We moved to New Jersey from California right before the start of second grade. We drove across country in a rented moving truck. The kind with a small space behind the two front seats in the cab. My sister and I played games, argued, slept and ate all the junk food our mother had never let us eat before in that 6’ by 2’ stretch of rubber lining over metal. I know it sounds horrible, but it was really amazing.
We were moving from an LA suburb, from an apartment complex with a drained pool in the center courtyard. There were plenty of kids in that complex to play with and that fact almost made up for the sadness that a permanently empty pool can induce in a 7 year old. There was a cement drainage ditch in front of the building and the neighbor kids would skateboard in the sloped ditch. One afternoon, after a massive skateboard collision, there were skinned knees and elbows everywhere. For some reason I can’t recall, I tasted my blood, finger to knee to mouth. “It tastes salty,” I said. One of the kids next to me in the makeshift half-pipe had skin of a significantly darker hue than my own. He put a quick finger in his own mouth and announced, “mine tastes like pepper.” We all fell over ourselves in giggles.
I never really liked quiet. Noise means life, people around to talk to, to comfort you, to protect you. Quiet always seemed scary to me. Quiet meant alone. Alone could be terrifying.
After I got married, there was much debate about sleeping with the television on. I needed the television, I thought. I needed the noise to help me drift off to sleep. And some noise is helpful for that purpose. My kids use sound machines, largely to block out the noises of the world beyond their doors. Creaky old floors, dogs barking, parents engaged in heated discourse about the appropriate reaches of the 4th Amendment and the intended messages in Taylor Swift’s new single [I think its transparent, he credits her with more depth], and the thunderous, predawn grind of coffee beans. Continue reading
In 9th grade, or maybe it was 7th grade…I’m not sure. I was putting together a poster board for social studies class. Do they even call it social studies any more? In any case, I made my poster. It was about Vietnam. Not the country. Not its history or politics. It was about the war, kind of. It was mostly about my dad.
It offered nothing about the experience of the people of Vietnam, the origin of the conflict, or even much about the experience of the American soldiers who fought, lived or died there. It didn’t say much.
I remember asking questions as part of the project. Carefully scripting the interview and then posing the questions to my dad. I don’t remember his responses. They were unremarkable, as were my questions. Somehow I knew that I wasn’t supposed to ask “big” questions. I asked about the food and the music he listened to when he was there. I asked about the weather. I didn’t ask the big questions. I didn’t show him the pictures I planned to use. Continue reading
Mommy, I don’t like it when you’re not here. I get afraid.
This is what she said to me, sitting straight up in bed at 3 o’clock this morning.
I’d heard her footsteps first. Klunk. Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. All 38 pounds of her, driving her small feet in to the floor with the force of a baby elephant. I sat up in bed and saw her tiny figure standing still in our bedroom doorway, framed by the light we absent-mindedly left on in living room. By some trick of diffraction the light found its way around three corners to land at her back, to ghostly effect. I called her name softly, but with some hesitation. She was honestly freaking me out. Standing there silently, still. Her face completely obscured by darkness and too-long bangs.
She turned and ran back to her bed. Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. I pushed the covers away from my legs and followed her, my heart still beating fast from the Stephen King of it all. Continue reading
I threw my hands up on the whole thing a few years ago. It was all just too much. Coming up with a fun idea and then multiple trips to the fabric store, followed by the craft store, followed by hand sewing and glueing of feathers at 2 am. Only to have those fun ideas and feathery frocks unapologetically rebuffed by a kid who just wanted to be a princess. Not an original princess…the kind that comes in a plastic bag and is found in aisle 12. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Too much work, too much work all around. I had to give up on homemade Halloween.
I feel like I’ve given up on a lot of the ideas I had about the kind of parent I would be. I’ve only been at this parenting thing for not-quite 7 years, but the list of prime parenting stuff I’ve already given up on feels so long. I mostly blame my mom for all those ideas, because she was just so darn good at it….she made it look easy. But it’s not. Not for her, not for me, not for anyone who’s trying to do it right.
And this whole Halloween costume stuff is especially hard for me. My mom made some great costumes for my sister and I, largely with stuff from around the house. There was one year when I was a pig’s head on a platter, complete with an apple in my mouth that I’d have to spit out at each door to recite the magical candy-generating incantation. Continue reading
The package arrived while I was at work and I saw it by the door as soon as I walked in. Three pairs of small-to-large baby blue rain boots stood guard around the cardboard box.
I knew what it was and knew that I’d wait until after everyone was asleep before I opened it. After the last request for another bedtime song, drink of water, and cheeseburger (the last was not granted), I poured myself a glass of wine and sat on the living room floor with the box in front of me. The dog sat a few feet away with a sad look on her face. Like she knew what was in the box and that I was about to cry, or maybe her super-dog nose detected the molecules of her long lost friend. Her friend, my mom. Continue reading
I’m failing at this. Totally failing.
The supposed-to-be-Oyster-gray grout between my kitchen floor tiles is as brown as the mud tracks our dog left on the living room floor last week that have yet to be removed. The toilet paper in the hall bath permanently sits in a pile below the dispenser because 100% of the time 66% of my kids are pretending to be cats, and they like to paw at the roll until it unravels in a heap. They also tend to forget to use that paper as it was intended thus the permanence of the pile, along with the constant need to buy new underwear.
My oldest daughter had picture day at school today and I had to braid her hair to hide the grime because she hasn’t had a bath since Sunday (it’s Wednesday). I also put her in tights that were so small the crotch is sitting roughly between her knees, but luckily her too-big skirt is hiding the MC Hammer effect.
I thought we were making progress on potty training with the two year old but he told me last night that he loves diapers “more dan lions” (which is a lot). Because positive reinforcement isn’t working–he doesn’t care what we think of him and is unmotivated by promises of M&Ms because he has a network of old ladies in the neighborhood that supply him with sweets on the regular–I told him that I would have to take away his coveted blankie if he didn’t start sitting on the potty. He responded, “I sit. I no pee.” I had no comeback. He left the room, prowling like a cat, with his blankie between his teeth. Continue reading
*For my mom. I miss you.
I was hours away from the Junior Prom. The dress was laid out on the bed with both pairs of new black pantyhose. (One could snag when putting them on, so mom had purchased a back-up.) I decided that with my black dress, adorned with black plastic jewels along the neckline, and black hose, that red would be the perfect color for my nails. I went to a local salon for the arduous process of fake nail adhesion, sculpting and painting that was so popular in the early 90’s. The nail technician worked for hours to glue and shape those nails, and for what felt like hours she sanded away the surface of those newly applied fake nails along with layers of my own skin.
I sat in that chair and let the woman run the nail file over my fingers again and again. I winced and said “ow.” And she would move more gingerly for a few seconds, then start grinding away again. By the time she was done, I had ten shiny, long red nails and ten bloody fingertips to match. She used nail polish remover to stem the bleeding, all the while never showing any sign that what was going on was the slightest bit unusual. I paid (and tipped her!) for her work, and went home.
My mother was furious. She grabbed my hands and asked what happened. I shrugged and said I needed to get ready. I only had three more hours to get dressed—barely enough time to curl my hair and put makeup on! She was fuming. She called the salon to complain but that was not enough. We were going back. Continue reading
Sometimes I’m in the shower and I imagine myself below a waterfall in Bali. Not that I’ve ever been to Bali, or even stood blissfully below a waterfall before. And not that I even get the chance to shower every day.
Sometimes I sit in a coffee shop working and fantasize that I have nothing to do because I am being funded by the Kardashian-Jenner clan. They have me on retainer to edit the sequel to Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s dystopian fiction debut…a sequel that will never come.
Sometimes I consider what a trip to the Aquarium would be like if I actually had the time to sit and watch the beluga whales swim–to get lost staring into surreal, and decidedly unreal, blue pools. Or had the time to watch my oldest daughter watch the whales swim without having to run after the other two who are concurrently negotiating for the purchase of a sea star (f/k/a starfish) to take home and trying to find his way in to the penguin exhibit.
Sometimes I imagine that I don’t have a job at all, other than being a parent. I imagine that I’m better at parenting because I have more time, more energy, and more yoga pants than pencil skirts. You can’t run very fast in a pencil skirt.
Sometimes I read the Sunday Times travel section on a Wednesday night and picture my husband and I on a Danube river cruise. There are no laptops or children in the picture (either the one in my head, or the one in the Times).
Sometimes when my almost-5-year-old links her arms around my neck, preventing me from leaving her bedside after a late night kiss, it feels like an anchor. Holding me fast to a lifetime of responsibility, or at a minimum, 10 more minutes of bedside conversation about Halloween costumes and the necessity of having the full Ninja weapon kit rather than a single sword. 10 minutes I don’t have because there are still hours of work to be done after the last kiss.
More often though, her arms–their arms–feel like life preservers. They circle me, hold me up, and make me feel warm and powerful. Impervious to rough seas.
I can’t imagine life without them.
My oldest imagining a life under water.
When I was a little girl, I loved Little House on the Prairie. It was not just entertainment to me, it was gospel. Sacrilege, I know. But at 8, I was much more concerned with what Laura Ingalls would do than Jesus. And for a time, I was exceedingly interested in what she would not do—particularly in the realm of personal hygiene.
I would sit in the bathroom, running the water in the tub and sink at the same time. I’d drench a washcloth, then wring it out and move the shampoo bottle a couple of inches so even the world’s best detective (at the time I believed that to be Jessica Fletcher, aptly played by Angela Lansbury) could only conclude that a shower had in fact been taken. It was all part of an elaborate plan to avoiding bathing and brushing my teeth. It took effort. More effort than the actual act of bathing would have required, but that wasn’t the point. I was exercising control…and justifying my actions by reference to Little House on the Prairie. Continue reading