Monday, November 28, 2016

gerunds

That time of motherhood is almost behind me when the ear is not one's own but must always be racked and listening for the child cry, the child call. ~from "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen

I know this sounds terrible, but it's honest: I'm looking forward to what comes next: the part of parenting when my kids clean up after themselves and help with chores and put themselves to bed and can put toothpaste on their toothbrushes and pull on their own pants and pour a bowl of cereal and even use the remote. I am looking forward to being needed less. I think what a lot of women love about motherhood is constantly being needed, but honestly it's what I like least. I love being loved, but not being needed.

The startling part of motherhood was that I was the one being depended on all of a sudden. I was no longer being doted on or looked out for. Now it was my responsibility to do that for other helpless people. Me, helpless myself, helping others! People depending on me! It was a lot--still is: today I forced medicine down Holden's throat and gave him a haircut as he screamed and cried and kicked and punched. Adjustment is not the word because it's so opposite of what I was used to that it wasn't like adjusting at all. It was like starting over, reinventing myself to be what someone else needed.

Some days, I can not believe that I'm not a child, but that I have children. I still remember many scenes of childhood with such clarity it's like I'm there. I remember the emotions with the same intensity. Sometimes I will smell strawberries and cream and remember a dollhouse of this girl I used to play with or I will walk into someone's house and the layout will be the exact same as a girl on my street. When I see one of those battery-operated cars for toddlers I think of this time when I rode on one, trying to outrace these dogs I was vehemently afraid of. Cozy coupes still make me think of Sarah Beth next door, even though my son has had one for years, that is not what I think of. I am a child still: just a grown, but not grown-up one.

I am the one now who acts, rather than the one the acts are done for. I am no longer the receiver, but now am the giver. I am cooking, cleaning, wiping, bathing, reading, organizing, gifting, driving, rocking, holding, nagging. I am all the gerunds, the ones people need. Today I am needing a warm bath and a hot bowl of soup and some apple cider and some ice cream and someone to tell me to "take a load off, go lay down"  or even, "you look terrible, do you feel okay?" but that isn't the way it is for parents. We do and we do and we do and if we ever don't we feel guilty and beat ourselves up and make ourselves even more haggard and run-down.

So I will clean the kitchen now and finish my Cyber Monday shopping and be what is expected of me because I am a parent now, not a kid. But it smells like strawberries and cream and I am thinking of a dollhouse or maybe it's Avon bubble bath, the kind I would use if I was a kid and I was sick and I needed a warm bath. This time of motherhood is almost behind me, and that gives me hope of a time where I'm not needed so much, but still loved with intensity. A time of baths and clean kitchens and not listening for someone to call out and need me.  I will slip back into who I was like a coat I just misplaced for a spell and I will take a long whiff of mothballs and smile.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

morning after

A few weeks ago at the pumpkin patch, we went on the big slide. We had just bought pumpkin cups and could not take them with us so Brandon said, "what will we do with these?" and I told him we would put them in the corner by the fence while we slid. "But what if someone takes them?" he asked, because although he's half my DNA, he's also half Steve's.

"Sometimes you have to believe in the good in people," I replied.
Reluctantly he left his new cup in the corner by the fence and then we slid down the slide over and over again. And when it was time to leave he said, "my new cup!" and he went to retrieve it, and there it was, exactly where we had left it.
"See?" I said. "People are good. You have to remember to trust in that."

That's what I thought of this morning when I woke up and Brandon was in my bed and I explained with tears in my eyes that Clinton didn't win. Although some people are bad, many, many people are good. We have to remember to trust in that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

making history

We woke up early today, dressed, and hit the polls. Steve and I with our two little boys in tow: the boys whose America we were shaping with our votes. I was not a voter until this election, but I recently registered, to be a part of history, to one day tell my children that I voted for our first woman president.

I turned on MSNBC tonight to watch the election results. We watched together as Brian Williams co-anchored with Rachel Maddow, not because she's the token blond reporter but because she is informed and intelligent and deserved the spot. "Clinton! Clinton!" The boys chanted while dancing and spinning. I held Brandon by the shoulders and explained to him why this was so important: how this is the first time in America's history that a woman could become our leader. And I couldn't help the tears that formed in my eyes because women are emotional, it's true, and because politics, like business, are personal, despite what we say.

Although Brandon doesn't understand glass ceilings or that there are people treated as if they're less significant than others, he will one day and when that day comes, I will tell him about how when I was pregnant with him, my employer picked my successor without my help: a male without the relevant experience I had who was hired in at $15K more than I was, a male who on the first day told me he was my new boss and made me feel like nothing.

And I'll tell him about when I got pregnant the next time, with his little brother: how I was working for a different employer and when this chauvinist man who once told me not to hire women because they were emotional or fat people because they were undisciplined heard that I was pregnant, his response was, "post your job."

I'll tell him that I worked in HR and saw all sorts of decisions made that were sexist or racist or bigotted and I would lie in bed at night, unable to sleep or sleeping fitfully, thinking of how unjust it was, even in my dreams.

I will tell him that this election wasn't just about equality between men and women, but also between immigrants and residents and blacks and whites and gays and straights and all sorts of dividing labels we have assigned that shouldn't be important. I will tell my son that one November night in 2016, him and his little brother and I rooted for Clinton and I knew he meant it because he is like me, despite his gender. He is an emotional boy who loves people most of all, and doesn't care that they're different  or if they're similar, either way we are people who deserve to be treated as such: with fairness and without prejudice.

I knew it because never once did he say, "but she's a girl!"

Friday, November 4, 2016

that thirty-something waitress

I am waitressing again, like I did during my undergrad. School means waitressing. It's part-time and I can work nights instead of early mornings like I did at the coffee shop. I am not a morning person. I am not a night person either really. I like 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The rest of the hours I am pretty useless.

A decade has passed since I waited tables and times have changed and I have changed and it is harder now. I have kids at home now that I am missing reading to. People are more skeptical and write Yelp reviews now. You can Google the price of a bottle of wine from your table now. I have run a marathon and put my body through the paces now. I am a hardened mother. I don't get out and talk to the public often so my dialogue is forced, trite.

I am polite because of my raise, but snarky because of my personality. I try to be customer-servicey, but my bite comes in any way. I hate pop now and don't want to refill it more than twice. Don't you know how much sugar that is? In the back of the house, the other servers have cliques that I'm not a part of, inside jokes, complaints about us new people taking their hours or doing our side work wrong or asking questions or not asking questions.

But a job like this--a little one that does not take all my hours from me--allows me to keep writing. It keeps me out of the corporate world, keeps me in the artistic one. My kids don't go to daycare and Brandon is awake to say, "bye!" a hundred times from the driveway when I leave. It's OK. It's a season in my life. I will manage.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

11.3.2016

Brandon Jude, I want to save this day, remember it one day later on.
Not because today is special, but because it's like every other. These will be the days you forget, the blank spots in your memory because they felt mundane. But I want to remember these ordinary days when I was proud of you and loved you not because of an achievement or something you did, but because of who you are: A boy who loves and trusts everyone, who makes me smile, makes me laugh and offers to find my missing keys for me. The boy who thinks flies are called freaking flies because that's what dad says. My boy who calls "All About That Bass" his song and sings every word. My boy who sings and dances and draws. My boy who has the very best traits of me and his father: our artistic, caring, emotional ones. My boy who protects and teaches his little brother, despite the abuse he takes from him. My boy who I overheard telling Asher yesterday, "my mom is my best friend, but you're my very best friend." You want to make us all happy and so far you're doing a hell of a job.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

pause

Today is deadline day and I need to finish this short story and my cover letter and send off this packet to be critiqued. But I read something that made me pause. And I thought, I should put this on my blog. Because once upon a time I planned on this blog being a place to pause: a place for me to put the things that made me think, a place to write out what I was thinking about. Life goes on and on and on, but what I write about stays, like a program from a play that never gets tossed out. I need to pause more because if I don't, I won't be so changed as I could have been.

So today, here is what made me pause and nod and smile:

I ONCE DATED A WRITER AND
Writers are forgetful,
but they remember everything. 
They forget appointments and anniversaries, 
but remember what you wore,
how you smelled, 
on your first date...
They remember every story you've ever told them
like ever,
but forget what you've just said.
They don't remember to water the plants
or take out the trash,
but they don't forget how
to make you laugh. 

Writers are forgetful
because 
they're busy
remembering
the important things.

So maybe some of what I wrote about being anxious is just a part of being a writer. And the rest of it is because I'm neurotic, no doubt.

And also, while I'm writing about pauses and writing as a pause, a preservation, I'm going to add something I read from Kelly Corrigan, one of my favorite writers:

I heard once that the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you'll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won't remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don't even know about yourselves. We won't come back here. 

You'll remember middle school and high school, but you'll have changed by then. You changing will make me change. That means you won't ever know me as I am right now--the mother I am tonight and tomorrow, the mother I've been for the last eight years, every bath and book and birthday party, gone. It won't hit you that you're missing this chapter of our story until you see me push your child on a swing or untangle his jump rope or wave a bee away from his head and think, is this what she was like with me? (from her book, "Lift")

So pause. That's what I'll do. And then, like now, I'll resume what I was doing, where I was going, my to do list, my reading list, my chores. I will gather and gather and then I will sit down and pause again, to write about what I've picked up along my way.

Friday, October 14, 2016

distance

One day, I hope to write a memoir about being a birth mother. One day, when I have enough narrative distance and perspective, if that day ever comes for me. In the mean time though, I blog occasionally about it, when I can find a way to shape words into something like what I feel.

I heard once that an artist is a person who can translate what is in her brain into something tangible. A person who can take what she feels or imagines and share it for other people to feel and see too. That is the hard part: the creating. That is the part that differentiates the artist: the ability to do thatthe very hard work of getting thoughts onto a canvas or paper. The artist who sketches and the writer who writes are determined, dedicated people. It takes so much practice and work to get it right, or close enough to right that people will understand it. So for now, I am practicing.

Five years ago, I wrote about Mother's DayA few weeks ago, I went to a baby shower for my college roommate. I hadn't seen her in quite some time and she was one of the few people who didn't make the situation awkward; she asked me how I felt. It was the first time I said the words out loud, because it was the first time anyone had honestly asked; I said, "each year it hurts a little less." And once I said it, I knew that's how I had been feeling. 

Then today, I read this by Tobias Wolff: ...how do you forgive yourself? You don't, really. Yet one day the weight is lighter, and the next lighter still, and then you barely know it's there, if it's there at all (from his short story "Deep Kiss"). I thought, damn, that's good. Here is an artist. Here is a man who can write what other people feel. Because he wrote about something completely unrelated to being a birth mother, but I felt what he meant from my own experience.

I'm aiming for narrative distance and perspective. But in the meantime, I'll write, even without it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

anxiety

A lot of people talk about "anxiety" now - it seems like everyone has it and/or takes pills for it. It means nothing now, or close to it. But to me, it means something. Because everyone talking about it gives me a word for something I feel all.the.time.

I joke that Steve is my "Office Manager" because he takes care of the mundane but necessary details of getting through adult life. He pays bills, calls customer service, schedules repairmen, fills out forms. The thought of doing just one of these things makes me freeze in my tracks. I have had "schedule DDS appointments" on my to do list for two weeks. Getting three of us appointments next to each other between two dentists overwhelms me, even though it's the receptionist who does most of the work.

I have weekly "to do" lists not because I'm organized, but because I'm disorganized. Deadlines come and go without a thought from me if it isn't on my list. I was weeks late submitting my workshop materials for grad school, though thankfully, no one pointed it out or shamed me for it. We missed Brandon's preschool orientation. I am good at sending apology emails, but bad at preventing them. I don't think I would have entered grad school without Steve. Not because I didn't want to, but because logistically, I didn't know how. I could probably figure it out, but even the thought of figuring it out makes me sweat. Little details scare the shit out of me. Managing myself is hard.

It is getting harder now, with Brandon in preschool. There are early out days and no school days and permission slips and snack days and order forms and god knows what else. It boggles my mind. And this is just two and a half hours, three days a week. I guess this is to prepare me for real school one day, when it gets worse. I can't imagine baseball practice or swimming lessons on top of everything else. I would always be freaking out about being late or forgetting essentials.

I am a good worker but a bad employee. I mean, I have good work ethic and try my best, but all of it overwhelms me and I quit easily. I started a new job two weeks ago. This required filling out an application and going to an interview and then buying a uniform and now showing up per a schedule on time. On nights I work now, I don't take the boys anywhere. I focus on making dinner, taking a shower, and ironing my shirt. That is enough.

When I drop off Brandon at preschool, I see the other moms. I wonder how they are having normal conversations with each other and are wearing different clothes than yesterday and how their hair is washed and combed. I wonder how no one else seems to forget forms or coats or homework. Does everyone else have it figured out, or are they just better actors than I am?

There are very few people in my life who have made me feel comfortable. Most of them make me feel uncomfortable. I am shifty and nervous and even carrying on a polite conversation feels like an exhausting chore. My kids have made me feel better, because I am comfortable with them as I am. I love to be around them and do things with them. In that way motherhood has made me happier, calmer. But the rest of my life doesn't come so easy. It's harder for some of us, that's what anxiety means.

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 picture books we love

It's become something of an annual tradition for me to blog the children's books we've been into. It reminds me of this book I had as a kid, called "School Days" where I was supposed to log my best friends and favorite books and shows and all that in every different grade. I wish I would have, because being home schooled, all the grades really run together and memories have no dates. But instead, it had an entry in fifth grade (best friend: Sarah Gilbert) and the rest of it was blank. So I'm doing for them what I didn't for me. I guess that is parenting, in a nutshell: improving the future off what you know from the past.
 
The first is a new book. Most of the books we read are older, because I am nostalgic and I pick. But this one we got for a present and it is great. Fun for kids and adults alike. Bruce the Bear likes to eat eggs and he was cooking up these gosling eggs when they hatched and he became their mother. He tries to get rid of them. Adults identify with grouchy Bruce and his sarcasm. Kids root for the goslings.
Finally we are reaching an age where Brandon can sit through a Bill Peet book. They are classics and they are fantastic. But they are loooooong. But if you're going to pack a lunch and read a kids' book, you might pick this one. Eli is an old lion who has lost his mojo. Again, adults identify.
For Holden, my train lover. I remember as a kid this book being really long so we must have an abridged version because we have a board book that is short and to the point. The theme of little creatures/things/people doing big things runs pretty rampant in picture books, but this one does it among the best. You feel the struggle and the triumph. And for days afterward you'll be chanting, "I think I can, I think I can..."
Again, a throwback from my own childhood. I love love love this book. It was confusing as a kid, this Arthur (monkey) and the more popular Arthur (aardvark) each having a book series. I would vacillate between them, but found this Arthur more mature, and thus I liked him better. In this book, he is saving up money and creates his own business. It is a fantastic book to teach the young about money: spending and saving. And about entrepreneurship. I think some college-level business courses could teach this book.
I stayed away from this cult classic because it also is long. Well, it has a lot of pages, but it's really not that long. Once I finally read it, I agreed that yes, it is worth the hype. Every child should own it.
William Steig has so many children's books. We own a few, but this one Brandon likes the best. It's playful and silly. And I like Steig's illustrations. I'm not sure why, exactly, as they're not traditionally pleasing, but I do.
A newish book Brandon stumbled upon at the library. He loves it and Steve and I always agree to read it because it is just the right length (length is very important in life). I do get tripped up each time I read the ice cream flavor, however. Also, after reading this many times, Steve saw on Kourtney Kardashian's Instagram that she reads this book to Penelope. So there's that, whatever that is.
The illustrations in this book! Oh I love them so much. No wonder it won the Caldecott award. Very deserved. The story is also good. Amos McGee goes to the zoo each day and completes his routines with animals. Then one day, he is sick so the animals board the bus and do for him what he usually does for them. It's sweet. And there should be more children's books with elderly people in them.
Holden loves this one. It's OK. I actually like the story just fine. But I have a real problem with the illustrations. It certainly didn't win any Caldecott award, let's just say. Whenever I read it, I picture better illustrations turning this into one hell of a book. But alas, the publisher missed the boat on that one.
I love books that have new ideas. This one is just that. Animals live in civilized towns full of apartments and cars. They walk upright and wear clothes. Then one day Mr. Tiger decides to change shit up. He walks on all fours, takes off his clothes. He finds himself ostracized from civilization so he goes to live in the wild. One day, civilization and him meet in the middle and they all learn to live among each other. It's poetic and political all at once.


Previous children's books blog posts:
2014
2015

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

puzzling

Each of my siblings and I have something we like to do together the most. For my oldest brother and I, it's video games. Old school video games from the Sega Genesis or N64, I mean.

For my youngest brother and I, it's board games. We have board game marathons the way other people have Netflix marathons. It's the same game, over and over: either Sequence or Marbles.

And for Amber and I, it's puzzles. We have puzzle races. Jigsaw puzzle races.

She always wins, but I never give up. She has the advantage, I always told myself, because her puzzle is easier. I got close a few times, maybe even won once or twice, but consistently, she wins. So what I did was I hunted down her exact puzzle on eBay. There was only one and it happened to be in Fremont, NE: the town next to mine. The seller dropped it off on my doorstep without charging me shipping. This puzzle was brand new, in a sealed box, even though it's over twenty years old. I hit the jackpot.

So I started practicing. I am intense. I clear my schedule: the boys must be asleep so there are no distractions. Bring in some feel good music to pump me up. Turn on the fan, cause it's gonna get hot. Maybe wine, if I'm feeling cocky. Definitely water, because this is equivalent to athletics. And then, I start the timer and go. I separate pieces into piles and once the piles are large enough, I start piecing together each section. Soon, I can connect them. Then, I do the boring outside areas. Lastly, I fill in the holes as I turn over the pieces that were ignored before. And then, it is finished. 500 pieces.

I keep record of my times, watch myself improve or backslide. If you don't keep at it, you lose it, just like anything else.
I got the puzzle in December of 2014, planning to win against Amber at Christmastime when I saw her next. But for some reason, we never raced. I guess Christmas festivities got in the way. It's fine though, because seeing my times, I never would have beat her.

So then, I started practicing for when I would see her next: in May, in Hawaii. I got pretty damn good, too. I even got sub-forty twice, which is our lingo for "fucking awesome." 45 minutes or less is pretty good. Under forty minutes is phenomenal. But then, in Hawaii, one of us forgot our puzzle. It was a real shame, because I think I might have won.

So then I didn't practice again until right before I would see her again, at Thanksgiving. And for some reason, there, we didn't race either. We just did other, irrelevant puzzles.

So finally, this August, we raced. I was unprepared. I hadn't practiced in nearly six months. I was rusty. When she pulled out her puzzle and brought it to the table, I smiled and retrieved my own identical one. She looked at it, then looked at me. "I got it on eBay," I said, proud. An oh shit look crossed her face, or maybe I just imagined it. We started the timer and we were off, all adrenaline.

She won, but not by an insurmountable amount. So what we did, was that same night, after re-hydrating, we raced again. And the second time, I won. I fucking won. Sub-forty, even. I was on top of the world, on cloud nine.

We raced a few more times, but I never beat her again. Then, she had to go about her other responsibilities, life and family and all of that while here in town. Right before she left, she texted me:
And now I have under three months to get my times down. Amber claims she will be sub-35 at Christmas, which is unheard of. I must beat her. I have a taste of victory, but now I want the puzzle belt.

Monday, September 26, 2016

hands up

Two writer friends and I went to a psychic for a palm and tarot card reading. It was in a home, a small house with neon sign that advertised "Palm Reader."
 
When we walked inside, we found ourselves in a screened-in porch decorated in Jesus tchotchkes.
Is Jesus on board with their business? Seems like something that might be opposed in the Bible. Maybe not.
A sign next to the doorbell instructed us to ring.
"But if they're psychics, shouldn't they know we're here?"
We were each given a different psychic.

Jen's: old,
mine: middle-aged,
Suzanne's: young.

We were then sequestered into separate rooms, although one room led to both others. I was in the living room which connected doorlessly to the dining room, where Jen sat at the table. Suzanne was led onto the front porch, among the Jesus tchotchkes.

They started off asking us each to make two wishes: one to keep and one to share. Then, we held out our palms. They read our life lines, each was long.

Jen will live to 81,
me to 88 or 89,
Suzanne to the ripe old age of 93.

I was told that I have a smile on the outside, but not always on the inside. That what I want most of all is peace of mind.

And then the tarot cards came out and I learned that I will move, somewhere near water and that the move will be good for me. I worry about my children, one more than the other. I am concerned about their safety, but it is alright: they will be safe.

I was born under great luck, but the luck hasn't come yet. But it will: in the 5-7 years. I will be successful in business. I won't have to worry about money.

At the end, my psychic asked if I was satisfied with my reading, then rose to take a phone call. In the background, "The Flying Nun" had played on the television in the corner of the living room the entire time. No one had bothered to turn it off.
"Tell your friends about us," my psychic suggested in parting. And then, we exited this surreal little house and entered the futures they had predicted for us, to see what will come true.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

don'ts

Don't have children if you are overly anxious. Don't have children if blood makes you squeamish. Don't have children if you can't stand screaming and shrieking. Don't have children if you like to go out to eat at restaurants. Don't have children if you like to read uninterrupted. Don't have children if you enjoy alone time and freedom and calm. Don't have children if you like your body the way it is. Don't have children if you want to travel. Don't have children if you want to be rich. Don't have children if you already have a heavy load beat, beat, beating you down. Children will amplify it.

But do have children if you need to burst into spontaneous laughter again. If you've forgotten about singing aloud and dancing in the living room. Have children if you like colors and light and joy. Have children so you can be Santa Claus, because I'm telling you there is nothing better. Have children so you can hold one on your lap and wrap your arm protectively around him as you push your foot off the ground and you swing: higher, higher, higher. Have children so you can read Little Critter and Curious George and The Watermelon Seed. Have children to remember you before the "dont's" and the overthinking and the cynicism. Have children to remind you of what you've forgotten.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

shoulders

While looking over my last post, I noticed Brandon's shoulders. They are almost non-existent: his neck flowing into his torso like the slats of an "A." And maybe this is because I am a writer and always looking for symbolism, but I thought about how shoulders show us how much we can carry, like an ox with a yoke. I thought about Brandon's emotional fragility and then, as all parents with more than one child do, I compared him to his brother.

I began this frantic quest to look at shoulders. I scrolled through my Instagram photos, zeroing in on shoulders. I found Holden's to be more like the curves of an "m." And I thought about how Holden doesn't cry for much and isn't as sensitive and doesn't feel so passionately and urgently. Shoulders, I thought. It's all about the shoulders. 

I thought back to my post about prana and how we are given loads we can carry and I thought maybe Brandon won't have too much of a load, then. Maybe he will zip through life without many troubles or woes. And that was a good thought, until I thought about Holden with his ox-like shoulders. Then I thought that would mean Holden will have a heavy load, and that wasn't such a good thought. But he will be strong enough for it.

And then I hoped that it really is true, that we are only given loads we are strong enough to carry. I hope my A-shouldered boy lets his troubles slip right down those slopes and I hope that Holden can heave his troubles over the m-shaped humps. That was five days ago and I'm still noticing shoulders.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

budding independence

Today, Brandon started preschool. I didn't cry so much as when he was a baby and we dropped him off at daycare, but I did tear up. I mean, I'm still me.

Last month my female family stayed with us: first my mom, then my sister. Seeing my child through someone else's eyes made me realize he is still a baby in so many ways. But at preschool, he will learn to share and to obey someone other than mom. He will make friends and his independence will bud. He will enunciate his letters and boss kids around and be bossed around. He will shed his babyness.
Holden took it the hardest. Driving out of the parking lot today he shouted, "forgot Brandon!" to me. I explained that Brandon goes to school now and Holden cried. That is, until we got home and he got to swing without anyone grabbing on him and play playdoh without a fight. His tears are dried and he is happy and hopefully it is the same for Brandon at preschool, away from me, becoming who he is.