening gloves.

Then I came home and dug.  This time, with tools.  I removed weeds, I dug dirt, I broke through roots, I laid down soil.  I watered and fertilized and killed bugs.  I pruned some (is this the right time of year) of the flowering plants the previous owners put in.  I surveyed my efforts.  I stretched, and sent the kids running down the street.

And it felt good to get my hands dirty.  It felt good to watch the children dig holes, to dig them myself.  To encourage life in my yard.  

It felt good... to grow roots.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Luis and I talked about it, in my work-issued convertible BMW, both 27, driving to the airport with the top down so he could fly to Cuba and cover a story for CNN. 

The discussion was that there should be in English, and probably is in German, a word for being jealous of yourself.  For looking at your perfect Now and realizing that it will be a memory one day, and you will be nostalgic for this moment. 


Seabass is part of a four-week study for the Memory Institute at Emory. They are studying how children develop autobiographical memories, and he is part of their research.

They gave Bass four disposable cameras, and with each he takes 3-5 pictures a day.  He mails one off at the end of each week and then opens the next.  At the end of the four weeks, the researchers do some memory exercises using the pictures he took.

I was explaining the study to my friend Brad (my friend-of-gasp-28-years friend Brad - a thing to tax the memory in itself), and we got talking about how memory works, and how he read another Emory study that posited that you cannot trust it. And I believe this.  

I don't know if it helps or hurts to have a constant narrative in your head, the voiceover I have that watches stuff and writes down notes - that laughs at things quietly in the very way back of my head far before they are funny in any socially acceptable way.  

Brad drove 14 hours to get to us.  And after dinner, and rest, had spent a day with us, our 3 kids, and their two cousins, in DC.  We were talking at the end of that day.

The next morning, I was running past fields and thinking about kid summers, and my kids’ summers.  Running for work, running for play.  Being a kid, being grown. How cornfields were featured in my past, and how I love to run past them now.  About memories forming – this second.  That this second?  Is gone.

I am aware of my selective memory, that events I recall with clarity may not have happened the way I remember at all – that dreams and intentions reshape personal histories. 

And I was thinking, as I ran, about the day that had just past.  About the work of the day, and about how a visit to a museum with five children under nine is a very different thing – for a humanities scholar that has been to many museums (which is what Brad is)- than touring those museums with a chance to really read the placards, take in the displays. 

In my reflection of the day, that one day, that very recent history, it had been pure chaos.  Children complained and children had to be contained, tracked, and hemmed in.  One child attempted to throttle his sister, another actually bit and removed a chunk out of his t-shirt in a rage and a third exhibited newly developed talents– along with an ability to turn tidy repeated cartwheels and backbends, a brand new insistent whine that could peel paint 

The cousins we feared (because their parents were elsewhere) were quiet, mature, polite, and at times, befuddled – and as we corralled and corrected the others, we felt watched and wondered how we were doing in the assessment.  

It was an hour drive into the city, and computer games bleeped and blipped on the way.  When we arrived, it was a rare 73 degrees.  Dylan ate his whole hamburger. We had our extra adult along to defend and protect our Littles. They all rubbed “chalk” (dirt, dust) on their limbs and ran around the Mall.  No one was lost, or hurt, and we all saw Abraham Lincoln’s top hat.

I don’t yet know what will be memorable about that day, now only two days past. But it likely won’t be the bickering

Eight people, one day.  Each will remember pieces and parts differently, some may forget it altogether. 

It was a good day, in a good week, in a good summer.  It is a good year, and a good life.  And as I ran, and memories were invisibly formed, I thought how lucky we all are.  To be in this place, with this back drop, making these yesterdays – right now.  And if I were German?  I might even have the word for this.