Sunday, December 31, 2006
December was busy - we threw a party, the oldest Space Age daughter visited for a week, we traveled over Christmas, and we spent three days in a row feasting and celebrating with large crowds of people. There was no one quiet, moving moment, no tiny break in the action when I could allow myself to be washed over with peacefulness, if even for a minute.
I'm going to try to take that minute tonight, somehow, at some moment.
The Space Age husband is spending the afternoon cleaning the garage. It's his mental cleansing time, his fresh start for the new year, his way of feeling organized and grounded and strengthened for new challenges.
The Space Age children are playing with puzzles upstairs. All they want to know is when we will break out the rootbeer and potato chips for their New Year's celebration - for them, we do the countdown a few hours earlier than the calendar change actually takes place.
Me? I'm cleaning. I need that fresh start feeling too. So many pressures and stresses have been weighing on my brain. I wasn't able to enjoy the Christmas season as fully and wholeheartedly as I would have liked. I've made a new resolve to work more on my own physical and mental health and my own peace of mind. My husband must have sensed this - two of my Santa gifts this year were jigsaw puzzles. It was his way of saying, "Take some time for yourself."
Cleaning helps. I'm putting away most of the Christmas decor, though I'll leave up some remnants of festivity until the Ephiphany. I like a clean house for New Year's. Later, when our work is done, we'll make some fondue, open a bottle of wine, give the kids their treats, and celebrate the new year with music and games and enjoying each other's company. I will try to grab that moment of peacefulness my mind and heart are craving.
To you and to yours, my best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous, and very happy New Year.
Friday, December 29, 2006
When time speeds by at a dizzying blur, and the baby with the side part and the plastic barrettes, just learning to sit up, is suddenly a first-grader with three missing teeth and a stack of books to read. That's age seven.
She spent the day making bead crafts, coloring, and decorating her own birthday cake (it was chocolate with chocolate frosting, pink sprinkles, and tiny colored marshmallows). She chose spaghetti with salad for her birthday supper and afterward we had huge squares of cake with cookies and cream ice cream.
I never tire of looking at her face. It's a small face, tiny-featured, delicate and expressive. Her eyes seem older than seven; behind their guileless innocence lies a gentle wisdom. My chubby baby has grown into a tall and gangly girl with enough love and caring to embrace the world.
She is beautiful in so many ways. And she is seven.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
It's been too long since my last updates - busy season, anyone? - but I'm going to recommit to the Spage Age Blog.
A bit of a small start here, after a week traveling for Christmas. This is the oldest Spage Age daughter, the apple of my eye, and me, on Christmas Eve...
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Six years ago today, I was arranging things in our temporary corporate housing, setting up cell phones, talking with the real estate agent from the relocation company, and enrolling my middle schooler in classes. She started school that week on Thursday, after I jumped through hoops to get her admitted 'to a school in the neighborhood in which we hoped to buy a house; our temporary apartment was not within the district boundaries for that school.
We did find and buy a house before the end of the month, the house I'm sitting in even as we speak. It looks a lot different than it did six years ago - window treatments, carpet, paint, landscaping, and a deck. We've gradually stamped our own personalities on what was once and empty shell of sheet rock and plain putty-colored carpet.
When we arrived in Idaho, I thought perhaps we'd be here two years. Maybe three. While I was pregnant with my son in 2001, I thought certainly he'd be born in Minnesota. We'd move back before his birth.
He's more than four-and-a-half now. We're still here.
As the years have passed, my angst over leaving Minnesota has lessened. I still miss it. I miss living within shouting distance of my parents and my siblings. I miss standing on the soil of my grandparents and great-grandparents.
Somehow, though, it doesn't hurt as much anymore. We visit, and the roads travel both ways. We've established new, fledgling roots here. We have friends, our children have friends, and for lack of a more colorful term, we have a network. And finally, finally - I've come to love the house that once felt cold. I achingly longed for the house we'd left behind, the 1964 rambler with the basement and the real woodburning stove and the built in bar lovingly sanded and finished by my husband. That was home. This was...something else.
For years - two or three, maybe - I felt as though I were visiting in someone else's space. Not mine. Something different somehow, and I never felt settled.
Today, six years after we pulled out of my parents' driveway in a green minivan, bound for parts unfamiliar, I can say that this two-story house with the brick-red front door feels like home.
If you drive up today, you'll see the autumn harvest wreath hanging on the front door, the jaunty scarecrow in the yard, surrounded by the biggest pumpkins we could find at Albertson's, and the planter boxes on the front porch festooned with pumpkins large and small. The mums have grown big, and the pear and juniper trees stand three times as large as they once did.
Home has more than one definition, I've learned. I've also learned that there's enough love and affection in my heart to embrace them all.
Monday, October 09, 2006
I can picture him as clearly as yesterday, sitting at my table, joking with my children, wearing his green t-shirt, thoughtfully listening to his camp colleagues describe their lives and their goals. He remained quieter than the young women; seemingly content to listen and observe. His manner with my children - treating them as intelligent beings, equals and friends - earned their respect and regard, as well as that of my husband and me.
My six-year-old daughter still asks about Jon and the other camp counselors.
"Will they come back next year?" she asks, eagerly awaiting another week of vacation bible school and in particular the water games with buckets and balloons.
"Somebody will," I answer gently, wondering if I can avoid ever telling her about what happened to Jon.
It seems incomprehensible that we spent a genial Tuesday evening with Jon, bid our farewells that Thursday, and then on Saturday he went up a mountain from which he would never return. It's incomprehensible that this mountain took Jon, plucked him from the arms of his loving family, took him from the work he so obviously loved, and kept him, refusing to give him back to the dozens of searchers who blanketed the area in the last two weeks of July.
The world was blessed to have Jon Francis, and my heart aches for him and his family and all those for whom and with whom he worked and lived and prayed.
I can't make sense of it. Perhaps I never will.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Friday, September 29, 2006
During today's grocery shop, I found an evil beyond all evils. Something truly decadent, something that has the potential to wield unfathomable power over me.
It is Pumpkin Spice Egg Nog.
Things were bad enough when the retailers sold egg nog only during the Christmas season - remember when the mistletoe-and-holly cartons began appearing in supermarket refrigerators no sooner than December first? Then they started pushing it back to Thanksgiving. Now? Egg nog is becoming as much a Halloween tradition as it is Christmas, the September and October versions of the cartons featuring pumpkins and silhouettes of witches. I try to avoid buying egg nog before Thanksgiving. I'd like to at least make a pretense of keeping it for Christmas.
But this stuff I had to have. It called me with its spicy siren song, "Take me home!"
It's rich. Creamy. Cinnamon-and-nutmeg-y. An evil to transcend all evils.
And so, so, so good.
It's too early for pumpkins and homemade cinnamon sugar doughnuts and popcorn and hot apple cider in front of the fireplace. And it's much, much too early for egg nog.Isn't it?
Friday, September 22, 2006
Who am I, and what have I done with myself?
I have two corkboards above my desk - one for the children's school activities and one for the various extracurriculars. Two calendars. Two coupons tacked up that I will probably never use, one haircut appointment card, and a reminder to call the dentist.
I re-upped at the gym and my husband bought an elliptical. I'm into two books at once, one fiction and one true crime.
All I really want to do sometimes is sit here and goldbrick.
I made pumpkin bread the other day. Two loaves from scratch. It was delicious. I wanted more today, but my trip to the mall during school hours (a vain search for a dressy fall jacket for Little Miss Space Age), five big loads of laundry, and a grocery run with The Boy in tow precluded my cooking it from scratch. Anticipating this, I bought the Williams Sonoma Pumpkin Pecan Spice Bread mix. The whole house smells of it now. I'm saving it for supper though, to be served with chicken chili. Mr. Space Age would never forgive me if he came home to the smell of pumpkin bread and I had eaten it all!
The laundry needs to be finished, and I did leave one of the bathrooms upstairs in half-cleaned fashion, blue Lysol still doing its best to cling to the side of the bowl. I'm wondering how long I can sit here before I give in to the call of anti-bacterial duty.
I'd goldbrick some more for the moment, but The Boy is at my elbow. "Now can I have my Danimals, Mom? Please? Now? Now? Now? Now? Now? Now?"
PTA, pumpkin, Lysol and Danimals.
They'll get you every time.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
We went to the flea market.
Mr. Space Age was determined. So determined, in fact, that he offered to take the children and let me stay home. Alone.
It was a tempting offer.
I went, though. In the end, I couldn't resist the family outing and the promise of a pumpkin spice latte on the way home. It was interesting, however, that it was I who found many treasures and not Mr. Space Age himself.
We brought home with us a lovely set of silver, service for four, including soup spoons, soda spoons, and a serving spoon. I've always wanted to have silver; my mother uses her wedding silver every day. When I selected the 25 pieces, priced at two dollars each, the elderly woman selling them said, "Oh, I hate to charge you so much for those. I'll let you have all of them for $30." She wrapped them carefully and placed them in a plastic bag for me. It was my first treasure of the afternoon.
Shortly after I completed that purchase, I went to catch up with Mr. Space Age, who had taken the children to look along the aisles of booths ahead of us. As I walked, from the corner of my eye I spied a booth full of Pyrex. More Pyrex than I had ever seen in one place before, all of it vintage. There were at least a dozen patterns, including the Crazy Daisies that remind me of my mother. Nestled in one of the top shelves of bowls and covered dishes, I found some that matched a yellow pattern I have at home. My mother bought a set of nested mixing bowls for me some years back, vintage pieces she'd found on eBay while searching for another, more elusive yellow bowl. Included in this booth were a twin for the largest of my mixing bowls and a small casserole. I asked about the casserole.
"It doesn't have a lid. You can have it for three dollars."
No lid? Okay. I have the same-sized casserole in a 50-year-old snowflake pattern, and the two can share the lid that came with that one.
As I finally rounded a corner and saw Mr. Space Age, he waved me over to where he was standing.
In front of a radio.
I collect vintage radios, and ever since our honeymoon, Mr. Space Age has shared that interest. I guess I can credit him with finding one of today's treasures. It's a Panasonic radio, large, monospeaker, perhaps from the 1960s. It broadcast one of the afternoon's football games, demonstrating its worth not just visually. It's guts are in working order. Twenty dollars for that? Please! Let me take it off your hands!
"If it hadn't sold this weekend," the man said pleasantly as he took my twenty-dollar bill, "I was going to take it home and listen to it. I have one that's stereo." I told him about my 1964 Magnavox console stereo, the one I bought at a garage sale eight years ago in near mint condition for just $25.
I could have made several more purchases from the Pyrex lady, and one booth had a tempting selection of vintage cookbooks. If two young children hadn't asked for lunch when they did, I might not have escaped with any cash left in my purse at all.
I did, however, get that pumpkin spice latte on our way home.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
We managed to reduce the sentimental "to save" piles to a minimum, and we piled the back of my husband's Durango nearly to bursting with clothes, toys, and household items to be donated. I carefully packed to save emotionally valuable items such as sweaters my mother had knit, a tote bag my grandmother made, tiny "home from the hospital" baby outfits, 40-year-old baby shoes, and the logo-emblazoned jacket I wore when I worked for a Wisconsin radio station.
The third stall of the garage has now been transformed from a gigantic closet into an area we can actually walk and move around in. We can get to the freezer and the beer fridge without climbing over, tripping over, or moving boxes, bags, flotsam, and jetsam. The window can be opened. We can see through it! Mr. Space Age's workbench and tools are once again usable and accessible. It's a good feeling. A clean feeling. That feeling after a productive day's hard work.
Leaning against an old dresser we promised to my friend, my husband casually popped the cap off of a bottle of beer.
"So tomorrow," he said, "Do you want to go to the flea market in town?"
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
About three weeks ago, while visiting in Minnesota, I took a couple dozen pictures at the Clemens/Munsinger Gardens in St. Cloud. These are three of my favorites, though I do plan to post more. I'd like to frame the lantana and the brown-eyed susans.
Being in Minnesota is a tonic for me, and the Gardens underscore that comfortable feeling. We spent the morning there - my husband, my children, my mother and me. Afterward, we stopped at the bakery for fresh bread and treats, which we brought back to my father. It was a lovely day.
Monday, September 04, 2006
I’ve always loved this time of year. The blazing heat of August is left behind, giving way to the cooler, fresher air that signals autumn’s imminent return. Windows are thrown open, the clean breeze softly swirling the curtains and breathing life into a summer-stuffy homestead. There is a subtle change that wafts in on the gentle September wind, a sense of newness and spirited vigor. These days are glorious in their simple beauty, days for tossing a cardigan over a tank top and trading shorts for a pair of jeans and soft fuzzy house shoes. Days when the streets are littered with children going back to school, when the sun seems golden and friendly instead of fiery and angry, when the mountains are in crisp relief against the cerulean blue of the sky.
September holds promise, all the hopefulness and joy of a new start, the school year like a blank page awaiting the script of those who would write it. There shines in September a simplicity and innocence, as if we are stepping in unison onto uncracked sidewalks in sturdy, unscuffed new school shoes. It brings with it the tangy scent of fireplace smoke, the snuggly warmth of a flannel-lined corduroy jacket, and the enthusiastic whoops over the sound of the marching band at the high school football game. The plain green trees of waning summer will parlay themselves into vivid works of art in golds and reds and oranges and browns, the brilliant palette of their branches in perpendicular display to the regal strength of their trunks.
Maybe it’s just nostalgia, a wistful fondness for the weightless, soft-focus memories of childhood: the first delight of piling up the falling leaves and crunching them under the heels of hard-soled shoes; the comforting smell of chocolate chip cookies baking on an afternoon early in the school year; the excitement of swinging on the metal jungle gym on the playground on a chilly day, the breeze turning cheeks to salmon pink and putting into young minds the idea of hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Whatever the reason, the turn of the calendar page to September has always brought with it that new-school, fresh-start feeling and washed away the oppressive sticky heat of a summer gone on too long.
Three Septembers ago, the sunny façade whitewashed by nostalgia and sweet memories cracked. No. No, it’s not right to say that it cracked.
Three years ago, the winds of September shifted, blowing in a dark and sinister cloud, blackening the once brilliant blue of a postcard-perfect autumn morning. The comforting safety we enjoyed, the cozy hominess of routine, the golden promise of September, all proved then to be a veneer, nothing more than a happy-faced curtain over our collective body, stripped away in a few horrifying minutes, all of our fears laid open and bare, raw and bloody.
I live in the west, in the mountain time zone, two hours behind
I arose quietly to find the house empty. I remember feeling hopeful that morning. The hope that was developing and swelling in my heart was the first real hope I’d had in the nearly three weeks since my husband had morosely told me his division at work was being eliminated. This was the day he was attending a career fair downtown, and I knew that he would be seen and noticed by someone important, someone who would make the difference for him. I felt the promise of sunny September that morning even as I felt my unborn child kicking himself awake while I silently padded down the stairs to the kitchen.
I poured myself a cup of the coffee my husband had prepared, hearing my young daughter awaken. Grabbing a cup of milk for her, I returned upstairs and ushered my little towhead into the playroom. It was my habit to watch the morning news, but I decided to put PBS on for her while I caught up with my friends on the computer. The playroom television was always set to PBS.
Except that morning.
As I clicked the button on the remote, the picture that sprang into view was at once puzzling and mildly disturbing: the image was that of a tall tower against a blue sky, black and gray smoke billowing above it. It was just after 8:30am; 10:30am in
This was not an accident, my brain told me. From there, I was lost.
When my feet unlocked, they carried me on autopilot to the computer desk. I logged onto my message board, desperate to reach out to someone who could tell me what was happening and what I should be thinking. Someone who could tell me that what I saw wasn’t really happening.
I was among the last of my boardmates to have heard the news. I saw the title of the thread there and shivered: “Holy holy holy!” it read, the panic in those typed words palpable and frightening. Inside that thread, the voices of my friends, scattered across the country and indeed the globe, holding hands in virtual space, trying to comfort each other and make sense of the new world into which we’d suddenly and unwillingly been thrust.
I called my husband. He hadn’t heard. He’d been in meetings all morning, excited and positive and hopeful over a discussion he’d had with a particular employer. I told him in broken words news that he didn’t quite understand. I begged him to come home. It would turn out later that the convention center closed shortly after that call and he was sent home anyway. No one dared to go or be anywhere.
Turning back to the television, I sat on my knees and cradled my daughter on my lap, choking back my fears for her and the new baby I carried. In those first moments, I wondered if my baby would even have a chance to be born. What kind of Brave New World would I be raising my children in? Would there be a world for them at all?
“Want Tubby Tubbies,” my little girl said stubbornly, looking up at me intently with serious blue eyes.
“Ssh…just a minute, okay?” I stroked her hair, unable to take my gaze from the television. I watched the footage replay. I saw the painful shock on the formerly impassive faces of the news reporters. I changed the station to ABC and saw Peter Jennings, his composure as close to wavering as I had ever seen it. Switching the channel once more to NBC, I saw the familiar and once calming face of Tom Brokaw, with no comfort to be found. There was no talk of legality or morality or criminality. There was only talk of lives and families and tragedy and the tens of thousands who may have been trapped inside those buildings as they collapsed and fell.
“September 11, 2001.” I can still hear Tom Brokaw’s voice resonating in my head as he solemnly repeated the date, observing somberly that it was a date that would forever be branded into the memories of Americans, inextricably woven with the tragic atrocities that had occurred that day in
“Mommy okay?” I felt my daughter’s hand brush my cheek, her fingers wet from the tears I hadn’t realized I’d shed. I took her hand and kissed it.
Abruptly I changed the channel to PBS for her, leaving her happily surrounded by innocent sweetness, chattering to herself contentedly while she played. She was undeterred by my uncertainty, and for that I was grateful.
I opened the windows early this morning, letting in the cool, dewy morning breeze as the sun rose over the mountains on the horizon beyond my backyard. I slid open the patio door and stood outside in the still freshness, sipping on my coffee, enjoying the fleeting solitude while the rest of my family slept.
When the morning rush descended as the full light of day bloomed overhead, I lost myself in the tasks at hand: my daughter’s first day of preschool, my son’s appointment at the pediatrician, a deposit at the bank’s drive-through window. I baked cookies this afternoon, our annual tradition to celebrate the first day of school. The clean slate offered by the new year that comes in September was receiving its first delighted scribbles and happy memory-makers.
But somewhere, lurking in the shadows that always accompany the bright sunlight, the images of another sunny September day continue to haunt me, the slideshow pictures clicking softly behind the veil of contentment in my head and heart. The vague unease invariably gives way to the demands of the here and now, but the grim and sinister lie in wait, simmering just below the surface.
September will never be quite the same.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Monday, August 07, 2006
I remember when I turned 25. It doesn't seem that long ago. MTV was just a child of ten then.
VH1 ran a special on Tuesday and Saturday, replaying the first 24 hours of music videos ever played on MTV. I wish they had shown more of the original veejays, but all we got were small clips. I had hoped to see the first day re-created in its entirety, but I settled for what was shown.
My husband and I watched a portion of Saturday's showing while we ate breakfast and read the newspaper. Some of the videos brought back fond memories. Some of them made us laugh or roll our eyes, and some of them made us cringe. So many of the songs have since faded into the black hole of complete obscurity, never having achieved hit status and many of them not even footnotes on musical history. Some rang a faint bell of familiarity somewhere in the quiet, dusty, unused rooms of my memory, causing vague and indistinct pictures in my brain, memories never fully formed and slipping away as one video segued to the next.
Over buttered toast and a second cup of coffee, I watched the Pretenders' "Message of Love," one of my favorites of theirs. I wondered out loud if anyone has ever seen Chrissie Hynde's eyes. She wore a high-necked ruffled white blouse, the kind that was absolutely de rigueur for the fashion-minded young woman of the early 1980s. Was Chrissie in part responsible for this trend? Maybe. Who knows? Those who appeared on MTV often became fashion icons, some more famous for their dress than their music.
During that hot August of 1981, when MTV was born and changed a generation, perhaps I was influenced by a force I hadn't yet seen - my first viewing of MTV came in early 1982. In August, 1981, I was about to start my sophomore year in high school. When I went shopping for new clothes, I came out of the Fashion Bug near my grandmother's apartment carrying three high-necked ruffled blouses: one white like Chrissie's, one black, one red. I wore them with skinny-legged Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and with the style we called "baggies": pleated jeans with loose thighs tapering down to the ankle.
Skinny jeans are coming back now. Everything old is new again. My friend Deanna and I used to buy our jeans as narrow as they would come, and then Deanna used her mother's sewing machine to narrow them even further; we did not consider the jeans wearable in public unless the ankles openings were so small as to necessitate the removal of our feet before putting them on. If we could zip them without lying back on the bed and employing a pliers, they were much too "loose."
At least we were safe inside those hermetically sealed jeans.
It was early days in the 80s, and we wore our hair feathered, our eyeliner blue, and our skinny jeans dark-rinsed. Soon the feathered hair would give way to gigantic teased hair and the jeans to the ubiquitous acid-wash, and we'd begin tucking our leggings into leg warmers and our feet into pointy Peter Pan boots. I went through my black clothes phase, complete with safety pins in my ears. I went through my preppy phases, with a closetful of alligator'd Izod shirts, deck shoes, and skinny leather belts. I had a New Wave phase, puncutated by bright makeup, purple tights, striped shirts and mini skirts. If it was fashionable in the 1980s, I wore it at some point.
The beginnings of a cultural revolution rang out at midnight, Tuesday, August 1, 1981, and very few people guessed at the far reaching impact it would have, far beyond the boundaries of the music industry, becoming interwoven in the fabric of American pop culture itself. There are young adults today, out of college, pursuing careers, married and parents themselves, who have known no world without MTV. For them, it has always been. For me...well, I can still remember the first time I heard the words, "I want my MTV."
Sunday, August 06, 2006
The search was called off altogether not long after I wrote my earlier entry about Jon. There is a presumption in that action that I can't seem to make myself articulate, but its specter is there nonetheless.
Thank you to those who have thought of Jon and his family, and to those who read his story. All that is left now is to pray for peace and closure for his family and loved ones, and that they would know so very many people were touched by their beloved son and brother.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Every once in a while, a person comes into our lives - however briefly - and touches us in some way that leaves a lasting impression. Someone whose presence has influenced us so that we are never quite the same afterward.
Jon Francis is just such a person.
A little more than two weeks ago, I had never heard of Jon Francis. I met him on Sunday, July 9th, and briefly came to know him over the next few days that followed. He is a counselor at Luther Heights Bible Camp in Idaho, and I met him in conjunction with a day camp for children that he was staffing along with three others.
These four staffers were as wonderful with children as any folks I had ever met; their youth and enthusiasm for their project was palpable and contagious. They were kind to my own children, in particular adopting my six-year-old daughter under their broad wings, encouraging her, and helping her to feel comfortable in an environment somewhat unfamiliar to her.
The three other staffers deserve accolades as much as Jon does, but for their own privacy I will not name them here.
Besides nurturing my daughter during those four days, these young people came to our home and shared a meal with us. They were here on Tuesday, July 11th, spending the evening with us, sharing food and fellowship. They each told us something of themselves, and the experience of getting to know each better is something to be remembered. Jon was quieter than the others, seeming to enjoy listening to the chatter of our full house. He laughed at my son's knock-knock jokes, jokes my son told repeatedly with peals of giggles, turning from one person to the next. Jon related to my children as if he genuinely understood them, understood what it was like to be four and six years old in a house full of grown ups.
Jon told us that he hailed from Stillwater, Minnesota, and I told him that I have family near there. I proudly showed him the 1940s radio displayed on a shelf in our kitchen, purchased at an antique shop in Stillwater several years ago. Jon chuckled. "There's a lot of those," he said with a smile, referring to the shops lining the main streets through downtown Stillwater.
Jon struck me as a thoughtful young man, a man who would measure his words carefully, a man of deep faith whose purpose was to share that faith with the very young, the kids he so obviously enjoyed working with.
It was our privilege to have met Jon, to have known him even for such a short time, and that Thursday, July 13th, we bid farewell to him and his colleagues as they concluded the day camp and returned to Luther Heights.
On Sunday, July 16th, I arrived at my home church to discover a handwritten thank you note in my mailbox, a card written by four young people I felt blessed to know. I did not know it then, but by the time I stood in the quiet hallway, reading the note with pleasure, Jon Francis had already gone missing.
You can read about Jon here.
And if you do read about Jon, please spare him a thought or a prayer if you can. Please remember his family and those who love him. They don't know me, nor I them, but my family had the good fortunate to be blessed by Jon's presence, and we will not forget him.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
They can sing almost every word to almost every song.
"Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your adverbs here..."
"Conjunction junction, what's your function....?"
"Mr. Morton is the subject, and what the predicate says, he does..."
"Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five fifty, fifty-five, sixty..."
My son just came downstairs, loudly singing, "Eight times niiiiiiine is seventy-two!"
Yesterday, I told them I used to watch Schoolhouse Rock when I was a child.
"They had that when you were a kid?" my six-year-old daughter asked.
"Yes," I answered. "Way back then."
She paused to consider this.
"On regular TV?" she wanted to know.
"Oh, yes. We only had regular TV when I was little. No cable. No satellite. No tapes. No DVDs. Just regular TV."
"Oh. Did it come on at bedtime?"
"No, it came on between shows on Saturday cartoons and in the afternoons."
"You could only watch cartoons on Saturdays?"
"Saturday morning cartoons. Yes. Cartoons on Saturday only would do you some good."
My singing son is now watching me write this, impatiently standing at my elbow and asking for a hot dog bun with Jif. He's looking at my song quotes, telling me repeatedly, "That song is called Naughty Number Nine. Say that, Mom. It's Naughty Number Nine. Put that on there."
He is pleased as punch now to see that I have included his suggestion.
I'm going to the kitchen. Hot dog bun with Jif, anyone?
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Monday, June 26, 2006
So. I'm still in my thirties.
I went to the DMV to renew my driver's license this afternoon. I waited 36 minutes for my number to be called ("Now serving A-Four-Six-Four at window three!"), and 13 minutes after that for my new license. I'm pleased to say that this picture turned out much better than the one taken four years ago. My teeth are whiter, my hair longer and lighter, my smile less weary-looking.
A man who appeared to be a little older than my father - pleasantly grandfatherly - was waiting for his new license just as I was, and he turned to me with a twinkle in his blue eyes. "Did you smile?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered, smiling again.
"Then I'm sure the picture will be beautiful." And he answered my smile with one of his own. His name was called, he accepted his license, and he walked past me out the door, giving me a little salute as he went.
I stopped at the liquor store on the way home, buying vodka and Kahlua. Drinks? No. I found a recipe in Southern Living for Black Russian cake, and so that's the cake I want to make for my birthday. It will have butter and chocolate too, decadent in the style of so many Southern Living recipes. I haven't allowed myself a decadent birthday cake in years, so this time it's a treat.
The liquor store lady was white-haired, her face gently lined, her eyes as blue as those of the man back at the DMV. She smiled at me too, those eyes taking the features of my own face without question; she had correctly assessed that I was older than thirty, the age under which the red-lettered sign announced they would ask for identification.
"Customer must have been born on or before June 26, 1985 to purchase alcohol" read the crawl across the top of her computer screen.
On June 26, 1985, I was one day away from being able to make my first legal purchase at a liquor store, though I didn't make such a purchase until quite a while later. Thinking of that briefly at the liquor store counter this afternoon, I realized that babies born the day I became "legal" would just now be becoming "legal" themselves.
My. Time flies.
For the present moment, however, I am still in my thirties. "In my thirties" has a certain cachet. It sounds wordly and sophisticated, without being time-worn. Turning thirty was exciting. I felt liberated (liberated largely from worrying over turning thirty), old enough to be taken seriously but still young enough to be considered young.
I assumed turning forty would feel the same way. I know I've discussed it right here, though I haven't gone back to read my previous posts on the subject, because all that matters is how I feel about it right now. It was easy to be philosophical six months or a year ago. I haven't decided how I feel now.
Heather Locklear is 44. That alone should make it okay, right? I have sisters in their forties, sisters who never seem any older to me than they did when they were in college and I was still just in high school. It's as if in my mind, the nuclear family in which I was raised stays the same age as when we were all living together in the house my parents bought in 1964. It's not denial. It's just sort of...well...sort of a soft-focus view of life. It's not a bad thing at all.
"Is this your oldest?" the barista asked this morning when we stopped for coffee after a trip to Target. I'm a frequent customer, and she has met my younger children many times.
"Yes, she is," I said cheerfully, ordering drinks for both of us.
"How old are you?" Melanie asked my daughter.
Melanie looked at me.
"No way!" she said. "No way!"
"Tomorrow is my fortieth birthday," I answered.
"Wow! I'd never have guessed."
Melanie is my favorite barista.
What was today's topic again? People who are in their thirties (barely) sometimes lack organizational thinking. Sometimes.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
I can remember coming home from piano lessons late in the fall, when it would be growing dark and chilly by the time I got to our front door. The lights would be on, and I could follow the smell of the hamburger cooking right up the front stairs to our bright and cheerful kitchen, my mother there at the stove with her back to the counter. Suppertime in our house was often messy and noisy, but there'd never been anywhere else I felt safer or more secure. I can still see Mom in the kitchen as clearly as if I'd been there yesterday. I can hear the chattering parakeet mimicking children in and out of the room: "I'm hungry!" or "What's for supper?" I can remember sitting at the counter doing homework or writing stories, watching my mother cook. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies or homemade buns spread with butter and brown sugar can evoke such images as well, but nothing brings the feeling of the joy of homecoming quite like hamburger and onions.
I was thinking this as I stood over my own stove the other day, my back to the counter where my oldest daughter sat copying recipes to take with her when she moves out. I'd had a yearning for old-fashioned hamburger hotdish, the kind my mother made, the kind my dad's mother made. I fanned the skillet in front of me, savoring the aroma, wondering how many hundreds of times I'd eaten that hotdish in all these years. I told my daughter some of my stories, in particular those chilly fall nights coming home from piano lessons. I couldn't have been older than ten or eleven.
All five of us sat around our supper table not very much later that evening, digging into hotdish, bread and butter, and a salad of cucumbers and onions. We seemed closer somehow, and for once, neither of the little ones tried to get up to play in the middle of the meal. I felt bonded, warmed, and right - all through simple hamburger hotdish and a brightly lit, noisy kitchen full of people I love.
It's the smell of hamburger browning with onions. There's nothing like it.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
She's got a plan of action for her life, one step at a time, and she's finally make some specific, measurable goals for herself. Baby steps, but my baby is taking them.
It's her nineteenth birthday today, this girl of mine, and I'm having trouble believing nineteen years have passed so quickly, in the measure of a baby's cry. I remember my own nineteenth birthday clearly, as if it were only a few years gone by instead of nearly twenty-one. It was a blue-sky day much like today, and I went to work wearing the new dress my mother had sewn as a birthday gift.
Me as a mother? I settled for buying her a new cellphone and a photo album, but her pleasure wasn't any less than my own had been for receiving the gift of the beautiful dress, so I'll guess I did all right.
Her face looks the same to me as it did those many years ago, cradled in my arms and just getting to know the world. Her eyes are still alert, still watching, still knowing that something wonderful must be waiting out there for her.
She's sprouted her own wings now, but I'd like to have that day nineteen years ago back again, if only for just a few minutes. Just a few.
Happy Birthday, First Baby Girl.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Today was Little Miss Space Age's last day of kindergarten. She calls herself an official "going-into-first-grader." We took pictures, we gave her lovely teacher a .thank-you gift, we cried. A little. A lot.
After school, I took both small Space Agers to the library, where we selected two books apiece, and I gave them ice cream sundaes when we got home. I washed and folded laundry, vacuumed and dusted, washed and put away dishes. As a rainstorm gathered in the not-too-far-distant distance, the house looked cozy and tidy. Homey. Inviting.
Inspired, I put Dean Martin on the stereo and began a batch of my homemade lasagne, something the Space Age Husband has been asking me to make for weeks. I cooked and stirred, tasting the sauce, mixing the cheese, and occasionally sipped on a glass of red table wine, singing along to the comforting sounds of Dino. The children danced. They sat at the table, coloring pictures for me.
When the lasagne was ready for the oven, I stopped and danced with them before washing another round of dishes. We did a mambo around the living room - theirs a bit more freeform than mine - laughing until we were out of breath.
It's that peaceful, quiet time now, the time between the activity of the afternoon and the arrival home of my husband. The children have repaired upstairs to the playroom, undoubtedly sitting at their little drawing table making more pictures and stories for me. I'm still listening to Dean, recorded live at Lake Tahoe in 1962, and leisurely sipping on my wine in the bright warmth of the kitchen.
When Mr. Space Age returns home from his long day, we'll sit down to our favorite Italian meal and listen to our favorite Italian singer. We'll have a little Neopolitan ice cream for dessert, and by then the stresses of the day will have receded.
Indeed, "Memories Are Made of This."
Saturday, June 03, 2006
The younger Space Age daughter recently helped her Girl Scout Daisy troop hold a mother-daughter tea to round out the Girl Scout year. We all dressed in our summer finery, hats mandatory. So what does a Space Age Housewife wear to such an affair? A brand-new hat.
I didn't have a hat, so my little Daisy and I trotted ourselves to Macy's for an afternoon of hat-shopping. We tried on style after style, giggling, preening, and admiring row after row of pretty hats, some plain, some beribboned, some broad, some narrow.
Finally, we settled on one, a light straw hat with a sage green ribbon, tied in a bow in the back. Wanting to treat the Space Age Girl to a new hat of her own, we followed our jaunt to Macy's with a stop at Gymboree, where we found a floppy rainbow-hued straw hat for her.
We made quite a pair at the tea, where my dainty young lady served me cookies, fruit, fancy red punch, and homemade candies.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
For Mother's Day, my darling husband and children presented me with a new notebook computer with wireless connection. I'm sitting in the peaceful evening atmosphere of my kitchen right now, surrounded by family. I can take this thing to the living room...the bedroom...the deck...
First it was the iriver and now the notebook. My Spage Age Husband is bound and determined to bring his wife fully into the 21st century.
Jane Jetson has nothing on me.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Being called "ma'am" has never particularly bothered me. After all, it isn't an age thing, really. Really. It's supposed to denote a married woman, not necessarily an old one. Unfortunately, perception is reality, and common use of "ma'am" has turned it into a word synonymous with old. As in, you could be my mother or my teacher, or the lady at the library with the tortoise-shell glasses.
Well, why shouldn't he call me ma'am? I'm easily twice his age. I was driving a minivan loaded with two young children, littered with empty Capri Sun pouches, cracker crumbs, and a crumpled note from the PTA. My sunglasses couldn't quite disguise the tiny lines on my face, the little marks that betray more than just the passage of time.
Ever since my Saturday afternoon on the couch, I've been listening often to my Def Leppard CDs, and that moment was no exception. Even "Armageddon It" couldn't save me from the truth, and that truth was that in all likelihood I'd been listening to that same song before the young brown-eyed man's father had even met his mother.
I wonder how that can be. I haven't changed so very much, have I? The breeze through the open car window still whips blonde hair into my eyes. The sky seems as blue as it ever was, and if I listen carefully enough, I can still hear the sound of the traffic behind the big screen at the France Avenue Drive-in.
Time doesn't confront us with a shout. It doesn't wave an orange flag in our paths, and it doesn't phone ahead. It sneaks up on us, surprising us, and we're left to wonder if it had been following us all along. It's in the moments when we look into the innocent eyes of a toddler and reach out to clasp his chubby hand before realizing that his hands have grown strong and lean, his body tall, and his eyes knowing. "When did that happen?" we think, straining to reconcile this new person with the flannel-wrapped package we brought home from the hospital not so very long ago.
Time starts and it stops, capturing like a snapshot one small moment and another, and it starts again, moving faster and faster, leaving in its wake breathless confusion.
I took a sip of the latte as I rounded the corner, headed for the bank to make a deposit, resisting the urge to shush the young children in the backseat, preferring instead for that moment to hear their voices, recording each giggle and squeal to replay later, over and over.
The sound rose and fell over the stereo, mixing with long-familiar guitar riffs. Today the door of time was a revolving one, and as the coffee shop receded behind me in the distance, I smiled at the thought that it was indeed possible to be two places at once.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
And...I'm a sap. Maybe. I don't know.
I was on the living room couch this afternoon, nursing a headache, and a I caught a showing of VH1's Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story. I'd seen it before, some time ago when it was first aired. The show was near it's end, focusing on the triumph that was the Hysteria album and its promotional tour. Afterward, in the ten-minute gap between the end of the movie and the start of the next show, they aired two Def Leppard videos ("Hysteria" and "Photograph"). I watched the images of Steve Clark with a sense of wistfulness that grew to full-blown sadness. I thought about the difficulties he'd faced in his life - "difficulties" being an altogether inadequate word - and the senseless, tragic way he died. It's been more than fifteen years since his death. Vivian Campbell has been with the band now longer than Steve himself was. And still I can't get over that vague feeling of sorrow over what once was and what might have been.
It's more than just my affection for Steve. It's particularly about my affection for the band in its earlier days, its heyday, and about the visceral memories the music can still bring to the fore.
Hysteria was released at a time when my life was undergoing the biggest changes I had ever experienced. The summers of '87 - when the album was released - and '88 - when its biggest singles became monster hits - were summers of simultaneous joy and dissatisfaction, times of beginnings and endings, possibilities and regrets. My favorite music remained constant, and many nights I'd lie on my sofa bed, the stereo on for company, my eyes closed, and the songs enveloping my entire self, seeming to come from inside. I was lonely often. Steve and Joe and Phil and Rick and Rick kept me company on many a balmy night in a ground floor apartment, a baby sleeping in the next room.
Even now, the music takes me back. I can hear one note and be overcome by an almost intoxicating sense of time suspension, surrounded by a strong sense of blue skies, thick humidity, and my friend Lynn and I good-naturedly arguing about which one of us would get Joe Elliot. If I lost that argument, I always chose Steve Clark next. I was young and uncertain. The music always returns me to that vulnerability.
After Hysteria, Def Leppard began work on a new album. During the recording of that album Steve died, early in 1991. Released after his death, Adrenalize was the last album featuring the work of Steve Clark.
And so...as I lay there on the couch this afternoon, the whole rush of it came back to me at once - the me that I was those summers eighteen and nineteen years ago, the flashes of memories like a slide show, one after the other, rapid and never quite complete, and the sadness for the death of a man I didn't even know.
The tears came.
For me, for Steve, for what might have been...I don't know. And somehow I didn't feel any better when they stopped.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Later, my husband and I went to Old Chicago to play darts and have a bite to eat. He drank beer; I drank lemonade. He didn't make the connection.
I told him that evening about the pink stick.
Oh, the little things we remember...how did I remember the date? I don't know, really.
Today there is a six-year-old girl on her first real field trip, riding a school bus for the first time, carrying a sack lunch and wearing her long blonde hair in a thick ponytail.
She's old enough to read, do math, giggle with her friends, be dropped off at birthday parties, earn patches in Daisy Scouts, and be embarrassed by her mother.
We've come a long way, baby.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
I do have a pretty good collection of vintage clothes, though, and I happened to be wearing part of my collection earlier this evening - a navy blue dress circa 1960, and a handmade apron from sometime in the mid-to-late 1950s, perhaps once worn by a real Space Age Housewife.
Both items are, of course, older than I am. Here is what happens when the 21st century meets Mrs. Cleaver...
I had a crinoline on with it for a while too, but in truth, my crinoline is too big and it kept sliding down. One thing I don't need is an "Oops, your slip is showing" moment. ;)
Thursday, April 20, 2006
My 4-year-old son just asked me how old I am.
"Guess," I said.
My 6-year-old daughter just interjected."She's 39. On her birthday, she's gonna be 40."
His answer? "I think she's 99."
Monday, April 17, 2006
I sweated for a good ninety minutes. When they picked me up, SAH had a fresh hot cup of coffee for me, and a surprise.
My own personal MP3 player. It's not an iPod - it's an iriver - but the former sounded better in the subject line. Didn't it? At any rate, I've been pulled further into the twenty-first century with this most popular of space-age gadgets. I've got four hours' worth of songs loaded up - Scorpions to ABBA to Depeche Mode to Dean Martin - and haven't even made a dent in the available space. In just two days, I've gotten used to the "ear buds." This could work.
Today I sped through sixty minutes of cardio and twenty minutes of strength training without checking the clock seventeen times. Music is magic.
Anyway. After arriving home on Saturday afternoon, my first project - not loading up the iriver - was coloring Easter eggs with the children. Because they wanted to do an egg hunt, a tradition that was not part of my upbringing, we decided to make lots of eggs. Many many eggs. Many many more eggs than I would normally cook and color for a single Easter weekend. I now have more than two dozen eggs to use up. Twelve? Easy. A few deviled eggs and some egg salad. 26? What am I going to do? Egg salad. Deviled eggs. Eggs a la Goldenrod. Creamed eggs on toast. Eggs in potato salad. Eggs in Caesar salad. Purple, yellow, and orange eggs coming out of my ears.
That's an idea. I'll turn them into earrings. I can start a trend.
Right after I bring back new Easter hats for women.
It's going to be an uphill battle. Maybe I'll just pop in the ear buds and go for a run instead.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Ten years ago, "29" by the Gin Blossoms was my favorite song. I listened to it over and over and over and over for nearly a year, wallowing in the impending end of my twenties, fearing the unknown of turning 30. It was, ultimately, much ado about nothing. I turned thirty and...liked it. It was liberating. I no longer had to worry about turning 30; I was there. My twenties were a blur. I got pregnant with my first child at twenty and went 90 miles an hour for years afterward, at times working two full time jobs just to earn the money to pay my rent and go to school.
Turning 30 brought a new confidence, a new sense of being a part of the world. I met my husband when I was 30, and in retrospect, maybe I don't need to wonder why. I was finally at peace with myself.
So days ago I popped in my old Gin Blossoms CD, thinking I would listen to "Allison Road" or the "Cajun Song" but finding my fingers pressing "29." I listened. I wallowed. I had flashbacks of near-summer a decade ago, and I allowed the angst to wash over me again, as if I were reliving the entire experience, except with a larger, older number this time.
I mentally blogged it.
By the time I finally had a free moment to sit down and actually write the post instead of thinking about it, I realized it wasn't relevant anymore. The angst was gone. It was the angst of a moment gone by, and it no longer meant anything.
If it comes back, I'll be sure to let you know. ;)
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Somewhere north of Mr. Clean and west of the bleach and the Dryel, I got sidetracked by OUTDOOR TOYS.
There was something alluring - irresistible - about the call of OUTDOOR TOYS. It was a sunny day. It was downright springlike with blue skies and a whisper of humidity. I swung my kid-heavy cart into the miles-long OUTDOOR TOYS aisle, marvelling at the brightly colored plastic and happily recalling recent springs past. The OUTDOOR TOYS knew their appeal and began jumping into my cart seemingly of their own volition.
Sidewalk chalk. A jump rope. No, two. We must have two. Six bottles of scented bubble solution. Two large bubble blowers. A bouncy ball. No, no. Two.
Finally, two hula hoops. Sparkly hula hoops with sparkly solution inside that swirled when the hoop twirled. The Space Age children were as fascinated by the sparkly hula hoops as I was. They raced me through paper towels, drawer organizers, Dustbuster filters and laundry degertent to get to the magical checkout lane and the card reader that would make the hula hoops ours.
When we got home, I sent them outside in spring jackets, arms laden with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, hula hoops, and little packages of rainbow-colored goldfish crackers. I heard their shouts and squeals and cheers as I gamely settled myself in to scrub the under-sink cabinet in the kitchen. My hands worked quickly, apparently with no help from my brain, which was occupied with the joy taking place on the other side of my kitchen window.
When cabinet was clean and the last Brillo pad and box of dishwasher detergent had been placed, I threw off my rubber gloves, abandoning the rest of the long list I'd stuck by Post-It note to the counter. I slid open the patio doors and ran outside to the children and their OUTDOOR TOYS.
Spage Age girl says that if I practice "for a million thousand hours," I might be able to hula hoop as well as she.
Monday, March 27, 2006
How Dino Joined Our Family...
Last November, a cat came to our backyard. He was a pretty gray tabby with a red collar and a friendly nature. It was freezing out, so I let him into the house. There was no tag on his collar, so I had no idea where he belonged.
I came to this board for advice, and after reading suggestions, decided I would take him to a nearby vet to have him scanned for a chip. Not wanting to try taking the cat in the car with two little kids, I figured I'd wait until my husband got home. I gave the cat water and let him play with my children. He made himself at home immediately, purring and snuggling and sitting in my husband's chair.
Later, after my husband came home, my teenage daughter and I took the cat to the vet. She held him on her lap, petting him and speaking to him in soothing tones. He did not seem to like the car ride. We got to the vet's office just before they closed; unfortunately, they were unable to help. He did have a chip, but their scanner revealed no identifying information. It was suggested that we take the cat to the Humane Society and have him scanned there.
Fine. This necessitated an overnight stay at our house. I wasn't turning that cat loose to freeze or worse. We stopped at the store on the way home. My daughter cuddled the cat while I ran in for a litter box, food dish, and some food.
As he stayed overnight, we were growing attached to the cat. He was friendly and affectionate. He slept between my husband and me, purring nearly all night.
The next morning, I was reluctant to bring him to the Humane Society, fearing that we would find his owners and have to give him back. We'd even started thinking of names. Still, if he were my cat, wouldn't I want him back? Wouldn't I want those who found him to do the right thing? We brought him in. Sure enough, the Humane Society was able to pull his information from his chip, and I was given the name and phone number of his owners. I called the number immediately. When a woman answered, I explained I had found a cat I believed was hers - had she lost one? I described him to her, and she said, "Oh! That's Boots!" She said she hadn't seen him for a while, and they wondered if he was ever coming home. The Humane Society people gave us a cardboard cat carrier, and we reluctantly loaded Boots up to bring him home. The children were very sad. We drove all the way back to our own neighborhood - Boots' owners lived just down the block from our house. After we dropped him off, my husband drove right past our house and up the street that would take us to the freeway.
"We're going back," he explained.
It was time to find a cat of our own.
Once back at the Humane Society, we were let into a roomful of cats to observe and talk to. Way in the back was an orange tabby, two years old, without a single prospect. It was the kittens who commanded the attention of most people looking for a new friend. The orange tabby looked at us blankly with his big eyes, but he came to the front of his cage. He sniffed my hand and blinked, a little more life coming into his expression.
"This is the one," I said firmly.
The Humane Society woman opened his cage and handed him to me.
"He's a sweetie, but he's shy," she offered.
There was something familiar about this orange guy, but I chalked that up to our having had an orange tabby before, when we lived in Minnesota. Something about him tugged at me, however, and I knew he was the one. My husband agreed, and before too long we were filling out the paperwork.
As I signed form after form, I noticed one that listed an intersection near my house.
"Is this where he was found?" I asked the worker.
"Yes, it is."
"That's in my own neighborhood!"
Suddenly, I flashed on a memory from two months earlier, near the beginning of the school year. There was an orange tabby hanging around my daughter's elementary school. I had seen him three or four times - he had no collar and appeared to be a stray. On that day, he decided to follow us home after my son and I had walked up to school to pick up my daughter. The cat trailed behind us by several feet, but he was definitely following us. After we'd walked a couple of blocks, I had decided that if he followed us all the way home, I would let him in.
He turned and disappeared just two houses away from ours. I did not see him again.
Until that day at the Humane Society. It was him! It was the same orange tabby who had once nearly followed us home! I knew then that that was the familiarity in him, and that it seemed we really was meant to be our cat.
He spent the first week or so hiding under our bed all day, but as he grew more comfortable, he spent more and more time out of hiding and sitting or playing with us. He's a regular fixture around here now.
Boots came to visit us often after that - at least once a week he'd show up at our house asking to come in and play. It's been months now since we've seen Boots...I hope that he's all right. I believe he came to us that first day in order to lead us to the orange tabby, Dino, who became a member of our family.
Monday, March 20, 2006
"What's going on?" he asked pleasantly.
Let's see. What is going on under Chaos Roof today?
Moments before the phone call, I heard Space Age Girl call out in a pitiful voice, "Mom! Come and help us!" I ran up to the playroom to find every stick and stone of Barbie equipment, four hundred and thirty-three Barbie outfits, five thousand and one Barbie shoes, and a few hundred Barbies littered all over the floor. The two young children were sitting in the green Rubbermaid tote that had once housed the Barbies, crammed in together and apparently stuck. There were three large - very large - drenched spots on the carpet, the result of a tea party held with water from the bathroom sink. The cat screeched in dismay and shot out from under the futon, escaping as soon as the door was opened, leaving a trail of orange hair in his wake.
I rescued the children. I picked up Space Age Boy's jacket from the floor, intending to hang it up in his closet. I stopped short at the threshold to his room. Every DVD in the children's DVD case had been removed. They were all strewn about the floor. Space Age Boy's jeans were on the floor also, as well as his discarded socks. I do not know why there were three discarded socks. To the best of my knowledge, his feet still number just two.
I paused. I went back to the playroom, where the children were busily avoiding putting the Barbie items back into the Rubbermaid tote, and noted that the boy was indeed running around in a t-shirt and a pair of Spongebob underwear. That explained the jeans on the floor.
Returning to the bedroom, I collected each DVD, slid them all back into the case, zipped it shut, and brought it downstairs. I hid it.
Hearing the children running up and down the hallway shouting "Giddyap!" I hollered back up to continue putting the Barbie things away lest the items be confiscated and placed in time out.
"It's too much work!" they yelled simultaneously.
I was rummaging through the pantry for the bottle of Cabernet when the phone rang.
So. What's going on with you?
Saturday, March 18, 2006
“What exactly is sukiyaki anyway?” Steve put down the newspaper and frowned across the breakfast table at me. I was going through recipes and cookbooks, muttering to myself and preparing a grocery list. I glanced up at him absent-mindedly.
“Sukiyaki. You said something about sukiyaki. What is it?”
“It’s a Japanese dish, dear. Layered vegetables and meat and bean curd, all fried together.”
“Oh. Tofu. You’re not planning to make that are you?”
I sighed. “No, Steve, I’m not going to offend your sensitive palate by offering you sukiyaki. I might just as well try serving you fried eel or pork rinds. I just happened to see a recipe here and thought it looked interesting.”
Steve pushed aside the rest of his Swiss and tomato omelet.
“I’m full,” he announced, leaning back in his chair and burying his face behind the Saturday real estate supplement.
I scribbled the last few items on the list – milk, cheese, yeast, wheat flour, eggs – and stacked the recipe books. I stood up to clear the breakfast dishes, taking my recipe file with me. This was so typical of my relationship with Steve these days. He was either critical or detached, and I was left feeling awkward. Or worse – ignored.
As I rinsed the dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher, I wondered what was wrong with me lately. I was much more sensitive to Steve than ever before. I was acutely aware that neither he nor my children seemed to need me very much these days. Certainly I was necessary for their comfort: I did the shopping and the cooking and the wash. I ironed. I changed sheets. I picked up basketballs and dirty socks and milk glasses with crusty rims. I made sure the pantry was stocked with Gatorade, Power Bars, Cheerios and chocolate chip cookies. And I never, ever made anyone eat sukiyaki.
Was this what it felt like to be taken for granted? I wondered. Or maybe I was having a mid-life crisis. Isn’t 36 too young for a mid-life crisis? Yes. Too young for a mid-life crisis and too old for an identity crisis. I wasn’t sure what to call my crisis.
What was I? Just another worn out 36-year-old housewife. I had a handsome 42-year-old executive husband who earned enough money to give me the privilege of staying home to raise our boys. Those boys were now ten and fifteen, and perhaps my being home all day was beginning to be superfluous. And maybe the modern world had passed me by.
The truth of the matter was that I didn’t have many aspirations beyond being a good homemaker, hearthkeeper, wife and mother, and now I was worried that those roles didn’t mean much to anyone besides me.
I looked around the kitchen, now immaculate and sparkling. I caught a glimpse of my face reflected in the shiny stainless steel of my mixer bowl: it was tired, listless, and marked by those tiny lines that sneak up from nowhere when you realize you’re not twenty-five anymore. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was shocked to see that weary face looking back at me. It surely was a hoax of Mother Nature’s, wasn’t it, that I was no longer the soft and supple young woman I once was?
I felt Steve’s hand on my shoulder.
“I’m taking Ben to REI,” he said. “Want me to pick up anything for you while I’m out?”
“At REI?” I laughed. “Hardly. Have fun.”
“I want to buy some camping gear for next weekend,” Steve explained. He tossed his car keys in the air and caught them again, smiling at me broadly, looking youthful and vibrant and handsome as ever. Why didn’t he have the same time-weary lines I did? Why did the hint of silver in his hair make him all the more attractive while mine just made me look dull? Another of Mother Nature’s cruel little jokes, I supposed.
Ben, our long and lanky fifteen-year-old, came bounding up the stairway from the basement family room, all legs and sneakers and teenage sweat.
“I just beat Andy three times in foosball,” he laughed to his father, brushing past me and barely acknowledging my presence. Andy, our ten-year-old, the smaller carbon copy of his brother, appeared behind him, howling, “I never win! I want to go to REI too! Can I come, Dad?”
The three of them tumbled out the door, laughing and talking all at once, slamming the kitchen door behind them. I peeked out for just a moment, watching them pile into Steve’s Durango and roar off up the street.
The silence in my normally noisy house seemed louder than the noise it replaced. It was Saturday morning, the house was clean, my boys were out, and I had no idea what I would do to occupy my own time. Make cookies? No, I didn’t really feel like making cookies. Call my mother? No. I didn’t think she’d ever had a crisis of self in her life and would surely look on mine as a fundamental character flaw. Grocery shop? Yes, that was what I should do, but I didn’t have much enthusiasm for the task.
I wandered around the house aimlessly for a while, trying to resurrect the comfortable feeling of security in my home. It was a beautiful house, carefully decorated with pieces Steve and I picked out together. There was love in every hardwood floorboard, every stitch of the quilts on the beds, and in the small touches of matching towels and fully stocked bookcases. I had everything I could possibly hope for. Why in this moment did it feel like “not enough”?
I found myself heading for the bedroom with the intent of cleaning out and organizing the closets. Subconsciously, I suppose I knew that I wanted to inspect, reread, and wallow in the faded memorabilia of my life before Steve and the boys. I’d been married for 16 years, and my impetuous teens seemed light years away, a life lived long ago by a pretty young girl, a life I’d seen pictures of but couldn’t remember participating in.
Diving into the closet, I pulled out dusty shoeboxes filled with stiletto heels and long forgotten boots. I rummaged underneath the extra linens that weren’t quite as fresh-smelling as I would have liked. I found textbooks from Steve’s graduate school days, and moved past cardboard boxes full of family photos I’d promised myself would go in albums one day. I finally unearthed a dark green cardboard box tied with double-knotted twine. It had been buried underneath the accumulations of married life for more years than I wanted to think of. I slipped down the hallway back to the kitchen and pulled the shears out of the junk drawer. I stopped to fill a wineglass with Riesling, casting a guilty glance at the clock as I did so. It was just before eleven. Who was here to care if I had a glass of wine in the morning? Who would have cared if I’d had the whole bottle?
Back in the bedroom, I closed the door, hesitating only momentarily before locking it behind me. I sat on the floor with the big box and sliced through the twine with the shears. The scent of faded potpourri and old papers wafted to my nose and tempted me inside. I took a long sip of the Riesling, leaned back against the dresser with my knees pulled up, and placed a stack of papers next to me.
A few pages of high school poetry, stapled together in book form. A manila folder of essays written my sophomore year in college, before I dropped out to marry Steve. An article for the school paper. Another one for the local weekly, written just after Steve and I rented our first apartment. I read a little and laughed a little. I flipped through the pages of poems, sighing over the raw angst in the verses of my youth:
Late last evening, I
Cried for a time because you
Said, “I don’t love you,”
And how can I keep living
Knowing that I still love you?
I stopped reading for a minute to wonder if, like twenty years ago, I was drowning in my angst and allowing the problem to balloon to greater proportions than it warranted. I took another long sip of the wine and continued thumbing through the pages.
A paper on illegal immigrants written at age fifteen. Love notes from someone in my journalism class in college. A list of my favorite songs. More poetry. A few childish short stories and one ambitious play.
I reached into the box and pulled out more of the puzzle pieces that were my life: my high school diploma and tassel, a leatherette folder of pictures from a college party, a crumpled brown paper sack filled with letters from a soldier I’d written to.
I glanced again at the stack of essays and short stories and the play I’d written at seventeen. I stood up and gently opened the door, peering out into the hallway. It was still and quiet. Steve and the boys were still enjoying their testosterone outing. I padded down the hallway toward the kitchen and retrieved the rest of the bottle of Riesling. It was eleven-thirty. Who cared? I had a past to live in today.
I returned to the bedroom, once more locking the door. Refilling my glass, I settled in on the floor again and spread the stacks of paper in front of me. Before I lost myself in the long-forgotten words, I wanted to get an image of my former self. I opened the leatherette folder of pictures, fanning them out and looking for an individual shot of myself. There I was: young and pretty, rosy-cheeked and smiling, hamming up a pose for whoever had been behind the camera. I wasn’t just pretty then. There was life there behind those mischievous blue eyes and brilliant smile. I hastily restacked the photos and crammed them back into the folder.
My eyes lifted to the framed wedding photo on Steve’s nightstand and saw the same smile, this time aimed adoringly at the face of my new husband. Had I been too young to get married, at twenty? I supposed not; we’d done well enough in our marriage and I loved my husband. Over the years the occasional tempting thought to have an affair popped into my head – I was intrigued with the idea of a relationship that was all passion and longing, and no dirty socks and televised golf games and Tuesday meatloaf. The ideas always went as quickly as they had flitted into my head, and it had been a long time since I’d even thought of it.
I turned back to my reading, slipping easily into the other worlds created in my own brain long dusty years ago. As I read on, I gained a new perspective on who I had been and who I could be. I felt myself lifting from the funk that had held me captive.
As I took the last swallow of wine in my glass, I heard a tap at the bedroom door. I opened it to find Steve on the other side.
“Johanna? Hey, what are you doing locked away in here?” he asked, looking quizzically at the papers and folders strewn on the floor.
“Oh, just looking for something.” I flashed him the same brilliant smile I’d admired earlier in the photos.
“Well, we missed you this morning, hon. The boys and I wanted to know if you’d like to go out and join us for lunch.”
The invitation touched me. I thought again of how I had everything I’d ever dreamed of, and the feeling that something was missing dissipated as a new and welcome thought occurred to me that I couldn’t wait to share with Steve.
“I’d love to,” I answered brightly, linking arms with my husband and heading back to the kitchen, where our sons waited near the door. Was reality really all about perception? Where earlier I’d felt taken for granted, I now felt like the belle of my own ball as I gazed on the expectantly happy faces of my family. Perhaps my journey down memory lane had positively altered my perception.
“So,” Steve asked, holding the door open for me to step outside, “did you find what you were looking for?”
“I think so,” I said.
“What was it?” he asked as he locked the door and motioned to the boys, who had started tossing the basketball around.
“Myself,” I whispered under my breath.
“What did you say, sweetie? Ben! Andy! Get in the car now!”
As I reached the door of the Durango, I turned to face my husband.
“Steve,” I said.
“I think I’d like to start writing again.”
Thursday, March 16, 2006
To the unknown correspondent: Thank you for your thoughtful review. I'll keep your suggestions in mind, and I will no longer be hog-tying you and forcing you to read my blog. That was very inconsiderate of me, and I'll be more mindful of your sensibilities in the future.
Does anyone have an eye-rolling icon for me?
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
I kept her home from school today with a cold. She's coughing, mildly feverish, and a bit out of sorts. She's also very needy.
Is there any more demanding taskmaster than a sick child? A sick child who is upstairs while most of my work is downstairs? Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. All day. Up, down. A hundred times, perhaps. I wonder how much cardio I can add to this morning's five-mile workout. Up and down the stairs all day long.
She wants a different DVD. She wants some yogurt. Is it time for her medicine yet? Can she have some more orange juice? Did I get her a new coloring book? Where is the cat? Is Daddy home yet? Another different DVD? Will I read her a book? What smells good in the oven? We read two books, and that smell is lemon squares.
Oh, wait. I'm being summoned again with a howled "Moooooooooooooooooooooooooom!"
She wanted to ask about Daddy again. When will he be home? One minute? Will he read to her?
I suggested that maybe Daddy can read her new library book to her while I make some supper.
She's sick rarely and has never missed school before, so I've indulged her slave-driving tendencies today. I did get her the new coloring book, and some stickers, and some drawing paper. Her sister babysat while I ran to the grocery store for the cough syrup, the orange juice, and the keep-her-occupied supplies. I was reminded of a time when I was a sick little girl in bed and my mother bought me a new coloring book (mine was The Archies; Tooth Girl's is Disney Princesses). New coloring books make lots of things more bearable when you're six.
She's sitting up now, her lap desk in front of her, wiggling her loose tooth and waiting for Daddy to come home. Maybe I'll let her have a lemon square before supper.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
She likes to wiggle the tooth with her tongue, but she gets frustrated when that hurts sometimes. She can't eat crunchy food. It's too uncomfortable.
"When will my tooth fall out, Mama?"
"I don't know. Soon."
I explained that if she wiggles it a little bit here and there it will get looser and looser and then fall out.
"Will it fall out when I'm eating?"
When I saw her proudly pushing it outward with her tongue, showing off for her brother, I told her I was so excited for her.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because it's your first loose tooth. It's very exciting!"
"I didn't know you were excited. I thought you might be sad because your little girl is growing up."
All I could do was hug her. Does she have to be so wordly wise at six?
Thursday, March 09, 2006
I saw the Dashboard open. I remembered that I had been about to blog something before succumbing to the multiple distractions I often face (I'm so easily led astray, you see).
No clue whatsoever what it was that I was going to write about. Was it the near miss we experienced earlier when the kids' dresser tumbled forward to the floor? No. That's not it. That was a terrifying experience, and not one I care to relive in the written word just quite yet. What was it?
The world may never know. Or care.
I'm getting old.
What did I come in here for again?
And just who are you?
Monday, March 06, 2006
This must be, what? The two-thousandth time my teenage daughter has leveled this accusation at me? But who’s counting?
Her level of self-absorption is staggering, though I suppose it's nothing more than typical of girls her age. Her inability to grasp that some modern teenage experiences are near universal and that sometimes I really do understand is normal as well. I accept this normalcy, but it doesn’t make these well-worn arguments any less frustrating for the parental side of the equation. I wonder if this is how my own mother felt when I was the teenager some twenty-plus years ago?
“Yes,” I reply with a weary sigh, “I do understand. Sometimes when I say ‘no’ to a thing, it isn’t because I don’t remember what being a teenager is like. It’s because I do remember.”
I should have known this answer would not only be unsatisfying, but that it would trigger another tirade. Times have changed! Teenagers in the eighties (said with an inflection implying that “the eighties” is roughly equivalent to “the Middle Ages”) didn’t face the same issues that twenty-first century teenagers do! I don’t know her! I don’t know what it’s like! Just leave her alone!
I answer pleasantly enough, but firmly: “Disrespect isn’t going to change my mind. Take it somewhere else if you’re not going to talk calmly.”
My attitude is guaranteed to send her further into fury. And indeed, she is furious. Furious that she can’t get her way, and furious that I won’t engage in an argument. She flounces out of the kitchen and stomps up to her room, muttering under her breath words I don’t care to repeat. I consider letting her know that I can hear the obscenities and their attendant insult, but promptly discard the idea. Her obvious purpose in speaking that way within earshot is to rile me up and draw me into a confrontation, so I’ll deflate that balloon by not reacting. I have to empower myself as parent by whatever means possible, after all.
I find myself wondering if there's any way I can convince her that I occasionally know what I'm talking about. She won’t listen when I talk about my experiences. She refuses to entertain the idea that my teenage self underwent the same growing pains and anxiety that she suffers. After all, she’ll lash out with a stab, I had perfect parents. I had an idyllic upbringing. I never had the kind of social troubles she has. Mmmhmmm, I’ll tell her. And if that’s so, I belong in a museum – a display of the only perfect child raised by the only perfect parents in existence.
Well, no. Sarcasm never gets me anywhere with her, so I suppose I wouldn’t say that after all. I’d only get defensive, and then round two would begin. No, simply telling her about some of our common experiences won’t convince her. It would all be so much lip service to her, calculated words designed to get her to shut up.
I feel sad that I can’t seem to connect with her on a plane of common ground. I’m haunted by it, in fact, because I see the pain where she tries to hide it, and my hand hits an invisible wall when I reach out. I’m not looking for parental conquest. I just want a way to show her I’ve lived some of what she lives too.
I hear the music booming from behind her closed door, and I smile a little sadly. She’s replaying songs of wretched love and broken hearts. How well do I know that feeling. I can even guess that she’s probably sitting cross-legged on her bed, propped up by pillows, scribbling angsty poetry into a well-worn spiral notebook.
As that image comes to mind, so also does an idea that might work. I cover the stairway two steps at a time and slip into my bedroom, closing the door behind me. From the closet I withdraw a heavy cardboard box sealed with fraying duct tape. It is the vessel for the memoir of my life. The dated notation on the outside of the box indicates I sealed it up for a move several years ago and haven’t opened it since. I wonder why I didn’t think of this sooner.
Opening the box unearths a wealth of information, much of it detailing the inner workings of my then-teenaged mind. I pull out several hardbound volumes of my teenage journals, rich in the handwritten details of the life I lived then. If I let her read these, will that help her see me as not just her mother but as a whole person who lived a very real life before she was born? Will she see that my attempted words of comfort are more than just words? I can hope so. I select the volumes that represent the year I was her age and hesitate only a minute before knocking on her door.
She looks sullen when she opens the door. “What do you want?”
I hand her the books. “Read these.”
Shoving the books back at me, she says, “I don’t want to read that.”
I’m trying not to be hurt. Really. Her rejection of the books feels very much like a rejection of me, and I have to remind myself that it’s not personal. I had, however, counted on her being nosy enough to be interested. I think we both have unpleasantries to atone for here, and I had hoped the journals could serve as a peace offering.
I don’t say this to her.
Instead I say, “Please. Read one, at least. I’m really just a human too.” I put the books on the floor outside her door and head back downstairs without looking back.
Some time later, returning upstairs with a basket of laundry, I see that the books are no longer sitting on the floor.
When she emerges from her room still later, she has a smile for me. I know she won’t say that she was wrong, and I know that she won’t discuss what she has read. But I can see the understanding in her eyes, and I hope that she now can see the understanding in mine.
Thinking about the cardboard container in my bedroom still stuffed with journals, notebooks and day planners, it occurs to me that to bridge this gap, all I had to do was think inside the box - an old box on a high closet shelf.