Sunday, December 5, 2010
What do we believe in? This kind of thing had come up once before when she was pretty small. Her sister was an infant. We were in the car and she started talking about what she’d heard about the second coming. I shared my thoughts about my belief in the unlikelihood of this occurrence. We discussed it for a moment and then I was able to steer the conversation to the question of whether she’d like to listen to Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan for the rest of the drive. She chose Willie and we moved on.
She was in first grade at public school when the question of religion came back into play. Her friends had asked her what church she went to. I could tell she needed to have an answer. We decided to attend the Unitarian Church a couple of times. I have several friends that are active there. It’s diverse and focused on social justice. They have an arts program. They meditate. However, laziness set in and we eventually opted to sleep in on Sunday mornings. Our church tended to be the Saturday night potluck or late night movie church of hanging out. But going to the Unitarian Church those few times gave her an answer to give her peers and that’s all she needed at the time. This same question of belief has continued to pop up here and there. My youngest girl doesn’t really ask but she listens when discussion leads that way. I’ve tried to answer the question of religious faith to the best of my ability and allow both my girls to have an open door to make their own choices about God. I look for ways to be both open minded and socially acceptable. One way I found was to latch on to a line off a tolerance commercial and regurgitate “I believe in all journeys to God”. This is mostly true but I also believe that some folks may not have a journey that leads to God. That is an unpopular sentiment in the south.
In looking for a path to communicate faith to my children without leading them into either religion or atheism, I’ve had to examine my own belief system. When asked what we believed in, I didn’t really have an answer I could give myself much less my daughters. I believe in the unknown and that leads toward faith but I also believe in evolution and that leads toward science. I find myself ultimately believing in people and their ability to do good things. I tend to admire the person who is overcoming an obstacle or showing an ability to affect positive change. I don’t give that credit to God. I leave that to the person who is doing the hard work. Their strength may be coming from God but I think that’s their business. As far as I’m concerned, I like to throw a high five to the person breaking the sweat. They can throw their high fives wherever they want. I’m open to the possibility of that strength coming from God. Iris DeMent has a great song called “Let the Mystery Be”. That song pretty much sums it up for me. Look her up on the internet. She’s awesome.
As for my own faith-based activities: I fall into prayer when I need or want something. I pray when I don’t know what else to do. My prayer isn’t a request to God specifically but a general request to the universe. My request almost always includes clarity. “I am ready for clarity. I am ready for clarity. I am ready for clarity.” It’s basically an admission of I don’t know what the hell I’m doing most of the time. “I’ve got a little room for clarity, Universe. Share that clarity.” There have been times when the prayer has been full of greed. Such as but not limited to “I’d really like an acting job” or “Boyfriend, now, please.” One time when I was focused on the mantra “Game-changing acting job”, I got three auditions in one week. Two of them were for television and one for film. I didn’t get callbacks for any of those but I went to bed every night and woke up every morning for about two weeks saying “Game-changing acting job”. I suppose I should have continued the prayer but at the end of a day of single motherhood and work and house and yard, it just sort of dropped off. When my dogs were lost, I prayed for their return. That was a pretty teary-eyed and desperate prayer. Facebook actually helped with locating our dogs. I thanked Facebook and our specific Facebook friend, gladly for that blessing.
Someone recently told me that I am a clearing for hope. It was suggested that I can find myself living in hope for things instead of living in the action of things. This may be true but I rarely feel inactive. I may sit in hope, like a period of gestation. I don’t necessarily see this as a negative aspect about my personality although it could be if I sat still long enough. I think that hope or faith is active in and of itself. It allows just a fragment of mystery to exist. It allows the belief that everything is going to turn out just as it’s supposed to and that it will be good.
This hope affords me the luxury of answering my children when they ask what we believe in. I tell them that we all have to decide what we believe in as we move through our lives. As for me, I now answer, without a doubt, “I believe in you. I believe in your ability to do great things. I believe in your ability to be kind and loving. I believe in you.” That’s what I believe in. Who knows what they will find as they grow up but I have absolute faith it will be good.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Tonight, I rearranged the furniture. The girls made maps on scrap paper where they thought things would go after I reestablished the room. I took the television out. My oldest found this to be almost unbearable. Now don’t think I’m opposed to television. Each girl has a television with a DVD player in their room and there are times I insist they go watch a movie. We don’t have cable, though. You can blame that rude Hannah Montana for that one. I don’t have the energy to monitor what they watch and the Disney Channel is full of a bunch of rude tarts. That’s just my opinion. Anyhow, television isn’t that sexy without cable but that’s how it is around here. I moved the television from the living room into my room and moved a big magnificent piece of art to the living room. The oldest said she didn’t know anyone who didn’t have a television in the living room and she didn’t think we could even call it the living room anymore. I argued that we couldn’t call it the TV room anymore but we could certainly call it the living room. She thinks I’m half nerd half superhero. I like it like that. The youngest was too focused on where she thought our guitars should go and didn’t care two flips about the television.
My ex-husband and his new wife are selling the house that I moved into when I got married. It’s the house that I had my children in. It’s the house I got married in. It’s the house I got engaged in. It’s the house that I left. Everything is completely fine with my ex and his wife. We are all on good terms. In fact, we are all very good friends. The house thing is hard for me though. I didn’t really like it when the new wife moved in but I really don’t like the thought of this house leaving the family. I look at this house as the house I expected to grow old in. The new wife, whom I’ll refer to as the step wife from here on out, did not love the house like I did. By the way, step wife is a title my oldest came up with. “If she’s our step mom, can she be your step wife?” Works for me. Anyhow, I saw only potential in the house. She saw the dilapidated reality. They moved. She’s been doing the lion share of getting it ready to put on the market. I still had things stored there that I hadn’t taken with me. A few days ago, these things were waiting for me on my front porch. My step wife had called to let me know she’d brought them over. She’s kind of a saint that way. There was a trunk full of my baby clothes, Girl Scout uniforms, cheerleading uniforms, softball uniforms, baby dolls and baby blankets. There was a box of china dolls that I’d gotten in elementary school and a box of play china. There was also a box of negatives and pictures from my time in this house. The birth of my oldest child was especially documented. The step wife asked me if there was anything else I wanted. I want the dining room table. She said that it wasn’t a problem and wanted to make sure that I knew it was a little wonky. I told her I did know. I didn’t tell her that I actually picked out that table with my ex-husband because it was a little wonky and therefore cheap but made out of really solid walnut. I didn’t tell her that he had proposed to me at that table and the oldest had taken her first steps there. I didn’t tell her that my youngest blew out her birthday candle on her very first birthday on that table. I didn’t tell her that a man with leopard dyed hair, a guest at my wedding, had helped me serve my wedding cake from that table because my ex had left me there to do this task alone. I didn’t tell her that I’d stacked my belongings on and around that table when it was time for me to go. I just told her that, yes, I knew it was a little wonky and that I would love to have it.
As I was rearranging furniture tonight, I wondered why I felt the need to readjust, to open an unknown door. I know I’m trying to find a place for that old Girl Scout uniform somewhere in this new life. That’s obvious. I know I’m making room for the table. What I don’t know is what door will open next. Maybe if I move the piano…
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Well, I couldn’t help this dog because I couldn’t catch him. Running after a strange animal through the backyards of strangers was clearly not going to be successful. I let it go. I walked back to my car and drove home. It made me feel very sad that I could not help this dog.
I go home, I shower and head to my 10am appointment. I actually had two 10am appointments because I am scattered. But they were both at the same place, making it silly but doable. While driving down Edgewood Avenue, I notice a man on the sidewalk staggering very dramatically. Then he falls flat on the pavement and doesn’t get up. The driver of the car in front of me seems to also see this. We both turn our cars around. We roll down our windows and ask if the other has seen this man fall down. This other driver is another woman and we park our vehicles and go to see what has happened. This man is pretty incoherent and apparently drunk. He is bleeding from the head wound he got from hitting the pavement. It turns out the other person who stopped to help, Renee, works with mentally ill patients at Peninsula. She’s able to soothe this man and call 911 at the same time. My job seems to be keeping this man from falling into oncoming traffic as he has made his way back onto his feet and veers from the sidewalk to the street and into people’s yards, holding on to light poles along the way. We can’t seem to get him to sit down. We find out from this man that he was just discharged from St. Mary’s Hospital. Somehow he has made his way across Broadway. He’s trying to get to his house, which is several blocks away. People pass by. Men in trucks who don’t stop but they stare. Another car pulls over with two women. They stay in their car but they stay until the situation is under control making sure that we have things handled with this bloody man. A woman comes out from her house to check on us. She has hand sanitizer. I can’t help but notice that no men stop to help. In fact, one man is sitting on his porch while the injured man is lying in his yard with Renee trying to soothe him and me providing a buffer from this man and the street. The man sitting on his porch gets up and goes inside. He goes inside while two women and a bleeding stumbling incoherent man are in his front yard. The police arrive. The ambulance arrives. We leave.
Even though my life seems to sit in the midst of struggle and I can’t quite see how to change it. I am very grateful for it. I’m grateful I’m not a matted limping blind animal. I’m glad I’m not drunk and stumbling down the sidewalk. I’m especially glad that I’m not a man who leaves his porch to lock his door.
I really hope someone was able to help that dog today.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
As seen in the September issue of 180.
School is in. A friend with a brand new kindergartener posted on Facebook that “There is a 5am as well as a 5pm.”. This was a revelation but not the good sort. As a parent with school age children, it is shocking to realize that getting multiple persons up in the morning (and this includes yourself) requires an obscenely early start. You know it’s going to be hard but you don’t really get it until you are doing it. It’s just not the same as pre-school. The ‘big’ school has such things as homework and projects and tardy slips. You should not be holding a Pop Tart when you arrive and neither should your child. I set my alarm for 5:30 generally. It depends on how the night before goes. Sometimes it is earlier. I have to be completely battle ready when I rouse the troops. They are usually not pleased. We are two weeks in and have been on time so far. I did hear one story of a tardy child escorted into his room by his dad and he received “Oh look class, little Tommy’s Dad has brought Tommy to school late.” It’s harsh people. These elementary school teachers have no time to mess with it. A mom friend of mine recently confessed she was scared of her daughter’s kindergarten teacher last year. She didn’t realize it until the anxiety crept in as this school year approached. So I get up extra early to mentally prepare myself for the clothing, food, toothpaste, hair-brushing campaign that must be successful for us to arrive without incident. Or at least, without Mommy being called out for the whole tardy business and my girls with matching shoes on their feet. I play a little Madeleine Peyroux in the mornings or some Joni Mitchell or Corrine Bailey Rae. It’s as gentle as I can go to set the mood as I usher them from dreamland to you-have-to-get-out-of-your-cozy-bed now land. Sometimes I confess that I do play Beck. This morning I rewarded the first girl done with breakfast a trip to the backyard to look at the full moon lingering in the sky. This is what is good about the morning when the air is just a bit crisp. Of course, the girl finishing last also got to go. The unfortunate thing was that we had to leave that moon for school. Such is life.
Sometimes you have to leave the moon.
At the beginning of the school year there is a flurry of activity that centers around volunteers. I don’t mean the Tennessee Volunteers, I mean who will do traffic duty. Usually each class has a Room Parent. At our school, it’s all moms. However, I do know of at least two dads in kindergarten this year that are breaking rank to volunteer in the classroom. It’s like they are charging the Red Rover line. I think it’s about time for that. We have a Mothers Day Tea and a Fathers Day lunch at our school. The mothers prepare both. Red Rover, Red Rover, won’t you come over?
My youngest is in kindergarten. She’s very cute and happy about it. Tomorrow she gets to go through the cafeteria line for the first time. We’ve gone over the menu and I’ve reiterated that the fish wedge is just like a fish stick except it is a triangle. We’ve talked about this a lot. The cafeteria causes the littlest girl some amount of stress because she is a picky eater. She likes white and yellowish foods. No vegetables. No fruits. Very little protein and only if it’s breaded. This causes mom and big sis some amount of stress because we are eaters of all things. We both try to encourage the littlest one but she holds her ground. She won’t even eat brownies. Forget about broccoli.
The biggest is in the 4th grade, which shares a hallway with the 5th grade. She’s an upperclassman. This is evident in the snarky greeting I get after school each day. The days of her joyously hugging me in the afternoon are over. It takes her about 30 minutes before she feels like “talking about it”, meaning school. She declared to her grandmother that the 4th grade would be the “Year of Fashion”. Oh no. I was in a meeting with another mom earlier today who was telling me about her 5th grade son who just got his heart broken by his girlfriend from the 4th grade. I don’t think my girl is interested in boys yet. This is my hope since I was a late bloomer. I feel like I’m entering the days of payback. These are murky waters. These are dangerous times.
September represents school but it also represents birthdays for our family. Both girls were born in September. The school/birthday combo represents growing up more this year than before. It’s good but it’s noticed. I always tell them the story of their birth and we look at baby pictures and our lovely dear friend Peggy (Magpies Bakery) makes them super special cakes. Along with their dad, their stepmom, family and friends we party all month long. It’s a wonderful month but it’s also the path to their growing up. I am glad they still want to hold hands sometimes. I remember my friend Heather holding hands with her mother in the mall when we were in high school. Her mother was British. I took that to be the reason for such strange behavior. Maybe that’s how they do things across the pond. I had never seen such PDA with mothers and daughters who are practically grown. I think of that moment a lot now that my girls are getting bigger. I wonder what I can do that will keep their little hands in mine even when they are big hands. I guess I’ll just cross my fingers and show them the moon as often as I can. September is a big deal.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
We arrived home from vacation at roughly 2am. The kids didn’t go to sleep in the car until well after midnight. Emma Jean tried. She has this habit of sleep bitching. It’s kind of like sleep terrors…except it’s bitching. So while Lucy Maye and Squirrel are plotting a world take over with the DS, occasionally EJ would wake up in a terrible bitch session. It would already be in play in her dream cycle. This would lead the older kids to criticize her and then she’d really get going. At some point it would turn truly sad and the littlest kid (Emma Jean) would be left holding her arms out and crying “Mommy”. Mommy, that’s me, sat shotgun and two seats forward trying to console her and tell her to please be quiet and go back to sleep at the same time. At some point, Squirrel (the next to littlest) got a headache that was like a hole in his head. The oldest kid Liam, Squirrel’s brother, was trying to keep it together by staring at everyone. The center of the group, Lucy Maye, who now has a nickname of 20 Questions, would just make definitive statements about how things were driving her crazy. I finally declared that next one to talk had to give me five dollars. That worked for a while. I turned to Preston with the immortal question, “How did the Brady Bunch do this?” He said that they never went on any road trips except Hawaii. Now, granted, we aren’t a blended family. But we are good friends and tend to tribe up on occasion. I have a fantasy about this art colony where these very eclectic adults (including Preston and hopefully me) with these very eclectic kids get together for months at a time to do their thing and the kids all work it out and have a great time and the parents are productive and artistically brilliant and we all work all day and then make great dinners and catch fireflies and get written up in the New Yorker for be cool Southern. The trip to the beach was sort of that. At least we kept the condo clean. No art was made but there was some computer work, sketch work and discussions about future projects and so forth. Shannon and her nephew (who’s a teenager – wow) were there for the first part of the week and we were all getting our groove on with a staircase of an age range. Waking up to a marsh of Cape Fear was quite extraordinary. I could also stare at the ocean for hours or, truth be told, days. The girls were more interested in the pool. Lucy Maye’s breaststroke improved and Emma Jean gained some much needed confidence. There was some fishing and some shopping and some unrequited turtle hatching watching. We had fun. We had experiences.
The drive home was mostly uneventful except for navigating the young’uns. Honestly, at that age, I can’t imagine making an eight-hour drive like that. They were really pretty darn good. We stopped a little after midnight and switched positions. I traded with Liam and moved Emma Jean into that seat with me. She still had night bitching. She woke up with a start asking where her eye patch was. She had received it at Scalawag Camp where she got certified as a Pirate. I told her it was in the luggage. She then frantically began looking around. It was somewhat birdlike. I asked her what was up and she said she was looking for the dang luggage. I told her it was in the back. She essentially told me off and then I coaxed her back to sleep. Only 71 more miles to go….
Today, we all still woke up early. It’s a curse. I started cleaning out the basement and cussing the growing grass. The girls lazed around in their own rooms, content with movies and our grateful animals all around. Our youngest dog keeps staring at us with a big panting grin. It was all good. Later in the day, their dad came by to fetch them. He’s been away from them for 10 days and I think that’s the longest that they haven’t seen each other. He brought Lucy Maye’s drum kit and a puppet theatre from the house that he’s selling. I’ve mentioned this house before because I lived there for over 10 years and really love this house. Having these things here is good but there’s just not room for them. I rearranged the basement, moved a full sized bed down there, moved a twin bed into EJ’s room and am still trying to fit it all in. I’ve had somewhat of a collapse today. I’ve been away from my nest for about 2 ½ weeks now. It would have been good to watch Pride and Prejudice on a continual loop today, while drinking bourbon and sleeping. But, alas, it is not to be. I’m trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and produce some reorganization magic. I ended up crying for about 2 hours straight while conjuring this impossible magic. I’m still staring at the puppet theatre. I’m also staring at about 60 stuffed animals that need to go to Goodwill. My problem is that I still have all of my childhood stuffed animals at my Grannie’s house in her attic. I refused to give them away. I’m having a hard time mentally prying all the cuties out of my house because of guilt. I guess I’ll just bag them and put them in the basement. John also brought a bunch of pictures that he thinks the girls will want when they are older. He’s right. I think they will want them. Trouble is that a lot of them are photos that I had framed for him as presents. It’s kind of weird to have these given back to me. I know it would be difficult for him to be moving pictures of he and his ex-wife to his new house with his new wife, but I’m not sure what to do with them. It’s just weird to have these things from my past sitting in my living room and they have no place where they go. There’s a wedding picture. There’s a picture of John and I when I was about 9 months pregnant with Lucy Maye on our front porch. There’s birth photo’s of Emma Jean that I already have copies of. Where do these things go? Where am I going to put that puppet theatre? Howie came by to help me move the bed. He made me feel better. He said that if all of this was in his living room, he’d cry too. I was openly crying at some point while he was here. I still don’t know what corner to tuck it all in to but at least I know I’m not ridiculous for being overwhelmed by it.
The puppet theatre is really freaking cool. There is that. After all.
I have largely ignored this worldwide serial experiment known as summer.
I’m addicted to working. Not only do I work a day job but I’m also a compulsive theatre geek. I’ve spent my entire adult life leaving work to do evening rehearsals and performances. Sometimes I make a little money. Mostly it keeps me sane and it’s generally not been about the cash. Now that I have a couple of small people in my entourage, I make choices based on my sanity, their wellbeing and my earnings. I was determined to live the life of summer this year for all our sakes. The last two summers I got off work at 5pm and rehearsals began at 7pm. The girls enjoy going to rehearsal and they also enjoy the potpourri of friends that come over to play while I’m working on obtaining that mind-blowing performance. It’s not torture for them that I do theatre but a lot gets sacrificed. There’s a facebook group called “I can’t, I have rehearsal.” It’s a support group because theatre is all consuming. When you aren’t in rehearsal, you are rehearsing at home. When you aren’t rehearsing at rehearsal or at home, you could be building a set or worrying about rehearsal. You generally don’t see music or go to the movies. You don’t go swimming or go on vacation. Sometimes you take on the characteristics of your character. You do the show. You never clock out. It’s pretty glorious but it doesn’t leave room for anything else. This year, I’m breaking up with summer theatre for summer time. This summer is being treated like my imagination imagines summer. We have gone to the lake. We have gone to the pool. We have gone to the movies. We are going on a vacation that is not determined by my rehearsal schedule. Revolutionary.
My day job is flexible. I spend a lot of time on my computer and I can do that at 6am or 11pm. I also meet with folks and have appointments but I’m not at a desk from 8 to 5 like I was in summers’ previous. I am in the working world of contract labor. This is somewhat terrifying, but it’s where I’m at right now and I’ve decided to embrace the positive. I have flexibility. I may not have benefits but I have flexibility.
I’ve had a lot of interaction this past year with 3 other families working in the contract labor arena. None of us want to have our kids in summer daycare, either because of the cost or just because it’s summer, dang it, and the kids should sleep late. For me, it’s a combination of the two. Through some discussion, we came up with a plan to benefit the workaday needs of productivity (aka money earning) and the needs of summer. We have been passing our kids around. We plan on four days a week for four hours a day. Each of the four families takes a day. The benefit is that the adults get some time to work uninterrupted (Mommy, I need a drink! I hate this drink! She hit me!). The kids get some peer interaction, hopefully don’t strangle their siblings and don’t die of boredom watching their moms and dads work from home. We have been calling it the Summer Camp Co-op. It is our attempt to organize the chaos. So far the outlook is positive although fluid. Currently we are in the third week and we’ve only had all the kids together once and that was at the initial potluck, which, I might add, included bows and arrows. The key to the success of the fluidity is that this group is pretty clued into one another. Our types of work are compatible so when something comes up or changes, no one gets uptight about it. It just moves on to the next day or we switch days or go to the pool. Initially, I thought it would have more rigid boundaries. We would submit lesson plans and make copies of insurance cards and have a craft fee. But it’s more like a series of organized play dates. There was one day that included a downtown bike ride and some printmaking. While this madness was going on, I was at a meeting. One of my colleagues asked where the girls were and I told him about our camp and he declared he wanted to go to camp too. I think that’s been one of the hardest things. I really enjoy these other families and I dig their offspring. We came together because of similar interests and the compatibility of our kids. It’s often hard for me to drop the girls off and go do work. Every time I linger at the doorway as my kids disappear into a room unknown waiting for their adventure to begin.
This summer makes me grateful. I am taking pictures every day that I don’t lose or forget my camera. I’m calling it ‘Curating Summer’, because this summer is a choice. It’s happening just by choosing to let it go. Everyday is a surprise. Every lightning bug has been a gift, every sunset a miracle and every morning a gentle rise. We have not hurried through our days.
The school year starts soon. My youngest enters kindergarten and my oldest will be in the fourth grade. Both girls will be under the same roof and my workdays become longer as the days grow shorter. When summer started, I was panicked about how to organize these summer days. Now I dread them being organized for me. My living room will no longer be a chaotic ocean of cast off flip flops and wet bathing suits. The library becomes a requirement, not a luxury. We will wake before the sun and wear backpacks and computer bags instead of sunscreen.
We will remember this summer. I have pictures to prove it happened. It’s happening now. I hope I can find my camera.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
We went to Kentucky in mid-June. It was pretty alright considering that we opened Christmas presents and only got to stay for two days. I'd like to figure out how to stay longer but a visit with my family isn't really a vacation and I'm committed to taking vacations at this point in my life. I'd like to go and spend some time at Mammoth Cave. That could be a vacation and vacations promote recreation and amusement. We did have fun in Kentucky even during our short stay. The girls have specific things they like to do at each family members house and they did all those things. It was Africa hot when we were there so we didn't spend much time outside. My dad and stepmom have 92 acres so it's always nice to roam the woods. We did not do that this time. We looked at this world through windows and air conditioning. I am always struck by the change in landscape from East Tennessee to South Central Kentucky. There are some hills there but it's pretty flat overall. Although I was raised in Kentucky and still consider myself a Kentuckian, I have lived in Knoxville more of my life. Driving on the parkway to my dad's, the lack of mountains on the horizon was noticeable. It was a cloudy day and the world looked different. The Queen Ann's Lace on the side of the road was thick and the cedar trees felt like elderly men and women. Something about it felt ancient for me. Nostalgia, I suppose.