Saturday, October 30, 2010
There's a whole lot of candy in our house. Halloween means two bouts of trick-or-treating plus school parties and M is away next week so guess to whom the job of consumption falls? Not on the children - cavities! - at least not all of it. But don't tell them. I am one of those parents who sneaks into the candy cabinet after her kids are asleep and chooses multiple delicacies to snarf while watching TV or pretending to work. I know, pathetic. And they never notice that their bags are lighter every morning. I have always been a big fan of sugar. Two tablespoons in my coffee, a diminutive canyon sprinkled over my cereal, cupcakes (oh, cupcakes), cookie dough even though I know it will give me heartburn - yes, me and sugar are like this. So the thought of being alone during the off-hours to, ahem, borrow as many individually wrapped pieces as I can carry makes me quake with both anticipation and dread. Because, after 35 years and three babies, my metabolism no longer takes the chocolate, caramel and nougat in stride. Now those delectable ingredients sit and wait for me to do something proactive - like getting my heart rate over 60 - before they take their leave. If they take their leave. Some of them seem determined to squat on my ass forever. And, while I picture someday being able to climb mountains and run a dozen country roads before dawn, the present-day reality is that exercise time is at a premium. (see above: children.) One saving element: Sour Patch Kids. Sour candy? I just don't understand the appeal. If only all their candy were sour...
I headed south Tuesday with books, camera, waterbottle and friend in tow we left a somewhat gloomy sky behind us. I was being interviewed-- for a radio broadcast as it turns out-- and had wanted some company for the trip. In return I promised a delicious lunch, good company and a stop at at least one yarn store. But alas my interview took much longer than I had anticipated, and the plan to drive even further south to the Yarn Store of Our Dreams was just not to be. I was cranky, I was crabby. I was sour and dour; I just couldn't seem to get the bad taste out of my mouth. This may have also been caused by my accidental overdressing in anticipation of a much colder day. In fact the weather was so glorious, we walked over to the park with my camera--the colored leaves were calling to me. We tried to console ourselves by coming up with Plan B. But. The yarn store in town happened to be closed on Tuesdays. The other nearby yarn store I had remembered as being wonderful from a few years back had closed in March. Disappointed doesn't begin to describe my mood. We got in the car and drove a bit before stopping at Green Mountain Spinnery, the saving grace of our trip. We looked at new books, admired colorways, fantasized about patterns. We chatted with the wonderful woman there about charity knitting, trips to cold places and Canons vs. Nikons. She even allowed me to take a few pictures. The yarn they were hanging reminded me of long strips of apple or lime licorice, the kind that's coated with a little bit of sugar so your mouth is instantly filled with a sweet and sour sensation. From there we drove home feeling pleased about the day. As I pulled up to my house, I was welcomed by the glowing lights from the windows. I walked in the door only to be greeted by risotto on the stove and was immediately handed an icy cold beverage; as it so happens a mixture of black cherry seltzer and sour cherry nectar. This is definitely the sweet life, how happy I am that it's mine.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I remember being shushed when I was little, usually in the middle of the day. “Your father is sleeping” was a phrase that was constantly batted around, the words nattering around my head like mosquitoes that wouldn't leave me alone. My father occasionally worked the midnight shift at the coal mine. When they weren't on strike. I often wondered what it was like to spend so much time deep, deep underground, leaving the sense of the outside world behind him as he boarded the elevator and descended. Each night the black earth swallowed him whole, only to deliver him to us the following morning. When I grew older I found myself working through the night for a time. After I returned from maternity leave, the store where I worked in NYC offered me an overnight shift. I was responsible for overseeing several shelvers. Our job was to get as many books as possible put in place for the holiday shoppers to peruse and perhaps purchase during the day. Every night I boarded the train with T in his sling. People would give us the strangest looks, as if to wonder why a baby would be out at such a late hour instead of sleeping in his own little bed at home. Nowadays I work underground, though the windows keep me apprised of the weather outside. And just like my father couldn't help but bring his work home--the coaldust covered his face, hands, and clothes--my work clings to me when I leave for the day. Spilling over into my car, my house, the rest of my life; it seeps, oozes and cannot be contained. 'She noticed her books spilled on the floor of her car. That was the way it was with books: you forgot they existed; you carried them around as though they were part of your body. Then you looked down and you were wading in them.' (From Four Spirits by S. Naslund)
Last night T went to bed with one last request. "Please will you wake me up at chore time to help you?" he begged. Pleaded. Nearly cried. "But it will be late," I stalled. "It will be cold. And...late." Because yes, children should learn to help with household chores, and yes, parents should encourage any eagerness towards hard work that our kids accidentally reveal, and yes, it's nice to have help for the dark, cold final round of animal duties. But jeez. Having boys help you feed horses means it takes twice as long and there's all that panic about huge platter-sized hooves landed on wee child feet. And if they help you walk the dogs there's a constant stream of observation when what you'd really like to do is read the book you're juggling among the leashes. Having my boys help makes the work harder. T could sense my reluctance and, connivingly, stayed awake until he heard me rustling around downstairs with coats and boots and leashes. "I'm too scared to sleep," he called cheerfully as he launched round the staircase landing. "Is it chore time?" So we did the chores together. He wore the headlamp, blinding me at every turn. He threw a flake of hay. He held Pope's leash. He found the two eggs our 20 chickens managed to produce (all in a day's work). He fed the dogs their treats and decided he too needed a snack, so I sent him back to bed with a cream cheese bagel and instructions to brush after eating, which I know he forgot, which I issued knowing he'd forget. And then I returned to my spot on the couch in front of The Office (American version, though I love both) and finished my wine, realizing our collaboration hadn't been painful. T has reached a useful age. Soon my boys will be able to handle the chores all on their own while I supervise from my warm house. Which is exactly why I had children: free labor. Oh, and because I like to steal their bubble gum while they sleep.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
It used to be that I could climb most any tree. Up high, nestled safe within its branches, I would read and survey the land beneath me as if I were in a magical land all my own. But those times have come and gone. I no longer hang upside down from branches, or ride aloft on someone's shoulders to catch a better glimpse of a parade. Funny how we don't make a fuss over Last Times as much as we do with First Times. Is taking your first step, first tooth or first word any more memorable or worthy of attention than the final scaling of a sycamore; the bark's texture leaving a mark on your hands that will fade before your eyes. The first and only time (but hopefully not the last) I looked out from the heights of the Eiffel tower I couldn't quite believe the beauty of the city spread out below. Such a unique perspective I will never forget, it's a memory that I revisit often. Something about being that close to the sky has left a mark on me, invisible to most anyone who doesn't know how to see it. Alas, there are no miles-high-beanstalks appearing under my bedroom window, or bouquets of balloons waiting to whisk me off to parts unknown if only I hold on tight. Instead my feet remain firmly planted on the ground; weighted down by demands, responsibilities, secrets, schoolwork, and other necessities. I only wish I could be as unfettered as a dandelion seed. Free to go where the wind might take me, visiting the highest hills and beyond.
When I was a teenager I knew a horse that died. Not an old horse, not a sick horse. A young horse with loads of talent, a sweet disposition, and a crowd of people who loved him and felt his absence like a blow to the belly. Most of all his owner. It shakes you to see someone you know as gleeful and freakishly well-developed in her ability to laugh at herself and anyone else saddened to the point of tears, and more eerily, quietness. The barn was glum, we were mired in grief. She went north to her sister's place, not half an hour from where I now live, and came back not healed but at least shaking her head and almost smiling. "I stood on a mountain," she said, and picked up a pitchfork. Her sister is dead now, too. Though the events are unrelated, they feel linked by image and circumstance. Twenty years later I remember her words when I look up from my own distracting problems and notice that nearly all the landmarks that surround me - mountains, trees - will still be here long after I'm gone, my kids are gone, my own horses are gone, our worries and mistakes and triumphs faded to disappearance. We are all brief. We stand on mountains and then pick up our pitchforks. It's all we can do. The world is changing; my boys will depend on a very different geography to inform them, support them and comfort them. But I imagine the mountains will stay, for a while at least, the highest ones. I hope.
Monday, October 11, 2010
There are no dolls in our house. No Barbies, no ribbons, no sharp, butterfly barrettes, no pink corduroy skirts, no Babysitters Club books. No princess-themed bedrooms. No blue jeans with embroidered flowers, no tap shoes, no rainbow headbands. Sometimes people ask: "So, are you going to try again for a little girl?" and I slay them with one of my are-you-crazy looks, but the truth is I feel a tiny, almost non-existent tug deep in my belly when I think about how there is no girl in our house. Not that I would consider trading any of my glorious boys, but. still. When I was pregnant with, oh, one of them, I was sure I'd have a girl, and she'd be named Sylvia and she'd have all the sense I missed when I was a teen-aged girl. She'd ride horses, volunteer to read to sick children, save her babysitting money for a trip to France. She'd sigh and clue me in to the pop icons I never recognize when I hear them mentioned on the radio. We'd argue, disagree, cry a bit, make up with peanut butter cups. I'd adore her boyfriends, some of them. I'd ache when she went away to college, to work abroad, to raise her children near the ocean that I miss. She'd help with all those pies and dishes at holidays and I'd cuddle her children and tell them stories about when their mummy was a little girl. There is no girl in our house but me and I don't even know how to wear makeup. Sometimes I miss the little girl that will never be, her absence like an occasional ghost, but then a boy makes a loud noise and I am thrust back into real life where everything is as it really should be.
The first time I saw the ocean was as a young girl on a visit to Philadelphia to visit my great aunt and her family. I can still see myself sitting in the water, pink swimcap on my head. I would flail my arms around in an attempt to tread water; a modified doggie paddle of sorts. I remember feeling so small next to the gigantic Atlantic. But I need not have worried, having my cousins in the water all around me meant that I was safe. The day ended with the pack of us piling into the back of the station wagon and stopping at the store for candy dots, bits of sugar attached to a strip of paper. Clearly the city had much to offer, somehow life was sweeter there. Now when I visit the ocean (I have yet to experience the Pacific) I often feel tiny. It reminds me of my younger self, my smaller self. No matter the weather I am always excited, sometimes giddy with anticipation. People often stroll on the beach, perhaps ramble or meander--I skip. We took our annual family vacation this week. At the beach, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a redheaded girl--eyes glued to binoculars studying the vastness of the water in front of her. I wondered what she was searching for while these lines ran through my head: “For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)/it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”