Friday, February 29, 2008

Cheery Thoughts...

I'm going to write some good cheer in here; it's been awhile. A la the very nice Ms. K over at Too Little Time, who posts Thankful Thursdays, I'm going to try for some good thoughts on Friday--after all, it is the beginning of the Jewish Shabbat, and a nice time to reflect on peaceful and happy things.

So here are random bits of cheer:

1. My dear old friend Lena. I haven't seen her in years, but I just had a dream about her last night, that we were shopping on BenYehudah Street in Jerusalem, and every store had hundreds of fabulous vintage dresses like we used to find in the '80s. And we were both wearing long 1940s dresses and really nice black leather boots.

2. While I'm thinking of Jerusalem, which I've been doing a lot lately, I'll add: night-time in the Old City, roaming its walls in the eerie quiet, never knowing if there's another living soul around, or what strange little window or stone balcony you'll encounter suddenly around a shadowy corner.

3. Ribbon. I have a box full of lots of spools and bits of brightly-colored ribbon, and I like to just look through it with my E.

4. My dog. Pippin is so handsome and warm and he smells so good--he gets that wonderful popcorn-paw effect (some call it know what I mean if you have a stinky old dog too!).

5. Sitting on our dock in the Adirondacks. Watching E. doggy-paddle around and Pippin jump in occasionally to cool off. He likes to lift his leg and pee in the water, which always makes me laugh. He also chases ducks, and wags when he swims close to them. Pretty funny.

6. A snowy night, a fire in the fireplace. That's what the forecast has in store for tonight; I see the clouds gathering on the horizon.

7. Strong coffee, brewed in my new french press, doctored up with whole milk and sugar cubes.

8. Driving to the apple orchard in October, picking Macouns, eating fresh cider donuts, and watching E. climb the little trees.

9. Re-reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

10. Watching E. perform as the Strong Lady in the hilariously brilliant Circus of Wow, along with the rest of her first-grade class.

You know, I found that once I'd started, I could have gone on for quite a while. At least that's a good thing. It really took me out of my funky mood for a moment...

Good shabbos, as we say! At least, even if you're not Jewish, a night and day of peace and good cheer...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My 100th Post

Wow, today I'm actually sitting up again (well, sort of slumping over, but better than total recumbency  I guess), and I'm having strange cravings for potato chips and cold fresh cherries (that last is thanks to Robyn, who put the idea in my head--I'm obsessed!).  

It's my hundredth post! I'd love to have a contest like people do on these minor milestones.  But I'm still too flu-addled to come up with something.  So maybe soon.  Stay tuned...

So, imminently I must confront my next fear: my mother-in-law.  Every year A. and I take E. on the plane to Texas for a couple of weeks' visit.  Now, I adore Texas.  It's one of my favorite places on earth to visit.  A. and I even lived in Austin for a while, and I have a very fond spot for the state.  For A., who lived an extremely peripatetic boyhood (all over the world, not just all over the States), I think Texas is his second home.  After Brooklyn, that is.  

Every year, to gear up for this sometimes trying visit, I consider the things I like about Texas; here are a few:

1. A. has some really lovely relatives.

2. It's so warm there, 

3. and the Mexican food is sublime...especially because we get Mexican home cooking, not just restaurant food.  Cooking that involves many spices hand-ground in a mortar and pestle, and pots simmering away all day on the stove.  

4. My M-I-L lives in hill country, and the fresh air is abundant.  E. can run around all day and regain her health.

5. The sound of the wind howling around the house at night is romantic, and I can pretend we're on the Scottish moors.

6. The craft superstores are super fun! A far cry from the over-priced, overly precious fancy yarn stores of Brooklyn and Manhattan (not that I don't love those stores, but sometimes you just crave some nice Peaches n' Creme cotton).

7. The Mercado (the Mexican marketplace in downtown San Antonio) is always exciting, year after year.  Never gets old.

8. M-I-L's gigantic house is immaculate, which creates a restful environment.

But here are the problems:

1. M-I-L's house is immaculate.  She has long been a living reproach to me and my own housekeeping skills.

2. It gets a little claustrophobic after a week, even though we've got our own suite in the gigantic house...

3. M-I-L doesn't have any vocal inflection (I mean, her voice is completely flat!!!)  Coming from a family of emoters, this is quite unnerving.

4. A's dad, one of the most wonderful, courtly, delightful, funny men on earth, died the week E. was born.  His absence is truly painful.

5. M-I-L doesn't really like me.  I've known her for 17 years, and our relationship has always been a little strained.  I think she thinks that although A. found a mate who's his equal intellectually and in other ways, I've kept him from being truly happy.  To this I say, lady, you discouraged him from being a fighter pilot, and that's what's kept him from true happiness.  Nothing to do with me!  But why doesn't she like me? She thinks I'm difficult (sure I am sometimes, most notably around her), overly dramatic (again, sure, I'll buy that), neurotic (yup), Jewish (once again, check), overprotective of E. (well, I can't help it).  Worst of all, she thinks that I keep A. from his family.  Now, anyone who knows the real situation knows that 
it was all because of me that we still go on these yearly pilgrimages.  I'm telling you, I'm the one who has singlehandedly held it together! And if that sounds self-aggrandizing, well, it's just the damn truth.

And you know, I've really tried to make it work with her over the years, on a personal level. I tried to be dutiful, I tried to keep her updated on E's comings and goings, to be friendly and loving.   And part of me hates to be disrespectful to my elders (I'm not kidding about this!) by carping.  But when someone doesn't like you, it's hard to stay positive.

How do people deal with their in-laws? There are some good ones out there--I know them even, and I've heard tell.  But what about the myriad difficult ones? Any advice on this topic? Any stories to share? I'd love to hear them...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oy, the Guilt

So what does my dear little nursemaid get for her kind 7-year-old ministrations to her sick mama? Yup, you guessed it. Today her aunt and uncle had planned an afternoon of treats to get her out of the house--a trip to the bookstore and then a walk down to Chinatown to hunt Pokemon figurines, sticky rice cakes, buns and bubble tea. Even a subway ride! We never take the subway anymore since we moved to Brooklyn (don't ask me why, I guess I've become provincial) so even that's exciting. When E. began to fuss and cry as the time came for her to leave, I tried to be patient, then I became irritated, then I stopped and felt her forehead. Warm of course. Why am I telling this? I just feel so guilty for making her sick that I have to tell the story. Some story.

Tonight she's shivering in bed with her Pokemon guide and 102 degrees of fun-filled fever. I'm still feeling like complete crap so I can't even remember when I last gave her the Motrin. I'm completely disoriented. A. is sleeping off the beginnings of his flu. I'm telling you, this is scary. I can't remember the last time we were all sick like this. It's sort of apocalyptic. I just keep telling myself, this too shall pass, but there's nothing like a really sick child to awaken certain dark, primal fears...

When I come back from this lovely side trip into Plagueville, I'm resolved to post a cheery post full of glad tidings and optimism. Okay, maybe not.

Boy. Remind me that spring is on the way.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Flu and Zombie Movies Don't Mix Well

I'm still sick as a dog. Fever still 101. Argh. It's going up and down like a car on the FDR, as I dose with Advil, leaving me weak and schvitzing. The pity party is ongoing, especially as I face another day of being too sick to knit. Yesterday I watched a zombie movie--28 Weeks Later--but I don't think it sat very well, as they say. I was left in a state of feverish freaked-outness. So what television does mix with flu? Sitcoms? Maybe M*A*S*H. That goes with every occasion...

maybe I'm going to need some coloring books, like when I was little...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

You People are Lovely!

What a nice bunch of supportive comments I got yesterday on my depressive post! Thank you thank you, people!

Today I woke up with the flu. Feh. High fever, barking cough, chills...I wonder if this has anything to do with my feelings of hopelessness yesterday, eh?

Bless the Advil. My fever is down to 100 right now and I'm relatively perky. And E. scurried around after school fixing me fizzy drinks with straws and ice, and putting cool cloths on my forehead. She absolutely loves being a little mama, and I must say, she was very comforting!

I'm off to recline on my bed of woe and stare at television. More anon


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I've Inviting Myself to a One-Woman Pity Luncheon

Okay, I'm not known for grace and graciousness in handling matters of life, the universe, and everything. At least, I frequently lambast myself for lack of comportment. Who knows how I actually come across. I'm great in times of catastrophe. However, the day to day, not so much.

How do people do it? I mean, how do people get out of bed every morning and do what they need to do: feed their families, keep their houses from falling into Category 4 Squalor, negotiate the various bureaucracies of health insurance, taxes, and school, write thank-you notes, brush their teeth, keep their marriages going, parent their children well, and even find space for a modicum of love, joy, and creativity? I know I'm lucky to have these things to worry about--I've been thinking a lot lately about Rwanda and Darfur, and crack whores, and even "what if we didn't have health insurance? What then?" But this thinking doesn't seem to have much impact on my total befuddlement over how to balance my own relatively privileged existence.

I was almost beside myself as I stood over a sink full of dishes this morning, and then felt a wave of true existential nausea when I tackled the secret stash of mouse droppings behind the microwave, flooding the gruesome cache with Fantastik (upon A's entreaty: he's mortally afeared of Hanta Virus, and he's probably not wrong!) I mean, I had a moment of doubting my very purpose on this earth. What was I put here for? And more's to the point, why am I teary-eyed over mouse poop and dirty dishes? Existential angst seems somewhat of an overreaction to these things. But I just can't seem to do what I need to do and accomplish anything at all of worth. I do need to take care of my family--that's the bargain. A. puts food on the table figuratively, and I do it literally.

Before E. was born, even when I was enormously pregnant, I took doctoral classes, taught two college courses, held down a research job, and cooked dinner and did the laundry. I did most of that dressed in nice suits, with a manicure. WHAT??!! Who was that woman??!! And would she like to come work for me?

There are so many things to do before I can sit down to my school work. And as it stands now, I'm doing both jobs in a totally half-assed manner. Whither the dissertation? Whither the tidy house with well-balanced, lovingly prepared meals? I'm sleepy and confused; it's as if I've just woken up, all day long. Wither discipline? Wither good cheer and a can-do attitude?

I'll just sum my feelings up in a single, heartfelt, long-drawn-out OOOOOOYYYYY VEYYYYYYY.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hard-Boiled Cynic, That's Me

This article appeared today in the NY Times. The rather pulpy crime novel author Patricia Cornwell donated a million dollars to my graduate school to start a CSI academy. She was quoted in the quick AP blurb as saying it's necessary because of all the untrained police officers out there, and the mucking about that she herself has seen at crime scenes. Now I immediately realized that this was probably only a tiny piece of what she said--but I admit that I took offense, even though she's probably right--I'm always quick to jump to the defense of police officers, and I hate to see them criticized by the public. Anyway, it seems that she realized her quote might seem offensive, and so she paid a quarter of a million dollars to take out ads showing her support of law enforcement. I guess her comments created some awfully bad press for the grand gesture!

Something about the whole thing seems a little hinky. She strikes me as pretty darn self-aggrandizing, and a cop buff to boot. Of course this academy is incredibly useful, so I guess I shouldn't complain. But I've always thought her books are oddly sexist, and frankly I never liked that damn Kay Scarpetta. It's funny when folks give a ton of money to schools--they were always doing it at my college alma mater too, giving millions of dollars for new observatories and like that...although one now-thinking alum donated a ton of money for daily soft ice cream in perpetuity, served in the dining hall.

A. always says that if he gets rich, he wants to go the soft ice cream bequest route. Forget the useful academies and lab equipment. He wants to donate a ton of money for a really good science fiction collection for the college library. For instance. I think I'd endow a mandatory freshman colloquium. The topic? "In the Name of All That is Holy, Don't Take Yourself So Seriously." I'd offer this sentiment to Patricia Cornwell too.

And now I leave you with this.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Room of One's Own...

I started to think a bit about how much I've changed over the past seven years--since E. was born.  Two of my very dear dear friends are having their own little girls this month (one of them is here already! M.L.K-W, you know who you are!) and this has prompted a little soul-searching on my own...after seeing a beautiful picture of my friend's babe, I began to look through old pictures of E.  Not all of my reminiscences are comfortable.  Like all parents, probably, I wish I had done some things differently--been a little (okay, a lot) less uptight and anxious, never said a sharp word, weaned a little earlier, and not offered candy ever! For some reason this picture of two-year-old E. brings tears to my eyes:

Especially when I consider the real little girl she's become, and don't think I don't shed a surreptitious tear each time she loses a tooth!

But the single biggest, realest mistake I made as a parent was not to have a room of my own right from the start.  A. and I had planned that I would be a stay-at-home mother, and I was entirely behind that concept.  A. would go to work and I would be with E.  As it turned out, I was with her, all the time.  As in pretty much every second for the first three years.  Sissy and I are always talking about how much we hate the notion that you lose yourself when you become a mother--that "mama" is your new identity, and all other parts of you are negated.  But throughout E.'s baby and toddler years, I think I secretly believed that I would be a bad mother if I wasn't subsumed in motherhood.  If I hired a babysitter, let someone else take over for awhile, I'd be wrong.  I even hurried home from marketing as quickly as possible when she was home with A.  

And you know, I made myself quite miserable this way.   In paradoxical effect, I didn't worry less about E., nor did I feel less guilty.  In fact I still feel guilty in retrospect, because although I was home with her, I feel I didn't enjoy her babyhood as I should have.  Of course I didn't! It was claustrophobic and onerous and lonely.  Don't get me wrong, she was a love--in fact, that's what kills me looking back at pictures of her adorable lovey toddler self.

Now that I'm slowly reclaiming parts of myself long dormant--violin-playing, writing, daydreaming, school--I'm realizing more and more how much this was missing from my life. Maybe this sounds a little like '70s self-actualization crap, not to mention ungrateful, but it couldn't be more true.

Okay, that said, I will abruptly change the subject with a question: if any of you have seen the "Little Bear" cartoon on Noggin, why is it that Mother Bear has apparent boobs like a human? Why is the bear family half-anthropomorphized like that? It's downright disturbing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I'm Never Going Back to My Old School...or am i?

It's so strange for me that E's going to my school, the one I attended from first through twelfth grade.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm delighted, I think it's perfect for her and it was always the only place I wanted her to go--it's truly an idiosyncratic place, in a good way I think--although it's complicated and has its issues (as my readers who, erm, went there with me will agree).

I've gotten over the initial poignancy of it all, sort of.  It does make me feel a bit older though in a way nothing else does.  I mean, E actually has her poetry workshop with the man who taught me! That was thirty years ago! More even.

A, who didn't go there and was never indoctrinated into the mystery religion of the school, is more hesitant to embrace it in all it's weirdness.  I thought that maybe, well, it's not the seventies anymore and "progressive" might mean something different now.  It doesn't, really.  It's still progressive in the same way--the semi-controlled chaos, the wild self-expression, the eccentric children all looking a little disheveled.  All these are things to which A must acclimate.  He has more of an English school system ideal (and not in the Summerhill sense), well-ordered and Classics-heavy.

But E keeps coming home with these stories of the magical things they're doing there, winning A over piece by piece.  Recently they studied Walt Whitman, one of A's favorite poets, and he was so psyched that I swear he teared up a little.  The kids were asked to write a poem in the manner of "I hear America singing," and E wrote something that I love, which I'm going to repeat here:

I hear America singing,
Children coming home from school practicing a new song about a country night.
In the dog park the dogs are barking their wonderful barkish rhythmic sound.
A couple chatting together for the first time.
I hear America singing in every cranny and nook.

A commented that one might ask, what's the point of that lesson? I can't even answer that question because although I know, I'm not sure I can articulate it.  I mean, I know it had a point for me, and does for E too.  

But now I think I've lost some of the joie de vivre that I had (not that I was ever so overjoyed in general, I was actually a nervous nellie most of the time, but I took some joy from my schooling certainly and from all the creating that went on there), and it's interesting to go back to that school every day and confront the loss.  Then of course I worry that this is the precursor to a mid-life crisis, which isn't an attractive look for anyone!

I guess I just have to keep reminding myself that I'm grown now, and it's E's turn, but I'll certainly be grappling every day for as long as she goes there...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Did a Muppet Cough Up a Hairball, or Am I Spinning My Own Yarn?

Well, a little bit of both, I guess:

I'm revealing this gruesome objet in the interests of full disclosure.  I'm not too proud to show you the very unlovely thing I made, because I sort of treasure its unloveliness.  It's been a long time since I've been a greenhorn, and in a way, it's sort of fun to suck at something.  It's relaxing to begin at the beginning.  I haven't done that since...well, since I gave birth to E.  I had no idea how to be a parent...okay, I still don't...but I have faith that I will know how to spin yarn, eventually.  At least at this I can show tangible improvement...and, Lord knows, I have nowhere to go but up...

I suppose I had a romantic idea about spinning from reading "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder, about her husband Almanzo's 19th century boyhood:

"Mother always flew.  Her feet went pattering, her hands moved so fast you could hardly watch them.  She never sat down in the daytime, except at her spinning wheel or loom, and then her hands flew, her feet tapped, the spinning-wheel was a blur or the loom was clattering, thump! thud! clickety-clack!"

I have some housewifely envy of Mother Wilder's abilities, and her skill at managing the complexities of a farmhouse before washing machines and frozen food...and I love to connect with the past in this way, even though it's just a taste of it.

What's the last thing you learned to do from scratch?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Bum Scare

So, was it a bomb scare or was it a bum scare?

It's really hard to tell. But between the swastikas recently adorning our local synagogues and sidewalks, and the weapons cache found in a luxe apartment nearby (of course, this was the same guy, as it turns out, a lovely fellow really), this neighborhood is gettin' kinda hectic. Which is funny because it's super-fancy, filled to the brim with bourgeoisie (and I mean this in the Marxist sense); they even have a sort of an urban country club they all belong to, for Gosh sakes. I let A, E, and I out of this equation because we're here on the largesse of others and I refuse to believe that our hearts and values are in the wrong place. Also, we're actually poor if you compare us to our neighbors...

Anyway, I digress. Tonight when I glanced out the front window, onto our very very quiet and out-of-the-way residential street, I saw an enormous gathering of police officers, police cars, and even an ESU truck. They seemed to be searching the park across from our house. A looked and told me it was the bomb squad! As we watched, a cop came with a search light and another cop with a shovel! All the cops but these two evacuated the park, and they proceeded to dig up a large patch of ground. As I peered from four stories up, I caught a sudden blast of light in my eyes--it was a flashlight pointed right at the window--and a cop yelling at me to "get back." Okay, now that's a little too exciting for me; not words you want to hear directed into the warm comfort of your living room. But maybe I'm spoiled? I did "get back"... but only long enough to turn off the lights and retrieve the binoculars...

Well, the story, thank goodness, ended in anticlimax. After the digging, and the replacing of the dirt, and the bomb-sniffing dog, and a bunch of milling around, the cops left with their truck and cars.

So, what the hell was that? Who would even make a threat of a bomb here on this little cul-de-sac? It's like making a bomb threat on the local yarn store in Hudson Falls. A has another theory: he maintains that someone phoned into the precinct a complaint about a bum in the park (we do this on occasion, like when there's a bum lounging about on the platform of the children's jungle gym, scratching himself inappropriately and yelling at passersby--ie, toddlers). In the manner of all good games of "telephone," well, you can take it from there...