Thursday, June 24, 2010


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


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


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.