Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Breathe In...Hold...Breathe Out

Dear Self,

Alright. Let's just regroup here, commit some things to writing, and most importantly of all, try to (brace yourself, Self) LEARN from our experiences with our family of origin. We'd really like to avoid repeat performances and subsequent feelings of being all knotted up inside, having less than pleasant thoughts about the people who we grew up with, so if we could FOCUS a bit and work toward GROWTH, that would be super.

First, let's review how we'll react when our sister asks everyone if they want to go bowling, gets impatient when it takes a few minutes to decide, and then, once we agree to go, announces that she can't go after all because she took TWO of her anti-depressant pills instead of the prescribed ONE, and she needs to sleep off her little overdose. Perhaps the not-so-subtle eye roll in her direction isn't actually helping to solve the problem. Next time, just as a thought, perhaps we could ask her if she has any EXTRA pills she could throw our way, because lord knows we're gonna need something to get us through this family gathering.

Second. Self, this is an important one. Let's try NOT to engage in a full fledged debate with our mother and sister about ethics and pride when they start talking about how to get all you can from the Olive Garden Restaurant by just eating the free bottomless salad that comes with the meal all night, and then having them wrap up your entree for tomorrow night's dinner at home. Because engaging in that type of discussion with them is obviously futile, Self. We've learned that now, remember?

Third. When we pay for a family trip to the New England Aquarium, which we know is about equivalent to a mortgage payment on the house, let's not be surprised when the rest of the family lasts not one moment more than fifteen minutes inside, before they start getting hungry and bitchy. Let's not even OFFER them the snacks we thought to pack before we left the house, because we will now know for certain that their need to leave the Aquarium is really their need to flee something within themselves. Okay, Self? Let's just know this and adjust our expectations.

Regarding the CURRENT family, Self, the ones we actually CHOSE or molded into people we like and respect, let's be extra kind to them as they try to navigate the muddy (in fact sewage-y) waters of our family of origin. Let's do all we can to avoid barking at them when they are really the treasures of our life. They are the lifeboats, Self, so let's just sail away on them (say, to Jamaica in March!) and take comfort in their beautiful souls.

Hold on there, Self. Not so fast! There's this issue of our mother and how she pretends that everything is just MAHRvelous with our sister and her daily two hour naps. The mother who laughed when her own first-born daughter spat in a frustrated moment that she was PLAGUED by impatient fathers, referring to her own husband and her own father (husband of that mother of ours). That father of ours looked on to that scene with those two women with a breaking heart. Can we really try to learn from this, please, and not go in with a naive optimism that is actually a demon in disguise? Because when that demon takes her mask off, she's evil. Repeat after me, Self: "Mom can't bear to see her first-born's faults. It reflects too closely on herself." Now say it again, louder. Excellent. We did it!

Now, the next assignment is tricky, so don't expect to get it all done at once. Throughout the new year, we need to reflect carefully on what our relationship with our family of origin should really be. Should we hang out with people who make us feel rotten on the inside? What's it really for? What are the pros and cons of changing or even severing the relationship? Ask bloggy friends for advice (this part you can do ASAP).

Happy New Year, Self. May this be a year of growth and, pleaseohplease, peace.



p.s. Happy New Year to my bloggy friends too! May you also find true peace wherever you look. I'm really glad to have found you! Now start advising me - STAT!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Large Rocks in the River

There is a beautiful river I know in Vermont. Its origin is somewhere on a frozen mountaintop, or perhaps in the space between that summit and the clouds that grace it. From wherever it begins, it meanders its way down the earth with a majestic demeanor. All along its banks, the trees and the animals bow down to it, paying tribute to its wonder. In places, it is as wide as the nearby meadows, while in others it is little more than a stream. If you catch it after a violent spring storm, you'd best keep a safe distance, for it has been known to take prey from time to time. It is playful in the fall, furiously determined in the spring, ominous in the winter, and selfless in the summer. Ever onward it rolls.

Most of the rocks in this river's timeless path are worn smooth and round. They groan only a bit when bare feet shift them. They are under water all the time, serving as the track.

The rocks I'm interested in though, are the larger ones, not quite boulders, that spend most of their time at least partly above the water line parting the rush. These pillars, interruptions in the flow of the river, must be firmly planted to withstand the constant coaxing of the water, and they are sun bleached on top. The trees along the banks cast their shadows on them. Due to their vantage point, these large rocks in the river can silently watch it all, but they never quite join in. They are like old men sitting peacefully on the park bench feeding the birds. Watching, remembering, noting from a close yet separate distance.

The river accepts that even she, in all her majesty, hasn't the might to force these rocks to follow her, so she parts momentarily, flexes, and continues her journey just south of her obstacle.

I don't know why these rocks were calling me to think about them and to write about them, but they were. Rocks in a river. What does that even mean?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Safe Secrets

It's vacation! Blissful, glorious, sweet-loving, aboutfuckingtime VACATION. I have two weeks with my family now. Sugar cookies and snow forts await! Hallelujah and Amen. It's vacation.

Being a fifth grade teacher is a rewarding, challenging, funny, quirky, and never boring gig for me. Generally, I love what I do because each day brings me rewards I could never dream of. You see, the people I share my space with are some of the most earnest on the planet. They've been ON the planet for a mere ten or eleven years, which sometimes leaves them slightly awkward, but always earnest.

My charges really do want to do the right thing, they are endlessly curious about the world, they are fascinated by the intricacies of relationships, power, poetry, prime numbers and their changing bodies. They ask beautiful questions. They desperately want to succeed, both for themselves and for the acceptance of those around them.

Fifth graders sometimes smell like hell and they are CONSTANTLY falling out of their chairs. They pretty much refuse to raise their hands before they speak, or wash them before they eat. They couldn't walk in a line if their lives depended on it. To a fifth grader, THIS IS TALKING QUIETLY!!!!! and the idea of waiting for the teacher to stop teaching before you sharpen a pencil is completely preposterous. They rarely throw anything away (even their dirty tissues), yet they'll claim that they accidentally threw away last night's homework. A fifth grader can weep for a week because of a dying hamster. They play with dolls and Facebook, experiment with Scrabble and spin the bottle. They are trying to not be too afraid to stay at home alone, and they are thrilled when they lose a tooth because the toothfairy might come for a visit. Fifth graders are starting to notice pimples, training bras, skills and popularity in each other. My fifth graders actually fight with each other over the opportunity to help me when I ask for it.

My students and I have an understanding. It is an unspoken, sacred agreement between parties: I won't blow their cover if they won't blow mine.

I know that they are scared, sometimes lonely and insecure. I know how desperately they want to grow up gracefully. I know how terrified they are of being embarrassed, how tenuously they stand in their in-betweenness. I will guard their secret with my life. In return, they pretend I'm hip (I need this just as desperately). They laugh at my jokes and feign interest when I teach them what a preposition is. They know mine is a sometimes grueling and thankless job (entertaining them), but they hang on like champions. Somehow, I think they may know that I share their human condition; I am just as desperate to feel important. Useful. Our relationship is symbiotic, like the clown fish and the poisonous coral.

I am grateful to these kiddos ~ and I am so very proud to know them. They have great courage, and it shows every day as they take risks and try to grow up just a little bit more.

But, I am really REALLY glad to be away from them for a couple of weeks, too. I'm luxuriating in my sweet-smelling, quiet, pencil sharpener-free home with my own quirky little ones. Hallelujah and Amen. It's vacation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dear Santa,

Dear Santa,

Alright. You seem like a reasonable guy and all, so I'm gonna' give it to you straight. No beating around the bush. I'd like a new set of boobs please.

Now, please don't get me wrong, Santa. I'm a pretty grateful girl. I like to think that I can be satisfied with the little that I have. It's just that this set...well, this set I've got is just a little too little. Honestly, Santa. I've had this pair since I was in sixth grade. And they really haven't changed one little (even tiny) bit.

Here's the thing. My tatas have served me well. Albeit very small, they probably helped me to land my hottie husband in some way. I happen to know he's kind of a boob guy, and I ended up with him, so at least they didn't send him running in the other direction.

Also, my "girls" fed two babies for a YEAR a piece! That's pretty amazing stuff right there. They worked as barmaids for some pretty greedy customers. I'm sure you can concur that that is no easy job! I was hopeful that I would be able to enjoy the benefits of finally having respectably sized boobs, if even for a short time while nursing.

The thing is, Santa Claus (and I really hope you're not faint of heart in any way. I have to assume you've heard this type of thing before, what with being able to peek into people's bedrooms and stuff...)both of those babies preferred one boob over the other (what IS it with the left one, children?) and things got all out of whack around those parts. For those years of nursing, I was walking around with a D on one side and a smallish B on the other. It was a little awkward, as I'm sure you can imagine. And more than a little bit disappointing.

And then, post-barmaid gig, those now mean-spirited titties seemed to get even smaller than they were when they were pre-working girls, which I have to admit, is pretty close to concave. This has been a bit of a disappointment as well, if you must know.

Santa, I'm going to give it to you straight. I'm going to be forty next year, and I really haven't asked for much my whole life. (Don't go checking that claim please. Just believe me and move on. No one likes a skeptic.) I'd like a nice pair of evenly rounded out C cups please that I can display proudly. A touch of cleavage would be super, but I promise not to overexpose it at inappropriate times. Clearly, no one likes a bragger either. I've heard rumors, and I'm just putting this out there: if there is such a thing as the titty fairy, and you know her, could you please send her my way?

Oh. Just to clear up any confusion: I simply can't stand the idea of surgery, so please don't go suggesting that. That will NEVER fly. Also, I've tried wonderbras, waterbras, pushup bras, and flat out foam falsies. Clearly, I'd like to be all done with these as well. I'm asking point blank to wake up on a glorious Christmas morn with a brand new RACK.

Thank you, Santa. You're a real doll.

Hugs, kisses, and a little *flash* for good measure,


Monday, December 8, 2008

Just Like the Ones I Used to Know

I don't know. I'm just ambivalent about the whole thing.

I haul the stuff out of the musty storage area in the basement and pry open the familiar storage cartons. The biggest one, packed with the most cherished decorations and stockings, was Peter's old black summer camp trunk. When its brass colored hinges click open, I immediately smell Christmases past: cloves from some preschool ornament, artificial pine scented candles, dusty tissue paper that cradles each treasure.

The kids oooh and ahhh over each one. Unwrapping the ornaments, waking them from their year-long slumber, is as ritualistic and anticipatory as Christmas morning itself. My beautiful babies are all smiles and wonder. "Remember this one? Where did it come from, Mommy?" For some reason, I always pretend to have to think about it for a while. I rub my hands over it as if I need to feel it in order to help me remember. "This one was from Moanie. She gave it to you when you were just two." But I hadn't really needed to hesitate. The truth is that I'm like a savant with the ornaments: I know immediately and exactly where each one came from. And many of them make me nostalgic at best, deeply deeply sad at worst. I can't help it.

I have a very hard time living in the present when it comes to Christmas. I begin each year with the naivete of a child, but then I open the boxes of lights and bells and dishtowels decorated with wreaths and snowmen. I unwrap nutcrackers and snow globes and jingle bells and what feels like hundreds of Santas. I hear the music of my childhood and I begin to smell and taste the essence of yesteryear. Uninvited, the past rises out of those boxes and assaults me. It actually mocks me as I try to stay in Today. "Those years are gone," I remind myself. "Look at the children. Stay Now."

I'm gone.

I'm a child in our family's log cabin in Vermont, sitting by the too leggy pine tree we cut down in our woods. The colored lights reflect in the candlelight and the streams of tinsel. There is music, and the snowflakes flying outside are absolutely enormous. The deer head mounted above the staircase has a single shiny red Christmas ball hanging from its antlers. There's a fire in the fireplace and my dad is making popcorn the old fashioned way.

I reach for another ornament.

Then I'm in our first house as a married woman. We had our own tree with a few choice ornaments. It wasn't complicated. There was anticipation and delightful simplicity.

I unwrap a clear glass pinecone.

Without warning, I'm in Baltimore. It's Christmas Eve and the EMT's have knocked over our tree in their clumsy efforts to revive her. I'm on the staircase watching my beloved mother-in-law turn blue for lack of oxygen. She's still seizing. One of the men puts his boot on the doll bed that Moanie, now intubated, had carefully laid out so that it would be the first thing to be discovered in the morning. I'm scanning the area, looking for something to vomit into. My husband is holding her hand, rubbing her hair, telling her to please, just try to breathe. Several hours later, my sister, having made the trip from Virginia, is rotating shifts between watching my daughter sleep and straightening up the mess in the living room. There's urine on the floor of the guest room. There are shattered ornaments strewn about. Distress has spilled all over the house. My sweet sister is cleaning while I'm retrieving my husband from the hospital.

I want to stay Now, but these ornaments take me from place to place with breathtaking speed and force. Maybe resisting the travels makes them want me even more, but I can't surrender. I don't want to go back, even to the happiest of times. I just want to be Now.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's a Love/Hate World

Things I Hate:

*The sound of an electric pencil sharpener when I'm trying to teach a class.
*Burned-out teachers who won't retire.
*Yelling at my own kids, or the feeling that they'll only truly listen when I do.
*When people slow to a near stop before they take a right turn.
*My students' misplaced apostrophes.
*Innefficiently run faculty meetings when I know the dog hasn't peed in nearly ten hours.
*When I thought I had set the coffee maker for 5:15, but I actually hadn't, so I have to wait ten minutes after waking up before I can have my first sip of joe.
*My deeply seeded, irrational reaction to some issues surrounding food.
*Having secrets. Therefore I don't.
*Parents of my students who don't have jobs outside of the home, and who insist on hovering around the classroom and my email inbox as though it were a full-time, paying gig.
*The polar opposite of the above. Hello...your kid is hungry by 8:30 because you didn't make him any breakfast. might want to ask him every once in a while if he has any homework. Just a thought.
*This recession. It scares the living hell out of me.
*The smelly and greasy old man Depression who lurks in my house, lonely, waiting to attach himself to me because I'm sometimes overly accomodating to him. I don't yell at him to get the fuck out of my house the way I should. I hate that motherfucker.

Things I Love:

*When my kids burrow in to me, wrap their arms around me and squeeze.
*One-on-one time with either one of my kids. I don't care what we're doing. I love to be alone with just one of them.
*A fire in the fireplace, hot chocolate, and a book.
*This heavenly town.
*Catching a glimpse of a wild animal in the woods. If I can spot a moose, I'm golden for weeks.
*An earnest student asking a question.
*The greeting my dog gives me when I come home.
*Singing. Loudly. Preferably in to a microphone.
*A great pair of jeans. And by great I mean flattering, stylish AND comfortable.
*Tall skinny cinnamon dolce latte. Mmmmmmmm...
*A well-constructed essay. By me or by a student.
*Spilling the beans on myself.
*Going to bed knowing I've done the best I can do. This is a rare gem.
*My daughter's deep, and very old soul.
*My son's curious, and very new soul.
*Comments and commenting.

How about you?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Foxfire and Fireflies

When I was seven, my dad told me to whistle on my way in to the barn so I wouldn't startle our mare, Foxfire. Without exception, I should always announce my arrival with a whistle. I looked up at my dad after he gave me this instruction, took a deep breath and explained that I was really sorry but without my two front teeth, I was really having a hard time getting any sound to come out, so he sighed and agreed to let me sing my way in to the barn.

"However you do it, just make sure you give them plenty of warning, because Foxfire's liable to rear right up and hurt herself if you scare her by just appearing out of the blue," my dad warned me.

Foxfire was my dad's very favorite horse, and she was also a neurotic disaster of a mess who was sadly in need of some therapy for her frazzled nerves. I only forgot to announce my arrival once. That huge thoroughbred horse was on her hind hooves so fast, front hooves frantically waving in the air, teeth gnashing, tail flailing. When she was on all fours again, she began furiously whinnying and kicking her stall doors with abandon. I watched in horror and all I could think to do was hit the dirt. It was a terrifying sight. I never wanted to see it again.

So began the habit. Entering the barn had a whole ritual for me. A routine. I'd start singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" a full fifty yards before I rounded the corner onto the concrete slab of the barn floor. I'd clap my hands for good measure. My leather riding boots stamped to the beat, and I added a funky little dance, twirling and waving my arms. As I made my way past the large rock on the side of the meadow, my volume would increase. The show would come to a rising finale just as I came face to face with our three horses, their ears perked in keen interest. They were such a non-judgemental crew, really. The carrots and apples and sugar cubes I usually had stuffed in my pockets probably didn't hurt either.

Despite Foxfire's neuroses and my father's somewhat unhealthy attachment to her, the horses and our barn were a safe hide-out for me. I loved brushing them, braiding their tails, singing to them, riding bareback down the dirt road our barn was on, and pulling them in to my imagination. I loved the smell of the grain I fed them at dinnertime. I loved putting my cheek on the very softest velvet of their noses and feeling their breath. I even loved mucking out their stalls and reintroducing them to a nice clean straw-filled home. I'd pretend they were grateful.

I liked hauling in the hose that was coiled just outside the sliding door to top off their water buckets. I'd tell them stories and more stories. I'd spend time rearranging the horseshoes that were hanging on the stall door so they were perfectly face up for good luck.

There were four overhead lights in our barn, and each one was the home to a family of barn swallows. Their messy, plaster-like nests were precariously placed atop each metal light bulb cage. I loved watching the birds fly in and out of the barn looking for food for their babies. I was awed by how much work it was for the mother birds to raise their young. I looked forward to the babies' first flights just as much as I did my own achievements. I imagined the horses and the barn swallows talking to each other when there were no people around.

For a few nights each summer, the meadow would come alive with fireflies. I used to love to walk down to the barn on those nights and sit quietly with the horses, watching the glow of life outside. The peepers and the breath of the horses were the only sounds, but there was magic flying all around. When the last of the natural light had truly faded, the fireflies would disappear, and night would take hold. I'd test my courage by walking all the way back to the house without a flashlight.

The next morning, I'd announce my arrival all over again.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dear Peter,

Dear Peter,

I was sixteen. Sixteen.

I saw you and immediately identified my challenge because you were so damn hot. I knew right away I'd have to be smooth and I'd have to work quickly if I wanted to land this prize. This was not going to be easy.

Looking around the circle of camp counselors with whom I would be sharing my summer, I assessed my competition. After all, here we were at staff week, the campers would arrive in a few short days, and time was a wastin'. Unfortunately, I could tell that there were several girls sitting on the pine floor of Main Lodge with us who shared my summer dream. Their combination hairflip/giggles were such a giveaway. I was going to have to take this job of snagging you very seriously.

I studied the 40 other girls in the room. We had all come to camp for the benefits of the great outdoors, friendships, swimming, leadership opportunities and personal growth for sure, but we also had our secrets. We knew we wanted to experience some big firsts this summer, and we'd really like it if it could be with ummm...let's see...YOU. Smokin' hot YOU.

I went in early and I went in strong. I never looked back. I was smitten beyond my wildest sixteen year old dreams. You had unbelievable shoulders. Your abs? Holy abs. Your hands were worn and strong from the manly work you had been doing with hammers and axes and ropes and things I knew nothing of. At night you smelled faintly of Irish Spring and Chaps. You had a carefree laugh that made me melt. You talked about the fact that you were going to college in the fall. You were completely irresistible to me. I was putty.

We sealed the deal that summer. I literally tackled my dreams.

We kissed to Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, Stevie Nicks, Elton John and UB40. We laid on our backs next to the lake listening to the bullfrogs, telling stories and counting shooting stars. We built and stared in to fires and more fires. We drove to Vermont so that you could buy beer legally. We went for walks and played the alphabet memory game: "Apples, bananas, catnip dishtowel..." That summer you let me give you what would end up being the first of hundreds of haircuts. I could imagine playing with you forever more.

Who could ever have guessed that all of the reasons that I fell for you that summer at camp would end up catapulting us in to a marriage based on things deeper than deep? How can it be that we and the fates have taken care of us so well? At the beginning, I saw you as the hottie you were, but I couldn't have known that you would be the only living person who can snap me out of a funk or reconnect me when I slip away. I knew your shoulders, hands and abs were strong, but I had no idea they had nothing on the strength of your character. I knew you played with hammers and axes that summer, but I never could have imagined that you could replace the facia and soffets on our home.

When we were counting shooting stars, I couldn't have known that you would teach me endless things about faith not in god but in the strength of human beings. I could never have known that at sixteen.

We've now welcomed and embraced two astoundingly beautiful children, and we've mourned the loss of two parents and a brother together. That summer we built fires while we built a foundation for something both strong and somehow magical. How could we have known?

To be sure, I'm still putty.

Love, Susie

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stepping Outside

There's a thing about teaching in the town where you live that is somewhat quaint, almost timeless, and also kind of charming. My husband is an administrator in the same school where I teach, and both of our kids go there too. Every morning at 7:25 the four of us grab our backpacks and our lunchbags and hop in the car together. We drive the three quarters of a mile to school while our daughter brushes her hair, our son buttons his shirt and asks why there has to be a dresscode anyway, and Peter and I iron out the plans for the afternoon and evening. That's quaint.

Except when it's not.

Our town has about 20,000 people in it. Our school is the only private school around. It's a small school, where everyone knows everyone's everything. That makes it ultra quaint, except of course if you want to be a little bit anonymous or a little bit brave or a little bit aloof or a little bit anything different from what you were yesterday.

Let's say, for example that you wanted to be in a musical that the excellent local theatre company was putting on. That might break the mold of the usual fifth grade teacher in the quaint little very expensive private school. That would be a little bit weird and could very easily rock the proverbial boats of the quaint people who are part of that exceptionally sweet and adorable little elite school.

Especially if one of the scenes in the play, which for argument's sake we'll call "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," required you to wear a very little extra tiny, and just a little bit slutty costume, and rub yourself all over a male actor. That might be a whole lot for the quaint folks of said school to swallow. And then you'd have to make a decision.

You'd probably start out by trying to fit into both worlds very safely. You might be up there on stage trying on the one hand to do your thang, all the while trying to send the message to the audience (who isn't even there yet because it's still rehearsal) that they,as quaint people, have no need to worry, because you're not really LIKING what you're doing. "You see," you'd be saying with your eyes and your body, "I'm only doing this because I absolutely have to. If it were up to me, I'd be being teacherly in the classroom with your adorable children. I'm very matronly,quite predictable, and really rather boring like you'd expect, so don't you worry your pretty little selves."

And then, what might happen, is your director might call you out in front of the whole cast during your dress rehearsal. He might say something like, "YOU DON'T LOOK SEXY AT ALL! IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE SEXY IS NOT ANYWHERE IN YOU! ARE YOU GONNA WORK WITH ME OR NOT!?!!"

And then you might be crushed in your heart because being all quaint has cost you so dearly. You'd then need to ask yourself a very important, somewhat timeless, ultimately UNquaint question: How much is your independence worth?

You'd have to make that decision.

And then maybe you'd decide to hell with any judgers who are quaint. Maybe you'd be willing to admit to 5,000 people who each payed $20.00 per ticket that you're actually not all that fucking quaint. You might even decide to let down your guard and play the damn part, in all its slutty glory, and see what happens.

And maybe if you were brave enough and also kind of lucky, you would return to your quaint elite little school, and you'd realize that most of the people got what you were trying to do, and inside they knew that everyone should be brave once in a while. But if you were really paying attention, you might even realize a lesson that's truly precious, like a star lingering at dawn: you don't give a shit if they get it or not.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Who lives in me? How many of me are there in there? Honest to god, I have no idea.

I thought that once the real me emerged, or I forced her out of hiding, I'd breathe a sigh of relief and know for certain that my search was over. "Alas, I've been found," I'd sigh. Here I am. I'd carry on as Me.

I used to love to reinvent myself. I would show up at camp and declare myself "Sue" as opposed to the Susie everyone remembered from last summer. I would become a gymnast. A singer. A jockey. A jokester. A writer. Each day a new me. My identities changed with the wind.

But this game was more than just child's play. More.

I was looking, searching for the real one. The essence of the me I needed to rely on. I was playacting, fooling even the me's that were judging. "Look at her! The new one. She's such an intellectual!" I had everyone fooled. All of me.

I became the wife to an astounding man. I'm getting closer. My children were born and their pure beauty and courage and trust and wisdom dropped me to the floor. I was stricken by my love. I was a mother. I was found. I believed it was my essence being unveiled. Was this my core, finally exposed to those of me who needed to identify it?

Yes and no. There are more layers. More me's. I can't find the real one though. The One. They keep switching places right when I think I've got them pegged. There's a cloaked magician with dirty fingernails and wrinkly hands playing the shell game with all of the me's. I suppose I am the magician, the baffled audience and I'm under each shell.

I have a crowded soul. Let's all just try to get along.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Too Tight, Out-of-Date Bravery

I wanted to find and shake out the bravery I used to wear like a favorite pair of jeans. I remember it being perfectly worn in, with a few strategically placed patches on the knees. It was comfortable, stylish, and it made me feel ultra cool. I found it, my bravery, accepted the fact that it smelled like the antique cedar chest from whence it came, put it on, and...oh shit.

It doesn't fit. The cut is all wrong for today! No one wears this kind of thing anymore! The stitching is so clearly from the eighties, and the price tag is still on the damn thing. It says $19.99, which is the cost of bravery that was sold in 1992 - the year I graduated from college! Every single person is going to know that this is yesterday's bravery. I may as well be wearing moon boots.

Sigh. Tremble. Maybe if I do some funky stretches and suck it in here and never let them see this part that I can't quite get to snap? I'll wear an extra long sweater to try to cover up what I can. I'll spray a little something on it to mask the odor. I won't get eye contact. I'll...Fergodsake...Justfuckingdoit.

I went to the audition. I got in.

I'm in a musical. The seats go for twenty bucks a pop. There are eight big performances. We've been sinking our souls into it for a month and a half. It opens on November first. I'm scared.

On the way to the first rehearsal, I burned through the extra layer of deodorant I had put on prophylactically. I was a nervous wreck. When I arrived and met the other cast members, I was pathological about my self-defeating humor, lest anyone should think I felt I deserved to be there.

Slowly, I began to get more comfortable with the rehearsals. I laughed with the other cast members. I could see their human sides. I did my best each night, all the while trying to allow myself a little bit of leeway. "Is that a supportive whisper I'm hearing in my brain? Coming from myself? Who the hell is that?"

I did what I do and scared that nice voice away. I ran it the hell out of there, and now I'm scared again. I'm scared. I don't want to do it. I hate bravery and the way it's deceiving me. It's so obvious it doesn't even fit. And it fucking stinks like mothballs too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Canada Geese

Fall, here in the best coastal town, is magical. The trees are ablaze in colors that scream of endings and beginnings in one breath. The sky is a backdrop of bluerthanblue. The smell of woodsmoke lingers. The crunching of the leaves that have fallen add a musical descant to everyday chores. Inside is cozy and warm and outside is brisk and enlivening. Yet fall here in New England is ambiguous.

As I sit on my back deck drinking a cup of coffee and welcoming the day, I hear the trademark sound of autumn: a flock of geese flying overhead. They are headed south like they should - this time of year is the unmistakable foreword to months of bitter cold. The geese are in their telltale V formation, the hull of a ship. The leader is shielding the wind for each bird who follows. The wake of the ship is their lingering song.

They fly by with keen collaboration. They slice through the sky with determined precision. They are in this together. I begin to dust off a fact I must have learned in gradeschool. Yes. Geese mate for life.

I am transported by these birds, not to a place, but to a time between times.
Fall is neither here nor there, just like the geese on their journey.

Fall is a season decidedly between seasons. It is that moment on the merry-go-round when the child loses sight of her waving parents and begins to panic. Things are going by in a blurr and the cigarette smoking bearded man with all the tattoos isn't paying attention to her. He won't stop the ride because he doesn't notice her silently pleading with him. She sheds some silent tears. That moment is fall.

Of course she finally spots them. Her parents had been fumbling through their bag looking for the camera. They wanted to stop time. To remember her just as she was. She breathes a sigh of relief. Fall slips into winter.

The geese are gone, leaving behind the truth that time spins on. The merry-go-round will seat a brand new rider filled with anticipation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ship on Wheels

Each May of my childhood with the grade school workbooks almost all the way filled in, the shoes purchased the previous fall unbearably snug, the evenings lingering with a bit of extra sunlight, and the school year drawing to a close, my mom would unearth the suitcases from the attic and lay them in an open line against her bedroom wall. All four hard suitcases lay waiting to be filled like baby birds in a nest. They smelled of mothballs and anticipation.

Our home changed its tenor in late May as we began the preparations for our 2,000 mile drive to our summer house in Vermont. We would spend every moment of summer vacation up there, so the process of packing was complicated. My mother became distracted by the task, thinking always ahead, as opposed to being present. We gave her leeway during these days leading up to our departure, forgave her for shunning today in the name of tomorrow, because we knew she was the only one who could get the job done. For the last week of every school year, those suitcases were her babies, her lists were her friends, and she was married to her agenda.

Finally, the day would come, and she'd load up our Buick station wagon with every single item we might possibly want for the summer. The mail was set to be forwarded, the extra keys were delivered to the neighbors, the curtains were drawn, and the doors locked. Most of the luggage went in the bulky black roof rack on top of the car. My sister and I each had a place carved out for us in the back seat, our black lab Fafnir got much of the wayback, the cat's litter box fit snugly between my mom's feet on the passenger side. We had food, books, and some simple non-noisy toys to serve as entertainment. The clothes for the five day drive were in smaller bags in the way back with the dog. My dad was always at the helm of our travelling ship on wheels.

We hoped to travel approximately 400 - 500 miles per day, but we had to balance our need to make progress with the rather fragile, often deteriorating chemistry between us. By the time we hit the 200 mile mark, we were knocking on the door of hating each other.

It was quiet. My dad chose silence over the crackling of the radio when we were in between stations. As a result, I remember hearing every sniffle, sigh, fart, nonspeak and stomach gurgle as if it were being broadcast through a microphone. It was a maddening, heavy loudquiet that I hated. I remember looking at the families in the cars we passed, imagining the converstaions they were having, the laughter they were sharing, or the music they were allowed to sing along to.

"Stop kicking the back of my seat," my dad would spit.

Suddenly, our fat orange cat would begin her journey from her post on my headrest to her litterbox on the floor of the front. Through the drone of the wheels on pavement, you could hear her scratching the dusty pebbles, digging the perfect hole, and finally peeing. She'd cover her evidence with more digging and scratching, but not before the odor hit us with a jolt.

I spent much of the time on the road staring out the window willing the next mile marker to hurry up and come. Or staring at the clock begging it to speed up. I'd be silently pleading with my family for some noise. Some music. Something.

When we stopped for the night, we would open the car doors and peel ouselves from the hot pleather seats like the skin off of an orange. The evening air was so welcoming and liberating, we'd enter it with true gratitude.

Thank God for the hotel pools. As soon as we could get in the pool, our tension would slip away and the world would begin to seem lighter. We might be somewhere in godforsaken Kentucky with several days of travel ahead of us, with the smell of dog breath and cat pee burned in our senses, having endured far too much quiet around us and far too much noise in our souls, but for those moments in the pool, life was good. We were closer to Vermont and we were out of the car. Tomorrow would be a new day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Sea Glass

What is it about those little gems on the beach? The weathered pieces of glass that have traveled unknown distances and landed on the sand right where we walk? They seem to call to the sun, asking it to reflect just so for a moment, so that I can notice the tumbled history before me and add it to my collection. Each piece feels like it has a multi-layered story to tell.

Sea glass is fascinating to me because its beauty is dependent on its imperfections. Sea glass wears its experiences and obstacles for all to see. The rougher the seas were, the more sand and grit it encountered, the more beautiful it is.

Are we all like that? Do our difficult journeys add to our beauty? Do they soften us, round us out and make us blend just that much more to our surroundings? Do we speak to those around us without saying a word because of the sculpting, soul-shaping things we've seen?

We have an antique milk bottle filled with sea glass sitting on our kitchen windowsill. I like the connection between the two - the milk bottle tells of times gone by, but it survived its journey fully intact. Each piece of sea glass was broken away from its original form at some point, but it is now more stunning than it ever could have been when it was whole. Its difficult journey turned it in to a more perfect imperfect being.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Missing Moanie

I can feel him watching me from across the room. It's crowded in here, and there is tension. His eyes bore through the sea of people right to my soul. He wants me. I know it.

I feel awkward and shy. It's been years since I've had this kind of attention. It feels almost invasive. I push my hair away from my face in an attempt to do something. I glance down and pretend I don't see him, but he knows. He knows a lot.

I want to run away from this guy. I don't need him. Or the complications he'll bring with him into my neat and organized life. I want to run. But I just can't escape his goddamn eyes. They are hauntingly beautiful. I am repelled and magnetized all at once. We start to walk towards each other. I have no choice. My soul is leading me to him.

We meet in the middle of the room. I think the room is a gymnasium. Or is it a ballroom? Either way it is where people -- children or adults -- gather for a party. It's crowded. I begin to realize that there was no way I could escape this guy. He knows exactly what he's doing. He does this all the time.

I start to feel an overwhelming sense that perhaps I do know this guy after all. At least he strikes me as viscerally familiar. Like some stranger I had shared an intimate moment with when I thought the world was big. But I can't remember any details about him. Maybe I met him in a dream?

Some piece of me can recognize the telltale odor of his skin and his confident stance. And of course the way I wanted to run but couldn't. I've been here before. Have I heard warnings about this power of his?

"You know, you really should just walk out the door with me. It's no use resisting," he whispers in my ear. I can feel his warm breath on my cheek. I'm not scared as much as I am shocked by his narcissism.

"I have a life you know. I can't just walk away from everything." I am play acting though. He and I both know he has me.

"Then just dance. Dance with me and we'll take it slowly." He has adjusted his tone and his body language to meet me. He knows exactly how to manipulate me. He gently pulls me close and the music is so so sad. I'm going to have to surrender to him. I already know it. I'll be leaving with this stranger and trusting him with my life. I am weeping. There's no telling when I'll be back with my family whom I love with all of my heart. I'm leaving with this man.

We are embracing. He leans in so close and says, as if I hadn't gathered, "My name is Grief. I'll let you go when I'm finished with you. For now, let's just dance."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Swap Shed

I live in a rockin' good town. I love this damn town with all of my heart. It is HOME. It's on the ocean and is lined with beaches rocky and sandy. There are two great locally owned ice cream joints, an art studio for the kids, lobster fishermen, great schools, decent bars, a Revolutionary War Fort where they hold reenactments, and a bike path which runs right down the middle of the whole town. The town is safe and friendly.

Most people in this town will give you that distinctive New England nod when you pass them on the sidewalk. It's not quite a wave, but it's definitely contact in a sort of "I'm reaching out but I don't want to crowd you" sort of way. I love that familiar greeting.

This great town has architectural brilliance from centuries ago, it has people with deep souls and a passion for community, and it has a (sadly unique) lack of big box stores. It is imperfect because it is real, which adds to its perfection for me. I love this damn town.

This, my ideal town, has one other thing that I love secretly. It's our swap shed, located at the town dump. That's right. I said the dump, as in diapers, rotten food, old tires, and crap galore, but stay with me.

I have to preface this with the truthful statement that I am not a hoarder of any kind. I have no problem throwing away my old crap and I see other people's crap for what it is. Yard sales give me a rash.

But, there's this really quirky, tarp covered corner of our dump where you can hand a nice older lady all of the still decent things from your garage or your attic that you're not using anymore, and she'll TAKE them from you so that you can purge without the accompanying guilt that usually attaches itself to you when you throw away something that "someone might be able to use." No matter what. The bike pump you replaced? The slip 'n slide that kills your lawn? The ginormous bin of Lego's that held no fun for the children even though it held several thousand dollars worth of you trying to promote a hobby that didn't involve a screen? Bring them all here and just drop them off.

When I bring my kids to the swap shed, they get all confused and think they've died and gone to heaven. Roller blades, rescue heroes, beanie babies, chalk boards, Simon, and bean bags live here, just waiting to be taken home. My kids actually drool at the swap shed.

I think I may be creating hoarders by allowing my kids to partake in this modern version of dumpster diving, but I'm not sure I care. The stuff is free. Free I say! And we sometimes bring it back for a second (or third or fourth) generation of swap shed living. It's kind of like the animal shelter for toys.

I do love this town. I even love the dump. Is that weird?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What Gives?

The margin between being bored and being overwhelmed is, for me, about the size of an ant's baby.

In utero.

Why is it that I can't seem to strike that balance? I'm either out of my head bored shitless or I'm over-committed, stressed out and flaking out on all of my obligations.

I start school tomorrow, and I have nineteen shiny new fifth graders who are depending on having me fully present. I'm passionate about curriculum development, so I joined that committee, as well as the admissions committee. I auditioned for, and got a part in, a local theater production. That's a new one for me, but the time commitment is insane. My daughter's in that with me, but her rehearsals and my rehearsals don't line up. Thank god for the pizza joint across the street from the theater. They'll get to know us real well in there. We'll be like their very own Norm.

My son is a budding soccer star, and someone's gotta bring the kid to the field (and cheer for him every once in a while). There's laundry to do ( and yes, it needs to be folded too - rude!) shopping, lunches to pack, papers to grade, marriage to tend, bedtime stories to read, dog to walk, phone calls to return, and SHIT! A girl could lose her mind.

I choose NOW to take on this damn Bloggedy blog that I seem to care about all of the sudden. What the hell is up with that?

My timing is just super.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Skeletons in the Closet

My husband Peter is the youngest of three. His older brother was an addict and an ass, a middle child smashed between the rocks that are his dashingbrother and his smartsister. I never liked him.

Peter tells stories about having to clean up his older brother's drunken puke when Peter was nine and Dan was twelve. Dan had been babysitting. When their parents returned home from their party, Peter loyally hid and protected his passed out brother from the wrath of their parents. He learned to enable when he was nine.

Dan gave me the creeps because he couldn't look me in the eyes. In my more compassionate moments I could feel his pain and it moved me, but he was so guarded and manipulative and inaccessible that my brain told my heart to not sweat it. "It's not worth the energy, " my brain would whisper. "And besides, you'd better keep your distance because this guy's unpredictable. It could get ugly."

My heart is so easy to sway really, and my brain had its number. It's the heart's greatest fault: all it takes is a whisper and I'm yours. So I swept compassion away, labeled him a loser, and I moved on.

Despite Dan's addictions, he managed to function sort of. He got married and had two kids (poor, poor kids) and was fairly successful at his job. They lived in Florida. I always thought that being around him was something akin to how I picture Purgatory - lots of shouting, undermining, out-of-control behaviors, but he and his family pressed on.

Sometimes he'd show signs of health. He called one night to tell us about watching the shuttle take off from his back yard. He periodically apologized for his bad behavior, having been to some sort of 12 step meetings. These times gave us the tiniest bit of hope for Dan. But it was still the kind of hope you feel when you buy a scratch ticket. That "wouldn't that be so cool if it actually happened" kind of hope.

Our phone rang at 4:30 am.

I can never bring myself to answer the middle of the night calls - I know enough to know that I can't stomach them.

Crying, rocking, yelling.

"Who was there?!" "In the face?!" "All alone..."

His car had been vandalized twice and he thought he knew who had done it. He'd been drinking all day and the cops wouldn't help him and so he was gonna' go get the fucker himself. He rallied some punk friends and decided to go see what he could see. He knocked (pounded?) on the suspected vandal/neighbor's door, and that's the last thing he ever did.

In Florida you're allowed to "protect your castle" if you feel threatened in any way. No need to call for help, just shoot to kill. You're protected.

So Dan died alone with a couple of bullets in his head on his neighbor's porch.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Can you spell e-r-e-c-t-i-o-n?

Last night, my nine year old daughter and I had a girls' night. It was blissful because she's damn good company. I've been waiting a lifetime to spend time with her in this way. Out together, symbiotically. She is finally at that point: genuinely contributing to our time together, helping me to see things differently, teaching me all kinds of cool stuff. This as opposed to just asking lots of questions and needing me. I love her company, she has a fascinating brain, she has a unique perspective on things, and she teaches me as much, if not more, than I teach her.

So anyway, we went to dinner and a musical. My husband hates musicals and I love their cheesy cheese factor. So does my daughter. So we get a little gussied up (read: brushed our hair and decided against the crocs), said goodbye to the boys in the family, and we were on our way.

My heart was swelling like the Grinch's at the end of that story. I love this kid.

During the musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, there was this funny scene where one of the boy contestants gets distracted by a girl in the audience who he thinks So of course it's his turn to stand up in front of the crowd and spell some word, but he's got full wood, what with this girl and all, so he doesn't want to. He misspells the word and breaks in to a five minute song about how his erection killed his chances of winning the spelling bee. Very funny scene, but also slightly confusing to my nine year old.


Buttons: (During song) Mom? Mom! What happened? Did he pee his pants? What's an erection? Why is everyone laughing? Can you explain it to me? I don't get it.

Me: Umm. Nope. He didn't pee. I'll explain it in a bit, okay? Now isn't really the right time.

Turning back to the show with great hopes of her dropping it. Fat chance.

Buttons: (getting louder) Mom. Can you just explain it now real quick so I can understand what's going on? Geeze. Just tell me what an erection is pleeeease!

Older ladies sitting in front of us turning around and looking at us. Glad they're not in my shoes? Appalled that I brought her to a musical like this? Annoyed by the racket?

Me: Um. No honey. You'll have to wait on this one. Okay sweetie? And, umm, ssshhhh, okay honey?

Buttons: Increased volume and full on begging me. MOM! C'mon! Just tell me! I'm missing something and it's really BOTHERING me! What is an erection?!?

Me: Matching her volume to try to show who's the boss around here. Listen! You'll wait on this. Do you hear me?!? Now do as I say and stop asking me what an erection is so loudly! Your father and I will explain it to you. Later!

Overall, great night at the theater. Poor kid got what she asked for the next morning.

Buttons: Eewww.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lost Sister

So my sister, somewhere along the line, was stripped naked of all of her power. When did this happen to my beautiful, strong, supercool, sometimes angry big sister? The one who kicked ass on the soccer field, broke boys' hearts, flung her gorgeous curly blond hair around while she laughed (yes, sometimes at me), told my dad to fuck off, sang out loud, and wasn't afraid of a thing. The one who went to Social Work school, made it almost all the way through, changed her mind and went to Medical School, finished, and became a pediatrician. The creative, independent one with the perfect teeth who taught me how to make tomato sauce from scratch. The one who sent me care packages, even though my own mother never did, when she was in graduate school and I was in college. The one who was so very very powerful. What happened to her?
She did all of that schooly school stuff for so many years that I think she looked up one day and realized that she better take care of some bidniz and find a man to marry - quick. She never was one to fall short of reaching her goal, so she did that too. Only problem was she wasn't very specific when she SET the goal. And she married a tool. A tool named ROLAND.
So she and RoRo play house for a while and have themselves a couple of kids. And these kids and Roland are slowly but surely beating my biggerthanlife supercool sister with the beautiful eyes and hair and laugh into the ground.
For whatever reason, she's decided that everyone's needs are way more important than her own. She is miserable, overlooking herself at every turn. Her kids are horrid to her: screeching and tantruming, and wailing and flailing. She sighs, rolls her eyes, and meets their needs. But never her own. That supercool sister I looked up to so much? She doesn't exist anymore.
And I miss her.