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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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My freshly minted sixth grader had his first school dance on Friday night.

"You're sure you want to go?" I asked him.

He shrugged. "Yeah. I guess."

I watched him queue up against the building with his classmates, my eyes playing connect-the-dots with the tops of their heads, graphing the zigzag line made by their wildly different heights. Closest to the entrance, jostling for admission, the seventh and eighth graders looked like a race of giants. A security guard stood there with a metal detector in hand. A metal detector. This is not your mama's sock hop, I thought, remembering my first dance, at the end of sixth grade. We were still in elementary school then, top of the food chain. It was the last year I wouldn't dread going to school, until I reached the other side of junior high.

It's so hard not to project our own experiences onto our children. I've never been more grateful that I have sons, not daughters. The difference in our genders is an obvious reminder that they are not me. I don't know what these years are like for boys, the "tweens." I don't like the word at all. It sounds made-up--trademarked and sanitized, as if puberty were a sitcom dreamed up by Nickelodeon. But maybe it's better than no word at all. There was no name for what I was then. Pupal. Inchoate. In between.

The goth and emo kids, with their black fingernails and bowed heads, reflect a truth about puberty that Nickelodeon doesn't. It's a kind of death, in the way that metamorphosis is death. We are not the same creatures coming out of it that we are when we go in. However splendid our new selves may be, our childhood is discarded. The husk on the ground behind.

My son has barely begun to spin his cocoon. He moved into his own bedroom over the summer, and we've been working on re-decorating it to suit a middle-schooler's style. It's a mash-up of Legos, Beatles, skateboards, electronics and stuffed animals. Perfectly in between. He seems to love it in there. I never know, when I open the door, whether I'll find him laying on the bed, listening to music with his headphones on, or crouched on the floor over his action figures.

He's like me at that age in so many ways, but so much is different. Our family is in a different place than mine was then. Maybe things will be easier for him. Maybe they'll be easier for me than they were for my parents. One can hope. I was so angry with them all the time. When I was thirteen, I hated my father. And anyone who says, oh, no, you didn't really, has either forgotten what it was like to be thirteen, or was someone who probably wouldn't have spoken to me in junior high. I loved my father as much as a daughter can love. He was the sun that rose in my consciousness every waking day of my life, and the moon that shone down at night. I miss him every day. And I hated him for most of my thirteenth year. He knew it, but he loved me through it.

He was given to lecturing. Remember the Gary Larson cartoon that was captioned, "More than any other punishment, Jimmy dreaded his father's lectures?" That was me. Once, when I was in grade eight, he said to me, "You have to think about what you do, Kyran, because people are going to follow you."

I stared back sullenly and seethed. How could my own father so profoundly misunderstand who I was and what life was like for me? People follow me? Was he crazy? Classmates got up and moved away from me if I sat at a desk next to them, and that was the only sign they gave that I wasn't actually invisible. Who was going to ever give a damn what I said, thought or did? He must be talking about a daughter he wished he had. How could he say he loved me, when clearly, he couldn't see me?

And so. Here you are. Not following, exactly. But reading. Caring. Commenting. Seeing something he saw, when no one else did, when I couldn't.

It's what I'm ready to do for my son. To hold that vision of his splendid winged self if he should lose it in the dark. To see it if no one else does, if he can't believe in it himself, if he hates me for it. But I'm also ready to see and love him just as he is, in between. He is not me. I'm not my father or my mother. I need to try not to project, to take these years as they come.

Because the one thing I'm not ready for? What will really throw me for a loop?

A kid who comes home from his first dance, announcing he had the time of his life.

"Mom! It was awesome! Me and my friends started break dancing, and the other kids started following us!"

Now what am I going to do with a kid like that? Who's happy and popular, and likes middle school?

Love him anyway, I suppose.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

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Adult Swim


And then, just like that, it's over.

We sent the kids off to school yesterday. Or, I should say, schools--plural. My eldest began sixth grade at middle school. Yes, middle school. With P.E. and buses and sixth grade girls, and other things to keep a mom awake at night. Much more on that to come, I'm sure.

Back to school for them means back to work for me. As much as I've enjoyed being with the kids all summer, I'm ready. I've got several writing projects lined up, including a whole index card full of blog notes. If I can decipher any of them, I plan to post with something approaching regularity this fall. And if I can get a meeting with the web designer I'm married to, you might see roll out before the end of the year.

It's like I told a friend the other night, in one of my classic idiom mash-ups, "The doctor's kids always go unshod."

Whatever. It's six of one. A dozen of the other.

Have a great weekend.


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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

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20,000 leagues under the sun.


We are deep in the dog days now, with temperatures routinely in the triple digits. It's hard to explain to northerners what southern summers are like, and hard for this northern transplant to remember the season as I knew it growing up. My mother calls in July and asks if the boys are playing any sports, and I wonder for a minute if she has taken up drinking in the afternoons, until I adjust for the latitude and realize that my niece and nephew's soccer season has only just begun.

From a psychological standpoint, southern summers are a lot like northern winters, actually. You stay indoors, you hunker down, you endure. The air conditioning service department tells me if our thermostat reads below 78 F, we should shut up and consider ourselves lucky. The kids refuse to go to the pool during the day ("the water is too warm, Mom"), so we swim at night. They watch way too much tv and play way too many video games. I snap at them for being too loud, too rambunctious, too wild. Our mostly outdoor dog has been moved mostly indoors, for safety's sake, for which she repays us daily by peeing and pooping on the floor. We are all stir crazy. I wonder if drinking in the afternoons would be such a bad thing.

Desperation begets resourcefulness. The boys and I spend two days working on a thousand-piece puzzle, excavated from the back of a closet. A friend comes over and lets Patrick and I escape for a couple of hours, sharing a pint of ice cream on the playground swings after dark. Cardboard boxes are repurposed as turtle shells and time machines. My eleven-year-old takes lego-building to a post graduate level, assembling Rube Goldberg-like contraptions with moving parts -- gears, and levers, and rubber bands for drum belts. When our little civilization breaks down again, as it inevitably does, we retreat back to the tv, computers and video game players --virtual excursions that don't require entering a vehicle in which the dashboard thermostat reads 111. It's like living on a submarine. If only we had a pipe organ.


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Monday, August 02, 2010

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Room at the top of the world tonight

We took a little trip to Memphis last week, to renew my green card (so Patrick can't threaten to have me deported anymore). We used to make that run all the time, back when I was a brand new immigrant, just another bra-less Canadian hippie chick, coming to take all the good two-dollar-an-hour waitressing jobs from decently underwired Americans.

I'm not the stranger to these-here parts that I was then, but crossing the Mississippi river still feels mythic to me, every time. My passing fling with America has turned out to be the enduring romance of my life.


I had to report to the immigration office bright and early Thursday morning for my biometrics, a word that means fingerprinting and leads me to believe that there are Trekkies working high up within the Department of Homeland Security. What do you think the probability was that the guy in line next to me would be from the same New Brunswick town that I was born in? As it happened, one hundred per cent. If my life were a movie, I swear, no one would buy it. It's just too far-fetched in places.

I walked out 30 minutes later, a shiny new extension sticker on my card, and we headed straight to the zoo. I brought the kids there once, in 2006.


The years are going so fast.


That time, we stayed at a Super 8 motel on the sketchy side of Memphis. This time we stayed at a very chic downtown loft apartment, belonging to one of Patrick's clients. People are incredibly nice to us. If we measured our net worth by dollars alone, it's hardly been a skyrocketing climb over the years. But we've accumulated other kinds of wealth: children, friends, careers, history. I felt very rich that night, watching the boys swim in the rooftop pool, the mighty Mississippi shining beside us in the moonlight.



When I looked down from skygazing, I realized that Patrick had been taking my picture. I pantomimed sucking in my tummy, and smiled at my once-upon-a-time gypsy lover, thinking of the free-wheeling vagabonds we used to be. You'd never know it, to look at us. I'm sure in the eyes of the few twentysomethings who shared the rooftop garden with us, we were profoundly middle aged. A mom with her hair in a bun, sitting on the edge of the pool, watching the children, a dad wearing reading glasses, reclining in a chair, holding up his iPhone.

"Lord of all you survey," I teased.

He smiled back. Sometimes it feels like we are kids in a game of make-believe together, only pretending to be grown ups, the kind of people who are on top of things, whose papers are all in order. But sometimes it feels like the wishing star fairy came down while we were sleeping and made us real.


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It's good to be king.


This was the first bit of the wild kingdom that greeted us upon our arrival at The Memphis Zoo last week.
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