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.