12.19.2012

Don't shake the baby.

The recent elementary school shooting in Newton, Connecticut shook me hard. I kept picturing Eliot's elementary school, where I drop him off every morning and watch as he blends into the straight marching rows of five- and six-year-olds walking single file into their respective classrooms, so orderly, looking so tiny with their backpacks almost as big they are, strapped to their backs. There are little voices chirping, "Hi, Eliot! Hi, Eliot's Mom!" and grinning faces, and tiny bodies stooping to pick up dropped mittens and homework assignments all along the hallway.

Eliot wasn't even at his own school that Friday--he was out sick and at his dad's house. I called three times just to hear his voice over the phone. I wanted to hold him, touch his cheeks, and smell his hair. I was sick thinking of the mommas and daddies who wouldn't be holding their just barely school-aged babies that night, or ever again.

Over the weekend I thought hard about what to tell Eliot, or whether it was appropriate to tell him anything at all about what had happened. It seemed weird not to discuss something of this magnitude, something that shook my world and immediately made me want to hold him tight. Then again, if it wasn't on his radar at all, I could get away without the hard discussion, right? I could preserve his innocence at least a little while longer, I thought. I didn't want him to be scared to go to school. I wondered if other kids at school would be talking about it. I wondered what they'd heard on the radio, on television, what snippets of adult conversations had fallen on their listening ears.

When I picked Eliot up from school on Monday, I tried to be casual. I asked him how his day was like I always do, and I waited to see if he would mention anything. I didn't bring it up.

I don't know how to do this parenting thing. It's really all just trial and error. At the hospital, when you give birth to a child, they tell you not to shake it, and that's basically it. That's all the instruction you get. "Don't shake the baby." They don't prepare you for what to do when he's five years old and the world has gone crazy and elementary students just like his sweet little self get murdered while learning the alphabet. They don't tell you what to say or whether to say anything.

Oh, don't get me wrong--plenty of people will tell you what to do. EVERYONE will tell you what to do. That's why I had to take a Facebook hiatus this week. So many people, talking so loudly and angrily about what should be done, and why this happened, and how not to have it happen again. So many different voices, saying different things, yelling different things, until it all just blends into a cacophonous, unintelligible noise. I had to step back from it. I had to remind myself that we all really want the same things. We all really want to keep our children safe. We just have vastly different ideas about how to accomplish that common goal. Everyone has an opinion, and plenty of them will broadcast it, preach it, sing it from the mountaintops, but no one really knows what the right answer is.

Finally, I remembered to listen to the one person who always has the right answer when it comes to parenting: my son. He's the one from the very beginning who has taught me how to be a mom. When I don't know what to do, I hold him to me and I listen.

Today, while sitting at the kitchen table, he drew this:


"Can you tell me about your drawing?" I asked, politely (making what I hoped was an emotionally neutral face, but what in reality probably looked more like horrified disbelief).

"It's a bomb that hit a plane and destroyed everything, and this guy fell out and died," he said.

"Oh, yes, I can see that," I said.

"No one survived," he said.

"That's pretty terrible," I said.

I told him that sometimes tragedies (like the Titanic) happen, and when they do, it's scary and sad, and then we all try to think of ways to make sure something like that never happens again. I asked him if they do anything at school to try to prepare for bad things. He immediately said, "Yes!" and described a fire drill they'd done earlier in the year. He told me, "They care about us and they want us to be safe." I nodded my head in agreement and said that's absolutely right. I asked if they do "any other drills" in addition to fire drills, and he said, "No, my school doesn't believe in tornadoes."

Hmmm...interesting.

What I gleaned from this and the rest of our conversation is that my five-year-old is aware of catastrophe. He knows that terrible things happen and people die, and he tries to wrap his head around that just like we do. But he doesn't know about Sandy Hook. And I guess that's the way we'll keep it for now.

11.13.2012

Monday.

Yesterday started out badly.

Eliot cried when we passed the new CVS in town because they'd taken down the streamers from their grand opening. "Why are the flags goooooooone?" he wailed. "WHO TOOK THE FLAGGGGGGS?"

And that was pretty much how I felt too. The weekend is over. The flags are gone. Who took down the flags? Why isn't everything the way it was? The way I left it? The way I have come to expect it to be? It is Monday and I can't move on because someone took down the flags. Without even asking. Those. Rat. Bastards.

I don't know what's been going on with me lately, but I've been in a funk. A crappy, pissy, grouchy ass funk. And I've been blaming it on everyone else around me. It's what I do. Why? Because it's easier than looking at myself and really seeing what is wrong. Because if I shove the ugly unhappiness further and further down and refuse to feel it, it might go away. Right? Instead of accepting and acknowledging my own faults, I blame them on everyone else and their inability to Make. Me. Happy. What the hell is wrong with them? They are not making me happy. Their job is to make me happy. They are bad at their job. Ipso facto, I will fire them. You are all fired. Every last one of you. The end.

James and I had lunch at a Chinese buffet and we ate quietly and morosely and moodily. I hated that there were no corn nuggets. I hated the sweet and sour chicken. I hated the fried rice. I hated the infomercial about skincare that was playing on the television monitor above my head. I hated that James eats with chopsticks and I use a fork. "Oh, so you think you're fancy, you smug, chop stick using motherfucker?" I grumbled internally. We left without getting fortune cookies. I thought, angrily, I don't WANT a fortune cookie because I don't NEED anyone to tell me my fortune I KNOW what it is and it SUCKS. Clearly. 

But yesterday afternoon, something turned around. I can't explain, exactly. We sat on the couch and I looked at James, and I saw him seeing me. And I cried because I looked like an asshole. I had been an asshole not because I'm inherently an asshole, but because in a moment when I was scared and uncomfortable and unwilling to feel vulnerable, I was mean. I made the choice to be mean instead of open and vulnerable. I thought I was protecting myself. And that moment and that choice turned into more moments and more choices, and I realized that lately I have been choosing to be mean and selfish much too often. I've been whining and complaining about not getting the bear when I haven't even been trying to get the bear. I've just been waking up, dragging myself around, and expecting someone else to get it for me everyday.

I know that's all vague and abstract and probably makes no sense at all to anyone but me. That's okay. The point is, if you want the bear, you have to MAKE AN EFFORT to get him.

It reminds me of the scene in Billy Madison when Miss Lippy is reading the class a book about the puppy who lost his way and while all the other children fall asleep listening, Adam Sandler sits there intently until the end and then says, "Whoa whoa whoa, Miss Lippy. The part of the story I don't like is that the little boy gave up looking for Happy after an hour. He didn't put posters up or anything, he just sat on the porch like a goon and waited. That little boy's gotta think 'You got a pet. You got a responsibility.' If your dog gets lost you don't look for an hour then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog."

I realized that I don't want to sit there like a goon, waiting. I need to get my ass out there.

By the time I went to bed last night, we had visited the (dubiously awarded) fastest soda machine in the world, a deer wandered into our front yard (I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Eliot he was about to knock on the door and ask for a grilled cheese sandwich.), I got to hold a precious newborn baby, and I ended the day cuddled up next to James on the couch watching Kung Fu.

Bear = Mine. Puppy = Found. CVS flags = Don't even miss them.

And all the other metaphors and what have you.

p.s. James, baby, if you're reading this...Will you teach me how to use chopsticks? I love you. ;)

11.03.2012

Finished beats perfect, every time.

Lessons I have learned (about sewing and myself) while making a quilt:

1. Your seam ripper is your best friend.

2. There's a certain zen moment in quilting that can really only be reached when one is ripping out the same seam for the fifth time.

3. It's okay to mess up while you're sewing. (See numbers 1. and 2.)

4. It is not as okay to mess up while you're cutting the fabric.


5. When your thread is getting janky, check your bobbin. It's almost always the bobbin. (p.s. You have a tendency to put the bobbin in backwards.)

6. Only touch the handle of the iron while you are pressing fabric, not the metal part.

7. The metal part is hot. Like, seriously hot.


8. No matter how patient and understanding your partner, it might not be a good idea to work in the same room with that person if you are someone who has a tendency to get pissed off and take out your anger out on others.

9. You have a tendency to get pissed off and take your anger out on others.


10. If you are a beginner, don't try to use a fancy decorative stitch on your binding, no matter how easy that lady on the YouTube instructional video makes it look.

11. A straight stitch gives you more control, and is much easier to rip out when you screw up.

12. Accept that you are going to screw up. A lot.


13. Finished beats perfect, every time.

14. When the pigs try to get at you, park it like it's hot.

10.02.2012

Queer as...

October is LGBT History Month.

Also, I'm queer.

My esteemed colleagues at Dictionary.com do the term no justice:

queer

[kweer] Show IPA adjective, queer·er, queer·est, verb, noun
adjective
1. strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; unusually different; singular: a queer notion of justice.
2. of a questionable nature or character; suspicious; shady: Something queer about the language of the prospectus kept investors away.
3. not feeling physically right or well; giddy, faint, or qualmish: to feel queer.
4. mentally unbalanced or deranged.


Although even by their definition, I suppose I qualify as "queer." I guess I'm strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint. Shady? Of questionable character? Perhaps. I DO seem to get picked out of line at the airport for extra security screening disproportionately often... Not feeling physically right or well? Indeed. Mentally unbalanced or deranged? Sometimes. Okay, often.

They throw in a helpful [sarcasm font] explanation of the perjorative:

5.Slang: Disparaging and Offensive .

a. homosexual.
b. effeminate; unmanly.

But they make no mention of the reappropriation of the word. No mention of owning or celebrating one's queerness. In fact, as a verb, Dictionary.com offers this definition of the word:

7. to spoil; ruin.
8. to put (a person) in a hopeless or disadvantageous situation as to success, favor, etc.
9. to jeopardize.

Hmmm...I can see that. To announce oneself as "queer" can spoil or ruin others' notions of your identity. To embrace the term, and the concept of queerness, is to jeopardize the status quo, to invite questions, to shift paradigms. Disadvantageous? Certainly. But hopeless? No. Not at all. More like hopeFUL.

But I'm stalling. I do that, see. I've been fumbling my way towards this post for years now, putting it off. I'm too close, and I don't have the words. It's too important, and I'm bound to fuck it up.

 *****

The thing is, I've always been attracted to women. Not just physically, but in every sense of the word. I preferred women to men. The way they smelled, the way they looked, the way they sounded, the way they felt. Growing up, I just assumed that attraction was normal. (How lovely and innocent, to assume one's own normality.) I figured everyone was attracted to women. Women are beautiful! Women are magnificent! Isn't it obvious? But then I learned that despite what I felt, I was supposed to pair up, date, and marry a man. Because that's how it works. So I did. (Of course, it's all much more complicated than that, but this post is already going to be incredibly long, so let's just gloss over a bit for now.)

Fast forward many years, and despite many attractions to specific women, despite mutual attractions to a few women, I've only ever really had relationships with men. After 32 years and two failed marriages, I finally summon up the courage to "come out" as a lesbian to most of my friends and family. No one is particularly shocked. Taken aback, perhaps, but for the most part, people who know me well nodded their heads like it made sense.

And then, after what felt like about two minutes of being "out," and feeling authentic and proud of myself and open, I met a man. And I fell in love with him. :) Because sometimes, that's just how life works.

So what does that mean? I honestly don't know.

I guess I've been waiting to write about my sexuality until it made sense. But it doesn't. And it won't. It is what it is. You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit.

Part of me thinks I fell in love with James because I was finally able to love myself. I was finally able to not just accept who I am, but love who I am. And when I was sitting there loving who I am, he came along, and he is this person who, as it turns out, is everything I need in a partner.

He loves my contradictions, and he loves my confusion, and he loves that I don't shave my legs. And I love his crazy smart brain, and I love his at times downright mean snarkiness, and I love his chest hair. TMI? Whatever.

But I feel compelled to say these things, to write these things, because it seems disingenuous to remain silent. I am in a relationship with a man, and in many ways, that's so convenient. I can pass for straight. I can hold my partner's hand in public and not worry about being persecuted for it. I can marry him, if we want; I can have children with him, and no one will question the validity of our family. Were some terrible tragedy to befall one of us, either of us could visit the other in the hospital, be in charge of medical decisions. We could file a joint federal tax return and receive the breaks and benefits that entails. We wouldn't be hated. We wouldn't be discriminated against, just for being together.

It makes me angry. It makes me so angry that because I happened to fall in love with a man, this relationship is somehow automatically deemed legitimate, socially and politically. It could just have easily been otherwise.

*****

So although I'm in a relationship (one that I dearly hope will last the rest of my lifetime) with a man, I still call myself queer. I don't know if I'm bisexual. Maybe? I don't like the labels. I just want to be me. 

My most fervent hope for the future is that the labels will become unimportant. We should all be free to partner with and marry whomever we choose. Gender is performance, and love knows no gender. It just is. Love is when you aren't looking for it, when you don't expect or maybe even want it. Love is never a bad thing. Love should be celebrated wherever and whenever it occurs.

After all, we all belong to one another.


See? He gets it.

9.25.2012

Reading challenge.

Eliot's homework for today included pointing to each word of a book as I read it to him. His class is learning to recognize certain words by sight and learning to understand the way the text on a page is split into words and sentences and read from top to bottom, left to right. Some of these ideas he's already familiar with; I've read to him at home since before he was born. We do quite a lot of reading around here.

It's so exciting to watch him learning and beginning to grasp the concepts he needs in order to read. He can already read quite a few words, but he tends to be rather self-defeatist about the whole endeavor. (My kid? Surely not!) His teacher sent home little "books" last week, illustrated with various animals trying on shoes and each two-page spread repeated the text, "Does it fit? Will it fit him?" When I told Eliot reading the book to me was part of his homework, I thought he was going to cry. He puckered up and whined, "But I DON'T KNOW HOOOOOW TO REEEEEAD..." I asked him to please just look at the words and assured him that I would help him with the ones he didn't know. He read, haltingly, "Does...it...fit? Will...it...fit...him?" over and over, all by himself until he got to the end of the book and looked up at me, amazed. "Mom!" he said, "When I grow up, I might be a person who works in a library because I CAN READ!"

I was so stinking proud in that moment.

I remember exactly the moment that I realized I could read, and it was the exact same kind of joyous revelation. I was sitting on the couch in our family room, and whining to my mom to get her to read a book to me. She was busy in the kitchen making supper, and she kept calling in at me, "Sit down and look at it yourself, Rachel, you can read it!" And I was all, "Nooooo, I cannnnnnn't! wah wah wah." Finally, I opened the book (It was called The Animals at the Zoo.) with a pissy attitude that slowly became less and less pissy when I discovered, page after page, that I recognized the words. A slow, begrudging smile stretched across my face and I yelled into the kitchen, "I CAN REAAAD! MOM! I CAN READ!"

It cracks me up that this seems to be the exact same path Eliot is following. (Well, cracks me up AND breaks my heart.)

But however he gets there, learning to read is so magical. Being able to read opens up so many worlds. Providing a home where reading is encouraged and loved and treasured is one of the most important gifts I can give to my son.

Here's what we're each into at the moment:



This year I've been keeping track of all the books I read (and getting new recommendations) at Goodreads. I've set a goal with the Goodreads Reading Challenge to read 40 books this year, and so far I'm only at 22. (Not counting the books I read with Eliot, of course. Pretty sure that would put me far over my goal!)

Got any suggestions for me?

I'm LOVING Let the Great World Spin so far. It's beautifully written.

Connect with me on Goodreads here, if you like, and let me know what you're reading too. :)

9.23.2012

The assignment.



So I spent part of this afternoon writing an essay for my freshman composition class. Their first draft of the assignment was due last week, and I've been reading through their efforts with a bit of confusion and concern. I don't feel like they understood the assignment, or maybe they just didn't understand how to go about fulfilling its terms? In any case, I thought I should do the assignment myself. It isn't right to expect of others what you can't do yourself, right? I wanted to make sure that the assignment was doable, and valuable in the doing. Now, granted, this is something I ideally should have done before the semester even began and I included the assignment on my syllabus. Hindsight = 20/20.

Here I feel like sharing my little essay, my fulfillment of the requirements I put forth for all 67 of my freshmen this semester. The assignment prompt, if you're interested, can be found here.

(Warning: It's a little cheesy, but that's how I roll.)

Simplicity, Squared
A clothesline full of drying garments stretches from the upper left hand side of the square photograph to the lower right hand side. The setting is a yard in a rural area where light filters through the branches of the late summer trees. The clothing, all in muted colors, casts shadows on the long grass. In the background, two vehicles are parked in a drive. This seemingly innocuous photograph of a silent late summer day, when posted to a Facebook profile, tells volumes about the person behind the camera lens.
            This photo sends a message of contentment. It tells the story of a person who takes joy in the small things in life, and prefers a quiet, slow paced, rural existence to the hubbub of the city and crowds. Quietness and a certain measure of solitude are expressed in the picture through the lack of any human figures. Only the laundry blows languidly in the breeze. A few vehicles and the laundry itself show that people are a part of this landscape, but not necessarily the most important part. Nature is not just the background, but the setting here, as the sun casts shadows on the lawn and the green of the grass and leaves covers most of the area. The muted colors of the laundry seem to blend into the background of nature rather than standing out against it. All of these details come together to lend the photograph a tone of quiet, simple pleasure.
            It is that quiet, simple pleasure embodied in the photograph that speaks to my particular values and world view. Even though it is just a simple snapshot, the photo of laundry drying in the summer sun on my lawn, when shared with all of my “friends,” becomes an emblem of my identity. For one, it is a habit of mine to try to find joy in the mundane. A plate of breakfast, warm coffee, the sun shining on my back as I stretch out on a quilt on my front lawn—the simple things in life, to me, are what make it precious. The caption on my photograph reads, “Happiness is hanging clean laundry on the line on the first day of fall. :-D” The caption and the photo itself suggest that simplicity—symbolized by the laundry on the clothesline— makes me happy.
            The photograph also betrays my easy-going, laid back personality. Any viewer of the photo can tell that the grass beneath my clothesline is long and wild. A single dandelion gone to seed sprouts up out of the unmowed grass. The state of the lawn, slightly overgrown, though not completely untended, shows that I am a person who isn’t fastidious about appearances. While I keep my yard mowed throughout the summer, I’m not fussy about it, and I don’t care in the least if it goes a little too long without being tended. The clothes on the line help suggest this carefree attitude, as they aren’t the heavily tailored, expensive suits of someone who worries about details. Rather, most of the clothing pictured is vintage, flowing flowered skirts and light weight, casual shirts in muted, natural tones: blue, brown, black, cream. Both my wardrobe and the state of my grass show that I’m a casual person with simple, uncomplicated tastes.   
            Even though I consider my tastes to be simple and uncomplicated, I also value creativity. The square shape of the photo and the quality of light and color hint that this photo has been taken using Instagram, an application popularly used to add an interesting flair to otherwise ordinary photographs. I chose the “Amaro” filter to give this particular photograph a more vintage tone. The filter emphasizes the light shining through the leaves of the trees and gives the clothing a more washed out, muted color tone. The Instagram application allows me to share this photograph with both my “friends” and followers on Instagram and on Facebook, which gives me a wider audience for my simple photograph of laundry hanging on a line on the first day of fall.
            For some members of my online audience, particularly my sisters, this photograph will elicit some of the same memories and feelings that it does for me. As I was hanging the laundry out to dry, I was reminded of the summer days of my childhood, when my mother used to do the very same thing. Hauling a basket of wet clothes and wooden clothespins, she’d venture out to the exact same type of clothesline to perform the same chore. As kids, my sisters and I delighted in running underneath the lines, pressing our faces against the cold, wet, fresh-smelling fabric of clothing and bed linens. I thought of those days and the simple pleasures of childhood as I hung out my own laundry, and as I snapped the picture of it hanging there in the sun.
            The fact that I posted this photo for all of my “friends” to see shows my wish to connect with other people, to display my own values and receive feedback from others. All human beings desire connection to some extent. Some people use their social networking profiles primarily in order to keep up with friends and loved ones, in order to see what’s new in the lives of their friends, family members, coworkers, or even casual acquaintances. For me, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like allow me to express myself in deeper ways than I necessarily would in person, offline. My photograph, metaphorically, and literally shows that I sometimes use social media in order to air my laundry publicly. I tend to be someone who overshares, and that quality definitely comes through in my posts. Not everyone would post a photo of something as mundane as their laundry hanging on a clothesline, but to me, it’s the next in a series of everyday posts that together reflect my personality. It’s not necessarily that I want to show off, but that I like to put everything out there, to compile my characteristics in a series of online artifacts that proclaim, “This is me. Take it or leave it.” The laundry photograph and my sharing of the laundry photograph is just another part of that proclamation:  Here is my everyday. Here is another single moment in which I am stepping back, appreciating what I have, and displaying it with pride.
            We’ve all heard the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. One photograph can act as evidence of an entire life, in this case, a quiet but connected life made up of ordinary moments stitched lovingly together. My photograph of laundry hanging on a clothesline on the first day of fall stands as a celebration of all that is good and fresh and clean, an everyday magic. To me, it is precisely that everyday magic that is most worth sharing.


9.22.2012

I have the power!

I want to share the evolution of my newest finished embroidery project. "Finished" is the key word here. I have about a zillion projects in various stages of non-completion, but this one I was excited enough about to see all the way through to the bloody end. (It wasn't really bloody. That's a lie.)

I was inspired because one morning I came out to the living room after blissfully sleeping in late, to observe my boyfriend and my son watching He-Man cartoons on Netflix. Somehow, I had forgotten all about He-Man. I had forgotten Cringer aka Battle Cat! And the Man-at-Arms! And even more unforgivable, I had forgotten Teela! Dear, sweet, beautiful, ass kicking Teela! I knew pretty much right away that I had to do an embroidery homage.

First, I googled images of He-Man and used a pencil to lightly trace an image onto fabric by holding the linen up to my laptop screen. I started stitching right away, and then almost immediately got pissed off because it wasn't coming out how I had imagined. I scrapped the whole thing and came back to it several days later, when I decided I'd try to run the linen through my printer. Yes! You can do that. I cut an 8.5 x 11 piece of linen and ironed a piece of freezer paper onto it to stiffen it up (You have to put the glossy side of the freezer paper facing the fabric, and it doesn't hurt to use a pressing cloth so as not to muck up your iron). Once I had the freezer paper iron fused to the linen, I crossed my fingers and sent it through my printer.

Voila!


Then I did a happy dance all over the place because this successful technique just opened up a whole new world of embroidery possibilities. I AM THE SMARTEST WOMAN ALIVE!

Then I peeled off the freezer paper, hooped the linen up atop a layer of red print fabric that I wanted to be my background, and started stitching.

When I got the edge stitching and most of the rest finished, I got antsy wanting to know what it was going to look like, so I went ahead and cut away the extra linen.


I just kept stitching my little heart out until I finished him up. (A fair amount of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episodes were viewed during the stitching of this piece.)

Here's a detailed shot. My phone is the only camera I have right now, so the quality of the photo doesn't do justice to these stitches, but meh. Whatchya gonna do? 


To finish off the piece, I added a felt caption, then framed it using a plain wooden hoop that I covered with black electrical tape. (Classy, right?!) I always use a layer of batting between my finished piece and the hoop frame. That helps disguise any crazy stray stitching from showing through the fabric, and it gives the piece a nice, slightly puffy, full look. I hot glue the fabric edges directly to the inner hoop.




Now the finished product is hanging in Eliot's bedroom. Any time I'm working on a new project, he always quizzes me, "Is that one for me, Mom? Is that going to be mine? That's mine, right?!"



Yes, kiddo. Always.

8.29.2012

Brave.

My son's starting kindergarten last week has been a big adjustment for all of us. For me, there's the requisite letting go, facing the bittersweet reality that my baby is growing up too fast, and the oh-holy-hell terror that is dragging my ass out of bed at 6:30 a.m. every morning to make sure both he and I are ready to leave the house by 7:30 a.m. For him, the situation is even more dire. His world has just changed, irrevocably.

It isn't that Eliot dislikes school; in fact, I suspect that he often has a great time there. Most mornings, however, he gets slow and shy and clingy, and protests that he does not like school, does not want to go today, cannot go today, is not going today. He really has to stay home and help James crush cans in the basement. He really has to stay home and put together a Lego ship. He needs to stay home and play video games. He needs to stay home and finish watching that episode of Bob the Builder that we didn't finish last night. School is too easy. School is too hard. School is too _______. Fill in the blank. He can come up with reason after reason, ad infinitum, why he simply, regrettably, cannot go to school today.

"Because you're picking me up, but I want Dad to pick me up."

"Because Dad's picking me up, but I want you to pick me up."

"Because everyone else gets to ride the school bus, and I don't get to ride the school bus."

(Eliot, like Makayla, is not impressed.)


I'm familiar with these arguments, this argument process, because I do the same thing nearly every day in my head. "I can't get out of bed. I'm too tired. I'm exhausted. I can't face this day. I can't do this. Things aren't perfect. I'm not strong enough. I'm not good enough. I'm not enough." I've been bullied relentlessly by my own interior dialogue since adolescence. I'm 33 now. I don't expect that voice to go away anytime soon. I HAVE learned to conjure up other voices. They provide a counter-diatribe. They tell the bully to shut up, go away, you're wrong, and no one invited you anyway. Even so, some days I need all the outside encouragement I can get. I'm lucky that my boys provide it:

This is the chalkboard where I often find motivational messages from James and Eliot.

So this morning, on our way to school, when Eliot looked at me with tears brimming and said, "I CAN'T do this," I gave him my talk about bravery. It's the same talk I give myself every day. I told him that being brave means doing something that scares you, even though it scares you. Being brave doesn't mean you AREN'T scared. It means you go through with that thing, whatever it is, in spite of your fear. I reminded him that lots of kids, most kids, even, are scared to go to school at first. Evidence: remember that little boy on Monday who was crying tears and not wanting his dad to leave? It's okay to be scared. It's natural to be scared. What's important is that you be brave and do it anyway.

I shared with him that today I am nervous. I have to do some things today that scare me. My job requires that I get up in front of a classroom full of people, people who are all LOOKING AT ME, and I have to talk, and sometimes that scares me. And then I told him how I manage to do it anyway. Because every time you do something that scares you, that thing scares you a little less. Every time you are brave, it gets a little bit easier to be brave the next time.

I told Eliot that thinking about him being brave at his school helps me to be brave at my school. I told him that maybe, if we both think about each other being brave today, that will help.

We walked into the gymnasium, found the area where his class waits for their teacher, and we gave each other a high-five. He sat down with his backpack, bravely waiting for his day to begin, and I walked out of the kindergarten building with my head up, bravely venturing into mine.

We don't have to pretend we aren't scared. We just have to do it anyway.

7.17.2012

Everything in its right place.

My son is an extremely perceptive kid, especially when it comes to emotions. Sometimes I think he must be an old, old soul. So it shouldn't really surprise me anymore when he asks complicated questions, and asks them much sooner than I'm prepared to answer them. A few hours ago we were sitting in the living room floor, sorting Legos according to shape and size. (We've learned via trial and error that it really does no good to sort them by color, but that's a whole other story.) Eliot was singing a song that had been on the radio the last time we were in the car: "The day I first met you, you told me you'd never fall in love..." He stopped abruptly and looked up at me. "Mom, does everybody fall in love?" he asked.


"Weeeellll...that's a tough one. I guess I'd say...yes? Probably everybody falls in love." I'm looking at him with a questioning face, wondering where this came from and where it's about to go...and he follows up with, "Did you ever fall in love?"

"Oh, honey. Sweet baby child," I'm thinking. But I carefully say, "Well, yes. I fell in love with James."

And Eliot replies, "Okay, but what about my dad? You were married to him, right? So did you fall in love with him?"

Great. Awesome. We're going there.

Again, I have to take a moment to choose my words carefully. I'm thinking I want to sneak into the kitchen and scoop my eyeballs out with a spork, but instead I sit right where I am, on the carpet, shifting through little pieces of plastic, and I say, "Yes, I fell in love with your dad. But that was a long time ago, when we were both really young."

"Before I was born, right?"

"Yes, it was before you were born."

"And you used to live together?"

Now I'm thinking, "Dude. You're five. Can't we just play Legos?!" Instead, I say, "Yes, we lived together before you were born, and for a while after you were born, but then there came a time when we decided it would be better if we weren't married anymore." (Mental note: pat myself on the back later for being sooooo diplomatic with this explanation.)

"And now my dad is married to H_____, right?"

"Yes, he is."

"Why?"

"I guess because he fell in love with H_____."

Eliot takes a minute to think about this. He thoughtfully fingers a set of plastic Lego leaves and then puts them into a compartment of one of the fishing tackle boxes we're using to house these myriad pieces.

I want to say, "Kid, don't look at me. I don't have ANY answers for ya." But I just sit there quietly among the wreck, plucking and sorting.


I wish I had some words of wisdom for him. I wish I could explain to him how people fall in and out of love, how it works, how we survive by picking up and moving on and falling in love again and again, even when we don't want to. But I can't, because I don't have any better idea than he does. I don't know how any of this works either.

He tells me he wishes we still lived together, his dad and I, and I laugh. "Oh no you don't, Bubba! Trust me! Besides, if we did, you wouldn't have H_____ and your brother! You love them! You'd miss them so much if they weren't in your life."

He says, "Well, yeah, I do love them, but..."

"But, what, sweetie? Everything is the way it's supposed to be."

After a few more quiet minutes, Eliot asks, "Do you ever miss my dad?" and I say, "Sure, sometimes."

He says, "Doesn't it make you sad?"

And I say, "Sometimes it does. And sometimes it doesn't at all." I smile at him. "I'm pretty happy with the way everything is right now."

He smiles back. I hug him, and ruffle his hair.

"Keep sortin', kid," I say, "We're just about to get there. I can feel it."

3.21.2012

My life in ink.

I have three tattoos. I got the first when I was 18, and my then-boyfriend, later-husband had decided that he wanted to be a tattoo artist. He ordered a gun and supplies from the Internet and set to work on himself, his friends, family, anyone who would sit still long enough. He had a natural talent for it; he really was quite good, despite a total lack of formal training, and I still think that had he seriously chosen that route and embarked on an apprenticeship, he would be an amazing tattoo artist today. But that wasn't the life he wanted. His tattooing addiction lasted just long enough to leave a lasting mark on my left ankle, in the form of an Egyptian ankh, my first tattoo. I choose the ankh for several reasons. An ankh is supposed to symbolize life, fertility, and vitality. It is shaped like a sandal strap, to designate the everyday, not in a mundane sense, but in a lasting, perpetuity sense. At least, this is what the ankh meant to my 18 year-old self, the naive girl who'd read much about the world, and experienced little. To her, this symbol was a symbol of hope and of reassurance. It meant, no matter what, the world will keep turning; life goes on. I was caught at a crossroads back then, terrified to take the next step, "knowing how way leads onto way," scared I would never get a second chance, and that I had to commit myself to one path for the rest of my life. I was wrong, as it happens. I keep the ankh the way it is, amateurishly inked, needing a touch-up, because it marks that specific point in my life. It's a chapter heading, a signpost, a marker of where I've been and how far I've come since.

Ooooo, pretty sock lines and leg hair!
sexy, sexy calf meat


My second tattoo is of text. It reads "simply live" in a black, curvy, sort of elvish looking font up my right wrist. I got this one in Chicago at the Jade Dragon (and  paid way too much for it) in 2009. At the time, my then-husband had just told me he had a crush on another woman (a crush that either already was, or, in any case later turned into, a full blown affair). I was devastated and my first instinct was to get as far away from him as I could. I wanted to get in my car and drive and not ever stop. Instead, I got in my car and drove to Chicago, to a dear friend who comforted me with food and drink and indulgently drove me to a tattoo parlor when I demanded it. "Simply live" meant to me at the time (and still does), to just keep going, no matter what. I knew I was headed for rough waters, and I knew there were going to be moments when I wanted to give up. I needed a reminder that all I really need to do is keep breathing, in and out. I thought of it as a tribute to my friend Molly, who had passed away unexpectedly in September of 2008. It was a way to keep her near me, to say that no matter what, I'm not giving up, because I know she'd do anything to will me the strength to keep going. "Simply live" also means to live in such a way that I pay attention to and enjoy the small things in life, the smell of the air just before a rain, the touch of my son's hand, the taste of ice cream. It's a reminder that I don't need more money, a bigger house, or a nicer car. Everything I need, I already have right here in front of me.

so crisp and new!

So my third, but likely not last, tattoo is also on my right arm. It is a dotted line that curves from underneath the "simply live" text to make several loops and end in a paper airplane farther up my forearm. I feel like each of my tattoos marks an important period of time in my life: the ankh, my adolescence, the beginning of discovery and experience, when everyday was full of possibility and so much stretched unknown before me; the "simply live" text, my young adulthood, the letting go of certain expectations, the loosening of ties, the acceptance that I cannot control my environment, only the way I choose to react to it; and the paper airplane, a new phase of adulthood, where I am learning to embrace fun as I see life through my son's eyes, where I am learning to accept myself and enjoy myself, where I am beginning to strive for my own happiness rather than the approval of others.

fun

:)

I love all three of my tats: they're like children in that I couldn't possibly name a favorite. As long as I keep living and growing, I'm going to keep getting inked. My tattoos are like ironic talismans against self-harm. They are permanent reminders of the impermanence of life, of the constant ebb and flow, the changing of seasons, the getting and the letting go. They provide me with perspective in times when I'm greatly in danger of losing my grip on it. They give me another medium through which to write my life and make it real.

3.13.2012

He knows everything, like god.

It has been a beautiful day.

Eliot and I have spent our time outside, soaking up the spring air like thankful new flowers, turning our faces towards the sun. This afternoon I've spread a quilt out in the shade over a patch of dry brown grass, and I've been sitting here with a paperback novel, reading and watching Eliot build endless roads through his sandbox. Our lazy, meandering conversations have kept me entertained all day.


We ventured out early, as soon as I could convince Eliot to trade his dinosaur pajamas for jeans and a t-shirt. On our way up to the park, he casually informed me, "I know everything, like God."
Me: "Uhmmm...is that so?"
Eliot: "Yeah."
Me: "How do you figure you know everything?" (I'm thinking--but NOT saying--"Wow, my kid gets more and more like his dad every day...")
Eliot: "Because. I pray every day."
Me: "You do?"
Eliot: "Yes. I pray at school. Yesterday I prayed for A___'s dog."
Me: "You...prayed for A___'s dog?"
Eliot: "Yeah. She told me she thinks he has an ear infection, and I said if she thinks that, she should probably take him to the doctor. So I prayed."
Me: "..."
Me: "Who ARE you?! And how old are you, anyway?"
Eliot: "I'm four."
Me: "You don't act like you're four."
Eliot: "Well...that's probably because I'll be five next month, Mom."
Me: "Right. That explains it."

A few days ago, Eliot told me he could "speak bird." He assured me that "tweet tweet chirp," when translated into English, means, "Do you like Legos? Well, YEAH, I like Legos! Who doesn't?"
These are obviously the kinds of conversations birds would have. Obviously.

 At the park, we had to come to the rescue of a little girl who was screaming bloody murder from the top of the slide, yelling, "DAD! DADDDDDD!" Dad was nowhere in sight, so I walked up and asked her if she needed help, thinking she had climbed to the top and was now too scared to slide down. She said, "There is a FLY up here and I am afraid of flies and the FLY just landed on my HAND!" Keeping a very straight face, my right hand shading my eyes against the sun, I looked up at her and said, "Wave your hand around, like this," demonstrating a flapping motion with my left. "Ahhhhhhh!" she cried. Eliot calmly stood up from the pile of sand he was playing in, dusted off his pants and sighed, "I'll go save her, Mom. I AM a superhero, after all." He climbed up to the top of the slide, waving his arms around in a shooing motion and told the girl, "I know a song to get these flies away. You just sing, 'Shoo, fly, don't BOTHER me! Shoo, fly, don't BOTHER me!" Then my brave, omniscient son, shoo-er of flies, defender of little girls, grabbed her hand and they both slid down into the sand. It was like the opening scene of a Nora Ephron movie, meant to foreshadow their courtship and eventual marriage, which will no doubt be fraught with charmingly comical moments of misunderstanding caused by lack of communication.

Just now, as I type and Eliot plays in his sandbox, he randomly muses, "I don't like it when people kiss; it's so gross. Every time my dad kisses Heather, I say, 'ewwww...sick!' and so does Bean. Well, Bean can't say that yet, but he WILL. Trust me."

I look over at Eliot, and I'm thinking, "Yeah, that shit would gross me out too," but in responsible mother mode, I merely smile and try not to laugh.

It's been a beautiful day.

2.27.2012

Facebook and I are frenemies. (And Pinterest is our bastard child who resulted from that one night when we both had too much to drink.)

I love Facebook. I really do. But Facebook and I are frenemies. Or, really, Facebook is more like a pesky younger sibling. No matter how many times it manages to piss me off, I keep coming back for more. Ultimately, I can love it at times, and hate it at times, but I can never bring myself to not care at all.

I love having a central place to "check in" everyday, to catch up with people's news, big and small, to check the temperature of everyone's mood, to see photos of long lost friends' babies and pets and what-have-you. Through Facebook, I've facilitated new relationships and rekindled old ones. On occasion, Facebook has served to remind me why I didn't keep up with a certain person (or persons) in the first place.

However. However. However. Facebook is also a gigantic black hole of time suck (bet you haven't noticed this!) into which my very soul disappears on an all too frequent basis. Every time I open my laptop, regardless of the task at hand, I go to Facebook first. I think to myself, "Well, I'll just pop on over there for a minute before I _______." (insert "balance my checkbook," "grade these essays," "respond to my work email," "write a blog post," etc.) Two hours later, I haven't managed to do anything but "like" various statuses, photos, and posts, and click through to news stories with headlines like "Snooki's Bikini Body" and "I Will Always Love Whitney Houston's Open Casket Funeral." This, my "friends," is clearly time well wasted.

I blame my lack of blogging as of late on my complete inability to resist Facebook. Throughout the day, I have ideas and I think to myself, "Ooooo, I should write about that." I fully intend to set about some serious writing just as soon as I get a chance. And yet, when I get home, I inevitably find myself on Facebook and before I know it, not only is that 30 minute opportunity I had to write long gone, but the sun has gone down, I haven't fed my kid, mice have taken up residence in my kitchen, and both my legs and part of my ass has fallen asleep because it's been untold hours since I even shifted position. All because someone I barely know from grade school posted something about Rick Santorum, and their page was just begging for my snarky comment. Also, I had to "like" thirty different people's posts about how much they hate Monday because I also hate Monday! Solidarity is important!

Thus, my blog sits and collects cyber-dust, and the world is deprived of that 500 word eloquent musing I otherwise would have written about the disturbing alien dream I had several nights ago--the one that may or may not have been inspired by a cross between an awful Netflix movie and an episode of Iron Chef where the special ingredient was some sturgeon-esque fish/monster/beast the likes of which I'd never seen. I know, sad, right? Tragic, even, that such pieces have been lost due to excessive Facebooking.

I would probably write something profound right now, if I didn't need to go update my status. Because while I'm there, let's face it: I'll probably need to pin some pictures of wide-eyed, adorable kittens with snarky captions to Pinterest. That's gonna take awhile.

2.14.2012

What I think about when I think about love.

This morning, Eliot asked, "Can I be Robin today?" He was asking if he could wear his Halloween costume to school for the Valentine's Day party. Yep. That's my boy. :)

Of course I said yes, because there's no day that ISN'T a good day for a costume, as far as I'm concerned.

As I was helping him don tights and cape, I was thinking back to October, thinking about stitching up his Robin suit and then playing superheroes in the front yard with cars slowing down to watch the spectacle of us. And it occurs to me that this is what love is.

When I think about love, I think about kicking and karate chopping and zowie-ing and bam-ing around the front yard with a pair of underwear on the outside of my clothes and not really caring because all I can see is this giant smile on a little boy's face.




 When I think about love, I think about risking the dire mortification of appearing in public in a swimming suit when Eliot wants me to swim with him at the rotary pool. I think about how my self-consciousness drops away as soon as I see him splashing and laughing and paddling around.

When I think about love, I think about 2 yr old Eliot smacking his lips and saying "Ooooooh, this is delicious, Mommy!" while eating a grilled cheese sandwich that I had made him for lunch because I was incapable of actually cooking anything that qualified as real food.

When I think about love, I think about this speechless but wailing infant, finally quiet in my arms at 4:00 a.m. as we sit in the rocking chair in his bedroom. I am looking out the window at the first rays of sunlight and feeling amazed that I have survived another day here with this child.

No chocolates, no roses, no hearts.

Just this child who both depletes me and sustains me, every day.

This is what I think about when I think about love.

2.07.2012

Drive.

If I couldn't drive, I would be lost.

I didn't get my driver's license on my 16th birthday. There was no one available to drive me to the Department of Motor Vehicles that day so that I could take my test and get licensed, and I remember walking around my small hometown aimlessly, no destination, just walking and walking and raining self-pity down upon myself, thinking, "Oh woe is me! It's my birthday. It's my birthday and I'm sixteen and I'm all alone and I can't even drive. Woe is me." The funny thing is, I have no memory of the day I actually did get my driver's license. It couldn't have been long after my birthday, maybe a few days later, maybe the next week, but all I can remember is walking around on the 15th of June that year, eyes cast downward to the cracked and rolling sidewalk, and feeling powerless, restless, and shifty.

I guess I've always felt the need to get away. To me, driving means going, leaving, taking action, even if only in the smallest way. If I cannot drive, I am stuck. Even if I'm just circling around the block, driving makes me feel as though I'm doing something. At least I'm moving, and it doesn't have to be forward.

And maybe I inherited the need to drive from my old man. I don't remember he and my mom ever fighting or arguing during their thirteen year marriage. I remember being shocked when they divorced; I kept thinking, "But they don't ever fight!" Shortly after he moved out, though, I realized that I didn't ever witness fights or arguments between them because my dad would always leave before the tension could escalate to that point. As soon as there was friction, he'd head to the driveway. His little brown Nissan truck would rev and back up, and soon all we could see were red taillights and a grey cloud of gravel dust kicked up as his spinning tires propelled him the hell out of there.

I'm the very same way. And the leaving is not necessarily avoidance, but more...achieving the space and the quiet that I need in order to listen to what my heart is saying. When I need to figure things out, I take to the road. When I need to move, I drive.

Eliot has inherited this need, I think. From the very beginning, he has loved being in a moving vehicle. He was a very Jekyll and Hyde baby, one who stayed perfectly content for most of the day, but then morphed into a screaming, wailing, inconsolable banshee of pure evil every evening from twilight until dawn. Through trial and error, we eventually found the only two things that would keep him from screaming: the vacuum cleaner and car rides. (Not at the same time.) Eliot and I went for a LOT of car rides when he was an infant. As soon as the motor was running, he would conk out. As soon as I shut the car off, he would wake up and resume wailing. Over the course of a few particularly terrible weeks, I started driving him around in the afternoons, listening to books on CD while he napped. I remember soaring down endless county roads, listening to John Grisham's A Painted House with Eliot in the backseat, snoozing away, secure in his tiny five-point harness. Driving represented the calm, much-needed respite from real life.

Eliot still likes riding in the car. Sometimes he'll be the one to suggest we take a car ride, and we'll buckle up and head out to anywhere, both of us singing along to the radio and dancing as wildly as possible against our seat belts. Sometimes we'll just ride quietly, with only the sound of the wind and our tires rushing along pavement. It gives us time to think and space to feel grateful for just being alive. Or at least, that is what it gives me. I feel an unexplainable connection to the world as it rushes past the windows of my car. When I am driving, I feel tethered to my life, not in a restricting way, but in a reassuring, comforting way. I feel like no matter how far I may roam from it at any given moment, I do have a center, and a purpose. And when I look in the rear view mirror and see Eliot's little face, so like my own, reflected back at me... then I look forward to the road ahead, wherever it leads us.