Parenting is a Book You Can’t Put Down

I woke cold and moved closer beneath the covers to him, wrapping my arms around his chest and tucking my knees into the back of his folded legs like the puzzle we’re good at completing. A friend of ours was in disbelief recently, when he learned my husband has never been in the “doghouse” having to sleep on the couch at my command.  I thought it surprising that one would think I was the type to send a man to the couch. I’m not. I’m more likely to take the couch myself and make a huge drama out of the inconvenience. Even then, dragging myself to the couch has probably only happened a handful of times and usually corresponds with me not being on my antidepressants.

winterish

I don’t usually shower in the morning and so I asked him whether he wanted to go first or second.

“I’ll go,” he said and tossed off the covers, revealing those familiar black briefs.

I rolled onto my ugly I-had-babies-stomach and sprawled his side to doze and wait for the signaling of my turn – when the water is turned off. As if on cue, I felt my son toss his special blanket named G.G. onto our bed as he pulled himself up by a handful of bed sheet. I pretended I was sleeping until he settled down, and then I opened my eyes and see his bright morning smile. He had been staring at me, waiting for me to wake up. Waking to his anticipating face is an adorable thing to have happen.

I convinced myself out of my memory foam topped bed knowing that if I lounged around too long I would end up being rushed to get all three kids and myself ready for our destinations: daycare, school, and work.

Opening the door of our single-family bathroom I saw Ryan finishing up his routine: 1) clean ears, 2) put deodorant on, and 3) put bed-head styling product in hair. I stepped out of my panties and felt his eyes on my ass as I pulled the shower curtain aside and turned the water on, but when I looked around to catch him, he was really just looking in the mirror fixing his hair. Sigh.

The act of showering released me from last night’s dream of people no longer important and places that occasionally haunt me. I use a brand of soap I discovered because it smelled like the brand my Massachusetts grandparents regularly had in their upstairs shower. It’s not that I know their preferred brand, I don’t; rather, I once purchased Yardley because it seemed more natural than Dove and when I used it, the scent carried me to them and I’ve loved it ever since.

One of my 11-year-old daughters walked into the bathroom without a knock, and stated matter of fact, “Good morning, I need to pee.” She was quick, didn’t flush, and probably didn’t wipe.

Then, just as the room just became private again, I felt the ever-annoying chill creeping into the shower. She had forgotten to close the door behind her. From the inside of a narrow blue bathroom, over the noise of children’s bickering, and husband’s green smoothy being blended, I screamed, “Close the door, you’re letting the hot air out!”

We were five in an 1100 square foot home with a single bathroom.

The next day we woke in a frenzy of: “Get this,” “Do that!”, “Why aren’t you listening? Go brush your teeth!”, “Do I have to ask again?”

I packed our lunches and comfort items, and the children prepared themselves for the family mini adventure. Allison was calm and waiting, wearing the school sweatshirt that she mixed up last year with another student but accepted ownership easily enough.

Luca was nervous and asked safety-related questions while holding her stuffed animals Salsa and Rosetta.

John grabbed his pillow, GG, and a change of clothes which were reviewed, deemed unsatisfactory, and reselected by Dad who stuffed the upgrades into a daypack that also contained swimsuits and a towel. I, like my both my daughters, focusing on comfort items: my black fleece hoodie and with the book I was reading at the time, The Goldfinch  by Donna Tart.

We locked ourselves into our seat belts. An hour later we arrived at Staircase in the Olympic National Forest where we excitedly piled out wearing our smartly prepared backpacks, and smiles as we began our three mile walk toward Uncle J., Aunt D. and the cousins who waited for us to swim with them. The girls walked on triumphant and brave as though at home they were not afraid of everything.

We arrived. The kids stood on the stone covered beach looking at a green lagoon. To their left and right, swift rapids. I watched and remembered my childhood, my feeling of love for the forest and water.

For whatever reason, altitude or dehydration, or my general-out-of-shape-ness, I felt a mild headache coming on. It would eclipse that evening on the hike back to the car after  a full day of children playing on the river’s edge – tossing the rock game, watching their father cannonball into ice-cold water over and over again – that they wore out and became whiny. All five of the children, including cousins, were beautiful at every moment of the afternoon.

sunruse, rainier 8x12

After a day of near perfection, we began to hike back and turned right instead to take suspension bridge. The alternative path had a definite lean, or more like, a 90-degree incline all the way back to the van. It brought my headache to its peak.

Allison began to mope. My head began to blare. We each suffer along the way and I wanted to suffer in peace, but I had Allison beside me complaining: “I’m tired, my legs hurt, I’m scared.”

Pounding head, whining kid, steep incline. IMPATIENCE. I fussed at her,“Quit crying and complaining or I won’t hold your hand anymore.”

Then she did it. She complained one more time and I let go of her hand, shaking it out of mine, and kept climbing without a glance back. She chased after me, tears shedding, “Mom, I’m scared.”

I cut her with my words, “I warned you if you complained again I’d let go of your hand. Walk beside me if you’re scared.” Dad was up ahead carrying the other whiny child, our son, on his shoulders. Moments like this are hard. Not the hike, but the responsibility of being a parent.

Earlier at the beach, I had also lost my patience with her. “God-damn-it Allison! Can’t you just listen to me?” I was reacting to her having poop, human poop, her human poop smeared on the bottom of her shoe from her having stepped in it after her earlier shit in the woods.

I fussed because I had spent the previous few minutes asking her, discretely, to come with me to clean her shoe. She was near the others who were eating and I wanted her to remove herself to clean her shoe, but instead, she resisted and wouldn’t get up. She wanted her shoe cleaned there, she was stubborn. That is when I fussed for her to get up “right now or she’d be punished.” Leading to my shouting like mad women, I’m sure.

Now when I reflect on my impatience that day, I feel remorse. I feel like I was being a bad parent. I get my impatience from my own parents who were also quick to react.

Today my mother is a different woman than the one who raised me. Consider yourself lucky if you still have your mother, consider yourself in a lottery winner if your mother is still your mother. Some of us have a different model whose ability to love us is equal to her ability to blame us for being such a terrible family. Mental illness has made my mother more calculating. She demands attention in obsessive overtures and creative threats. Guilt is her poison. She lays it on thick, thick like a walrus sitting on an ice cube and I’m the ice cube. To be the daughter of my mother means receiving poetic and sad messages that conclude with sentences such as this one: “Please pray for me or I won’t be real thrilled about saying a prayer for you when I walk into heaven.”

Last week, in fact, she emailed me to say she had to go to confession because she said she hated me and my sisters. I kid you not, she wrote, “I’m sorry for saying I hated you, pure hate.” I’m so used to her manipulating (and poetic) sentences that I laughed out loud when I read it. I showed my husband. “Look, she had to add that comma to clarify the level of hate she felt for me, pure hate.” But wait, there was more, in the final sentence she declared that since she apologized, I should also.

When we drove home and while my son sleeps, I reflected. I thought of how getting outside is pleasant. We had let the noise of our regular life fade and felt happy. For most of the day at the river, there were no squabbles or complaints. It was not until that tired walk home… instead of letting Allison struggle on her own, because of my own impatience, I should have held her hand, even though she was whining. I will apologize to her and love on her later. I felt for the daughter who I may have damaged.

In our lives, my children listen to their daddy playing guitar at night and my quiet typing at an IKEA desk with aging MAC. My children don’t realize their household is unique. Some kids grow up to their parents watching TV from dusk till dawn. My own parents didn’t allow this and I’m thankful for that. My dad worked graveyard shifts at oil refineries and sleep in basements with earplugs and bedrooms lined in tinfoil. We were encouraged to be outside.

Later on, it was my turn to tuck in the children. My son is the youngest, so I tucked him in first. He asked if he could take his toy to bed with him and I nodded yes. He went on to bed with not one, but five, toys in his hands and a smile. I believe letting kids have their way on the insignificant things helps encourage independence.

The walk. My impatience. My guilt.

Next I go to Luca who said to me she was “very afraid.” She and I had spoken earlier in the week about her fears of illness every time someone sneezes, or coughs, or blows their nose. For the past week, she had been checking her own temperature around bedtime.

“Am I sick?” she asked in earnest.

“No sweetie, you’re not sick.” I rubbed her hair back from her forehead. The light of the bathroom spread across the floor. The door was ajar for her want for safety.

“How do you know?” She asked. “Do I have a fever?” She asked again.

“No baby, you’re not sick. You’re fine.”

“But my stomach hurts,” She said.

“Even if your stomach hurts, you’re not sick. You are okay. I promise.”

“But,” she said. “John just had a stomach bug last week and vomited ten dry heaves. Can you take my temperature?”

“Yes, but with my hand.” I touch her forehead. She is not hot. Not even close. “Nope, no fever. You’re not hot.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“Because your skin isn’t hot and you’re eyes aren’t sick-looking. Even if you did get what your brother had, which you won’t because you were not exposed to him, then you would get sick and you would get better and be okay.”

“Okay.” She succumbed and rolled onto her pillow tucking her hands underneath.

Meanwhile, my son was out of bed playing in the laundry basket. I heard him narrating his own story, “… cut the tree down.” He pretended to saw a laundry basket with the Black-n-Decker toy chainsaw, his favorite toy this week. “John, get back in bed.” I scolded.

I went to Allison. Time to apologize. Time to make right where I went wrong.

~ End

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Part of a story I’m working on

Some flash fiction for you (my fav. written paragraph tonight): The red-haired and pimply boy who (obviously) listened to Metallica and Tool was in one of her classes. She learned later about his attic for a bedroom when she would watch him do pushups while listening to heavy metal. His five o’clock shadow was trashy like his black washed out jeans. When he got a new shirt, it was known because its color was so crisp compared to the rest of his faded wardrobe. He wore his new heavy metal t-shirt like his mom didn’t pick it up at a discount store only yesterday. His mama loved him dearly though. She said “dumbass little girls” like Jessica weren’t good enough for him. It was as if Jason’s mother knew the two would end up pregnant in a matter of months.

 

An Interview about Love & Loss

princess and rabbit

What do you want from me?
I want to write.
What do you want to write about?
Love and Loss.
Why?
Love and Loss are acquaintances of mine.
How do you know them?
I am Hope, Love’s sister.

What is love like?
She is contentious, friendly most of the time even on a bad day. Love has features that are adorable. Her cheeks are soft and eyes are responsive. She is aware of the needs of others. She’d grab a chair and bring it into a crowded room for a stranger who needs a place to sit. She enjoys being cherished, though, which I suppose is a weakness. She is nice and needs niceness like a fire burning up paper.

What is Loss like?
Loss is miserable. Ultimately wants to forget so that he doesn’t have to feel miserable anymore. He spends his time on opiates listening to music on the crystal radio. He has no mother, no father, and no family to speak of. He works on a neighbor’s farm and picks potatoes.

And Love, does she know Loss?
Not yet, they will meet at the end of the story though. The state of misery that Loss feels keeps him for seeing that Love is out there, but lucky for him Love sees him.

Love has a mother that is more interested in the flowers in the garden than the light that children bring into the home. Love’s mother is irritable and disinterested and her father works at a factory supervising women making men’s dress shirts. Love spends her childhood waiting for bigger things, imagining foreign worlds, dreaming of the day she’ll meet Amelia Earhart in person.

Why is Loss miserable?
Loss is miserable because he hasn’t learned how not to be. He has had no role models and not traveled elsewhere. His vision is limited to the walls he constructs around himself. His selfishness is unknown to him. He believes the degrading way he treats himself and others is because he, and they, deserve it. He lacks a soothingness necessary for learning a better self.

How will Loss let Love come into his life?
Loss has childhood memories of his Grandfather who was a carpenter and worked in big beautiful mansions. His grandfather was very gentle and treated Loss with respect. When Loss was in the room with his Grandpa, his Grandpa was aware of him and sent him praise. Events must unfold in order for Loss to crack the container he built around himself, without his misery there would be no chance for improvement.

Is Loss a bad guy?
Not at all, he is just misunderstood and always alone.

What events crack the seed of Loss?
Rumors of Love’s interest came first; like a whisper. Then a child appeared, seven-years-old or so. The seven-year-old was Love’s younger sister Hope.

Hope wore a dirty dress with faded flowers. Loss was in a second story apartment complex, lying in bed, listening to the birds outside the open window.

Hope was tossing stones from a street corner into a trashcan. Each stone made enough noise to cause Loss to look out the window, when the pane shattered beside him.

The Easter Tradition

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Photo by LC Stair

My daughter is cleverer than I am. She coined the family term, “Easter Tradition.” An Easter Tradition is one where a child brings home the stomach bug. Then, everyone succumbs, a few days apart from one another, to shitting and vomiting to the extent of exhaustion and begging for mercy. It’s happened to our family, in our quaint house with one bathroom, for a few springtimes now. Having one bathroom certainly encourages the quick and tumultuous virus to spread like crabs in a drug-dealer’s trailer.

After the first victim, we religiously beach light switches, doorknobs, refrigerator handles, and wash our hands until they begin to look parched. My husband and I silently wait, who will be next? Dry heaves and stomach cramps be damned, will I wake at 2 in the morning or will I beat the odds?

The first time, on a night before Easter, both daughters got sick within an hour of one another. “Save the baby,” I said and called the in-laws in from their camper, which was parked in our backyard for the season. I realized we had the Rotavirus, or worse, the Norovirus in our house. I tied a t-shirt tied across my face like cowboy’s bandana in 1890 Tombstone, Arizona. My mother-in-law took our three-month-old son into the camper and laughed sweetly at our predicament.

While M was vomiting all over the toilet, S cried, humiliated by having to say it, “I have to poop!” I stopped rubbing M’s back and snatched the trashcan from its place. There was no other choice, I told S, “Shit in the trashcan.” She leaned back as though she understood her task. Squatting low, and appearing on target, she missed altogether and her body spew a brown muddiness all across the bathroom wall where it splashed like chocolate milk.

Because I’m inclined to research, I had read all about these viruses on the CDC’s website. I can tell you it’s bleach that kills the virus, and that the virus holder is contagious for a two to three days after they’ve recovered. Thus, my husband and I know the absolute importance of not getting either the shit or vomit in our eyes and mouths and noses.

A few minutes later, still wearing my fashioned facemask having just cleaned up the vomit from the toilet and shit on the wall, we began to make beds for them on the floor nearest the bathroom. He made one pallet and I the other, each of us unfurling blankets. As my hand went up to unfurl, his body came down to adjust – we touched one another – my hand, which had not yet been washed, met his face on the mouth. We instantly knew he would become the next victim of the Easter tradition. I started laughing, “I’m so sorry! That sucks. I’m so sorry!” (He did not laugh.)

Two days later he vomited and shit throughout the night. My son and I made it through unscathed. My in-laws did not; the stomach bug took them to the depths of hell in a 26-foot 5th wheel. They didn’t come out for a few days.

This year must have been the lesser virus because the shitting and vomiting were varied and not as detrimental. So far our nephew, my husband, and my son have had their turns. My in-laws might be next because my son became sick at their house (sorry for that!). Today is Easter, and each moment the remaining of us wait, crossing our fingers, washing out hands, hoping to avoid the Easter tradition.

Intellectual Sisterhood

Coffeebeans

What if texting could be like our days of letter writing?
And we talk about bullshit and enjoy our brain connection.

We were intellectual and artistic
and the world fueled our spite,
we spit-fired feminist in Austin Texas of 1998.

I would sketch like Vonnegut and wordsmith to you,
and you would wordsmith back,
Like our own private open mic night.

We ate music
and breathed in Camel Light cigarettes
while listening to Sonic Youth and talking Leonard Cohen.

Our heads thought of Lousie Erdrich,
and of other things rich in texture:
– Freshly baked sourdough loaf being torn apart
– Shoplifted white wine
– Green apples, to help smooth the sharp Chardonnay

You inspired me and I don’t remember telling you that –
and I feel a bit of sadness,
that we have been letting our age get the better of us.

I can’t wait for your visit
(and) I fear it as well
because I fear I’ll lose you
to being a grown-up,
and I miss you most,
and our intellectual sisterhood.