Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You don't always have to run out the clock

Things I've learned from daily life and mom friends and non-mom friends lately that have made my life easier.

1. Do one big outing/activity a day.

2. Plan on being somewhere for 1 hour, 1.5 tops. Push it further than that and you're asking for a public tantrum and a failed venture.

3. A bad plan is better than no plan. (Don't always agree with this, but sometimes it's helpful.)

4. Drink a full glass of wine before dinner company arrives (applies to lunch if the company includes your in-laws).

5. Leave yourself lots of extra time to get places so you don't show up sweating and irritable and frantically rummaging through your bag to make sure you didn't lose your cell phone.

6. Don't bring your kids to the houses of people who don't have kids. (I still violate this one constantly, but at least my expectations have changed: I know I won't eat when others are eating or be able to participate in most conversations.)

7. Turn off phone ringers during nap time and bedtime.

8. Sometimes there's nothing you can do about screaming and crying in public (your kids, not you). Relax and let people think what they will about how cold and indifferent a parent you are.

9. On a busy night go to the nearby grocery store even if there's bad produce and nothing organic. (Sometimes, when I'm wondering about whether or not to make the trip to Whole Foods, which is only about ten minutes away but because of crowds and lines will add at least 1/2 hour to the chore, I tell myself -- you always idealize living in a small town with one mom and pop grocery store. So go to the mom and pop grocery store right here.)

10. You tell me...

Just got in from a great night with my friends Margaret and Selina and had the memory of the summer after senior year when I would hand write a letter to friends and the Maynard Pool Hall gang after getting home by 1 (town curfew). Most often I'd write when my family was going out of town the next morning. I had so much more to say, so I'd send a letter to Stacy or Liz and tell them to read it to everyone else. There was that incredible urgency back then, but no way to get it out -- no texting, no emails, not a chance in hell you'd call your friend's home phone at that hour unless you'd planned it out precisely and they were waiting to pick up at a specified time before it even rang. I think we'd even call the Children's Museum story phone, so that the call would come in on call waiting and wouldn't wake anyone up. Otherwise we relied on letters and diaries and dreams.

Monday, August 30, 2010

This assertiveness training is really paying off!

Wally has been trying to nap for the past 45 minutes, but every time he fell asleep a loud drill or sawing or banging from the upstairs apartment would wake him up and he'd start crying. Not that infuriating full-body scream, just a gentle--I'm really tired, I really want to sleep--little cry to himself.

I sat here and wrote this passive letter about not wanting to be a pain but wondering how much longer the construction was going to go on as it's been several months now and I really should change our schedule if it's going to last for a while longer...then I stopped typing...went in and picked up Wally and carried him upstairs and rang the doorbell. Just before my finger hit it I thought, what if this guy (not to assume it's a guy) going to do? He can't stop working because Wally can't sleep. That's not his problem. I dreamed up all kinds of vitriol he could throw back and maybe it would get to the point of the owners trying to get us kicked out because they've put up with a crying baby for two years. What happened was this: I explained that I had a baby trying to sleep and asked if there was anything quieter he (the work-person was, after all, a guy) could do for the next hour. He said, "I'm so sorry. I'll finish this part in five minutes. I'm so sorry." I went away feeling amazing. Sometimes you just have to ask. Of course maybe he would have been done in five minutes regardless but it just felt so non-neurotic. There's a problem, someone might be able to help. Ask. The workman seemed to, in that tiny interaction, in a language he was not overly familiar with, communicate a sense that a baby not being able to sleep was his problem, that he'd be more than happy to help.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"I'm stuck." "Let go."

Heading out this morning to my friend Jim's parents' house somewhere in that vague, vast area known as upstate New York. Turns out their town is not all that far from Vermont, which struck me as odd when I first saw it on a map, almost like Finland being next to Russia. That's not the way I remember it. (Cut to Alex smacking his hand against his forehead - in Brazil they actually learn where things are.)

I tried my arm trick for my nieces at the playground yesterday. I got almost the whole way through until the last sort of untangling. I stood there with pretzel arms saying, "I'm stuck, I'm stuck." My nieces looked at me laughing. Finally the younger one shouted, "Let go" and I did. Tell people you can't meet at 5:30. Put a couch in the middle of the daycare so the kids can't sprint across the room.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Peeing on Power Strips

Today I am dirty and irritable and wearing the wrong shoes for such a long walk (we are over at the sensory gym, it's just after 4). About an hour ago Wally peed on the power strip the computer was plugged into and it starting sparking. I turned it off and pulled it out of the wall.

One by one he's destroying the plants in the apartment. Today he smashed a violet plant pot against the radiator. The dirt was easy enough to sweep away. The plant can be repotted, I suppose. But the plants were my grandmother's and I liked the idea of taking care of them, something living of hers that remains here. We've taken on their care but we're doing a terrible job. My nieces love to water them with the elephant watering can I got from the five n' dime in West Concord. Wally loves to overwater them. It seems somehow or other he'll find a way to kill them -- either with a bang or quietly and slowly, by drowning. Sky used to dig all the dirt out of plant pots. Sometimes she ate the leaves and got sick.

Give up on having plants in your apartment. You have a toddler. You can't expect him to leave the plants alone. (This is the annoying voice that keeps talking back to me lately. A modified version of my therapist M. from last fall who says, basically, there are easy solutions, take them. Tell people you can't meet at 5:30.

"But I told her 'How about 8?' and she said, '5:30 is better for me.' So I didn't have a choice. I'm roped in. There's nothing I can do."

"You can call her up right now and tell her 5:30 is not going to work."

"Well I hesitated when I agreed to 5:30, she should have picked up on that.")


I drank too much coffee today and never once got that satisfying coffee buzz where you feel super productive, racing through your list of things to do, making awkward phone calls you'd been putting off, that kind of thing.

I'm annoyed at how much time got sucked up today in one-sided conversations that went like this: (Gentle female voice) "Sorry, I didn't understand that. Let's try again. It sounds like you want to speak to an operator. Let me see if can help you. Say, 'My account'".

I'm starting to try to open mail and actually deal with things that are supposed to be dealt with. Like bills from the electric company or student loans. When I first moved to New York, I never opened stuff until it got to a collection agency and even then not until the 3rd or 4th "attempt" (Alex is, if you can believe this, even worse than me). It never occurred to me things like that were my responsibility. Reminds me of a story my parents love to tell about how when I was four a Tootsie Roll candy dropped out of my mouth into the dirt. Through furious tears I admonished my parents, "Why didn't you have your hand under my chin?"

We hooked up a new power strip. Wally's just about done with his grand finale; the shrieking always spikes up right before his head hits the pillow. There are still a few plants out there that need to be watered. Tomorrow is pretty jam-packed (which is obviously the way I like it, much as I protest). Tootsie Rolls in free fall.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You're not really fooling very many people

Alex's mom hates that I'm not a good housewife. Even back when I worked full time it irked her that I didn't ever really make anything nice to eat and that the linen closet was just a big pile of ripped sheets and beach towels and expired Ibuprofen bottles all mixed together. Now that I'm home with Wally all day, she finds it intolerable.

Last night at dinner Sueli explained to the friends visiting from São Paulo that "Alex cook-ed. That's how it works in this house." He jumped in immediately saying how I work on educational programs for minorities and write books (they're not actual books, more like long magazine articles bound up and propped on a shelf) and do all kinds of things besides taking care of Wally which is a big job in itself. I appreciate him standing up for me. I know it makes absolutely no difference to her. I was a little surprised though, yesterday, because I was feeling so domestic. I shopped for the groceries, did the laundry, cleaned up the living room, made the salad and Sangria, and set the table all while Sueli was here. But it didn't matter. Alex blended the basil and walnuts. He chopped up the garlic. He heated the water. A die-hard Brazilian with pure Spanish blood. As far as she was concerned, he might as well don a house dress and paint his nails pink.

This morning as I ran out on a few errands with Wally in tow I realized I didn't have any actual work (and by that I guess I mean paid, something I "have to" do) due in the next few days, so I'd have Wally's nap time to myself to just -- be a housewife. Lollygag. Pay bills. Clean up dishes. Straighten the linen closet. Cut my nails. Take a shower. Return phone calls. Find overdue library books and put them in my bag to return. Drink tea. Post something on my blog that doesn't sound insane. Something where I'm actually looking at what I type.

I have really only 3 tricks in life. Things not everyone in the entire world can do. 1 -- My arm trick (which I'm not even sure I can do anymore but I'll give it a try after I finish writing this). 2 -- Remember word-for-word things people say and the day and year and the hour that most things--even minor things-- happen. 3 -- Quickly type relatively coherent sentences while talking about or listening to other people talk about unrelated stuff.

So the point is, I'm hopefully going back now to not doing posts in the style of #3 above, where someone says, "What are you doing?" And I say, "Posting on my blog." And he or she says, annoyed, "You're posting right now while we're talking?" And I answer, "Yeah, sorry, I'll be done in a sec."

And I also want to go back to a slightly saner lifestyle than before our vacation. I don't want to be so pell-mell about squeezing work stuff into my daily life with Wally. It's not fair to him and it's just unpleasant overall, always panicking and prodding him awake as he falls asleep in the stroller so he'll take a real nap at home and I can work. It'd also be nice to stop using paper towels for napkins and to fold up the sheets so that someone other than me could, for example, dive into the linen closet and find a pillowcase and make it back out alive. And I don't mean this in -- yeah, it'd be great to have a beautiful house and organic meals and blah blah blah if someone else did it for me. I'd like to do it myself. But to me it does feel like a choice -- nice meals and fluffed up bedspreads and groceries done more than an hour in advance of company coming and presents wrapped before handing them to people -- but no real freelance "career", or the other way around.

As an aside, why didn't my sister and I learn to cook at all? Why is an edible cold pasta salad a triumph for us? And meanwhile my mom is a fabulous cook and baker. She's one of those who can just throw a bunch of stuff together and come out with wildberry pumpkin leek quiche with toasted goat cheese croquettes. I'll never get over nearly melting with embarrassment when on the first night of my college foreign-study in Toulouse the grandmother said, (in French, of course) "If you're not going to eat meat, you'll have to have an egg at least for protein" and then stood there waiting for me to fry an egg to put on top of the ratatouille. How on earth would I know how to do that? I thought, feeling dizzy, what would the first step even be? Which is funny, when thinking about eggs, since high school kids sometimes carry them around pretending they're babies to learn about the responsibilities of adulthood. And that's probably the first thing I said to myself getting home with Wally from the hospital. How on earth would I know how to do this? What should the first step even be?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Two separate blogs?

I had this idea of doing two separate blogs, one "We had waffles for breakfast" blog and one with a little tiny bit more thought put into it. Will figure out tomorrow.

They're out there speaking Portuguese. No one notices when I slip off.

We realized that only two couples remain from the wedding that took place in Sao Paulo 7 years ago (Alex's sister's wedding). That's me and Alex and his sister and her husband. All the others have broken up. And the weird thing too is that Alex and his sister haven't even spoken (Portuguese, English, Spanish or anything else) in nearly two years.

Speaking of past Dimestore drummers, apparently Than's band Black Gold played on the season finale of So You Think You Can Dance.

Oh and speaking of past drummers, Ivan, the first one, is coming over tonight to talk about writing and music. He has a technology blog here, which is a lot more entertaining than it sounds.
All you need is like 3 or 4 Brazilians in the one room at the same time and it's an instant party, especially if you have Sangria and someone hasn't seen someone else in at least seven years. Or I guess it should be caipirinhas or whatever that other drink is that I got wrong in Girl Drinks, but ever since Alex, my dad and I went to Acapulcos, this Mexican restaurant near my parents', a few months ago, I can't stop making Sangria. It's a great place. And the manager, Carlos, has my Spanish insults book and apparently makes good use of it with aggressive customers. I didn't write the insults themselves, just the scenarios you would need to use them in. I've always been really pretty good at getting easily annoyed.

There's no chance Wally's going to bed anywhere near on time tonight.

I realized I don't even know for certain if Joe from Bayonne is married or not. Our friend Yani asked yesterday, and I said I guessed so, but really had no proof one way or the other. Joe, are you?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Things have to be taken apart and carried away

We left the mountains yesterday and arrived back at my parents' house in Massachusetts a week pretty much to the minute from when we had taken off, pointing north. It didn't turn out to be anything particularly adventurous, a hedge maze (back here in Mass) was probably the biggest hike we took, and we didn't even make it as far as Canada. After leaving Hanover and Lake Sunapee, we settled into these little towns around Mt. Washington, and we did drive up to the top on the next to last day. Straight 4000 feet drops, hairpin turns, narrow roads, no guardrails of course, but unless I'm remembering wrong, it was no worse than California's Route 1 running up the coast. I was fascinated by the history of exploration there and the idea of going above tree line which I'd never really thought of before, that there's a point where trees are no longer able to grow. Since we left New York for the second time a week and a half ago, we moved every day except for one (we stayed two nights in Hanover). So every morning we folded up Wally's pack n' play and gathered our stuff and moved on. Wally started waking up in the morning and saying, "New house?" meaning, okay, let's get going, don't we have somewhere else to be? Usually we'd roll out at around 8:30 in the morning, which in my past life would have felt like getting up and out, and now feels like-- all right, don't worry, we still have a fair amount of daylight left.

After a while with these little break downs and set ups I started thinking about all those years in bands, schlepping a ridiculous amount of stuff around the city. Reheasals were nothing -- just a guitar or whatever -- but packing and unpacking for gigs, sometimes with amps and a full drum set, it made these little hotel-hops seem like a picnic. The amount of physical labor that goes into first breaking down the equipment in the studio, shoving it all into the car, then setting it up for 45 minutes of playing and doing the whole thing again, it's amazing. It gets you used to the idea that things always have to be taken apart and carried away.

In this weird, broken up vacation (first Virginia, then the strange circling without being able to land in NY, then to CT, MA and NH) not much has really changed for us, but meanwhile one close friend had a baby and another is getting divorced. My nieces Eliana and Leah today are going to their first wedding, my sister's close friend from college and her girlfriend. I overheard them playing wedding and they both wanted to be the bride. After a bit of a struggle, one said, "Wait--there can be a two-girl wedding, so can both be brides". The problem was solved and they moved on to the game itself.

Things are moving on. People are moving on, from the single life (the friend who just had a baby was one with whom I've perhaps shared the most inappropriate run of drunken evenings), from family arrangements (it was six years ago this August we celebrated the wedding of the friend now moving out on his own), from friendships (we won't be at Joe's wedding today), from out-dated ways of thinking about what weddings can be. Daylight leaves earlier now. You can already feel the difference. Leaves are starting to fall from trees. Wally picks them up and says, "Broken" then holds them as high as he can reach, asking me to fix the tree. My 12-year-old cousin Charlie is here visiting as well. We had always sort of winced at the idea of him ever growing up. For years he held the place in the family as the quintessential kid, making forts in the woods, picking up snakes without hesitation, feeling sad when family holidays were over. At his house this year on July 4th, watching him play with other kids, everyone go swinging and swimming and drink lemonade under giant old oak trees, my dad said, "This is so Last American Childhood." I said "It really is", then asked myself what we meant by that. There is this trip the beginning traces of a teenager about Charlie. He is still the sweetest kid you could ever dream of getting to hang out with, but you can see that he's growing up and there's no way to stop it. And why would you want to? Of course he should grow up. But you kind of just want to keep him right where he is.

We roasted marshmellows for the last time last night, can't imagine where we'd do it in the city. There was no denying the cool air coming in. We were wearing t-shirts, but towards the end started huddling around the few remaining orange coals. I keep thinking back to seeing Charlie at what felt like the beginning of summer. It's getting near the end now and I have this sense of having failed an assignment to write about what I did on my summer vacation but what I really meant to write about is what I meant by Last American Childhood and I just can't do it. There will be more time to write, but not today. More leaves will be falling soon. Wally will have to learn that we can't put them back. Alex is packing up the car now to head back home, although I never really call it that. My dad and Charlie are playing a few last rounds of ping pong in the basement. My mom is handing us bags of fresh-picked apples and peaches. Wally's taking his big wheel bike for a last spin around the block. We're just about ready to hit the road.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We've been mostly cut off here from cell phones, emails (isn't it annoying when people write that, but obviously they are on a computer writing it now? Sort of like -- too busy to write back yet compulsively checking emails. Although to be honest I really do have a full Inbox now (mostly Spam most likely) and haven't read them b/c I see these work emails mixed in that give me the stomach plunge, and Alex and Wally are outside waiting for me to go roast marshmellows.) And it's been great to be out here BUT there is this strange looming thing which is that Saturday, at the end of our vacation, is the wedding of one of our one-time best friends Joe from Bayonne. And it's a wedding I partly set in motion, and we're not going for a whole bunch of reasons, mostly misunderstandings and a missed trip to Spain. Have this image of somehow crashing, just for a second, as they're walking down the aisle, to catch Joe's eye and try to make up for three years of barely speaking and see if he still believes in highways to ride, guitars to play and lots of room.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We weren't sure where we were going on this trip. My dad asked us last Thursday night if we knew which direction we were pointing the car and we said north. That's where we pointed it. We're in the White Mountains. More soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Still all wake up with a hangover in Hanover

Drinking sangria in Hanover, listening to The National, Alex putting Wally to sleep, Matt Sweet flexing his leg muscles...not that different from fifteen years ago. Sorry for not writing more.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tours of Places You Used to Live

We were only supposed to be in New York for a couple hours and then it stretched into almost two days and we couldn't seem to get out. We did finally, on a train out of Grand Central yesterday afternoon and headed straight for the beach. Since I'm about to be immersed in places I used to live, I decided to pull a relevant poem over from my other blog to this one.

Tours of Places You Used to Live
January 2010

Do you like to give tours of places
you used to live?
Do you take it personally
when the scenery has changed?
“There used to be a swing set over there,
that was rotten and creaked a lot,”
you might start to say,
rolling down the window
to point to a certain gathering of trees.
But I can tell you right now—
the swing set doesn’t matter
to anyone else on the tour.
And they certainly can’t be bothered
with knowing exactly
where it used to be.

Which parks
used to be bigger, which houses
were smaller,
which church had one time been painted
a bright, Easter-egg yellow,
and is now a dull gray—

None of these is important.
Neither is the fact
that you once lived down the block
from a neighborhood pool,
that first thing in the morning
you could hear kids shrieking
as they cannonballed in.
All these people on the tour can see is a fence,
and a block of concrete.
Whether the pool is closed now for good,
or just for the season,
has little bearing on them.
They are checking their phones,
wondering how long it will take to get home,
starting to worry about work the next day.
To them progress is not a personal snub.

Let’s say for example the town got a lot of money
to modernize the library.
Now it's shaped like a ship,
with all this light streaming in,
and big comfy couches instead
of those sterile little cubicles.
Someone in the group keeps saying,
“Wow” and thinks it’s impressive,
for such a small town.

You want to punch them
because they are missing the whole point.
You liked those sterile little cubicles,
and the water fountain
that never gave more than a trickle.
You liked the dark little children’s room
with a worn-out wooden dollhouse
and the animal books with
the bindings completely shot.
Most of all you miss the fairy-tale stone steps
in the back, leading down
to a field full of goldenrods
and marigolds.

Someone else points out how cool
the train playground is.
“Was that here when you were little?”
Nope. No. They are just not getting
how much you loved
that wild field,
how sometimes in early spring,
while your dad was gathering books on
tax preparation and your mom
reading Bartlett’s Quotations,
you and your sister would wander down
that impossibly long stretch
to the almost-woods where
you knew you weren’t supposed to go.
There you’d look for ladybugs
or four-leaf clovers
and other surefire signs
of good luck.

Or let’s say in the place where
the pool-hall burned down,
now is a festive Mexican restaurant,
with local artwork,
and good happy-hour deals.
You can tell the tour group all about that crazy,
smoky pool hall where, in high school,
you used to run into the local guys,
who somehow had Boston accents,
how every single night without fail
“Hotel California” played on the jukebox.
But they’re looking at a sign
for 2-for-1 Margaritas,
asking about
the vintage clothing shop next door.

As you get back into the car,
maybe you realize
that you yourself are forgetting certain things.
Of course in the obvious Borges way,
like the bike paths that were huge and perilous,
leading off into the unknown,
are now simple dirt roads,
alongside the tracks of the commuter rail
to North Station.
But even things like the fact that
your house was never green,
it was beige at first,
then painted white,
But you could have sworn—
Or something like the fruit trees
that never bore any fruit.
But what about that perfect Empire apple,
after school one day in 5th grade,
you carefully picked off a branch that seemed
to be handing it
to you?

Before you attempt to go any further,
you should probably ask yourself—
Why are you giving this tour?
Is it curiosity, nostalgia,
just a memory-lane type thing?
Is it because you really do want
someone to know how it felt to be you:
a scrawny kid with a 10-speed bike
who loved her cat (the one buried behind…
which poplar tree?),
who loved
those January nights when she would curl up
in the living room,
whose mom would bring her hot chocolate
whose dad would sing Mr. Tambourine Man?

Did you last-minute swerve to catch Exit 27 off 495
so the guy in the backseat
wearing the Yankees’ cap
and one side of his ipod headphones,
(the guy who is right now wondering
if there’s a Roy Rogers
at a rest stop anywhere between here and New York)
will understand what it felt like to be that kid?

Or is it so that you can be that kid again,
wearing pigtail braids
and too-small pajamas?
Is it so your mom will bring you hot chocolate,
and you dad will sing Mr. Tambourine Man?
Because if that’s what you’re hoping to get
out of giving these tours
of places you used to live,
it’s no wonder you feel a desolate fury
as you finally consent
to pull away from the curb
and head back to 495.
Of course you are biting your lip
as you turn your bruised, lavender face
away from the watery view.

And no wonder you have to summon
the restraint of a caged Mountain Lion
to keep your voice steady,
as you crane your neck around
to tell someone in the back seat
(whose face you barely recognize)
“No, that was music store.
The donut shop was across the street.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Where did everybody go?

I have to admit to being almost panicky to look at my blog now that I'm back in the sort of real everyday world (not that I was very far by any outward measure). I have that college feeling of squinting/cringing at a 3 AM drunken email sent out the night before when using terrible judgement. Unfortunately I was never more than barely, mildly buzzed on this trip but at night I really was writing hunched over this miniscule computer with the light from the microwave door open trying not to make any noise. Either that, or like I said yesterday, writing while I was supposed to be unloading the car with Alex and then quickly hitting Publish Post and banging closed the laptop when he "caught" me.

You know how sometimes returning from a short trip is stranger than returning from a long one? You just can't get over the fact that you only left on Thursday and now it's Monday early evening and usually all you would have done in that weekend was go to the playground a few times and get a few groceries and have friends over for dinner. But here you like catapulted through all these different versions of yourself and had those nights where you think back to the day and say, "No, no, no that awkward scene with Lenore over the croissants could not have happened this morning" or "The slip and slide could not have been today" but you go back, hour by hour, and it somehow was.

Whenever I return from even a few days away, this apartment feels again like my grandmother's. I don't know if it's something about the smell of just like the peeling paint or powder soaked into the bathroom rug or what it is. Or if it's just a trick of memory.

For years--for my whole life really-- this Chelsea apartment was the center of New York. Now that I live here it no longer feels that way. Miriam's death marked the end of her generation, the end of that nucleus, and without the band of Jacobson sisters pushing their way through Macy's or waiting in line at the 2nd Avenue Deli (no longer on 2nd avenue) or bringing us to Broadway shows, it's, as my cousin Audrey said, a different New York. And it's not only the sisters that are gone, but the sons and daughters and grandchildren who visited them, who swirled through with bagels and bags full of sweaters that "might fit somebody", who flew in for birthdays and anniversaries, who added joy and confusion to holiday dinners, who brought over kosher wine that nobody ended up drinking. I like the continuity of living here. I like bringing Wally to a playground my sister and I used to go to as children. But sometimes it feels like I'm the only one left on the island. The only one that knows the whole history. I sit on benches and watch a thousand people pass by me in an hour, and think, "Where did everybody go?"

Monday, August 9, 2010

We finally had the unveiling for my grandmother Miriam today. It was strange, to end this happy reunion weekend with a kind of sad and somber occasion. Both my dad and I felt odder about the unveiling than about the funeral. He was having so much trouble yesterday writing his speech for today, and we kind of agreed on the same feeling I'd had when my friend Joe died in May of 2005. The following winter, I had this sense of --okay, you died and that was awful but we sort of got ourselves through that but still being dead is kind of pushing it. Enough already, come back.

(Major breakdown happened here.)

At last Wally's asleep. The house is peaceful. I was glad to hear from visitors that the crayon on the wall and the toy cars scattered in the livingroom made the place feel cheerful and not gloomy at all. For those who don't know, we live in my grandmother's apartment, which is, other than the toys, pretty much the way she left it. (Made me think of Changing of the Guards: "The empty rooms where her memory is protected" -- of course these rooms are anything but empty) These have been the most slap-dash posts, done on a computer with a tiny screen that I can only see like one line at a time of and someone always interrupts me before I get a chance to read through or anything and now it's getting to where I hit publish post mid-sentence and quickly shut the computer as I hear someone entering the room so I don't get in trouble.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In my songs I was completely direct about feelings and experience, but no one understood what I was saying, or even if they saw it in writing, I don't think it ever made much sense to them. So I felt like I was getting it out there, but, unintentionally in a kind of veiled way, so I could always talk myself out of anything I wanted to. I love Hein's comment about that's putting it out there is what fiction is for. (If I used that phrase one more time I'm going to punch myself and I'm sure you will too.) In fact just today reading Haruki Murakami that my friend Miss Charming Melodee (stole this identifier from my friend Greg who used it on his blog) lent me, there was a good part about transmuting feelings into novels. "I quietly absorb the things I'm able to, releasing them later, and in as changed a form as possible, as part of the story line in a novel."

It's late for Wally so I have to try to get him into bed, always a bit of an ordeal when we're all hanging out in one room and he can just see us right next to him, trying to fake him out, pretending to sleep.

The main reunion event was tonight. I was kind of amazed at how easy it all was, how it all flowed along because we'd gotten past all the initial hellos and stupefyingly dull where do you live and how are you related questions in the past couple days. There was this great slip and slide for the kids and they mostly just threw themselves down it multiple times with abandon. They chased each other, invented games, hid in trees, ate dessert, threw balls, jumped and overall played. Wally did too. He joined in and reminded everyone of my dad at that age, also the youngest of the family. It still felt strange to me, to have three generations and to be the middle one, to have no one left from my grandmother's generation now at all. Jumping off computer now, Alex getting back from Safeway with milk for Wally. Sorry for abrupt and awkward posts. It was a great day -- lots more to say about it (which I'll likely never get around to).

Friday, August 6, 2010

You look exactly like that person you look exactly like

Oh wow, I really have to eat my words -- there was a cooler full of Heineken at dinner tonight and when I had to leave to chase Wally I saw a giant guy carrying in a case of Sam Adams Summer Ale. I tried to remember when doing the meet and greet with the younger generation not to say anything about how much older they look or how they look "exactly" like one person or another. Those things that slip out of my mouth that I know are dull and unanswerable but just rush in to fill up any possible split-second silence or energy dip. It was great to see my cousin L., the one who does, by most accounts, look exactly like me. She remarked on the dearth of Jewish-looking people in the room, and later the dearth of actual Jews. More than half of the "cousins" -- the original first cousins, that is my dad's group, sons and daughters of the strongest, loudest, most energetic, pushiest group of sisters the counter guy at Zabars ever laid eyes on-- married Shiksa (or male equivalent), and most of the rest married Jews with Christmas trees. L. also noticed that you can tell how Jewish someone is (most of the room being 1/2 to 1/4) by the way they enter a room. Shoulders back, friendly smile, confident, grounded -- not related to Abraham. (Of course way back they were. I think everyone but a former neighbor who called us Israelites and members of the Tea Party are aware that Christians descended from Jews, right?) Which leads me to the first real shocker of the weekend -- the hosts, wonderful, generous, amazingly sweet people who went to the trouble to get a moon bounce for the kids to play on -- are right wing.

L's sister reminded me of a fantatsic noncompliment to add to the list. Someone told her she looked great for her age. When she asked "How old do you think I am?" The person guessed 45 (she's 40). She's pretty and looks great (for her actual age, too) but somehow got mistaken once for being her boyfriend's mother. I can top this as of today -- the guy at the front desk mistook my dad for my son. This was right after my aunt asked my father what happened to his hair.

BTW, because of time constraints and typing in the dark trying not to wake Wally I think this has turned into a traditional online journal-type thing -- here's what I'm doing today. And the timing is odd, since I just figured out yesterday that I don't really have the stomach to do what I'd have to do to relay all the great tense, awkward, inappropriate, salacious stuff that goes on in my life and the lives of the people around me. This is all part of the mild frustration I feel about not being able to "put myself out there". Wishing I could. And again, I shouldn't say could, but wishing I had the balls to do it. But then would I sacrifice friendships, relationships, family members, my "romantic partner"? (Love how someone side-stepped this today, instead of asking "Is your boyfriend/husband/SO coming" she simply said, pointing to Wally, "Is Dad still in the picture?" I laughed, just because I liked how she phrased it but she jumped in saying people are changing and moving on and she's of course completely right about that. Back to sacrificing the well-being of everyone around me and opening myself up to a firing squad of fury-- I don't have the stomach for it. I feel bad that someone feels bad that I feel bad that they feel bad that......for example one friend feels a little -- not offended, but...---that I posted two of the things he said to me as genuine encouragement type thing on the list of noncompliments. I hadn't remembered him saying them to me, (though I did upon reflection) and really I just meant those as funny. Now I know he's going to be -- not offended, but...-- that I mentioned this. So that's as far as I can go. I can't even use $20 bills in a store when what I'm buying comes to less than $10 because I don't want to annoy the cashier with having to give away too much change.

Last night was the first dry happy hour I've ever attended. Tonight there's going to be pizza on the pool deck. On the way to the grocery store to get some stuff for Wally I asked my mom if she thought there'd be wine or beer or anything. She said "Oh no, of course there's not going to be anything like that." I bought a bottle of yellow tail pinot grigio and put it in the freezer just now. Wally's running around in swim diapers and most of the guests are just starting to arrive. The only scandals so far are a couple unexpected 2nd marriages, a few cold-shoulder greetings and one potential but unclear religious conversion.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

At the start of a family reunion weekend but on the Jewish side, so there are unlikely to be any alcohol-induced scandals that would make for good stories. Anyway I'll keep you posted. The wildest thing I've seen anyone do so far is jump in the pool with a light rain coming down. Plus most of the lights are out (including mine, typing here in the room where Wally's sleeping) and it's only 9:50. One more thing, please go listen to "Don't Forget Sister" by Low Vs. Diamond. Is this corny, derivative (U2, the Killers, whoever sang "Brilliant Minds") pop-rock or just roll-down-the windows and blast the radio and scream out your window ectastically and perfectly great? (I think the latter.) It's the kind of song I listen to and think for just a flash of a second this song is so good I kind of might be okay with dying which I know is not the most common litmus test of whether you like a song or not, and may fall into the "save that for your shrink" category. Anyway, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The tide will sound and the waves will pound

Kids really keep you honest about how much time has gone by. Like when a friend of yours just had a baby and you finally get around to sending a baby gift and then one day out of the blue they send a picture from the first day of kindergarten, you say, “Wow, she’s already five” but five years haven’t passed in your own life.

Or when you have cousins that are teenagers and you know they’re not your age but you sort of feel in the same range. Their parents are your aunt and uncle and you have the same grandparents so you’re all sort of the kids but then they tell you most of their teachers, and some of their friends’ parents, are younger than you are.

I remember even back when I was substitute teaching at Middle School 54. I was two years out of college. The students knew I was younger than other teachers, but at their age the difference was pretty immaterial. I remember them coming up to me after class one day and saying, “I don’t get it. What do you do on weekends?” At that time I was out on weekends, partying and drinking and going to see music shows and playing in a band. So I thought I was you know I guess young and cool or whatever but to them it was just this suburban void of being a grown-up, like do you take care of your garden or go shopping at Costco’s or how do you spend your time? So I knew to them I was part of that far off and mysterious world of adults.

What was also strange was that the parents of the teachers I tutored would always talk to me like I was their peer, ask me for guidance about what to do about their kid. I felt like telling them they must have me confused with someone else, that they were the adults in the equation and they should just tell me what they want to do and I'd do it.

We've all noticed how around the age of 30, when you get past that, it all sort of blends together. Those distinctions of a few years or even ten or twenty are not that meaningful. Even as far as high school, two years was unfathomably distant -- the difference between an awkward, wobbly freshman and untouchably sophisticated junior wearing a red hat and denim cut-offs. In some instances those old habits and patterns die hard. Like I can’t get over that Alex is the same age as my sister. To me he’s younger, my age, and still needs advice on things like what kind of credit card to get or what to wear to a job interview.

And then of course there is seeing kids now and remarking on how tall they are or grown-up they look and then realizing you're one of those people making prosaic comments about how tall some kid is or how much older he looks. And you remember adults exclaiming when they saw you, giving you a hug as you came back from the beach on the 4th of July and saying, "How did you get so tall?" or "How did you get to be such a big kid?" You'd think, what an odd question, these people don't really have a good grasp of time, and they don't.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Oh yeah and one more important thing. The last american childhood doesn't refer to Wally's childhood. That would be just like the most obnoxious thing possible, I think. It does refer obliquely to my own (my generation's) but I have to get into that more. There's so much I want to say about it that of course I haven't said anything at all.

What did you expect?

At the sensory gym I bring Wally to there is a wonderful giant, stuffed bear in the lobby. It's worn-out and friendly and they have him dressed up for summer now with goggles, a swim-tube, a towel and sand toys. One of the best moments of the week is when we arrive and Wally jumps out of the stroller screaming "Bears!" (I don't know why plural.) He then proceeds to plunge into the bear, hug and cuddle him for a while, pretending to two of them are sleeping under the towel. Then he jumps up and tries on the swim tube and goggles saying, "Too big" and laughing. I always get to the gym a little early so we have time for this.

One reason it makes me happy is for a while it was one of the few places outside the apartment where I ever saw Wally do something that would qualify as playing. For those few moments he wasn't fiddling with the water cooler, flipping light switches, pressing elevator buttons, or calling security. He wasn't opening other kids' sippy cups or trying to fold up their strollers. He was just a kid playing with toys. Something so basic. I also thought it must kind of please the receptionist and whoever else takes it upon themselves to dress up the bear. I'd be happy if I put out a display like that and saw kids enjoying it so much. In fact I'm always sort of ludicrously worried about the opposite -- people going to trouble like that for holiday displays or something and kids ignoring it.

Okay, a few minutes later Wally's inside the gym with his OT, I'm on the couch with the laptop at 3% power and the adaptor left stupidly at home trying to finish editing two proposals for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in the 25 minutes of free-time I now have to myself. There's a lot of commotion in the sitting area with kids coming in and out and apparently the only water cooler in the whole office is out here so that's a huge draw. In between conversations I'm trying to block out I hear, "We have to put a sign out there. No touching the bear."

I feel completely stung. The woman who said it disappears into the maze of offices and I waste about five minutes trying to figure out if she was kidding or serious or what was going on. The computer finally gives out so I put it away and go over to ask the receptionist if it is okay for Wally to play with the bear.

"No, it is, but, it is, well... it is it is, but....no no no, it is it's okay". I don't know if there's any way to communicate this in writing. The tone of the voice. It's not, "Of course it's okay" or "Sure, why not?" Instead, it's okay, too much emphasis on "kay", too drawn out. As in, okay but not great. It was clear she was stumbling along in her answer.

"I won't let him play with it if he's not supposed to," I say.

"No, it is out there for kids, but if you could just pick up the stuff after."

Anyone who knows me, I think, would know that I'd sooner let Wally ride down the elevator to 41st street by himself than not clean up the toys he'd scattered about, not that I'm bragging about this, I'm doing the opposite-- it's terrible and thank God I've been made aware of that behavior and stopped doing it. But the point is I always clean up the toys, so that can't be the problem. The problem is he just is a little too wild with it, I guess? It's really more of a look but don't touch kind of thing, even in a sensory gym. Maybe it's that even when I clean it up I don't get the goggles back hanging off the ear the way they were exactly, or the towel lined up just right.

I left the gym yesterday fighting back tears as I'd left the party at the gym a month or so ago. They were kind enough to have a get-together for families of kids who go there and I was so thrilled to go drink ginger ale and eat pretzels with Alex and meet other parents and not be "that family". Not have the sense that Wally was so out of bounds and that we shouldn't have brought him. I thought surely among other kids with these supposed issues and disorders and more severe cases...Wally wouldn't stand out. But he stood out in a ridiculous way. While other kids played with balloons he pulled every book off a bookshelf, dumped snacks on the floor, pressed buttons on fax machines, ran into everybody's office and cubicle grabbing what looked like important papers. So we had to leave, before the music even started. There was just no point to trying to force it to work. As we went crashing out of the place someone handed us a cute little party favor-- an explorer kit with play binoculars and plastic bugs.

When we started walking down Madison, Alex was of course okay as he almost always is and said it was still fun and we had a nice, evening walk ahead of us and look how calm Wally was now that we got him outside. And when I persisted in feeling bad he asked, "What did you expect?"

And that's a really good question. And a big part of what bothers me. It's not like I'm bringing him to an antique glass and collectible show or to the Cloisters, and for now I've even given up on bringing him to friends' houses for dinner, but how am I still embarrassed and out of place in the lobby of the sensory gym?

But more than frustration was just this sadness it tapped into. Wally was fine. He had no idea anyone was annoyed with him or me. But that very fact--that he was fine, unaware and innocent --was what was upset me. The idea of him happily playing and hugging this bear he loves and me thinking people must be saying, "Look how much fun he's having" when in fact they're saying, "Ugh, that kid. There he goes again." It made me feel sorry for him. If he'd been acting cranky and bitchy and annoying, I wouldn't have minded at all, I would have expected it. This time he was just so sweet. And still out of place and out of bounds.

Alex has a much better attitude about so much of this stuff than I do. First, he doesn't feel sorry for stuffed animal displays that aren't getting enough attention. And second, usually when we leave some event where Wally was unruly and soaking wet and tearing the place up, Alex says, "He had more fun than any kid in there." Which is usually true.