Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tendril morsels

She twirls her hair around her finger, brings it to her mouth and starts to chew nervously. Another tendril morsel, I call it.

She rolls her eyes.

I hate that.

But it's nothing compared to the voice she's been cultivating in the pressure-cooker that is middle school. It makes me think her friends lead her around by the nose.

I ask her to stop.

She breathes deeply and, for a few moments speaks in the voice I know and love. But soon the nasal twang returns as I try to wheedle out tidbits from her day.

With a string of one-word responses to my barrage of questions, she tells me what a drag I'm being.

... Sure ...

... Fine ...

... Whatever ...

... I dunno …”

No matter how I try, I can't extract a drop of information. It is clear I'm just an annoyance. I am the person who can no longer cook eggs properly. Or who forgets to buy celery. The person who should just drive her to dance class and disappear.

Are we done here?”

Now it's my turn to breathe deeply as I release her.

There's no amount of cajoling that will unblock this dam. Information is hers to trickle. She has to work the controls, and I have to await the rise and fall of waterworks. Neither of us has much patience for the other's schedule.

It's hard to hold back. Hard to sit and watch cracks appear and puddles form. Hard to say nothing.

I do a lousy job of playing it cool.

I'm not sure why we can't be friends, but that's what the experts say is verboten. From her perspective, at least, I think I'm probably in no danger of losing that battle.

She doesn't even think we're on the same side.

That smarts a bit.

"You always stand up for people who hurt my feelings. You always take their side," she accuses. "It feels like you don't believe me."

That hurts.

It's not that I don't believe ... It's just that I know what we believe has a habit of tripping us up.

I haven't been able to explain it to her, though not for not trying. Unless one is running for an elected position, beliefs never get easier to convey.

"You have to trust me, I just know," makes about as much sense to her as "someday you'll understand," does to me.

Of course, I'm faking it.

I don't know for sure that she'll one day understand or that she'll understand it my way. I don't know that everything will be ok. I just keep my fingers crossed and stop myself from walking under ladders.

Ideas change. Authority shifts. Facts split apart and reform in all sorts of new shapes.

We struggle for a while, but then we adapt.

Last year I was cooking with olive oil and trying to lower fat intake and this year I'm wondering how I can find ethically produced lard and buying whole milk.

I'd be lying if I said I felt confident in any of my choices. All I have is hope that the good ones will balance out the bad ones.

Eventually, night will come and with it the close of another day. Maybe this night she will ask me to read her a story, for old-time's sake.

Maybe she will tell me her sadness.

I will listen.

And when she's through, I will tuck the sheets up under her chin and remove the tendril from her mouth.

She will sleep, and I will dream.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


I don't want to get up.

Snow has fallen. It's windy out. There is a sidewalk at the edge of our property – the edge nearest civilization – that needs clearing. (I don't say shoveling because the snowfall wasn't of any significance. It probably wouldn't have produced a snow day if school wasn't out for winter break.)

But I digress.

I hear cars outside now. There is a slushy sound of warming temperatures and rain as they pass. Sidewalk clear thyself.

My head hurts. Or I think my head hurts. Receding barometric pressure has filled the space in my sinuses with doubt.

If I get up, I know that first step will feel like an icicle stabbing me through the soles of my feet. I also know by the time I make the long and arduous trek to the bathroom -- a miserable seven or eight steps – the sensation will stop, and I'll feel a little more human.

I won't even remember my head had felt overfilled.

Oh, but it's warm under these blankets.

It's comfortable, too. Not too lush. Not too austere.

I'm glad I held my own in the great mattress debate of '07. My choice was impeccable. Just the right balance between soft and supportive, yet not enough of either to make a person dread the advent of morning. The pillow-topped one my husband wanted would have been too comfortable, which is why he saw the light of my brilliance at the sales desk. He doesn't usually sleep in.

The dog and one of the cats have called a truce in their ongoing skirmish and curl up with me. I know they are looking for warmth, not companionship.

The wind sails across the roof and beats at the windows for a bit before it retreats. The first time was startling, but then every so often it comes back, like an angry child. Insistent and loud, but unable to sustain that intensity for too long. I relax a little and try to welcome the sound as it mingles with the cartoon blaring from the television downstairs.

He doesn't need me yet. His sister is visiting friends, which means he has total and complete control over the television and remote. In addition to the anime army fighting forces of evil, I also hear the tinney screech of the step stool as he drags it from one part of the kitchen to the other. A cabinet opens. He's got a glass. A tap opens. He's filling the glass with water. A drawer rolls out. He's got a bowl. Another cabinet opens and soon the clink of tiny rocks. He's filling his bowl will cold cereal.

I won't hear the seal of the refrigerator being penetrated. Milk will only make his cereal soggy, and everything else in there is relatively healthy or needs a modicum of preparation.

I can sense my husband's jealousy from the shop, which is a thousand or so paces into the backyard. I don't feel too badly about this. My jobs allow me to work from bed on occasion. There is a book-sized computer warming my lap that is running a number of programs simultaneously. I can get things done in my pajamas. He could, too if he wore a few extra layers of them and didn't mind what civilized people say.

Of course, I can't stay here forever.

I can see smoke has stopped coming out of the chimney. The stove could use another log or two.

But more importantly, no one brought me coffee.

I suppose it's time to get up.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Faking and making

I wish we could all share in the sentiments of primary school Valentines.

When we are in primary school the beauty of its simplicity is wasted on us. Once we age past primary we might get caught up in the emotion of romantic love … mostly the complexity of it … and from there on in, the confusion or disappointment of the whole thing tends to leave a bad taste in our mouths.

Somewhere between this angst-y state of desire and whatever version of mature fulfillment we've settled into, we decide Valentine's Day is just some ridiculous notion cooked up by marketers to relieve us of our hard-earned cash.

So we dust our hands of it, darkly happy to be rid of its fakery.

That is … until our kids reach the age when paper hearts and printed confections are as exciting as the sunrise on a brand new day. Then, like it or not, our hands become soiled again in glitter and glue.

I know a lot of folks would like to see the tiny hearts of this holiday shrivel up and blow away. I'm sure at one time or another I was one of them. No thing is the same for any one of us, after all. Some of us can't be bothered, others are bothered beyond belief.

But it wasn't until I helped my kids make class-loads of valentines that I understood what I'd been missing all those years.

We'd selected a project that seemed easy enough: She'd draw pictures of each of her classmates using the class picture as a reference. Taking some advice from the internet, I drew the chins, necks and ears to make the sizes similar. She drew the hair, faces and wrote in the names.

It took us two days and a slew of do-overs until she was satisfied with the results.

In those two days we talked about each of her friends. What made them unique. What made them special.

She didn't like Isaac's nose on paper. So she erased it … made it better. More like the nose she was used to seeing on him.

Corrine's hair was all wrong. She wore it loose, not in pig tails. Erase, erase, erase. Sweep, sweep, sweep. Scratch, scratch, scratch. That's better.

She asked me how to spell "sweet" and "treat," and wondered if we could include some with the cards.

I nodded.

I could never have imagined this scene only a few years ago. I would have railed against the idea that children should be conduits-of trumped up emotion in all its lace-doily artifice. I would have wondered if maybe all this forced friendship wasn't the beginning of some soul-crushing lie.

We spend hours laboring over some sweet nothing that is destined to be tossed in the trash.

"What's the point?" We ask our selves. "It means nothing." Or maybe the opposite, it means too much.

We try to reason that we can't like everyone, so why should we pretend we can? Don't our problems as adults come from stuffing these feelings of discord so far down in our psyches that the pressure of it eventually threatens to blow a hole the size of a heart in our souls?

For whatever reason, we think this false holiday fosters the potential for dashed hopes and unrealistic dreams.

Wouldn't it be better to celebrate any one of the OTHER manufactured holidays that fall on February 14?

There would be no hard feelings over Clean Out Your Computer Day, League of Women Voters Day or Library Lovers Day. Who wouldn't go all in for National Ferris Wheel Day or Race Relations Day? Because, certainly, if there was no Valentine's Day no one would have to create a Quirky Alone Day, or National Call In Single Day.

Yet, instead of throwing Valentine's Day away, I find myself wishing we could boil it down to its purest form and bottle it.

Even if we have to pretend, liking each other seems so much better than the alternative.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Comfort, food

It was lunchtime, and the joint was hopping. We'd never been here before: A little eatery in a little town we were passing through as the dial on the clock struck belly-grumble. The warm, bacon-scented air was welcoming, and the rattle of plates playing against the tinkle of glasses provided soothing background music as we placed our orders.

But comfort food couldn't quell my anxiety as I stood there looking up at a set of colorful chalkboards trying to decide what would make our entourage happy.

I have to feed one husband who is on a diet and ignoring two of the basic four food groups; one child who wants her midday meal to consist of a cross-section of the entire menu; and finally, a child who has concocted an imaginary food group and refuses to eat anything that falls outside of it.

So, of course, I proceed to stammer a messy combination of breakfast fare and lunch-y requests as if I'd pulled a thousand threads from the menu's fabric. The woman at the register smiled at each of my “I'm-sorrys and Is-it-possible-to-gets ...” but made note of our out-of-town status as I handed over a credit card. “Keep this up and you won't be welcomed back,” she said with a laugh as she handed me a chicken-shaped table flag.

I hoped she was kidding. This place, with its brightly decorated walls and packed tables, looked like somewhere I'd like to frequent.

I grabbed some silverware and sat down at the table. My kids were already starting the Are-We-There-Yets of restaurant waiting.

“Is that ours?” one kid stage whispers as a server hoists a tray laden with plates and sidles past us. “Nope! Not us.” confirms the other. “Maybe ours will be next … Oh, I hope it IS next. I-hope-I-hope-I-hope,” both children will chant with closed eyes and crossed fingers as we continue our esurient vigil.

“I. Might. Die. Before. We. Eaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.”

Had I been employing the proper parenting techniques all along, I though to myself, one sharp look from me would have been enough to quiet them.

Instead, I was rummaging through my bag looking for snacks or candies or crumbs to give their complaining mouths something to chew on. If I don't find anything, I'll have to resort to the nuclear option: The hiss of parental desperation in the form of a string of empty threats.

If you don't stop thisssssssss whining right now …. we will never eat anything … anywhere …. ever again ...”

But then a minor miracle! Mid-threat, there came food from above (and presumably the kitchen). Plates loaded with the promise of overfull bellies were silently lowered to the table in age-ascending order. First the boy and his mystery meal, then the girl and her laborious samples, and finally for the parents (well let's just say the husband is the eldest in this food service scenario, shall we?) and our oh-so-similar orders. Of course, we waited to switch plates until after the server sauntered away.

The complaints of grumbling bellies are replaced by silence as they taste each item. I hold my breath waiting for an explosion of disagreeable sounds. More silence signals yet another minor miracle that is satisfaction.

I eat quickly, wondering how long it will last.

I know they're old enough to know how to behave in a public place, but that doesn't mean I trust they will. There's only so many quarters you can put in that meter before you reach the limit.

Bathroom visits seem to be the barometer. And so we started to get on our coats as the boy headed for his second turn in “Gents.”

I watch as the door closes and opens. And I follow him as he heads back to the table … but he stops at the wait station and talks to the server instead.

“I accidentally locked the bathroom door as I was leaving. Sorry, it was a mistake.”

An odd wave of pride washed over me. Had it been me at his age, I would have said nothing, grabbed my coat and told my parents we have to get out of here now! Not him.

He just wanted them to know the door needed to be unlocked.

For a moment, I thought I saw the same you're-not-welcome-back smile stretch over our server's face as she looked at me before rummaging in the silverware tray and extracting a butterknife. But a twinkle in her eye as she turned and headed to free the washroom for other patrons made me relax a little.

“Thanks for the heads up, little man. Come back and see us again, OK?”