Friday, April 29, 2011

Kurt and Amanda, sitting in a tree...

When I woke up this morning, this note was on my computer:

Tonight, as we sat at the kitchen table, there was a soft glow from the dying sun coming through the window, brushing easily against your skin. Your hair was up, adorably. Your face was bright and gorgeous. Your neck, graceful. Your breasts were full and perfect, rounded into more than a hint of cleavage. Your eyes are so incredibly deep.

You, my wife, sat at the other edge of the table from me. And here's a fact: You were the absolute most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I have absolutely no memory of having ever seen anything so beautiful in all of my life. You are absolutely gorgeous.

I want you, selfishly. Yes, in my guts, I'm screaming for you. But what I really want right now is just to be with you alone in a quiet room, with a healthy amount of clock between us and responsibility, reality. I'd like to stretch our bodies side-by-side, husband and wife, against each other. And quietly, slowly, with all the time in the world, I'd just like to feel you against me, warm and soft. I'd like to hear your beautiful voice, all of your perfect thoughts. I want to trace my lips along your neck and feel your voice escape you as you tell me all of the secrets that you've unraveled in this world.

I'm ridiculously in love with you.

It's very late, now. And I don't feel tired at all. But I'm going to go lay beside you. I'll find you asleep, and I'll try not to disturb you, but I do have a plan to lay as close to you as possible, to feel as much of your warmth as possible. Silently, I'll beg for you.

I love you.

There are so many reasons why I don't deserve this. That's what I tell myself every day. That I'm so not beautiful or interesting... at least not any more. I'm just a big, fat, insert generic personal flaw here, mom. I haven't felt pretty or sexy in... I don't even know how long. I can't even remember a time where I wasn't pregnant or walking around with baby barf on my shoulder.

And also, I'm rude and snippy and demanding. As soon as Kurt walks in the door after work, I hand him the baby and start ordering everybody to start eating so that I can get to the library or the gym. I don't even cook him meat. At night, he washes the dishes and the bottles, and I totally let him. Every time. I just go to bed.

I don't work so that I can be home with the girls, and Kurt sits through immeasurable hours of me crying and philosophizing and working my way through being a mom. He goes to a job, and comes home without saying a word about it, unless I ask. I have spilled my entire theories of life and death and about how our girls will completely kill me one day, either because I'll explode from loving them, or from the stress they're causing me without any prompting from him. Because I'm selfish. Add that to the list of reasons why I don't deserve him.

I wake up in the morning after he's dressed for work, changed Louisey, brushed Scouty's teeth and gotten her breakfast. I stumble down the stairs to find them happily playing in a pile of toys, cursing under my breath about being tired and sore and old... and I only want to sleep for a thousand hours in a row, or at least have a cup of tea before it's time for Littlest Pet Shops and peekaboo. But then I find this note, and I feel like I'm somebody's girl.

The whole time Todd the Dog and Peacocky the Parrot are riding the Little Pet swing, I feel like somebody's dream girl, and this is how I'm sane and happy for another day.

Lots of people settle for never being somebody's dream girl. I married late, after I'd already been impregnated, and oh how the grandmothers swooned at that. The thing about me is that I'm so far from being a good partner that it's sick. I'm moody, disorganized and impulsive. I argue and I'm stubborn. I think too much, and I notice too much about everybody around me. I have daddy issues and I'm one of those people who honestly believes that her kids are smarter and cuter than everybody elses. The only reason my children aren't highly sought after baby models is because we're not that kind of a family.

But, somehow, Kurt and I work perfectly together. For all of the times I decide that we're going to hike the Appalachian Trail and camp as a family, he is there to remind me that a hotel on Lake Erie might be more reasonable. When he gets lost in details and worries about how things are going to be in the future, I remind him that things need taking care of, now. My wildness is tempered by his calm. My self-centered nature is anchored by his humility.

We're both writers, too. We both love books and theory and rock and roll. We both believe women and children are people, too. We both like walking in the evenings, and spending money on things that make us happy. We both have a weird fondness for Pittsburgh. We're both obsessed with our children.

And we both like reality television.
A lot.

What was the point of all of this?
I love my husband, is all.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Love and Death and Electricity...

"I heard him stop at the top of the stairs, listening. He waited for a warning sound from my mother or sister that never came. I should have possessed a reflex to call out to them. Our house was big and full of dark empty space. I should have filled it with the sound of my capable resistance. Instead, I silently prayed to a God that didn't exist to keep them asleep. They mustn't wake up. I bargained with the damp air between our bedrooms to keep its secrets. I could endure this night as long as they weren't disturbed from where they nestled softly into their sheets, blissfully unaware of me and the emptiness that kept watch over me at night.

My bedroom door hinges were silent and complying. The light from my bedside lamp was a feeble, muted glow. His footfalls on the hardwood were as soft as an animal pacing in the newly fallen snow. My breath even quieted itself in the slippery recesses of my chest. I closed my eyes and the flutter of my lashes whispered in the emptiness. My heart beat a soundless apology for its health. My blood persevered in my capillaries in spite of itself. I suspended myself in the feathery chill of my still and wordless thoughts, and waited for clean air to breathe."

I'm at the library, writing and reworking an old story. There are windows everywhere and the sunset is orange and red, outside. I wonder why we want to read about being tortured. Why do we want to read about hard things, like love and death?

Being human is a strange thing. Sometimes, I think about how we're only animated piles of matter. We vibrate strings in our throats and it's beautiful and it's music. And so we fall in love and build entire belief systems on the beauty of the rapid movement of a chord inside of the slick robotics of our bodies.

We visited the birds, once, at the aviary. It was feeding time for the flamingos and they were pacing and opening their wings to us in anticipation of food. They had long, bending necks and they filled the room with a terrible honking sound by opening their obscene beaks and working their gangling bird throats.

Sometimes I feel that way. That we don't notice how awful we are. That we're only animals and we're hungry and so we bleat and growl and honk.

But then, we also have genius. We also have instruments and tools and we work the properties of the earth with our hands. We make art and love.

What is laughter, really? Something happens that we interpret a certain way, and all of a sudden, we start sputtering and hooting and air is forced through our apparatus in truncated bursts. This is something magical. This is called laughter and it means something to us, even if we can't explain it.

We're animated machines and we're capable of sadness. Some of us are so capable that we burn up everything, like a flash in the dark, and all of the world produces warm and salty water from tiny jelly globes fixed into our skulls, and this is called "changing our lives." This is called, "making a difference."

I have always had a problem with living, like this. I have heart palpitations and they scare me, sometimes. I become obsessed with the rhythm in my chest, because my heart keeps me alive. My heart moves my blood and gives oxygen to my organs. Without my heart, I would die.

And then, one day when I was lying in bed, dreary and with cold palms against my throat, Kurt said to me, "You know, if your liver stopped working, you would die, too. Or your stomach."

So, heart wasn't so important, anymore and I was happier.

We're alive because of electricity, I'm told, but where does energy come from? Some people call this mystery god, and some call it biology. Mostly, people don't know to care why they have life inside of them, why they are people and why they were set into motion inside of the bloody cavity of their mother's womb. The brain is formed there, in the dark warmth of a uterus, but why? Why do we make love and our science combines and suddenly, a new life exists?

Love and death are all there is. And loss, and also newness.

Thursday's Little Things

Go to A Serenade For Solitude to link up your own list of little things for the week!

- Getting to have lunch with Kurt and the girls yesterday at Right By Nature, and then we walked around the strip and bought a bunch of local groceries.

- Having handmade cottage cheese pierogies for dinner, last night.

- Porch swings.

- Chai Tea and Banana smoothies.

- Writing in the total quiet at the library.

- My lettuce seedlings are getting big, big, big! I can't wait to be able to pluck a salad out of our garden.

- Going out for coffee with Kurt while my mom watched the girls. We were only gone for an hour and I didn't want to come home!

- Kurt cleaned the house while I was at the gym, last night, which made me feel semi-sane again. It was like the day after christmas here, with Scouty's Bday, Easter and Kurt's birthday all falling in the same week. I wasn't handling the clutter well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The city mice go to the farm...

We went on our fabulous, daddy's birthday, trip to a bed and breakfast at a beautiful farm about an hour outside of the city.

We arrived about 3pm, and it was raining, so we decided to take Kurt out to eat for his birthday. Only, we were in the middle of nowhere. We stopped at a grocery store and got a restaurant recommendation from one of the cashiers. She told us the name of her favorite place to eat and directed us there. We followed her advice and pulled up in front of a "butcher shop and bbq smoke house." We read the sign, I vomited in my mouth a little while thoughts of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ran through my head, and pulled back onto the winding, country roads.

I kept pointing out of the window saying, "Woah, look at the storm clouds gathering over that one room school house/cemetery!" and "Why does that guy have a beard on each side of his chin, but nothing in the middle?"

After about an hour, we located the historic town of Saxonburg and went to the only restaurant we could find. Inside, I felt like we had gone back in time, and had also teleported to the middle of Mississippi, or something. At the counter, there was a row of hunched over old men with various remnants of teeth, nursing cups of coffee. The waitress asked one of them, "Do you want anything to eat yet, Norm?" He didn't, he said. Not yet. I wondered how many of their days were spent in exactly this way? It was a Monday afternoon. There was a teenage girl in short jean shorts making milkshakes. It was kind of scary, kind of awesome, and completely outrageous.

The only vegetarian thing on the menu was french fries and a shredded iceberg salad with a single cherry tomato on top. Oh, and cheese. There was cheese on that "salad," too. Scouty was thrilled at getting to eat only french fries for dinner, and Kurt had his first ever "country fried steak." Complete with the white stuff. I wanted to write a novel about the dark secrets kept in the shed, out back.

Anyway, the restaurant wasn't the point of my post about our trip. It stopped raining after we let ourselves into our adorable two room cottage with the most comfortable bed I've ever laid on. We decided to strap on our tennis shoes and go out adventuring.

The farm spans several miles, and there are different buildings and ponds and things to see as you hike a marked trail. For miles. Carrying a baby. Wearing your workout shoes that you're scrupulous about keeping clean. Through the mud and sometimes mud puddles that are deep enough that you sink to the knee. And so then, you're carrying a baby and a four year old, who is complaining about water in her socks.

We saw so much awesome stuff and the farm was so beautiful.

A storm was sweeping up on us, so we headed back over the challenging terrain, carrying unbelievably filthy children and feeling mud and cow poo seeping into places on my body that are usually reserved for my husband, only. We all got showered and snuggled up on the porch swing to watch the lightening in the distance. It was nice. Tiring, but nice.

...And then it was bedtime.

This was Louise's first sleepover away from home.

She was not happy about falling asleep somewhere other than her own bed, in her own house.

Mommy and daddy were not happy about not being able to utilize the hot tub outside.

Louise screamed and screamed and screamed, oh god, she screamed, every single time we got into a position that suggested sleeping. Laying her down was the beginning of the apocalypse. Laying down with her and stroking her precious, evil little cheeks only encouraged her to scratch out my eyes and pull out my hair. Holding her and rocking her resulted in a crying in a decibel so annoying that it was almost unhearable by the human ear.

Here is where I admit something to you. Sometimes, this baby makes me crazy. My husband claims that my first baby made me this crazy, too and that I just don't remember... but, I don't remember that. Louise is stubborn. She is so stubborn that she's the only person in the history of the world who has been able to out-stubborn me. She is going to kill me someday, with her persistence about doing things her way. She's nine months old, let me remind you, and she's smarter, meaner and more cunning that I could ever dream of being.

Here is where I also admit... that I broke down bawling at 11:30 at night in the middle of a rainstorm on Kurt's birthday. I told him that Louise and I were going home. We were going to drive 60 minutes back to our house, and we would return in the morning. I packed my screaming, stubborn baby into the car, and went driving around the back roads of where the fuck are we? Louise fell asleep immediately. I called my mom, crying, and told her that my sweet darling baby makes me crazy. She told me, "Yeah, that's what they do." I finished my tantrum and we returned to the cottage.

We eventually got Louise to sleep in a makeshift crib in the bedroom closet next to our bed. About an hour after snuggling up and drifting off to sleep, Scouty decided that her room was too scary. She wanted to sleep with us. It took about, oh, four seconds of her flipping and flopping and whispering, "Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom," for me to decide that this sleeping arrangement wasn't for me. I totally blacked out on the for-real cow hide that covered the couch.

About four hours later, the girls were awake and ready to start the day. I stumbled, puffy eyed from crying and being up all night, back into bed while Kurt played with Louise and Scouty. I slept off and on for an hour, having troubled dreams about camping with Scout's soccer coach who was forcing me to practice my soccer skills for a tournament that was coming up.

But then, the farmers brought us breakfast. (In real life, not in my dream.) Fresh fruit and tea and home baked cinnamon rolls that each contained at least two days worth of calories, which I vowed not to eat, and then ate. Of course. I finished mine in about 43 seconds, to be precise. I refuse to regret that sugar, white flour and hydrogenated decision. I've never tasted anything better.

We spent the morning wandering the farm. We met a white cow and a few mommy cows with their babies. It had rained all night, so the trails leading to the other parts of the farm were impassable, but that was okay. We found a giant, weeping pine tree that you could crawl inside of, like it was a cave. We spent some time on a dock, dangling our feet above the water and watching the wind make ripples. Louisey and I became friends again on the porch swing and she slept in my arms while Kurt and Scouty played soccer.

At lunch time is when I discovered the bugs.

Tiny, flying insects were pouring into our cottage by the bazillions. They were covering the living room window. Some of them had made their way to the couch, and some were foraging their way through the carpet.

No. Way.

I'm not a person who calls and complains. (I once found what could only be a tiny splotch of poop on a blanket in a hotel room and didn't call and complain.) I'm not even a person who is squeamish about bugs, but this was too much. We hastily packed up all of our stuff, contacted the farmers, (who explained that they're having a problem with some kind of water gnats swarming, because of the extremely wet and warm weather. They made everything better and refunded us for the second day of our trip, and they're sending us a gift card for a free two-night stay, sometime in the future, during non-swarm season, I assume.) I'm only slightly ashamed in a City Slickers sort of way, that we fled the farm, leaving a day early because the bugs and the mud and the stubborn baby simply got the best of me.

I'm only a little bit more embarrassed to admit that we drove to the nearest chain restaurant and had a civilized lunch with lemon wedges in our waters. Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Do you even have any idea how many times I've apologized?

(The farm was actually really nice. The facilities are beautiful and it's amazingly quiet and peaceful. I totally don't blame them at all for the weather and the bugs. The owners explained that sometimes this problem just happens during a wet spring. They were very apologetic and kind, and we will be totally thrilled to try a farm experience again. Maybe without Louise, though...)

Monday, April 25, 2011

30 years...

Everybody has their own idea about a higher power, how there is a boundless love for them beyond the clouds.

All I have is you, and the things you've created in my life. And I'm the luckiest person in the world.

Happy Birthday, gorgeous.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Springtime in my memory...

When Scouty was a tiny baby, I used to dread the sound of her crying. All day and all night, I'd be tensed and waiting for it. Waiting for the bang of reality to bring me back from my thoughts.

I exist mostly invisibly. Sometimes, the life in my imagination is a compliment to my actual life. I take the girls to the park and go on play dates and nobody even notices when my eyes cloud over because I've run away to 1995, and I'm saying goodbye to a dark haired boy from the the Little League outfield.

Other times, I'm hard to bring back. During those times, I'm clumsy and forgetful and people in cars press on their horns. I say, "Oh!" and look up to find that a librarian is staring at me, waiting for something. I come spiraling out of the sky and I land in myself and I think I owe $2.77 in late fines, but I'm not sure. Maybe it's the end of the world and my lovers are about to die.

I love going to bed alone. Kurt stays up later than I do to watch sport games that he's taped. I curl up in my sheets, and return to the fantasy I've been working on, in my imagination. In my imagination, I'm the same as I am now, except I'm rich. I'm not sick and I'm not poor. I have health insurance and I don't have to rearrange my funds to afford to go away for Daddy's birthday. Sometimes, there isn't even a daddy, and I'm twenty, maybe, or twenty three. I'm bold and seasoned for my age. I'm an ex-junkie there, too. People don't judge the things I do, because there aren't really people in my imaginary story world. There is just me and the potential of a thousand lifetimes waiting for me.

I tend towards the dramatic. I scream when a bee comes too close to me. I shake my fist in traffic. I hug my girls and wipe their tears and say, "There, there, little one. You tell mommy all about what that mean nasty did to make you cry."

I am also married to the world's most even-tempered and patient man. I break down crying when I've had a long day in the cold and I drop my evening mug of tea. I hold my face and sigh as the amber liquid burns my toes because there is a crack in things and I can't take it right now.

And he comes running.

He'll say, "I'm sorry that happened, honey," and help me to clean up my mess... and I feel like I'm twelve years old with a terrible and nagging crush on a boy. I feel it in my belly, the way you do when you're just a girl. Like... maybe this man who has created children with me, who has married me, purchased a house with me... maybe he really does like me. And oh, what that means to me!

The sunlight inspires me to watch myself more closely for hints of who I've been. Springtime always reminds me of something, some moment, somewhere. I've been thinking about a time in the spring. Kurt and I were newly dating and we were bad. I wore my hair up and pink and purple tangles spilled over my shoulders, and I was dangerous.

We were drunk on the patio of a restaurant, outside under the sky. The bartender said he knew how to make Singapore Slings, and what did we know about them? We drank these fruity drinks until I was sweating sugar and boredom. I was always bored. Long stretches of sexy, languid boredom filled my life, so that, in my bed, it was always a little bit much. Sweating through the sheets and sticking to one another like honey. There was honey and gold in my veins and I acted like I didn't care as much as you do.

We were drunk at a restaurant on the patio and suddenly the sky opened up and it started to rain. Kurt didn't flinch. Fat drops of water were running over his hair and into his eyes, they were landing with pink little thunks in his drink, and he just looked at me like we were having a pleasant day in the very pleasant weather, weren't we?

People around us were cursing and knocking over chairs as they grabbed their plates of food and headed for cover. Waitresses were apologizing and holding the door open for women who shielded their heads from the rain with their handbags. We didn't budge. We didn't even acknowledge that it was raining. Why should we?

I smiled at my bad boy love. A set of cherry red lips. He winked at me and set his drink on a soggy napkin. Our meals were soaked, my dress was plastered to my breasts. Our waitress shrugged her shoulders from under the cover of an overhang and shook her head.

I raised a glass to him, my future husband, the future daddy of my daughters, super daddy, amazing story reader and fixer of anything... and he was only a boy. We were in love and everybody in the world scattered and sought shelter from the boldness of us. We were only surprised it didn't happen more often, and in milder weather. We laughed together, then. I pressed my thighs together under the heavy cotton of my wet clothing and kicked my shoes and laughed. We were young and it was springtime. It is always springtime, in my memory.

So, it's sunny today, and Kurt and Scouty are in the street. She's learning to pedal her big girl bike, and I've got Louisey in the swing and we cheer as they slowly go by again. Kurt is hunched over with his hands out, ready to catch her, should the training wheels fail, and he's turning thirty this week.

He's younger than me and I like to pretend that's a scandal, but he's still turning thirty. We used to pretend that we were going to die young, or maybe we really were. He's thirty and he's been by my side since we were kids. He's my bad boy turned sweet daddy-doo. I totally feel it in my belly. I'm twelve and I'm hoping he'll notice me. When he runs by shouting, "Go, baby go!" to our giant, amazing four year old on a for real bicycle, he shoots a little glance at me that lets me know that he sees me, that we're in this together... and I'm so proud of us for what we are.

We're a couple of bad kids in love who made the most wholesome, worthwhile, healthy and stuck-together little family this world has ever seen. Don't ask me how. There was a time where we didn't even have sense enough to come in out of the rain. We've always just made the things we've wanted, and what we want now, more than anybody could ever know is to make out beautiful girls smile. For every glance daddy flashes at me, there are two little sets of impossible brown eyes watching him, watching us, knowing that the world is just humming with love.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A little effort...

So I made an effort not to be sweatpants mom, today.

And I completely had a brighter day, despite the forty degree rain.

It's probably just because Kurt was home this morning and I got to sleep in and then take a real shower, with soap everywhere, not just in the important areas. You know which areas I'm talking about...

It's probably just because I got to have lunch with my husband and Louisey while Scouty played at her friend's house. Kurt and I even got to have a conversation.

Whatever the reason, I didn't feel totally ugh today, and it was just what I needed.

I am totally prepared and planning to spend the rest of the evening in an empty house with Jenny on the radio. I'm going to stay hunched over my typewriter, working on cleaning up my book, and considering the possibility of writing a query. Is it even possible to condense everything you've ever had to say into a catchy one-sentence tag line? I guess it must be. I lied, though. I'll actually be hunched over my computer desk, but, you know.

I need to go back to the gym tonight. I took a whole week off, just to get out of the line of treadmills and evening sweating moms who JUST NEED A BREAK. I want to get out of my routine. I think it's starting to break me, just a little. So, I rode my bike and took a few walks, and admittedly didn't sustain 145 beats for thirty or more minutes. I also didn't escape, like I thought I might, so I'm going back. I need a little Hang On To Yourself until I'm dizzy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday's Little Things... and I need a boost.

Thursday's Little Things

Go to A Serenade For Solitude to link up your own list for the week! And stay and read her amazing, inspiring blog!

-Scouty's Birthday. She was so happy to finally be four years old! She got to pick anything she wanted to do, and so we went to the mall. It wasn't what I would have picked for her special day, but it wasn't up to me.

She picked out a pair of ridiculous clip on earrings that make me laugh.

She also wore her new Jake hat.

-Cheesy is really crawling all over the place. She was late to roll over and late to crawl, but I knew she would get it eventually. She just works at her own pace.

-Getting all of the kale seedlings transplanted to containers and our garden plot. Some of them were munched by caterpillars over their first night! Now, there's a struggle going on between Amanda and bug. It's fun, like a cartoon about a fly that won't leave you alone while you're sleeping. I'll let you know who wins.

-Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but I just can't help it. I bought a few tomato plants. They have to come in at night. I like thinking about them, down in the foyer staying warm until the sun comes up tomorrow. They're cute.

-A long bike ride alone after a particular stressful (PMS) day.

-Happening upon a baby story time at a library we don't usually frequent, and Cheesy loved it. She was such an attentive little girl at her very first class!

-Going to the nursery at Simmons farm for an easter egg hunt and seeing the prettiest flowers ever.

Let's talk about this last picture, for a minute. This is pretty much what I look like all the time, since I became a mommy, and ESPECIALLY since having a second baby. I get out of bed and rush, rush, rush, to get everybody fed and cleaned and dressed and I'm always the last thing I think about. By the time we have to run out of the door or else, I've barely had a chance to brush my hair, let alone pick out clothes that aren't black or grey or made for jogging... or wear make up or anything.

It's not necessarily a big deal in the scheme of the rest of my life, but I feel so... just UGH.

There are so many things like this, now. I'm ugh about the house and it's level of cleanliness, I'm ugh about the time I don't get to spend with my husband, I'm ugh about changing and washing diapers. I'm ugh about cooking meals. I'm ugh about the rain. I'm ugh about laundry. I'm ugh about waking up before I'm ready. I'm kind of just ugh about our daily routine.

There are tiny glimmers of hope, like when my husband secretly books me a hotel room with a jacuzzi for the night, or when I ride my bike so far that I'm sure I'll never have the energy to get back, but then I do. But, mostly, I feel like everything is just... well, black yoga pants and a grey sweater and ugh.

What if I tried to rearrange everything so that I considered myself on the list of things I need to consider to get through the day. Scouty is four and Louise is nine months old. Is it even possible to rearrange everything so that I'm a priority? Do I really want to wear make up after going this long? Do I even know where my stash of make up is? What do you think?

Mommies, or busy women who aren't mommies...

How worthwhile is it to you to do things to make yourself feel good, about yourself?

Do you use your creativity to get yourself ready in the morning? How do you make/find the time? What are the things you're sure to do, to make sure that you don't just feel like a big old pile of ugh?

This will get easier, right? I mean, I already know that it gets easier as kids grow. I remember when Scouty was a baby and I thought I'd never be a person again, just a mommy machine with so discernible self. It's not that I don't know that things change, and even quickly.

It's just... having two little kids is so exhausting. I feel like I push myself to the absolute limit every single day, so that I'm basically falling down every night at bed time. I never ever feel like I've had enough sleep, even last Saturday when Kurt and the girls let me sleep in until 10:30am. (Did you read that? TEN-THIRTY! What am I? Seventeen?) Sometimes, I feel like it simply isn't possible to pay any more attention to myself than I already do, which is absolutely not at all.

So, help me out. What are some little things that I must do for myself to give my daily self-image a little boost? What are your secrets? I'm bored of feeling like a walking, talking blah.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How did you grow up?

I grew up as the oldest of four children in a family that had much too little money and far too much religion. My mother, being a dutiful Christian wife, was not really supposed to work outside of the house. My father went to a job in the morning and came home in the evening, and anything other than those eight long hours was not to be expected of him. He did not do dishes or mow the lawn. He didn’t take out the garbage or babysit. He did, however, school my mother on how to do all of these things, so that she could never complete anything from cooking a meal to trimming the hedges without his criticism.

This left the four of us, my brothers, sister and I, pretty much parentless. Our father was constantly enamored with one of his personal pursuits, which usually involved either killing an animal, or trying to mate with one. That is not to say that my father had sexual relations with anything four legged, to the best of my knowledge. He simply viewed my mother, and all women, to be animals. Women existed to work under a man. It said so in the bible, and the bible was the word of God. After church every Sunday, my parents would lock themselves into their bedroom for a few hours while the four of us fended for ourselves. We would eat candy and Little Debbie snack cakes, mostly, while we waited for an opportunity to assail our mother with complaints and requests.

“Can I make more Kool-Aid,” my sister would say.

“Can I ride my bike to the school to play?” my brother would ask.

“Adam said that I ate three Oatmeal Cream Pies, but I only ate two,” I would complain.

The last one must have gotten lost in the mix, I figured everybody would think. There was no way to keep tabs on all twelve of them, anyway. I lived under a constant threat of having all the snack cakes and cookies and candy eaten out from under me, especially given that our father was a compulsive and voracious eater, and that there were so many of us, and we were always starving for something.

My mother would be sad-eyed and she would be carrying the weight of her mysterious Sunday afternoon visits with my father, so she would acquiesce. My sister could always make more Kool-Aid. My brother could ride his bike anywhere he wanted, and the fact that I was sneaking fattening snacks would always hang heavy in the air, barely acknowledged and mostly ignored.

My father almost never emerged from his bedroom, which was situated just off of the kitchen, so that he could sneak into the cupboards, barely breathing and trying not to rustle any packaging as he stole morning, afternoon and midnight snacks. He listened from the comfort of his bed for my mom to busy herself somewhere other than at the sink, and then he would make his move, eating entire sleeves of crackers and tubs of margarine in one sitting. If you had a reason to visit him in his room, you would find him propped up in his bed with an assortment of foods resting on his bulging abdomen, laid out like a miniature multi-course spread.

It must have been difficult for him to grow as fat as he did though, seeing as how my mother spent approximately ninety-seven percent of her waking time standing at the kitchen sink, washing a never ending parade of cracked dishes. “Run water on your plate!” she would scream to no one in particular about twelve times per day.

We all made fun of my father behind his back, hated him for being so round and taking up so much of our precious and coveted space. One time, my mother baked a sheet of breaded fish patties for dinner, and my father emerged from his room, time and time again, to eat every single one of them. Nobody else wanted one. We had filled ourselves with the matching sheet of French fries, covered in a cascade of salt from our particularly magnificent salt shaker with holes the size of peas. I was a ketchup fanatic, too, leaving great pools of it behind after almost every meal. Ketchup was one of the substances that would solicit a, “Run water on your plate!” from my mother, every time.

So, my father ate exactly twelve breaded fish patties. He probably assumed that nobody would know. There were so many of us, after all. Anybody could have swooped in from playing outside or hunching in front of the television, beating Super Mario Brothers like it was our purpose in life. How could anyone possibly know for sure what he’d done? Those twelve patties would simply get lost in the shuffle.

I walked into the kitchen with a smeary plate of ketchup and set it down, dry, on the bottom of the sink. I was too busy with Level 8 to reach the whole way up and pull up the water faucet to turn it on. I turned to go back to my game, when I spotted my mother pulling the empty fish patty box from the garbage, and running her finger across the printed nutritional content, reading silently.

“How much did he eat?” I asked.

“He just ate one hundred and eleven grams of saturated fat!” my mother said.

It was funny and gross, and we hated my dad. If he had been a good dad or a nice person, this statistic would have been shocking. It wasn’t, though. Eating one hundred and eleven grams of saturated fat was the same in my mind as eating a turd or a human digit, or something. He was a monster. Of course he ate these things.

My mother didn’t find it funny, though. She pressed her palms to her face and rubbed up and down. This was a well known and easily recognized gesture in our household. It was my mother’s way of saying without having to actually say it… “I hate my life.”

I knew my father was disgusting. He made inappropriate sexual comments and snapped the straps of my training bra. Once, I rode to the grocery store with him and after we finished shopping and were pulling away from the parking lot, he pointed to an old woman with enormous, torpedo-shaped boobs and said, “See that lady’s boobs? You’re going to have boobs like that, someday.”

“No, I’m not,” I dismissed him, watching how they sort of melted from side to side as the woman walked across the lot.

“Yes, you are,” he said. “My mother had big boobs, and so does your mother. That means you’ll have them, too.”

I pulled my legs up to my chest and rested my chin on my knees, hoping to squash any potential out of my boobs. I was terrified of the promise of having a woman’s body. I was terrified to have a body he would notice, further.

He simply had an appetite for animal things, I guessed. He couldn’t even have been vocalizing all of his thoughts in that vein. How many times had I been walking in front of him while he made silent comments about my body? He thought that he hid things, his eating and his perversity, but everybody knew. Just like everybody knew about the last Oatmeal Cream Pie. I hated him because I was him.

I even wanted to kiss a boy. I wasn’t sure why, exactly, but I knew enough to be excited and embarrassed my urges. His name was Jay and his parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Wanting to kiss any boy was explicitly disallowed, but it was especially terrible if you wanted to kiss a boy who wasn’t a Christian. That was practically like saying that you wanted to kiss the devil. We held hands once, and my skin felt all tingly and my head buzzed, full of blood and terrible, un-Jesuslike ideas. Ideas about laying down in a bed together and facing each other and kissing. That was somehow bad, I had gleaned from watching Days of Our Lives. I didn’t know why it was worse than kissing while you were standing up, but it was. Every time it happened, a grown up would rush into the room and change the channel or tell you to go outside and play.

I thought about it at night, laying belly to belly with a giant stuffed bear I had gotten for Christmas. I would whisper into the darkness about love and kissing, and try to imagine how it would feel to be something other than what I was. The pudgy daughter of a swollen pervert. I pictured that my name was something hip and very eighties, like Melissa, and I closed my eyes and pretended that I was something better. I pretended that somebody wanted me around, and maybe even wanted to be me. That would never happen in real life, not while I was one of three Amandas in every class I’d ever attended. Not with hair that didn’t behave and thighs that touched and made my K-Mart shorts ride up when I ran. Not while I quickly broke off squares of graham crackers and dipped them into peanut butter and shoved them into my mouth while I walked quickly away from the kitchen.

Jay was a Jehova’s Witness, at least. That meant that he was regarded with the same kind of subtle horror that people felt when they learned about my evangelical Christianity. A few times, I had a friend sleep over on Saturday night, and my parents forced us to attend church in the morning. At first, I had no idea that what was going on was weird, not even when my friend was frozen and staring in horror at the spectacle taking place before us. Everybody went to church, so what was the big deal? It was uncomfortable when I finally learned that not everybody’s parents spoke in tongues and cackled under the influence of the holy spirit, that not everybody had the woman seated next to them in the pew suddenly spring to her feet and start dancing down the center aisle of the sanctuary with enough fervor that the control top of her pantyhose was visible under the hem of her floral, polyester dress. I didn’t know what Jehova’s Witnesses did in their churches, but I could tell from everybody’s distaste for them that it must be something equally as embarrassing.

I was disturbed by my liking for this boy, though. I worried that one of Satan’s demons would be hovering around me, like they always were, and overhear one of my thoughts about kissing a non-christian. Then what would happen? I would be cursed, I could only conclude. I would probably become possessed, like my father always warned us about touching Ouiga boards or dabbling in other New Age things. Did having a crush on a Jehova’s Witness count as dabbling in something evil?

I asked my mother one evening as she tucked my brothers and sisters into bed, across the room from where I was laying. “Is it okay to be friends with a boy?” I asked. I had wanted to ask something bolder, to just come out and say, I’m in love with a New Age demon boy, am I going to hell? I had balked, though and my question came out all wrong and I was mad at myself.

“Sure, honey,” she said in a chirping, interested voice. “Who is this boy?”

“No,” I answered. “There isn’t an actual boy. I just mean, is it okay to be friends with somebody who isn’t a Christian?”

“Would this friend happen to be a little blond boy with a cute smile and pretty blue eyes?” she asked.

She knew! That description fit the Jehova’s Witness perfectly, and she wasn’t even warning me that I was about to burn in hell.

“No,” I said. “Nevermind. You’re just getting it all wrong.”

I was embarrassed, and she kept pressing me for further details of my illicit “friendship” with an unnamed boy. “It’s okay,” she prompted. “You can tell me.”

“It’s nothing!” I yelled, my face burning. “What about if we say that Jesus is stupid? Is that okay?”

She turned cold all of a sudden and stood up from where she’d seated herself on the edge of my bed.

“I’m just asking,” I said, nervous that I’d had an outburst that was going to actually get me burned for all eternity. I just wanted her to stop asking me about Jay with the cute smile and pretty eyes. It wasn’t any of her business. Still, though. Calling Jesus stupid had been a low blow. In my embarrassment, I had really hit her beneath the belt without thinking.

“You probably shouldn’t say that,” she said.

“Not me,” I corrected her. “The friend I was talking about. The one who’s not a Christian.”

“Your friend said Jesus is stupid?” she asked.

“Yeah…” I said, vaguely.

Now, not only was he not a Christian, he also probably went around calling the lord and savior stupid. I would never be allowed to marry Jay, and we would never get to lie down together to kiss in the bad way.

“I guess you shouldn’t be friends with that person, then,” my mom said.

“Okay, thanks,” I told her. “I won’t then. I just wanted ask.”

She shook her head and looked at me with mean eyes. I was always blurting things out like that because I was embarrassed all of the time. I hated looking stupid, so I pretended to be irreverent. I pretended that I just didn’t care. If you embarrassed me, then I would call Jesus stupid… or at least claim that I had heard that sentiment uttered, once, which was almost just as bad. I acted like I was a rebel, but really, everybody knew. I was just a big, fat nothing. I threw my giant teddy bear on the ground and punched him in the head. The next time I saw the Jehova’s Witness, I was going to make fun of him, just to be sure that nobody ever suspected that somebody as poor as me, who slept in the same room as her siblings, or somebody as chunky as me, the cuffs of all my shirts digging uncomfortably into my arms… just to be sure that nobody suspected that I thought I was fooling anybody. I would never be anything other than this. A fat girl from a too-big family and a too-small town in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Scouty B!!!

Okay, so here we are! The big super duper amazing biggest day ever! My tiny little baby Scouty is FOUR YEARS OLD!

Here is what a giant, super duper big girl loves:

-Stealing drinks of daddy's "sour drink" because mommy doesn't let you have any. Sour drink is really soda.

-Doing yoga and other exercise routines to stay healthy.

-Reading, reading, reading. Sounding out letters and recognizing sounds. You listen so intently to ever story I read to you.

-School! Oh, school! What would our life be without you? Scouty, you are so happy and excited to be there with all of your friends. Sometimes you're disappointed when it's time to come home. You've grown so much and learned so much and I'm so proud of you, little smarty.

-Doing somersaults.

-Meeting daddy at Subway for lunch.

-Green smoothies with cocoa powder.

-Peach tea with honey.

-Being a big sister and protecting little Cheesy.


-Iggy Pop, because he's the king of rock and roll.

-Telling jokes that only really make sense to you, and maybe also Eliot.

-Your friends Siah and Eliot. It's always an exciting day when we're visiting with one of them!


-Adventure Time with Finn and Jake. I haven't given it to you yet, but I even got you a Jake hat for your birthday.

-Playing board games.

-Writing your name. I love how the S is all gigantic and squiggly and how you dot your i with a big, round circle.

-Introducing yourself to people. And saying, "This is Louise and my mom's name is Aunt Amanda." I wonder if I'll ever be just regular Amanda. You learned my name from your cousins and the Aunt part just stuck.

I love that you still pronounce your Ls like Ys.
I love that you stick your tongue out while you color.
I love that it takes you a thousand years to spit out your toothpaste.
I love that you've made life so wonderful for your little sister, that you always take care of her and help her to smile when she's sad.
I love that you can jump so high and sing so pretty.
I love watching you and daddy play together.
I love holding you against me and feeling how big and solid you are. How healthy you are and how your heart beats so strong in your little chest.
I love you.

Happy Birthday, my perfect pumpkin, my Scouty Bee.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Let it grow...

I spent all day yesterday in the yard.

I've got millions of hopeful projects going on.

Like Kale and Lettuce and Spinach seedlings that are ready for the ground. I feel proud of them, out there in the wind and the rain, all by themselves. I know they can grow, if they just stay brave.

I found evidence of our first little aerator and composter of the spring.

Anybody who's ever grown something will tell you there's magic in it.

I have the world's cutest helper, too. Thanks to all of her wonderful birthday gifts. She has a new wheelbarrow, shovel, hoe, rake, spade and other diggy tools, gloves and boots.

She has her own tiny patch of soil to feed and cultivate under our bean tree. She said that she wants to plant a sunflower. I can't wait to see it grow taller than both of us.

In the evening, we walked to the park even though it was too windy and cold, because swinging on the swings makes Baby Cheesy smile bigger than it's even possible to smile.

I didn't quite get one of my mommy sundays... but I mean, really... what I did get was pretty much perfect.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Up before the sun...

Sometimes I think it would benefit me greatly to try to wake up before my girls. To beat the sun out of bed so that I could have the quiet and the dark all to myself.

I think that I want to stay on top of the housework, more. That I let the laundry pile up too big. Last week, Scouty was using the heap of clean, unfolded clothing to play a game called Mountain Climbing Girl.

I think that I need to get out into the yard. It's not quite sunny, but I could get my kale into the ground. And the lettuce and spinach. I have some carrots I need to sow. The tomatoes need sun, though. I will start them in the cocoon of my laundry over-ridden house.

I think that I should probably exercise more. I make it to the gym for a frenzied thirty minutes each day. It's late and squeezed out of my evening, between writing and sitting alone in the still, perfect air of the library's sun room.

I would like to be able to read more.

I would like to have a conversation with my husband.

I would like to climb a mountain.

I want to ride my bike from the suburbs, into the city, to drift along with the rivers.

I think that I need more time, but not because I'm a housewife and couldn't we all use a few more hours in a day? I feel like I need to live for three thousand years to be able to complete things I want to complete. That I need a lifetime just to be still, and another to work my muscles raw. I need one for my husband and one for each child, and then a whole lifetime to be with both of my girls, forever. I need a lifetime to make up for my mistakes, as a child.

I have a friend who is finishing up medical school. I'm realizing that I'm smart enough to have been anything I wanted to be. Only, I didn't know. I need a lifetime to learn the things I need to know to be something.

I need a lifetime to be young again.

I need to go back and be this girl, again, because I did it wrong, the first time. I was muddy water and back roads, and I would never get out of that place, but I did. If I could, I would go back and show some compassion to a fly-away twenty something, me.

I would tell her, "Come on back down to the ground. I've been to the future. I've seen it, and it's better."

Sometimes I feel like there is too much to do. I'm talking about dishes and diapers and bath time and lunchtime and dinnertime, but I'm talking about impossible things, too. Like that I want to be something other than this. I want to be real at something. I don't want to say, "Well, I can't pay my student loans and there are weeds in my garden, but I'm a good person." I just want to be a thing, and be it all the way.

I'm tired of having to point myself out, to the world.

It's just that... there is too much to do.

My husband has a gift to look into the future and to say, you will have time, later. Someday Louise's lifespan won't be measured in months, and Scouty will be able to dress herself, and they'll both sleep all night long, for sure, every night. Someday you can be yourself, again.

I fight between an impulse to give myself away entirely, because I love being mommy... and an impulse to duck away, to dream of more time and more energy for myself. If I dream of myself too much, though, I start to resent that dream being intruded on by the filthy kitchen floor and the understanding that it is my job to keep it clean. I start to feel like Pretend Restaurant and Shrinky Dinks are a chore, instead of a delight. So, I keep my longing for myself folded neatly and closed into the slipperiness of my core.

I get glimpses of myself sometimes, when I sneak away to ride my bike, or when my seedlings are growing because of my stolen moments of protective patience. When I wake up late on a Saturday morning and Kurt and the girls are gone out to play and I can take my time over tea and showering. I get a peek at myself often enough to still feel like me so that my personality can go on, without turning into a totally non-hydrogenated, cloth diapering, house keeping, budget planning, meal making, gym-going, baby need-meeting, toddler entertainer. Exhale.

I am more than this.

Lake Erie, last spring

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I'm not sure I can handle four years...

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The fact that you're growing up wasn't supposed to break my heart. I told myself, I will be able to get through my daughter's fourth birthday without feeling it, creeping at the corners of me, while I'm trying to sleep.

Daddy and I... we were so lonely before you knew you. We were kids, and time was passing, and there was nothing for us. We had no place. We clung to one another in the sticky summer nighttime. We were beautiful, but the world was mean, and we dreamed sweetly through a poisoned fog about something like you. Impossible and true, we dreamed that the world could be as honest as you've made it.

I felt like a monster, like a woman made of moss and stone who peered at everything with water for eyes. I felt like the bottom of a stream... silt kicking up at the hint of rain, but always a view of the clear white sky. I was nothing, and I was everything, and life was a series of evasions, of staying clear of the law and of the law of man. I was everything, and I loved your daddy, but the world didn't love us. We were too far away, and we'd stopped reaching backward a long time ago. The only connections we had to existing were that we breathed and ate, sometimes. We drove around in cars and we showered, but we weren't people like we are now.

People looked the other way when we were coming. There was too much sadness in the way your daddy sat alone for hours, the newspaper in his hands, and the real people were coming from church. They wanted to have breakfast and he was a shadow that god didn't sanction. He had been up all night, and people were holy and clean and well-rested and they wouldn't look at him.

I was a wild mess of pent-up sorrow and indignation. I painted myself with candy and blood. I wandered far into empty fields and fell asleep in the snow. Fell asleep to die and wake. Death could come, too, and I wasn't afraid. Living was hard, as a piece of glass in the side of the savior. I was a thorn pressed to his temple and I hated myself.

We would close ourselves up tight, scratch and dig to the center of one another. We pulled each other apart and piled our bodies high, searching through the rubble to find pieces that could be put back together. We were a losing love story. The kind that always ends in quiet. It only makes sense that we found you there, in the half light of our love. It only makes sense that we took apart the darkness, and inside the heart of the black world, we found a tiny glowing speck of sand, the last thing left alive. The beginning of the world.

I softly come into your room while you're asleep to pull your blankets around you and brush your hair from your face. You're an angel, when you sleep. You're sweet and so lovely that it takes all my strength to not scoop you up where you're laying and wake you to tell you how I love you.

It was sunny on the morning after you were born. It had been cold and winter for so long, and on a morning in April, you brought a flood of spring warmth. My brother was up all night in the hospital with a room full of people who loved you before they knew you, waiting for you to arrive. He squinted against the light through the blinds of our hospital room and said, "Hi little one. You brought the sun with you." Everybody knew what you were, not just me. Everybody knew that you were everything good in the world. That the mean old world was turned bright and new, because you were alive. You were my girl, and daddy and I could finally breathe.

I know that Cheesy is still a baby, but she's growing, too. Daddy just called me from Grandma's house to tell me that, at nine months, she's finally crawling up a storm. She took her time with rolling over and crawling for me, because she knows that I can't take losing you to yourselves. I can't take not having a warm little body in my arms, but I want it, too. I want you both to grow so big that you block out the sun. I just don't know if I can be without you, like that.

I asked you yesterday if you would be my girl forever, and you wrapped your soft little arms around my neck and said, "I would never leave you, mama. You're my girl."

So, now you're big, I guess. Four years old is an awfully big accomplishment, and you've gotten here with the most grace and carefulness I've ever seen in anybody. You're so kind to people and considerate of their feelings. You take great pains to make everybody feel important and valued, and I feel like nothing next to you. I also feel like everything, like the whole world should wave and cheer for me, because I helped to make you into you. You wouldn't be who you are without me, and I'm so proud of us for the ways we've used our four years together.

You're only four, and I've learned so much about being a person, from you. Just today, I was preoccupied and cut a woman off in the parking lot of the post office. She was livid and she came up to my car window to yell at me, but I was on my phone, listening to a message from you. Your little voice was calling sweetly in my ear, "Hi, mommy! I just wanted to tell you that I love you and that I can't wait to see you when we get home." Grammy and Pappy were taking you on a surprise shopping trip to buy a new bike, because you are a good girl, and you deserve to have presents lavished on you.

This woman tapped on my window and I felt a familiar urge to bristle at her. To blame her for driving too slowly, for not using her lights in the rain. Instead, with your love ringing in my ears, I said, "It was my mistake, and it was dangerous. I apologize." She shrunk five times in size and muttered an okay. I felt good that I was able to do you proud and that I didn't try to make that lady feel like she wasn't being acknowledged. I just let her have her feelings about me, and I didn't feel a need to tell her, no. That she wasn't allowed to have those feelings because I decided so.

It's like what I told you this morning, when you were mad at me because I wouldn't let you wear your new chef's costume to soccer practice. "It's okay if you want to be mad and cry. I won't try to take that away from you. It's also not going to change the way I feel about letting you wear the costume, or the way I love you so much I could just eat you up."

Don't get bigger, please? For me? And also, do. Get so big that you can do anything. I won't take that away from you, even though I secretly think that we should freeze time here so that you can be my baby, forever.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Big girl party...

We're throwing Scouty's 4th birthday party today, holy cow! I have all these mixed up feelings about the fact that she's turning FOUR YEARS OLD in just a few days! Everybody says it, but I really mean it. I don't think I can handle thinking about how my tiny little pea is a big, huge, super grown up girl.



In this picture, I was so tired and scared and lonely and BEAUTIFUL in our tiny, three room apartment in the middle of the woods. I was so terrified of doing something wrong, and so I didn't enjoy the first few weeks of my baby's life. I didn't think I would ever feel this way, at the time... but looking at these pictures, I want to go back there so badly. I want my five day old baby, and I want to be young and stupid and scared. I want it all back. I want to hold my tiny first-born daughter in my arms and know everything. How wonderful you are going to be, my love. How you're going to make me into a person who can walk around in the world, without having to look down at the sidewalk cracks. How you'll be my best friend, the funniest person I've ever met, and the most beautiful. I wish I could have you at eight pounds, thirteen ounces again, so that I could rest my cheek against your battered little head and know you, like you've always known me, sure and perfect. I'll love you like the sky's gone out. Nothing else will mean anything but that love.

But, it's not even her birthday, yet! I'll try to save my freaking out until Tuesday, at least. So, the ice cream cone cupcakes are baked and decorated with homemade, non-hydrogenated frosting that only tastes kind of weird. We've got the car packed to head over to the party place, the big girl is ready to party, the little girl is gumming a fruit leather like it's her meaning in life... but before we can start the festivities, we have... a dentist appointment.

I didn't realize I was scheduling a dentist appointment for the same day as Scouty's party day. It's sad that she so wants to be excited, but she just has to hold it in until she's been scraped and prodded and and checked out. Even me... I know that they're not going to do anything scary to her. They're just going to peek in her mouth and say, A-Okay! But, I'm still a nervous wreck! Oh dentists, with your sucky tubes and pokey hooks! You can't ruin our kind of funny tasting cupcakes in ice cream cones with jelly bean cherries on top! I won't let you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The big, bad world.

I used to hate the Free Range Kids lady. When Scouty was little and I was reeling from having my entire world exploded by the new responsibility of being in charge of a life, the world was totally full of dangers. I just knew that there was a predator behind every bush, just waiting to snap up my gorgeous, strawberry blond child. I didn't dare take my eyes off of her for even a moment, not even in our own back yard, because... haven't you seen that show where Chris Hansen catches perverts? They were everywhere.

As Scouty got older and I started making more mommy friends, I was kind of shocked by their behavior as parents. They talked about letting their two year old stay with a friend for a few hours. They took their children to day care, and to the babysitting room at the gym. When we were at playgrounds together, they didn't hover around their child with arms extended, ready to catch her, should she fall. They seemed so relaxed and... I don't know. Normal. Like they were people, and not some kind of manic, terrified robot-mommy that was always on alert mode. I was shocked by them, but not in a negative way.

I would come home from a play date and talk to Kurt about it, all perplexed. "Heather said that she takes her son to the child care room at the gym," I would tell him.

"So...?" he would ask.

It was all shocking to me because secretly, I believed that every child care worker, especially those in a public place like a gym were just molesters and child abusers, and waiting for a chance to get alone with my girl. But really? Did that really even happen? Wouldn't I just be around the corner, practically within earshot, and weren't there multiple workers and didn't they pass background checks, and would the gym even hire a creepy molester man to work in their child care room? Have I ever heard of that situation, even?

When we signed Scout up for preschool, I asked the head of admissions whether or not there were any male teachers. She told me there was one, that he had children who attended the school, and that he'd been employed there for years. I was instantly nervous at the mention of him, but we went ahead with registration.

Now that she's been going there for almost a year, it's hard for me to remember how I used to feel about sending her out into the world, without me. After Scout's birth, I was a wreck. I spent every second of every day imagining every terrible scenario that could possibly harm my baby. I was obsessed with how dangerous the world was, and how many things could go wrong. I was paralyzed with worrying, so much so that I couldn't even sleep at night. I didn't think I had PPD because I wasn't really sad... I was just a wreck and convinced that the entire universe was full of bad people who wanted to harm my daughter.

I remember that when I was a child, my mother used to memorize what we were wearing before we left for school, so that... if we suddenly disappeared, she would be able to report what we were wearing to the authorities. We lived like that our whole lives. As a teenager, I would be due home at 11pm, and I'd show up early at 10:30pm to find my mother trembling and crying and peering out the front window, convinced that I was going to die in a car accident and never come home.

I refuse to live like that. Even better, I refuse to raise my kids like that. I got a grip on my fear and stopped letting it influence my decisions. Even though it was scary, I let go of my daughter so that she could have independent social experiences. The more I allow her to participate in the world that has nothing to do with me, the more I see that she carries me with her wherever she goes. I see that I've equipped her to be confident and brave out in the big, scary world... and I see that the world isn't actually big and scary. It's a place that's full of other uneasy, strong, brave mommies and their amazing kids.

I want my daughters to be able to ride their bikes around our neighborhood, someday. I want them to play with neighbor children. I want them to have sleepovers and to participate in activities and unfortunately, I won't be able to be there every single second of their lives. If I teach them that they are loved beyond measure, though, they'll be better prepared to navigate the world, and to learn from it.

I don't want them to be scared in living, so I have to be brave in mothering.

I even like the Free Range Kids lady, now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Guest Post at Cloth Diaper Whisperer!

Louisey and my renegade diapering habits are being featured at The Cloth Diaper Whisperer today! Please head on over and leave some love!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Do we all have to be teenagers, someday?

Scouty pointed out a group of posturing fourteen year olds, yesterday and said, "Mom, are those adults?"

I told her, "No, honey. They're teenagers."

She asked about how somebody gets to be a teenager and why they exist. I explained that some people are kids and some people are adults, and in between, when you're a really big kid, but a really small adult... you're a teenager. I told her, "Teenagers scare adults because they think they're smarter than they are. Teenagers especially scare their parents because they start going places by themselves and getting to those places in cars." I almost started to tell her about bad teenage boys and how everything gives them a boner, and how, if you give them a clue that you like them at all, on any level, they'll do everything in their power to get a chance to touch your boobs. But, no matter how impassioned I am about shielding my daughter from the hormones of male youth, I don't think we're quite ready for that, yet.

She asked me, "Do the parents love the teenagers?"

It seems like that would be a difficult question, seeing as how I'm a parent and we live in a neighborhood where a crowd of delinquent youths walk around with a boom box playing eminem. They're astoundingly unlovable. But then, I pictured my girls as big, strong, scary teenagers, and how much I'm going to love them, how proud of them I'm going to be for the fact that they've survived the world and grown, and I just know they're going to be smart and funny and awesome. Oh god, it's too much. I love the teenage thems so much already.

"Yes," I said. "The parents love the teenagers very much, and that's why they're so scary. They don't want anything bad to happen to the teenagers, but the parents have to let them out into the world to learn how to live."

"Does everybody have to be a teenager?" she asked.

We had a long discussion about how, when you become a teenager, you get to do lots of awesome things that you can't do when you're a kid. "Like drive a car," I said. "Or go to a movie with a friend without parents. You can get into a car with a boy, and when he brings you home, me might kiss you."

"Or get into a car with a girl and she might kiss you," Scouty said.

"That's true," I said.

"What else can you do?" she asked.

I started to go over the list of things I got to do for the first time as a teenager and froze. Besides driving around kissing boys, I couldn't think of a single thing I did as a teenager that was even kind of mentionable to my four year old daughter. I don't want my children doing those things!

But oh... those things!

I remember nights in college where I was positively squirming out of my skin with being alive. My hair long down my back, with glittering ribbons, smoke stained fingertips, wine stained tongue, and a boy with a fiance who professed his love for me over a secret five-dollar bowl of spaghetti at a restaurant around the corner. We walked home, tight against the storefronts and one another, sticking to the shadows.

I remember illicit medicine against the back of my throat and sparking wonder at the strangeness of the whole, wide world.

I remember my husband as a kid, somebody else's baby, my dear darling friend. Fading blue eyed and curled around a bottle of whiskey in a tattered armchair in our rented house.

I remember the floor was perpetually sticky with spilled beer and humid association. We were always laying around on one another, fitting languidly together, our familiarity radiating heat. We were devils, if you didn't know us. We were devils, and we meant it.

And wait... I don't want my children living that way! ...Right? I mean, how could I handle it? I want them to be virginal, sticky-palmed girls with limp hair and big toothed lisps, who collect plastic horse figurines well into their twenties. I want them to be ready for sex around the time they're ready to drive, which I'm estimating will coincide with thier thirty-fifth birthdays. That's what I want, isn't it? To keep them from the world so that they don't get hurt. So that they don't get taken advantage of. So that nobody wants to keep them and stifle them and stop them from growing and being brave.

Yeah. So maybe I won't actually be buying Scouty her first plastic horse figurine for her birthday next week. Wouldn't it be awesome to collect these, and like them better than people, and talk to them like they're your friends?

I don't think teenagers will ever stop being scary to me, at least not until my girls have outgrown them. The truth is, though, that I don't really hate them. Not even the gang of immaculately unlikable boys who play eminem as they wander my neighborhood, lowing the value of my property and scoffing at my fat-butted nerdiness while I'm bent over at the waist planting my garden.

As far as teenagers went, I was probably the worst kind you could be, without actually spending any time incarcerated. I understand that they're just squirming all over with the liveliness of still being children, and that they're handed the world and they have no choice but to take it and abuse it. They have no choice but to live like they're invincible, because... like I tell Scouty... If you're a kid, you're not going to die for a very, very, very long time. A time so long that it's impossible to imagine.

I think back on being young, and it seems almost that long ago. I guess that mostly, my girls are just lucky that they have being a teenager waiting for them, and I'm only scared of it because I'll never be one again.

Me, circa 1997-ish.

Oh goodness...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pregnancy and Writing...

I wrote a book. A long, winding thing that murdered me when it was all finished. I had a single moment of feeling like, I did it! I've finished this thing!... and then I just felt like there were people who were dear to me who were suddenly just gone. It was such a private sadness, because these people didn't even exist, so nobody else knew what it meant that they wouldn't be with me, in my thoughts and blood, anymore.

It's a massive thing, my book. 180,000 words. It's much too big to be even slightly considerable for a first novel.

Then, I got pregnant, and my only feelings and persuasions went like this: I'm hungry. I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm hungry. Ugh, okay, now I'm nauseated. I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired.

Then, I had a baby and my inner workings consisted of: I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired, and I'm on a diet. I'm tired.

I have a really hard time feeling inspired when I'm actively reproducing. It's like all of my creative energy is put into manufacturing a placenta, and then into growing and caring for the world's most beautiful and important little bodies. I just can't come up with anything else. I'm all used up, doing God's work.

When my babies get a little older, though, and they start sleeping through the night, I start to bud again... little pieces of me come to the surface and flower. One morning, I feel like a person for a moment while I'm showering before the girls wake up, and on another day, I take a bike ride and I pedal so fast and so far that I feel like I'm the only tiny biker on the earth. Then, I start to feel sexy again, and animated and I can be Kurt's girl and his very presentable date to a wedding, while I'm also the mommy of his kids. Tentatively, maybe I can even be a writer again.

So, I started writing this blog. Just to see if I could write again. If the me in me was ready to not be tired and hungry, anymore. If I was ready to come back from the cocoon of bearing my glowing children. I tried writing something personal, just to practice. (So that maybe I wouldn't feel intimidated by the mammoth novel that is really a dissection of my soul... that I haven't touched in over a year.) And, it feels really good to write here. To be brave with my words. To work my way back into the invisible lives that murdered me.

I go away when I'm pregnant. My body swells and I grow and my personality and desires kind of sink down into me. I go dormant, and no matter where I'm walking or what I'm doing, I'm putting everything I've got into being pregnant.

It's strange though, because when I emerge on the other side, I don't come back the same. I come back with a world of love and newness inside of me. When I go under, I think to myself that I'll be back, in a little while. I'll be able to get back to being me. But, when I come back, I'm a different me. I have all this love I didn't have before. I thought I wouldn't be able to love another one, not as much as my first... but I dive under the surface and I come back with diamonds for eyes. I come back with a new universe in my palm, and I'll never be the same again.

I couldn't be more grateful.

I still feel scared of my book, though. I feel like I wrote it in a fury. I had a fever and it poured away from me, like it was breathing its own life. I'm wary of taking it apart and piecing it back together. I'm wary of it because I feel like it's the best I could have done. I feel like it's enormous, bigger than me and I'm not sure I can take it on, not after all this time, and after I've changed into a new me. But, I miss it, too, and I know that it's good. I have no doubts about it. It's really, really good, and that scares me, too.

I talked about my complex, before. About how some people see that they've got a talent or a gift, so they decide to use that talent to become a thing. I believe I have talents, but that they're just something that's part of me... and what I am is a small thing that lies low and will never rise above a little coal town upbringing with a yellow creek. Nobody taught me how to make use of myself beyond using the dishwater to water to houseplants. My creativity was always just the thing that kept me from going under, it wasn't actually worth anything. Not for real. I'd like to say that I need to get back on my feet, but I've never been standing.

Having children made me realize that my aspirations aren't just an abstract thing, like the way they are when you're a kid and you want to be a professional baseball player, someday. Wanting to be a writer isn't like that. My kids showed me, because I decided that I wanted to be kind to my kids and love them and show them all the time that I'm proud of them, and it worked! Imagine my shock when my daughter grew and grew and grew into a well-mannered, self-assured, happy thing! I just decided to do something, and it happened!

I am capable.
I can decide to do things and they'll happen.

Oh, I promised to tell you about my weekend and how it was good, didn't I?

Kurt was upset after work on Friday about a company problem. He had a crease in his brow and his back was bent and his footsteps were slow. So, my girls and I, we decided to just keep on loving him, like we do, and he came around quickly. We played soccer and ate dinner in the cool, gray sunshine. We went out for ice cream and Scouty said that, "you can zero not like rock and roll," so we turned the music up too loud in the car and even Louisey shook it like a bowl full of jelly. We love each other, and so everything will always be okay. This weekend has been so totally okay.

Daddy even had an enormous sandwich from his favorite place that was much too huge to actually be eaten.

Or was it? Goooo, daddy!