Archive | December, 2010

post-holiday report

30 Dec

I have so much to say, and good sense would dictate that I not publish it all.  I think that I will try to be vague, even though I hate not being able to say what I want to. 

I have a friend who was seemingly healthy one month ago and now she is in the painful grips of pancreatic cancer.  This is bad.

Another close friend is also sick and in the hospital.  He can’t afford an infection as he does not have a strong immune system.  I am very worried about him.  He deserves his own page in my blog under the category of gentlemen I have known.  He is absolutely exquisite and accomplished and he means the world to me.  He has given me some of the best dating advice I have received so far, specifically: “don’t.”  I will draw him out about that when he is released from the hospital.  Or maybe he’d like an inquisitive, soul-searching visitor, asking all the hard questions to distract him from his illness?

The children are home!!   (I am sorry, but this does call for 2 exclamation points)

I have the nicest children ever.  No disrespect is intended for any of you who also have children – I am sure that I love yours, too, and sometimes, late at night when they are finally asleep as mine are, you think they are the best kids ever.  That’s all this is.  Appreciation from across the house while they sleep and don’t talk back.  Wade received roller blades from Santa Claus and has been wearing them non-stop around the house.  Janet Jackson played Tootie on the 80’s TV show, The Facts of Life (which we only watched when my parents were away).  Tootie was always on roller skates, and Wade reminds me of her.  This evening, we walked Hattori, Jack and Curry.  Wade was on skates and Henry and I were just in regular shoes.  In just a week away from me, though, Henry has grown up.  He is so vocal and bossy and busy and no-nonsense.  He fussed at Wade and me the whole way.  But the dogs like him.

Then I took them all out to supper and made them share entrees, as I often do.  Nobody complained.  I love them when they don’t complain.  Then we toured the Christmas lights one last time before they take them down, while listening to 1990’s country music – my personal comfort food.  I built them a playhouse-garage (from Pottery Barn, but it had to be assembled) so that Wade can have his own space, but I don’t think Henry will allow it.  He said “Yade, you’re my best friend, aren’t you?” and Wade said “of course I am, Hen.”

Anna has been dancing every step of every part in the Nutcracker.  Even the big girl dances, like Kissy doll.  I never knew how much that wild thing was absorbing – I always assumed she was too distracted, but she has really got this ballet thing down.  I don’t know whether I will be able to avoid Nutcracker 2011.  As much as I want to.

We are about to enter January, the month preceding Annie Get your Gun!  It is going to be wild, but the Civic Theatre is just down the street and not in the hinterlands of North San Angelo, so I think we will be all right. 

Anna brought up her one line, and said, “mom, I am afraid this is setting a bad example, but my only line is ‘yeah.’”  I told her that theatre is art, and we make allowances for art.  As long as she knows to say “yes ma’am” in real life, she can say “yeah!” from the stage and I won’t hold it against her.

I’ve had some disappointments that I won’t discuss here no matter how much you beg me to.  You’ll just have to call me if you want the personal stuff.  I hate being disappointed.  Especially about something important to me.  But I have been so low before that the only thing holding me together was gratitude for how much I really do have – materially and in my friends.  And while it feels pitiful and painful, it’s not a terrible state.  It can give birth to a unique way of approaching the world and a determination not to let the small things pass you by unnoticed.  I now try to notice everything and see whether there is anything good about it.  Or at least whether it means anything.  Or maybe it’s funny?  The absurd can be redeeming, too.  It is such a rich life.


Joyeux Noel de la Nouvelle Orleans

28 Dec

Now that was a great trip.

In the year since my separation from my children’s father, my parents have come to the rescue and invited me to some of the most wonderful places in the Americas.  We went to Puerto Vallarta for Thanksgiving last year, New York for my 40th birthday in a snowstorm in February, Chicago in May (oh the flowers!), my alma mater, Sewanee, Tennessee along the Cumberland Plateau in July, nowhere this fall (can you believe that?), but Christmas in New Orleans. 

I have been on some other wonderful trips in 2009/2010, mostly in Texas, but those listed are the parent-planned trips, and they have been a lot of fun.  Of course, the need for them to take me in on holidays and special occasions arose during a parent-participation trip in Florida last August, but we just don’t think we are going to go back there for a while.  Until certain memories have been overlaid by many more good times.

New Orleans was fabulous.  The last time I was there was several years ago for my Dad’s 60th birthday.  We stayed at the same location – the Roosevelt Hotel, but since that occasion, Katrina intervened and shut down the grande dame of New Orleans hotels, and she has re-opened as a member of the Waldorf-Astoria, and the change has been positive.  I thought the hotel was wonderful then, but now the linens and baths are first-rate.  The rooms are large and elegantly-decorated.  For the first time in my memory, the Carters reserved a suite.  That is how you know it’s a special occasion.  Of course, my mom and I noticed how the living room would have been the perfect place to make pallets on the floor for the grandchildren, but they will just have to come on the next trip.  The existing children came on the last New Orleans trip, and it wasn’t nearly this much fun.  They were two years old and five months old.  Not exactly great travelers, but now, they would have a ball.  Especially that Anna.  She could really get into the spirit of the crescent city – she is a party girl.

We had our first dinner at the Grill Room at the Windsor Court.  The food was so delicious, and such a beautiful dining room.  I have heard stories about the Grill Room, but I had never been invited to dinner there.  This was Christmas Eve, and it was such a treat.  After supper, we walked through the French quarter.  You just haven’t reached full maturity until you are partying with your parents on Bourbon Street.  And we were not the only people out.  Lots of Santa hats. and other interesting accessories.

On Christmas Day, we had a nice late breakfast in the hotel dining room.  My mom and I then took a tour of hotel lobbies.  We only made it to the Ritz-Carlton and the Westin, but both provided great places to sit and watch the people.  We are not city people.  We come from the kind of town where everything closes down for Christmas and everyone stays home in their pj’s opening presents, so it was wonderful to see the brunch and pastries set out at the Ritz and to watch the people dressed to the nines – and some dressed in ways that make you scratch your head.  But the point is that it was fun to watch them.

We had dinner plans starting in the late afternoon with friends.  Their home is elegant and old and lovely with modern touches like a wine cooler (essentially a walk-in refrigerator) and hot tub, but still so elegant and uptown. 

We retired early to our hotel, had a few drinks in the Sazerac bar and went to bed.  On Sunday, it was once again time to have another brunch – this time at Commander’s Palace.  It was perfect in every way – from the bloody mary to the eggs sardou.  Then my mom and I shopped while my dad saw a movie.  We reconvened at 5 p.m. for supper at Galatoire’s before an 8 p.m. seating at Snug Harbor – Ellis Marsalis’s jazz club.  The lineup was amazing.  All the artists live in New York and play regularly in the house band at the Lincoln Center, but hail from New York, and loved getting together at home.  Nicholas Bennett, Hurlon Riley, Victor Goynes – they were amazing and finished the evening with funeral procession tunes. (edit: please check my dad’s comment below for their actual names!)

All of these activities were designed to keep my mind off the fact that I was away from my children.  And it worked.  I have heard that when you are digesting food, your blood supply actually diverts to your stomach and you can’t think very clearly.  That was true, because I hardly thought of the little tikes at all.  Rather, I did think of them, but I didn’t weep and mourn about it  – I trusted that they were having a wonderful day with presents and parties in San Angelo.

It was difficult at certain times – such as when I saw any other children dressed up with their bows and shiny shoes.  But I can’t say that I didn’t appreciate having my own bed and not getting up early.  It was a real, grown-up Christmas, and if I am forced to suffer such hardship every other year while the children have Christmas with their dad, well, I will simply have to endure it.  It was all very civilized, but still, I can’t wait to have them at home tomorrow!

Merry Christmas, y’all.


21 Dec

I went out tonight with a friend and we talked about EVERYthing.  We are very close.  Even though she frustrates me with her actions and I offend her with all my opinionated talk.  It’s kind of a mimicry of my relationship with my mother.  I frustrate her and she decides what’s best for me and takes matters into her own hands.  On my computer.  So that I can see the ways in which she would like to make over my life, if only I would let her.  And I probably would be better off, but it feels like relinquishing my independence, and really, who wants that?

But enough about me.  Back to my friend.  She is suffering.  And I would love to undo what she has done and all the ways in which she has given herself away.  Luckily, she has me and so many others who love her and we are doing all we can to stop the bleeding.  But tourniquets hurt too.  Especially when you are accustomed to emotional hemorrhage.  It’s not easy to just shut it off.  But from the outside, we can all see that it must be quelled.  And soon, or there won’t be anything left of our sweet friend.

I think that the hardest thing to learn is how to give enough of yourself without giving it all away.  Some of us are so lucky enough to have been born into families where the parents continue to really love each other.  That’s her curse, and it’s mine.  So when our first marriages didn’t make it, we are convinced that this sort of love must be out there somewhere.  And that we have to find it.  But that’s the wrong approach.  Too much too soon is always wrong.

And we shouldn’t approach our futures from a sense of loss.  Instead, we are better served to live from a position of abundance.  We already have enough.  We already are enough.  What we need will be provided.  We don’t need to look for anything.  There’s nothing that is missing.  All is well.  Let’s just bask in the perfection for a little while.  It won’t always be like this.

good tidings of great joy

15 Dec

The first requirement (or would it be a goal?) of successful parenting is the survival of the parent.

I really dislike whining.  Just ask my children.  And my friends.  And so I have lost patience with me and my sorry emotional state.  I tell myself to buck up.  You wanted them to be in Nutcracker.  You love Ambleside and its drop-dead gorgeous Christmas worship service.  You love three year-olds wearing reindeer antlers and snowman overalls.  You are thrilled that St. Luke’s sanctuary is standing room only when a few years ago enrollment was precipitously low.  Preschoolers singing “Up on the Housetop” with hand motions makes you weep tears of sentimental joy.  It’s that sehnsucht again.  Beauty has smiled again, but not necessarily at you.  Just in your presence, and now she’s gone.

The Lakeview auditorium is just beautiful and state of the art acoustically and for viewing.  Every seat is a front-row seat.  You love watching Helen Clare Kinney, home from Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, dancing Sugarplum Fairy.  You loved watching her as a little girl as Clara.  It’s sheer poetic and artistic justice.  And, of course, years of dedication and training.  Whatever. It’s just lovelyto see.  You love that you have set boundaries and just said no to supervising the dressing rooms.  (even though you feel selfish doing so).  You love that you live in San Angelo, and that the furthest distance to the most remote hinterlands in Lakeview is still only about 10 miles away, if that.  You love that your boss has children in Nutcracker, too, and hasn’t fired you yet for poor job performance due to maternal exhaustion.  You are even secretly thrilled that the children’s father is away on a hunting trip and can’t exercise his visitation this week or attend any Nutcracker performances, because the children will be all yours during this very difficult and very rewarding week.

You have ALL THIS AND MORE to be happy about.  But sometimes, you still feel like crying.  In the dark at Nutcracker practice.  Is it the beauty of the dancers?  The dedication of even the littlest angels?  The sheer love of Miss Meghann for her etudiantes?  Is it that she is just as likely to correct their grammar as she is their arabesque? (“You had eaten, Molly, not you had ate”).  “Have any of you had supper?  No?  I can tell.  Please, eat something, and then let’s do finale again.  I know it’s late.  I’m sorry.” 

Is it Christmas itself?  the errands undone and gifts unbought or even thought about?  Is it gratitude for your own mother who will drive twelve hours to leap from the frying pan of her own Christmas into the fire of your chaotic single-parent home?  Is it the sinus infection or sheer fatigue?  Is it knowing that soon enough the chaos will give way to silence?  Just you and the dogs as the children accompany their dad and his family to the beach for a pre-Christmas vacation?  What in the world will you do then?  Probably cry.

It may be the three year-old who asks you to read the Bible to him.  So you read him the Christmas story from Luke and he wants to hear it again.  We have some special time together every night around 9:30 p.m. when he has to be removed from his bed so that poor, exhausted, sick Wade can go to sleep without being harassed and assaulted by Henry.  Once Wade  has succumbed, I can put Henry back in bed.  If Wade isn’t awake to protest Henry’s onslaught, Henry gives up quickly.  We have a mandatory, Christmas story-reading time out every night.  Just another step in the routine.

I am sick.  I am tired.  And sometimes it feels like I may be depressed, but I don’t really think so.  I think I am just exhausted and overwhelmed with what it means to be this fortunate.  It is a rich, rich life.

a sleigh ride together with you

13 Dec

I just don’t feel right keeping things from you. I want you right here, front and center, riding shotgun in my sleigh-ride-of-December-life. You encourage me and you make me laugh, and that makes you my BFFs. The kind of friends I tell everything to. I heart you.

So let’s talk about what we’re doing this week. Nothing says WILD or BAD PARENTING CHOICES or ARE WE PERHAPS OVERSCHEDULED? like tech week of Nutcracker combined with the last week of school, an Ambleside Candlelight service, a St. Luke’s Sounds of the Season preschool concert, 2 children and a mom on antibiotics, an Annie Get Your Gun! rehearsal and cast party, one class party for the third grade, all polished up and presented on a platter with a finale of four – count ’em, FOUR – Nutcracker performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Oh!  Mustn’t forget to bake cookies for several of these events! (maybe enlist children’s grandmother to assist with cookie-baking?  not that grandmother, silly.  The one who enjoys cooking.)

In case you haven’t been with me in the past three years, Nutcracker Tech Week goes like this: Sunday 2-8 Monday 5:30 to 9 Tuesday 5:30 to 9 Wednesday Dress Rehearsal 5:30 to 9 Thursday Dress rehearsal 5:30 to 9 Friday: Curtain 8 p.m. We’ll just squeeze all those other parties and performances in.

Every time I decide that we can skip something, I see how someone else is counting on us, and I start to think “what kind of a mother wants to skip her three year-old’s school choir concert?” (The kind who has mostly mastered being in two places at once, but is still working on three and knows that her preschooler is barely talking, much less singing.) But Miss Pat is so excited and is talking about getting there early to save us seats as the St. Luke’s sanctuary will be nearly bursting with proud parents and grandparents. (note to self: spend lunchtime at Target looking for turtleneck for said choirboy so he can wear his reindeer overalls.) I could slip this one by Henry, but not Miss Pat, and I am aware that I need her to be happy.

I decided to sacrifice Annie get Your Gun’s annual ornament party and fellowship on Tuesday night. I am so sorry we have to miss it. I know the directors have put in hours with hot glue guns and glitter and thought and dedication to their actors (including my two child prodigies), but they have to be at Nutcracker practice. Well so does the director’s daughter, so I have been asked to bring my actors to the Civic Theatre for a quick ornament presentation, and then run my two plus the director’s precious Nutcracker cake-baker daughter up to the Lakeview auditorium for Nutcracker.  I am happy to help out another busy mom.  Especially when mentoring my children is part of her busy-ness (thank you, Miss Elena.)

Wednesday appears almost conflict-free at this point. I am certain that won’t last. It just wouldn’t be fun if there weren’t a juggling challenge every night of the week. So then I thought we could skip Ambleside’s Candlelight Service on Thursday night as it conflicts with Nutcracker’s dress rehearsal.

Apparently not, as it has been pronounced “part of the curriculum” and it is so lovely and the children will be playing their violins (swoon). Is there anything sweeter than to see your child or grandchild beautifully-dressed (even if broken-down and exhausted) and playing such an elegant instrument? And this service epitomizes all that is lovely about Ambleside. there will be no “dashing through the snow” or reindeer antler headbands. This is a concert fitting for the angels – a cappella chants, rounds, hymns. It is such a festival of all that is perfect and beautiful.

If you hear from me at all this week, it will surely be more whining about a predicament that is entirely of my own making. But if you want to enjoy any of the beauty that is the icing on the cake of endless practices and performances, please feel free to come and sit with me. I miss you when you’re not there for the good parts.  And this — the culmination of what we’ve practiced all year?  this is definitely the best part.

thrill ride

11 Dec

I don’t even know who you all are anymore now that my readership has grown from my 3 closest friends and my parents to a readership on some days of as many as 122. (That was in October.  Big things were happening.  Starts with a D?  rhymes with “of course”?)  If any of you were gathering information to bring about my downfall, I would like to think that you have read the vignettes carefully enough to see that I am living in a constant state of chaos and demise, and you will no longer need to take any action to throw me off-kilter.  I have done all that for you.

We have had such a big day here at chez brightenthecorner.  Actually we weren’t here.  We had gone out to breakfast.  Mr. Junior had fixed the Friday BMW and the children and I were joyriding on Houston-Harte before the older two went off for a full day of Nutcracker rehearsals.  As we listened to Billy Joel sing “slow down, you crazy child, and take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while,” we exited the highway and the car just lost power altogether.  Talk about a thrill!

We were able to coast down the ramp onto a triangular median on the access road.  As the children started asking questions impossible to answer: “what are are we doing?  why are we stopping in the middle of the street?  What is happening to us?” I looked around for my telephone, but no dice.  In an effort to unplug and pay more attention my actual friends and less to my virtual relationships, I had left the phone at home.  We took the phone of the hook and disappeared for a while.  After all, we were just going out for breakfast.

I don’t want to scare anyone, but we were not in the nicest part of town.  Freeways rarely are.  We were just north of downtown San Angelo.  By the bridge under which the homeless people live, across the street from the alternative school (aka disciplinary campus), and surrounded on all sides by fast-moving traffic.  I locked Anna and Henry in the car and helped Wade cross the busy street to a house where we saw some activity.  I instructed him to ask to use their phone and call 911.  I could see him the whole time.  He came back – “they don’t have a phone.”  I put him in the car and stood outside the car trying to stare down all the drivers.  I couldn’t believe how uninterested most people were.  I suppose I could have sat the children on the trunk of the car and told them to look pitiful, but they were in the late stages of antsy, and one of them would surely have been bumped off into the road.

A city bus driver stopped and brought me his telephone.  I called the police to report myself as a stranded motorist.  They must have been very busy because it took at least 20 minutes for an officer to arrive.  The worst part was enduring the backseat whining: “when are they coming?  why aren’t they here yet?  what’s taking so long?”  and I couldn’t even check my facebook status, which is what I usually do when they start driving me crazy.  As I reflect, posting my status to facebook might have resulted in quicker service, but as previously mentioned, I, um, didn’t bring my phone.

When Officer Bylsma showed up, I was overjoyed.  He was in CID (cop talk for criminal investigations division) for years and we always worked together well.  He laughed at me and our predicament, but otherwise was very helpful.  He gave me his phone so I could call my former mother-in-law, and she said she would be right there to pick us up.  She didn’t tell me that she wasn’t yet dressed, so it did take another 20 minutes when she only lives 5 minutes away, but the important thing is that she came and rescued us.  We dropped Wade off at Nutcracker and the rest of us came home.  We locked the bmw (materia non grata, at this point) and left it there.

I called AAA from my house, and they sent a tow truck to pick up the car that I want so to love, but continually disappoints me.  Junior met us here and waited for the disobedient car to arrive.  he and the tow-truck driver observed that the belt that was installed earlier this week had snapped and just wasn’t there anymore.

My mom wants that car G-O-N-E.  Sold.  Out of here.  My dad and I are more sentimental than she is, and we really like the car.  It’s comfortable, beautiful, and fast.  But none of that really matters when you are stuck on a triangle in the middle of the exit ramp with three little children, does it?  That’s when you want your ho-hum Honda. 

I think in addition to being sentimental, I have a streak of not knowing when to give up.  I seem to always believe that things are just about to get better.  And sometimes they can’t get better – they only get worse.   Being stranded is no fun.  By a man or by a car.  It’s pretty scary.   It feels dangerous, and you’re lucky if you have friends or family around to rescue you when that happens.  The best course of action is to choose reliable over exciting.  I’m becoming a big fan of the uneventful.

Oh ye little faithfuls

10 Dec

On Tuesday night, after ballet practice  and after play practice, and after attempting a relaxing dinner at a restaurant with my friend Kate and her three children, similar in age to mine (We would like a table for 8 please.  yes.  2 adults, and 6 children, including 2 toddlers.  yes, we are insane.), I drove myself and the children around the neighborhoods to calm them before bed and to subdue myself into a trance by staring into the bright lights burning in people’s yards.  I was hoping that it would serve as a mild lobotomy.  And they were playing great 90’s country music on the radio.

We came to a nativity scene and I pointed out the holy family.  We discussed Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherd, the donkey, the sheep, the kings, and Anna asked if one of the kings was Herod.  I knew enough to know that Herod had stayed home and sent the wise men to locate the King of the Jews, so I said “no – that’s a king we refer to as one of the wise men.”  But there are so many kings in the Bible that I’m not surprised she was confused.

Wade told us that Joseph took his family to Egypt to escape from King Herod, and I corrected him – saying that I thought he was confusing Herod with Pharaoh.  I told them that we would look it up when we got home.  So once we got home and settled everyone into some semblance of submission – one in her bed, one contained in the bathtub, and the easy one reclining on the couch, I read them the Christmas story from Luke 1:

 “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

And it turned out that Wade was correct.  An angel appeared to Joseph and instructed him to take his family to Egypt to escape Herod’s plan to kill the baby.  But we read the story of the nativity, and the two older children listened attentively.  Then I took Henry out of the bath, and dressed him in pajamas, and he stated yelling at me.  “Read the Bible to ME, Mom!  In MY bed.”  I asked him if that is how we speak to our mother in this family, and he wisely re-phrased his demand: “peese, Mama?”  So I read it again.  And three year-old, demanding, tyrannical Henry listened quietly, and then settled down and went to sleep.  Which never happens.  Miracle?

I have been told that children are far more sensitive to the nearness of God than adults are.  I don’t know how to explain the events of the household that night, except to say that they were enraptured with the beautiful nativity story, right down to the smallest one.

I was distraught a week or so ago when I decided that my children were too immature and self-focused to take in so much as the idea that we celebrate Christ’s birth on Christmas.  But somehow, the message of the good news has reached them, and it didn’t come from me.  The night before, on the way to a tree-lighting service at the park, Anna asked me specifically about why God seemed so mean in the Old Testament and so nice in the New.  I told her that in the OT, God visited with His people and gave them his commandments, and taught them how to follow Him.  He wasn’t mean – He has always been good, but that he did expect His  people to follow  His rules. (Isn’t this a relevant parenting message?)

So somehow, in this season of Advent, of early, dark nights, and preparations, my children are soaking in the rich history of Christianity and asking sophisticated, hard questions that I am not really equipped to answer on the spot.  This is a big improvement from “It’s MY birthday.  MINE!”  Maybe there is hope.