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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

state fair

Yesterday, after finishing my blog post, I decided, yes, we're going to the fair. 
Who cares that it is 135 miles away? Who cares that it's hot hot hot? Who cares that Steve isn't here to help me? My kids will love it.


So we got dressed and I packed lunches and away we went. I forgot to bring the iPad and some other road trip games and toys to entertain the kids, but it was just fine. They were angelic. We sang animal songs and talked about our favorite fair things and stopped for gas and stopped at a rest stop.
And then, two and a half hours later, we pulled into the fair parking lot. I come from a town that is famous for its fair. It is a giant ordeal, the whole fair thing. Parking alone can cost as much as twenty dollars. If you're cheap, you will find yourself walking a mile or more from your car to the fair entrance. When I pulled into this Nebraska fair parking lot, I thought, oh shit, I don't have any cash. But it was fine. Parking is free.

We walked to the entrance where there was some pleasant Nebraska woman giving each person individualized instructions. Personal instructions! And there was another woman offering me a free ticket. I went to buy a ticket for Brandon, but he was free. Kids five and under are free. This fair is amazing!  
 
We walked into the fair and I could instantly see the way it was set up. The kiddie rides were together with the petting zoo. The older rides were with the carnival games. The food booths were together, the barns on the outskirts. If I ever were to design a fair, this is how I would do it.

We started with the rides. Get this: it was only $15 for a bracelet to ride any ride. This is by far the best fair experience of my life. Both boys got bracelets. They spent a good half hour in the bouncy castles. No parents were allowed inside, so I watched them from the gate, choking up at the thought that my boys are alone in there, fending for themselves. Finally they came out: sweaty and thirsty.
We bought water and took a break from the sun to see the 4-H animals. Holden loved sticking his stubby little fingers into each of the bunny cages and proclaiming, "I touched a bunny!" The people at this fair aren't the coastal type I'm used to. Some stranger just took a bunny out of a cage and let my boys pet it. She wasn't annoyed or rolling her eyes or anything. She saw an opportunity for happiness and allowed it.
Then we went on the electronic rides. This was a first for both of them. I was so nervous to let Holden ride alone in something that went up in the air. I figured he'd find a way to wriggle out of the seat belt and jump out of the car. So the carnie (not sure if there's a more politically correct term) just told me to hop in with him. Without a ride bracelet! Is everything free at this unnaturally generous fair?
Sitting in the dumbo car with Holden huddled under my arm was my favorite moment.  We rode a ride just like one I had ridden as a kid. Up and down we went together in our car, with Brandon in the car in front of us shouting back to us that he could see the whole fair.
 
We didn't have to wait at any rides, we just hopped on and the carnies let the rides go long when no one was waiting. The boys tried out everything, some rides twice. When we went to get more water, the boys saw the carnival games on the way. This seems like something I would deny usually, but what the hell? I had cash in my pocket from the withdrawal for the water. So I paid for three darts and began showing Brandon how to hold one. While I was attending to him, Holden picked up a dart and just let it fly. I have no idea how he knew how to throw it. Holden popped a balloon and Brandon popped two. They each got a stuffed animal. They hugged them close all evening, so proud of this first thing they earned themselves.
We checked out the petting zoo, which was so much more than I expected. They had animals I don't ever remember seeing before: a kangaroo and a zebra. Then we left, having done everything we wanted to except the Ferris wheel (I didn't tell the boys that it is the only ride I am scared of - they think we just ran out of time).
  
I stopped at a gas station on the way out of town to get the boys orange juice and chocolate milk. I was parked in front of a gas pump for quite some time, pouring liquids from one container into something with a straw like I was a scientist with beakers. A gas station employee came out and tapped on my window and told me to move. Usually, something like this would make me grumble, but not yesterday. She was just doing her job. Nothing could pull me off our high. Yesterday I lived what I wrote and found it again to be true: the world is either an awful or a beautiful place to live in, depending how you look at it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

pocket baseball

Most of the time, I am alone with the kids. At home, this is doable. There is no public shaming or expectations of my parenting. I don't have to worry about being too tough or lenient for watching eyes. The kids are caged in so I don't have to worry about them escaping or being grabbed. I can change diapers and Brandon can go potty at anytime without frantically searching for a bathroom. They can eat food out of the pantry and drink milk out of the fridge. It's a parent's paradise: home.

But a lot of times, I take them on adventures. I am bringing this pain upon myself, I know, but I want my kids to remember something other than the color of our carpet. I want them to see the world around them. I encourage wanderlust and trying new things. But one of my children is sensitive, the other restless. I think these must be the two best or worst traits, depending on how they're used.


Yesterday, I took them to a baseball game. When we left, Brandon (the sensitive one) sobbed these big tears and needed me to hold him despite the fact that I had blankets and jackets and Holden in my arm. I corralled them as best I could to the exit where an employee saw Brandon's big ugly tears and retrieved a baseball from his pocket. The world doesn't owe us anything, but even so, this kind man gave the ball to Brandon. Then two drunk guys walked by us in the parking lot and one said, "You got a baseball? You're so lucky!" And I hoped Brandon would realize that one day.

Then we came home and Brandon turned sweet again and watched "Big Brother" with me then we read books together in my bed. Then, as he was about to fall asleep, he rolled towards me and looked at me with his giant brown eyes and said, "Sweet Dreams, mom." And I fell asleep, exhausted, but dreaming of a world where people are kind and pleasant and give out baseballs to crying kids. When I woke up, I realized that is really why I take them places, despite the hassle: because the world is a beautiful place, if you choose to look at it that way. You would never know that without leaving home.