Saturday, July 30, 2011

Spilled Milk.

“Anyone need a little milk in their coffee?”

If I hadn’t been naked from the waist up, cold, wet and considering what might be more painful – carving the two mountains off my chest or manually downsizing them – I would have gone straight through the canvas wall separating me from my jocular husband and his motley audience as they gathered around the drowsy morning camp fire and the lonely, charred coffee pot.

The mercury had barely hovered above single digits overnight and the camper we had borrowed was powerless, which meant no heat and no light, and we were perched on the top of a mountain six hours from home. Our son was not yet three months old and I was a new mother struggling to make peace with an unfamiliar body and fighting the little fears and panic that each new mother experiences. Three days earlier the little being that changed my very existence went on a dine-around. 

And then he decided he had spent enough time bellying up to the bar.

Feeding my son was not the magical experience I had expected it would be. Not at first. We struggled together, an exhausted blur of syringe feedings and painful sessions with lactation consultants that left us both in tears and my husband helpless. And suddenly with one clip, we were both freed and his hunger quickly outpaced the food supply long before he had a vested interest in what was on the grocery list. Just like that my perky Bs exploded into obnoxious Ds.  

I could have fed Africa. The entire continent.

Our freezer was filled with individual servings. Two fridge shelves of fresh meals. After my son had his half hour, the pump had me for another 15. I was trapped in a chair for 45 minutes, every two hours. And if I showed up late for an appointment, my bounty was less beautiful than it was ballistic. That my tiny little body was the eternal well was a source of endless amusement for my husband, a source of endless joy, pain and frustration for me.

Standing there, tears of frustration and pain running down my face and milk streaming down my body, the expensive machine that I couldn’t stand the sight or sound of was suddenly the only thing I wanted. But we were camping, which means drip drying and fire-smoked meals, ball caps and blackened tea kettles, sharpened twigs for roasting and mounds of blankets.

Seven years later, I am standing in my bedroom sorting through shoes and shampoos, sweaters and stuffed animals, preparing for three of us to escape into the mountains again. Without him but with other women and children who do not know each other yet all share a common bond.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sucking Air.

It was easy to miss at first. And then one day it happened. And then it happened again. And again. Again and again and again. Staring at the proof scattered across the floor like little snowflakes, I can’t hide from it anymore. After all we’ve been through, it’s leaving me.

My Dyson is dying.

It doesn’t seem possible. It looks the same as the day we brought it home, its canary yellow drum bursting with pride as it out-sucked the competition. But just like women whose taut exteriors are simply well-crafted storefronts concealing clutter, cobwebs and decay, its eternally sunny demeanor cannot hide the simple fact that my beloved Dyson is failing. Most women dream about dust-and-hair-free baseboards. Not me. My two cherubs leave a trail of tiny slivers of popcorn, cracker and fruit snacks on the carpet, under the couch and between the cushions.

Baseboards be damned. All I want is a couch that doesn’t snap, crackle or pop.

But the couch has now been ousted as the next “replacement,” an unexpected departure that I’m neither ready for nor am I equipped to deal with. After all, it’s not as though another Dyson is waiting to step … er, roll … onto the carpet.

Just like there wasn’t an extra bed. Pool motor, fire alarm, television projector lamp, fridge filter, toaster oven, beta fish, laptop, car, phone, garbage disposal or dog. And there was no backup plan to address cleaning toilets and taking out the garbage following his premature and unapproved departure.

It’s as though the house and everything in it started to fall apart the moment he was no longer an active participant in it. And the breakage has continued unabated ever since. Some relatively minor and others undeniably major, each is an unwelcome distraction that is as mentally draining as it is financially. Each one a reminder that the life we had built would never work exactly the way we had envisioned.

They are, for the most part, simply objects. Tangible elements of the lives that we all build, proof of our achievements and the building blocks that surround our partnerships in in life. A broken pool motor simply means that a green ecosystem enjoys a brief jaunt before being chemically doused. A fire alarm is a trip to the store and then one from a fancy red truck. A television lamp is a week’s worth of childish anger and better time spent together.

But it is the Dyson that has me melancholy. It was a simple purchase, made when we closed one door and opened a larger one to the future. Proof that our dreams were becoming reality. Moving slowly over the carpet and listening to the weakening hum that is both the passing of strength and time, I find myself drifting back to a time when a buying a vacuum cleaner meant so much more. And then I remember. 

This time I can get one in purple.    

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Firetrucks on Fridays.

I can’t reach the volume on my ipod. Actually, I can. But any movement other than directly forward might send me careening directly in front of the noise I am trying to drown out. And I can’t start singing at the top of my lungs to drown it out because I live in a small community where word travels fast. Which explains why I’ve never acted on the tempting-yet-completely-inadvisable mental cleanse that could be achieved by running down the street screaming and naked.  

(Note: I know what you are thinking. I’ve mentioned that whole naked and screaming thing before. I admit there might have been several occasions when my stress level reached a point where it seemed like a good idea. But I am doing much better now. Thank you for checking.)

It’s Friday. Friday morning. Friday morning at 8:30-ish. Sirens are racing up behind and in front of me. My lungs are seizing up, my intestines rioting, and I have just chewed a hole in my cheek that promises to fester into the size of a silver dollar by the start of next week.

On a positive note, if I do go down it won’t take paramedics long to arrive.

Friday morning is different from any other morning. It’s not free as Saturday and Sunday, it’s lazily energetic while Monday is focused, and it’s more enthusiastic than Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. It’s the end of the week and the start of the weekend. It’s when sandals replace stilettos and vegetables are pushed aside for pizza.

It’s when sirens in the distance went silent in front of our house.

My subconscious marked that moment in time, measuring the days, the weeks and the months from that point on. In the car I would suddenly glance at the clock. I would find myself standing in front of the microwave’s digital clock, unable to escape the crystal blue eyes that told me everything had changed. Sitting at my computer my eyes would drift to the bottom right, an unexpected acknowledgement of passing time. As the days, weeks and months passed my hatred for Friday morning eased into lingering dread and then quiet ambivalence. At some point that I did not notice the notches in time were no longer counted and the dread and panic faded along with my body’s physical repulsion at the sound of sirens. Friday morning was once again … Friday morning.

Every now and then, Friday feels the way it did that morning, moments that are unsettling as much for the unexpectedness as for the memory. But most of the time it is simply lunches and backpacks, school and summer camp, cereal and unmade beds.

And then there’s today when the sound of sirens isn’t just about riding through memories – it’s about avoiding new ones. Because no matter how appealing a truck full of firemen might be, it’s better when the view isn’t from a stretcher. And with my luck, I’d be looking up at the same set of blue eyes.

Except this time around, they’d be laughing.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny.

Three steps and 30 feet of searing hot tile. It might as well be 30 miles in three minutes.

This was not part of today’s itinerary. We were supposed to see our movie, while they went to theirs. But moments after they walked out the door, my almost-six-but-feels-like-sixteen daughter decided that she simply wanted to spend an afternoon in the pool. And now I am faced with getting from here – in the pool – to there – the lounge chair where I left my towel – unseen and undamaged.

The odds don’t look good.

My son lives for Fridays, his weekly shot of testosterone-fueled antics, adventures and attitudes delivered by a man as irritating as he is endearing. A complete stranger a year ago, he entered our lives to soothe a little boy’s damaged heart. He shared my husband’s profession, but he did not know him nor did he know or have an obligation to the family left behind. He simply heard of a little boy in need and responded to the call. But as they often do, he went above and beyond the call of duty becoming my daughter’s champion as well. And in bringing their laughter back, he brought back my own. It is often said that the measure of a man comes not in what he says, but what he does. By any measure, he is a wonderful man.

Who does not need to see me in my bikini.

It’s not that I look bad – I can hold my own poolside. But it’s not easy to keep eye contact while wearing a foot of lycra cut in tiny triangles pieced together with string that is always just a little too loose to guarantee that everything will stay where you put it in the first place. And while I love my children, I do not love what they have done to the elasticity of my midriff.

For 15 minutes I have watched him toss, flip and dive alongside my two little sea urchins. Watching them is like watching the kaleidoscope of sunlight dance on the water. They sink below the surface, three bodies moving silently like sea creatures along the ocean bottom. That he would give her his undivided attention in this drenched playground has been my daughter’s wish all week. And suddenly I find myself wishing that he would swim underwater with her just a little longer.  

Because I’m going to need more than 10 seconds to get to that towel.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happily Ever After, After All.

“Every story has a happy ending, right Mom?”

How – and how quickly – I answer is pivotal. An obnoxiously large snake is threatening the very existence of our hero Harry in the second installment of the boy wizard franchise. Five more movies were made and the grand finale is looming, so we know he makes it out unscathed. But my kids are double checking, just in case someone has played a dirty trick on Harry.

“Yes, every story has a happy ending.”

My kids look relieved but they – and I – will be happier when it slithers off screen. I felt the same way when Arnold’s Conan the Barbarian was trapped with James Earl Jones’ slithery alter ego. (Amazingly, I felt the same way decades later hearing about Arnie’s reptilian behavior. I wonder if Maria had been hoping that snake was close by.) There is just something about snakes. They are silent, sinister and slippery. And at this scale – looming on the outlandishly large TV screen my husband insisted was critical to his happiness – they are nightmarish. But that’s the point. Harry’s nemesis needs to be overwhelmingly evil so that good’s triumph is that much more impressive. I really don’t know if Harry gets a happy ending when the end finally comes, but it’s this or none of us sleep tonight.  

Every story has a happy ending. It was meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason for everything. It’s all part of the plan. His will. There’s a higher power at work.

I’ve heard them all. Well intentioned and genuine, it is not without a hint of irony that these sage and clich├ęd sayings are usually delivered by those who still have their stories intact. The ones who don’t? They’re imagining the reaction if they actually said out loud what they really thought of happy endings and higher powers. I know I have.

Real life is not the stuff of fairytales, and not every story has a happy ending. Ours was abrupt and messy. Some are downright nasty. Or sort-of happy and sort-of not. Or there isn’t just one ending. There’s the first and then the second. Sometimes a third. Not everyone is successful in their pursuit of happyness and even if hearts do go on, there’s always residual bruising. But angry bruises fade, leaving memories that remind you that loss is only possible when there is something to lose.    

So, whether it’s three crones wielding shears or an almighty force pulling our collective strings let’s just say that I’m not pleased with the adjustments that were made to my happy ending.

The first one, that is.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Am Not Legend

“What part, exactly, of Will Smith getting eaten by post-apocalyptic plague cannibals did you think I would enjoy?”

Staring at the ominous mouth of the garbage disposal, I can still hear my irritated voice. One of the very few occasions that we had an evening to ourselves, and he decides we should see that. Will Smith might have been legend in the movie, but my fear-and-hormonally-induced tantrum was legendary. Once man and dog ran into the dark building where you just knew that the fanged clan was gathered, I started looking at the exit sign. By the time he was hanging upside down as the sun started to set on screen, I was worse than a four-year-old boy standing in left field after drinking an entire bottle of Gatorade. Right after he strangled his dog moments before it crossed that final line to becoming a virus-possessed beast I fished the car keys out of my husband’s pocket and walked out of the theater.

I don’t do scary.

Rosemary’s Baby. Children of the Corn. The Omen. Alien. The Birds. Freddy. Jason. The Amityville Horror. The Exorcist. Pet Semetary. Graveyard Shift. Scary Movie. If there’s a chance something is standing behind a door – and there always is – I can’t watch it. Halfway through the movie “Signs” I started washing dishes. I almost saw “The Blair Witch Project.” Almost. I’ve never seen “Saw” … one, two, three or four. And don’t even get me started on Chucky. A demon-possessed doll? Who thinks up these things?

Let’s just say that when my kids asked to move the clown painting into the closet – facing the wall – I knew exactly where they were coming from.

The garbage disposal is my own personal scary movie. I have no idea what’s inside, but I know it is entirely unpleasant. I am not sure if it is the slimy food remnants, or the interlocking steel jaws designed to shred the food. It doesn’t really matter – either one makes me skittish. When something fell in there that shouldn’t my husband knew that his ask-for-no-help wife would gladly take a back seat.

No husband. No back seat.

“So, what happened at the end of the movie?”

He laughed and kissed the hand he was holding. “He died.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

O Oreo, Oreo, Wherefore Art My Willpower?

There are 28 of them. Fourteen tuxedoed-and-pink-banded pairs in three perfect lines. 150 calories in each pair. 2,100 for all 28. I would need to stop eating for a few days. And run about 20 miles. 

Without stopping.

But it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk and no matter how I spin the math, I can’t sugarcoat the fact that it is 10 a.m. and the box of Berry Burst Oreos meant for my children’s lunches is now at risk of becoming mine. What started out as a day of productivity has slid right off the rails and these messy moments inevitably take place right after an expensive trip to the grocery store. So, even if I am able to fend off the Oreos, there’s no guarantee that the Dulce de Leche in the freezer and the cupcake-flavored Goldfish crackers in the pantry are safe.

Even the half-eaten oatmeal cookie my daughter stashed in the fridge “for later” looks good right now.

I’ve been told I am tenacious – I prefer to see that as an advantage rather than a flaw. The bigger the challenge and the harder the task, the more motivated I am. (There are exceptions of course. Like the whole losing-my-husband thing. That was more like piranhas-could-tear-the-flesh-from-my-bones-and-I-would-not-have-noticed devastating.) This tiny little frame is remarkably strong and resilient, driven by stubborn practicality and willfulness. And if you’ve been following along, you know that my capacity for life’s crap has been vigorously road tested. So, just to recap: I don’t give up without a fight, no matter how bad the odds look.

Unless your most appealing attributes can be described with words like “confection,” “frosted” and “melt in your mouth.”

You know those people that feel the tension leave as a five-star resort and spa masseuse digs it out of their backs? Or the people that attack the gym to sweat it out? Those yoga-types that sit like little buddhas with their palms up and forefinger and thumb joined in some sort of mental cleanse? Robert De Niro in “Anger Management”?

I’m not one of those.

I turn to my friends when tension builds, and I’ve never met a carb I can’t make friends with. And with one little phone call, my well-intentioned day has dissolved into a pool of scattered thoughts, the muscles between my shoulders and my neck have twisted into fiery knots, and I’ve had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.

I should probably start lacing up those running shoes right now. Because when I pick my daughter up at summer camp today, she’ll be bringing a chocolate pizza home with her.