Archive | May, 2011

syllabus

21 May

I am finally going to see how the other half lives.  And I don’t expect to like it very much.  The children’s father and I will essentially reverse the conservatorship arrangement for the month of June.  They will stay primarily at his house.  I will have them in the evenings two nights a week, and they will be with me on two weekends and with him two weekends.  Miss Pat is going to go to his house every day to keep the children while he works.

I feel very fortunate to have had Spring Break 2011 wherein I stayed home and read nonstop for 10 days.  I didn’t cook anything.  I barely ate.  I worked and I lounged around.  It was just like my life before I had children, except that I am significantly less well-rested and poorer now.  Money-wise.  In terms of love, activity, adventures, new skills, random knowledge, interestingness, sense of humor, heart, appreciation of the absurd, automatic self-sacrifice, minivans, legos, Nancy Drew books, hotwheels, big wheels, tricycles, bicycles, crisis management, triage, days spent outside and really bad jokes?  I am much, much richer than I was 10 years ago.

Anyway, spring break was a trial run in life without distractions.  I survived it.  I had my books and my poetry to protect me.  And so the month of June will be.  But I will need some books.  The Wehners have books.  Lots of them.  I shall have to call on them.  SA has a brand new, gorgeous library.  They have a few books, too.  Probably not as many as the Wehners, but it’s certainly close.  I can raid my parents’ condo for reading material, and while I am there, return their books that I borrowed previously.  I still have Sonya’s copy of Henrietta Lack, and I want to read that one.

I plan to re-read Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety.  But I don’t have it anymore, so I shall get it at the library.  Fitzsimmons Allison’s Cruelty of Heresy sounds fascinating to me.  Does it to you?

I don’t deliberately choose sad novels, although it wouldn’t be a story worth telling if there were no human drama, would it?  Who cares about the kind of tale wherein nothing really happens and there are no challenges, no failure of character, no triumph of virtue, no difficult decisions, no weighing of the trade-offs implicit in every decision you make? 

I am asking for your recommendations.  Please.  It doesn’t even have to be profound.  Lite is okay with me.  Humorous is even better.  Tragedies need not apply.  I see enough of that at work.  My mom was telling me about a novel called Left Side Neglected, and the two parents have high-powered jobs in Boston and she makes more than he does and they have 3 young children and they are already spread too thin and then she is looking down at her blackberry while driving (I know, can you imagine?  Who would do such a thing?!?  Probably someone with 3 children, a high-powered job, too many obligations who is overextended and driving to work is the only quiet time she will have all. day. long.  Just a guess.)  And then there is a car accident and now she suffers a brain injury and her left side just won’t rehabilitate and she has all these obligations and this family and this job and she can hardly function.

And my mother just went on and on (in a good way) about what an interesting book it really was and so informative about neurology and medicine and how the brain and body heal and fail to heal, and how will she ever recover enough to be useful in her work and effective in her crazy east coast, urban life?  I swear I just tuned out.  I think I am way too close to that precipice on a daily basis to find that tale the least bit palatable.  Sorry, Mother, but I won’t seek it out.  I am more interested in stories of ultimate justice and redemption.  I may need an anthology of mythology.  Wherein the good guys win.

But please, post your recommendations.  I want to know what you have read lately that you’ve enjoyed.  But please, no mothers with terminal illnesses or paralysis.  I am trying to cut back on the nightmares.

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what we do for fun in Greenwood

19 May

We play ball.

We jump rope.

We read.

We hunt.

We give up.

We use restraint.

And we notice that the river is up since yesterday.

facts in five

18 May

so we played this game last night called “Facts in Five” and it’s like a very convoluted, but more sophisticated precursor to Trivial Pursuits or Scattergories from the 1970’s.  Even our score sheets were 40 years old and I felt bad using them up.  We were in teams and at some point, Wade wandered over and wanted to join the team of Brooks and me, so just to be nice, Brooks let him play. 

Well, Wade is a natural.  I don’t know where he got the Midas touch, but everything the child touches turns to gold.  He can play any sport, solve any math problem, tame an unappeasable three year-old, charm the clerk at the airport convenience store, and play facts in five with a group of adults and hold his own.

I was most impressed with his ability to score the game.  It involved squaring your individual scores before adding them together…as though the inventors were tasked with the necessity of making it as tricky and long and unexpected as they possibly could…maybe they got a prize for that.

I didn’t know how to explain the verb “square” to Wade.  Well, you multiply the number by itself.  If our score is three, you multiply 3 times itself, which is what?  3.  right.   And if the score is 5, you multiply 5 times…right, 25.  He caught onto to squaring integers and had done all the necessary figuring before I could even explain it.

And he loved the game, and I expect that he loved being included.  Thank you, Brooks, for letting a little kid into the middle of your game.  I thought he might make us lose, but I knew you’d be a good sport about it.  Because that’s just who you are and it’s clearly how you were raised.  And it’s also my very favorite quality in a person, which is what I love so much about your family and the friends they attract.

And what did I learn?  That when you do something just to be nice, like allow a nine year-old a turn at a game that’s obviously too much for him, you could be securing your path to certain, actual victory.

the moviegoer

17 May

wow.  published in 1960 and just as relevant in 2009.  winner of the National Book Award.  Binx has disappointed his Aunt Emily by failing to revere Kate as he should have.  Aunt Emily dresses him down as follows:

First, is it not true that in all of past history people who found themselves in difficult situations behaved in certain familiar ways, well or badly, courageously or cowardly, with distinction or mediocrity, with honor or dishonor.  They are recognizable.  They display courage, pity, fear, embarrassment, joy, sorrow, and so on.  Such anyhow has been the funded experience of the race for two or three thousand years, has it not?  Your discovery, as best I can determine, is that there is an alternative which no one has hit upon.  It is that on findng oneself in one of life’s critical situations need not after all respond in one of the traditional ways.  No.  One may simply default.  Pass.  Do as one pleases, shrug, turn on one’s heel and leave.  Exit.  Why, after all, need one act humanly?

roadtrip

16 May

Who knew the West Texas landscape was so beautiful and diverse?  From the gate we saw the barn and such gorgeous palomino horses: Shelly, Sally, Oops, Bullet, Neiman, and silly baby Ace.  He is adorable.  He has a giant soccer ball that he kicks and plays with and tries to climb on top of and over and he falls and he trips and he kicks and he scores!  It’s as big as he is. 

The three year-olds loved seeing the “baby horse”, but not as much as they loved the jeeps in the barn.  They raced and drove the stationery jeep.  They played ring around the rosy and coerced poor Anna into playing it with them – over and over again. 

We drank lemonade on the back porch while Cal chased Niko, the little cat and Lizzie, the Boston terrier barked at us, demanding that we throw her ball.  The children jumped on the trampoline.  Then we took a drive down into the beautiful canyon to look for herons (we found them).  I didn’t know that an ordinary-looking ranch could turn into such a wooded, rugged, mountainous range in so short a distance.  It was absolutely beautiful and such a perfect afternoon excursion for the mothers of three year-olds, who only need a trampoline and a parked car to make them happy.

While Anna was able to ride the adorable Oops bareback, accompanied and guided by dear Anita, and the three moms were able to hold a thousand shortened-by-children’s needs conversations.

The weather was uncharacteristically cool and the sun was out and all was right with the world.  I can’t wait to go back.

the long day

13 May

Do my tales of travel bore you?  I’m sorry, but this one does have to be told.  On Monday evening we were dropped off in Jackson, Miss., at the airport.  My mom offered to come in with us, but I knew she had to get home as she was leaving the next day on a trip with my dad, and it was by now very late in the afternoon.  As I stood in line to check in, I noticed that our flight from Jackson to DFW was delayed by an hour.   As we only had a 30 minute layover in Dallas, the writing was on the wall.  We were not going to get home that day.

I placed a call at once to the hotel in the airport at DFW.  They were sold out, but had availability at a sister property just across the street, but still on airport grounds.  I booked it and paid on the spot.  It had suddenly become urgent that we have someplace to go when we got off that plane in Dallas.  My children were already tired and hungry and had traveled 90 miles just to get to the first airport. 

I sent Wade into the store for provisions.  He emerged with a bag of bugles and a bottle of water.  And a note written on the back of the receipt that said:  “Your little boy is very sweet and mannerly.  Good job.  Keep up the good work.” signed by Nikki.  I thought that was lovely of her to take the time to acknowledge him. 

In the meantime Anna had unpacked her entire bag in search of something.  Once she found it, she re-packed.  Everything except a pair of undies that she left sitting on the floor in the middle of the gate area.  I was away from the gate making the calls to Hyatt and my mama.  When I returned, it was to snickers from other passengers as I noticed the lone pair of undies in the floor.  It had been a long day, and clearly it was about to be a very long night.

On the plane, we had 4 seats in 4 different areas of the cabin.  I managed to switch seats to be with Henry.  The other two were on their own.  They had seatmates who offered to let them move and sit closer to me, but I declined.  I really did.  We had expereinced a good bit of togetherness already, but I also was confident that they knew how to conduct themselves on the plane.  They took advantage of my not sitting with them to order Dr. Pepper and Coke, but by then I was so tired that I would have looked the other way if Henry, age 3, asked for a Mountain Dew.  I just was blissed out knowing that there was a bed in my future.

The rest of the story is so uneventful.  We took a shuttle 5 minutes to our hotel.  We checked in and promptly ordered room service as we hadn’t eaten since noon, and if there’s one thing worse than a tired child, it’s a tired and hungry child, and breakfast would be iffy based on our departure time.  We sat on the floor and ate quesadillas and pizza and agreed that it was the best and most exciting meal we’d ever had.

I was and am so proud of my brood.  Nothing bothers them.  They think hotels are awesome and airplanes are an opportunity to drink Dr. Pepper.  They could not have known how at the end of her rope their mother was.  Or maybe they did.  And that’s why they were so good.  But we are a family of good travelers.  Anything can be an adventure if you look at it the right way.  It’s a skill that has saved me dozens of times, and I am proud to see them cultivating it so early.  Bon voyage, everybody.

home

12 May

I’m over it enough now to be able to re-live the experience in writing about it.  We traveled to the beautiful Delta where we spent a few blissful days with the people I refer to as my roots.  I called them “the folks” to Henry and he started calling them “the smokes”. They are my people.  We share a love of just the right descriptor and pretty clothes and oil paintings and watercolors.  Everybody is always reading something interesting that they must tell you about or read you a passage of.  We love jazz standards and sitting on the patio watching the redwing blackbirds dive and children frolic in the fountain.  We are all so plugged-in that we will even sit back there with our laptop computers working on our blogs.  Figuring out how much or how little to tell the world about our thoughts, plans, and activities.

My trip was a gift to three generations of mothers.  For Mimi, whom I haven’t seen in nearly a year.  She has hardly changed at all.  A dubious gift to my mom, who hasn’t had us home since last July.  What this really means is that she has forgotten how to inflate the inflatable bed and hasn’t bought capri-suns and pop-tarts in nearly a year.  She hasn’t worked this hard in a long time.  Cooking breakfasts, buying lots of doughnuts, refereeing arguments, cleaning up and cleaning up and cleaning up.  And it was especially a gift for me.  My homesickness is well-documented here on btc.

Every now and then I have to get home so that, as my dad once said “we can remind you of what it’s really like here.” 

He meant it tongue-in-cheek.  Like if I came home, I would quickly get my fill and leave as soon as I possibly could.  But I am chronically homesick.  From camp, at boarding school, college, a whole summer in Paris, law school, while married and living in Texas, and now divorced and living in Texas.

But how can you not love a place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in?  Even if they have deliberately built a two bedroom house with stained concrete floors that enhance the noise of children, rather than muffling it?  Even if there is relatively little furniture and certainly no extra beds.  You can’t see a movie as there is no theatre.  The nights are early and the mornings are too.  The trains whistle across the fields as you lie in bed, thinking about how lucky and relaxed you are to be there.

Because getting there is no walk in the park.  You rise early to get yourself together.  You have already placed the three carry-on bags of the children in the van.  The dogs are boarded, and care for the cats and goldfish has been arranged.  You make the mistake of responding to an early-morning email and that sets you back a few minutes, but then you wake up your big kids and after pointing them to their clothes, carefully laid-out the night before, you order them into the car.  You return to your bed to scoop up the slumbering three year-old windmill who has graced you with his presence in the middle of the night, and carry him straight out the door.  “Where am I?” are his first words of the day.  It is 6 a.m. and still dark outside.

At the airport, you manage a fake smile for the gate agent who says “I can’t find your reservation,” assuming he is being funny.  Then you realize that you have given him your new-old name and that you are traveling under your married name so as not to be suspected of kidnaping three children who don’t share your new-old name.  Reservation located, you move to security where you wait.  Barefoot with three barefoot children.  They are so good at traveling that they know to place their bags on the belt and enter the metal detector.  You, on the other hand, in an effort to be respectful, are wearing a dress.  Since the last time you flew – 6 weeks ago – the TSA has, unbeknownst to you, issued a terror alert for caucasian mothers traveling with three small children and wearing dresses.  Because you just never know whether she might have expolsives strapped to her upper thighs.  Which is why you are subjected to the invasive, full-body patdown.  Which is more of a groping.  If you enjoyed it, you would have referred to it as fondling, but this was not enjoyable in the least.  It was embarrassing and a room full of people watched you being groped.  Including your three children.

The agent then proceeds to harass you for not having your makeup foundation and facial sunscreen in a clear plastic bag.  Even though you have already checked that they comply with the 3 oz requirement and you have separated them from your luggage.  Removing them from your suitcase and makeup bag and making them available for inspection.  You are informed rudely that TSA regulations require a quart-sized clear plastic bag, and no, we don’t supply them.  ( The last time I flew, 6 weeks ago, it wasn’t an issue.)

Again, my children are wondering what I did wrong to have to be crevice-searched and chastised by someone with a lot of authority and little sense.  The children were so good during this interminable ordeal.  Then we made our first leg of the trip to Dallas – uneventful.  And the same for our connection from Dallas to Jackson.  They were stellar travelers.  I was so proud.

The return trip was another story.  We made it fine, but did experience a few hurdles.  However, hurdles are de rigueur in my little family.  We kind of expect them, and when we clear them, we pat ourselves on the back and move on.  Maybe moving on is what we do best.