Wednesday, December 8, 2010

there was an old lady...*

i kicked her out and moved right in. there was really so much more space than if i had just tried to squeeze in with everyone else already living there. besides, she didn’t need to be living in there with so many kids. she sounded desperate for space. or a break. or both. feeding your kids broth with no bread--is that the same as giving your kids cereal with no milk? please tell me no, because i’ve done that. but i wouldn’t dare give broth without bread.

the whipping part, well, i threaten that a lot but rarely follow through. someday my kids will sit around their own thanksgiving tables, talking about how mom was so full of hot air, always threatening, never following through. i say that about my own mother. i used to say it critically. now i say it gratefully.

don’t worry. i helped her find a new home. even lined up a sitter so she could go out, see a movie, take a knitting class. whatever she wanted. it was worth it to me, so i could sneak away, too. sail away, actually. in the shoe.

at the time, it seemed like a great idea. things aren’t always so great around here. the husband is still looking for work. bills are due. pressure is building. work for me is slowing down, as it always does around the holidays.

and the kids. they fight. and yell. and ask for expensive things we can’t afford. not for christmas. i have been carrying around lots of pride at the fact that my kids’ christmas lists are very short. well, aside from that laptop gilly bean wants. because “mom, i’m almost nine.” can you imagine asking for that when you were nine? i would have gotten less than broth, and definitely no bread.

when i start to feel like the me i want to be--the smooth, shiny, lovely, patient me--is fading, and the me that is ugly, rough, impatient me is growing, well, that’s when i hijacked the shoe.

i sailed, in and out of days, and weeks, and months, into a year. a shoe really makes a great sailboat. when i got to where the wild things are, i thought, now, i really will fit in here. here, the beasts listen to me. not like my little beasts at home. or my husband. here, i don’t have to do laundry, or cook meals, or edit books for hours on end. i can run around half dressed and make s’mores and eat them all because in this magical place there’s no weight watchers app to keep track of every damn thing i eat.

but then something happened. i’m not really sure what it was. well, yes i do. i missed those smells--those dirt smells that come home on my kids every day. the sound of the word “mom.” the way my husband looks at me, and just knows what i’m thinking and how i’m feeling, and loves me anyway. those squeals, and nit-picking, and dragging feet at breakfast every morning, and leaving messes everywhere, they seemed comforting.

so i left the wild things and sailed back, in and out of a year, and months, and weeks, and days, till i arrived safely back on shore, where a nice bowl of broth and a loaf of cuban bread was waiting for me, nicely toasted. and i ate the whole thing, because i get extra points each week on weight watchers to do this sort of thing.

the old woman got her shoe back. she had missed it--the dirt smell, the crowdedness, the messiness. and we promised each other to count our blessings, to be better people. 

*There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to be

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

tales of a second-grade hamster

puffed up and rocking back and forth: that’s how chippy the class hamster spent most of his weekend with us. i kept thinking he was going to split in two and multiply any second, like a gremlin.

we have never had a hamster: we are dog people. but the look on our middle son’s face (“ace” for purposes of this blog) when he asked if we could care for him one weekend was so earnest, so full of hope, that i just couldn’t say no. i immediately thought, oh my gosh, what will we do with him? will the dog try to eat him? how much care will he require?

turns out all he wanted to do was climb up into his spaceship (the highest point of his cage, where he also seemed to do all of his bathroom reading) and look out, unless of course he heard us coming, at which point he would scramble back and forth and then quickly into one of the tubes where he would hang upside down and peek out at us from inside, as if the plastic accordion would protect him from whatever was inevitably coming.

there was one thing that seemed to make him happy: ace. anytime he came into the room and called “chippy” softly (and if you know ace you know this is quite a feat in itself, to call out softly to something), the hamster immediately responded by coming out of the tube and digging a little hole to settle into for some one-on-one time with his friend.

i found myself wanting to sneak into ace’s room for some chippy therapy when no one else was looking. i wanted to talk to him through the metal bars, where he sat like a tiny prisoner, scratching himself, and tell him that there are times i feel just like that: trapped in my own house. there are times when all i want to do is crawl under some sawdust and rock back and forth, puffed up and bloated. or i get in the wheel and run, spinning and spinning, going nowhere. or i pack it with my own version of wood chips, where it’s too heavy to even move.

what i don’t want to admit about this weekend experience is how happy it made ace. he was almost in tears by the time monday morning came and he had to return him to school. he couldn’t get to sleep sunday night because he was so anxious about having to take him back. it made me feel like maybe i am not providing something for him, or maybe it’s just that middle children really need their own something special to love on and talk to that’s just theirs.

please tell me it doesn’t have to be a hamster.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


out of nowhere, there they were again, rearing their ugly head. those two small words, so powerful i thought i would wreck the car: laid off. maybe i should pull over, get out, breathe in some fresh air. maybe i should scream. no, that would scare the little one. in my head, i was cursing like a person with turret’s. at no one in particular, though in these types of situations it is easier to handle the pain, the grief, the overwhelmingness if there is someone to direct anger toward.

we had been through this before, so i knew better this time. i knew it was no one’s fault. maybe it was everyone’s fault. maybe it is our fault. (no, that is faulty logic, taught to me by my parents and scrambling every day to creep into the upper regions of my brain to taunt me.)

it happened on friday, so we could play house, pretend for the weekend that everything was normal. i even thought, maybe let’s not tell the kids. let’s just say, “oh, daddy’s working from home for the next couple of months.” let them jump up and down with excitement, imagining all the newfound opportunities for wrestling, baseball throwing, youtube surfing.

maybe i could join this fantasy world. imagine that suddenly i had a helper around the house, an extra set of hands with our increasingly difficult-to-deal (but still ridiculously lovable and charming) 3 year old. that maybe i could steal away to coffee shops and work on my laptop like i have been dreaming of doing since school ended last june.

i had immediately decided i wasn’t telling anyone. probably part of my scheme to pretend it wasn’t happening. suddenly i was getting comments on fb, e-mails, g-chats from people i know--some friends, some acquaintances. they even started chiming in with condolences, advice, offers to “let me know what i can do.”

i do not know why, but all of these voices of concern rubbed me like sandpaper until i was raw. each kind word made me feel less adequate, more out of control. if you are reading, and you are one of these people, then i am sorry if i have not responded to you with the reciprocity i should have.

i have deliberated over why this has bothered me so, and what i could come up with is that when someone is going through something, in the very midst of it, it is next to impossible to muster up enough courage or even self-knowledge and -awareness to be able to tell someone what she can do for a friend in crisis. i have thought about times when i have probably said this very thing to someone: “please let me know if i can do anything.” and i can almost guarantee that not one of those people has ever come back to me and said, “you know, what you could really do for me right now is bring me a meal. or contribute to the health insurance we are about to lose at the end of the month. or pay our electric bill if we need it down the road. or take me out for a drink because now i don’t want to spend the money to go anywhere beyond my four walls. or just love on me because i will probably be having a hard time loving on myself.”

part of this is community, where we live and breathe and cry and love and lean on one another, and we offer ourselves to one another, and we don’t have to ask those things: we just know. we know because we have spent time caring for these people already, and we do for them what we would want done for us.

actually, i think more than part of this is community. i think it’s all about community. i feel lucky that people along my life’s path have taught and modeled these things for me. and i think when the sandpaper starts to irritate, it’s not about anyone else but is more about me and what i’ve been missing. it’s that reminder of an empty space that was once filled and longs desperately to be refilled.

i am not sure how inspired i will be to share here, how open and honest i really want to be. for some reason, in the past 6 months or so i have found myself wanting to hold back from you. not be as open. maybe that connects with the community thing, with wanting to be loved as much as i love.

but i wanted you to know what is going on. thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


my child took this picture without me knowing. you can just see his hair there at the top of the frame. i was going to rotate it, but then i realized that this is how it was oriented when he took it.

this is his view, when the room isn't spinning. for me lately the room has been spinning constantly. earlier today i thought about blogging. i was taking the day "off," after all, from my work, so i thought, hey, i'll be creative, and i'll get some much needed downtime on the couch too. i mean, what woman, especially a mother, gets any downtime on the couch? mine is usually occupied, but i am sure you don't need to hear that i am rarely the  one occupying it.

i love my 3 year old. i love him to bits. he is adorable in every way. he runs around the house naked, except for a tank top my friend calls a wife beater (to her credit, it IS a white ribbed tank). this is his uniform until he learns to pee in the potty. which, slowly but surely, i think we are moving toward. as long as he is naked at least.

he falls asleep after 9 pm, no matter whether he's had a nap. he wakes up between 5:30 and 6:30,  no matter what time he falls asleep. from the moment he awakes, he is on the go, pulling out every toy he owns, wanting me to help him build this farm, find this farmer, help him get his brother's special NASA toys out (which he knows he's not supposed to have). he builds, colors (all over the walls and himself if i'm not watching), climbs, laughs, dances.

and he's incredibly suave about getting out of trouble. i know i don't have the iron will i'm supposed to have with him when it comes to discipline. please tell me this is a third-born (or last-born) thing? maybe it's my age. i feel 80 some days. maybe if i had borne all my children before i turned 24 i would be okay.

so lately, this adorable little peanut has taken to refusing to fall asleep during naptime. let me explain what naptime is to me, since of course this is all about me (i will tell you aloud that it is for him, that i know he needs his rest, that i don't want him to get sick, but inside i know it is all selfishly motivated). naptime is when i get most, if not all, of the work i need to get done during the day. i don't know how i am accomplishing this, but it seems to have been working out fine. i have lots of projects, and i get them done in the allotted 3 hours when precious peanut is asleep.

keep in mind, this doesn't include housework or laundry or anything like that. i do that while he's awake.

on the very rare day when i say to myself, you know, i have worked hard, and i'm going to lie on this couch and watch all the dumb shows i would be made fun of for watching when someone else who lives here is around (ahem, husband), i NEED my child to be asleep. for a long time.

so, i have been thinking this over lately, trying to figure out how to solve this problem. friends have suggested trying to spend some quality time with him in the morning so he will be tired out and ready to nap. or daycare. there's always that option. except not when we don't have lots of disposable income. so there's not really that option. believe me, i have checked into it.

on days like today, i am feeling squeezed. and not in a good way. my chest feels tight, and i want to go outside and scream. maybe screaming into a pillow would be a better choice. that way i don't scare the neighbors...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

all grown up

we parked and scooted out to the edge of our seats to lower ourselves out from the truck. it is very complicated, it seems, to wear a skirt with high heels and get in and out of an suv. especially when your skirt was hemmed just a wee bit higher than you are now comfortable with, considering that when you hemmed it you were thinking “oh, i’ll be wearing tights, and i will want it higher, like retro 60s looking.” and then when you put the tights on with the dress about 30 minutes before the event began, you realized, “oh, crap, i look like a smurf. or a leprechaun. this isn’t going to work.”

as we walked toward the building, i saw girls up ahead. as we drew closer, i recognized them as the girls who had encouraged me to attend this thing in the first place. they are the ones who said, “come! we would love to see you!”

we caught up and exchanged hugs, which helped ease the nerves that had been churning in the pit of my stomach ever since i had realized the skirt was hemmed too high. it was dark at least, so not everyone would be able to see every single baby vein, as i affectionately named them during the weekend. after all, i had earned every one of them during three different pregnancies.

suddenly a guy i did not recognize said, “hey! i think we went to a dance together!” and i thought, “really? am i that old that i cannot even remember the dates i had in high school?” (there were only 2 dates, and they were to dances. i did not have any other dates whatsoever, so i should have been able to remember…)

he backed up and said, “i mean we rode in the same car—to ringdance our junior year. right?”

at this point, i could have said just about anything, and preferably something like, “oh yeah, i remember that. good times!” you know, something benign, something that wouldn’t draw attention to myself. instead, what i said was, “oh! ringdance. ugh. i try to forget that night ever happened. my date ditched me once we got to the actual dance.” everyone’s face seemed to fall and suddenly fill with pity. i would like to tell you everyone laughed, and i think they did, but all i could hear was myself talking, and my other self trying to get my first self to shut the hell up and just be cute in my hemmed-too-high skirt.

then someone said, “oh! that’s horrible. who did you go with?” as soon as i heard this question i realized his ex-wife was standing to my left. i mean, i knew she was there the whole time, but you know in these situations how cloudy your mind can get. or is that just me? please tell me no.

after blurting out his name and some awkward laughs all around, we said, “ok, let’s think happy thoughts and head straight to the bar!” and off we teetered and tottered to the door (or maybe that was just me, who also thought it would be a great idea to buy shoes with 4-inch heels because i am short, after all, and did i want people to think i had grown over the past 20 years?).

the rest of the night really doesn’t warrant much discussion. there was a mean girl group, if you can believe it. i had been told that the 20-year reunion really doesn’t have much of that anymore—people are grown up, beyond that, with families of their own and finally mature enough not to play the stupid “i’m-better-than-you” games. on the dance floor, at one point i was dancing and happened to catch a girl pointing at me (there was no one else around, so unless she was pointing at the decorations i was clearly her topic of discussion). when i saw it and saw the not-so-nice look on her face, i flashed her a big, confident smile (i have the gin and juice to thank for that), and she looked away in horror at having been caught.

i like to imagine that she was raving over my dress, which by the way i got for $39.50 at our local vintage store, and it’s from the 1960s. or that she loved my hair and heels (which i danced in all night—i wasn’t about to take them off and look as short as i really am…did i mention my skirt was too short?). but she and some other girls had shown ugly colors earlier when we had been hanging out on the patio outside, so i really should assume whatever it was she was telling the other girl was nasty.

the food was lame. the cost was $50 per person, and the menu consisted of meatballs, chicken fingers, vegetable egg rolls, barbecue on grocery store style buns. dessert, you ask? cookies, lined in a neat row, like they had been taken straight out of plastic containers and laid on a plate. seriously? for $50 a person? we should have had dinner. however, in the moment i didn’t complain because i had been worried i’d be tempted to blow my diet. whew.

the music was lame too until i started requesting that the dj play rap. keep in mind that my graduating class had only one black student. and i think one or two hispanic students. the town is beyond racist (or at least was when i moved there). so the minute the dj broke out with fergie and jay-z he got complaints. but i was happy so i didn’t care. i can’t imagine going to a reunion and wanting to hear only the songs that were popular when you were a teenager. 

i reconnected with several people, but the conversation never got beyond “where do you live now?” and mostly i was doing the asking. a couple of people reciprocating and asked where i lived. that was it. not “what do you do now? why do you live there? are you married?” nothing. it was weird.

granted, i don’t think i was being the best conversationalist. so i started giving myself a complex, suddenly doubting my social skills in a serious way.

i think it was a bit awkward because i attended the school for only 2 years, so some people just had a hard time remembering me. and i definitely had a hard time remembering them. these people grew up together for the most part, in a small town in the south where folks just tend to be tight-knit (and not always in a good way). so there wasn’t really much room for me then, and that was confirmed 20 years later.

i left that night feeling glad that i am where i am and that i know the people i know (near and far). there are lots of people who love me, and who appreciate me, and who love the quirky things about me, and who ask what’s new and different in my life. so it was fun to see a few people, but i wouldn’t want to go and do it again in 5 or 10 years.

i am grateful for my all-grown-up self and everything it embodies.

Monday, September 13, 2010

going back

my twenty-year high school reunion is this weekend. until about seven days ago, i had not even considered going. when i graduated, i left and never looked back. though i did go teach in the same high school from which i had graduated, but that's a different story.

as i have been thinking about what to wear (do you have any idea how stressful it is for a work-at-home mom to suddenly have to buy a cocktail dress? what is that?), about who i will see, about what i will talk about, about whether i will dance or sit still, i have been thinking, "no one will even remember me. no one will care about asking how i've been."

and i am not saying that in a feel-sorry-for-myself kind of way. more because i attended three different high schools before i graduated. so i always feel out of place in those conversations about "where are you from" and "what school did you go to."

i moved to this small town in virginia when i was 15, right before my junior year. i went on a church trip before school started, and that helped me meet new people. in general, i hate meeting new people. i think i'm bad at it (though i've been told as an adult that i'm pretty decent at it). i generally assume no one will really want to know me, want to know the "real" me anyway.

my junior year, i took a year off from band and just was a "normal" student. (those of you who were in band will understand what i'm talking about.) it was boring. i didn't have a natural in-group. so my senior year, i joined, and even though there were only about 35 of us (i told you it was a small town) and we sounded totally pathetic, i ended up leading the band as drum major.

i was bossy in high school. prudish. judgmental. bookish. pious. academically competitive. a know-it-all. all the while, i desperately wanted to be popular. to fit in. to have the "preps" include me.

naturally i assumed that at a reunion no one would even notice if i was there or not. i probably had a lot of enemies. well, maybe not enemies. but probably a lot of people who thought i was, well, a stuck-up bitch.

in contemplating this spur-of-the-moment decision to attend the reunion, i have come to realize though that my only enemy was me. and i think this is true of everyone with whom i went to high school. i mean, we were all teenagers. we didn't know who we were. now most of us have families of our own, we have wrinkles, we have muffin tops (though mine is slowly shrinking thanks to my workout program and diet--can i just say i would have started this a few months ago had i ever planned on going to this thing?!). we don't have time to be petty anymore because we are too busy living our lives, dealing with the real world.

at least that's how i hope it will be. maybe revisiting this part of my past will help me move a little closer toward learning to accept myself, past, present, future.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the long view

i want to believe that when i set out to do something i give it my all. in some cases, this is absolutely true. i think it mostly has to do with not disappointing other people. but not much of this motivation comes from within myself.

case in point: i just started weight watchers last tuesday. i'm coordinating with a friend online, and we have been emailing every day. i've also been doing a pretty difficult pilates-style exercise program for about 2 1/2 weeks now. (incidentally, i've lost 2 pounds and my bicep muscle actually popped up and surprised me the other day.)

this is my thought process regarding sharing this here: if i tell readers i am doing this, and then i fail, what will they think of me?

which means that i was (and probably still am) thinking that i am going to fail at this. see, whenever i set out to do something big, i am all excited and gung-ho at first. then, after a couple of weeks, something happens: i start thinking, well, nothing's changed. i haven't lost 10 pounds. i don't look like wonder woman yet (some of you will get that joke...).

but i desperately need to shed my short-term blinders--regarding exercise, eating healthy, raising my kids, loving my spouse, budgeting my money. because none of this stuff changes or gets that much better overnight. but long term, these are sweet investments. they could and will reap sweet rewards.

so i'm trying to take the long view.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


on monday afternoon, my sister called. we talked for a while, and then the conversation turned to discussion of happiness. we both talked about how we go through bouts of anxiety and depression (although she is able to label these better since she is schooled in this field). i mentioned how i think i am most comfortable when i'm sad. this unsettles me. i have found myself feeling weird, or unbalanced, or like something is actually wrong when things are going smoothly around here--when we have enough money, when we are all getting along.

then i told her, "well, look at both sides of our family. not many people in our family are happy." the people in our family who *have* made a difference in their lives and seem happy seem to have been very intentional about making this choice.

so then later that same day, a friend stopped by and i was telling her about the phone conversation with my sister. just processing it aloud.

that night, i saw that she had written a blog post with this same title, "abundance." it was short, to the point, just being thankful for the goodness around her. and believe me, she could write a novel with all the not-so-great things in her life. but she chooses to embrace the good.

on tuesday, when i was at the park watching my son play, i read an article in the september 2010 cooking light called "deciding to be happier" by kate meyers (you can see the article on this blog). there is so much in here, and i am thinking about discussing it more in another post (tied to spirituality), but one thing that stuck out with me is making a list of 5 things every morning that i am grateful for.

so yesterday afternoon, i shared that with my friend who had written the "abundance" post, and she piped up, "oh! i make a list in my head every  morning of things i'm grateful for. it really makes my days better."

since i have already shared that i am a glass-half-empty kind of person, i think it's extra important for me to try to take time every day to try to figure out what the blessings are in my life. the good things. the abundance.

because i have so much of it: a great husband--who cooks, cleans, plays with the kids, works hard. beautiful, healthy, intelligent, funny, and mostly well-behaved children. enough money to eat. general physical good health. a hilarious dog. a very cool (as in hip, not temperature wise...) place to live. friends and family who love me just the way i am, even if i am incessantly hard on myself.


Monday, August 30, 2010

starting over

so here i go. i had a blog. somewhere else. it had my name on it. and i ended up feeling like i was drowning in the self-censure i felt like some people were wanting to impose on me. or maybe it was just me feeling like i needed to please this or that person. at any rate, i'm not a hold-back kind of gal.

so i want to start over. here in this space. in a place where no one really knows who i am, and i can share what's on my mind without fearing repercussions later on down the road.

just in case someone has a slip-up and says my name in the comments, i'm going to be moderating comments. not that i expect to get tons of them. but just in case.

so here i go. wish me luck.