Friday, November 5, 2010

winning


We had Halloween last weekend. It began, predictably enough, with me frantic and fragmented and late to a school party. It followed that we attended a party, carved pumpkins, hung a light fixture, greeted house guests, drank some wine, made crowns in Sunday school, and then trick or treated.

Mine were the kids with pillow cases and grocery bags. Patrick's cape went missing and Annabeth's dress itched. We took exactly four photos, and the only one of the three lined up is blurry - as if the photographer were married to a shrill crazy lady in the backgound that somehow made him shake the camera.

Over heaping piles of candy the next day, we worked on a big, messy flower project. We did so stubbornly, with great fanfare, a lot of mod podge, and some noise.

This week, there two great spelling test scores and two field trips. We checked boxes off of reading journals and quizzed around breakfast crumbs. Tomorrow, we take Christmas photos.

Three rainy days this week, and the kids got their new rainboots THE DAY BEFORE THE RAIN CAME.

Dinners were hot, and vegetables were involved, and they mostly all at home. Which has to be worth something.

I worked out two mornings, early. I flaked on one meeting, and almost flaked on a dinner. But I recovered, and I attended.

I cried once - but it was brief. And I recovered from that just fine, too.

I dragged the kids to a fancy store to stock up on baby gifts. More big noise, and 2/3 had to stay in the car.

We got them all registered for basketball - inside of the deadline by several days! We didn't even have to place that call where we beg for an extension.

I lined up some doctor's appointments and I read four chapters of the Indian in the Cupboard out loud.

I finally passed my test. The relief is out of proportion to the score (which was fine. But - O! The relief!) And tonight, in the cold and the wet, after a spectacular finish, tonight we learn the Knights are going to playoffs! (No one could have predicted a 9-1 season for a school that's only had football three short years.)

It was not a graceful week, but a week well-lived. It is after midnight and unusually chilly. Sleep well, Little ones, and dream of victories large and small.

Monday, October 25, 2010

welcome

I am a reluctant hostess.

I love having people in my home, I do. I love it. I like to feel like I have done something to make someone's day, evening, week a little better. Easier.

The threat of hosting worries me, though. It might be a casualty of a southern upbringing - exposure to so many people who do it so effortlessly: putting out scones for morning playdates, throwing together bowls of the right nuts and pretty plates with fruit and cheeses for impromtu afternoon in-home meetings - homes seemingly always ready for a guest.

I love visiting her - in all her incarnations - the friend and acquaintance who does that so well. I am not her.

Mine is a home that needs to be made ready. If we relied upon spontaneous snack, guests would be treating themselves to the last capers from a jar bought last June, the last wrapped package of Trefoils from the confused Girl Scout cookie order (someone never got their Trefoils. They weren't ours... maybe they were yours?), shredded Mexican cheese bought in bulk, the last sad apple in the bowl. These are things not made better, even if put on the Just Right plate (that I don't own).

There are papers on the counter, papers on the floor, and games peeking out from under the couch. A Lego tower was started and abandoned - saved days ago from certain doom by cries of "pleeeease, Mama? I'm still working on it!" The blinds are crooked and the marshmallow-shooting gun sits under the lamp whose bulb has been out for a week. I haven't checked, but I feel certain there is no hand towel hanging in the guest bathroom.

There is much to be done before I host.

My sister hosts grand dinners - with name plates and courses, and always a complicated ethnic dish serving as a nod to places recently travelled or guests too far from home. A Miss Manners devotee, she thinks of each guest - their backgrounds and their interests - and seats them accordingly, never beside their spousal equivalents. While I love attending such affairs, I will carry on as long as is reasonable avoiding acting as hostess to the same.

I love being a guest, though. "Can I warm up your coffee?" and "can I freshen your cocktail?" may be my favorite uniquely-southern, uniquely host-delivered questions to bookend a day. I like the little soaps, someone else's fluffy towels, and interrupting - for a night - the other's routines.

It's that season now: November and December upon us, with all their chances to host and be hosted - the happy stress of putting on a little sparkle and finding the right music. When I bake cookies, or set up the bar, or prepare a basket of towels, I will remember that each action is a prayer of gratitude - that I am lucky to have family in my world I want sleeping under my roof, that I have friends my children think are family, and that everyone enjoys a cup of coffee made by someone else, "warmed up" when there is only a single drop left.

By the time my first guests arrive, I feel certain we will have changed the light bulbs.

Monday, October 11, 2010

fishy


"In seven years of going to these fairs, we haven't once brought home a fish," I said to Fran, bragging a little.

We were watching the first children leaving the Fall Fair, loading onto the shuttle with fists wrapped tightly around the tops of leaky plastic bags, hapless little fish invariably named "Goldie" circumnavigating their watery interiors.

I commented on how their hours in plastic bags had to shorten their life spans. Fran said she knew some whose fair fish lasted years. I said that while that may be true, I never planned to let my own children in on that possibility.

An hour later, I broke away from my shuttle post to join Agatha briefly at karaoke, where AB was onstage, and pPod was in queue. There, on the bench next to her, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.. an afternoon not really due to end much sooner than 4... were fish. Two. In baggies.

She looked at me, saw my skepticism, and dared me to deny Patrick this small victory. "See Mama? Now Annabeth has her cat and Sebastian has his cat and I have my FISH! Lightning and Bolt! Lightning is the bright one." He beamed.

I had no room to argue with either of them - Patrick, SO pleased to imagine sharing his home with his new finny friends, and Agatha, tethered out of kindness and necessity to my hyped-up, sticky-fingered five-year-old for what would be some ten hours of the day.

Agatha stopped at the pet store post-fair and helped Patrick select, and then purchased, extravagant accommodations. No stranger to sociological studies, and a caregiver to all, she would ensure these particular young ones were afforded every opportunity for success. Tank, filter, goldfish conditioner, gravel, a castle.

Shuttle-duty complete, I collected fish and tank and son and spent an exhausted hour setting up their tank (no fishbowl for these fair fish!) cursing under my breath all the while. Patrick said, quietly, "they're mine, right Mama? All mine?" and I melted a little. We filled it, added drops to the water, floated the bags to acclimate. Patrick was uncharacteristically still, mesmerized.

It didn't register when Patrick, at 6:15 Sunday morning, woke me to say "Mama! I fed them! Just one flake each like you said. Lightning is still sleeping but Bolt ate his!" It did later, though. Hours later, church and errands later, I approached the aquarium with knowing dread. And there he was, bobbing in the filter flow. Dead.

We buried him, said fishy prayers, sprinkled water over his grave. I reassured Patrick that the living fish was Lightning, not Bolt. That in fact, his 'favorite' was still fine. Sebastian, the ten-year-old skeptic, positioned himself in front of the tank later saying, "this is so depressing, Mom. You know I'm just sitting here watching this other fish die."

Lightning (formerly known as Bolt), swimming along just fine, and chewing on another flake, looked hale and hardy. I tsked at Bass for his pessimistic outlook.

Gav had gotten home from his trip in time to take the Littles all to Annabeth's lacrosse game, to give me time and space for a leisurely lunch with a traveling friend. After delivering Tarra to her Phoenix-bound plane, I came home to an empty house and went straight to the tank.

There he was. At the bottom of the tank. Twisted sideways in the plastic foliage. Bobbing in that telling way.

I flushed him. And I went to the pet store, hoping to find his doppelganger. On the way I called Gavin and urged him to stay away from home. Stall somewhere. Keep Patrick out of the house. I would buy two, pretend I had brought home a new 'friend.'

It was blatant hypocrisy, since I can vividly remember hearing of friends' parents doing both such things when I was a child, and being horrified at the dishonesty, the betrayal. In this role, years later, it seemed the only obvious option.

At the pet store, I stood in front of the tank stocked with hundreds of 30-cent fish, all looking exactly like Lightning (and somehow not at all). Phil talked me out of them. They die, Phil-the-professional said. They all die. They pee through their skin, he said. And you can't keep up with the ammonia. Better you take two female bettas. Something that will live. Males would kill each other, and you don't want dead fish again. And look! They have bright colors. Even the females. And they still have fluttery fins, even though they are the less showy of the genders. They come with a two-week warranty, even. If they die, reassured Phil, just bring back the receipt. We'll replace them.

I bought a bluish betta and a reddish betta and betta conditioner and betta food, and a net - just in case.

I stopped by the bookstore where the stalling was happening and broke the news to Patrick. I brought him to the car and showed him the new fish. His adjustment was immediate. Names were a setback, since he wanted super heroes, and the fish were girl fish. But he puzzled through it.

Violet and Lava (Violet from the Incredibles, and Lava from Shark Boy and Lava Girl) appear to be thriving. They flutter and they sooth. And we think we'll make it past the warranty. Either way, I bet it's not the last we see of Phil.

Monday, September 27, 2010

tested

Twenty years ago (and more), I had abysmal study habits. It followed that when I took tests, my palms would sweat. I would break out in hives and squirm in my seat. I can remember all-too-clearly when the answers would swirl just on the other side of water-filled eyes and I would will myself not to cry. I can remember watching the time tick past, and seeing the answers all start to look alike, breaking pencil lead out of frustration, or tearing through the paper with erasures or scrawled-too-hard calculations.

You would think it would have gotten me studying. Somehow, it didn't.

I studied. I put in evenings and weekends, hours and hours of the driest material I've ever read, and worked out every sample calculation, checked every answer. I admit I skimmed the last chapters (Accounting for Equity Compensation. Securities Law Treatment of Equity Compensation. Section 16 and Disclosure Rules. How could I resist them?) But the first 9 (just imagine the gems those must contain! The fascinating nuggets!) - I highlighted, took notes, wrote in margins, re-read.

Some of the studying was while Littles bumped around, asking questions and interrupting the flow. Lots of it was done while Agatha or Gavin gave me large stretches of time alone. Once I read about restricted shares while a lovely woman painted my toes.

I took it. The on-line test was the longest single-subject test I have ever taken. Interesting, in that it was so different from test given to me prior, on subject matter I couldn't have dreamed I would be anywhere near.

Much of it was calculations - and they don't come easily to me. Even when I know the rule-sets, I have to plot every point. I do so slowly, cross referencing with at least two sets of study notes, attempting to ensure I am doing the right calculation for the right question. I still miss them - capturing a hiring date wrong, or incorrectly calculating for "disqualified" when it should be qualifying.

Today's answer sets are that kind of tricky. Each is designed to know what you might answer if you look at the question intelligently, with concentrated wrongnesss. Three of the choices from A to D ferret out all the versions of Wrong, and present them to you - in black and white, where they reassure by looking Absolutely Correct.

The non-calculations were no better. So convincing was every option, that I was compelled to look up every single answer - to double-check. After hour three, desperate to pee or to pace or to let the cat in, but terrified to use even one second anywhere else, I started moving faster. And, in haste, the questions got harder. Every choice looked right, or, alternatively, equally implausible .

Four hours looking at one computer screen. With a couple of hundred pages worth of notes. "Open book," in these circumstances, feels a bit like a cruel joke. Not one question of the (100? I didn't notice. I was looking at the backward-ticking time) lot of them was automatic to me. Knowing the material, having studied, having taken the practice tests - it helped. But only just.

Somehow, though - since everything was solidly familiar (if foggy) and since I could say with no more certainty that any specific answer was fully wrong, It seemed plausible that I would pass. Not likely, perhaps, but plausible.

*********

Having spent my day thusly, I felt more sympathetic toward my daughter, stumbling in the front door with a rain-soaked sour whine about her loaded backpack- she who takes three times as long as her peers to do a handwriting assignment, who panics at timed math tests and transposes numbers, who has make up work on top of homework. I feel slightly more sympathetic to my son, who keened for ten minutes about all the things he Doesn't Want to Do. On a hidden, more patient level than my response belied, I so wanted to make the extra time requirements go away for my daughter, replace my son's day with one full of only things he cares about, goals he wants.

My sympathy, however veiled, didn't make the evening smoother. Annabeth's homework didn't dissolve into misty done-ness, Sebastian didn't bounce up to bed with a renewed sense of optimism. In fact, nothing went all that well in the rainy evening after my grueling four-hour graded attempt to prove Something. But I did feel I "got it."

I didn't pass the exam. And I am proudest of the fact that I didn't get all that anxious. I used every second, but I never panicked. I got it done, and I guess I know more about how its structured than I did. I have ten extra points' worth of tax law to parse, calculations to re-do, clear margins to fill.

The test today was, in failure, affirming. In a way I couldn't have guessed. I'd rather not do it again, but I will. Next week, in fact. And I will be better. And it won't be the Worst Thing Ever. Which seems like progress, and a little like maturity.


Friday, September 3, 2010

flop



Fifteen days in.

I have been at this job, working daily from around 9 to around 5, for 3 work weeks, 120 hours - one pay check. 20 more hours in the car.

I have had coherent, useful, productive, inquisitive thoughts for about... maybe 60 of them.

I'm getting there.

On Wednesday, I left my notebook at home. The notebook filled with day-to-day stream of consciousness, stream-of-day - questions about projects, products, programs - notes for the exam I will have to take and pass within 90 days into the job. The notebook I cling to to make sense of today out of whatever I wrote yesterday.

All those years working from home has spoiled me. I would be on conference calls barefoot, after my morning nap, often in whatever I had worked out in that had pushed me out of bed earlier, at 6. There was no 'forgetting things.' There was laundry when my mind wandered, and my notebook was likely by the bed if not by my computer. I could walk upstairs to get it. Work through my to-do's while reclining on the Tempurpedic.

We're in-town snobs. We don't commute. We live "ITP" as we say around here - inside-the-perimeter, Atlanta proper, planned neighborhood, but not the 'burbs. Fulton County, Fulton County taxes. So I got a job in the suburbs. Way in the suburbs. Far far away in Farfarawayland. I am not used to the commute.

I took about three minutes to breathe in my cube, to weigh having that notebook against returning into that traffic. Maybe two minutes. I checked my calendar. I realized, for the kazillionth time that week that I have only the thinnest grasp on what I am doing. That notebook is my lifeline.

I slipped out.

No longer "opposite traffic," the drive home and back had me settled into work around 11.

The next day, Thursday, while going over the inventory of My Things before while leaving my neighborhood, I realized my phone was still at home. On the bathroom counter.

I returned. Frustrated, because I was missing the early-traffic window, but proud that I figured it out early. I zipped home, parked, ran inside, turned off the alarm, kicked off my shoes, bolted up the stairs, grabbed my phone, re-set the house alarm, jumped back in the car, and patted myself on the back when I realized I was in the exact same spot as when I had noticed the missing phone a scant 6 minutes earlier. Nice.

I arrived at work 55 minutes later. Not quite an hour. Still better than Wednesday. I had originally planned to be early, and I was still solidly on time.

Barefoot.

No shoes at all.

The shoes I had kicked off were, presumably, in the kitchen.

I moved the trumpet I have not yet returned to the music store (new rental contract elsewhere) and looked for the shoes. (Perhaps I had put them UNDER the trumpet case...) I looked under seats, in the back, opened the trunk (Perhaps I had put them IN the trunk...) No shoes.

Sebastian's flip flops - though he has been told a thousand times not to leave them in my car - were there. In the back seat.

I put them on.

Three weeks into my new banking job, and I wore my ten-year-old-son's flippy floppies all day.

With my silk blouse with beading detail, my ponte knit skirt with wide grosgrain trim. The patent leather belt, the long drapey sweater.

And the flip flops.

Today, I'm working from home. Barefoot.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

back


End of summer. A heck of a time.

At some point, everything I have written here has become seasonal. Maybe it's the farming heritage - it's the only way I can see things. The only contact I have with natural order is the turning of calendar pages.

When this next page turns, we will find ourselves in September. Fall.

Fall is rushed, though - mid-August and the Littles find themselves returning to school. Orientation today was intimidating, for me at least. A reminder of past slips - a swirling glimpse into another year of deadlines and accountability. The work itself, at least, looks exciting - the teachers enthusiastic. They all-but glowed from within - giddy about the year ahead, fresh faces, and the practical applications of all their teacherly knowledge.

School, in these early years, is a wondrous place. Especially the first days of a school year. Those unsharpened pencils, new seating assignments, and pinchy shoes conspire to make Every Bit of It look promising.

I started a job simultaneously. In the financial sector. A place I found myself, somewhat incongruously, ten years ago - and now find myself there again. An accident is no longer an accident once it appears more to be force of habit. Intimidating stuff, numbers - and there is irony in my alignment with financial matters. But day three is tomorrow - and I will return, and will learn, and will fake the parts in between while I gather enough information to be credible.

But first I will wake three sleepers. I will move them from bed to tooth-brushing. I will dress them in new clothes. I will be sad that each is wearing last years' shoes (purchased slightly too big) and will cheer myself with bright white socks. At 7:30, they will leave. I will see them off, but I will not drive them there, and I will not be there to pick them up at 2:30 and 3.

I will go to work, and I will be a little maudlin, but no one yet knows me to even notice that.

I will wonder about them all day. I will imagine their day, then their year - and will hope against hope that we will get assignments in on time, that there will be victories small and large.... that Sebastian will be more conscious about his school work, and that he makes new good, kind friends; that Annabeth bounces out of bed early each day and develops a love for school, success, and math facts; and that Patrick proves himself to be an enthusiastic contributor, a charming playmate, and a non-violent member of the class.

Every one of us will be hard at work on an agenda written by someone else. But we will be doing it simultaneously, and we will come together for a taco supper and will talk about it: our days, our year ahead, our lives shard and separate, parallel and intersecting.

(The picture is from the first day of school -and the post a few days earlier. Written August 17 - I didn't even realize I hadn't posted it...)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

village


We had, for 19+days this summer, two or fewer children. With each child-shuffle, the balance tips. Things are different. Sometimes quieter, smoother - other times... just quieter. Almost universally easier, from a logistics-standpoint.

It is a luxury to have these stores of fabulous adults that want to liberate us from our children - godmothers and godfathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I can write this now, in fact, because local support (Agatha!) has us with none, on a Sunday afternoon. Preparing for my new reality as a full-time-working mom...blogging, cleaning, organizing.

In my family, as kids, we would go to the Farm every summer. We were a little foreign in Connecticut, where others noted our southern dialects and expressions. Where we winced, a little, at cousins' nasally tones of "Antie Baabrah." We were comfortable there. We moved quite a few times, and it was the place where nothing changed: the lush giant garden, the rows and rows of blueberry bushes - the peaches, strawberries, raspberries, apples, rhubarb - each seeming to magically appear for us, in succession. Grandma would bake and can and prepare - a kitchen chemist of few words, warm sweet smells, and generous yield.

We would arrive late. Very late. Off the interstate, we would press our faces to the glass looking for the trolley museum, the sign we were close. We would pass Uncle Ansel's farm on the left, turn right onto Scantic Road... and then, when we turned the one curve half a mile or so before Grandma and Grampa's, the tall white house with the lights on assured me we were seconds away.

When we got there, we would announce ourselves as we crunched forward on the smooth pebbles of the circular drive, breaking up chamomile with each wheel rotation. Grandma and Grandpa would appear on the front porch. We would unfold and tumble forward. I would run to Grandpa's strong arms and be lifted up, twirled around. He wore work pants in a dark green or navy, a button-front workshirt, light blue - sleeves rolled up. The waist of his pants would sag between belt loops, held up by a belt fashioned from saddle-leather and notched to the farthest point - a raw-edged hole punched through with an awl.

Grandma would laugh her rare laugh, clasp her hands together and look truly delighted, embracing us each with powerful hugs. She would be wearing bits and parts - giant, baggy, leftovers from teenage cousins. Clothes designed only to cover. She might have a bandana over her hair - long, silver hair she would brush out at night, and braid into coils, pinned into place on the back of her head, the same exact way every day.

Our grandparents toiled. At all times. They got up before us, and went to bed after us. They were constant, with ropey forearms and Things to Do. We would slather on citronella oil from little brown apothecary bottles and try to outwit mosquitos, sometimes 'keeping up' with farm chores, other times avoiding them by staying gone and staying busy. We'd hike down to the pond, avoiding thorny bits, whacking at tall grasses with bigger sticks. I would ride on my grandfather's lap and steer the 40-year-old John Deere. We would make bricks out of natural clay on the banks of the Scantic River, a tributary of the Connecticut River down the road. We would pick blueberries and "smoke" unlit reeds stuffed with ground up mint leaves.

Mom would drive home a few days after we arrived, and pick us up weeks later as summer closed.

We grew each summer. We worked, we played - we explored boredom (but didn't speak of it.) We felt hot dirt under our feet and invented games. I followed my grandfather through gardens with a salt shaker in my pocket. I slept with my mom's old stuffed animals, and pored over evidence of her youth in the attic, trying to know more. I twirled in her college gowns and attempted to make paper dolls as she once had (hers, pages and pages of elegant creations made while near or in high school - fashion designs with painstaking details. Mine made around age 8, wobbly and crookedly cut - hashed out, over-embellished, and abandoned.) Our socks grew dingy from farm use, and came off the line crunchy and hot.

People have asked how I can leave my chidren - Annabeth for 12 days with her godmother in California, Sebastian for 10 with his grandparents' after we'd left. I can do it, partly, because I did it. Every summer. There is peace in separateness, a break from family members, a chance to re-invent yourself, to explore versions of yourself those closest to you are blinded to. To get away from the gnawing of siblings, the nagging of parents. There is growth in learning that other adults do things differently, that you don't have to buy Mom's crazy, or Dad's. It is good, halfway into a summer crammed with the togetherness of road trips and Things to Do to experience missing the same people that drive you nuts.

There is peace, too, in two-verses-three. Giving and receiving additional attention when one is out of the mix. Quibbling less, competing less, and exploring gentler spaces.

Tomorrow we collect Sebastian from the airport. He will walk tall and proud, wearing the pin that identifies him as an Unaccompanied Minor. In two weeks school will start, and I will start a job, and there will be no more room for breaks from routine.

Our children are each made better by their time away, living and exploring inside someone else's rules and routines. They learn from other people, people whose ideas sometimes differ from ours - or don't differ at all, but are easier to receive and more palatable from someone else - someone more interesting, new again each visit, and wise.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wake (written July 24th)

I fell this morning. I was running, sortof. It was a warm-up for my actual workout. It was 6AM and I haven't really worked out in weeks. I heard a car and instinctively picked up my trot (from what was, arguably, a fast-ish walk.)

The driver saw, in the early dawn, me step off the curb and lunge forward. Landing, with a thump, face-first in a ditch. I didn't, apparently, break the fall at all. I just... fell. Hard. There was an audible crunch, the origins of which are still undetermined.

I was fine. I brushed off, picked small pebbles out of my flesh. Made sure the liquid dripping off my hand was not my life's blood, but hot ditch water. After the wipeout, I joined class, and ran through the ringing in my ears.

Which is all to say that I still hurt. The fogginess of the day is likely not attributed to that fall. But I do have weird bouncing-on-pavement aches. Pavement, apparently, doesn't really bounce. Nor does my 40-something year old body.

We drove back from our month in Maryland yesterday. We stretch those drives, longer than seems absolutely necessary.

It was a perfect vacation for the kids, I think. Unplanned time with us, planned time with others. Adventures with godparents and grandparents and far more water than our landlocked permanent address would suggest.

For us grownups, the trip was more trip than vacation - we were fragmented, in varying directions. Once extended family left, the haze settled in, the 100 degrees plus settled in. Annabeth left for ten days, Sebastian had camp. Grann was recovering (more on that) and I traveled back and forth for job interviews and managed to spend entire days fretting about them in-between. The beach (bay beach) didn't beckon so much as mock - Cicadas screaming from the shore, haze, bitey bugs, ridiculously warm tide pools.

I drove the boat a little when m brother-in-law turned over the wheel. I don't do that well. You cannot gain true purchase on water - it is the nature of the beast. You slide along the surface, never quite truly in control. The whole thing feels a little like a video game. Wake sneaks up on me and I wince - always crashing more than expected, or - bracing myself - sliding right over it without feeling it at all.

I obsessively watch the things that measure depth, and the GPS directing my route. I worry about the things under the surface, imagining the things that have snagged and destroyed mightier vessels than ours.

Water that feels like silk when you are in it will certainly kill you if you jump into it from a high enough point. Suicide hotline billboards remind you of this fact when you drive over the higher bridges. It's the stuff of contradictions - danger and life.

On the day after the 4th (ok, the 5th), my mother-in-law had emergency hip replacement surgery. She, too, had trouble with the unyielding ground, and losing control of the surface. She is recovering amazingly well. (With a broken wrist as well, no less.)

We charge forward, navigating the unknown and slick, turning over the wheel when we can. It's hot, and a new school year is about to begin. It's the end of one thing - summer - the start of another - oh to be young enough to mark time by 'grades,' to get that clean slate each year, start over... to celebrate the subtle optimism of sharpened pencils and crisp new clothes... to compare your hard-won adventures to theirs, to hope you don't sit by the one girl in class that spent the season in Paris.

The newness promises. Like water, that reassurance that tomorrow will come sustains us. We don't know what will be there, what lies just under the surface... but we charge forward anyway, and hope someone else will learn from our mistakes on the way.

I posted this a week after writing it. I have written so little this summer, here - it's summer, after all, and it was hard to get the writing head. Plus, I have a few other things I keep up with professionally - so computer time was overtaken by "responsibility". Then, when I tried to summarize the summer, I got that. It's maudlin, really. Though I wasn't at all blue when I wrote it. Which is why I then didn't post it. But, retrospectively, there is something or other there - so I did.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

contributing

I like this jangly-nerve-endings, ready-to-work, time to Do Something feeling that has me in constant productive motion.

I am writing now, daily. It is a combination of paid work, grass-roots work, and unpaid release. It feels good, in every case, to get things out of my head and onto a screen. It feels great to produce, or to contribute something.

My sister always says the world is full of consumers and producers, and a life well-lived is a productive one. My grandmother, a woman of far fewer words and far less education, believed the same - though was too busy to comment on it.

I want to harness some of this energy for the mundane: clean the house, pack, tie up ends that have been loose for so long I have grown used to them in this state. Of course, that will only happen when there is no more avoiding it. We will have to leave for the trip, but precedent would suggest we will do so later than we want, with the house messier than I intended.

Between, among, and around summertime adventures and chores for the littles, I am job-hunting. To that end, I am actively networking for the first time ever - taking advantage of the interwoven threads of people I know and have known. I am savoring the intersections, loving the connections.

Looking for a job is forcing me to look back, to examine and evaluate 20 years in the workforce. (Go ahead. Gasp. I do.) I have to talk about it, think about it, offer it up as evidence. Doing so has me feeling, many days, surprisingly competent and reassured.

There is optimism to this thing I am doing now. There is a forward-looking sense that it will all be fine, and a retrospection I am capturing while in the middle of it: the threshold is all promise and possibility, and a thing worth savoring.

Monday, June 21, 2010

mid summer

It's been pretty slow here.

We're into the thick of summer, and the busiest days have had maybe a couple of two-hour blocks of Somewhere to Be.

I won't lie... there has been talk of 'boredom,' and moments when I questioned the sanity of this much time with this particular crowd of littles - bumping into each other, shooting invisible weapons, jumping onto furniture, flopping onto the floor begging for Something to Do.

In retrospect, though, I will remember the thrill of the lull, bucking trends by doing little that is planned. They will paint it a shiny shade of memory it and tell their own children, "when I was Your Age, we entertained Ourselves and were Grateful!"

Pools have been good, and still exciting. We have been to five or six of them, relying heavily on invites from others. Next year, (she says each year) must have a membership. Summertime, with water, is magic and happy, with exhausted children tumbling into bed. Without water, there is a lot of general oppression, broken up with trips to the library.

We've done that, too: library visits. The third week of break, (I think. I have lost count, and calendars elude me in the summertime.) Sebastian learned bridge at a library-provided week-long (free! two hours a day!) workshop. On the last day, we forgot him - each adult certain the other was picking him up. Two hours later, we figured out we were both wrong.

The Summer My Parents Left Me at Bridge Camp might be a sad future college essay, or at least fodder for comedic self-deprecation, if he we weren't so completely unfazed. I guess he has come to expect such from us. His combined affection for books and the absence of siblings helps. Still. There is something especially pitiful and nerdy-kid perfect about being abandoned at library bridge camp.

There was a lemonade stand. Home-made from the juice of twenty lemons, sold with oatmeal butterscotch cookies. It was sticky, and hot, and we made a tidy profit, in spite of the failed yard sale that provided the backdrop and excuse.

There was a living room fort so inviting that Annabeth slept there. Once with a friend, once for a nap, and a night alone. A coffee table, blanket tenting, a few pillows. It seemed hot to me, claustrophobic, and hard. She loved it. I fought reason and order and left it there. For days.


There was a sketchy drive-in theater, with lawn chairs and popcorn, car speakers turned up loud, a surprising breeze, glimpses of truly inappropriate movies on other screens, and a bed time perilously close to midnight.

For them, there have been sleep-overs. Grandmother, neighbor, godmother. Mini-vacations from the rest-of-us, mini-glimpses of freedom and someone else's pancakes.

For me, there have been job interviews - not yet fruitful, but competent other mom, hair done in the middle of the day provides some novelty. (Never mind my running out of gas on the way to my networking interview. I was rescued: sweaty, beheeled, standing in the middle of the uneven parking lot of the mini-mart that I had thought had gas, but didn't. It did have bars on the windows and a dumpster out back where terrible things happened a month or so ago. It was not a place to be in poplin, pearls, and patent leather. My rescuer was perfect - and assuaged and delivered me.)

Next weekend there will be a long drive, and we will move this show to Maryland and Connecticut - where we are sure to do more of the same, plus extended family, cornfields, some boats, a zip line, nightly cocktails, goats, and maybe even a tent in the yard.

It is summertime. And it is good.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

swim


I swam aggressively - lurching myself across with all my might. Arms fast, legs kicking straight and hard. Two lengths and I was out of breath.

I watched someone else swim and remembered: swimming is meant to be long strokes, steady and smooth. That the goal is lengthening, pulling. That speed is born of efficiency, when it is done right.

Apparently, I have no muscle memory for the sport. It doesn't come naturally to me. I enjoy the silence, the regularity. I like aligning myself with marks on the pool floor, emptying my head, going across. But, like running, I never lose the sense of the work of it.

I do not slice through the water, torpedo-like and silent. Rather, my arm-paddles slap the surface and work against me. My feet follow, useless nubs attached to weighty logs that connect to my torso, which contributes precious little.

We lived, before here, in south Florida. We were in a townhouse, the giant five of us (though the children were little, littler and littlest). It was on a school campus, a school known for swimming. Pool access was one perk.

In an effort to 'get in shape,' I swam. I did so with a neighbor - my savior and advisor, Cheryl. She had coached swimming for a time in an earlier version of her, and she was amenable to coaching me. She talked me into it, as I recall.

We swam first in the little pool. It seemed safer, but apparently suffered from a chemical imbalance. My arm hairs burned off and my hair turned a frizzy orange shade that sparkled oddly in the sun. Once I got pregnant, I wisely retreated from that pool.

After that baby was born, Cheryl got me out again, coaxing me to move up to the Big Pool. I would tiptoe out of the house at 5:15, ever grateful for my time alone- careful to wake no one. I would vaguely hope Cheryl was not on her stoop, goggles and towel in hand, so I could return to bed guilt-free. Rarely did she comply.

The big pool was Olympic-sized, diving depth, with a disarmingly distant pool floor when peered at through goggles. I never trusted the drop from where my feet could reach to where no feet could reach.

Here, we were coached, at 5:30 in the morning, three days a week. Over time, I got to where I could swim many laps uninterrupted. Always at a pace slower than those around me, with a clumsiness that looked like defiance to the coaches who tried hard with me, to coach.

I sometimes watched, one lane away, young Olympic hopefuls who had traveled from across the globe to train at my side. Inches from me, a Speedo-clad adolescent would barely flutter one chosen body part - an arm, or a leg - and slip effortlessly past me, as I put everything I had into some version of the common freestyle stroke.

When I swam the follow-up rounds of laps tonight, some of the coaching came back. Head down, aligned, look at the bottom of the pool. Lead with one arm, pull with the other, meet in the middle. Pull arm in the water as far as possible until hand passes the waist.

I felt the difference, and swam four more lengths, mostly uninterrupted. I dusted off faint instructions found on the shelves of my back-brain, and again tried to follow them.

Feeling like an eight-year-old, I looked around for someone to watch me, tell me my movements made some sense. Shout, "good job!"

I need to remember, once I get past tonight's insomnia, sleep, and wake again... to apply this metaphor to other things. Now, smelling faintly of pool chemicals at 2:30 in the morning, I remind myself: slow down. Take long strides. Head down. Lead, pull. Be patient. Don't imagine that work = speed, or efficiency. Be deliberate in actions: each time through is a chance for improvement.


Friday, June 4, 2010

half

Marriage is hard.

This is no revelation. Even so, in a good marriage, it isn't often said aloud. (Though said, in the half light, on porches with girlfriends, a bottle of wine in.)

Tica (long-term bff) and I will often marvel - as obvious as it is - that who you marry defines Every Other Thing from that point forward. It's an exhausting realization.

I am in a good one - much to my surprise. I couldn't quite imagine that, years before it occurred. Serial boyfriends notwithstanding, I imagined I would live alone. (In a cute bungalow, undisturbed by small hands and large pairs of sweaty socks.) I would travel the world, maybe. Tile my floors myself. See a lot of great movies.

This didn't sound ideal. But I could, with effort, work it into something that sounded not-so-bad.

My mother raised us alone. Four of us, plus Mom, an educator. A fact that sometimes hampers our raising of children. It's hard to remember that these duties are shared, that there is another opinion that is weighed equally against mine.

I also have a weird response to this partnership thing. Its as if, having never seen it done, I assume it is a get-out-of-jail card. That everything I don't like, he will do for me. And that every other thing I do, I should be allowed to do exactly halfway. I imagine, automatically, that someone will pick up the other half. It is a method that works far more than it should- but not always. We often do different halves of different things.

An old friend with whom I reconnected this week, said something about marriage from a Hallmark card, to the effect of 'falling in love is chance, staying in love is a choice.' It rang painfully true, for her, for whom only half was contributing effort. It IS a choice. Every single day. It is hard work. And both halves have to fully engaged.

12 years in, I think we have this, mostly. And I have a world of gratitude for that gift - for the chance that my falling in love was directed at another person willing to work. In this, my 50% and his 50% align quite well. And we laugh, a plus.

The Gores are getting divorced. It has sparked snark and speculation. I succomb to neither. It seems, from here, that they each have strong personalities and a lot going on. They have fully separate and complicated lives. From which they raised, to adulthood, four children. Their utility, as a twosome, has been proven.

In the thick of it, with a bunch of kids, houses, yards, careers - common purpose might be enough. Take the shared chaos, noise, the cluttered stuff of life - and factor in mutually desired end-results (not living in squalor, children that are contributors, weeds that don't overtake, paychecks that come regularly) and you are propelled to survive almost on momentum alone, as long as you generally respect each other. Inspiration hardly comes into play.

Then things slow down.

It is sad, yes, for whichever of the two had to be convinced. It is sad, too, for the children - regardless of their age. But I doubt all bad. To me, it seems inconceivably brave - to charge into the unknown so publicly, when you live in such apparent comfort otherwise. (Though, after forty years, I can't quite imagine what a counselor could offer to help cure general malaise.)

Even if unhappy, I doubt I would have the stuff to buck the status quo. Marriage is hard. Forty years is a long time. Your children know enough to move on - to be part of what stays behind has got to take a toll.

In my version, when that happens, we sell the big house. We get the small bungalow. We travel the world together, with no one complaining or planning alternate routes. We tile our floors ourselves. And we see a lot of great movies. We keep it simple, and we try to keep in touch. It's all we can do.

We will have to seek out the inspiration when the noise subsides - and for my part, now, I try to take none of "we" for granted.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

in memoriam

I could tell by her approach, at dusk, that she was not quite alone. That she had... something. Her gait not as lithe, a shadow on her white chest, her steps, a little tentative.

It was a small bird, coloring to match hers. Wings sticking out of her mouth on two sides. Held gently, all things relative. (No doubt to prolong the utility of the still-living toy.)

It took some effort, but I got the bird, chased away the cat. The cat, ours. The bird, no one's.

The bird had a tiny wing wound, and a spot on her short, fragile neck where feathers were missing. I put a tiny spot of Neosporin on the wound, some vitamin E oil.

I attempted to nurse it to health. Put it in a box. With newspaper, New York Times articles referencing the disaster in the Gulf. A soft nest in one corner of paper towel. I took to calling it "her."

By morning, she seemed to be surprisingly doing well. She would hop a little, and chirp loudly, fly a short distance in the bathroom. Young, but feathered. Not a baby bird - but small bits of fluff still clung just under her wings. An adolescent that Annabeth dubbed "Fred."

While articles on the web seemed to align, faithfully telling me not to attempt to raise a small, especially wounded bird, on my own - wildlife rehab centers are closed on Memorial Day.

Annabeth was especially concerned. She didn't sleep the first night, convinced the bird would die. She said prayers, she cried, she woke up - propelled to find us two floors below - caught in an un-recountable nightmare.

I attempted to feed the bird - water, which she drank a little of; a watery cat food mixture, a tiny bit of mushy banana. She wouldn't eat. Her chirps continued, but her hops looked more enfeebled.

I was twitchy that second night. Job hunting online, unwilling - somehow - to go to bed. Eventually, I gave up. I opened the closed bathroom door, annoyed that the light had been left on. I looked in the box. She had given up, too. More thoroughly than I.

One bird. Taken by one cat. I dug a hole, chipping through Georgia clay and poorly disguised construction debris. Ten short inches down, maybe a foot. I said a quiet prayer. It was two AM.

When Annabeth wakes up, it will be June. And there will be no little bird to drive out to the rehab center - our one plan for the first day of the first full week of summer. She will cry, and I will feel responsible.

Innocent bird, gone. Guilty cat, here. It is her nature to feed on the small things, coloring matching hers. It is her wont to crouch in the grass, pounce, take, celebrate. We will love her no less, and we will mourn her next victory.