On calling a spade a spade

This morning, I was trying to find my lightbox. It’s finally raining in California, praise Neptune, and moisture is so welcome I have to hide my fear of all things dark and cloudy.

But I really can’t make it through winter, even winters that are overcast only 10% of the time. I have biochemical needs, y’all, and bread can’t fill all of my seratonin gaps.

And as I pulled all the sheets down to look in the linen closet, my first thought was, “Seriously, woman, why don’t you fold your sheets?”

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My second thought was, “I should really learn how to fold fitted sheets. My grandma can do it, and I’m pretty sure it’s what defines civilized people from uncivilized.”

My third was, “What a bunch of hooey! There is no correlation between civilization and fitted sheets. None. There is no reason I have to fold anything in this linen closet. I am a good person and I absolutely reject the notion that my worth and my family’s happiness revolve around the status of my stupid effing sheets!”

The lies we tell about “should” are increasingly unraveling my thin hold on propriety.

Because here’s the thing. For a long time women were expected to keep house. And there were no floors, but they swept dirt floors. And there was one set of sheets and they washed in the tub (or creek) and scrubbed on the washboard, and they wrung out sheets and banged them against rocks. And they hung their clothes to dry.

And I have no idea what that was like. Maybe I would have folded my sheets.

But now I have an electronic box into which I type my ideas, and buttons to push to get those words sent places, and sometimes someone pays me for those words. And from that box come tales of others in desperate need, forsaken by their government or their employer or their family and pushed into small corners by violence or racism or hatred or hunger or disease.

So you can take your folded fitted sheets and shove them in your linen closet, but I’m fresh out of fucks to give.

I refuse to buy into the bullshit of what I should do. I have never folded my sheets, and though there is something dark inside me telling me I’m wrong and bad and weak for not folding sheets, I absolutely refuse to start now. No way. Folded sheets don’t make me grown up. Making tough choices and doing the best I can and remembering all of every day that I am not the only human trying to make my way on this planet, and that, in fact, many of the rest need help seventeen levels beyond folded goddamned sheets…those are the things that make me a grownup. Holding up friends as they die and bringing dinner to a family whose child is dreadfully ill, that is what makes me a grown-ass, don’t you dare tell me about fitted sheets, woman.

You know what I thought as I defiantly rolled up the sheets and shoved them in the closet after I found my lightbox? I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt sure as hell wouldn’t want me folding fitted sheets.” What has stuck with me most over the past few days since I finished the biography examining the personal lives of those in the White House during World War II, are two relatively simple concepts: 1) women’s role in society is almost always circumscribed for her by others and 2) really great thinking requires taking long and frequent breaks.

Doris Kearns Goodwin makes very clear that Rosie the Riveter was persona non grata after the war. “Yeah, thanks for the help, but we were kidding about you being important.” Once all the efforts of women on the homefront helped secure peace, years of begging women to sacrifice for the country, of asking them to work as hard as they could, had produced results beyond anyone’s hopes. Women kicked ass in the factories. They owned their work. And they loved doing it. According to Goodwin, 79% of women said after the war that they preferred work to being at home, and 70% of those were married with kids. They preferred being with others doing something meaningful to ironing and folding fitted sheets. Of course they did. So the women wanted to continue to work. But factories fired them without a second thought, telling the women who made the American war effort possible that they weren’t wanted.

And that’s when the propaganda morphed from Rosie the Riveter to Suzy Homemaker. This is the part ringing in my ears a week later…the ads that for years promised automatic dishwashing and automated clothes drying to enable working women were all of a sudden ads for intricate recipes that took all day to prepare. Magazine articles that had urged women to help their men by helping the military-industrial complex became articles about how children whose mothers work grow up to be delinquents and criminals. (All of this is paraphrased, from my faulty memory that is boiling in rage against linen closet manners. This is not my thesis, it represents the tea leaves left in the bottom of my cup by Ms. Goodwin. If you want the exact wording from No Ordinary Time, get it from your library and read for yourself. For now, all you have is me and my seething indignation to go on, so roll with it.)

And so what is the propaganda telling us now, I’ve been mulling this week? Be thin and pretty and submissive, paint yourself perfectly, write the code but don’t criticize what the code depicts or enables, be there for your kids all the time unless you’re a CEO, buy lots of things, have a bucket list, spend time in nature, care about those in need, meditate, do yoga, put away your phone, buy another phone, be fully present every moment of the day, promise to sleep a lot but cheat and barely sleep so you can play the ‘I’m more tired than you are’ game of personal success, and eat only what you’ve grown yourself and spent 48 hours sprouting and 12 hours preparing but then god help you if it’s not raw and exactly as it was hunted by cave people.

Because pancreas. Or something. Spleen? Spleens that you need if you’re freediving, for that burst of oxygen just before you die? Save your freediving spleen with the paleo love of coconut and dates!

Geezus Cheeses on a Cracker. What else are we supposed to do? Please, do give me another list. I’m sure you can tax the limits of human endurance further.

So I see balled up sheets, I begin to tell myself to fold them, and I rage against post-war misogynist propaganda for a while.

Easy enough, right?

Nope. Because the other thing that stuck with me about No Ordinary Time is how much time FDR spent relaxing. And I’m not making any allowances here for his physical pain and exhaustion, and I note that. But I’m not mocking his leisure, so I feel rather free to recap the man’s daily schedule, which included a lot of sleep and entertainment. I’m reiterating what I understood from the book: that his leisure, including copious time spent with good friends over good food and good wine and good games, was integral to his ability to create. That without nightly card games and trips to the islands, he never would have come up with lend-lease. The guy woke late, ate, read, worked a bit, ate, relaxed, worked a bit, and held court in the library every evening. He played cards and spoke with friends and took some time to stare across the yard now and then. And he was a war-time President. I’m guessing he had quite a few things to do. I mean, he didn’t have to submit FSA receipts by the end of this month, or anything, but still.

Still.

He managed to take a break several times a day. We don’t do that. As a culture, we don’t do that enough. There are now articles telling you that it’s important to let your brain rest. To do some dishes and let information sink in so you can really process it. The are gorgeous, moving diatribes against productivity that render me incoherent with longing and sadness and a renewed refusal to fold my sheets.

So what is this bullshit about doing everything and having everything? I can’t do or have or be everything. Can’t. Won’t.

I will not fold my fitted sheets.
I will not do yoga retreats.
I will not make my nutty spreads.
I will not make my family’s beds.
I will not mop the stupid floor.
I will not scrub my muddy door.
I will not put my dear self last.
I will not eat my food so fast.
I will not say yes anymore.
I will not take on tasks galore.

I will not keep a crazy pace.
I will not join your insane race.

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Sigh

I have intermittent wifi on a ladies’ birthday weekend. So I don’t care that I missed a post day in this most honorable “post every day” NaBloPoWriMo. And I don’t care that I can’t upload an awesome photo for you today. I’ve tried.

I have clean air and homemade toffee. And I think I can say without qualification, that this is the meaning of life.

Now I lie, not lay, down to sleep.

I don’t do well with rules, so National Blog Post Writing Month’s premise of posting every day for a month is irking me. But I signed up for the challenge voluntarily, it’s time to put on my Big Girl pants and get it done.

If a tree can artistically render another tree species in its leaf, I can write a blog post.

If a tree can artistically render another tree species in its leaf, I can write a blog post.

I just finished a two-month challenge with different parameters and different aims. But I bristled at those rules, too, mostly because I’m a grown-ass woman and I know what’s good for me and what’s not, and I’ll do the choosing, thank you very much.

I made it through the longer challenge, and I will make it through this daily blogging thing, too. Even if I want to rail against boundaries and melodramatically perceived imprisonment.

Now, I’m tired, so I’m only telling you one thing today: my eldest’s son shirt was in my drawer and I had my arms in it to put it on before I noticed the 8 on the tag. I’m not 8. He is.

It struck me as very sad that my son is almost big enough to share my clothes. Soon he will share my car keys. Then he will leave. And I’m so excited to find out what he will be and where he will go.

But for now I want him here and I want more time, not less.

I’m going to go pull his size 6s out of the garage, where they’re waiting for his brother. And I’m going to make my third grader wear size 6 until I’m darned good and ready to have him writing in cursive and multiplying and performing Greek plays.

I think, in base ten, that’s about 8 more years.

My app and me

I don’t think writing on my phone will ever feel as natural as typing. But tonight I’m trying the WordPress app for three reasons.

1. It’s National Blog Post Writing Month, and I’ve committed to writing every day all November.

2. I’m already upstairs curled up next to cats.

3. I’ve been in front of the computer all day, catching up on deadlines, and for now is like to use my left thumb and right index finger only. Or nobly, as autocorrect wanted me to say. I think it’s rather pretentious to find me noble for phone blogging, Phone, but I will take that compliment. At least you love me more than the kid who fake cried for 5 minutes because I wouldn’t let him hold the obscenely bright book light as he fell asleep, and who paused the fake cry long enough to tell me he hates me.

Hated by a four-year-old yet noble to a phone.

Anyone wanna guess why parents are glued to handheld devices at the playground?

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Language Lessons

My preschooler loves his Spanish teacher. He sings the songs she teaches him and he tells the stories she shares.

Sometimes it's hard to be so super

Sometimes it’s hard to be so super

And he tells me the words he learns.

“Mom, did you know what mutara means? It’s Spanish for burrito.”

Um, no, it’s not.

“Honey, I’m pretty sure burrito is a Spanish word. It means little burro, or little donkey, and where I grew up, a burro was a HUGE burrito in a homemade tortilla.”

“Hugenormous?”

“Yes.”

“Well, did you know what fremata means? It’s Spanish for taco.”

I laughed. Because, again, nuh-uh.

in his world, every day is Halloween

in his world, every day is Halloween

Tonight he told me has some words to teach me. I waited, eagerly.

“I have a new word for sausage. Ready? That word is lentils.”

I started laughing, and he kept going.

“The word for lentils is strawberries. The word for strawberries is grapes. The word for banana is beer. The word for wine is stove. The word for counter is step stool. And that’s all. Mom, laugh about the counter word.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Once the wine became a stove I grew contemplative.”

“Know what my word for that is, Mom? It’s minkie.”

Sounds about right, buddy.

My love letter to audiobooks

I’d gotten to the point in my midlife when I thought I wouldn’t fall in love again. I’ve had my turns with relationships, and learned something glorious from each. My love for my children teaches me about infinity and about dark human frailties. My love for my friends dances about like dandelion seeds, unpredictable and lovely.

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And until I found you I thought nothing could surprise me.

Friends told me about you. I wasn’t ready, so I didn’t really hear them. Blah blah podcasts, blah blah library downloads. “No, thanks,” I thought. Audiobooks are what my parents listen to when they drive cross country. Books on tape we call them. You can’t hope to get a good story going in the 20 minutes on the way to the increasingly-too-freaking-far-away preschool. I can’t hear a story…really hear…on the way to the grocery store or a meeting.

The kids and I checked out audio CDs for long day trips. King Arthur legend stuff and The Hobbit. Things I didn’t want to read aloud at night. Because that reading is precious. First the back and forth of “little guy chooses a book, then big guy reads from his Just-Right chapter book, then little guy gets another, then big guy reads again…” until we brush teeth. Then the big story after lights out. Well, lights out except for the sea turtle who throws stars on the ceiling, a gift from their uncle that keeps us company all Fall and Winter. Turtle time is big story time…Peanut and I deliberate in the library and in front of our bookcases full of kids’ books. Charlotte’s Web, Phantom Tollbooth, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter. I save those marvelous books for “real” reading: my voice, our mismatched-but-once-inextricably-linked bodies cuddled in the big chair, focused on the spotlighted page that becomes, in the book light’s insistence, a stage on which our nightly story plays out.

Audiobooks were for the stuff I didn’t want to read. That we could finish on a trip to the beach and back, or that took too much work.

Crawling back to the river is too hard. Can't an audiobook do this for me?

Crawling back to the river is too hard. Can’t an audiobook do this for me?

But then I got an email. Two free books to try it out. Any titles you want.

Um…can’t hurt to try? Blind date with an audiobook. I’m not ready for something new, and I don’t foresee love in my future, but I can try. Whatever. Free is good. Novelty is sometimes okay, even for the change-averse.

Oh, good heaven how you bowled me over.

Our first date was in the car, after a client kick-off meeting when I needed to relax a bit. We connected. I laughed. At once I knew we were going to be friends. And when I got home, you came in with me. You followed me around as I set up my desk for the new project, as I planned dinner. You walked with me when it was time to pick up my son at school, and it just felt right. I wasn’t ashamed. I was having a good time.

I knew our relationship would be challenging for my children, and I knew they had to come first, no matter how I was falling for you. I believe very firmly that they shouldn’t meet anyone new in my life right now. They need to know they’re the most important voices in my life. So I hit pause on our new…whatever this is, I don’t dare label it yet because you’re too new and I’m too caught up to be objective…and walked home with my son. And we played and talked and did our family things. Without you. We picked up my younger son and we all went to soccer. Without you. On the pitch we had dinner, the one I had prepared while you were reading to me. And I smiled a silly schoolgirl grin. Because eating now reminded me of great books. And walking reminded me of great books. And the car, that dreaded convenience that gets me to and from the 10,000 places a day we should be? It reminds me of you and how happy you make me.

Predictably, I’ve gotten a bit lax about keeping you and my family separate. Now when I make breakfast you’re with me, reading to me and filling our hectic morning with measured, adult speech where was there was only shrieking and teasing and laughter and whining. And when the kids want something or I have to help them, you steel me for the less-savory of my tasks with your gentle 30-second rewind and your reassuring pause button. “I’ll wait for you,” you seem to say. “Go ahead. Take care of your family. You love them and they love you and I’ll just wait.”

And you do. And when I return, hours or days later, you know just where we left off. You’ve wooed me with humor and impressed me with heart-wrenching moments. You keep me company while I clean, cook, and write invoices. You make carpooling and grocery shopping engaging.

You make me love mindless tasks, something I haven’t felt since I was young and child-free and trying to discern the origins of the Universe while I vacuumed. Though I value what I do for my family as much as I do the tasks I complete for clients, somehow I don’t feel the family-work is enough. Before you, dishes were a necessary waste of time, and they kept me from what I love. Grocery runs were just stupid burdens. Making lunch? A chore.

And now, with you, I love the grocery store. And dishes. Lunches have become intricate and engaging because I can justify seeding a pomegranate and shaping sandwiches. I have to do these tasks with or without you. But you make them interesting. And productive. I know I could try the rest of my life to fight the need to make every waking moment productive, but why? It’s who I am.

And you get that. You love that. You understand me, and, I am here to say loudly and in front of the whole Internet, I love that about you. What I’ve missed most about my old life, my life before kids, is reading. Frequent, barely-pausing-to-blink, all-engrossing engagement in books.

I’m not going to get into semantics. I don’t know if our relationship is reading or if it’s listening or if it’s entertainment. I won’t slow down long enough to care. I don’t do the high-brow/low-brow arguments that graduate school pretty well beats out of readers. And I don’t want to examine yet…oh, heavens, not while our love is still new…what you’re doing to my relationship with music.

Thank you for the three wonderful books you’ve read me over the past two weeks. I hope my intense love continues to grow. I adore you so much I’m willing to share you with others, which is something I could only ever say about my children. You’re welcome to be as compelling as you want and to draw as many people to yourself as you want.

The more the merrier, dear love. Bring ‘em on.

Make it stop

“You have a new bill. The school carnival is coming up. Your library books are overdue. 50% off two great deals. A note to parents. Fly from $79 one way. Your photos are on their way. Listserv digest. JSTOR daily. School announcement. ICYM. Blog post. Confirm auto billpay. You have a new bill. Kickoff meeting. University Press new release. You’ve been added as a member to the share site. Eye appointment reminder. Reply to your post. Friend in need. You have a new bill. Picture day tomorrow. Half marathon coming soon. Public radio needs you. Congress needs you. Please give money. You have a new bill. Halloween party needs planners.” —one of three inboxes

We all have detritus cluttering our lives. Floating bits of to-do and should-do and hurry-and-do that drift around in our vision and settle as a thick layer of dust on our counters. And books and beloved objects.

But not on our computers. Oh, no. Those get plenty of use.

I’d like a day, as would every single person I know, without emails to return, without lunches to make, without bills and crap and nonsense. I’d really like, as I’m willing to bet most people would, to focus on being my best self, engaging with my family, working hard on the things that make me valuable to society. And I’d love to do that without the flotsam and jetsam of crap that litters my to-do list.

So I delete the unnecessary emails and I unsubscribe from lists I swear I never joined.

And that eats 20 minutes of my day.

I feed the humans and felines in my house and I tidy and I ask them to help and we get the tactical stuff done.

And that eats hours of my day.

I think about the ways in which I can be an advocate and an ally, and I weigh the time or money I would need to contribute.

And I guiltily cut saving the world to 30 minutes of my day.

And I work on client deadlines and dream of a day when I can write my own stuff. I want to work on my book so badly it’s making me itch. But it will be at least a week before I have the time. Because I work for people who will pay me now for my writing.

And to that I willingly give hours of my day.

Transporting small people and navigating their conflicts and helping them learn to talk to each other kindly and reading and playing and cooking…they take up hours of my day. Good use of time. But hours nonetheless.

I don’t know why I keep coming back to this space, but I do. I’ve wanted to commit blogicide so often it’s become normal to think, “well, clearly I’ll never write there again, so do I delete the whole thing or just never go back?”

A flair for the dramatic, but also, I’m beginning to see, a perfectly normal state of being for bloggers.

I’ve had several long-term bloggers tell me that killing your blog and reinventing it is a moral imperative.

So I feel guilty for not writing here, and now also guilty for writing here, my blog 1.0?

I only know that I’m functionally incapable of life without a journal. And for more than six years, this has been my place.

So maybe I should kill the blog or reinvent the blog or abandon the blog or reinvigorate the blog.

But for now, I dash of a quick complaint about my inbox whining at me that it needs more from me. That it wants to be heard. That it needs a glass of water.

Grow up, inbox. I have other things to handle, and you can do it yourself.

Mr. or Ms.?

My oldest son, Peanut, was reading to his dad while I read to the youngest. We were spread across my big bed, west to east: 44, 8, 41, 4. And Peanut was reading something mythical that involved Dukes and Duchesses. But he didn’t know what those titles meant. So his dad explained briefly about Prince and Princess versus Duke and Duchess in the way that only postcolonial, anti-feudal Americans can.

credit hotblack via morguefile

The gist of it was: peripheral royalty, different word for each gender.

“What would Jay be?” Peanut asked.

It’s been six months since Jay died. I’ve written about him often, including once since his death.

And in none of those posts did I mention that he was transgendered. Mostly because it’s none of my business. Part of being an ally means that friends who are different from me aren’t marked by what they are or how they self define, but by my relationship to them. I said as much to my son when he called someone at school gay.

Jay wasn’t just my friend who was born an adorable Mormon girl and lost family and Church and marriage as he found out who he was. He was my friend, a kind dad who was also a mom; a human who had great days and bad days but was always nice even to really dreadful people. And who he was—day to day—was more important to how I thought of our relationship than the long road that brought him into my life.

And Peanut knew Jay as kind and funny and awesome. And he also vaguely knew Jay used to be a woman, because it had come up in a conversation about being who you really are inside. So I told him casually about transgender people when it was pertinent to the discussion. I didn’t bring it up to shock or preach or titillate. I mentioned Jay being able to finally be who he really was, because it was part of what we were talking about that day.

And after a few questions entirely appropriate for a kindergartener (which he was, at the time), it was just another fact about another friend. No big deal. Never came up again, nor should it have.

But this week, six months after Jay died, six months after he left his new wife and their blended family of three kids to figure out how to live without him, Peanut asked if Jay would have been a Duke or a Duchess.

I choked back the sob of surprise and pain that catches all of us unaware just as we’ve learned to live with loss. And I tried my best to answer.

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“Well, back in the time that book is talking about, a long time ago, people believed you are what you’re born. They didn’t talk about people wanting to be a different gender, or about wanting to marry someone from the same gender, or about women having jobs or anyone voting. So Jay would have been born a Duchess, and even if he wanted to, he couldn’t be a Duke. There were definitely people back then who didn’t feel right in their bodies, and some who wanted to be different than they were born. But it just didn’t happen. People didn’t like difference.”

He frowned. “But if everybody agreed that it’s okay to…if everybody agreed…if…” He couldn’t find the words he wanted. “If everybody agreed it was okay to be whoever you really are, then could Jay have…?” He paused and waited.

“Do you mean could he have changed his body? Did they know about hormones and the way bodies become men and women bodies?”

“Yeah.”

“No, they didn’t know about the science of bodies. And so even if everyone agreed that Duchess Jay could go ahead and be himself as Duke Jay like some people do now, he wouldn’t have been able to take the hormones that gave him a beard and a lower voice and things like that. They didn’t know about hormones, and they didn’t have the science to make them and give them to Jay.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, buddy?”

“What.”

“You don’t need everybody to agree for you to be who you are. You just need a few allies, people who believe in you and support you. Doesn’t matter everyone else thinks.”

And I kept reading to Butterbean, telling myself I could cry later.

Because even more painful than the fact that I’ll never see Jay again, can’t talk to him and can only see his kids in a new house without him, is the idea that for thousands of years of human existence, Jay would have had no idea he could be anyone else, would have had no way to become who he really needed to be. I can’t imagine living in a world like that, where Jay would have been and remained and felt wrong as Julie.

But I’ll bet in that world we would have been friends. Because Jay’s friendship wasn’t about gender, not when I met him and not when I found out about his transition. Or his pregnancy. Or his cancer.  Friendships aren’t usually about gender. Who Jay was for me is entirely defined by what kind of friend he was. And that wasn’t based on anatomy or hormone profile or what existed under his clothes. It was based on his heart.

I miss you, Jay.  And I don’t care whether you’re a Duke or a Duchess. I just really miss your kind heart.

 

 

Open Tabs

My draft list of ideas to post includes seven items, none of which I have time for tonight.

Instead, I’ll regale you with a story of how many tabs I have open right now: 38 total.

I have 20 tabs in one window, which is exclusively for the research I’m doing for a client project. At least four of those are PDFs with more than 56 pages to read. And with an air-tight NDA, that’s about the most I can tell you.

I have 18 tabs in another window, which comprises my personal search results. This includes:
1. Some Bored Panda stuff for the reluctant little carpooling friend who’s scared to come over. I want to briber her with carefully curated content she can see and I can then send to her parents for an evening showing with her older brother.
2. Several Instructables, including kinetic arts and dragons’ egg
3. Recipes I know the kids will help me make and eat, like baked granola bowls for serving yogurt
4. A New Republic article on Updike that my buddy Matt Bucher linked to on the Twitters, the article itself representing not much more than my wish that somehow reading it will get someone to sponsor a conference so a nice group of us can have another dinner together.
5. Some FTP client file management tutorials including character encoding verification dialogs that made me cry when I read them, because foreign language
6. A Five Dials special issue memorializing David Foster Wallace
7. A Brain, Child article on introverts
8. Event website mounting a search for local half-marathons
9. Pinterest boards of emergency bags so I can remember to update our earthquake supplies and manually backup my computer

I need to close these tabs. I need to schedule email time and not respond outside those hours. I need to schedule some yoga time, too.

And I need to pull out a book, after closing those tabs.

Dozens of open tabs that signify all I *want* to be doing but clearly am not. Tabs that promise efficiency and productivity “if I just have five minutes…”

But maybe I really will attend to those pressing and compelling matters, the portals to which I’ve opened by the wonders of the Interwebs. I try the email thing first, before closing all the work I did to find those tabs in the first place. Because life is too short to throw away all your useful web searching time by closing valuable tabs.

And don’t tell me to Instapaper the pages, by the way. I never read the articles I save there.

How many tabs do you have open, and do you actually read them, or just spend weeks wanting to read them?

 

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.

eo

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.

 

We can do it.

The kidlets and I just came back from a camping trip. A whole-family camping trip. And it was amazing.

Challenging. And amazing.

I’ve posted here before about camping and about camping survival. But not yet about camping as a family who live in two houses yet share a tent for a few days in the summer because they’re trying their best to be a good family regardless of logistics. And I’ll post later about the good, the bad, and the midnight vomit I covered with campfire ash so bears wouldn’t come attack my poor food-poisoned child.

But those stories come later. This week I am feeling a bit weak and small, so I’m writing my story of strength.

We camp in the same place each year, beneath the pine trees and clear skies of Lake Tahoe. And on the second or third day of our trip, we do our favorite hike: 7.5 miles with significant elevation change (I think it’s 1,300+ feet total) from our campsite along the remarkable blue of the lake.

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We bring snacks and sandwiches, games and water shoes; and we climb the well-worn dirt path around granite boulders and past an amazing old lighthouse.

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We wind up, after long breaks where we play in the water and build fallen-branch structures, pausing at an old residence that makes me nostalgic for the time when I had millions of dollars and could own part of a lake, an island, and build my own castle.

No? Oh well.

Anyway, after the castle-y thing we walk up a steep road and catch a trolley back to a road about 1.5 miles from our tent. The day we do the hike is usually the crowning glory of our eldest’s year, and both his grownups quite enjoy it, too. I genuinely have no idea if it makes any impression on the four-year-old, but he rides on my back and his dad’s shoulders for much of it, so I can’t see how this hike is any different for him than any other. But who knows. He’s an enigma.

This year, once we got to the trolley stop, the boys’ dad wanted to run back along the lake, the long way, while the boys and I took the motorized shortcut back. Sure. No problem. We have no cell service, but we do have tons of food and water and we know the trolley is coming soon so we’ll likely beat him back to camp. The boys begin plotting how they’ll surprise their dad when he gets back.

So the boys and I sit on rocky half-wall in the 80-degree-sun and wait. And wait. And wait. Thankfully, there was a local family with two young boys waiting, too, who reassured us that the trolley was indeed running and that it would eventually be there.

We all watched carefully every vehicle that came into view along the winding highway, cursing each red car for not being a red and gold trolley. The selfies with my boys grew more and more deflated looking.

An hour later, after my sweet, tired little monkeys had sunk into the “you have to be kidding posture” when I offered snacks, water, and a cuddle for the nine-hundredth time, the trolley came. And oh, we did rejoice. The selfies grew adorably cheerful, and Butterbean, my chirpy four-year-old, sang us a trolley song.

And about 3/4 of a mile later, the trolley turned around.

“Whoa, whoa, what’s going on?” I asked, genuinely wide-eyed.

“We’re making a U-turn to go back to town,” an otherwise delightful woman told me.

I’m guessing I lookd around at the other passengers in a terrified manner befitting either my situation or a worldwide chocolate shortage, because the driver asked where we were going.

“To the state park a few miles up the road,” I said.

“This trolley doesn’t go there,” he said.

“Um… yuh-huh, it does,” I thought. It has for the past three years.

The processing took me 1/1,000,000,000th of a second. Okay: we’ll ride the trolley back to the stop and wait for one that does go to our stop. If he’ll let us off at Vikingsholm, the pretentious rich people castle place. I mean lovely piece of history. I mean…

Actually, no, the next trolley won’t go back to camp, either. The driver got out a brochure and showed me the new map of the trolley’s range. None of the trolleys were headed to our stop. They all turned around 3/4 of a mile from Vikingsholm.

My math slowed down a bit. I have two tired kids. We’ve hiked 6 miles already, and Peanut, who is now 8 and quite proud that he hikes 8 miles in Tahoe every year, is complaining about a sore foot. We have no cell service. Their dad has his phone off for obvious reasons. The town toward which the trolley is heading is 14 miles away and we have no way, once we get there, of getting back. It’s two hours until dark. I have a backpack full of water and snacks to wear in front and an ergo full of 40 pounds of preschooler on my back. It’s 6,800 feet above sealevel and we got here 24 hours ago, so I’m not acclimated. I am also keenly aware that I ran 5 miles in the morning, before we started this lovely, invigorating, breathtaking, family favorite hike.

Please, please no comments about the stupidity of a 5 mile run on a hiking day.

And I have no idea how far it is back to the camp. It’s certainly farther than 3 miles total if we walk on the side of the highway, but likely shorter than going back down to the gorgeous trail and adding another 6 miles. Or driving into town. Or…nope. That’s the end of the options. Walk or…I guess sit down and cry. Those are your choices, lady.

Tired 8-year-old, heavy pacsk, altitude, and at least 3 more miles, some of which on a busy-ish highway. My job is to protect my children. My job is to get them back to camp before dark. My job is to…

“We’ll walk,” I tell the entire trolley, sounding quite reassuring on purpose. I need, desperately, for my eldest to go along with this plan.

And he does.

About 20 feet in, he looks panicked. “Mom, do we have water?”

Smart boy. “Yup. I just refilled all three bottles. I have, no joke, 96 ounces of water, buddy.”

He is pleased with this answer. I am, too, except that 96 ounces of water is really freaking heavy. Six pounds? More than the dried fruit and GORP and crackers, but less than his brother, thank goodness.

So we walk. And I try hard not to think about how far it might be. I make myself remember that we have food and water. That nobody is hurt. That if the shoulder gets too narrow (which it did, several times), we can bide our time and run across the highway when it’s safe.

That totally fits the whole “keep your children safe” requirement, right? Have them avoid walking along a narrow shoulder by running across a highway?

Yeah.

To quiet the railing inner critics who disdained my decision (but didn’t offer any helpful suggestions, I noted both then and now), we talked as we walked about how their Dad was likely making dinner. And that he’d notice how late we were (now 90 minutes past our ETA) and come get us, probably. (Both were true. But he tried to find us by walking, not driving, so by the time he used the car we were 1/2 mile from camp. It was a very nice 1/2 mile ride, though.)

About a mile into the unplanned walk, Peanut faltered a bit and started to cry. “I just want to go home,” he said, revealing the vulnerable, tender heart he rarely lets us see, except at storytime just before bed.

I nodded as I motioned to him to keep going. “Yep. Me, too, buddy. And that’s what we’re doing. I don’t want to walk and you don’t want to walk, but we have food and water and we’re safe and we’re healthy and we’re going home.”

I’m going to be honest: I wanted to cry, too. And if he had whimpered even a little after my motivational speech, I would have sat down and bawled a good, old-fashioned Holly-Hunter-in-Broadcast-News cry.

But he threw his shoulders back and kept walking.

Peanut is 8 years old, and he walked 10 miles that day. With his backpack and completely unassisted. I am 41, and I traveled 14 miles: five miles running, six miles hiking with a full backpack, and four miles with two packs, one of which contained my sweet little baboon four-year-old. At altitude.

We did it. We both did it. We enjoyed the beauty, we loved the highlights, and we freaking motored through the unexpected bumps.

I told my amazing son, as we devoured warm tortellini and lentils a bit later, that I’d learned something that day.

“Yeah,” he said. “Never do that hike again.”

I laughed. “Well, maybe, but I learned that we’re really strong. You remember I told you that brave is when you’re scared but you do something anyway, because it’s important?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, we are strong. And we are brave. We were scared and we did it anyway.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “And also, never do that hike again.”

I laughed. No way. We’re doing that hike every year now. Because we can do it as an 11 mile loop now, without trolley and without steep road. And without even seeing that freaking highway.

Because we’re strong. And we’re brave.

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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?

Typewhater?

I love my old typewriter. I bought it decades ago and have moved it to a dozen houses. Yup. As in I’ve moved 12 times since I bought my old Royal.

And I realized a few months ago that it would be much more useful with a tuneup.

So the boys and I took it to the local typewriter repair shop (holla, Berkeley!) for a ribbon and an oiling.

And now, every night, I begin a letter to my children.

Yeah, that's right...no delete key and no white ribbon means I don't care if I misspell.

Yeah, that’s right…no delete key and no white ribbon means I don’t care if I misspell.

And then at breakfast I ask them to finish the letter.

Results are adorable, or worrisome, depending on your expectations for spelling and grammar.

We're still working on this daily habit.

Sometimes I forget, and eight-year-old Peanut does my job for me. Like dishes, but with random punctuation.

Some mornings I forget, and eight-year-old Peanut does my job for me.

I’m keeping every page. If I were an organized person, I’d pretend I were going to make them into a book. But they will stay in the drawer, in order, and then get put in a box. And when the boys are in college I’ll do something creative with them. For now: drawer.

Especially for keepsakes like this one, where our four-year-old patience-tester unwound the whole ribbon, then made fingerprint art all over the floor and fridge.

"You say I'll be right back, I hear please decorate with typewriter ink."

“You say I’ll be right back, I hear please decorate with typewriter ink.”

I didn’t think too much of this daily ritual we’ve just begun until a friend sent me a link to  this adorable video of children being bewildered by the existence of typewriters.

As delightful as that video is, I have to admit to being similarly baffled.

Where is the number one?

Seriously, where's the 1?

Seriously, where’s the 1?

 

Come on, really?

Come on, really?

I’ve tried hitting the margin release, in case that’s a stealth 1 in disguise. Like a hidden passage in the library, but dumber.

 

This is getting ridiculous.

This is getting ridiculous.

And now I feel like the kids in the video. Did the past not have 1:00? OR 12:00? Or any of the many, many minutes in between?

What did people in the past do at 8:15? Skip straight to 8:20? Was there a lot of rounding up to the nearest anything-but-ten in history?

Were they always using the slash to designate a 1? Doubtful. Nothing says confusion like “Please print / copy.”

Did they substitute? Probably not, since typewriters use an old school font called…um, TYPEWRITER. Rather serif-y and prone to Roman Numerals. If you use a capital “i” to designate the number 1, you’re stuck using Vs and Xs for the rest of the…whatever you’re typing.

And why so wordy with the tabular key? Tab is too…’80s? Wait…I guess I mean 1880s? Except for the 1, which didn’t exist, so they went from the Dark Ages to 2000?

I’m so confused.

But I’m creating memories, dagnabbit. And that’s all that matters, 1 or no 1.

Word up, little one who dictated this to an older brother. Preach.

Word up, little guy who dictated this to an older brother. Preach.

 

Trust

My sweet little Butterbean loves playing the game of trust. He stands about two feet away, makes his body rigid, and falls toward me. I catch him. He never doubts and he never falters. Neither do I.

This is the game we’re forced to play in team-building excursions, and most people can’t trust enough to just fall. We tend to take a step to catch ourselves, unwilling to trust someone else with our bodily safety.

But my son is willing. He trusts implicitly. And it’s thrilling for him, to know that I’ll get him, to know that it feels safe no matter what his brain tells him about gravity and danger.

four years ago, when Butterbean sought for anything to grab

four years ago, when Butterbean sought for anything to grab and I knew he was smart for grabbing me

And I realize, as we laugh and hug and play again and again, that this trust is the heartstopping part of parenting. He trusts me completely. And that feels intensely heavy, physically. That feels as though his little life and heart and future well-being follow me every minute of the day. Fragile. Important.

I’ve always taken parenting very, very seriously. We have fun, but I drive myself to distraction thinking of all the way to be right, to be ideal, to be precisely what the kids need. Because their trust is everything. It really is.

And my ridiculously lofty expectations mean that I fail. Every day.

“No matter. Fail again. Fail better.”

I try to not obsess with my constant failure. With my less-than-ness. I try to live in the moment and parent my best and do what feels right and true. Because that’s all I can do.

Last week, rushing to make Peanut’s lunch to get him to camp, I checked his backpack to find his missing lunchbox. It was there, mostly empty, festering in smooshing-proximity to a wet towel and wet swimsuit.

“Dude?” I said to him as I shook them all out and prepared to handle them. My job, when I’m home: handling. “It really helps when you take this out of your backpack after you get home. Hang it up, it dries. Leave it stuffed in a closed backpack, it stays cold and wet. And it likely feels better to put on dry rather than damp and clammy.”

He looked at me from across the living room, pausing in his enormously important task of the morning, something I couldn’t possibly understand because I’m mother and therefore flawed and ridiculous and wonderful but lame. He cocked his head.

“Look,” he said. “I’ll try. I hear you. But after a long day of playing, I’m just not sure I can remember. I’ll try, Mom. But I can’t promise anything.”

And I bifurcated. One half my mind thought, “well, for an eight year old that was ridiculously articulate, reasoned, and calm.” The other thought, “Geez, is that the way I talk to him? With weighty sighs at how ludicrous is this life and our expectations? Do I reason and articulate like that? Has the Beckett of ‘Fail again. Fail better’ so informing my demeanor that shrugging with impossibility has become the family motto?”

I don’t know. I know that split, the “wow you’re great humans,” and “wow, I’m ruining you” split applies to both of them. And the difference between them. The reasoned refusal to hang a wet towel and the joyful, trusting fall into my arms. The split mind happens whether I catch the trusting, falling child or whether I explain, rationally and dispassionately, why I dropped him.

I have to stop this post now before I want more babies. Look at that face!

I have to stop this post now before I want more babies. Look at that face!