Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nursery magic

It was as fine a specimen of fluff-filled horseflesh as any.

Fully three-feet tall, the butterscotch-colored mare was still smooth and plump after all these years. She had held up well. Most other seven-year-old toys as well-loved as Butterscotch would have been run ragged by this point. Yet she exhibited no thinness of fur or bursting of seams, no lameness or weakness of legs.

A person would have to look closely, squinting their eyes, to see the wear around her edges. They'd have to be absolutely attentive to discern the lipstick-colored fur around her muzzle and the powdered blue sheen around her eyes weren't part of her original beauty.

Butterscotch has served my children well.

She'd been a plaything of amazing versatility given her size and lack of movement. She'd galloped in the infantry of their imaginations with a quiet grace … especially when the sound sensors in her ears – the ones that played “Home on the Range” and made clip-clop noises when pressed – stopped working.

The children's love for her was unshaken.

The nursery magic wore on even as her specialness wore off.

She was the first thing we moved into Ittybit's new room in the new house, and the last thing Bitty saw when she went to sleep at night. Even as we stand on the edge of the t'ween years, I'd knock on her door and find my daughter draped over the horse, reading, as if in a comfortable chair, whenever I opened it.
So I was surprised, and a little bit flustered, to find Butterscotch in the hallway outside Ittybit's bedroom one morning, where I'd guessed she was stoically waiting for an imaginary gate to open so she could go out to proverbial pasture.

I'd read the “Velveteen Rabbit.” I knew “real beauty” has nothing to do with “physical beauty,” but somehow I'd deluded myself into taking that premise and extending it to mothers who'd had babies later in life.

Babies, I'd convinced myself, would keep me young even as I grew old.

Of course, I hadn't considered that in a blink of an eye the babies wouldn't be babies anymore. But the proof was there in hallway … as clear as any mirror image of my face in harsh light … that the nursery magic was over.

Which meant Butterscotch and I were just old nags: She'd be silently collecting dust in the storage room above the garage and I would be hollering at them to clean their rooms.

Tears started to stab at my already sleep-puffy eyes as I turned and trudged downstairs with dread to find out our fate.

Found Ittybit dressed and ignoring her breakfast as usual. She'd ask me if I liked the earrings she selected for the day and then tell me all about her plans for the day.

I'd make her lunch, ask if she remembered to pack her homework, her library book, and if she had her sneakers for gym. Hesitantly, I asked what were her plans for Butterscotch.

She looked at me quizzically for a moment, as if I'd been speaking in a foreign language, and then it dawned on her she'd pushed the toy into the hallway.

“I was planning on asking The Champ if he wanted her … but then I realized she still keeps me calm when I'm reading. And he'll just draw on her with Sharpie anyway, then she won't be any good for my children one day. ...

“So I decided I'm just going to move her back into my room for a while.”

I smiled. I had my magical moment of reprieve (albeit provided by fear, longing and a little boy's love of indelible ink) but magic all the same.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Just remember: 'arsenal' begins with 'arse'

I have to admit being a tad irritated at the gun folks who want to protect assault weapons.

It's the principal of the thing.

Their rights … the right to bear arms. … the right to stockpile an arsenal … shall not be infringed …

Whenever I think of it, I am reminded “arsenal” begins with “ARSE.”

I can't help it.

The arguments are always the same:

“Guns don't kill people … people kill people.”

“Laws only keep law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves.”

“Only a good guy with a gun can protect us from a bad guy with a gun.”

Blah blah blah blah blah.

That's mostly what it sounds like to me, a buzz of white noise under blaring headlines of massacres and suicide epidemics and predictable accidents.

I'm so tired of people who feel that the world is only tolerable if they have their guns …

Or their iphones …

Or their late-night cartoons ...

Won't pay taxes. Won't fund schools. Would rather live in a shack in the woods with an armory. Washing down their anger and artery-clogging fats with vats of soda out of spite.

The rest of society be damned because it's all about (the royal) you, the individual.

Talk about Nanny State all you want, I'd prefer it to the amateur Police State we're cultivating.

As much as I'd like to praise New York state for finally moving to decrease the mayhem we've created as a society by arming ourselves for end times, I can only shrug.

Assault weapons bans, mandated registration and mental health reporting requirements, are all admirable goals. It's a start, a much-needed start at that, but it's not enough.

I had believed the argument that our gun laws are strict. I had believed it was more difficult to get an assault weapon than it was to adopt a dog, or, for that matter, purchase a package of Sudafed. But it's not actually true. Not outside of New York City at any rate.

After the devastation at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I was shocked to learn New York state only requires the registration of handguns.

I had no idea any person with a clean record and no recorded history of mental illness could buy a long gun – including assault weapons – without a permit or registration of any kind.

When you buy a car, the state makes you have a license, carry insurance, have it inspected annually and register it every two years. Buy a Bushmaster and the state dusts its hands.

It made me angry. Judging by the speed at which legislators moved, it made others angry, too.

And then guns – specifically the one used in the killings at Sandy Hook -- started flying off guns store racks.

I got angrier.

Law-abiding citizens who own guns shouldn't be OK with that.

Law-abiding citizens with guns should want to know that people who own these deadly products are licensed and capable, and should their situations change -- should something in them snap -- their rights to own guns should be reviewed.

We talk a good game about mental illness and how we must do better for those who suffer. But we've always found it easier to put our money into reacting. Prisons are a sure thing. Prevention is trickier.

Toss a coin. Roll the dice. Might as well.

The reality is we have no way of predicting who among us will harm others -- those with diagnosed mental illnesses, or those who just have personality disturbances, and might rather die (and possibly take a schoolroom full of children with them) than admit they have a problem. But we can't just wash our hands of it and fortify our homes.

When The Journal News printed the names and addresses of legal handgun owners I was overwhelmed with clarity and a single question: Why hadn't anyone done this before? This might actually help protect some people. Fight fire with information, so to speak.

After all, wouldn't it be handy to know which parents store arsenals in their homes before sending our kids on play dates? Wouldn't it be helpful to know what your daughter's new boyfriend is packing?

I can assure you, it's not something that usually comes up in the polite, getting-to-know-you type chat.

Under the new law gun owners will be able to opt out of that directory. Register and redact. This from a state that releases names of teachers ranked by how their students score.

How exactly is the good doctor to know their spiraling patient has guns? I suppose that's the part about good faith.

Why open up mental health information and protect gun information?

Apparently privacy and speech – unlike gun ownership – are rights we expect to be restricted.

Or maybe it's simply that we'd rather protect guns.

After all … guns don't kill people, right?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Oh, Oh, Dream Weaver

I'd like to know who casts the actors in my dreams.

Seriously. We need to have a chat.

And the scripts? The weird assortment of characters, arbitrary plots and subplots that never seem to resolve and don't quite bear much resemblance to anyone I've ever met before.

I don't believe for a minute these things come out of my mind.

I mean? A monkey? Sitting in the driver's seat of a beat-up 1949 Mercury coupe, to which, evidently, I own the keys?

I've never seen a car like that, and only know what one looks like because of the wonders of Google.

But that's beside the point.

The car wouldn't start.

Last night I dreamt it was Christmas eve, and as it would appear most of us are wont to do, I spent the morning before a long trip to grandmother's house (someplace I have the feeling we will never, ever arrive) with my children at the Y, swimming in a pool teaming with dogs.

Our dog – a larger, more subdued version of herself – hangs out on long, steep staircase to the pool with a youthful Jazz trumpeter who is singing the Blues.

She has no leash.

Which, for some reason, I feel the need to immediately rectify so I tell Ittybit, who is her own, usual self, to take the shopping cart she's been skating with over to the hardware store and buy a leash with the money I painted onto potato chips.

She obliges, dear, sweet thing that she is and off she goes.

The Champ is busy cleaning loose fur out of the pool filters and turning the clumps into LEGO bricks, as I assume any child would do given a little bit of creativity and the director of some maniacal dream weaver.

I have often thought of dog hair as an underutilized byproduct of animal husbandry. So … that one MIGHT have been my contribution to the script

… But also, beside the point.

Speaking of husbands. … Where was mine?

He didn't have a role at all.

I tossed and turned and waited for my daughter to return with her shopping cart and the leash we would need to keep our not-wandering dog from not wandering.
But I couldn't sit around. I kept taking $5 cab rides within a walking distance to check on her.

Only the taxi was a yellow Beetle, and it had no doors.

Finally she arrived with the leash, which, when clipped to the dogs collar sent her running in all directions.

A woman, with the brut force of an army picked up the pooch and tossed her overhand, up two flights of stairs and into the pool.

As she did my husband appeared … and bit my nose.

It was a snap, really, more than a bite.

But it woke me up.

It was still dark outside. The house was silent. I checked the clock; it said 5 a.m.

I considered going back to sleep in an effort to see how it would end, and then I realized it was probably best to try and read until morning. Forget the whole thing. Chalk it up to fever dream and leave it at that.

The last thing I wanted to do was witness whatever kind of craziness was waiting for me at granny's house should my dreamers be able to get that darn Mercury started.

Then I'd have to admit I was out of my mind.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

May all your New Tears be happy

All week long I kept typing it: “Happy New Tears.”

I blamed my great, big fingers trying to work the tiny phone keyboard for the mistake… and Facebook. I blamed Facebook for forcing me to reply to everyone I've ever known since third-grade summer camp who wished me season's greetings.

I also blamed growing up in the northeast for my propensity to add an S to practically all nouns.

Of course the thing I couldn't do was admit that the mistake seemed apropos.

It's nothing new. Each December's end I squint in the glare of the New Year – with its grand, fiery, celebrity-soaked entrance -- hoping it will settle down and spend the next 364 days being calm and uneventful.

In looking back, it seems, I survey the previous year's damage and hope for better … or at least nothing worse.

I wish for fewer fights with my husband.

I wish for fewer illnesses for the kids.

I wish for fewer worries for my family and friends.

And even though I don't actually make it official by declaration, I round up a few things I'd like to achieve:

I'd like to be more active.

I'd like to eat more vegetables.

I'd like to cut down on sugar, white flour, dark thoughts … and bitterness.

Truly, though, I'm not cynical.

I haven't truly accepted that I can't change for the better.

Now's as good a time as any for list making and fresh starts.

And really … it's better than at Christmas time when the house is filled with an abundance of the things that only sabotage our best intentions.

Cookies, candies, lax bedtimes, snow storms, bacteria, sinus pressure … feelings of ineptitude.

… Batteries not included.

My phone “dings” with another message wishing me a Happy New Year. … Another over-zealous response: “HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!”

How many extraneous exclamation points will I need to use before I start to feel real excitement?

“I need to snap out of this,” I tell myself, aloud, so I might half-heartedly listen.

“What did you say?” Ittybit answers. “Nothing, just talking to myself. This time of year makes people crazy.”

She shrugs and tugs on her coat.

Her brother has storm clouds brewing between his eyebrows and the place where a scarf rests underneath his nose. Nothing else is visible amid the layers of winter wear I'd wrestled him into.

The school bus is coming, and he'd rather stay on vacation. He'd rather run around in his shorts in front of the blaze of the wood stove playing with LEGOs than have to do the work of Kindergarten. Today will be hard.

But eventually things will be back to normal again.

There may even be a few improvements.

It's not impossible.

All it really takes is intention and repetition in no particular order.

I take a deep breath and exhale. “One day at a time,” I tell myself. “Mistakes only count when you stop counting.”

Who knows? Maybe it's not the worst thing to wish for that all our New Tears be happy.