Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Years Rocking Eve

Oh we are a bunch of party animals, if being a bear in hibernation counts. We will throw a few logs on the fire, steam up some Maine lobsters because they have become, like petrol, ridiculously inexpensive and our vegetarians will eat these gluten free crustaceans. We will pop a bottle of poor man’s champagne: Prosecco, and we will curl up around our new tv set for a year end film festival with the dogs trying to squeeze into our laps. (Although the teen is lobbying for a BBC sci fi fest)

As the wicked witch says just as she melts: What a World, What a World!

I have in mind all the people I love as this year turns, in Mumbai, recovering from shock and sadness, in Israel, newly up in flames, in Athens where they also have problems, in Burgundy and Ireland and Finland and England and Berlin and Amsterdam, all over these sort of united States, and my sweet site director now a Peace Corps volunteer, celebrating with no running water or electricity in Malawi, Africa. It is an amazing thing to be alive where I have friends literally across the planet, and where I can type out a letter that they will get in their email box in a few seconds. It is stunning that I can carry a communication device so my children can find me where ever I go, including, with a lot of time on the customer service help desk, anywhere in the world (theoretically). If we can maintain connections and communicate across the globe, there is hope that we can learn to live together. It is but a slender fragile hope, but there it is.

I lift a glass to all of us, to a fresh new year and all the mistakes we will make in it on our way to making the world a better place. We step off into the future not knowing what it holds, but moving forward anyway. Say goodbye to all the lessons and history and big juicy everthingness of 2008.

Cowabunga, 2009!

Friday, December 26, 2008

After Christmas Blues



Christmas has come and gone.

The glittering diversion that makes winter bearable is now over, the wrappings recycled or burned, our unwrapped trophies stacked beneath the tree. The holidays are not completely past: we still have a few warm candle-lit nights of Hanukkah left, and there’s New Years Eve, a decidedly low key affair in our house, and then winter settles in for good, with bone chilling cold, beautiful but difficult snows and endless grey days. Spring is a long way away. We awoke today with a coating of ice on everything. I decided not to risk driving, but fell three times walking and taking the train to work. The headline on the paper this morning was Too Many Accidents to Count…….

I need the holidays to face the winter. I need all that expectation and bustling to bear the darkness that clutches at my heart, and to force me to get up in the morning. Those twinkling lights hold the abyss at bay. Was this the holiday I wanted it to be? Never! We ended up with part of the family in one location, the dogs and my husband in another, and after trying to make everyone happy, in the end, I made everyone unhappy. Santa’s low budget offerings were not particularly well received, and I am a complete failure at bringing my family to an understanding of the principal of gratitude. Actually, after Christmas, I usually feel like a complete failure at everything. The expectations are too impossibly high, and Hallmark, I ain’t. But I self medicate with spirits and chocolate and I manage to get out of bed each morning which is counter to every instinct in my body. I am part bear in temperament and inclination and I could be perfectly happy taking to my bed for the next quarter.

Whenever I am faced with an unwinnable task: trying to create a lifetime of memories for my children when I am working 60 hour weeks in the summer, or trying to fulfill the overly hyped visions of sugarplums that make up everyone’s holiday expectations, I clutch a checklist like a lifeline. The checklist is the 10 or 15 things that have to happen, that must be fulfilled for me to get a passing grade for the season or event. It’s my rubric. For example, last summer we had to eat a picnic outside, go to an outdoor concert, have Horse Camp, eat at Super Dog, see fireworks, eat ice cream and swim in Lake Michigan. I got it all done, so in my mind, I got a passing grade. I did NOT exceed expectations and this was not an honor roll summer, but in the end, I passed. This year’s holiday season included the following assignments: Latke party, live tree, home made gifts, some family baking event (this I delegated—note the Gingerbread fantasies, including a fish house) see our cousins, be with people who are important, donate, sing carols. We are not totally done with the holidays, but I have completed my assignments.

I have forgotten to put things like SLEEP on this list. I did not get my traditional holiday nap done as I was running around, and I sure feel it today. But some days, the human condition is such that you get by, by the skin of your teeth, by the accumulated guilt of your tribe, by the checklist that becomes your driving force, your talisman, your mentor to get you through. Whatever it takes, whatever it takes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Entertaining

I wrote this and sent it out two years ago, but in these frugal times, I think it deserves repeating.

The Ten Laws of Modern Entertaining. Or the things Martha Stewart is not going to tell you because none of us keep stylists on our payroll.

1. Carry out served on good china is suitable for company, any company from your boss to the Queen of England. Just make sure it’s good carry out.
2. Carry out served on paper plates makes you a “spontaneous hostess” and saves cleanup time (invest in cute disposeables)
3. She who dies with the most yardage wins. Collect patterned fabric, tablecloths and schemata where ever you can find it---it will cover a multitude of sins. If its not machine washable throw it out when you spill on it. Ethnic textiles are so in and can be found in dollar bins at the local everything store.
4. If one plate is not going to match, make sure none of them match. Same with glassware; that’s called eclectic table settings.
5. If the bathroom, the room you cook in and the space where you are dining are clean, you can have company over. (This could mean having a picnic in the living room if like me your dining room is full of your work-at-home projects) Only light the pathways to the rooms you want people in and its ok to disconnect the light bulbs in the rooms you do not want anyone to see.
6. You are allowed to only serve dessert if that’s all you can muster. Or only serve hors d’oevres—just make sure the guests know before they come so they do not eat your centerpieces from hunger.
7. If the house is a total disaster and it’s above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, you are allowed to serve an “al fresco” meal. If it’s below 60 degrees, though, I would burn something. Bonfires are “quaint”
8. If the house is a total disaster, turn off all the lights and only use candles. Claim a power failure. Its “atmosphere”.
9. If you are not going to have time to change between the meal preparation and the guests arrival, wear all black to cook in and add a dashing accessory when the doorbell rings. Scarves are not a good choice unless you find one that does not show stains. I like metal for accessories myself.
10. It’s supposed to be FUN to have people over to break bread and converse.


As you can see, on the spectrum of hostessing, I fall towards the slatternly end of the scale. But everyone has a good time, so go figure. While it is wonderful to go to a sit down dinner on fine china in gowns and tux, my style is chili and beer while the kids fight over Halloween candy, or fried potatoes by the poundful at our annual latke fest. And if you are totally broke and still want to party, remember the potluck!

Happy entertaining.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

End of year letters


Every year, I am supposed to sit down about now while digesting our fabulous smoked all natural specially ordered free range turkey or sipping on my three day to make it turkey carcass soup which tastes like love and tradition and getting through the long cold winter in a bowl, and I am supposed to write the family holiday letter.

I hate this task. It strains my writing ability. I hate feeling like a publicist for my family. The last few years have had a bunch of nasty bumps in them, bad hands dealt in the card game of life and long about now when its dark by 4pm and cold and I have to chisel my car out (the doors have frozen AGAIN) I am not all sweetness and gratitude.
I hate plastering a smile on. I hate having to spin my own life.

Don’t get me wrong--I am grateful, really. And blessed. I thank the universe that I do not live in the 9th ward, still in a trailer after three years. I am not living in a hotel room in California after my house went up in flames. I am not standing in a line at a shelter for my turkey soup. No one in my immediate circle is in stage 4 cancer (that was last year). I have my lovely spacious dilapidated house to ramble around in and for now it is heated. I have a job when multitudes don’t. I have a partner and 3 artistic creative beautiful kids and a zoo full of animals. The angel of really bad stuff passed me by and I am breathing a sigh of relief. We hung on, and in our way, we triumphed. We were in many many shows,--we all managed to get into at least one opera this year. We went to Berlin. We did Horse Camp and American Revolution Camp and Pirate Camp. We went camping and to Mackinaw Island. We ate a pie we will never forget. We went to Florida and California for Bat Mitvahs and danced with the family.

It was not easy. Some of our gifts were given, and many were earned. We did not always get what we wanted but we learned what we needed. Sometimes you have to stop denying the ugly parts and stare them down. So instead of the letter I give you my honestly Angelas List of 2008. We had:

1. People who care about where we are and keep calling so many times to ask us when we are coming home until we just stopped answering the phone.
2. Food that is so exotic and delicious everyone is afraid to try it even though its vegetarian AND gluten free and really really healthy—oh and prepared with love.
3. Lots of animals that love you more than anything and chew up everything you own because they are so upset you are not there but they are so cute you kind of get over it.
4. So much art and creativity that you can’t even walk through the room and everyone is talking at once and whatever you need we have or we can just whip one up.
5. Health insurance. With big deductibles and copays and its all costing a fortune but everyone is happy to see us because we have it, we actually really really have it and we can get the care we need.
6. Way too much to do because we are interested in everything and we could add just one more sport/theatre/art thing to our lives because Angela will do anything in the universe to get out of the dead end, soul shattering task of doing housework which no one ever appreciates anyway because they immediately mess it all up.
7. Really good thrift stores which if you are pack rat are really dangerous things to walk into but its so nice to get a cashmere sweater for a dollar that you just love it anyway.
8. OCD and ADD and drama and sturm and drang and all kinds of labels which we are kind of learning to ignore or get over or reframe or get beyond.
9. Music, and beauty and laughter and friends.

Ok? I hope that the beautiful mess that is your life is rolling along without too many trainwrecks….Our family puts the Fun in Dysfunctional.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thankful to be here, now

Last week, as she reached for the milk, my teen’s wrists gave a glimpse to my husband and me that all was not well in her adjustment to high school.

She was not happy to be discovered, and bitterly decried our lack of comprehension at “how things are” and shrieked at me “you were NEVER a teenager.”

But I was, oh I was.

An anorexic and bilumic teen who often thought of suicide. It is impossible to explain to someone suffering their own angst of adolescence with the confusion and joy of the known world on her desktop what it was to be young in the 1970’s, when your father has dropped dead within days of your 13th birthday and your mother and you are from different planets, and no one is self actualized and we don’t have SSRI’s and you are trapped in a world where no one understands you and how much living hurts. I was supposed to be the responsible one, and there were only a few really gifted teachers who reached out for me and caught my own free fall back then. It is bitterly ironic that I cannot share this with my own child in a way she could hear it so that she could know that I have been through the abyss and survived.

I have danced with thoughts of self destruction and death through the years. A survivor of date rape by 20, of ransacked apartment and attack by hatchet by 25, of betrayal and identity theft by 30 and subsequent bankruptcy both financial and spiritual, I have not always been handed the best hand in the card game of life. A family problem with serotonin makes those black times blacker, but I only know that now. Somehow an inherent sense of life and the chronic inability to kill or get rid of anything (evidence: my garden) including myself drove me forward through those times and I am still here. A fantastic tolerance for pain also helps. But most of all, I believe, in some wacky way that I was lucky, the universe was looking out for me, and someone sympathetic, the right person to listen, was always there in the nick of time. There is grace in my fellow humans.

Life is not kind. It is as likely to kick you in the teeth as hand you a flower. It is not fair or gracious, that is our job as the humans. To achieve anything you will have to work your ass off, and you still may end up in the soup kitchen line. But maybe I can stack the deck for my daughter and make sure those listening people are there even if I have to pay them. Maybe I can sprinkle our lives with people are truly present, who are listening and paying attention.

The one thing that not offing yourself gives you is the secure knowledge you can hang on by your bloody fingernails until it passes. When the fairies pass out gifts at births that might not be the one you would pick, fame, beauty, wealth and a good singing voice being higher on the wish list. But when the proverbial poop hits the fan as it invariably will, I will take the tenacity to go on living in the face of all evidence to the contrary. And if you hang on, there will be jackpot day; sunrise, a toddler’s giggle, the soft snuggle of a baby rabbit, the smell of gardenias in the wind, the flavor of Belgian chocolates. Life is a gift, and it is a great tragedy that my beloved child is having such a hard time enjoying that some days now. She is not the only member of my extended clan with that difficulty, and that in its own way, is our human condition.

As you feast and are grateful for that feast, really be with the people you are with and enjoy.

A song from when I was a teen, I used to sing this one at guitar mass.—Seals and Crofts, 1973
Life, so they say, is but a game and we let it slip away.
Love, like the Autumn sun, should be dyin' but it's only just begun.
Like the twilight in the road up ahead, they don't see just where we're goin'.
And all the secrets in the Universe, whisper in our ears
And all the years will come and go, take us up, always up.
We may never pass this way again.
We may never pass this way again.
We may never pass this way again.

Dreams, so they say, are for the fools and they let 'em drift away.
Peace, like the silent dove, should be flyin' but it's only just begun.
Like Columbus in the olden days, we must gather all our courage.
Sail our ships out on the open sea. Cast away our fears
And all the years will come and go, and take us up, always up.
We may never pass this way again.
We may never pass this way again.
We may never pass this way again.

So, I wanna laugh while the laughin' is easy. I wanna cry if it makes it worthwhile.
We may never pass this way again, that's why I want it with you.
'Cause, you make me feel like I'm more than a friend.
Like I'm the journey and you're the journey's end.
We may never pass this way again, that's why I want it with you, baby.

We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again.
We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

slumber parties


We reached another milestone. An 8th birthday. You become eligible for slumber parties in our house once you have achieved 8. I have no solid developmental reason for this, aside from the fact that at that point they usually understand basic hygene and are less likely to wake me up at 3 am sobbing to go home. So, my youngest had a sleepover for her 8th. I clearly have become absent minded since I had completely forgotten how exhausting it can be for the PARENTS. My son’s last batch of sleepovers was known as Camp and it was handled by young, fit men who are not old and senile like me. I will need a weekend in a spa with 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep to recover from the next one….. First of all, there is no sleeping at a slumber party. It’s too darn exciting to do something boring and mundane like sleeping. I made my best effort to get them all to sleep at a decent hour, but being in a room with all these girls wiggling and squealing assures that most of the kids do not settle down. Ever. I literally read bedtime stories in a soothing voice for over an hour. My own child passed out after 10 minutes, but the others held on until nearly midnight, which is decidedly past MY bedtime. I could barely keep my eyes open, the words blurred before me, but all those kids will get A’s on their reading logs this week because I plowed through two entire chapter books. With expression.

Then morning comes, and despite the blankets I had placed over the windows to black out the lights, the first one woke up at 6 am—and promptly tickled her compatriots into joining her in the new day. I lay in my bed listening to the shrieks of joy (I hope) unable to rise thinking dark murderous thoughts. But the risk of awakening a foul mooded teen also in the house was too great so I went on duty. Two cups of espresso banked the lack of sleep hangover. Waffles were had, games were played, suitcases packed then our young partiers were returned to parental units. Except I still had my overly tired birthday girl who promptly fell into post party blues. It was a very very very long Sunday. I had spent the entire previous day as the emotional punching bag for before mentioned moody teen at the opening of the high school fencing season so emotional reserves were gone, as was my sense of fun about this parenting gig. I faced the errands, laundry and week prep that is part of our Sunday routine with the enthusiasm of a condemned prisoner.

Not enjoying the mom thing…need a break…. I can’t wait to get to work on Monday so I can get away from everyone needing me, and needing more of me than I have.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Musings prior to an election

Lately, having an internet connection and a rudimentary understanding of economics has given me a window to a slow moving train wreck that I just knew was coming. Like my husband’s cousin noted, this is probably worse than 9-11 but because its taking so long to happen it does not feel so bad. We all know life has changed.

In the way that you slow down and stare at bad car accidents, watching the news the last few months has that same kind of voyeuristic horror. I have had to just stop myself, and remind myself that I come from folks who have survived wars, pogroms, tuberculosis, near starvation. This is not as bad as it can get. The fact that I have a decent roof over my head and a stocked refrigerator means I got nuthin to worry about, though worry and stew I do, like a dog with a bone.

Life is hard. Whether you are a salmon swimming upstream to spawn and die, a tree trying to grow on a rock, or a parent in the 21st century trying to juggle the demands of competing bureaucracies, living is a struggle. Which makes sense,now that we know that everything really IS related to everything, on a microscopic level, getting energy, replicating, existing and dying are never easy. Advertising and some musicals try to tell us there is an Easy Street, but I am not sure they exist where I am at. So you put your head down and your shoulder to the grindstone.

I have always known how to cut back and make do. Most of my clothes are used. I don’t pay retail and I know how to do without. I keep cars a decade and drive in a fuel efficient manner common with grandmas. This annoys the heck out of the guy behind me who will need a break job every three weeks the way he drives!

I know how to sew, cook, and don’t mind meals of noodles or potatoes. Our camping vacations won’t help the economy much, but they are fine by me. I do get tired of repeating to my children “no, we can’t afford that” like a broken record, but I was doing it before it was fashionable.

There is a lot to be said for the new frugality. I talked my kids into seeing how long we could go without heat. My husband is complaining but we made it through a few freezing nights without turning it on. It’ll be November 1 in a few days and we find that if we keep the doors closed, the house will stay about 59 degrees. We bundled on blankies and wear hats to bed and we are toasty. It’s become a badge of honor to tough it out. I know my family can pull together and get it done. And we put off getting that bill we can’t pay for a while just a little longer.

And in the end, the tough immigrant stock that this nation is made up of, well, we will pull together and get it done. We will work our way out of this cesspool of an economic debacle. We will fix the damn schools with NO help from the government, because its our KIDS for god’s sake. The housing market will tank for a while because we don’t have the salaries to support the inflated prices, but we will move over and make room for our foreclosed family and friends. We will work more soup kitchens this winter and donate more food to the food bank. We will work our tails off to pay off the 700 billion dollar debt that our esteemed leadership got us into, and so will our kids. We will do with less and hope for more. We will conserve energy because the stuff costs too much in dollars and economic destruction. When your ancestors traversed a bombed out Europe, or crawled out of the concentration camps, you know how to keep going and make a better world for your children.

So get out there and vote, because We are the Change that needs to happen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gone Digital and Quit

So we got our coupons for our discount for a digital converter box. You have to use them in 90 days—and so they expire in about a week. I had ordered some before but we lost them for 4 months and they were no good so we had to order them again—what a nightmare.

We dutifully went out and bought the boxes and of course no one sells them for what the government reimburses, so you will be out a chunk of change—found out the cheap ones don’t have the plugs in them, went our and got those, and then spent quite a while hooking them up. There is NO WAY my mother will be able to do this. My in-laws will definitely have to hire a someone, or get cable on all their tvs. If you are currently unemployed or underemployed, hang up a sign in the grocery store and offer to figure out these stupid things (every one of them is different) and install them for the technically challenged. A whole new cottage industry will be born. It took both my husband and I working together over 45 minutes to get the thing up and running and I HATE IT.

I just have to thank the tv industry for hanging itself. I have been meaning to cut back on my watching time and this finally weaned me completely. The pixallation and breakup of the image when I turned the bedroom light on, or my cell phone rang makes you want to heave your set out the second floor window.. The fact the the PBS station didn’t even come in until I went down and got a length of tin foil to rig up an antenna defeats the whole point of having a tv in my bedroom. The fact that every third word dropped out until I thought I was going to go CRAZY…...

FORGET IT. I shut off the tv and picked up a novel.

I see this digital conversion thing will be an immense boon to libraries, radio broadcasters and DVD sales, since the only thing my analog tv is now good for is as a playback screen for DVD and video. I feel bad for the television industry and any poor sucker trying to get its message out to the public, but this definitely heralds the end of broadcast television.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Slumming

I have not set foot in a Catholic Church except for the odd tourist visit or funeral/wedding for at least a decade. I grew up a 5 mass a week singer in the choir Catholic, went to a Catholic University. Then I married a nice Jewish boy whose mother told me I was completing the work of Hitler. And my parish priest told me if I didn’t have a nice Catholic wedding and raise nice Catholic children, then 1) he couldn’t attend my nuptials even as a guest and 2) my children would all be bastards. I never have been able to make other people happy. Anyway, all my bastards have nice Jewish identities and I make a mean matzo ball, the best gluten free latkes in the Midwest, and I can welcome in the Shabbat bride with the best of them, in case anyone is interested. We’ve given up most red meat so my brisket is irrelevant at this point, but as shiksa wives go, I pass for a tribal member. I set up a tree each year because I have to, and it’s a yarzheit for my father—and we go to my brothers house for most blatantly Christian holidays.

But last night, I raced over to my neighborhood Catholic Church to join the choir for Holiday Pops at a fancy schmantzy downtown venue. The chance to sing in a SATB choir of 120 was just too good to pass up. Plus I get to see my buddy Linda who talked me into it.

I love to sing in a choir. When you are part of an ensemble, you crawl inside the music in an up close personal way. And when you get it, when you find the groove when you are singing in harmony with that wall of sound, you hook into this vibration that just makes your molecules happy. I hang out a whole bunch at the opera and I just love it there, but listening is not the same total body experience that singing and listening at the same time is---because to be a good choir singer, you have to fit in to the crowd perfectly. When you are working at blending you are completely alive using all of your senses at once—thinking, hearing, seeing, feeling, --well maybe not taste, except during breaks: this choir has home baked treats at breaks!

I have never been a choir leader—I follow the strong singers where ever they lead most of the time, until I know the music like my own heartbeat and one of the strong ones is out sick—then I step up and hold my own. And I can barely read music. But I can let the sounds take over my body, and then I can hit it and really contribute. Come to think of it, choir is a metaphor for a lot of organizations I have been in. Stumbling along on intuition and chutzpah and doing an okay job and contributing. It would be nice if government was more like a choir.

So for the next two months I have my guilty pleasure, slipping back to my roots of long ago and singing Christmas carols that are buried in my limbic brain in four part harmony.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds?

My preteen is standing, nearly naked, atop a heap of clothes he has yanked from his drawers and rejected upon the floor.

MOM, he wails, THESE MAKE ME LOOK LIKE A DORK. Everyone makes fun of me because I dress like a dork. These clothes are NOT cool.

He picked out these clothes. Plain athletic wear, nary an uncomfortable seam or fastener, the entire pile. They were bought and paid for with hard earned money, money which I no longer have. So new clothes are not an option.

So I stand back, load my information shotgun, and fire. Because, you see, whenever we fail miserably as parents, my son threatens to leave and become a waif on Bill Gates' doorstep, hoping to be adopted by my son's vision of the perfect dad.

Dude, say I, are you aware that growing up, Bill Gates was a dork? And most fashion mavens agree, he is still a dork? Most of the freshman class of Harvard is made up of Dorks (He says that’s his goal for college though I think that may be a long shot). MIT and University of Chicago—loaded with dorks. Every single Nobel Prize winner? Yup, a dork. And Warren Buffet? A dork.

You know who wasn’t a dork? You know who everyone thought was their friendly cool guy? George Bush.

My son, I opine, in the end, Dorks through history have advanced humanity from caves and invented Iphones. It is good to be a dork.

I leave him, half dressed to contemplate this skewed world view. From a mother who retaliates by blasting sopranos singing in Italian when neighboring speakers rattle my windshields at stoplights (this was my eldest child’s idea—Blast Opera! She cries,being quite happily, a dork)

But as I walk down the hallway, I wonder, when did being smart and rule abiding become an anathema? And I realize, it’s always been that way. At least since the dark ages when I was in school more than 30 years ago. From the moment you enter the school system, being the smart kid will exact a heavy price. Smart kids will be ostracized, beat up. Aside from the scholarship money, there is no advantage to winning the science fair. Oh, the principal may shake your hand, but NO ONE will sit with you at lunch. Sheer animal strength will get you celebrity status, athletic prowess will elevate one to a godlike pedestal, but if your kid is ranked a grand master in chess they will be at best ignored, at worst pulverized in a little trafficked corner of some hallway. The peer pressure to be “like everyone else” includes NOT being smarter, or gifted in anything intellectual. You see this in No Child Left Behind. They don’t call it All Children will Excel. And resources are all to bring the bottom up, not help the best and brightest speed ahead. In fact, precociousness and intelligence are a social liability in the classroom—the teacher sends you to the library or needs you to help the other kids, which singles you out and makes you a Dork or teachers pet—a fate worse than excommunication. So the pressure to be dumber than you are is huge.

We are a culture that does not just devalue intelligence—we denigrate it. And that is what has brought this nation to its current pickle. Sinking to the lowest common denominator dilutes all that is good and right and causes the Dow to sink 900 points in a day. If America wants to drag itself out of the pit we have fallen into, if we don’t want to end up like the Romans, well it better be All Dorks on Deck. We need everybody to be smarter and better. We need armies of teacher’s pets, honest smart folks working at banks and financial institutions. And we need some super duper dorks to invent the next Internet which will provide us with opportunities and business models and jobs we cannot even imagine at this point.

The populists rant against Elitism, but you know what, the fastest growing economies in the world don’t have that prejudice. They sink a lot of capital into their smart folks and it pays off in spades. We can't even give smart kids free rides to college--other countries send their smart kids to our schools and foot the entire bill.

So our only hope is Dorks. Now if I can just sell that idea to an 11 year old boy, trying to fit in……

Monday, October 6, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Requiem for a Very Good Rabbit

Before my shower and cup of coffee yesterday morning, Mr. Moustache left us for the herb garden in the sky where all good bunnies go. He had certainly seen better days, our softest half lop eared boy of crayon and candle chewing. Left blind from the warning nip he got from the retriever when he foolishly tried to steal a training biscuit, we also suspected he was deaf. His medical bills ate our vacation.
But he was one happy rabbit, and still stupidly trying to eat out of the dog bowl. He had a predilection for chewing very expensive water color paper, and electrical cords. If you can’t see dangers and you are a rabbit, you don’t worry about anything, and you pretty much trust that everything is good, especially when delicious foods show up magically in front of your nose on a regular basis. We felt sorry for him, but he never felt sorry for himself. I learned a lot from that rabbit.

We found him under a parked car in a tony neighborhood five or six years ago, so he lived a good run in rabbit time years. Since someone kept taking down our FOUND RABBIT signs, we suspected he was an abandoned easter present. We got him before a lively retriever did and he never learned a healthy fear of big dogs.

He is one of our few pets who just up and died, preventing us from having to make the decision to euthanize him. He had a horrible to watch seizure and then he was gone. We spent several hours on the internet trying to figure out why, but my vet friend told me, sometimes these things happen, and she rarely sees geriatric rabbits. They don’t get that much time in our world.

This morning I missed him so, always expectantly waiting in the kitchen for breakfast. Our new baby rabbit will help ease the loss, but will never replace our beloved boy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

September

Every September I have this incredible ANTI squirrel urge—instead of wanting to pack away everything for the long winter, I have this insane need to clean out my life, unload baggage and organize. It could be that it’s a corollary to needing to get the winter clothes down from the attic, and I have to sort of finish the project. It could be the sheer terror of being trapped in the house for the next 6 months with all my accumulated STUFF. Whatever the seed of this urge, I go with it.

I was going through drawers and found the old VH-C’s of family vacations when my teen and preteen were very small. In sorting through them to determine which ones to have digitally copied, I found myself in a kind of joyous memory lane. Oh my god, my preteen son as a Prince at two. The video of the chicken pox. These things are priceless.

And there in a forgotten drawer I found my big rocks.

You know the lecture that says your life is like a cleaned out peanut butter jar. Figure out what the big rocks are so you put them in first because if you fill up your life jar with all the minute annoying pebbles of grocery buying and laundry doing you will never be able to fit the big rocks—two small children discovering tidal pools—into the space that’s left.

The big rock in our family is TRAVEL. Getting away from our daily lives and exploring. Being with one another. It is in these times that we find each other. And these last few years it was the first thing we cut when trying to balance the household budget. But whats the point of a house if we don’t know and love who we are living with. We wanted the bigger house to accommodate the bigger family, but I would WAY rather have a shack and vacations than a nice house and stay put.

And I suddenly realize how guilty I am of not making those big rocks a major priority. It is too easy to get caught up in the sand of life as it buries you—the permission slips and where are the ballet slippers and who forgot to pick up milk.

I suppose this is why I am such a dreadful housekeeper. There is just not enough time in my life to read a chapter of Charlotte’s Web to the kids—we are at the part where Charlotte dies and that is going to devastate all of us, and bring us up close and personal to the tenuousness of living---and get the kitchen floor swept and mopped up. I hope my epitaph reads: She lived a wonderful life. She kept a very messy house……

Friday, September 12, 2008

Exercise

Last week, all the kiddies were at last back at school I could return to my weekly exercise –an art form certain to rapidly grind out my prearthritic hips and shorten the lifespan of my Achilles tendon. This addiction to this exercise form is crazy, and delicious. You see, after three months, I am back in

ballet class.

Two mornings a week, I walk out on my husband.

Yup, I leave him, and the children and our veritable zoo. I pack everybody’s lunch, find my son a weather appropriate outfit and spend 20 minutes finding his glasses, then grab my coffee and walk out the door.

I ABANDON them all.

I am going to ballet class.

At 8 bloody am.

Real ballerinas do NOT go to 8 am class. They go to class every day they can, but at a civilized hour like 10am. Of course, I am not a ballerina.

Now I am a former professional dancer. MODERN dancer. Avant garde modern dancer, the kind that rolls around on the floor clad only in corn starch for an art installation. I never took ballet twice a week during the dozen years I had my own company. I studied with Hanya Holm, one of the founders of American modern dance. I took class five days a week at the Nikolais studio in New York. Ballet was not my cup of tea—the only Nutcracker I was ever involved had me backstage calling cues, and I still don’t know or really care about the difference between Ecartee and Effacee.

But now that I am way over 40, with a desk job, I no longer see the hard lines dividing movement forms. I don’t see the difference between schlepping loads of laundry up and down three flights of stairs in my ramshackle Victorian and doing Stairmaster. So when I found out that a real dance teacher gets up to my health club twice a week at the crack of dawn to teach real dance to a bunch of middle aged women, that was good enough for me. In fact, it’s better than good. It’s my religion.

A few of the women doll up in chiffon skirts or artfully cut tee shirts. Me, I wear Yoga Wear, the black cotton knit stuff that goes from Ballet to office by throwing a sweater on top. I need to do ballet class between carpool set up and a 9:15 standing weekly staff meeting, so everything better multi-task.

We are a motley lot, the Ballet Babes of the early am. The middle aged regulars, and the steady crop of young professionals with an ever evolving bevy of students sprinkled in. This is a ballet class at a health club. There is no dress code. There are jazz shoes and sox and my signature bare feet with wildly colored toenails. I always get there late and have to do plies in the corner and jump in. The combinations are long and complicated. They prevent Alzheimers, dammit. Our abs are soft from baby bearing and office gigs, our minds are slow from humdrum ordinary concerns like grocery lists, but for an hour twice a week, we sweat like prima ballerinas and we strive, oh god we strive, for better turn-out. We know, because the teacher tells us, that Ballet is the new Black. That everyone should and will be doing this.

I check my overcomplicated life at the door and go back to a time in my life where I measured success in how high I could kick my leg. I face my aging self in floor to ceiling mirrors, all the places I have fallen short of ideals exposed. I move forward (and sideward and backward) I try to retain my flexibility. I try to fight gravity and get better. And really, isn’t that what we all should do.

So get moving. Find a ballet class and rediscover what you knew at 7—that everything, including you, is beauty-full at the ballet. It is WAY cheaper than HRT or therapy…….

Living and learning

In keeping with our family theme of more to love and more to feed, we recently took the plunge and offered to host a foreign exchange student for the school year. It was a daunting task and we literally turned our house upside down to make it happen. I was so proud of my kids and their willingness to host a complete stranger. We want to do our part for world peace and understanding. My kids really thought through how to make someone new feel comfortable, and for some of us, the task really pushed us out of our comfort zones and required us to give up some entrenched habits and be mindful. Unfortunately, it did not work out. For some reason we were not a good match--our guest was seeking a Typical American Household, and it was clear from the very start she was not thrilled with our brand of Family. I am not sure what Typical American Family is, and I had a sneaking suspicion that we were not such a construct, but now I know unequivocally that we are not. As a way of working through our pain and grief and sense of failure that it did not work out (being rejected by an exchange student hurts as much as being jilted by a lover) we offer what we wish we had said if we knew then what we know now……

A Brief Introduction to our household.

Welcome to Mildred. That’s the name of our house. The car is named Blue. Our other house, in the country is called DOG HAVEN. Names are carefully chosen for their connotation. In the appendix (and elsewhere on this blog) you will find a more thorough explanation of Mildred and her idiosyncrasies, and there will be sections on Blue and Dog Haven, but here is what you need to know to live happily ever after here with our off-beat family of overachieving artists. We are NOT in ANY way mainstream or Typical. We are charmingly unique. In some places that translates as a little nutty.

1. Mildred is a zoo, since a core value in our family is the sanctity of life. All life. While I really don’t LIKE spiders, flies and bugs, I respect their right to exist. I allowed rats, albeit the kind you can dress up in Barbie clothes, to live with us. My tolerance for life forms also goes for weeds, so our garden is a little overgrown. I completely lack the cold-hearted ruthlessness necessary for good gardens. We adopt lost, abandoned animals with amazing regularity. The children also temporarily adopt toads, snakes, and insects that are unusual. All the pets become beloved members of the family, and if you take some time to know them you will find out they are lovely personalities. We never give up on people or animals who are a little “different”.

2. There are a lot of us here. There are not enough bathrooms for the number of teenagers and allied persons living here most of the time, so bathroom usage during peak hours is limited to 5 minutes unless you are using the smaller ones. I know it seems really awkward, but if you are going to take a two hour bubble bath, you need to announce it to the household in a large voice, and you need to do it in off peak hours. This is kind of communal living and we have to be aware of everyone else. Sometimes this is a bummer. Sometimes it is good preparation for life on a crowded planet.

3. We are a tight knit group that actually shares interests and hobbies like performing in operas, speed skating, soccer, film. We have an extended family of folks you can turn to when you want to strangle someone you live with... We have a schedule that looks like a military maneuver spreadsheet to make sure every member of our rambling group gets to do all the things they want and need to do. We support the development of passions. We do not waste time and we do A LOT. (Some people think too much!) We are always interested in what you are up to and you need to alert central scheduling (that’s Angela) as to your whereabouts and estimated times of arrival, keeping in mind she works for the city so you have to observe curfew and applicable laws regulations and policies. She really wants a clock like Mrs. Weasley in Harry Potter so she just knows where all her family is and that they are safe. Safety is an issue in a diverse community, and some pretty bad things have happened to some members of our family so we know that better safe than sorry is a good operations motto.

4. We love books and movies. We have so many of them we use them as furniture. We keep up on current events. We believe in the arts and a life of the mind. No one would call us intellectuals, not here in the Midwest anyway, but we like smart conversations and good debates. Some of us are brainy nerds.

5. We value experiences over stuff, but we are pack rats. (It is actually genetic, which makes it worse, since a lot of the cool stuff we have we inherited from parents who couldn’t get rid of it either) Mildred is what in the education world is known as an enriched environment. What looks like clutter is actually a museum quality collection of art books and many pieces of primitive art, a costume collection rivaling many theater companies, and enough arts supplies to run a small arts school. And in between all that is clutter. But Central Scheduling would rather take you sailing than clean the house, which after all will just get dirty again.

6. Mildred is old which means things are always breaking on her. We try to look at her good points. We are not rich, so keeping time and gravity at bay sometimes takes a little while. The good news is that it makes you behave very very green.

7. We love a bargain. We are famous for dumpster diving (free) thrift shop and tag sale trolling (really cheap), and hitting the off-beat stores that charge low low prices. This allows us to acquire more cool stuff which is not helping with number 5.

8. We all talk at once. Loudly. This is normal. We actually email each other, if we need to get important information to one another. We are not mind readers. Communicate by any means necessary: email, cell phone, smoke signal, sign language. With this many people and their different ideas, it is important to keep the lines of communication OPEN. Never EVER lie. Someone always catches you. Honesty may be painful but it works. We can all handle it.

8. We love electronics, gadgets and the internet, but house rules say NO SCREENS when the weather is good. We still believe in tasting touching hearing seeing and feeling the world unedited by content developers. We live in an area where weather is too often bad….and what’s more, we value experiences which means you have to get out and have them!

9 We have an extensive social network. We get out, we host parties. We bustle. Someone in this house knows someone who—we are connected.

10. We are tolerant of diversity and special needs. After all, some members of our family have what are often called disabilities. We accommodate quirks to the best of our ability.

11. We are Very Dramatic. Really Dramatic. And Drama always finds us!

12. Everyone tries to connect in the morning—we are not morning people and it takes liberal doses of caffeine to pull off these breakfast free for alls, but it is a huge chance to check in. We NEED to check it. And everyone tries to connect before we go to bed. In between its CRAZY! We attempt to gather for a real old fashioned family dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

13. We really love each other, and in the end we are really there for each other. Through thick and thin. And if you live in Mildred and become one of us, that goes for you too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welcome to fall!

Fall is here.
In our family we know that fall has arrived, not because the shiny new sneakers are in the locker, or because the fresh pencils and reams of filler paper have arrived. No, at our house we know its fall because we are in an Opera! This year we have kicked off the fall season by being in TWO! We dash downtown eating dinner in traffic not because I am a soccer mom, but because I am a Super Mom—mother and chaperone to the supernumeraries. This is our French Fall as both of my elder children are in operas sung in that language. This year my son gets to play a page to a main character in the opera Manon by Massenet. And my daughter has finally transitioned into adult roles and will be a priestess for The Pearl Fishers, a Bizet bit of exotica. Yes we still have homework, but it’s so much more fun to do it backstage listening to sopranos send chills down your spine or having your entire body surrounded by the sounds of the Lyric chorus than sitting at our kitchen table. The local library does not have crazy genius directors running about barefoot screaming FLUTTER PEOPLE, FLUTTER!!!!!! to distract you from a thorny math problem. Just like commitments to sports, being in Opera makes the kids very efficient by necessity. Opera is not really a kid friendly world, so they are also learning to navigate an environment that demands professionalism from everyone involved. My children have learned so much at the Lyric: how everyone from the supers to the wig folks to the makeup people are all an integral part of making the show happen. If anyone is out or fails to do their job well, it ripples through the whole operation. I wish I could teach this lesson to my colleagues at my day job!

Why do I devote such a huge chunk of my life to the opera? How can I face a 7 hour day of chaperoning a rehearsal after a week of overtime? One, it keeps my kids away from mind numbing screens and exposes them to a whole bunch of music in a way that allows them to come to love it. Once you have listen to the overture to Barber of Seville twenty times, you need to have that score in your life—it becomes part of your hard wiring. It’s something we do together as a family—and how cool is that! Also, I could be stuck at an ice rink cheering on hockey. Instead, I get to stand backstage after shepherding my charges to their entrances and watch while some of the most talented artists of my time ply their craft. I am telling you, it does not get any better than this. I am most at home in a theater and now my kids are too. Talk about imprinting!

So check us out onstage at the Lyric opera this season where my regular supernumeraries are entering a fantasy world of drama and music.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Summer vacation

I have been away a while. I am back. I was on summer vacation....
Remember summer vacation?
For our family, it was supposed to be a two week togetherness extravaganza to Quebec or the Grand Canyon or some equally memorable place. But school bureaucracies, exorbitant gas costs, and pressing work commitments shortened it to 5 days, a tent, a minivan and two dogs and a very slim budget—can you say canned food?

Here is what I remember:

Never EVER go camping with dogs. Especially not neurotic shelter dogs on anti-anxiety meds. Especially not escape artists with sensitive stomachs. I for one will never forget the quaint town where we stopped for lunch and the dog got diarrhea all over the front seat. Thank god the only store in town was a hardware general store with sanitizing wipes and old fashioned cleaning supplies. Getting dog crap off of your phone charger probably qualifies as a never to be forgotten experience. My children learned several new swear words which they have been practicing. In public.

Never EVER go camping with a snarling teenager. You can only hear I HATE CAMPING four hundred times in a day. On the four hundred and first rendition, you want to run over your child with a backhoe. I have a diva daughter whose idea of camping is spelled H-I-L-T-O-N or S-P-A. Being trapped in a mini van on a camping trip was, in her world, child abuse. She was completely lost without internet access and wandered adorable seaside towns looking for wifi like a junkie looking for a fix.I will always remember wondering what planet she is currently on.

Never EVER go camping with three children who after 4 hours in a car together absolutely hate each other and scream this sotto voce in front of 40 people while hitting each other at a charming village where you are trying to find a lunch spot that serves gluten free meals and SOMETHING vegetarian that does not include cheese or fish and has nothing fried. By the way, in this universe, in the Midwest, this does not exist. You need Dr. Who in his tardis to find an alternative universe where this is an option. I will remember to pack more food in the future.

Never EVER go camping after putting in two months of 12 hour days. You are too tired to think straight so you forget essentials like MATCHES to light the fires you need. You can’t remember ENGLISH so you stay stupid things. My son says cute things like “Buy me a piece of paralyzed wood for a souvenir” (He meant petrified, but the idea of a paralyzed tree kept me laughing for days) or how about “The allergy pill is stuck in my sarcophagus (esophagus)”. I said things like “if you take the last cup of coffee I will murder you.” And I said this in front of people who then backed away looking at me funny. They are going to remember me!

Never EVER go camping in a region where rain is a remote possibility. The Walmart tent WILL leak and after four hours in wet clothes you can feel your flesh mold. Who cares if the plants and farms need it—when you camp, water from the sky is your enemy.

Pie saved us. Cherry pie from a farm stand that melted in your mouth and was so good you cried. It made you think of all that is good about summer, and sand and rolling hills and sunny skies. We drove 50 miles out of the way with $4 a gallon gas to buy another one because pie really could save us. There was also an apricot that was the epitome of apricot, and then there were Bubble Gum Plums—I am not making this up, they tasted like bubble gum and I bought them at a farm in Berrien County Michigan. There was a loaf of sourdough bread bought on the side of the road that was everything a loaf of bread should be and we ate it in 5 minutes flat groaning with pleasure, except for the gluten free celiac who looked at me with death in his eyes and made me promise to take him to the Gluten free bakery when we got home so he could experience joy in a loaf of bread TOO.

We ate fudge on Mackinac Island, collected Petoskey stones which now litter the bottom of my mini van, swam in a NEW great lake, Lake Huron which was clear with a muddy bottom, saw the Bridge that is featured in the graphic on our license plate and got enough sand in my doors to ruin them, and well, we survived. We brought home stories we will tell, and memories.

On the way home we bought a rabbit. An adorable six week old Dutch Bunny from a 4-H’er at the county fair. Because I always need a little more love and one more mouth to feed.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Two poems

My children
Aliens
Who came
So wanted
Welcomed
Bidden
Still foreigners
We do not speak
A common tonge
So I must listen
For vibrations
To ascertain
What it is
They need.
Feeling along
For evidence
Or cues
Never knowing
If I extend the peace
Or declare
WAR
When all I wanted
Was to give them
A home
And set them
Free.




The Math of Keeping House
8 rooms
2 baths
Basement and garage
Many many closets
Junk drawers
Baskets like eddys
Of stuff.
Each week these must be
Sorted, put back
Together.
How much life
Times to hold it
Together
To clean, organize, infuse
With the Energy of
Home
But I am just passing through
The hours—
This week 60 hours at work
An hour and a half to prepare
Serve
Eat
Clean
The Meals
2 Hours in procurement
The hours soon in
Negative balance
But days MUST balance
You cannot run in the red
Without bartering your future
And so something
Must be subtracted
The numbers, like a universe
Eventually collapsing upon itself
In a zero sum game.
The numbers
3 hours to clean out a closet
Detail a car
Reorganize 2 kitchen cabinets
Write a poem
Take a nap
Read a book
Go to a languid lunch with a friend
You can create a world in 3
Short
Hours.
But oh to wrest those
3
Short
Hours
From the tangle of the routine
To have and to hold
Precious fleeting and
Never to come again.
The math of life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Untitled poem

I think in this country
There is a conversation
About Class
That we are not having.

Oh, the race one
And the gender one
We are sometimes
Having
In a kind of side swipey way.

A conversation that is not going well
And getting us nowhere.

But we like to believe
Here in the land of the Free
That folks are Poor
Because they don’t Apply Themselves,
And everybody
Can be
A Self Made Man.

It’s a secret
That folks on the bottom know
And a few obscure academics
Can back up with facts:
Your zipcode and parents income
Are the better than a palm reader
In predicting your future.

Recently,
to the comfort of pundits
and Rapacious Haves,
And politicians
far removed from reality
Many of us were Passing
As Having.

We turned our houses into cash machines
And bought the snake oil
Of No Money Down
In the days of Pre Approved Credit
At Mafia rates.

But the Days of Not Having
And paying the piper are upon us,
They were long overdue.
Now, we watch in horror as 401K’s
Free fall with the
Market turned Bear.
We leave our steel albatrosses starving by the road,
Unable to sate their gas tanks.
We should have known when we began
Putting Food in their metal maws
That the party was over.

We are no longer Passing
As Having,
As the lines at the shelter and food pantry grow
And the foreclosures flood the market
And folks let the pipes freeze
And do without.

This is a nation that has seen hard times
I have no doubt there will be something
Left of us
When we come off this hard road.
But we need to stop believing
that folks who have fallen
on Hard Times
Are second class citizens.
We need to unpack the hidden backpack of privilege
That Having gets at the gate when they arrive.
We need to start living
As though we are all Related
Because we are
Family.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Life cycle events

I missed a wedding this month. Schedule got too overloaded, work buried me, after working 60 hours I just could not drive 4 hours. I don’t usually miss life cycle events….. Lord knows I have been to a prodigious amount of funerals in the last month, especially when I am so young. I much prefer weddings.

My clan has enjoyed a number of memorable weddings and quite a number of them “stuck”. One of my FAVORITE weddings was when my uncle got hitched. I was fairly young at the time—he was only 8 years older than me, maybe I was in my early teens, and my uncle was living something of an alternative lifestyle with a shared house out on a levee my aunt and others in the family did not approve. The wedding occurred at a small country church, and I thought my aunt to be looked unbelieveably beautiful in her absolutely perfect cotton white summer dress. Well maybe there was some polyester in it somewhere. That dress has become something of an icon, bell sleeved, empire waist, A-line 70’s—defining a time and a period, which they keep bringing back in retro fashion lines and in movies like Across the Universe. The good ole’ days.


I remember the wedding cake—there may have been petit fours, I remember the punch and getting sugared up in the church hall. I remember the Indiana suffering heat, which even today can knock me flat, and I supposedly grew up in it. And then, what I most remember, is we had to go down a bunch of rural roads and park our car and get on the bed of a hay hauler while a tractor drove us up a washed out road to the party at an old farm house set way back from the road. The ride was bumpy and kind of like a carnival ride, and the party was a baseball, play in the overgrown grass affair. I think my folks called the place “Tick City” but I remember none of us kids got ticks, and I know it was a totally fun afternoon, completely child friendly. Must have been good energy because the happy couple are still together, and some fancier shindigs resulted in all kinds of fractured families. Getting together is easy. Staying together is the work of a lifetime.

Getting married is jumping off a cliff into a great adventure. Parts of it will be wondrous and happy. Parts of it will break the hearts of all involved. Married folk get to know each other better than any body, and yet look at each other across a table sometimes and wonder who the hell that person is sitting there. Life has a way of sanding off the edges. Bend, or you will break. A person ends up doing a lot of things they said they would never do—good things and horrible things. It’s part of the ride. Cherish each other and spend a moment each day appreciating.

And then I went to another funeral, this for a man who clearly lived life fully then dropped instantaneously dead after never being sick in his life. It’s the stuff of legend. He never got the chance to become a burden on his family, just gone, stunningly, achingly gone. He luckily had lived a complet and loving life and left with no regrets, and one hell of a legacy. What amazed me was that this guy retired a few years ago and an army of his colleagues showed up. I was joking on the ride home that if I keeled over tomorrow, I doubt if the folks I work with NOW would take a day off to memorialize me, let alone the folks I worked with on my last gig. So I really thought about how I would want to be remembered. Definitely want to be crispy fried, name on a plaque in a children's library next to the OLD books....

The cycle of life is so completely visible to me. Its hard to get mundane at a time like this. But laundry must be done, AGAIN, and groceries must be procured. The most exciting thing in my life is a new refridgerator…..and that says volumes about where I am at right now.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Poem for passing on

Last Summer, I wore black
For Cancer
Waking the dead was awaited.
My widows weeds left
Unboxed at the seasons change
Standing at attention
In the closet
Waiting for the hushed room
The rituals of passing and bereavement.
This summer began with a mother’s
Departure.
Not a surprise but a slow slide
With a horrific degenerative monster.
Death here was embraced in the end
As a release.
But of late, passings have been sudden
Unanticipated. Witnessed.
Hearts ceasing to beat in an instant.
We are stunned. Unblacked.
I wore orange to a visitation
Waking the dead in what I was wearing
To live.
No time to prepare for the grief.
Instead a room filled with surprise
Our stunned, dazed looks
Searching for answers.
Is this change connected to our
Grief in a world at war,
Endlessly battling terror and no
More at peace for the effort?
Are too many of our hearts broken
For lack of goodness?
And must the good among us
Depart so suddenly?
I cannot say for certain
If it is better to go when the body
Is eaten away by black cells grown awry,
Or preferable to pass in the middle of a sentence.
I do know that for those of us
Left on this side,
Neither option is desireable
In a season when all is growing and green
And flowering.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

At last, hubby comes home!

While you were gone….

The dog ate 6 Barbies, Barbies Dog,and Ken, a My Scene Doll, a batting glove, the garbage can, two dog food bins, the rabbit food bin and all the food in it, a bowl of guacamole, three stuffed animals, three faces of stuffed animals leaving the bodies behind to traumatize the owner, one wooden garden clog, the padded strap of a backpack, a leather leash, and he tipped over the trash and spread it at least once a day. There was more, but I have blocked it out.


We traversed a spring soccer season, a baseball and a softball season. Mercifully, you will see the championship baseball game and softball goes on forever so you can stand outside and cheer. So many transitions and celebrations and there was one missing and we all felt it so keenly.

You never know the big space you take up in everyone's life til you step out of your place for a long enough while to be missed. To be needed. It is a Wonderful Life.

WELCOME HOME HONEY. Isn’t it great to be needed and appreciated?

I honor all the women of the world who have to keep doing this every week, whose husbands are not home yet, who have no husbands, whose husbands will never return.
5 Weeks and I am off the deep end. How do y’all manage????

Friday, June 6, 2008

poem found while cleaning out my purse

Mothers Day 2008

We have never been good
At Hallmark Holidays
The Supposed To Ones.
In this family,
We are skilled
in the obscure
the Take it on the fly
the Off the beaten path
Days of Awe and celebration.
The Junk Food Buffet
Superbowl Sunday holiday.
More mainstream
We do do
Matzo and Passover
Ham and Easter.
Holidays for us
Need Special Foods
Need Rituals and tradition
Acknowledgement and gratitude.
And then again
Following the herd
Is not our cup of tea.
So today we have no
Overblown floral arrangements
Or four dollar cards with
Electronic Voices.
No jacked up brunches
With weak mimosas.
Just a simple awareness
Of Spring
And Time passing.
A Mother is a Mother
Even on her day:
Do your homework,
Clean your room,
Stop annoying your sister,
Take a shower,
Don’t waste water,
Be a good person,
No, mother has no day off
For good behavior.
Because building the next generation
Is a full three shifter.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Week 4 as a Single mom

I hath not blogg-ed for many a day. Pour quoi?
Ohhhh.
Well my husband rode off into the sunrise on May 5th to go work for 5 weeks in the middle of nowhere in Iowa. I did not realize there were places in the continental US without cell service, but when I need to vent he is conveniently out of bars….I count myself lucky—he is not on a 15 month tour in Iraq and he is the one doing all of the shooting (photography) on the job. But when you have built a life and a schedule with two drivers and responsible (for the most part) adults and are suddenly down to one, the pins start coming out of the chassis and you start falling off the road. In the last week, basically our life backed over me. It began when the cat went into renal decay and needed to go to the animal emergency room and spend the weekend in kitty intensive care. I said I would never put needles in my pets, and how many times do I need to learn from the universe that we all in life need to do things we never would do and we do them because the alternative is worse. So I am stocked with Sub Q fluids and she is eating again. The wonderful puppy we adopted turns out to have an anxiety disorder that we are fighting with two kinds of medication, an animal behaviorist (shrink for dogs) and daily training and desensitization sessions. Luckily, having a kid with obsessive compulsive disorder is good training for working with neurotic dogs. I had him neutered so I could send him to doggy daycare, and now he is taking out our knees and all the china with the Elizabethan collar. I called in reserve troops to help me make it through—Grandma and Grandpa from New York arrived just in time to see the piano recital, spring soccer, baseball, softball and ballet recital. We were gearing up for the 8th grade graduation and Grandma fell on the sidewalk and bashed herself up a bit. So mornings begin with meds for kitty, dog, grandma and I start eyeing the whisky bottle as a pick me up in the coffee—which I have to keep buying since after getting everyone out the door in the morning I realize I have spaced breakfast again. I am supposed to be taking care of myself but I can’t even remember who I am, I am so busy getting things done. I will get drunk and have a nervous breakdown when I have the time……..

Today I had to handle an IEP meeting by myself. A lonely place but it went really well. I hate being Cassandra. I see the future sometimes and its not me being negative. I have been through enough that bad things don’t scare me, and unlike many, I have not found avoidance and denial to be a particular useful coping strategy. I am strong, I can take it, I face it head on and contingency plan.

The hardest thing is never having any time to hear myself think, to sit down and sip a coffee, to have a meaningful conversation, to read a novel. I think of all the single moms I have known and I am in awe. I will grow accustomed to this, I know, but the learning curve is steep and none too pleasant. I salute you solo moms!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Birthday poem

For Eric on his 50th

At the age of 13
A Jewish Male
Comes of Age
But there is NO
Ritual for achievement
Of Middle Age
A half a century
Of Experience
And
Hard Earned Wisdom.
In a culture
That Denies
The Very Act
Of growing Older
A people that does not
Stand and face
And get to know
Births Twin
Death.
There are no traditional greetings
No standard blessings
For five decades
Of a Beautiful Life.
In Biblical times,
Surviving so long
Was sign itself
Of God’s favor.
And so,
From one who
Is following
Shortly behind,
And a Catholic
I offer
The Sheheheyanu
Blessed are you Eternal One
Who gives us Life
Keeps us strong and
Brings us to this time
Amen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Practice

Practice
Makes perfect
In all that you do.
Yoga,
Soup,
Penmanship
Kindness.
You must make a space
Wear a groove
In your life
So that the
Yoga or soup
Is as thoughtless
And Essential
as Breathing
and even breathing
Needs practice.
Living is a practice.
To do it well,
You must
Do
It every day.
Practice
Moves what
You are Trying
To Become
Into
Who you are.
So you can
Just Be
And even
Just Being
Takes Practice.

When I was a chipper young dancer with big ambitions, in New York, just off the bus from Chicago, I marched myself in to the Alwin Nikolais dance studio and paid my money and started Advanced Dance Class. There stood the man himself, a piece of American theatrical history before me and I awaited his genius. To my shock and disappointment, we began one hour of
WALKING.

I thought, I did not uproot my entire life to come live in New York City to learn to friggin WALK. I am here to DANCE.

Was I a silly little girl. In the beginning level classes, which I should have started in, they only make you walk as a warm up. You see, beginning students don’t do it very well.

It is only when you master your craft that you can walk across a room and MEAN something.

When a truly great dance artist walks across a stage, it can move you to tears.

It would not be for another two decades that I would learn how to do this, and I am still trying to master standing still.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Aging Well

Last week, for work, I had to go to a mini conference for senior citizens. I usually hang out with the other end of the spectrum and am far more likely to be dealing with teething than osteoarthritis, but hell, I am not getting any younger, and my boss did not want to go, and I thought I might learn a thing or two. Having had to diaper my daughter and my grandmother at the same time several years ago, I have a pretty good idea of the circularity of human existence.

But as I sat in a room full of my elders, I was pulled up short by the contrast of our current national obsession with birthing and the absolute silence about the other end. I have read poetry and literature and comedy about mothering and babies. Who is asking the questions:
How will I grow old?
What is the process of dying?
Who is writing the literature of THAT?

It’s a universal experience and no one really talks about it, except as it shows up in the service of other narratives. I am sure we will get around to it when we stop denying that its going to happen. There is a lot more money to be made by denying that something that happens to everyone is going to happen. By staunchly trying to defeat the process of dying we spend gazillions on research and panaceas and snake oil and afterlife. But sooner or later they will figure out a way to market aging and dying and then we will hear a lot more about it. But cynicism aside—how will I grow old? Will I rage rage against the dying of the light, against the wrinkles and sags and pouches, or will I settle in to my well worn self and become the person I am supposed to be? Since we have spent so much time denying or avoiding the fact that folks get old, we haven’t figured out what to do with the millions who are inconveniently not staying young. We don’t really have the social structures and webs of community these days meant to weave them into our fast paced life. If you never got on to the information superhighway, what backwater are you left in? When our history is still walking around talking to us, how to we curl up and read it? Contemplate the lessons, reflect on how if affects us?

How will I grow old?

Monday, April 28, 2008

TEAM

Your team

Ok, at the request of several friends, I present Rule # 3: You have a team. Whether you like it or not, you are NOT a solo act. And whether you pick em or not, you are part of a team—whether it’s the dysfunctional group of cubicle dwellers you hang out with at work, or the people who by fate or realtor machinations call your street home, unless you are a hermit in a cave on a mountain top in Nepal, you are part of a community.

It is better to choose your team instead of letting it happen to you. Pick people who you can rely on, whose taste you trust and whose energy uplifts you and does not drain you. Always take first round draft picks—the folks that have talent and brains and skill that can benefit your ongoing operation. Don’t be a martyr and get into victim mode dragging around a team that weighs you down and slows you to a crawl. If you need to, create farm teams of folks you have your eye on to move to your majors. Farm team helps you with the teacher appreciation lunch, the majors help you bury your mother. Make sure your team includes offensive and defensive players—offense takes you shopping when your wardrobe makes you look like an old lady, defensive players tell you to leave the second piece of cake alone and help you start a walking club. Build a big team, one with lots of bench strength. Even the best quarterback can get injured and be out for the season, so always have team members in the wings.

Which means you have to devote part of your life to recruiting, caring and feeding team members. When you are working 60 hour weeks for the last quarter and your laundry has not been done since you brought last season’s clothes down from the attic, the last thing on earth you want to do is host a dinner party to wine and dine your recruits, or go to that book group when you could be taking an evening long bubble bath. But you have to do it. It’s the best investment you can make in winning the game: also known as holding your life together. Trust me: take the Team seriously in your life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Puppy spring

Since we moved in together 19 years ago, my husband and I have been a 2 dog family. At one point we were a two dog, two cat, two turtle, two rat, snake, rabbit and hamster family, but there was a fall when many of amphibians fled, and natural attrition got us down to one of most things, none of a few others.

Well, last weekend we went back up to two dogs. I fought it, being totally overwhelmed on a good day, since we had to put our beloved Sonya to sleep the weekend before my first child’s bat mitzvah sixteen month ago. I tore my rotator cuff falling down the back stairs to take her out in the last months of her life. After that I enjoyed the relative sanity of raising a single puppy who was supposed to grow to 50 pounds and instead tips the scales at 70. And my husband WANTED him to sleep with us. He is mellow and sweet and a gem. But my son needs a project, and life was just too calm. Our single dog was acting old and sleeping all day, so we trundled down to a local shelter, and prepared to fall in love. It took several visits. And they come check out your house. Which was not clean and had a rabbit running around and there's the cat with the shady understanding of the concept of Litter Box. But it was clear we like animals and tolerate some questionable behavior.

Getting a dog is upsetting the apple cart of organization in your life. Getting a puppy is like having children—if you really thought about it, you would never ever do it. Getting a lab/hound mix is just patently insane, but if you are ok with spending a year having everything chewed up, you end up with the best friend you always wanted.

Every animal that lives with us was rescued. We never really pick them, they find us-- we allow a slit of an opening of acceptance of another sentient being in our lives, you know—Mom says yes—and they see that sliver of light and go for it and move on in to our hearts. I thought we would get a boxer or a dachshund—but there in a crate at the shelter was a set of sad brown eyes disturbingly similar to another pair of eyes that I miss—Sonya’s sad soulful eyes. If this pup, named Houdini for his natural ability to escape, turns out to be a Vizsla like she was, he will be a cuddly escape artist able to gingerly remove food from counter tops. He will chew expensive items that cannot be easily replaced. He will make more work for me. He will drive us mad and cost us a fortune. And we will love him beyond all reason. My children will sleep on him and tell him their troubles and get into pickles and mud fests with him. Because getting a dog is like having children, there is no logic or sense to it, but your life is never the same in a positive way, when you take that leap of faith and say.
YES.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Musing on schools

Watching my completely dysfunctional school district at work, I have come to the following conclusion: You need 4 things to have a good school and these four ingredients are probably necessary for any good organization.

First, you need a vision of the good school you want. This vision has to be perfect in your mind and you should be able to taste, smell and hear it in your minds eye. You must create it first in your head. Now, you might be a school board member, the superintendent, a teacher, a parent—any stakeholder, in the end, each of you needs this crystal clear vision for the enterprise to work—and for it to be great, everyone’s vision will need to be congruent with everyone else’s vision. And so you need the second thing.

The second thing you need is a supportive community. Here is the tricky thing—most of the time you don’t get that at first. If you are beginning from scratch, your organization is being created to solve a problem, so the community might be fractured or fractious, might be dysfunctional, disengaged. In any event, you’ll have to suss out the problem and then get the vision and only then begin the community and get them all to buy into the vision. In the school business, everyone is always working on the curriculum the curriculum the curriculum. But until you have a community, a curriculum is only a lot of pretty words on a paper. A vision does not come into the world without the hard work of the people, and the people are your community. And if you are coming into an existing school/organization it means someone left, or a vacancy was created so that a big problem can get solved. So you better be sure in that case that everyone agrees on that vision as you begin to build the community.

The community is the food of the school. Everything falls apart without it. Before you fix the curriculum you MUST fix the community and bring the people together. Dictators never figure this out, and this is why they ultimately fall.

The third ingredient of a successful school is passionate teachers. You can actually go pretty far without the first two if you have a bucket load of this third ingredient. But you will not be able to sustain it. And you can’t attract new batches this essential ingredient if you don’t have the first two. Money might help, but it won’t give you anything long term, since good teaching is too hard if you don’t love what you do.

Finally, the last ingredient, the whipped cream on the top, is lovely raw materials. Don’t have any money—who says they have to cost? Imagination can be got for free. Some of the best art projects I have ever taught we done with objects plucked from judicially selected trash heaps (I only dumpster dive the best neighborhoods). Great literature, fresh pencils—these are not costly, but they are rich. You can’t grow a mind in barren soil, and raw materials fertilize the intellect.

So simple, four ingredients, and in the end so hard. When I look at my own community, I see no clear vision—goals yes, mission yes, but no VISION. The community is more like warring camps. We have a number of passionate teachers but many of them will retire in the next 5 years. And some schools have great raw materials. It breaks my heart, because in the end, my child will have all of these things because I build them into her life outside of school. But no matter how many of my tax dollars go to the school, it will not give them any of the four essential ingredients.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Second Rule

It will all work out.

Sometimes you are involved in a project that has more arms than an octopus, more teeth than a mad nasty monkey, and the whole experience just feels like waiting for the train wreck to happen. At times like this, you need to invoke the second rule of everything.

Given that the universe is always moving towards chaos, this second rule of everything makes no sense whatsoever, but I have seen it work time and time again. If you move forward with an open heart and faith, or at least a fervent prayer, that it will all be ok, somehow it will all work out.

Now it may work out because you don’t sleep for three days, and you are buzzed on double shots of espresso, or you burn out your transmission trying to get there to make it work out. It may work out because you have pressed every one of your relatives into service and promised your spouse sexual favors into the next millennium. You may spend the rent money on some emergency tablecloth purchase or you may alienate all your friends and bankrupt your favor bank for years into the future to get it to work out, but the pieces will all fall together, more or less.

I recently volunteered to help out with two projects relating to my children’s lives. I discovered that volunteerism in my community is in an anemic state. “Help out” turned into doing two massive projects all by myself in a week when I was already pushed to the wall at work and at home. Help out, which in my mind is phone calling, emailing and delegating,--you know, pitching in with a team, turned into frantically shopping, setting up massive rooms of complicated projects, cajoling teen helpers to do their half baked helping with lots of loud socializing, and hours and hours of my own labor when there was no one to delegate to—and all this when I really needed to be grocery shopping and doing laundry since the fairies quit at my house ages ago due to the lousy working conditions. What’s the song in the Musical WICKED, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished….. in any event, I spent a few anxious hours and a sleepless night stewing over being overwhelmed and envisioning impending disaster, then jumped off the cliff of what the hey with an innate trust in my improvisational abilities. I just started saying It Will All Work Out, over and over under my breath like a crazy old lady and took Deep Cleansing Breaths when I felt like smashing my own head against the wall—when it was all spinning dangerously towards entropy and the crash was about to come……., and in the end,

It All Worked Out.

It was not great. I was not necessarily proud of my efforts. I was not as pleasant as I wanted to be. Perhaps I relied to much on Mr. Chardonnay and the aspirin in big quantities to calm my nerves and quiet the stress headache…. But it was fine.

I have seen this Rule work with massive festivals pulled off with virtually no staff. It has worked when my media camp had all its equipment stolen and the main teacher quit three days before it opened. It worked for my daughter’s bat mitzvah. And though I have left the world of storefront theater behind being too old for the drama off stage, many major works of art come out of near train wrecks.

You cannot use this Rule too often though. You will get sick, the train will crash, bankrupted favor banks will foreclose on you.

But when the co-chair of the school fundraiser backs out on you or the caterer skips out on your bosses important impress his bosses meeting, when the main actor gets into a car wreck an hour before you open and the critics are in the lobby, close your eyes, calm yourself and chant, It Will All Work Out, then call every resource you have ever known into your corner and come out swinging.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

kidneys and oz and tv's, oh my!

You know, its been one of those weeks.
I think I have had a nervous breakdown but I am just too busy to bang my head against walls and drool. I am talking to myself and forgetting everything.

My aged cat and my 7 year old daughter both have not completely identifiable kidney problems which means the cat is pissing on all manner of weird objects: a jewelry box left on the floor, the clean basket of towels—ok, they are all square with absorbent surfaces, ok maybe it could be a litter box…..and the kid is going every 15to 20 minutes.

This morning I forgot an important first thing in the morning meeting because I had to get son to track practice (oh my god are there any more spring sports????) and get a FIRST MORNING URINE MIDSTREAM sample out of a 7 year old. You have to really love your children to let them piss on you before you have had your coffee in the morning. Really love your children. Yes.
Then I had to race the specimen to the lab, since it had been stressed that freshness was critical to a proper diagnosis. And when your kid is going to the bathroom 40 times a day you want them to tell you what is causing it. You want someone to make it stop. Please.

And its only Wednesday.

While racing to the lab, I discover my car is almost out of gas—I am trying this experiment and only putting in $20 bucks a week and just not driving when I am out of gas. Some days this is not a good idea.
Every week $20 fills up less and less of my tank. I think the oil execs just wake up every morning and throw darts at a board with prices on it and decide, ok today gas is $3.59 a gallon. Every time I fill up the price has gone up 5 or 10 or 25 cents. I don’t know about you but the run on gas prices is messing with my head. It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. When you are little and you first see the film, ok the flying monkeys give you nightmares. But when you are a little older the most distressing thing is the scene where Toto pulls back the curtain and you see that the Wizard is really just a lost pathetic man, and there really is no one who will give you brains or a heart and you have to do it all yourself. It’s the end of innocence, and the Anti-cinderella. No handsome prince will rescue you and get you out of the mess you are in. I wanted there to be smart people running the place, but I learned the hard way when my dad died right before I was a teenager that sometimes the people in charge bug out on you, but hope springs eternal that there is someone up the line who is smarter and wiser than me and they are running things....

I feel like that kid watching the Wizard be unmasked now. There is absolutely no one in charge and the people in Power have messed this up so bad that no one can fix it. The President, the congress and Lord God the messed up Judicial branch are all sad little lost men with good special effects. I wish I knew how to tap my ruby slippers and get myself outta here and back to Kansas.

And its like ten days to Earth Day and I am trying so hard to live sustainably. In my world that means buying less stuff (good idea when you are broke, right?) which means owning less stuff which means storing less stuff—you get the picture. The problem is the whole economy is going to hell in a handbasket because its built on us idiots buying lots and lots more stuff.

So now we aren’t buying enough (because our real incomes have actually gone down in the last few years and the boondoggle of using our houses as cash machines came apart) so the latest government brain fart:

Make all our tv’s obsolete.

Hit us where we live, in the boob tube. Does anyone have a concept what millions of tvs in landfills is going to look like? On February something next year all our pictures turn to snow.

A brilliant evil plan cooked up I am sure by Sony, Panasonic and LG. They will have banner first quarters next year as we frantically replace 30 million tv sets.

The heartbreaking thing is that no one is going to replace the sets of those who have been left out of the digital revolution: the poor, the infirm and the developmentally disabled, for whom tv is a major connection to the world.

I just can’t see nursing homes in my state, which came in 51st in the nation is caring for the developmentally disabled, trundling out replace their myriad sets that have been donated over the years—not when they can’t find or afford decent direct care STAFF.

Next Christmas, when you are looking for something charitable to do, donate a converter box or two to your favorite sheltered worksite or group home………

Dear Teachers

I believe we have reached a point in our mutually respectful relationship where we need to "check in" with some vocabulary words.
Spring
Break
I think we can agree on the first one. Although everyone believed it would never arrive this year, Spring represents the time period when the weather warms again, the marking period is over or nearly over. While I do have some arguments with the calendar committee that decided that spring will occur next year sometime in the middle of April which is much too--a calendar that flies in the face of the longstanding tradition that spring, and therefore the airline blackout period, begins with the vernal equinox, I think we have no problems coming to consensus on the concept of Spring.

The misunderstanding, mistranslation as it were falls with the word BREAK. Turning to Webster, my go-to on all things word, I see that Break means all manner of violent and abrupt separation and disruptions. For example, "To discontinue Abruptly, interrupt, suspend." There is also "to scatter or disperse(that sounds like private school breaks where kids go skiing in the alps and off to places where you need your passport) and to come to an end, to dismiss."

In any event, a Break, spring or no, is a big deal and all parties and I be you needed it after the winter of respiratory ailments and endless snow storms and days off we just survived. I know I was not happy that I could not pawn my kid off on you this entire last week. In any event, I need to quibble with the idea that any child would Ever In a Million Years do assigned work on a BREAK. The have been dismissed, dispersed.

A child sees no advantage whatsoever to doin any sort of school work when there is no school. Not being a certified professional, despite my exalted position of my "child's first teacher" and the designated imparter of "family values", I have no training in how to do some of this new fangled homework if I even happen to locate them somewhere on the bottom of my car next to the moldy lunchbox in the minivan my husband parked in the airport lot awaiting their return from Spring Break. (I have to work on all school breaks)

My children are blithely willing to accept consequences for their lack of academic interest this week and given how little we parents see our actual children on a normal week, I am not willing to play homework cop when I payed for all these enriching activities on Spring Break.

So let us agree that if it is Spring, and it is a break, that all of us are OFF.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

april fools day

The blustery March Wind blew in last night- a Northeaster.

Of course, it’s April. Spring has been late this year.

My house sounds like a ship when it blows—beams creaking as though we are on a choppy sea. It gives me comfort that my ship is warm and dry after more than a hundred years moored in this spot.

The birds were singing—it’s been so long since I have heard that! when I left the house this morning at the crack of dawn, off to my Spring Break camp where I am locked in a room with 30 kids for 9 hours a day. The new state of child rearing. I am well paid to bring up others children even as I neglect my own, because childcare shifts are always more than 8 hours to accommodate the parents work schedule……
We hiked to the library yesterday past enormous rain puddles. We compared and contrasted the buds on various bushes and trees and we saw the aftermath of a spectacular car crash. It was an exciting walk, if not all that poetic. It is mud season. I am still waiting for green amongst the brown and black.

It is spring break week, which means while my kids are home shredding my house because I can't afford childcare other than my work at home husband, I am locked in a room with 30 or so kids whose parents can’t get the week off, running a highly enriching program which decimates me and the rooms we are in by the end of the week. I roll out this lovely classroom, art studio from a closet, completely turning a bare conference room into a stimulating creative environment for a theme based exploration of something that appealed to me way back when the copy was due last fall. My hubby will be ready to divorce me by Friday without liberal applications of alcohol and frantic homecooked meals which I have to cook after standing on my feet for 9 hours. Last year I wore a pedometer—11,000 steps and I never left the first floor of the building. When I run around after kids, I really run around. But I like to believe I hand em back at the end of the day at least as tired as I am…..

My laundry won’t get done this month.

Spring break is an archaic and quaint idea when 75% of parents of both genders are working. You only get 2 weeks a year off and you need one of them for the last week in August when school is out and NO ONE has a program you can sign your kids up for. ( I can’t find one single staff person so I am not going to run a program)And you need one week for Christmas. If your kid gets sick or your mom in Cleveland needs surgery, well you are plumb out of luck if you have used up your weeks and you don’t work for a company big enough to entitle you to FMLA. I have to say—keep all those breaks so I can continue to earn a fine living raising your kids for you. But really, isn’t it time to Reinvent the wheel?

Friday, March 21, 2008

My Bat Boy

My son talks non-stop. A steady stream of words from the moment he wakes up, until we parents collapse in bed, mentally overdrawn, long before he goes to sleep still mumbling and making weird noises. Its as if his verbal facility is on overdrive. It is incessant, a word that now has a head pounding visceral quality I never understood so completely before. It is unrelenting. There are questions, running commentary, syllabic babbling and singing. He asks questions and does not wait for answers before verbalizing again.

I know in my heart that all this sound is about how his brain is wired, not so much about driving me insane. I am trying to think of it as a child’s form of echolocation—he is trying to find a slippery world that keeps morphing and changing, a world full of dangers we cannot see. Like a bat in the dark he is trying to locate his world.

His anxiety is catching, maybe it’s the lack of light as we wait for spring, but the abyss has been lurking round my corners. Once I am not insanely busy, I start to be able to see the ghosts. Maybe my son is a Geiger counter as the seismic waves begin their rumble. Maybe he is just more sensitive than others and he is feeling the global angst in an era of global warming, MRSA and crashing economies. I mean, in all honesty, how can one assure and comfort a child and tell them it will be all right? Will it? Most of the time we are hair from disaster.

When you have stared into the black hole of the human condition, how do you pull back from that edge and do Disney?

I hold on to a few scraps of grace and hope I don’t go over the cliff. Sun in fall leaves. Snow drops poking through mud. Fresh snowflakes. Toddler giggles. Rossini and Tchaikovsky. That’s it. In the end that’s just it—that’s what you get.

And still my child is talking talking as though the sound of his voice will keep the monster of chaos at bay. Like the small child who talks loud in the hallway to scare the monsters away……