Trying Hard Not to Rearrange Furniture

I texted friends yesterday that I might need them to come help me move furniture. By the time they replied their faux excitement about the prospect of carrying my stuff around the house, I told them it might not be necessary.

Maybe.

When I’m stressed, I rearrange furniture. As a child whose family relocated a lot, and as an adult who has moved 17 times since freshman year of college, I learned that change comes in big, obvious, irreversible phases that look like new opportunities amongst the rearranged furniture. Moving to a new place was always about hope and new starts and gentle change. Because everything’s still there, just the space is different.

When my adrenals rattle my teeth with doses of neurochemicals that say I should panic, I connect the sensation with living somewhere new. So I either move or I change the whole layout of the house. I don’t actually plan to move right now, so I need to make my house look as though I’ve moved.

(Totally not my house. I love how that weird suburban McMansion photo shoot used light and a throw rug to make me think they really rearranged. False. My kind of rearranging means this room would have the furniture from another room and all this fly-fishing-cabin stuff would be in the kids’ room. Or garage. Rearranging isn’t moving something two feet. It’s relocating and purging until you don’t recognize the room at all.)

But didn’t I just rearrange a few months ago? Some of the furniture left to go to Spouse’s new apartment. Some got sold. And some went downstairs this week because I’m getting a new roommate.

Yep. I’m 41 years old, newly single parent, and I’m taking on a boarder to help cover the rent. All I have to do is start cooking cabbage and washing neighbor’s laundry and I’ll be a set-piece in a late-Nineteenth-Century American novel.

School started last week, which has unnerved me, too. So the need to rearrange is likely stemming from big changes. But still everyone is healthy and reasonably happy. Despite the separation, the boys’ dad spends a lot of time at our house being a parent and showing the kids that he’s not leaving.

That means, though, his admirable efforts at making the boys feel loved and safe are all. up. in. my. face.

Poor guy. He came over last weekend so I could work. And after a long day of chasing after kids and bikes and scooters, he took a shower.

But he put a new soap in the shower. After I opened the shower door and saw it, I called him to the bathroom and extensively explained the concept of leaving things as you find them. He has thoughtfully moved tons of my stuff in the past few months, and it’s driving me crazy. I put my running shoes by the door so I don’t forget them, he puts them in the closet where they belong. I put the kids’ lunch boxes on the counter because they need to be washed, he puts them in the cupboard where they should be. I hang a jacket on a doorknob because it needs to go into storage, he puts it back in the closet where it used to live. I might have used the phase “You’re welcome here, but you don’t live here, so stop deciding where stuff goes,” instead of biting my tongue, as I should.

For years we’ve been using the nicer downstairs shower. But that is now part of the in-law rental unit, and I’ve consolidated everything from both bathrooms into the smaller one upstairs. And it felt nice and grownup and efficient to finally have a space that nobody in the whole family uses but me.

My shower.  MY shower.

And then I come home after banging my brains against a federal grant proposal, and there’s a soap MY SHOWER.

I am fully aware that he didn’t do anything wrong. The guy wanted soap. It doesn’t matter whether he thought I forgot or couldn’t find the soap, or whether he didn’t think anything at all except “I need soap.” It’s a fair desire, that of having soap in a drenching cubicle whose primary purpose is cleaning. I can’t fault him for wanting, finding, and getting soap.

Except it was my shower. MY shower. Was. Now it has ex-partner-who-wanted-soap-and-found-soap-and-added-soap tainted idea-germs all over it. I don’t want his ideas in my shower.

That’s so stupid I can barely type it. But this is my blog and my truth, so I’m willing to be crazy here, even if only for a little…well, okay, most of the time.

But it comes down to this simple and difficult reality: separating from a partner with whom I will coparent for a long, long time is genuinely challenging. I like the world black and white, not grey. I want extremes. And when I am part of a relationship that ends, I want it to actually end.

Surprise that’s not a surprise: there’s no ending a relationship with a co-parent. We’re not teenagers anymore and we can’t just stop calling each other and avoid each other at the mall. This is joint-back-to-school-night territory, y’all.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been prepared for the apocalypse, as long as that catastrophic upheaval involves the complete inability to buy soap. I once had a roommate laugh, “Well, at least we’re prepared for the next Great Soap Famine,” unwittingly insensitive to the hoarding tendencies that make me collect soap in neat rows at the back of bathroom cupboards. I had rows and rows of soap in the hall cupboard of many of those 17 apartments, but I’ve been working to whittle down the stock since moving back to the Bay Area several years ago. I don’t need to prepare for the emergency poverty that might strike and leave me without soap (or any means of buying soap). I don’t need to imagine a time when there’s no soap at the store or no open stores when I need soap or no…I don’t know what. I don’t know why I hoard soap. It’s not as though I shower that much. I just know I need to stop hoarding soap. I have enough, I tell myself as I pass the soap aisle. I have enough, I am enough, I will always have enough, I will always be enough.

Don't worry...I would never ever hoard unwrapped soap. They get goopy after a while, you know.

Don’t worry…I would never ever hoard unwrapped soap. They get goopy after a while, you know.

But since Butter was conceived five years ago, I’ve been hoarding shower gel. Not using it, because I do prefer soap. But paring down the soap collection has me compelled to build a shower gel stash. I shouldn’t call it a hoard. That diminishes the mental illness that genuine hoarders have. I only have six or seven half-gallon bottles of shower gel. Whenever Grocery Outlet has the big 32-ounce size of my favorite brand of natural, toxin-free beauty products, I buy the shower gel. And shampoo. And conditioner. But not compulsively. That would be crazy. I only buy another jug of organic cleansing products if the scent is right. There’s no use hoarding gardenia shampoo or rose conditioner. I don’t want my apocalypse miserable, people. I just want to be prepared. And really, really, really clean for the zombies. Or maybe prepared in the event that bake sales in the zombie age become soap sales.

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I only have three half gallons of shampoo, four of conditioner, and six of shower gel. And that’s totally normal and not at all weird.

So my new shower, my space that meant embracing change and taking a deep breath and accepting hard choices…that shower had shower gel but no soap. That shower, the one we haven’t used in the three years since we moved in, was old and small, but refreshing and cozy and mine. And grownup. So I pulled out of the cupboard matching half-gallon pump bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. No soap so that the tiny soap dish could be for a razor. So that I wouldn’t have to clean soap-drip off the cramped walls. So that I could freaking have something in this world the way I want it without worrying about sinking into soapless poverty.

And now the man who is permanently part of my life but not of my future, who is a committed co-parent but a distant memory, who is familiar but now a stranger—that man put soap in my shower.

So I told him not to put soap in the shower. I explained my plan and my shower gel and my need to feel like I own something. And to fight the panic of that by embracing a decrease in the shower gel stock.

He understood. And he was gracious about it. He is back to being gracious about my brands of crazy, now that he gets to live somewhere else. Or stay somewhere else most of the time and come over to be with his kids and hear theories on soap use now and then.

I was glad he understood.

But then the next day he rearranged the shower gel and the shampoo and put them in the wrong places and now the shower is ruined.

I just can’t even.

Poor guy. He’ll never understand. He just doesn’t get it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t have to understand my kind of crazy.

I just always hoped he would.

And last night, when I mentioned the text to my friends asking for furniture help, my co-parent offered to help me rearrange the garage. Full on “pull everything out, purge some stuff, reorganize the rest, and put it all back” hour-long garage shuffle. The type he’s fought for years.

I told him that he’s a very kind person to help me engage in my favorite form of free therapy: work out panic with heavy physical labor.

Maybe he does actually understand my crazy.

Or maybe he feels guilty about the soap.

I'm starting to think I have a real problem, because this photo makes me twitchy. The soap is broken. The. Soap. Is. Broken. That is very bad.

I’m starting to think I have a real problem, because this photo makes me twitchy. The soap is broken. The. Soap. Is. Broken. That is very bad.

 

Move on, but how?

Two nights ago, I wrote this about the insanity in Ferguson:

I have no idea what to do with the news of a shooting and civil unrest and police insanity in Ferguson. I just don’t. I have no idea what it’s like to live in fear that my boys will be shot, unarmed, just because of who they are. And I have no idea what to do with people who assume that grotesque uses of police force are ever justified. I simply don’t know what to do with police wearing camo who refuse to hear peaceful protesters, and instead aim assault rifles at them from tanks. (What are they camouflaged for? They’re in a town. On streets. There are no fatigues for that. Stop hiding as though you’re in the freaking jungle. Put on your blues and walk your beat like a proper, compassionate, protect-and-serve cop.)

So I’ve compartmentalized my “I don’t know” into a tight, painful pit in my chest, and carried it around for several days. And it’s nothing compared with what millions carry, including people in communities who know their town, state, and country don’t care about them. So I swallow hard and move on.

But I couldn’t bear to post those unfinished thoughts, especially when they then led, in my draft, to a long list of the things causing me serious existential pain right now.

It’s obscene, I think, to ramble on about the joys and the pain in my life while the very foundation on which our society is based falls apart. I have no right to blog when people are being brutalized.

So tonight’s shift, wherein social media regales the world with the monumental difference between fear and communication, between criminalizing speech versus hearing protestors, between waging war within cities and showing compassion within communities, has begun the process of healing.

Not healing entirely. But cleaning off the wounds enough that we can start looking, and really seeing, what is going on in our country.

Changing the leadership from assault to engagement has made Ferguson feel safer tonight.

What are we going to do to make the rest of the country safer? More engaged? More honest about tensions? More open to solutions?

We need to talk about assumptions. We need to talk about law, rights, and enforcement. We need to talk about race, poverty, representation, and listening.

Where do we go from here?

Just close your eyes

There is an exercise we do in fencing warm ups: we balance on one foot. And then we switch to the other. And after we switch back, we balance on each foot with our eyes closed.

You find out two things when you close your eyes and balance on one leg. 1) A surprising amount of balance predicates itself on vision. 2) Your proprioceptors function amazingly well if you get out of their way. Because the human body should adjust, balance, and re-adjust in response to stimuli. In fact, the human brain should also adjust, balance, and re-adjust in response to input.

So why do I feel as though, only a few weeks into the initial process, that a divorce is knocking my body and brain so far out of whack they can’t adjust?

I know this isn’t supposed feel easy or simple. I know after 15 years the path isn’t going seem as clear as we’d hoped when we finally, finally admitted how wrong our marriage has been for so very long.  I have proof, from the Interwebs, which tell me whenever I ask, that feeling all of the feelings is normal, even during an amiable split. Read some really lovely and awful and heart-felt descriptions of the journey from the incomparable Heather of the EO and my new blog-crush Carla of All of Me Now.

By the way, any time someone says their divorce portends a good thing, and that they’re both doing a great job of addressing the issues they could never address while married, you should give them caramel, the way two of my friends did. Because I can tell you that “doing a great job” of splitting up is something like doing a great job reading Heart of Darkness. It’s ugly and awful, and nobody would ever recommend it to anyone else. Caramel I can recommend unequivocally to everyone. Divorce and/or Conrad? Not so much.

But until a couple of weeks ago I thought, because I’m quite keen on control and planning and overthinking, that I could make a nice tidy plan for how this breakup would go.  And that it would. Go. Just follow a path toward eventual harmony and paperwork and a co-parenting friendship.

Rather like the way I thought I was rather balance-y at fencing. Until I close my eyes. Turns out I balance myself by finding stable points ahead of me and staring at them. When I close my eyes, that stable fixative point ghosts into a bleeding black puddle behind my eyelid, and the swimming scarlet and yellow vitreous drowns my efforts to clench myself into balance and unnerves my thinking mind enough to make me wobble. A lot.

Navigating through the day in an almost-former-marriage feels a lot like wobbling on one foot with your eyes closed. [My eyes closed. I can't speak for you, nor should I. If you ever try both the blind one-foot-balancing trick and the initial phases of separation in the same week, let me know how they compare.] I feel as though I have it all under control, barely, until I blink. And then logistics and hurt and choices and relief and work and timing and panic and money and regret and discussions and feelings and my poor, sweet, vulnerable little boys all swim in green and blue and purple venous blobs before me like a lake of bruises beneath which I’m drowning.

So I open my eyes. And I try to balance without focusing so hard. I try to let my body balance me rather than trying to force everything with my mind. I try to trust and I try to breathe. And I try to memorize how my body feels with this balance so that when I close my eyes I care less how it looks than how it feels.

And each day happens. And each night does, too. And the next day there’s another endless string of challenges.

And when I let my body handle those obstacles, rather than relying just on my mind, it’s like living in molasses. Because letting go and not controlling the hell out of everything taps proprioceptors I’ve never used before. I’m so slow right now. I type slowly. I think slowly and answer slowly. I’m even running so  slowly that I’m considering seeing a doctor. I’ve lost more than a minute per mile off my regular, don’t-have-to-try-for-it pace. That minute, on every mile I’ve run for the past month, is gone. Lost to the ether. I hope some young person in love and full of hope is running faster with my minutes. I miss them, but I’m willing to lose them forever if they go to a good home.

The words “a good home” make me a little maudlin. And by “a little” I mean “ask me in person because I’ll admit very little on a public blog even though I’m pretty darned honest here at good ol’ NaptimeWriting.”

All I know is that if asking my mind and body to do too much leaves me wobbling, I need to balance smarter. Eyes open, deep breath; eyes closed, rolling with the wobbles. Because that’s what learning experiences are for, right? Strengthening muscles you didn’t know you had? Part of me says, “but I don’t want these muscles because I promise I’ll never need them again.” But I will. For the rest of my relationship with the boys’ father, I will need these blind-balance muscles.

And that right now is the saddest part for me, after the waves of gut-punches at what this adult tower of cards means for the boys: I’m building muscles I don’t want to need. But I do need them. And so I will build them. I have to.

Eyes open, deep breath; eyes closed…let go.

 

photo

 

Dancing on marbles

Life is one big precarious attempt to not tumbling ass over teakettle, I am now convinced. And I’m trying to see the joy in the slapstick of walking boldly across a slick path made unpredictable with hundreds of marbles. Because every time I’m posed to post on this very spot about something lovely, I’m walloped upside the head with something decidedly unlovely.

And every time I want to wallow in the unlovely, something decidedly lovely distracts me.

You are likely aware, if you’ve been reading here for a while, that my gobsmackingly awesome children are finally starting to get along. Wise friends with three boys told me that once the little guy hit Four it would get better. And it has (with all the caveats about the fact that three people in the same house, none of whom has much emotional control, are rarely in the same mood and on the same page). Sometimes, now, when the first pats of butter-yellow light slip through their blinds and plop onto their beds each morning, Peanut and Butter wake up willing to engage in silly, playful interactions rather than surly, bickering nastiness. Sometimes. And that has increased the quality of life around here immeasurably.

Part of the boys’ getting along more probably roots in the fact that their Dad and I are being much calmer now that we’ve decided not to live together. Less struggle begets less struggle. So far. When there is tangible paternal-absence and marked maternal-lack-of-running-time, when the there might be a struggle or two. See the above metaphor about making steady progress along a marble-strewn path.

I’m sure that, in part, the boys’ kindness to one another stems from a fabulous trip to Boston. We walked the Charles, we spent our tourist dollars at Marathon Sports on Boylston. We ate good food (my GAWD I’ve missed Red Bones) and we practically lived on the T. We cheered for marathoners until we were hoarse. We even offered our fluffernutters to the many, many police working the course on Patriot’s Day. (One indignant Statie told me he already had his peanut butter with jelly, thank you. And then I believe he was fired for inMassabordination.) We spent time like a family, and it was good for everyone.

Part of the increased sibling harmony also stems from a deep sadness that has stilled my otherwise frenetic pace. The death of my friend has brought a rather large dollop of “I don’t care about anything any more” to my endless to-do lists and my frantic need to prove myself worthy through incessant activities.

As we made it through the memorial, we found out that a mutual friend, who was diagnosed with leukemia around the same time Jay had his first surgery, has relapsed. This little boy, who spent kindergarten in Children’s Hospital enduring rounds and rounds of chemo, and whose family learned a gratitude few of us will ever fathom, enjoyed first- and second-grade without cancer. Now his leukemia is back. He’s going through a couple of weeks of chemo before a bone marrow transplant.  We’re all trying coming together as a community, again, to get people checked, at no cost, to see if they’re matches for any of the many Americans in need of bone marrow. And maybe, if enough people get the free test, we can find our little guy a match!

So that’s exciting. If you’re one of the people who’s into bright sides and finding the joy of surfing the marble-covered path to tomorrow, it’s enlivening to have a purpose. To help. To appreciate and breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Nothing brings me out of “what’s the point” like a bone marrow drive.

Go hug your family. Email your friends and tell them you love them. Take a deep breath each morning, and relish what’s good.

And consider being tested to see if you’re a match for, and can help give a great life to, a sweet little boy.

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https://www.facebook.com/amatchforbay

 

Teachable moment about “gay”

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The phone rang and I hit dismiss because I didn’t recognize the number. A few minutes later I  listened to the message.

“Can you please meet me after school with your child,” said my seven-year-old’s teacher, “because he has been acting out today in ways that are just not like him. There were a few incidents in the classroom, and then he was calling kids names, including calling someone gay.”

Needle across the record: He WHAT?

We are a relatively progressive family. We talk openly about equality and tolerance and people being accepted for who they are. Heck, today, when I couldn’t find shoes to match my pants, he sighed and told me, in his most bored pre-pre-teen voice, “It doesn’t matter what you look like, Mom. It matters how you treat people.”

So when I heard that my son had teased other kids, including calling someone gay, I prepared to give an epic lecture.

As I thought about the impending conference, though, I wondered if my son even knew what the word gay meant. Both my boys know all kinds of families look different from ours: we know families that have one parent, others with two moms, some with two dads; we know families that include one child, three children, pets, no pets, humans with dark skin, light skin, everything in between, and some of all of the above. There are so many kinds of normal constituting our village that I don’t know if my son knows what to call any of them. We don’t label our friends, so maybe he was just repeating a word he heard at school. Maybe.

So I planned how I would approach The Talk.

First, obviously, I had to ask what happened and why?

Second, I had to ask what he thinks the word gay means.

And the rest would pivot from there.

Except that it shouldn’t, I railed inside my head. Even if my son didn’t know that “gay” has been cruelly hurled as an epithet to make people feel bad or not, he will learn today. I’m going to tell him that trying to make someone feel bad by criticizing who they are is mean, not just to the person called gay, but to all the people nearby who hear that word and infer from the context that gay must be bad. Because there is nothing bad about gay. This is indicative of a culture that demeans with words like “girly” and racial slurs precisely because words buttress power structures. When child calls someone gay, it begins a process where an entire peer group learn to categorize gay in the “thou shalt heed this word and feel shame or disdain when you hear it” category. And all I can say is, “no way.” Not after all the hard work the LGBT community has done to fight for civil rights. Oh, hail no.

All human beings deserve respect and fairness. So my family will not use words that make people feel less-than. A new mantra was brewing. “There are no greater-than or less-than symbols in human interactions, children. We will not even practice using wavy lines to hedge our bets a bit and suggest that some humans are ‘approximately equal to.’ No. We will only use straight equal signs in all our interactions, so help me Math!”

“WAIT! I didn’t mean straight!”

“Wait again! I didn’t mean that straight’s not okay. Everything is okay! Different is good! I’ll just wear these shoes because they’re closest to the door!”

Sigh. My mantras need work.

Ahem.

We will not try to gain power by making others feel bad about who they are.

And that is the righteous banner I held aloft as I marched to my child’s school. The doors swung open and I prepared for an epic lecture on historical repression with…my small, tired, slumping little guy with the too-big backpack and the bedraggled hair.

Oh, pumpkin. I think I’m doing this wrong. This isn’t a battle. This is a talk about kindness.

Reboot parent mode. I climbed off my high horse and sat in a tiny chair at a tiny desk so I could listen to my sweet, sensitive, wonderful little guy.

What happened?

Teacher: I was at the sink when I heard voices saying, “Quinn is gay. Quinn is gay.” When I turned around, Peanut was one of the kids saying it.

Me: Why did you say that Quinn is gay?

P: What? He is gay.

M: What makes you say that?

P: Jason told me he’s gay.

M: I see. Um…what do you think gay means?

P: I don’t know.

M: Oh. Well, gay is when a grownup wants to start a family with someone of the same gender. So our friends M and K are gay, J and N are gay, and M and L are gay.

P: Oh. [beat] But G and K don’t have kids.

M: Family doesn’t mean kids. Family means who you love. But who we love is not all we are. When we go to M and K’s house for dinner, I don’t say “we’re going to our gay friends’ house,” right? I say, “we’re going to our friends’ house.” And when someone is meeting T, I don’t say, “This is my gay friend.” I say, “This is my friend.”

P: I know.

Teacher: If you are kind of teasing, saying “Quinn is gay, Quinn is gay,” he might think there’s something wrong with being gay, and there isn’t. We don’t tease. Just like you don’t say, “Quinn is blond, Quinn is blond.”

M: Right. If you did say that, Quinn would think there might be something wrong with being blond, but he can’t change that. And if you say that he’s gay, he might think there’s something wrong with being gay. And all the people around you in class start to wonder if blond or gay are bad things for them to be. So calling someone blond or gay might not hurt their feelings, but it might teach other people to feel bad about being blond or gay or tall or thin or whatever the tease is. Gay isn’t who someone is. It’s part of them. Like their hair. Brown or blond or gay doesn’t change, so teasing about those things is making someone feel bad. And it’s not okay to do something to make someone feel bad.

P: Okay.

M: May I also point out, really, that the things Jason tells you usually aren’t true. He told you girls aren’t allowed to play soccer. He told you that boys should like dogs because girls like cats. He told you “every single person in Mexico, even the old people and babies have machine guns.” None of those things is true. In fact, they’re pretty ludicrous. So I’d do some serious fact checking before I believed anything Jason said.

P: Okay.

We left the whole discussion at the door. I didn’t bring it up again, which took a lot of restraint. I still had many, many words I wanted to use. But I have to let the poor child breathe.

And I have to breathe, too. I don’t think he was trying to hurt Quinn or to cement hatred against the LGBT community. I think he was trying out a new word. And I think my son just learned that some words are simply unacceptable. I still remember my mom walking me through a whole list of racial slurs I may not ever use, including definitions and an explanation of how horribly each group had suffered under that epithet. Looking back as a parent, I wonder if she unleashed that lecture because I had used one of those names. Or someone said one to me.

So can I maybe relax and realize this is just a rite of passage, just the first step in a long series of conversations about how words have power, and how some people use powerful words to bully other people. A long, evolving conversation about finding your own power rather than taking it from others by devaluing them.

I take really seriously…perhaps too seriously…okay. definitely too seriously…my job of raising people who make the world a better place. I really hope my sons and their peers grow up knowing there’s more to people than their skin color or sexual orientation or gender. Allowing people to be more than the single words we use as labels builds the holy grail of attributes: kindness. Thankfully, that one comes from nurture.

Or lecture. I’m not sure which, nurture or lecture, but I’m going to try both.

Side note: heaven help me when I have to explain that sometimes, when people are old enough and their hormones tell them to, they change their hair color. Then all my metaphors are going to crumble and with them my authority over empathy and tolerance. Maybe.

Midlife realities

When I marked the new year in 2012, I was excited about having a whole year in which to contemplate turning forty. There is so much excitement and hope in that number, I thought. I planned for several months how I would celebrate and what intentional shift of priorities I could orchestrate to begin the second half of my life.

I remember my mom’s friends celebrating her fortieth with black balloons and over-the-hill nonsense. Baby Boomers are not known for either perspective or subtlety and over-the-hill parties were very chic. Also the life expectancy was much lower back then and people really thought that 40 was more than halfway to dead.

Now, we are told by dreadful checkout-line magazines and gerontologists alike: fifty is the new forty.

Well I happily anticipated forty, hoping with the milestone that I’d get my life together, get a few more adorable grey hairs, and finally think of myself as adult. I thought a midlife crisis was impossible for me, not just because of this delightfully plucky attitude, but because I have at least three midlife crises a year, and my brain must certainly have hit all the low points of existential crisis by now.

What I didn’t foresee about 40, what I didn’t appreciate about midlife until I got there, is this: the inescapable and rude reality is forty isn’t about goals and perspective and living your best life for the rest of your life.

Forty is about everyone around you slowly dying.

Parents. Friends. Colleagues. The people I care about are having surgeries and tumors and divorces and memorials, not babies and graduations and new jobs. The downward slide of forty isn’t about “oh, boo-hoo I’m not vital anymore.” That’s ridiculous. The reason behind many midlife crises, I’m now finding, is that forty seems tips life from waxing to waning.

We all know mortality as a fundamental truth of the human condition. But we don’t know it as intimately as we will. I remember when my grandparents were in their seventies. Three of four died.  And their friends died. And to me, in my twenties, that was something that old people did.

And they do. Don’t get me wrong. Old people do, in fact, die.

But the shock of forty was that grandparents aren’t the reason we’re at funerals any more. Parents are dying. Contemporaries are dying. Forty is a slap in the face that says, “Guess what? There is very little distance any more between you, those you love, and death. We’re going to fall off this cliff together, and soon.”

Forty is about certainty and camaraderie falling away as one by one the people we know intimately, not the loved ones removed by several generations but the people we need and enjoy and talk to every day, get divorced and sick and sad and angry and, eventually, dead.

Forty means everyone gets dead? Certainly that’s not what I’m saying, and not just because it’s grammatically clunky.  There are still graduations and births and marriages and joy and life left in life after forty.

But we’re not having those moments. We’re watching younger generations have those moments. We’re bystanders. We’re wise, knowing, grey, and wonderful. And we’re attending other people’s joys while engaging in our contemporaries’ decline.

It’s a long march, this life. And there’s a sharp turn at forty after which we must choose to constantly pivot one way to support those we love as they struggle and age and die, then the other to watch those we love grow and become adults and choose their own way and then age and die.

Being the sandwich generation makes it sound as though we’re smothered and gooey and limited on two sides. The reality is much more like standing at the top of the diving platform. To one side there are people climbing and progressing and anticipating. To the other there is an exhilarating plunge into darkness. Forty is standing on that high dive and looking right then left then right then left thenrightthenleftthenrightthenleft and knowing there is limited time to choose. There is no option of climbing back down. The only choices are to enjoy the leap or to clench everything and hit way too hard.

Please don’t tell me that there is plenty of life left after forty. I know that. I’m genuinely happy with the priority shifts I architected before my milestone birthday, the progress I’m making toward goals, the willingness with which I’m ditching expectations and emotional detritus from my life, and the care I’m showing friends and family who are sick or dying. Of course there’s time left for some of us. Lots, in fact.

Somehow I thought rounding that corner of forty would make me grownup.

It did. But not in the way I’d hoped for.

Now that I have glimpsed the reality of growing up, I am watching through tiny cracks between my fingers as we all slide, slowly at first and then more quickly, to the craggy rocks and alligators and piranha and icy waters below.

 

Win

I just remembered, with no reminders at all, that my campus library books had to be renewed today.

And I actually remembered my password.

These books that I haven’t read have now been successfully renewed. On time. For the eleventh month in a row.

I have one month, seriously, seriously, seriously, to read them. And take meticulous notes. And write the paper that’s been hanging over my head for four years.

But none of that matters today, because I win at renewing books.

Success!

Missing: brain

Someone hit fast forward on my life and this month is flying by as though someone is playing a 33 at 45. (I’m reasonably sure that 85% of my readers know what that would do, which we can all pretend means we’re cultured not old.)

I have three new clients this week. Three. They all need something right away, which excites me and also makes we want to cry wee little baby tears. There is a fair number of gifts and donations and cards and foodstuffs to handle this month, as most of your know from your own experience with MP3s becoming MP8s. I also have a set of reviews to write, research to summarize, surveys to analyze, emails to compose, packages to mail, and four small creatures to keep off the table.

Shall we take a kitten break after all that? Let’s.

IMAG4361

kittens in Peanut’s lap

 

 

kittens in Butter's lap

kittens in Butter’s lap

kittens in my lap!

kittens in my lap!

And in this sped up world where voices are veering toward the chipmunk end of the spectrum, I’m not doing so well.

A week ago, when one kid threw up all over the jogging stroller and killed my rare opportunity to exercise, I took him home and promptly forgot that I was substituting for a colleague for an hour, completely spaced a conference call, and blanked on my promise to bring something for the elementary school teachers’ lunch. Totally forgot my whole day because one kid barfed. Rookie move.

This week, I rushed home from dropping off at school to make a lunchtime conference call. Still in my coat I set up what I needed, plugged in all video call whozits and whatsits, tidied a bit, and nervously checked the fridge. After I shut the door I pushed the button in my pocket to lock and set the alarm. And then I actually paused for a moment to figure out why the fridge didn’t respond to the car’s key-fob lock button.

That’s more than operating on autopilot. That’s operating on autospacecase.

This weekend, when I was taking my son and his friend to fencing, I missed an interchange and went 15 miles out of our way on the wrong freeway. Thirty miles extra driving because I was so oblivious to the world and so lost in my head (one kid was telling me about arrowheads and I was brainstorming with him what type of stone it must have been made of) that I totally forgot where we were going. Signs pointing towards brain dead.

I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but maybe I need to slow down a bit. Fewer clients? Lower expectations? More kitten time? Because we did have one heavenly moment, the boys and I, where we all cuddled up on a couch and let the kittens walk from lap, trying to decide who has the warmest place for a nap. I never win that game. Something about always wearing my coat, just in case I need to lock the car. Or the fridge.

Decembexpectations

Maybe it’s the lack of vitamin D. Maybe it’s the cold, the dark, the crush of humanity in every corner, as though the calendar hits December and millions of residents normally housebound show up and get in my way.

Whatever it is, something has put me in a MOOD.

I don’t much care. I stumble upon moods regularly. They sneak up on me with surprising regularity and it’s only because I am oblivious to the rapid passage of time that I’m shocked. Oh, look!  A rotten mood! Why, it’s been ages, since…oh, well, yeah. That makes sense. My moods are rarely perky or cheerful or celebratory. The best I do is grateful. Grateful and industrious are my two best moods. My worst moods are downright malignant. I don’t think I technically reach down to depressed, but I definitely mood along like a fungus, infecting everything in my path, nurturing morose and disaffected as though they were teeny tiny balls of cynicism and depression in need of snarls and unreasonable reactions to survive their nasty infancies. Oh, how I coddle those moods.

So I readily admit that I get malignantly depressive often enough.  But I believe I save my genuinely misanthropic worst for December.

It’s not my fault. Everyone else’s is culpable for my mood. They‘re the ones driving through parking lots and stopping just because someone else is walking, maybe toward a car, maybe to get in the car, and maybe to leave. That’s a lot of maybes, jackalopes, so drive your stinking car until you see white tail lights.

Everyone else is the problem in part because they feel they have to be out of their dens, forcibly creating merriment and cheer for their own families but in the process obliterating all the joy and peace in my life.  Get out of my way, people. Don’t frown at me. I summoned all my social-expectation training and smiled at you, bastard.  The least you can do is smile back. Or look down. Don’t effing sneer at me or I will break off my own femur at a dangerous angle just so I can use it to CUT YOU!

[Did I tell you the lovely story about New Year's in Boston? New Year's Eve morning I'm in California, and walk to the post office. I lamely wait in line until some nice people point out that I can take my stamped letter to the slot over there. I thank them, note embarrassingly that I've forgotten to wear my glasses, and drop my mail in the out-of-town slot. On my way out the door, two stop me.  "Since you don't have your glasses, we can drive you home. It doesn't seem safe if you can't see." Thank you, you delightful people, but I walked. I'll be fine.
Fast forward fourteen hours and I'm in Boston walking to the T from a performance. Red light, all revelers stop and look around at the magic that is Newbury at 2am the first day of the year. Green light, walk. And I hear someone say, "Why the hell are people smiling? Can't they look down like the rest of us and get on with their day?" Ah, Boston. Would it kill you to lighten up a bit? Say, for instance, spew grouchiness about the people who don't smile, as I'm doing so well in this post?]

Everyone else ought to try just a bit harder in December. I’m not talking the poor people working retail and food services. There’s a special place in the Universe full of sunshine and purified Martian water for people who have to work with the public in December. No, when I demand more effort, I mean the jackasses who are barking coffee orders and complaining about stores’ blazing temperature and sneering about tips and generally making humanity look bad. Yeah, I’m talking about that guy, but I’m also talking about all the people around him who ignore that he’s being a jerk.

Look, people, it’s time to step in. When someone’s yelling at a clerk, please, for the sake of all that’s hopeful about December, ask that rude s.o.b. politely if it would help for you to find a manager. When he says, “No, it’s not that big a deal,” please tell him, “Yes, it is, because you’re being abusive and I want to help that poor clerk.” When someone is whining about being in a line, please, for the sake of all of us who have to be in the crush of humanity this time of year, tell that whiner that even though it’s frustrating, everyone else tries their best not to make the situation worse and could she please put a sock in it before you take a poll amongst the other residents in the world’s longest line whether to vote her off the island right now.

I’m so tired of people! I want all them all home, shopping online, giving to charity online, shipping packages online, paying bills online, and socially interacting online. I’d like more of them to consider grocery delivery. And muzzles.

Because seriously, y’all, humanity is working my last nerve this December.

Christmas fight

christmas

 

To be honest, it’s the same silly fight, more or less, every year. But being predictable isn’t the most ridiculous part of this debate.

“This can’t be all the lights. We’re, like, a foot from the top of the tree!”

“This can be all the lights because it is all the lights.”

“No way. They worked last year.”

“Smaller tree.”

“No way. Same size tree.”

“Are you going to fix the lights?”

“No. There’s no way…”

“Just fix them.”

“Easy for you to say. I always do the lights.”

“So shouldn’t you be better at putting them on right?”

“They are on right, smartass. They just don’t go all the way up.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Fine. I’ll finesse them a bit. But it’s going to drop even more needles if I go around and around taking the slack out of the lights.”

“So move the tree away from the wall.”

“You. It’s too hard to move.”

“Then why would I do it?”

“Because I said so.”

“Please fix the lights.”

“Fine.” Takes ten minutes to rewrap the tree. “Is that good?”

“If by good you mean closer to the top.”

“I do.”

“Then, yes, it’s ‘good.'”

“Don’t finger-quote. Just…fine. You do it.”

“I’m not doing it. You’re the lights person.”

“But why? Why do I do this every year?”

“Because you do it wrong every year then want someone else to fix it. So if you have to fix it yourself, nobody has to listen to you control-freak all over them.”

“I don’t ‘control freak all over…’. Damn it. I want to rewrap this.”

“Go ahead.”

“This is the last time, though.” Fixes lights on tree, which is still against the wall. Lights are perfect, tree is perfect, life is perfect.

“That looks great.”

“It does, doesn’t it. Thank you. Now you sweep up the needles.”

“No way.”

“Why not?”

“Because you made the mess and you have to clean it up.”

As ridiculous and childish as this fight is, I find it more ridiculous and childish that I’m having it with myself. Because my husband won’t get within 50 feet of the tree when I’m stringing the lights.

Mostly because he knows I’ll have this fight with or without him, and he prefers…greatly prefers…that I have it without him.

Descriptive linguistics FTW!

Last night after a Board meeting, I was talking with friends and one expressed shock bordering on horror that I text using abbreviations and conventions created and commonly accepted within that linguistic space.

“I’m rather surprised to find out you’re an LOL and OMG and emoticon person.”

Well, I’m a linguistically adaptable person, actually. I don’t use those conventions outside texts and social media, in which characters are constrained and, generally, keyboarding is limited. I don’t say “LOL” in conversation, nor when using a keyboard. I do, though, use LOL where it is a standard part of the lexicon, because I’m speaking in a colloquial language and don’t feel the need, surrounded by LOLers, to destroy my reputation and thumbs with “oh, wow, that is truly funny.”  Recall David Foster Wallace’s review of Bryan Gardner’s Modern American Usage (which review appears in the nonfiction essay collection Consider the Lobster, and which review reiterated the annoying grammatical tic in which Wallace uses “which” in ways that make me itch ), in which Wallace explains that, when talking with Midwestern friends he uses expressions like “where you at?” because conditional, situational lexical conformity performs significant social functions including masking an erudite prescriptivist snobbery amongst those who disdain such ridiculousness. You know the type…for instance, the raised eyebrow of disdain arched toward a friend who fully embraces emoticons in text messages.

My friend last night seemed to believe that my using LOL and winky emoticons made me shockingly deviant in my linguistic standards. But am I actually failing the language because I OMG when I reply to a text about how awful I am at karaoke? Of course not. (I am, however, failing both George Michael and Rick Springfield when I belt their songs in a key somewhere between those singers’ ranges and my own. Said performances deserved several horrified OMGs.)

The older I get, the more I tend toward descriptivist linguistics. I have been out of academia long enough to know we can’t stem the tide of language shifts, texting enough that I appreciate the culture’s willingness to embrace an abbreviated language parallel to government employees’ acronym dialect, and old enough to know that my pedantic “kids these days are ruining the language” tendencies unveil a knowledge that kids these days are actually going to rule the world. And I, for one, I don’t want to be railing against their language from my rocking chair, cane aloft, countering every miscast objective who with “it’s whom, you linguistic hoodlums!”

Okay, yes, I do.

But I am in my old age moving toward the point of linguistic early adoption, at least within technological theaters.  I gleefully read the Atlantic’s piece about the new preposition, used in online English. Though I was late to OMG and LOL and LMAO, I have jumped on the prepositional-because trend, thanks to my social-media bestie, Twitter.

I love Twitter. I don’t read my feed as much as I used to, for in the land of “may your days be merry and bright starting next week with a rare Thanksgivukkah,” I don’t have time to get my Twitter fix. But I’m quite fond of the prepositional-because.

I do plan, however, on shaking my cane from my rocking chair and bellowing, “it’s not a ‘because-noun!’ Because grammatical naming conventions!”

Go check out the article, whether you find my texts irritatingly colloquial or not. The Atlantic has posted as pleasant a read on descriptive-linguistic developments as possible, and that’s saying a lot.

Which language deviances do you commit in limited settings? Do you eschew LOL unless you’re actually laughing out loud? Will you text a “K” to avoid all those messy characters in “okay”? Do you reject all emoticons or employ them with reckless abandon? Have you crossed into “srsly” and “pls” to save characters or do you share Steve Martin’s insistence on proper spelling in Tweets?

Batkid’s Mom

Oh how I cried today following the escapades of the miraculous little boy whose leukemia is in remission and who asked the Make a Wish Foundation to make him Batman.

batkid

San Francisco complied in muthafugging spades, y’all. Told they could make a dream come true, the best city in the world said, “oh, we can do better than that.” The red carpet was rolled out for the caped crusader, and his family watched as more than 12,000 of our desperately kind residents played along and cheered for mocked up superhero situations.

cityhall

The Department of Justice joined in. The FBI. The S.F. Giants. The President of the United States. All cheering for a boy who pretend-saved the city, because we all knew that he actually made it through a terrible, life-threatening disease.

And in every photo, I sobbed at two particular images: his family and the crowds.

I started crying when I saw Batkid’s brother, dressed as Robin, because leukemia is hard on siblings, too. Like all major illness it puts parents in a precarious position of needing to give one child 150% and needing to find another 100% for the healthy sibling. So I cried for Batkid’s brother, whom I’m positive is loved and doted upon, but who also went through family turmoil with that leukemia.

I wept for Batkid’s father. The guy who wanted to be Batman all along, to have superpowers and carry his family away from the pain and the fear and the chemo and the private life lived publicly in a hospital. I cried for how powerless they probably felt during the whole, terrible, awful ordeal. And for how fear probably creeps in at night, reminding both of the adults that remission is a wonderful but terrifying word.

And how I sobbed for Batkid’s mother. Just as powerless as dad and just as hopeful for a superhero miracle. Full of love and fear and anger and hope and exhaustion and sadness from the moment of diagnosis. Oh, I can’t imagine. Batkid was diagnosed with leukemia at 20 months and just finished his last round of chemo. One single minute of your child with cancer is too much. Even one minute of waiting for test results and waiting for donors and waiting as hospital takes blood from your kid to tell you if he’s going to live is just too many minutes. One is far too many for anyone to endure. So I cried for Batkid’s mom and for all the moms.

And I cried for our friend who went through a similar diagnosis and terrifying year of medical upheaval, too. And who now has a wonderful, healthy family and for whom I can’t even articulate my joy and sorrow and pride because it’s all just too big.

Yes, it’s glorious that a whole city put aside business to cheer for a child. We have heard so much of bickering and governments paralyzed with petulance, death and destruction and famine and global weather catastrophes…it was heavenly to just cheer. And cheer and cheer and cheer for a classic triumph of good over evil.

But damn I cried for Batkid’s mother and father and brother. And for him. I cried for Miles. I’m so glad Make a Wish executed this amazing feat. I’m so proud of San Francisco for transforming from a warm, welcoming city to the model of compassion and heart. I’m so thrilled for Miles and his family that he’s healthy.

I’m just so grateful for something to cheer for.

Go donate to Make a Wish. And to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And to the typhoon victims. And contribute to every bit of kindness you can in this world, because gawd it was nice to have Batkid Day today.

Sulking

I mentioned a few weeks ago that life is settling into a quite lovely reprieve lately. The boys are old enough to hold their own, to help, and to navigate life with a level of alacrity that informs our interactions. They’re people more often than actors playing needy little whelps, and I enjoy being with them.

Client work is winding down, as it typically does before the holidays. I’ve been looking forward to this window so I can work on my book. I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo because I’m participating in NaNoWriDecade. My novel needs at least two more huge overhauls before it’s decent, and I want to do that work.

And I’ve been contemplating going back to work. The sacrifices of curtailing my career for child-rearing smacked me right across the mouth with Ann Marie Slaughter’s article on working and motherhood…I’ve given up almost a decade of income, a decade of retirement savings to be with my children. I’ve stayed in the game by consulting, but there’s a certain point at which I need colleagues. In writing, in editing, and in brand naming (a seriously awesome niche of the linguistic world wherein companies call me to name their widget, their salad, their company) I’ve been working alone or hiring the same small group of trusted creatives for a decade.

Then LinkedIn sent me an email. “Did you know Awesome Niche Company is looking for someone like you?” I clicked, read, gasped, and submitted. Jobs like this don’t come along often, and I had to acknowledge the fit. So I applied. I got an interview. I researched nannies and school schedules and I waited, day after day rethinking my every interview answer. I talked too long on that point, I didn’t turn that back around to the issue at hand, I poorly articulated something at which I excel…If you’ve ever interviewed, you know the process.

And then I got the email. “Lovely to meet you…experienced and enthusiastic…better qualified applicants.”

I wish them great luck and I’m sure they’ll find the right person for the job. But in my head, I was the right person. And hearing they don’t agree is a ridiculously oversized blow to my ego. I should focus on the fact that clients don’t agree. I get hired quickly and repeatedly for jobs because I’m good at what I do.

But for now I’m having a good sulk.

This is the first time I’ve gotten excited about a job in a long time. A job like this won’t come around again for five years. This was the job.

Oh, goodness, am I pouting.

I need to polish my interview skills, so this doesn’t happen again. And I need to work on my book, so when I get the perfect job I won’t have an unfinished novel looming over my head. And I need to write proposals for two nonfiction books and apply to law school and write that scholarly article I’ve been promising for three years and turn down more client work and actually ditch sugar and…

I just want someone to look at my accomplishments and be impressed. And ask me my opinion on something. My children can’t and won’t fill this function. My husband can’t either. My colleagues don’t care because they have their own baggage to manage. My clients think they’re engaging in exactly this sort of supportive respect by hiring me.

So why the big ol’ pout? this isn’t high school. “You need 100 auditions to get one gig, so just go do another 99,” my acting coach always said.

Why not go and do something on the List?

The List. The List shall guide you. Use the List, Luke. Help me, List, you’re my only hope.

But I’ve written my own to-do list for more than a decade. Can’t someone else hand me a list?

Wait, do I really want that? Haven’t small people and clients and students and employers been handing me a list for twenty-plus years? Don’t I want my own list?

Yes, but that’s not possible. I have a family and bills and clients. My list will never be my own. Just as it’s not your own list when you’re under your parents’ roof, or in college, or gainfully employed, or imprisoned, or unemployed, or an elected official, or…wait, are independently wealthy, single people the only ones with self-generated lists?

Does LinkedIn send opening for that role? Single and independently wealthy?

I hope so. Until then, I have things to do.

Minimally processed experiment

Oh, heaven help me, I’m trying to eat healthfully for a month.

Actually, for a few hours I said I was going to eat nothing processed.

But I realized that someone cut the mint leaves and put them in a bag for me to make tea. And someone toasted the coconut and someone sprouted the pumpkin seeds and put tamari on them. All that is processing. I’m not going raw and I’m not doing too much work myself. So minimal processing of whole grains and legumes. Raw or sprouted nuts and seeds. No sugar, no corn, no wheat. Because I don’t like the way I feel lately. Runs are like slogs, and afterwards I stuff myself with bread and sugar. My posture is terrible, so I feel tired, which makes my posture worse. I keep myself up late with candy instead of just going to bed. As a result, my body acts as though it belongs to a long-lost neighbor who it increasingly suspects is not coming back. I don’t like feeling like a renter in my body. I like to own it.

And I feel that the mortgage is paid and I owner occupy when I make healthy choices for food and exercise.

So I finally gave myself a talking to and started this eating plan. Last night.

After two hours I wanted cocoa. Desperately. So Melissa Camara Wilkins tweeted me a recipe for cacao, date, coconut-milk cocoa. I have none of that right now, but will. I still want cocoa, but I know Melissa’s recipe will get me through. I kept on going.

After twelve hours I was mad. I wanted granola and candy and crackers and toast with jam and cocoa. I had mint tea and went running. After the run I chased some chia seeds with more mint tea. I had a handful of tamari pumpkin seeds and a small bowl of locally made granola (yes, sugar but give me a break. I’m new to this). I didn’t think about sugar or bread or cocoa for hours. And I had a handful of stupid ol’ peanuts. And I kept on going.

By then I was really, really grouchy. Not hungry. Grouchy.

Dinner was a stupid Napa cabbage salad with stupid lentils and stupid beets and a stupid french vinaigrette. And a handful of stupid toasted coconut.

I WANT COCOA. Cocoa is warm and sweet and promises good things for the morn. Cocoa is love food.

Stupid vegetables and stupid lentils are stupid growing food. It’s the stupid stuff I make my kids eat while I sneak delicious, wonderful candy in the kitchen.

Stupid October. Stupid not-yet Thanksgiving. Stupid plans to feel better about myself.

This cacao Melissa told me about had better be all that. I’m getting some raw cacao nibs tomorrow. They had better make a good cocoa. They had better blow my mind. And make me feel like Wonder Woman.

Otherwise everyone near me will hear five weeks of grousing about stupid nuts and seeds and veggies and fruit for a stupid chance to feel better and stronger and healthier. So much stupidity.

[If previous experience going off sugar is any guide, I'm going to be mean as hell for two weeks. Minimum. My poor family.]

Lockdown

We found a babysitter.

That doesn’t sound like much of an announcement, but believe me, it is. Especially given the terror of being without my children wrought by this week’s events.

I have a hard time letting go. During Peanut’s first year, I was away from him for 10 hours. Total. I still remember each hour: dentist, bra shopping, 10k, surgery, theater. Over the next few years, only trusted friends and relatives watched him, and only an hour or two at a time. And even then, only rarely. Three times a year, maybe.

When Butter was born, we tried to get out for an hour once or twice, but he cried himself purple and I just couldn’t take it. So we stayed together unceasingly until he was almost Two. Friends tried taking the little guy for an hour or two at a time. And we paid a sitter, a well-vetted preschool teacher, to stay with both boys for part of an afternoon. Four times, total.

That was two years ago.

So to say we found a babysitter is pretty freaking huge. She has great references. Preschool teacher, summer camp counselor. Local. Loves all the things that Peanut does. Gave her a trial run and we all had fun. And we need her because on the one day a week I work at the co-op preschool, she will pick up Peanut from second grade and occupy him for two hours until I get home.

The night before her first time picking up my amazing, responsible, articulate, beautiful son, I freaked out. I wrote a long email about how, though here references are great and she promised she’s not a serial killer, I had doubts about the safety of the Universe and I really need a text when she gets him and a text when they get home.

The sitter kindly reassured me. Told me how she’s picked up kids at this school before and that she knows the ropes. Tells me she’ll text me. Tells me everything will be fine and that she does this for a living.

And she does. So okay. Trust. Breathe. Believe.

My sweet little man had our spare key on a ring in his backpack. The very thought of that violently smashes up two simultaneous thoughts: “He’s such a delightful, responsible kid, this is great for his feeling of independence;” and “OMG I’m a 1970s mom going to Jazzercise while my second grader walks home to an empty house!” The shards of my psyche that result from the idea collision kept me awake that night.

I’ve mentioned, I believe, that I don’t let go well. Also not big on perspective. Hyperbole, though? Some significant facility with that tactic.

At the designated hour on their first day together, I pull out my contraband phone and ignore the preschoolers cavorting around me for five seconds to see that I don’t have a text.

Five minutes later, nothing.

Ten minutes later, I text.

“Do you have him yet?

“Yes. Just got him. On our way home.”

[Why are you fifteen minutes late? Doesn't matter. I'll ask later.]

“Okay, home now!”

So I relax. And I smile at children and clean up after children and negotiate conflicts with children and sing with children and wonder why I’m not paying someone to do this stuff so I can go play Mancala with my eldest child.

We get home and I’m relieved. He’s happy, she’s happy. Everything is where I left it. No severed limbs, no puddles of blood, no house party.

Letting go…hard time…rather consistent theme…moving on.

I ask this wonderful creature, who has delivered unto me my seven year old, for her report of the day.

“Everything was fine. I went to the wrong door to pick him up and waited rather impatiently because there were tons of police cars and one of the parents told me there had been a lockdown but she didn’t know anything, so I walked up to another, confident looking woman and introduced myself, said I was picking up a child for the first time and what is going on?”

Having a hard time breathing, in part because my eyes are open so wide they’re sucking all the oxygen from the air and all the energy from my other muscles.

“She told me that there had been a lockdown at the school because someone had gone inside and the police were called.”

And boom, thus ended all future babysitting hopes and dreams. My children will never be out of my sight again.

Sandy Hook is geographically distant from here, but it’s not far from any American elementary school. It’s right next door to all of us.

I tried to breathe but found only hot waves of tears.

“Are you okay?” she asked, clearly concerned at my willingness to lose control of my tear ducts upon hearing about silly things like police cars and lockdowns.

I look at the stove and the fridge and the first aid kit and the fire extinguisher. And I nod. “He’s fine, you’re fine, we’re all fine, so I’m okay, but no, I’m not okay.”

“I finally figured out to go to the right door and I talked with his teacher and he didn’t seem worried that I was late. And I felt awful because you told me the right door, but all those other times I picked the kids up, we went to the other door, and…”

“I’ll ask him, but I’m sure he’s fine. I’ve been late and he knows that his teacher will make sure he’s okay. I’m more worried about the lockdown, really.”

“Well nobody knew much, and you never know if what you hear outside is rumor or truth or partial truth. So ask him. He’ll tell you.”

She left in a blur and I pretended everything was fine and casual and normal. Because I have so much practice asking my suburban, sheltered kid what happened when the sirens went screaming outside the school, right? I begin low key, because there is exactly zero benefit to freaking the kid out.

Stick to the ritual: How was your day, what was your favorite part, what was your biggest challenge and how did you address it; and by the way, what was up with the lockdown?

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t even really know what a lockdown is. What does it mean?”

“We were outside and the teachers all yelled, ‘Inside now,’ and pointed so we went inside and then we went back out.”

“Oh. Inside your classroom?”

“No, the cafeteria.”

“And [shrug, beat]… what did they tell you?”

“Nothing. We were trying to guess why we had to come inside and I thought maybe the police found something that a robber took.”

“Hmmm. Maybe.”

And now came the veteran move. Wait. Say nothing. Wait. I can always ask again later if I really need to know. But wai…

“I didn’t like it.”

“Oh?” Faking casual. “Why?” Pure liquid goo inside, wanting to kiss his face for twenty hours because he’s still alive, calculating the cost to my sense of self of homeschooling, and praying that he wasn’t scared at any point.

“Because we only came in for a few minutes and then went back out but it felt like it took away all our play time.”

“Yeah. I don’t like it when I get interrupted for a drill or an emergency or anything and then get less time to do what I want.”

“Yeah.”

We talked a bit more about his favorite part of the day, and we finished the night as usual. Face kissing limited to a few minutes so as not to reveal my secret baggage full of helpless liquid goo and fear and whatnot.

The second the boys were in bed I texted another parent to find out what happened.

The neighbors called the police when they thought they heard a gunshot. Several squad cars rushed to the scene. Some staff members saw the police and called a lockdown. *Then* they called the police to see if they should be concerned. The police reassured them that all was clear. Better safe than sorry, good job team, moving on, just another day.

What rings in my ears are the colliding voices of terror, “My baby knows what a lockdown is;”  and “I won’t always be there when things get bad.” Earthquakes, bad people, fires. Tragedy. Cataclysm. You can prepare and you can hope.

But you can’t always be there.

I hate every single brushstroke of that.