Thursday, April 24, 2014

Some Thoughts from Baby

A Post by Special Guest Blogger, The Storm



Today was Take Your Child To Work Day, so The Storm put in her share of writing. She also did some pitching and she even submitted her short story (which was pretty good!) to a handful of publications. Fingers crossed! Her final assignment of the day was to write a nonfiction piece about being the youngest in our clan. Here it is: 

I am the youngest of three in my family. There are some really cool things about being the youngest but, then again, there are some not so cool things. Yes, I am the baby and everyone thinks that I get what I want. But you should meet my mother—she likes to get things her way, too. That’s the problem my mother is like me, so that is why we don’t get along so well. We kind a of argue a lot!
   
Some good things about being the youngest is that I am the baby, so I get to act like one. When my brother and I are fighting, I can just yell really loud at him and my mom will scream at him to get his butt downstairs. Also, because I am the youngest I have an older sister and an older brother, so I know thing I should not know (because of the shows they watch, which I watch with them.) It isn’t just them: my mom says bad words sometimes. (She is getting better, though.) Ya, so being the youngest is fantastic!



Some BAD things about being the youngest is that my opinion doesn’t really matter. Also when I want to record MY TV shows, everybody else’s shows come before mine. Being the youngest, I can’t go to the R-rated movies with the rest of my family. Also, I feel left out sometime because the older kids do things I can’t do because I am to young. So, ya, being the youngest sucks!



These are some pro and cons about being the youngest in my family.

A note on Mom's bad language habits: What can I say? I love words! All of them!   

As for whose opinions matter:

The Storm wanted not one, not two, but three birthday parties this year. She got'em.



The Storm wanted to go to Disneyland over spring break.



And the beach.


And the zoo.

And she wanted to rent a funky bike.


And she wanted to rent a kayak, and have pizza for lunch, and visit the chocolate shop, and sit in the backseat, and watch Batman instead of "Anything else, please, anything else," and she wanted to ride Splash mountain three times, even though the sun had gone down and it was really cold --so we did all of this. And she didn't want to walk, ever, so we didn't. 

But, if you ask her about the week, she'll tell you that she wanted to go surfing and we didn't. So, her opinions don't really matter. Sigh. I'll say this for her: She knows what she wants, and she wants it all!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Girl / Woman


When she was little, the rules were pretty obvious, the boundary lines clear: You can ride your bike on the sidewalk only; hold my hand to cross the road; always swim with buddy. These things, and a thousand others, I told her to keep her safe.

As Sunshine became older, she insisted I loosen the grip at her wrist.

"Trust me," she said, and I did and she grew to be this smart, strong, confident, beautiful and kind sixteen-year-old (almost seventeen-year-old!) girl/woman. (That little diagonal line separating those two words holds a world.)

I trust her. And she talks to me. And she has convinced me that the teenager stereotype, full of angst and rebellion, is a myth brought upon by a lack of understanding, communication, tolerance and patience.

And she is good, and she values the trust between us as much as I do, and here is where it gets complicated:

Last night, after a lengthy explanation about the proficiency testing going on at school, from which she is exempt, and assurances that most of her teachers will be moderating said testing, leaving her with substitutes and hours upon hours of classroom videos, make-work and general do-nothingness, she asked if she could skip school to have fun with her friends.

"I can't give you permission to skip school," I said, even as I recalled some of my favorite high school memories:

We called them day parties, these shining occasions when twenty or thirty of us would spontaneously skip off to his house, her house, the beach, a dirt road and just have the most spectacular fun in these few stolen hours. In fact, whenever I meet up with old friends, even thirty years later, these day parties take center stage under the yellow lights of our reminiscing.

So, "I can't give you permission to skip school," I said, again, "but, I won't punish you, either."

"And if you get caught, it's on you. I won't have your back."

But, this morning, as she slung her school bag over her shoulder, on her way out the door, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't know exactly where she was going, and I'd created a situation whereby she couldn't tell me.

"I obviously don't want to know where you are going," I said, all sternness. "But, I absolutely want to know where you are going." A panic bubbled up inside me.

She laughed at me, at my ridiculous logic which grew, of course, from my desire to keep her by the hand, keep a firm grip, keep her little and home with me.

"I'll make good choices," she said, "and I'll let you know if I go anywhere different from the usual spots."

"Or if you do anything unusual."

"Okay."

"Unusual for you, not me."

"Okay, Mom."

"And be home at the usual time."

"Right."

"And make good choices."

"We're getting repetitive."

"Just go," I said.

I cried a little when she left.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Life is Hard

"It shouldn't be this hard," I said to my friend.

Balthazar and I had hit our roughest patch on life's road. We were, more or less, living apart, he in Vegas, and I with the kids, in Iowa--since Vegas had a job for him and we couldn't sell our house in the Midwest.

This lasted for two years. Funds, too, were tight and, playing the role of a single mom, I could barely find the time I needed to write my thesis. I'd committed to a very expensive, low-residency program, less than a month prior to Balthazar's job troubles. Oh, and our house was for sale throughout the ordeal, so I was frantic to keep it clean, lest we lose the one buyer we were desperate to find to make everything right, again. 

I was stressed out. Balthazar was stressed out. And the kids suffered, too, for our stress--which made us stress all the more.

"Why not?" my friend asked of my complaint about life.

"Because. Because. It just shouldn't."

"Why not?" she repeated.

"Because life is supposed to be fun. It's meant to be enjoyed." 

At least, that was what I had always believed and because, for me, life had, for the most part, been roses and lemonade. Even when things were difficult, which of course they sometimes were, there was wine to swirl in our glasses, once we'd clinked them together--"Here's to better days." Love to be made at night. Morning doves cooing outside our window, come sun up.

"But it's also hard," said my friend, candidly. 

I stopped being her friend that day. It was an act of defiance.

~
     
But life stayed hard for us, anyway, despite my protests. Really, really hard. 

At first it was little things: A freaky flood in our basement in Iowa to scare off our first real prospect; a scorpion infestation in the new house in Vegas. One thing after another to keep our foreheads perpetually wrinkled: the constant vomiting of the dog who was allergic to the Vegas heat; a car accident; another car accident; an infestation of  lice that lasted forever; bad teachers; bullies at school; and always there were the bills we were expecting; plus the ones we weren't. 

And these were in the years when things were supposed to be getting better: Balthazar and I were working desperately to put things back in order. I'd graduated from school, we'd sold the house, found another in Vegas and we'd begun the long slow climb out of the debt that the previous years had set us in. 

"We have a roof over our head, food on the table. We have our health and we have each other." I encouraged Balthazar. 

But the roof wasn't ours, really; it was rented. And the food was bland, or takeout, because, I really didn't feel like cooking much, anymore. This led to wider waistbands, less energy, less will. It led to less each other. Less of ourselves. More stress. 

But, we are fighters, Balthazar and I, so we got up each day and did what needed to be done, tackled whatever new challenge showed up at our door. Then, at the end of the day, we squeezed the kids, as if to soak in some of their youth and optimism, to replenish ours--which was vastly diminishing. 

We hugged each other, in consolation. 

"It has to get better," we both said. Over. And over. And over again.

Then, "Are you fucking kidding me?" when the next blow would arrive. 

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I railed at our rented ceiling.  

And the blows were knock-you-on-your-ass mighty. Sometimes because we'd had yet to get up from the last. And sometimes because they came from left field. And sometimes because they just were.

"We still have our health," I said to Balthazar. "The kids are healthy. We're healthy. We're gold," I said, "As long as we have our health, we're gold."

It was, in all honesty, the one thing, I was desperately afraid to lose. I could battle the rest of it, as long as we stayed healthy, I thought.
~

"I'm sending you to a specialist," said my doctor, on a routine checkup. "It's your thyroid."

I didn't go. "Life is not supposed to be this hard!" 

~

Then, just over five years into our rough patch, five years living in a perpetual state of stress, a flu sent me to bed. For a full week. A week I couldn't afford. I missed four deadlines. My anxiety levels skyrocketed.

And then I gave in. I laid my head on the pillow and I slept. For days. 

When I finally awoke, recovered from the virus, a numbness took over my lips and face, my hands. And then my brain. I couldn't follow a simple movie plot. I certainly couldn't write. My hip joints ached. 

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I said, that first morning when it hurt to walk.

I suspected multiple sclerosis. My new doctor (naturally, I'd ditched the other) suspected multiple sclerosis, too. She scheduled tests. 

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Balthazar didn't say it. Instead, he poured over the bills.   

~

"Seriously?" I said, when the receptionist asked for an exorbitant co-pay upfront. 

"Forget it," I said. "I'm not sick. I'm only stressed out." 

I went home.
~

"I'm sorry," I said when Balthazar began complaining about bills, that week. "I'm sorry that you're stressed out. But I can't worry with you. If you have to worry, you'll have to worry alone. I won't worry anymore, not about money nor whatever shit should arrive on our doorstep tomorrow. I can't live like this. We can't live like this. It will kill us."

"I love you though," I said. "And I'd love to just go for a walk and hold your hand."

~

The blows still come, but less frequently, it seems. And, somehow, they land with less force. Even the big ones:

"Epilepsy," said the neurologist of Sunshine's episodes.

To her, he said, "Everyone has something."

"That's true," I said. "Think of Hollywood's allergies."  They arrived like a sucker punch, during our second spring in Vegas and have been hassling him ever since. 

"Chronic sinusitis," said his specialist, last month.

Balthazar's high blood pressure is genetic; he's careful about what he eats.

~

I'm careful about what I eat now, too. I'm cooking with enthusiasm, again. We exercise regularly.

We smile and laugh, a lot, as often as we can, really.

And these joyous occasions chip away at the pall that has hung over us for so long.

To make me smile all day long. And I value our good days more than ever. 

I'm smiling now, as I write this post.

And my symptoms have all but disappeared. And we bought our own house, and there are no scorpions, and the dog stopped vomiting....

Life is hard. A lot of the time. And it's bound to get harder still, but when it's not, Oh!

When it's not, it's pretty damned great!
~

I think I'll call my old friend. I owe her an apology. A drink. We'll swirl our wine in our cups, once we've clinked them together.       

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Crazy Mom


I spent most of the Labor Day weekend on the sidelines with the rest of the parents of The Storm's soccer team, while the girls competed in tournament. They're a good bunch of people and I was just reflecting on them, when an alarming thought occurred to me.

You know how there's always one crazy mom in every group? The one who is totally over the top? She either rides her kids too hard or talks them up too much. Or else she completely coddles them. She might have them set on twelve foot pedestals. Whatever it is, she's usually pretty easily identifiable because she goes on and on, completely oblivious to the fact that her behavior pretty much horrifies everyone else.

Anyway, it just occurred to me that we don't have one of these in our group. Which means....

Gulp.

Oh my God..., I must be her! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fighting Words



Yesterday found us at Target buying Hollywood some new school supplies. Weeks ago we purchased the girls' things but, just recently, Hollywood has also decided to return to public school.

He left middle school, last January, when the bullying became unbearable, and he's spent the last eight months doing an online homeschool curriculum that was terrific, in that it taught him academic independence:

While I was always around to help him, often I would need to research subjects for myself, before I was any good to him. Hollywood soon figured out that by removing the middleman, me, he could get his work done twice as quickly. He began looking things up on his own, rarely turning to me at all, in the last few months. He learned to teach himself and think for himself--a fabulous thing to be sure.

But, he's been lonely. A 14-year-old boy needs other 14-year-old kids around, friends who speak his adolescent language and like the things he likes, video games, Nerf guns, cannonballs. So, he's returning to the public school system, again--having grown older, stronger and wiser to the ways of the world and the treacherous terrain of middle school.

"Keep your head down this time," I've warned him several times. "Try to fit in," I've said, in spite of myself. In spite of him, too.

Two binders, two packs of college-ruled paper, 24 pencils, a protractor, a science calculator and three other large bags of Crayola and Mead supplies later, we met up with Balthazar and the girls for dinner and a late movie, grabbing as much last minute summer fun as we could before school starts up again.

We saw The Butler, a movie that caused some mid-film seat shuffling, in order that Balthazar and I might field the questions that continually arose. It was early in the movie that The Storm leaned over with her first.

"What does that mean?" she asked, referring to the N- word.

"You've never heard it before because it's a very bad word," I said back, before I explained to her, as best I could in brief and whispered theatre tones, the word in its historical context. 

Then, settling back into my seat and reaching for another handful of popcorn, it occurred to me that I certainly had heard the N- word, and quite regularly even, by the time I was ten, and what a great thing it was that she hadn't yet, and what that said about society's progress. It was a line of thinking that the movie, opening up in a cotton field and concluding with the election of President Obama, went on to confirm.

The best thing about art, the thing that makes me so passionate about literature, beyond the prose--I'm crazy for good prose!--is not the story so much as the conversation that the story inspires, the bigger thinking that culminates.

"You know," said Hollywood, on the way home. "I was just thinking about the word gay."

"Ya? " I said. It was just us in the car. The girls were riding with their dad.

"Well, kids should find another word to use as an insult. It's not right," he said. "Like, when they called me gay, even though I'm not, I was offended by it."

"Hmm," I said.

"It's because of the way they said it. They said it in a mean way. But I don't think there's anything wrong with being gay." He paused. "Still, I was offended. I don't think kids should use that word that way. Like when something is uncool, they call it gay. Like being gay is bad thing." Another pause. "I think a person's sexual preference should be up to them and nobody else should care."

"I agree."

Then he said, "I think maybe I should try to change the way kids use that word." And my alarm bells started clanging. 

Part of Hollywood's problem, in middle school, was his intolerance for bullying. He couldn't let it happen to anyone, without speaking up. I remember teaching him, years ago, that this was the right thing to do. Now, I realize, I set him up: In defending the bullied, he became the target.

"I think maybe I should say something when kids use that word, that way," he said, while I scrambled for the right response.

"Maybe," I finally said. "But remember, middle school is a rough place. Remember you were gonna keep your head down?"

I want him to do what's right. I want him to be true to his strong, always dead-on accurate, moral compass. But, more than this, I want him safe. I want him happy. I want him to fit in.

Because it's so much easier.

But..., this isn't my decision to make.

"You know how, in the movie, and in history, the people who stood up for what was right were persecuted? How they were beaten and jailed and even killed? How hard it was for them?" I said.

"Ya?"

"Well, you just have to know if you're gonna stand up for something, if you're gonna fight for something, well, you're gonna be in a fight. You've got to be ready for that. You've got to consider whether you want to take that on. And if now's the time," I said--because although he's bigger and stronger and wiser than he was eight months ago, and his confidence and self-esteem have been replenished, it was only eight months ago.

I didn't add, "For God's sake, please, keep your head down, my sweet baby boy."

Although, I desperately wanted to.

"I guess I need to think about it a little. Maybe there's something else I can do to make people stop using that word that way," he said.

"And remember, change doesn't happen over night."

"Right."

We were quiet, in our own thoughts, for the remainder of the ride. He, thinking seriously about how to best make the world change for the better. Me, wrestling with my own moral compass; with my desire to tame the good in him, to make him better fit in a not-so-good world.

~

When we were at home, later, while he played on the floor with our miniature schnauzer, he asked me another question. Although, I now suspect, he already knew the answer.

"Mom, what's a mutt, exactly?"

"It's a dog that isn't a purebred. It's a mix of different breeds."

"You called Shadow a mutt, once, when you were mad at her."

...Point taken, my wise young man. Point taken.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Haphazard Truths Manifesto


I haven't blogged in awhile--it was a conscious decision. The truth is I stopped blogging for several reasons, some of which were practical--I won't bore you with the details--but one of the reasons, the main reason that I stopped sharing here at Haphazard Truths is because of different things that some people have said to me. Small things. Hints, really. Judgment, most definitely. Words that spelled out their disapproval of my oversharing and questioned my ethics as a parent.

Sigh.

So, as I re-enter my Haphazard Truths practice (for it is a practice,) after a long sabbatical during which I ruminated and meditated often on this very thing, I've collected several counters to the accusations that, in  blogging, I am robbing my children of their right to privacy.

Here goes:

1. I'm not a private person. I never have been. When I pull myself up to any given table, I lay out all my cards and, as I do, my heart (and probably far too many other organs,) pinned there to my sleeve, flaps about for all to see.

I've never been very good with secrets, particularly my own. I'm more comfortable, I feel more secure when the truth, ugly and as uncomfortable as it might be, is laid bare, alongside all the cards, for everyone to contend with and dispute and, well, I believe, make truer still.

This isn't to say that I insist, or even believe, that my children should be the same. They certainly, like everyone else, have a right to the degree of privacy that they choose. I understand this.


2. While my readers know, or at least I hope they know, that I care deeply for them and that I do my very best to be as honest as I can, they also must recognize that my priority is my children--at least the content of my posts should point to this.

My three darlings give me an abundance of material to think about and write about all the time, but some of it, and some of the meatiest, frankly, is very personal to them and so, of course, I won't write about it.

Occasionally, some very personal thing or other that we are contending with does inspire blog post musings, in which instance I simply ask the darling in question, "Can I write about this?"


And for every Yes and Sure, there are also the shocked and emphatic No!'s. And I don't. Case closed.  

3. Writers write. It's what we do. And my family is by no means the first, nor will they be the last, casualties of an earnest writer. My God, just watch the rapid speed with which the memoir shelves multiply at your local library.

Still, I understand that there needs to be a balance between my needs as a writer and my obligations as a mother, and I make every effort to ensure that there is. (Revisit #2.)

4. While the truth is that I would prefer to be writing fiction, my life, as it is--regularly and predominantly consumed by my responsibilities as a mother--doesn't leave me the time that I would need to concentrate on my fiction (yet.) But still I must write, as others must run or cycle or climb. Or breathe.

I know this to be truer than ever, since my Haphazard Truths journey began--when, with that first post, I felt I'd gulped a huge breath of air for the first time in a long time. Writing completes me.

And the material available to me, the only material available to me for the last 15 years is the material available to a mother who's abandoned career and pretty much self to dedicate her world to her children and family. What else would you suggest I write about?

5. Finally, and this is a pleasant if unexpected benefit of blogging: Haphazard Truths makes me a better parent.


In writing about my children, my responsibilities to my children and my relationship with my children, I am forced to deeply consider all of this. And this deep rumination; the contemplation and sorting necessary to thoughtfully express in writing what they are experiencing, or what I am experiencing as a result of their experiences, or what we are experiencing together, leads me to have deeper understanding of it all, leading to more informed and, thus, better parenting. 

And taking time from our very busy schedule to observe my children, even if for the purpose of discovering blog material, has me, at least, taking a beat to observe my children from a different angle. And every now and then I'll notice something, I might not have noticed otherwise.

It's a little like snapping a selfie--because, of course, my self is inclusive of them.
 
Anyway, studying them forces me to consider things like why Sunshine might have snapped at me over breakfast, and inspires me to make sense of her behavior, when it would be so easy, during the busyness of our day, to let it go, knowing it will pass or to brush it off as the natural behavior of teenagers--which by the way, I don't take much stock in: Teenagers behave like teenagers, for the most part, because they're treated like teenagers..., but this is a whole other topic for a whole other post.

Anyway, all of this is to say: I'm back. Big hug. I missed you!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Worry


My worry for Sunshine needles like a thorn underneath my rib. I can't reach it. I can't tend to it.

I must suffer it.

Each day, my teenager inches further into a world where I can't protect her. She's making her own decisions, setting her own standards, calling her own shots. And I'm afraid for her. I'm afraid she'll make mistakes..., of course, she'll make mistakes.

This realization pokes deeper still.


 
My worry for Hollywood is different. It is a wounded lamb I carry across my shoulders. All day. Everyday. For months on end. It lays atop my chest at night. In the dark, I listen anxiously for its every belabored breath.

Hollywood hit a rough patch in middle school....

That's an understatement. I'm not ready to get into it.

One word. Bullies.

At his guidance counselor's recommendation, Balthazar and I have removed him. He's homeschooled now, and the change in him feels near miraculous. Already, he's regained much of the confidence they took from him.

As if nothing more than a school lunch!

Sometimes, I lay down the lamb, in a patch of soft, cool grass, to sharpen my staff on the nearby rocks. I raise it above my head like a spear. I could kill with it.

Other times, I hold the stick, with one hand, by the hook, turning paranoid circles. My other hand gripped tight to the lamb's paws, at my shoulder.

I will not drop him.


 
I've not been worried for The Storm, this week. It's a welcome reprieve.

My baby is doing just fine. She's happy. She's healthy. Her grades are good. She's bonding well with her siblings. She's playing well and often with friends. She's smiling and laughing. Even in her sleep.

To make me smile, too.

And breathe, ah..., easier.

Yes, this week, The Storm is being easy on me.

...Except when she goes outside to ride her bike. The cars come fast up our street. And she's a little daredevil. When The Storm goes outside to ride her bike, my fret is a heart murmur.

Probably nothing to worry about. 

But, I will anyway.