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Thursday, June 28, 2007

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The Do Not Cross Line

I mentioned that my eldest child attended cub scout day camp a couple of weeks ago. He has been scouting for two years, during which time I have been working on my badges in

It has been character building for both of us.*

It was actually my idea to enroll him in scouts in the first place. As is often the case, I was seeking closure for unfinished business from my own childhood: in this instance, abandoning Brownies after two weeks (I just wanted the cute uniform), reneging on my duty to God, Queen and Country.

It turns out my son is not feckless at all like that. Here we are, moving up to Bear rank in the fall, and the full immersion experience of day camp did not one thing to dampen his enthusiasm for scouting. On the contrary, day camp has probably secured his devotion to scouting through his eighteenth birthday, on which date I am going to put him on a plane to my mother's home in Canada and confiscate his U.S. passport for four years. He doesn't earn it back until he has grown his hair out, pierced his tongue, and learned to snowboard.

His soul was bought with archery and b.b. guns. Real arrows. Real guns.

To help you appreciate how thrilling this was for my son, you need to understand that we prohibit any kind of gunplay in our home. Not even water pistols are allowed (although the boys do have water shooters that do not imitate handguns or automatic weapons; "ray-gun" styling is acceptable). I do not prevent my children from playing with their friends' toy guns when they are visiting in someone else's home, but I am very comfortable explaining that it is not something we do in ours. My kids are the gunplay equivalent of social smokers.

Our family weapons policy has evolved over the years. When my firstborn was a baby, and I was still relatively new to the country, I was fanatical. Not only did we not permit toy guns; we didn't even talk about them. A gun was that-which-cannot-be-named. One day, when my son was two, he built an L-shape with some Legos and pointed it at me. I squinted at him.

"What's that?"

"It's a pffffer," he said. He didn't know the word for gun.

I promptly confiscated it.

"No pffffing," I said, firmly.

As he grew older, and our social network began to widen, it began to dawn on me that denial was probably neither a realistic or effective approach. We live in America, in the South. Parents who don't want their children to have sex, or smoke cigarettes or use drugs and alcohol, need to talk to their kids about sex, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. I needed to talk to mine about guns. Early, and often.

Let me back up a bit and explain that I am not against guns, per se. And when I say guns here, I am referring to handguns and automatic weapons. Guns designed for killing and wounding humans. I have nothing at all against skillful and responsible hunting of animals for food. My Canadian brother-in-law is a hunter, and my six-year-old nephew accompanies him during rabbit season. I have no more problem with this than I do with taking my own sons fishing. We only keep what we eat, and it is an occasion for them to experience and participate consciously in the natural environment. The fish is a hunter also.

Understand that I come from a place that is mainly rural. It's true I have got zero tolerance for the gun lobby, but you do not want to get me started on the anti-hunting movement, either. I wish all the zealots would just cancel each other out and let the rest of us go along being reasonable. The food chain is a circle, not a hierarchy. My father's ashes are part of the riverbed that hatches the trout his grandson catches. And those trout descended from the ones my father brought to our table.

I think my attitude toward guns is representative of the majority in Canada, and this is one of those areas where I still identify with being Canadian. Canada is not a country borne of revolution (it was more by committee, which bequeaths its own issues, but that's for another day). The beloved Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sounds nuts eccentric to most of us. Like some archaic law from the 18th century that hasn't made it off the books yet. The entrenchment of bearing of arms as a right, not a privilege, seems about as relevant as prohibitions against witchcraft.

If only it were as harmless.

In the past week, two fatal shootings of children by adults took place in this state. The first killing was of a twelve year old boy in West Memphis by a police officer. The child was running away with a toy gun that the police took to be real. The second killing was of a nine year old boy by a man whose house he and some other children had been throwing rocks at.

This is why we do not confuse guns with play in my home. It is not so much that I worry my children will confuse the two, but because the society we live in is, itself, confused. In a country where an armed police officer could find it plausible that a twelve year old child was also armed and dangerous, in a country where unreasonable people have guns within arms reach, in a country where it is necessary to post "no weapons" signs on elementary schools and public libraries, I feel it is simply not appropriate. I keep toy guns out of my children's hands in protest as much as from a desire to teach safety and responsibility.

It's largely about the context. In in another society, in another time, I might view plastic pistols and M-16s the same way I look at plastic swords: an acceptable prop for a child's warrior play. Not in this present one. And as much as I respect responsible hunters, and soldiers who fight for a just cause, and police who really protect, I would happily ban real guns as well as the toy ones, if it would guarantee that another bullet would never enter a child's body, ever again.

However, it wouldn't and it won't. My children have to grow up in the world as it is, not as I wish it would be. So I have drawn and redrawn my line. I never thought, when my son was two years old, that in six years, I would stand behind him on a shooting range, listening to a grown man in shorts and knee socks barking out orders like it was a private militia camp in Utah. I can't say I was entirely comfortable with it (though the shorts and knee socks were arguably the most disturbing aspect). But I didn't feel like it was contradicting or compromising any of the values I've tried to impart at home. If anything, I hope the yellow Do Not Cross tape, the safety goggles, even the guy with the General Patton complex, all conveyed the seriousness of this sort of play to my son. He's an intelligent, cautious child. I trust, given good information, he will make responsible choices when it comes to guns.

How I wish that were enough to protect him from them.

*I want to make very clear that although the Boy Scouts of America gives me plenty of grist for humor on my blog, and although I object to their exclusion of honest homosexual people from leadership, and the wearing of shorts with knee socks by full grown people, I think it is a great organization with mostly admirable values, where the good far outweighs the objectionable. And besides, my son loves it.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

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Ladies Night

"All the girls walk by, dressed up for each other"

Van Morrison, Wild Night

The afternoon of Peggy's funeral, an email went around from one of my girlfriends that suggested the institution of a regular girl's night out, instead of waiting for someone's birthday or other special occasion to get together. The inaugural "Ladies Night" was last night ( I love to say "Ladies Night", because it immediately cues the cheesy disco song of the same name in the mental muzak player—no, don't thank me; it's my gift to you for the rest of the day).

In honor of the event, I wore my Superhero Necklace. We met on the back deck of a neighborhood pizza joint. There were about eight of us in all, a salad-eatin', check-splittin' chickfest of love.

Through the years, I have been blessed with great girlfriends. But I didn't know how to be one until my thirties. When I was (a lot) younger, I'd drop any girlfriend for a guy, sometimes their guy (if this happened to you, I am so sorry; you were much too good for him anyway). Even today, I worry I am more of a taker than a giver in my female friendships. I am not so good about remembering birthdays, or initiating get-togethers, or even chitchatting on the phone. Sometimes it seems like all I do is show up.

But when I do, I am all there. Not there merely on a layover to something else, not there tossing my empty head around wondering where the boys are, not sitting there plotting how to get with someone's sorry-ass boyfriend. Getting dressed last night (on a day my I Ching reading aptly brought up the symbols for Critical Mass and Exhaustion) I felt my spirits lift with anticipation, the way I used to feel getting ready for a date. I did my hair, I put on jewelry, I hummed. You'd have thought I was going out with someone really special.

And you would be exactly right.


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Thursday, June 21, 2007

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Zen and the Art of Miniature Golf

I've got to tell you, I have been a bit of a wreck lately. Between a touch of homesickness, mourning the passing of a friend, and a flare up of chronic, cavernous, gaping ambition, I have been feeling a little bit fragile, a little bit lost, a little bit desperate.

I don't think either the homesickness or the grieving requires much in the way of annotation. Each just is. I hate it that I can't afford to travel home to the island this summer, and I hate it that people get sick and die. There's not much I want to say about the grasping, except that I feel like I am sitting on the edge of a coin some other hand has tossed, waiting for heads or tails. This, or something better, has been my mantra, for I know the clenched hand cannot receive. Que sera, sera. But my prayer (if you can call wheedling prayer) has been Oh, please. Please. This.

What it feels like is the summer I was fifteen and my boyfriend broke up with me. It's that bad. My self-esteem in this matter is between grades nine and ten. I am on the verge of writing Kasey Kasem about it.

Anyway, I just couldn't face another day of obsessing and moping, so I gathered up the kids and took them out to Gator Golf. We headed down the interstate, listening to Elton John and Billy Joel on the oldies station. Gator Golf is a cement shack right off the highway, surrounded by a labyrinth of matted astroturf and algae-smothered waterways. It has a video arcade that could gave been lifted straight out of my early adolescence. Old school. I bet you could buy a cigarette for a quarter at the counter. It rocks.

You know how your fingers remember phone numbers on a key pad, even when your mind doesn't? Apparently, mine have retained the Ms. Pac-Man opening strategy at the cellular level. I got the high score. It boosted my confidence immensely. The kids had a blast at mini golf. It could have been Pebble Beach.

And you know something? For that hour, it felt like we were on vacation. It felt like life really is a gift, on any terms. It felt like it might not turn out to have all been for nothing if it never happens for me, because maybe this is what's been happening for me, all along.

For twelve bucks and a handful of quarters, it was quite a deal.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

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They go on over your legs,
not on your head

Living in America is like spending the summer with your crazy rich cousin. Who happens to be Britney Spears. When you talk to the folks back home, everyone wants the scoop. Everybody demands an explanation for the latest shenanigan. They rattle the newspapers at you and ask just what the hell she was thinking. And how bad is it, really?

I can't tell you how ironic it is to find my self in the position of apologist for the U.S., but I try my best to represent what gets lost in transmission. It's complicated, I tell them. There's much more going on that what the media represents: more diversity, more intelligence, more self-awareness. Yeah, Brit's a little mixed up. But she's a good kid, at heart. There's some management issues.

Georgia tells me it's the same whenever she travels back home to Australia. Enquiring minds, the world over, want to know.

Some of this righteous indignation springs from genuine concern, fear, and moral objection. But it often comes garnished with a twist of spite. If the USA is a gal who goes clubbing with no panties, the Commonwealth nations are stuck home reading a book and wearing granny knickers.

They especially revel in fabled American ignorance of world and domestic affairs. They love to cite surveys that show some enormous percentage of the U.S. population unable to locate the Atlantic Ocean or Washington, D.C. on a map—the "dumb blonde" jokes of the global village.

There was a weekly fake news show in Canada that had a wildly popular segment, "Talking to Americans." They would film Americans in the street congratulating Canada on joining North America, and state politicians imploring their northern neighbor to preserve the "National Igloo". It was hysterical, but I would wonder, who are these people? Not the Americans I know. It's true my circle of friends and acquaintances may not be a true representive sample (presumably, somebody here had to have voted for George Bush), but I've always had a hard time believing those surveys weren't, like the comedy show segment, a set-up. Ask me on camera to endorse the Ukraine's strawbale house of legislature, and I would probably go along.

Then I went to Boy Scout day camp with my son last week. Having kids is consciousness-raising for many reasons, one of which is that it occasionally forces you out of your social comfort zone. During the activity on "Collections", one of the children asked his grandfather, a heavyset white man in his fifties, what building was portrayed on a U.S. postage stamp. The man had no clue. "It's the Lincoln Memorial," I said. It was a tiny stamp, and I was prepared to extend the benefit of doubt and allow that it may have been his eyes and not his mind that was dim. But then he turned around and proceeded to entertain several of the cub scouts by talking loudly in a badly faked East Indian accent, while a couple of kids who clearly had ancestors on the Indian peninsula looked on.

Too bad the right to vote isn't a merit badge. Then everybody (not just immigrants like me) would have to earn it.


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Saturday, June 16, 2007

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I believe my middle child may have been around the block a time or two.

As a toddler, he drew all faces with a short, vertical line in their forehead—a third eye, which he consistently referred to as "a hurt".

When he was three, and I told him he could feel his deceased grandfather's love in his heart, he got very quiet and then said, excitedly, "Yes, I feel it! It's growing."

Last year, I had to tell him Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter had died. He was quiet for a moment before saying, matter-of-factly, "Oh. Now he's awake."

On the sidelines at his brother's soccer practice this spring, my girlfriend observed him sitting in the grass with her daughter in lotus position, both their eyes closed and palms up.

Tonight I brought he and his older brother to a fundraiser in an historic Italianate home, for which some friends were playing. We'd never been there before, a sprawling Bohemian mansion, full of Buddha statues and prints. As we were leaving, this wondrous child of mine wrinkled his brow and asked, "Do I remember this place? Or were all those times a dream?"

At such times, I try not to let my jaw make an awkward, clunking sound when it drops to the ground.


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What it Feels Like

There is apparently a Sponge Bob Movie marathon on television this weekend. I just recently became aware that I was listening to the "Goofy Goober" song for the fifteenth time in the last 24 hours.

You know the part where Spongebob is under the heat lamp, being dried out for a shell shack souvenir, and he manages to croak out one last hopeful chorus?


That's exactly how it feels to be a writer, about four weeks out from a pitch.

I think I'll just go lay down under my mailbox, and gasp pitifully for a while.


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Friday, June 15, 2007

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Blissed Out

My revelry in this moment surpasses by far my shame over the baby bottle, the remote control, and my dirty feet.


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Thursday, June 14, 2007

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How We Roll

Back from the service. Completely wrung out. The church was filled to the choir loft. Peggy's children were troopers. Her husband spoke. Steve, if you are reading this, the theory of the "Loser Magnet" is one of the most funny and true things I have heard in a long time.

I was proud of my big boys. My six-year old whined just a little at not getting to stay home with his teenage cousin who'd been conscripted into keeping the three-year-old, but I told him, "We have to go because we're a community. We're going to show our friends we care." And then he was fine. Not another peep. I figured if the universe was going to make Peggy's kids attend their mother's funeral, mine were going too.

As the pearls were being clasped and the ties tied, Patrick remarked, "Well, it's easy to see that this family doesn't believe in ironing."

I laughed. "I like how you put that. It makes it sound like we abstain on principle."

Brought to you by the Church of Latter Day Wash and Wear. Motto: the family that is rumpled doesn't crumple.


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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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Tightening Security

6 and

must be
tall or taller
to enter
you also
have to
be are

I am beginning to suspect they are Republicans. Their father must never, ever know.
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Sunshine Piercing Fog

In the mi(d)st of my ambivalence, the baby comes blazing through, so happy to have me back, he sings "HAP-PY BIRTH-DAY MOM-MMY" at the top of his lungs, off and on all day. And when he does, it is my birthday, and Christmas, and Easter Morning, too. Sunshine piercing fog. Starshine through the dark of night.

—March 16, 2007 post

Thank goodness the prescription hasn't run out.


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Sunday, June 10, 2007

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Calling All Angels

Peggy Adams and her children. Photo by Sean Moorman.
Used with kind permission of the photographer and Steve Adams.

My friend Peggy died on Friday. She was part of my community here in Little Rock, and if you are a repeat visitor to this site, in a way, she was part of yours.

The last email I had from her was in early May, tacked on to the end of a brief exchange we had following my son's third birthday party, which she had been unable to attend. We were going back and forth with social niceties, and then — almost as if in afterthought — she sent me this short message

"P.S. I read your blog quite regularly and that helps tremendously...Love, Peggy."

I cried when I read that. Not just because I was touched and flattered (very few of my in-the-round friends read this blog; I guess they get all they can stand of me in person), but because it came in response to the offer I'd made with studied casualness to be of help to her family while she was feeling "less than 100 per cent". As if it were a bout of the flu that had her housebound, and not the devastating cancer that she had battled for over two years and which had now won the upper hand.

I was tiptoeing, trying to make an overture without intruding. Peggy did not discuss her condition with just anyone, and I was never part of her innermost circle. She and her husband drew a dense privacy screen around themselves and their children where her illness was concerned, and it was baffling to some. We live in an age of personal transparency; of group therapy, self-help, online diaries and Oprah. We all want to share, analyse, weigh in, process. We all want our turn with the talking stick. Peggy wasn't going to let us have it. I respected her for that. It was as if, upon her diagnosis, she said, "You all deal with it. I have these three children to raise, and a life to get on with." I can see her tossing that glorious mane of hers, punctuating it with her delicously earthy Puerto Rican-Brooklynite accent. "What Evah."

And get on with life she did. I saw more of Peg and her family in the two years after her diagnosis than in the eight years I'd know her before. In between the endless treatments and surgeries, she continued to homeschool her children. I saw them at the park, the market, the library, fashion shows, and block parties. The family took vacations together, including a cruise. She and Steve continued to be the most beautiful couple in the room at any given get-together. The last time I really saw her was at a Valentine's dinner party, hosted by my friends Rod and Lennie Byran, just before I left for Ireland. Her long hair was cropped short, sacrificed to chemo, but she was still radiantly gorgeous. She was especially generous to me that night, and insisted I come to raid her closets to outfit myself for my readings. As if I had a hope of fitting anything. In the best of health, Peggy was about a size zero. Lennie called her "little big you".

I remember being struck that night by her perceptiveness about my mixed feelings over leaving the kids for two weeks abroad. She seemed so genuinely enthusiastic about my writing, and made several observations that caused me to think, "hey, she really sees me." I felt buoyed up by her validation and warmth. It was a wonderful evening, and I treasured the memory of it even more after she revealed that she had been peering through this particular window on my soul. She really did see me.

That email spurred me on to write this past month like never before. I'm sure Peggy didn't want to hear about all the prayers I prayed, she didn't need me to take her children from where they most wanted and needed to be, she sure as hell didn't need another casserole, but I could write for as long as it gave comfort or diversion. God, I'd have raced to her bedside and knelt and told her stories all day and all night long if I could have done so without getting in between her and what mattered most: time with her family.

Ironically, I got the news later on the same day I wrote my piece on how that time slips away. I was on the front porch with the children, making ice cream. The crank handle had just gone flying out of my son's hand, and he couldn't find it. Then the phone rang.

"Peggy died."

And then the conversation is over, and Peggy has died, and the crank handle still has to be found, because we still have to make the ice cream.

I keep turning the fragments of that that scene over and over, trying to piece together the making of the ice cream and the late afternoon sunshine and the losing and the finding of the crank handle with that phone call, but I just haven't been able. I have been running my fingers over the places where Peggy's and my lives ran parallel, but never really merged; the kindredness of spirit that was almost subtextual, seeming to exist mainly between the lines. Wondering how I came to be chosen, among others, to speak at her memorial next week, and what she would want me to say.

I was still trying to make sense of it all when I went to Peggy's myspace page tonight for the umpteenth time today (as if expecting to find something new from her there), and noticed in her profile that she listed the Jane Siberry song "Calling All Angels" among her favorites. I wasn't familiar with it, so I looked up the lyrics. This jumped out:

...and every day you gaze upon the sunset
with such love and intensity
it's's almost as if
if you could only crack the code
then you'd finally understand what this all means

Almost, Peggy. Almost as if.

Peggy Lopez Adams was 36 on May, 27, 2007. She is survived by her husband, Steve, daughters Chloe, 11, Simone, 9; and son Loic, 5. She wished to be memorialized through donations to the Open Arms Shelter for youth.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

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Cat's Cradle

After two weeks of sitting around in my pyjamas in a catatonic stupor, I finally got around to emptying backpacks and opening report cards yesterday. It seems I am officially the mother of a third-grader. My firstborn springs into the dining room as I write this, naked except for his briefs. He is gloriously eight and a half: all limbs, freckles and missing teeth, golden brown all over, already. He is growing faster than even he can keep up with. His mind and body jump up to do something and fall down in a tangled heap. Half colt, all boy. Milestones skip across the surface of his days now, so fast, I miss them. He has to call them out to me. "Mom! I jumped off the diving board!" "Mom! My tooth came out!"

But that tooth just came in, I think. And how long was he in the deep end?


Children turn time into a game with string. When I was eight years old, fall through spring took an eon, summer was an era, and childhood was an eternity. Now I realize that it all passed in a blink of my parents' eyes. The structure of our life together as a family —so elaborate, so permanent-seeming — collapsed between their hands when that time was done.

In the daily stream of pouring milk, changing diapers, signing schoolwork, applying bandaids, and the infinite, endless cycle of emptying and filling the dishwasher, it feels like this is how life has always been, and must always be. Memories of my life before Patrick and the children are like fragments of a dream, or stories overheard in passing about someone else. It seems inconceivable that this flow will someday have run its course. Yet there is my own mother, now living alone. My father is dead. My sister and I are grown. She has a wonderful, full life, with many friends, and we are both very close to her. But it is a world removed from what was. I can't imagine living all by myself someday. I don't suppose she did either, when she was my age.

Last Hallowe'en we took the boys trick or treating around our neighborhood. They ran ahead to a house with a dimly lit porch and rang the bell before we could stop them. We waited a few minutes, and decided no one was coming. As we turned around to go, I saw movement inside. An ancient, bent man was making his way to the door. His wife and a nurse were behind him.

"Wait, boys," I said. I turned them around and nudged them forward.

"Trick or treat!" they all sang out on cue. The dear man could barely walk, but he was so happy, he seemed to be dancing over the children. He was smiling and bobbing as he passed out candy from a bowl, while his wife clasped her hands to her chest and beamed.

As we turned back down the walkway, my eyes filled. I said to Patrick, "Can you imagine months going by, and never seeing a child?"

"No," he said, his fingers twining around mine. "I can't."

Palm to palm, we walked down the road together, our children skipping ahead.

Thanks to Parent Bloggers Network, Light Iris and Notes From the Trenches for the writing prompt and the carrot at the end of the stick.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

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I value this document slightly above my green card.
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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Grimly resigned to going to the gym. Right after my coffee.

So, I woke up on opening day of the pool with the panic of a kid on the first day of finals who hasn't cracked a book all year (and I was that kid). I have been working out five days a week, eating 1600 calories a day ever since. Three days of weights, two of my Kathy Smith step video. The other night, I went online shopping for a new swimsuit and behold, two visions of the future were laid out before me. On the browser tab on the right was the Victoria's Secret site; on the left was Land's End. Both suits lovely and well-made. One sexy. One appropriate.

Oh, Spirit, why show me this, if I am past all hope? I repent, I repent.*

What the male readers just read:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Victoria's Secret blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

*See previous post Gone, Baby, Gone for backstory.


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Monday, June 04, 2007

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Back Up

The kids have been home from school a full week now, which means I have been home with them a full week. And since their father works out of our house, this means we have — all of us — been home together for A FULL WEEK. It's been a little like an executive team-building camp. Instead of the ropes course, our participants clamber around on the family room furniture. The objective is to remove every slipcover, cushion and throw without ever letting your bottom touch the upholstery, or your feet touch the floor. That's the kids' team's objective, anyway. (What, did you think we were all on the same team?)

The adult team's objective is to try and stay married through the end of the summer.

This is an advanced course, involving an intricate criss-crossing of personalities, schedules, and responsibilities, all of which must be negotiated while trying to get the slipcovers, cushions, throws and bottoms back on the furniture. Not recommended for persons with high blood pressure.

Patrick has been insanely busy with work, which beats the alternative in the feast-or-famine realm of freelance, but has zapped all the flex from his time. Early last week, he took the rare move of initiating a marital conference, wherein he explained to me that if I was going to spend the summer tagging him for childcare while I "nip down to the gym" or "dash out to the store," his billable time would be severely reduced.


I don't know any couple with children for whom division of labor and leisure isn't an ongoing issue. "Be willing to renegotiate everything, forever," says one of my long-married friends. Ours was a good meeting, even if my new-found wings were slightly clipped. I had my own items to bring to the table, and I didn't come away empty-handed. Being able to sit down and have these exchanges calmly and openly is a mutually acquired skill we are both proud of, like a retirement fund that has done well.

We've worked hard at it. If the slipcover situation doesn't get the better of us, my love and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary in September. This past week of concentrated for-worse-and-better-ness has given me several occasions to appreciate how much equity we've built up in our relationship over the last decade. For a couple who started out with more libidio than emotional intelligence, more barware than communication skills, and more codependence issues than a Dr. Phil show, we've done alright.

Take last Monday night. For Memorial Day, our crowd decided to rent the neighborhood pool and do a potluck supper. I had mentioned it to Patrick several times over the weekend, but when the time came to wake him up from his nap and load the van, he appeared ambushed.

"Are you expecting me to go?" he said, groggily.

"Yes, I told you, it's a family thing," I said. Not the Parents Without Partners Picnic.

I thought that last bit, but I didn't say it. Witness the triumph of the teeth over the tongue.

Marriage therapist John Gottman estimates that a substantial percentage of problems in any long-term relationship are essentially "unsolvable", and that successful couples learn to live with them in a way that is healthy. (You can read more about it in this interview with Gottman). One of our unsolvable issues is the ocean of discrepancy between our social appetites. Patrick is an introvert from a family of introverts. His nuclear family was very close-knit and rarely socialized with non-relatives. Not that I am judging or anything, but to me that makes him some kind of sick weirdo.

On the other hand, my family of origin and I are boundlessly extroverted. Put any of us at the center of a social gathering and we glow like lightning bugs.

He's an innie. I'm an outie. It took us seven years to figure this out and no amount of pushing and pulling on each other is ever going to change it. My idea of a compromise is one jointly attended social event a week. He feels like one a month is an effort that requires him to dig deep, deep down. And then sleep for three days following. No two words strung together can strike terror and dread into Patrick's heart, or joy and anticipation into mine, like "theme" and "party". It's something we've had to learn to live around, and occassionally one or the other of us will trip right over it.

Like on Memorial Day. It would be nice to tell you I beamed with unconditional love and acceptance at my grouchy mate as we loaded the kids into van, but that would be a lie. I was annoyed, and he was annoyed, and we spent the first thirty minutes or so of the party quietly resenting each other for being the way we are. The difference between now and then is that we are aware of what it costs to attack each other over those kinds of differences. It would be like cashing in the equity in our house to go buy crack. A long backslide for the sake of a short-lived rush.

We can't afford it. So instead of going on the attack, we quietly and respectfully gave each other some space. Space for him to wake up and warm up to the gathering, and space for me to work on that unconditional love and acceptance that I promised nearly ten years ago. And within the hour, it came shining through, like the sun from beind a cloud.

Sometimes — unavoidably — the pressure of daily life reaches a breaking point. Sometimes in the squeeze of work and childrearing we don't have much space to give. Yesterday it was my turn to be groggy and grouchy, after contemplating the stripped upholstery for the hundredth time this weekend, and I said something critical to Patrick. He reacted, I raised him one and overreacted. I don't want to say that doors were being slammed, because that would alarm my mother, but doors were being shut loudly and pointedly. I stomped off to the kitchen, where Patrick followed me to ask in a bewildered tone if we could reboot. I wasn't done being mad, so I said something shitty. The minute it came out of my mouth, I regretted it. Not an unfamiliar sensation for an extrovert.

"I'm so sorry, that was so hateful," I said tearfully. "All I meant to say was, you suck."

In about twenty minutes, we had gone from slamming to laughing. A summer storm, blown over as suddenly as it broke. Years ago, cyclones could spin out from a clash like that which would wreak havoc for days, set us down bruised and lost in the middle of nowhere, having to pick up the pieces. Pressure would build, the atmosphere would darken and we'd both run out headlong to meet disaster like a couple of fools. This is the dividend of ten years: the realization we can back up just as easily and quickly as our backs used to get up.


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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Five Simple Pleasures

Clockwise from upper left: splurging on a superslick lipgloss quad; making a new iMix for a friend; contemplating a nearly empty month on the family calendar; skype-ing with my mom; knowing that the situation in the lower right corner can wait.

No photo to accompany this last one, but I have been getting a kick out of getting acquainted with current commercial pop music. Summer vacation has whet my appetite for bubblegum. Discoveries: "Girlfriend," Avril Lavinge, "Big Girls Don't Cry," Fergie, and best of all, Give it to Me by Timbaland. I had it on nearly endless loop today. At one point, I forced Patrick to stop working and listen as I recited the lyrics, as only a white, middle class soccer mom can. Sample: I'm real as it come if you don't know why I'm fly/Seen you tryna switch it up but girl you ain't that dope/I'm a Wonder Woman, let me go get my rope.

I was perfectly delighted with myself. Patrick, not so much.

Also, in making my friend's iMix, I came to the conclusion that all of contemporary music—across all genres— is concerned thematically with either getting it on, or getting wasted, or both. Except one song, which is about driving around. It's by Springsteen.

Don't expect my brain back much before September.
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