Thursday, August 25, 2005

Temper, temper

Storm Clouds

She’s looking up at me with a scowl on her face, eyes growing smaller and more certain by the moment. She is silent.

I’m not sure whether she’s going to cry because her lips have disappeared into her mouth, but I know if she does it’s going to be loud.

I quickly scan the last few moments in my mind for a clue: No toys were dropped, lost or otherwise taken away. No toes were stubbed, no fingers jammed. No voices raised or lowered. I don’t remember looking at her cross-eyed. I didn’t utter the words nap, or no, or uh-oh.

Too late: the tears have come as she drops her head back and opens her mouth wide.

These days being the mother of a toddler is a lesson in composure, comprehension and just plain self control.

I can pretty much rest assured that public place will turn it into a three-ringed circus with spotlights turned in our direction the minute we arrive.

Not that it’s a bad thing. We can be quite entertaining at times: We growl and bark and dance around. We speak with silly voices. We sing and chant, eat and drink, and toast each other with cheers and clinks of glasses.

But that dime only goes so far until the meter runs out and our little squash blossom is flailing her arms and turning full-on tantrum.

We can always trace the gloom back to ourselves. We kept her out too late, didn’t feed her on time, or just didn’t understand that she wanted The Dog and not The Daddy. We don’t have a Rosetta stone for her personal lexicon and her words are growing by the day.

Meltdowns are inevitable. I used to think it would be embarrassing to deal with tantrums in public, but I found that carting a toddler through a football-field-sized expanse of hardware store, searching for the nearest exit while her piercing shrieks escalate with each passing aisle, can be strangely liberating.

I learned I could withstand the piercing looks from strangers. I wasn’t even compelled to interpret the stares or whispers. I just needed to find “Out” so I could deduce the syllables streaming out from between the sobs.

Most new parents will tell you that they have trouble keeping their face straight as their little one’s turns from red to purple, or when little flapping arms pick up enough momentum to seemingly take flight.

Some might even admit dealing with problems — stacks instead of rows, yes instead of no, blue instead of green, up instead of down — can be fun.

When all goes well, a parent can be part detective, part linguist and even part superhero.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hey, what do you think we live in a barn?


“What do you think we live in a barn?” my husband asks as I lumber up the near-vertical staircase that leads to our living space; front door flung wide open, schlepping armloads of groceries from the car.

“Uh, yaaah,” I answer in the most adolescent tone I can muster.

It never gets old.

Of course, any time I tell people I live in a barn they usually ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ and marvel at how romantic such a dwelling must be. Understandably, they are equating barn with the catalog antecedent, Pottery.

No. I live in a B-A-R-N — a big, red structure that is drafty in winter and sweltering in summer and for more than 100 years, in a meandering order of succession, has been used to shelter horses, cattle, a Laundromat, a plumbing contractor, a telephone company and a string of the town’s more established homeowners.

Rooms have been constructed and reconstructed by inhabitants of equal or lesser skills than our own, and each addition unflinchingly boasts the era of its commission.

We’ve even learned parts of our estate have been hacked off and dragged to different parts of the neighborhood. A garage here, a house there; each starting out as a pod from our monstrosity. All this slicing and dicing has made it necessary to send out search parties for my visiting Maine mother-in-law, who always thinks she can ‘get there from here.’

Of course, with two full-time jobs, two perennially shedding dogs, an overflowing diaper pail and only one airless closet of a bathroom, our humble abode has a thick carpet of dog hair and sometimes smells like the Bronx zoo. When we welcome visitors it is usually after a frenzied cleaning and straightening session that goes late into the night. Otherwise, we turn off the lights and pretend that we’re not home.

It’s the story of our lives: With two-dozen family members invited for Christmas, we chose right after Thanksgiving to replace the kitchen. Our wedding prompted the complete gutting and renovation of main room of the building so we could host 135 guests for the reception. And when our daughter was born she was welcomed into a new room of her own painted only minutes before her homecoming. Of course, none of the rooms have trim.

No matter, the words on everyone’s lips after the grand tour is always the same: “it’s got potential.”

Since we’d bought the place for a song and are paying far less in mortgage than we could have ever wrangled in rent we couldn’t disagree, we just didn’t know how potential would make the leap to polished.

The answer, happily, is that it won’t. Our home will always be a barn. It just evolves with us and mirrors our every wonderful imperfection.

I can’t wait until our daughter leaves the door open as she tracks in all manner of seasonal detritus.

“Hey, whah-da-ya think we live in a barn?”

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Out of the closet

Once a reluctant bride comes out of the closet, she comes all out.
There's no dancing around it. Once the date is set, no matter how solid and down to earth she seemed beforehand, every little incidental increment is scruti¬nized as if she were solving world peace.
It is in fact my guess that if the G8 summit had a registry instead of an agenda, women on the verge of wedded bliss would make short work of solving some of humankind's toughest prob¬lems.
I'd like to think I was different. I'd like to think that I was calm and didn't ever let it get away from me that the marriage was the big deal, not the wedding.
The fact that I spent more than 400 hours putting together favors and trinkets for the tables and proofread the same 40 words on the invitations 4,000 times, how¬ever, is evidence to the contrary.
It was the dress that brought me back to reality.
My mom was ill at the time, but it was important to me that she be a part of the selection process. So, on one of her good days, off we went to a local wed¬ding warehouse to check out the sales.
I wouldn't have minded getting married in jeans, so a cheap dress didn't seem too off the mark or the money. But no soon¬er had I made the decision to go gown, I was wishing I'd eloped. I was put out that I had to make an appointment to look through racks of dresses. I was livid when I got there and found out the appointment left me only one hour to do so before the store closed. I hated that every clerk in the store was more giddy about my wedding than I was.
After wasting 15 minutes while our attendant listened to my desires and gathered every dress in direct opposition to them, I turn the job over to mom and she selects a few that look accept¬able.
While waiting for the fitting room attendant (another useless construct as the place is mostly empty), a woman with a thick Jamaican accent, tidy suit and a measuring tape slung around her neck heads my way. "I can take you here, honey."
As I cram myself and my selec¬tions into the mirrored cell, my mom eyes a sullen looking man who loudly complains to his betrothed that her dress doesn't look sexy enough. I close the door just in time to hear my mom make her way over to the couple and inform them directly about a little thing called SUPER¬STITION.
Twenty minutes elapse as I change from dress to dress. I start to feel a little dejected as I realize I look a little too much like Morti¬cia Addams in white. The atten¬dant swings open the door peri¬odically to throw in a hoop skirt, shoes and a veil that costs more than all the dresses combined. I find myself jamming a shoe through the handle to keep her out. Finally, I emerge from the closet wearing the last of the designer specials - a $99 gown that my mother fished from the bottom of the sales rack. Oddly enough, it looks O.K. Mom thinks it's 'old fashioned.' A good sign, I think.
At that crucial decision-making moment, a woman in the dress¬ing room next to mine bounds out in a long, jewel-encrusted dress. A tattoo of a dove peeks out from the lace neckline. "I'm trying the dress on for my daugh¬ter," she gleefully tells me. "She's pregnant now, but she'll be my size again when she gets married ... You know, after the baby comes."
It occurs to me then that some experiences just can't be dupli¬cated. In fact, I might venture, this very moment is the kind of experience a bride should savor. So, as the fitting room attendant fiddles with the sleeves of the gown I am wearing, endangering my balance atop the carpeted dressing perch, I make an execu¬tive decision ... "I'll take it."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

I'm never getting married and other fairy tales

generations III

Like many little girls, I started planning my wedding at the age of 5 — I was determined there wasn’t going to be one.
No bride, no groom, no maids of honor. No triple-tiered cake, vows or cantatas.
From that day forward, I made it perfectly clear to anyone who’d inquire that I didn’t want to get married. Ever.
I can only imagine what danced through my grandmother’s head when she asked my pre-school self about being a mommy someday.
She must have gaped when her three-foot tall gnome of a grandchild, crayon in hand, matter-of-factly informed her there would be no husband, nor child in the picture she planned.
“There are so many kids who need Mommies ... maybe I’ll adopt one of them.”
Of course, the following year at Christmas I asked for a stapler ... It’s possible she never knew what to make of me.
As youth usually does, things went along quite well for a number of years. My parents were good acomplices for my aspirations: “Don’t get married until you’re 25,” my father instructed.
“Don’t get married until you’ve been to Europe,” my mother laughed.
“Don’t get married until you’re 30,” dad revised.
It also helped that the boys-turn-men I dated were equally as uninterested in walking down an aisle.
No pressure there.
You meet people, you go places. Take this job over that one. You date, you meet more people. Life swims along.
Then, something I hadn’t anticipated went horribly awry. My mother’s grammalogical clock started ticking.
“Oh, she’s never getting married. ... I’m never going to be a grandma,” she’d complain at family gatherings.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
It also didn’t help that I had just met “Mr. Right.”
(Unfortunately, they way I felt about him was such a cliché, the “I-just-knew” senario and all, that I might as well name him accordingly).
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
My world slowly turned upside down. It didn’t change my opinion of marriage at first, but it made me wonder about what people actually want and what they say they want.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
Did I really, actually, WANT to get married, or was it the diabolical effect of one biological clock setting off another?
When I started asking myself: ‘Is this it? Shouldn’t there be more? ... What if I’ve made a mistake?’ I knew my axis shifted 180 degrees.
You take an inventory, make your decisions, meet all the wrong people and then, if you meet the RIGHT person, you throw every preconceived notion you had right out the window and start picking out china.
The fairy tales my five-year-old self dreamed up have been dashed, and I couldn’t be happier. Of course, I could still use a stapler.