Monthly Archiv: January, 2014
Wherein we contemplate eggs
And wonder why they only sell some kinds in the store
Why we try to save ourselves from things that are interesting
Like asking which kind of egg we are
And from laughing when we crack them
because on the inside they’re all the same.
You and me.
- Me and you
Girl Two and I decided that this growing out your bangs thing was for the birds. We were sick of hair falling in our eyes and we were tired of barrettes. Off to the hair dresser we trooped.
What do you want done? she wanted to know.
If I knew the answer to that question, I would have been here weeks ago, I thought. “I was thinking of growing my hair but I can’t stand hair in my eyes. I am wondering about having my whole head shaved,” I said.
Oh dear, she said. From here she began picking. It is a thing hair dressers do after I try to explain myself. Their fingers go in and out of my hair, pulling it out here and there. Hmm, they say.
You know, she said finally. (They always say, you know, even thought it is extremely clear that I do not. Another cause for long suffering. Now that I’m Catholic, we’re supposed to practice that kind of thing, so I guess it’s ok.)
You know, you have a very long face. Pause.
So I’ve heard, I thought. But I said nothing.
I never noticed it before. But now that your hair is longer, I really see it. You have a really long face.
What does this mean? I ask myself. Is this how the famous are discovered? One day they are sitting there all round and unnoticed and then someone sees them at just the right angle, realizes they have a long face, and wala?
Then again, there are horses. All the, “why the long face?” jokes don’t seem to point in the right direction.
I have a long face too, she says. I think I detect wistfulness, but I’m not sure. She pulls at my hair a few more times. See? She points to herself in the mirror. I nod wisely, still trying to decipher if we are linking in sorrow or greatness.
That’s why I keep my hair up. My face is too long. She sighs and laughs.
I relax. The code has been inadvertently shared. A long face is something you are supposed to work to minimize.
Of course, mother’s former model acquaintance had said so when I was ten, but that was when leg warmers were in style. Now that it has been a bad thing twice, I am assuming that long faces are like warts and permanently out of style. I hope so. It would be rather frustrating to think that they’d been all the rage three times over the last thirty years while mine was busy flying under the radar of my traditionally shorter hair.
There’s a third book I’d like to write called, “Advice to My Children.” To be presented upon their 18th birthday and ever year thereafter as needed. Here’s the chapter on life and money.
Eat a simple balanced diet. Cook your own food. This will make you healthy. Healthy people have an easier time making good decisions about the rest of their lives.
Whenever possible, get a good night’s sleep for the same reasons.
Unless there is a compelling reason, eat at home. Candles and a tablecloth do wonders. Eat in a different room if you need a change.
Buy the kind of underwear that comes grouped in packages.
Wear them until they don’t make that kind any more, then keep wearing them.
When the occasional hole makes known, shrug your shoulders.
When the elastic fails completely, head to town and buy some new ones.
Reduce the number of specialized cleaning products. Vinegar. Bleach. Ammonia. Good stuff . . . but don’t mix them together.
Don’t give people gifts they don’t need just because everyone else is. Be sincere. Save the big gifts for people who really need them.
Make a list of free entertainment: books, board games, borrowed movies, art projects, hikes
Don’t buy technology unless yours is broken to the point you would have thrown it out ten years ago.
If you buy technology, buy used: computers, TVs, appliances
Don’t drive to get one thing. To get in the car, you need at least two reasons. Or three.
Spend little time and money trying to look like Hollywood stars. Be you and find your own stars. Put the extra money in a savings account.
Don’t spend money you don’t have. Even if you know you’re going to get it.
When the wheels fall off the vacuum, see if you can pull it across the floor without scratching anything. If you can, buy more vacuum cleaner bags; there’s still a lot of life in them there hills.
When you realize your popcorn popper has turned 21, throw a party (with popcorn of course) and raise a glass. Thank the superglue that held the broken plastic together these last five years and tell her you hope she’s good for another ten.
When your living room is full of creams and blues, your couch is about to sing her last, and someone offers you a free red and green striped couch in prisinte condition, say thank you. Then go get that couch. Add, “finding synonyms for, juxtaposition,” to your free entertainment list.
When the upholstery on the arms of the chair disintegrates to strings, duct tape. Find removable coverings from other chairs and lay over fresh duct tape. If colours don’t suit, tack on some hand towels.
Be generous. Use most of everything else you have to do worthwhile things with people you love. Need little.
Buy good toilet paper. Not everything should be a chore.
I am in a small state of creative depletion. Two reasons. My daughter asked me to write her a book two years ago. It will someday be a gift for all of them. I had hoped to send it to a friend to peruse for the beginning of December. Then I hoped for January 1. Currently, I am a third of the way through my latest round of “final,” revisions. On good days, I knock off another 15 pages. It is a bit maddening. At times I am in tears that I am still not able to offer this gift. Other days, I think that since I don’t end up really running my life anyway, the completion of the book can rest where it belongs, in hands not my own. Lately, I am leaned considerably more towards the former sentiment (tears) and a little further from the latter one of peace, so I have put a self-imposed burn on and am trying desperately to get through this next stage.
(No doubt my need to finish the book is influenced at least in part by the suggestion of a friend that I begin preparing another book . . . one that I would very much love to write. I can’t in good conscience start that book while the latest copy of hacked up corrections sits on my porch waiting for me to finish entering them all.)
For the 38,000th time in my life, I call for Jeffrey. If Jeffrey would only come, I would speak the corrections to him as he typed madly, or better yet, hand him the sheaf and let him come to me when he couldn’t figure the arrows and notes. Jeffrey is my servant and has been so for years. His talents are many. His only shortcoming is his refusal to materialize from my imagination into a real, live, working assister to my needs.
The truth is, the book gives back at least as much creative energy as it takes away. It’s more the allocation of the time. The real creative depletion comes from making such big decisions recently. I don’t know if this is a common human ailment. For me, it is real. I can study things objectively, engage situations that pose conflict, and make decision not everyone will understand. But when it’s all over, I’m finished. All the considered risk taking, all the change . . . it takes it out of me. I need recovery time.
Last week, we decided to move the three youngest kids to a new school. It was a good decision. I’ll write more later. All the meetings and questions and more conversations have taken just about all the energy I have. I would like Jeffery to come now. Make breakfast. Eggs Benedict perhaps. Give the house a once over. While he’s at it, use the magical dead mouse sounder to find the decomposing bodies in the wall. Then use the carcass vaporizer to remove them. Thank you, Jeffery. That will be all for now.
In our house, Surprise Ending plus Costumes = A Play. After hours of rehearsal, we were invited to the performance. (A welcome distraction from the problem of dead mice decomposing in bathroom wall.)
A fairy princess, a cow, and a wicked witch slid down the stairs on their bottoms with delight and a fair bit of speed. The cow watched from here on. Ten year old boy made introductions as follows. There are three characters in this place. A wicked witch – he pointed to girl one in the shredding Buzz Light Year costume wearing her straw Easter hat and holding a thin blue tube. A fairy princess – who is me, he said making his voice shrill and taking a curtsy. He had on black pants, a shiny blue cape, and the popcorn bucket from last year’s Hobbit movie on his head. There was a grand pause for effect. The fairy princess held a small hinged box (once home to a ring from a jeweller) in his hand. And . . . he opened the box slowly . . . in here . . . is the prince. The fairy princess came closer and we the audience could see a solitary Japanese beetle (looks a lot like a lady bug if you aren’t already acquainted with them trying to winter their villages in your house and woodshed). The fairy princess sighed. The prince will try to save the fairy princess from the wicked witch.
Conclusion – after dramatic attempts by the witch to catch spells, the fairy princess reached out and snapped her wand. The Japanese beetle prince was lured to the edge of the open box then brought to a fatal end with a quick slam of the ring box. The stunt failed the first time but pleased the witch, the fairy princess, and the watching cow quite well in the eventual finale. The prince dies trying to save the fairy princess, announced the happy princess.
(A door was needed. Audience was requested to change venues. Upstairs, the play continued.)
Archery sessions with various sundry patterns of arrow release-age followed by war hoops.
We were now told that girl two in the cow costume (with pink kilt) was actually a sheep. A ram to be exact. She lay very still and straight on the floor. It was requested that one of the audience members stand ready to open the bedroom door when directed. Boy two and girl one picked up the very straight, prone ram from the floor and ran with her towards the door as fast as they could.
Now, yelled boy two, his shiny blue magician’s cape flapping. My husband pushed the bedroom door open. The ram flew through and was summarily dropped onto waiting cushions on the other side.
“I was a battering ram,” said a proud girl two now allowed to speak and walk.
“Get it? A battering ram?” beamed boy two and girl one.
Boy one was recently applying for a passport. We came to a part of the documentation that required his signature. Perhaps it is worth explaining that by 13, I routinely spent time practicing my signature, up and down rows on lined paper. Just in case I was ever famous. I studied the signatures on the American Declaration of Independence. I noticed my parents signatures. And I practiced.
I understand that boy one is not me. Good news for him, I say. Reviewing his documents, I did not expect that he had laboriously practiced his signature, only that he had one. He did not.
Son, it says to write your signature on this line.
That is not a signature. That is a poorly printed name.
That’s how I do my signature.
That may be how you print your name, but that is not a signature. If that actually was your signature, you should make certain never to tell anyone that this is so. No, son. You must write. Cursive. Script. A signature must be written. It must be yours. It is your name.
Five. Full. Minutes. Later. Boy one returned with paper in hand.
Is this good?
I could tell he was trying. Before me was a name written in the fat, double size, extra tall cursive letters typical of nine year olds. There was nothing to say. The fact that his best was deplorable was at least as much my fault as his, I the guardian of his education.
The next time we had a free hour, I called them all. Ages 5 to 13, bring paper and pencils, I said.
We sat at the kitchen table. Playing with different script styles of capital letters. Comparing the look of size and slant for the lowercase letters. It took them about thirty seconds to be so absorbed they were hunched over their papers writing intently. Girl two usually only writes her first name. She practiced the others, while everyone else did cursive. Examples and more samples were eagerly pushed my way. The level of pride in the room rose as signatures began to take on shape and style. One child went so far as to get samples of famous signatures so everyone could see what they liked or didn’t like about different ones.
This is actually kind of cool, but can you imagine telling your friends, said Boy one. Like, what did you do yesterday? Oh, I learned to write my name. They laughed but they were proud. As well they should be. They are now people with signatures. People who know that their names are important.
Signatures matter. Enough said.
Girl one loves things that sparkle or shine. She started asking to have her ears pierced before she was in school. I said no, pierced ears were for teenagers. How much longer until I’m a teenager, she wanted to know. When she was seven, we offered to let her pierce her ears for her birthday. Disbelief. Belief. Leaping. Wild celebration.
It was my idea but I was sick to my stomach. Ashamed that I was failing to hold onto to the standards set by the God fearing, tradition loving pioneers. For all I knew, we would soon be watching soap operas and drinking beer for breakfast.
At the jewelry store, I watched the woman pick up the piercer gun and waited for the lightening I deserved to strike me. A few seconds later, Girl one hopped off the chair beaming, a new spring in her step.
Mirror time had always been popular. Now it was a frequent necessity. I rolled my eyes at the silliness of it all. And I began to look forward to twice daily ear care. Me carefully cleaning around the new holes. Her mouth full of wiggly teeth grinning at the site of her ears in the mirror in front of her.
The sparkle of ear rings has been a happy part of the last year and a half. Christmas Eve, with much advance shouting from her siblings, Girl one appeared. She said nothing, her eyes filled with tears begging me to fix it. An ear ring dangled by no more than a string of skin from her ear, the blood long dried. Instead of a hole, there was an already healing rip to the outside of her ear. No one knew when it happened.
I cleaned the ear and held her. She sobbed until she was gasping for breath. When she could finally speak, she wanted to stay home forever. Cancel all Christmas celebrations. Never go to school again. It kept my own tears in check trying to focus enough to gently redirect the passions of my little mad woman. I don’t know how long I held her, or how many times I kissed that head of hers.
My feet felt heavy when I took a step. I wanted a good cry myself for letting this happen. For failing her so greatly in something that mattered to her so much. Christmas Eve afternoon does not afford time for personal meltdown. I told myself that I didn’t live in Syria. That my child was disappointed and embarrassed, not hungry or dying. We still had more than enough reasons to celebrate.
Girl one’s ear is rather tribal now. I have promised to have it pierced again. Just above the small sliver of air that softly divides her ear lobe into two sections. There will be no ear rings worn outside in cold weather with hats, but I didn’t worry about the lightening when I promised. I’m content to have fallen in love with the mystery that is my daughter.
Please excuse a story with a just recently used subject (boy two). The rate of change in 2014 is spinning so fast at the moment that I find it calming to put my energies toward writing about something as steady as Mr. Lalonde.
My boys serve on the altar at our church. One day I noticed boy two, afterwards talking to a white haired gentleman from the congregation.
Is that Mr. Lalonde? I asked.
You still remember him from when he used to do storytelling at your school?
Yeah. There’s that. But now we have races.
We wink at each other.
I try to see him first and wink when we’re coming up the aisle for the procession. He winks when he sees me too. Sometimes he’s first, but I try to always win. Then at the end we do it again when we’re walking out and I go by where he’s sitting with the candle.
A year ago, after much deliberation, we moved our family to a church that was closer to home. I found Mr. Lalonde myself to explain that boy two wouldn’t be there very often any more. I talked about getting them together for a visit but we never did.
After even more consideration, to start the new year, we have returned to the church we came from. The one where Mr. Lalonde attends. We appreciated our time away but despite the longer drive, this church is where we belong. January 1, it was nice to see boy one and boy two on the altar again.
I wasn’t the only one who thought so. I play the piano at our church. Even when we were attending the other church as a family, I played there, and then high tailed it to meet everyone. Catholics don’t feel the need to stay for closing hymns. By the time I hit the last chord, at least half the congregation is gone. The other half have their hymn books away, their coats on, and their keys in their hands. The music ends. I pack up my things, check in about the next choir practice, and then I’m ready to get my coat on. If the family is there, they are waiting.
Not January 1, this year. Post pack up and goodbyes, with coats on, my husband and I stood chatting, waiting while boy two and Mr. Lalonde got caught up over on the other side of the church. I don’t know which of them was smiling more. Neither of them was in a hurry to leave. At last, boy two nodded his head, lifted his hand in a small wave, and started across towards us. Boy two’s friend tipped his hat to us and left smiling through the side door.
Yesterday, the first day back from Christmas holidays, was a snow day. More accurately a rain and freezing day. The thought of a quiet house had grown to full blown longing when we saw the notice that the busses weren’t running. Alas.
Monday was also death day. I love the farm. I believe in animals that are happy and well cared for. It matters to us to know where the meat on our kids plates came from and what kind of quality of life those animals had. That doesn’t make the day the lambs go to the butcher any easier.
Everything about the send off was complicated on the icy narrow path that is our driveway at present. It wasn’t possible to get a truck out to the barn like usual. It wasn’t possible to do it all while the kids were at school. We worked together to make the driveway navigable. We worked together to get the sheep in the trailer. And we hissed and spat and growled at each other.
Afterwards I went to my room to plan boy one’s execution and to figure out how to get the house partitioned so that none of us had to live together. Eventually common sense and mercy found a crack large enough to get through. None of us had handled it perfectly, but we weren’t mad, we were sad. The first time I remember figuring this out, I was 18. It was a strange revelation. I felt like someone had struck me dumb. Sssso nnnnow what? I wanted to stammer. If it’s not sarcasm and rage that’s dying to get out, what then? If I’m sad and not mad, exactly am I supposed to do? Just sit here and cry?
I thought I’d already learned that lesson, but yesterday I learned it again . . . and helped my son figure it out too. Naming things correctly doesn’t change them, except it does. Understanding what I’m dealing with changes how I treat the people in my life, including me. Understanding what’s underneath somebody else’s mad, changes how I feel about them.
Sometimes being sad means you don’t do anything except let yourself be it for a little while. It feels like getting out of prison again.
Friday turned out to be a day. The problems with our water were increasing and Man finally agreed to call the plumber. Mid morning he called. I thought he was calling to say when the plumber was coming. He called to say he had changed his mind. We didn’t need a plumber. He knew what the problem was. The solution was for me to crawl under the house through the dark freezing two and half foot crawl space that separates the bottom of the house from the dirt. When I found the pipes, I was to blow a hair dryer at them until they thawed. I said I was vacuuming and needed time to process that information. Then I hung up.
Half an hour later, with boy two in tow, I headed for the crawl space. The 3×2 hole that allows entrance to the crawl space is in a utility closet used for hot water tanks, electrical panels, and Man’s man like belongings. I note that it took twenty minutes to move enough things to get to the hole. Working flashlights with useful beam strength were AWOL. We unplugged a fancy brass lamp and brought it to the edge of the hole and stuffed paltry baby flashlights in our pockets.
Welcome, said the dead mouse in the dim light from the trap below.
I removed the mouse with as much authority as one has lying on one’s stomach reaching down into a dark hole. By this time I knew that I would not be going down there. It looked smaller every time I looked in.
Now, boy two, get down into the hole, I said returning from disposing of the mouse.
Me? said boy two. Do I have to go first?
Not just first, I thought.
Yes, I said.
But mom . . .
It’s not a big deal. It’ll seem more roomy once you’re down there. You’re small. It’s perfect.
But it’s dark, said boy two.
I can only lower the lamp down properly once you’re in the hole, I said. It is dark because you are still standing here looking.
Boy two climbed in. He looked safe enough. The best thing would definitely be to just talk him through it. Besides, he’d feel good about himself afterwards.
Mom, it’s wet down here.
Don’t worry about it, just start crawling. Dad say’s it’s really easy.
No, like there’s two or three inches of water down here.
I peered closer.
Son, we are saved. Get out of the hole. We’re calling the plumber.
Epilogue: broken pipe, broken leaking sewage drain, unbroken but frozen pipe, frozen tub drain. Plumber was remarkably gracious about lying in our cold sewer water yelling for me to hand him things. Man is working to remove reasons for our house to smell like there is stagnant sewer water two feet under the house. I continue to provide helpful suggestions as to what to try next.
We may be burning down the house. If so, I’ll post pictures.