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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.

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People say I’m thought-provoking

9 Dec

Anna Banana was in rare form yesterday.  She was positively brimming with queries.  She addresses Henry as “sweetie” or “sweets” and I can see her treating him with the same affection and kindness with which her beloved second grade teacher, Mrs. Stevenson, approaches her.  I think “sweets” is Mrs. Stevenson’s special form of endearment.  She is dancing at least 4 days a week preparing for Nutcracker next weekend.  It is a BIG production, starring close to 100 children, but somehow, 8 years old and barely out of pre-ballet, Anna is dancing three different parts.  She is cast as a Christmas angel, a mouse, and a gingerbread girl.  She is positively exhausted every night and puts herself to bed with a book of poems and a CD of Julie Andrews reading them.  Seriously, every night.  I didn’t expect this from her, but how do you know what to expect from a child, who at four, looks right into her grandmother’s eyes and announces:

“People say I’m beautiful.” 

I worried then that she was a Norma Desmond in the making, but now with the flair for poetry and dancing and drawing, well, look out world,  here she comes.

Yesterday I picked her and Wade up from school and she asked me this zinger:

“Mom, when you run into somebody you sent to jail, what do you and he talk about?”

I think I managed to say something like “oh, that never happens” or some other platitude.  I should have told her that I discuss how I kennel police dogs and pit bulls at my house; or how my husband is a green beret; or that I have recently taken an advanced handgun-marksmanship class.  None of which are true, by the way.  I have run into former defendants – usually at the grocery store.  It’s the great equalizer.  Everybody runs out of bread, milk, and garbage bags, even criminals.  They always say “hello, Mrs. Noelke,” and are generally very polite, but I don’t exactly stand around and make idle conversation with them. 

Later on, she told me of her plans to open a facility called “Anna’s Orphanage.”  She explained that it’s really not fair that some children are orphans and don’t have parents.  She wants to give them each a Christmas present to make up for their not having a mom and dad.  And here was the best part – the logistics:

“Mom, where do you get orphans?”

As I was putting some polishing touches on our Christmas tree, she admired its glitter and flair and asked me again if I had any of the family jewels.  She is just dying to get her hands on them. 

the very last question she asked was a good one – a complex, tricky issue: “What about a tattoo that says ‘I love God?’ ”  I said “Well, Anna, I don’t think God likes tattoos (apologies to any and all tattooed readers.  I am merely trying to keep her un-inked until she graduates from high school.  After that, I will give up my attempts to control her style.)

“I know, Mom,” she said, “but this is a tattoo that says something good about GOD.”  as though I didn’t get the dilemma.  I settled for “God would prefer you announce your love for Him in ways besides permanent ink on your skin.”  Like a tee-shirt.  Or good deeds.

She wasn’t quite as entertaining today, or maybe I just didn’t see her as much as she had evening visitation with her dad, but yesterday, she was classic Anna.  Always edgy, always generous, always glittering.  Hopefully not yet tattooed.

Ode to Mary Rose

17 Nov

Today is my mother’s birthday.  On this occasion, I would like to thank her for being the perfect mother for me and for being unflinchingly and stalwartly supportive of my (nearly) every endeavour.  Her career as my number one supporter began in February, 1970, at a hospital in New Orleans.  My dad wasn’t even there to hold her hand when I was born.  He was out somewhere having a sandwich, and apparently he didn’t even bring us home from the hospital — a friend of hers drove us.  From the photographs, he appears quite fond of me as a baby, but I have to give all credit for keeping me alive and healthy and happy to my mother.  I have seen her with my own babies and I have seen my dad with my babies, and there is no question that I would not be around today were it not for the tireless efforts of my mother.

She is a unique individual.  She was not like the other mothers.  Classmates would say “I saw your mother on Grand Boulevard taking signs off the trees this morning.”  She didn’t appreciate people nailing their garage sale signs into the hundred year-old water oaks.  She was like the Lorax – she spoke for the trees.  I wanted to die of embarrassment.

She wasn’t a cupcake-baking mother or a PTA mother or room mother.  She was the mother who would come into your class with slideshows of her trip to Africa or exotic birds or water lilies.  She was the mother who flew airplanes.  She was the mother who picked up stray dogs and found their owners.  She also might come in on career day and talk about being a newspaper photographer/journalist.  She always made it clear that she was a photographer first and a writer second.  She probably made them put that in her contract.

She was the mother who warned me when I was leaving for camp in Maine “Don’t let them think you are stupid just because you come from Mississippi,” and when I went to boarding school: “There will be some girls there who fly to the Caribbean for Easter.  Remember, we are not that kind of people.” 

She was the mother who forced her children to attend the art movie series at the public library.  She ordered Picnic at Hanging Rock; Babette’s feast; Black Orpheus…I know there were more, but my indignant, horrified, teenaged brain repressed them. 

While other families went to Destin for vacation, she and my dad took us to Mexico and Belize and forced us to ride the train to Chicago.  I resented her for making us stand in line in the wind and snow and slush to see a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the National Gallery.  All my friends were probably at the beach.  We were forced to listen to opera and classical music.  Other mothers were cooler than mine.  Other moms drew their daughters out about the high school gossip and current teen romances.  My mom seemed to think all that was silly and ridiculous.  She only seemed to care that we were educated and exposed to more culture than just what Greenwood, Mississippi, offered.

We were only allowed to watch an hour of television per week.  I was always out of the loop on the latest in pop culture.  She forbade me to wear makeup until high school.  She said all that blue eyeshadow made me look like a streetwalker.  She advised my friends and me not to “make ourselves available” to boys.  Whatever that means.

When I wanted to leave college and come home because I was homesick, she seemed sympathetic, but she still said no.  I was merciless.  I called her daily to tell her how miserable I was and how much I hated it there.  I did the same thing to her when I was in law school. 

From this vantage, I can see that she was in the trenches with my brother and me every single day.  We saw her as impossible and only interested in herself and my dad having a good time, while we unlucky children were just dragged along on these cultural excursions and family outings.  “Everybody else” could watch TV and listen to popular music and lounge around the house eating sugary cereals in their pajamas all day, and we were expected to DO SOMETHING.  Read something, write something, make something, think about something, be something.  We were convinced that she just didn’t want us to have a good time.  Ever.

When my marriage ended last August, my mother gave me the best advice I have ever, ever received – before or since.  She said simply: “He has made his plans.  It is time for you to make yours.”

She has always made her own plans.  She obtained her master’s degree and her pilot’s license after having children.  She almost went to law school at age 40.  She had her name legally changed back to her maiden name even though she was still married to my dad and had taken his name 20 years before.  She is a great role model for never losing your own identity just because you are married and have children.  There is never a time when she isn’t working on a big project.  

I have never stopped being homesick and she has never stopped being encouraging and supportive.  When asked why I am a certain way: how I learned to love dogs more than people, how I have been so secure through a separation and divorce that rocked us, why I don’t watch television, why I have such an appetite for shoes, I realize that it’s all because of having Mary Rose as a mother.

I hereby offer a public apology for thinking you weren’t cool.  I knew you were the prettiest mom, but I couldn’t see the value of your uniqueness when I was a child.  Now that I am learning who I am and how I came to be this way, I think I am the luckiest child ever born to have you as a mother.  Happy Birthday.

How to get a good night’s sleep

14 Nov

That was a whole lot of mothering I did today.  I cooked; I drove and drove and drove.  I coordinated 3 children and 2 different theatre productions’ practices; shopped for baby necessities; bought legos; hosted two additional children for long playdates; arranged for a babysitter for Henry; and then took 4 children to a nighttime showing of Secretariat.

I also bought baklava and spanokopita at the Greek church bake sale and left 5 children at home unattended while I went running in a tight circuit around the neighborhood.  (If you are any of their mothers, please don’t be concerned – I instructed them to call you if there was a problem.  No news was good news, right?)

I also tested the older children’s independence by sending them out to breakfast alone.  They walked several blocks to Mr. T’s and charged their own meals to my account – a skill I will surely regret teaching them.  The alternative was my getting up, driving to the grocery store to buy eggs, thinking about whether it’s morally wrong to purchase bacon when you are an aspiring semi-vegetarian, considering whether my semi-vegetarianism ought to be imposed on my children or whether they should be able to be able to choose their own food philosophies or whether, by virtue of their being children, I am obligated to convey what will be their eating preferences, and then wondering whether I really have any control over that.  Nature vs. nurture.  Which came first -the chicken or the egg?  The eggs?  Isn’t that why I drove over here in my “are they or aren’t they pajamas?” loungewear.

It seemed less mentally taxing to just send them out with a reminder of my account number and instructions to “fuel up – you have a lot of dancing to do today” while I cuddled in my toasty bed with the still-sleeping three year-old.  They made it back and swore that they ate eggs.  they are becoming so big and grown-up – I should have asked them to bring me a large coffee with one cream.  I think they could handle it.

One last note as some day this blog will be all that’s left of their childhoods and I will look up and they will be 16:  I will want to remember that Miss Elena said “your children pick up steps really quickly.  This choreography is very hard for the little ones, but they get it.  And they are so well-behaved.”  Thanks Miss Elena.  That just makes all this nonstop mothering worthwhile.

Because I love Justice. (or How I Decided to Become a Lawyer)

3 Nov

I have always loved to read, so it was an easy decision to declare a major when I was in the second semester of my freshman year.  Of course I was going to study English.  If you love to read, then what better way to spend four years than reading all the best books known to western civilization in the leafy mountain literary paradise that was Sewanee?  Talk about Heaven on Earth!  (and let’s not talk about how it took me at least 6 months to realize it was heaven because I had a boyfriend at another school.  That was before I wised up and just said no to relationships (last week, I believe it was)).
 
My sophomore roommate and dearest friend, Parmele, had entered college knowing that she was going to be a lawyer.  I can’t remember whether she majored in history or economics, but it was something that I thought would be really hard, and I was so relieved that I was only going to read novels and then graduate, and if I had to go to work, I might just plan parties for a living.  And read novels on the side for fun.
 
Around the first part of senior year in college, I did not have a career plan.  My then-roommate’s father had given her some apartment complexes to manage in Montgomery, but my parents weren’t rich, due to having two children in private schools, and it looked like I would have to find a job.  I wanted to plan parties and banquets and receptions for a big hotel.  And since I was dating Hal and he was going to law school, I thought I might move out to Texas to pursue this calling.
 
My parents, in a complete (and prescient) panic, scrambled to come up with a plan B.  My dad wrote me a beautiful, long letter telling me that I was his favorite child and how he wished he could support me forever, but sadly, if I chose not to apply to graduate school and pursue an advanced degree, that I would be on my own financially.
 
It was a very warm and genuine letter.  Not coercive at all on its face.  What it said was that he regretted to inform me that I had turned out to be very expensive.  And that I would need to take that into consideration when choosing a job.  I would need to earn enough money to pay for an apartment, food, gasoline, automobile insurance and health insurance (as sadly, his carriers would not allow an independent adult “child” to remain on his policies.)  He wished me all the best and had every confidence that I would be successful.  However, should I choose to go on to graduate school, he and my mom would be happy to continue paying all my bills.
 
Of course I immediately agreed to take the LSAT even though I had no real interest in being a lawyer.  I was just trying to appease them and secure myself in some sort of academic setting.  What I really wanted to do was teach English in a high school or college.  (Books and parties – that kind of sums me up.)  So I also sat for the GRE, which I found much more difficult than the LSAT.  But then my advisor informed me that graduate school in English (and probably any subject) would take something that I loved (reading, studying history, working math problems) and turn it into drudgery.  In retrospect, I wonder if a) my dad had called him? and b)he should have been on medication for depression?
 
I then applied to the prestigious University of Mississippi School of Law.  And believe it or not, I was accepted.    I tried to drop out on several occasions (a common theme in my academic track), but over the telephone, my mother calmed me down and convinced me to keep trying.  Maybe that is how I have been so successful in not flinging out into space as a result of this separation and divorce?  because I am so accustomed to being coached to stay the course by my parents when the conditions seem unendurable?  I know for a fact that where they were concerned, dropping out or quitting was never an option.  Instead they continually taught me how to take the next forward step and keep on trying.  I think I may be on the brink of a revelation here.