Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Letters We Don't Send

Just finished a letter I had begun in the spring of 2012 and had attempted to finish writing one other time in 2013. Three dates—three years—on one piece of stationary. Meanwhile I am fielding anxious phone calls from Alex:

"The bus is still not here but we might have missed it."

"But you were early."

"But I think I might have seen it go past us as we were walking down."

"Okay, do you want me to come and get him?" 

Up through December I was the one who brought Wally either out to the bus or to school. But it was getting really hard to get both kids out the door by 7 and wait in the sometimes freezing cold for up to a half hour, either that or take them down on the rush-hour subway. I begged and Alex was able to change his work schedule and start bringing Wally. Which is a huge help. Except, because of cell phones, I'm still so involved in the whole damn thing. Where once I might have sent Wally out the door feeling pretty good about things—he had eaten breakfast, lunch packed, water packed, book to read on the bus (no one sits with him, he is the only Kindergartener), hat, gloves, pants on facing the right direction. Okay, phew! Onto Petra squawking from her high chair in the kitchen. But no...I'm still wrapped up in the process of getting Wally to school, still on call in case Alex needs the number of the bus company (which a few minutes later, he does). 

I am always on call when Alex takes one or both kids out. Is the playground open? Where's the toddler room key? Did you pack Wally's water? Where? We're passing Gristedes. Do you need me to buy anything? No. No! I don't need anything. Actually I do, yes, I could use a couple dozen things, but it's not worth my time to list them out on the phone I'd rather have the quiet now and deal with the groceries myself later, when the kids are in bed if it comes to that. Besides you will come back with tasteless out-of-season fruit, non-organic milk, bread with corn syrup in it. You will call and say:

"Gristedes doesn't have sweet potatoes". 

And I'll say, "What? How is that possible? Did you look by the regular potatoes?" 

"They had yams," you'll answer, "but Petra was yelling so I couldn't think." 

"Yams would have been fine," I try not to raise my voice. "Those would have been absolutely fine. Can you get those?" 

"We already left."

Alex doesn't have the time to bring Wally all the way to school if the bus is late or they miss it, so the agreement is he can call me and I'll come with the baby and go take him. So I asked him if that's what he wanted me to do and he said no.

"So you are just calling me to tell me you guys are waiting there and the bus is late?" Ugh - annoying. I hike up my pajama pants. The more weight you gain, the more things slip down. It should be the other way around.

"Yeah. I hope it comes soon because I'm gonna be late for work."

"I gotta go," I told him because I always have to go. Right now I am stepping on a banana, trying to eat breakfast, trying to stop Petra from squawking too loudly too early in the morning. I annoy myself with my frantic multi-tasking. I know it's not efficient. I know it's been debunked as a way to get things done but I can't help it. I am hoping I'll get to do a little work today. And hoping I'll get to write. Hoping I don't get distracted sinking into despair reading about Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Why did you do that? I think, seeing him on the cover of every newspaper. I should say "he" but in my head I say "you", adopting that too-personal way of talking about celebrities, as if I knew him, had ever even spoken to him. Last year, no, two years ago now, I saw you in Death of a Salesman. Yes, you channeled extreme heartache and pathos, you were almost unbearable to watch you were so good at playing such a desperate character and in the end you died. But later that night you jumped in a cab and shot down to your apartment in the West Village. That's the beautiful illusion of what you do. We all know you could play in the most convincing way people weary to the bone with fatigue and disappointment, people absolutely worn down and unable to cope, but you yourself were not supposed to join them.)

The first letter done, finally, nearly two years later, I felt like I was on a roll and moved on to another one. This was a long overdue thank-you note to my 3rd grade teacher, not for teaching me in 3rd grade, that would be truly a record, but for a cute little -- bunny? dog? cat?-- she gave Petra over the holidays. The problem is the bunny, bear, cat, mouse, moose -- creature of some kind --- is in the room where Petra is now sleeping. Very briefly. This morning nap rarely makes it past a half hour. So in the thank-you note I can either refer to the cute stuffed creature (which does not sound like I appreciate it all that much) or I can leave a blank and fill whatever animal it is in once Petra wakes up. I choose the latter but then the pen I am using runs out of ink. I don't have another that would match it anywhere nearby, so I jump up in a panic, run to the living room, and start digging in my desk drawer for another pen of at least the same color ink if the not the same kind. This is no small matter, judging from the anxious bent-over way I am digging. No one, looking at me, knowing I still haven't eaten breakfast though I've been up three hours and haven't even given any thought to getting dressed, one sock on, one sock off, old ridiculous glasses (from college!) because I couldn't find my current ones, would guess that finding a suitable replacement pen is anything less than the number one priority for my entire day or scratch that -- week! 

If I don't find the pen, I won't finish the thank-you letter, Petra will wake up, the fragment of a letter will will get thrown back into a jumble of papers on the front table. When company comes, the jumble of papers will be transferred to the bedroom. I may not attempt the letter again until 2015. There are just these little tiny pieces of time and you have to use them. You have to use them to plan your grocery list to start dinner to straighten up a little tiny bit so you are not walking on legos and bananas - not even the peels, the peels would be okay, if a little treacherous. At least those you could just pick up and throw out.   
Back to the letter, baby still asleep, water on for tea (which always feels so comforting and kind of like everything is a little bit under control), when I hear the church bells from across the street. I smile to myself, knowing it must be 8:30. I look up at the clock to confirm it. 

Last April was when I first put Wally on the bus rather than walk him to school that was the time we had to be out there, next to the church, to wait for the bus. (The school was nearby, so walking was fine even at the end of my pregnancy, but I wanted him to get used to the bus so when the baby came I didn't have to drag her back and forth at first.) Starting to take the bus seemed like a big change. Instead of sauntering out of the house at 9, we had to leave by 8:25 exactly and be downstairs and across the street by the time the church bells rang. We usually ended up waiting a while but it was nice and warm. The lilac bushes were beginning to bloom. We brought sidewalk chalk and a toy train. Sometimes we played tag or had a long jump contest. I started bringing down The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, my own copy from when I was a kid, and every morning I would read silly poems and Wally would giggle and ask me to read them again. 

I was surprised to find out how much I liked the new morning ritual. It was much easier than scurrying Wally along the busy streets, dodging jackhammers, ducking under ladders, running to catch the light, moving out of the way of throngs of people moving faster than us. I much preferred to wait. To enjoy the expanse of time in waiting. Whenever the bus got there, it got there. There were no repercussions if Wally got to school late, so it's not like the experience of waiting for a train when you're anxious and have to be somewhere and you here the announcement "there is a downtown local train two stations away" and you think two stations? Are you kidding me? I don't have time for this." Not like that. We had time. This was all-the-time-in the world kind of waiting. Waving to neighbors who hurried by while we stayed put. Noticing the incremental changes in the trees. The new shoots, the new buds, the lilacs that died too soon but all the new flowers that replaced them. It makes me laugh now to think that felt like a dramatic shift in the routine. Same school, same neighborhood, same kids, same schedule. But the bus now instead of walking. That felt like such a change. 

Or maybe it just heralded one. But it isn't even Petra that feels like the big life change for me, it's Wally going to Kindergarten in a neighborhood that feels so far away. It's seeing how much bigger a day he has, how much more pressure, how much bigger the bus he rides and how much bigger the world he lives in. It's knowing he has to sit and write for an hour every day and how hard that is for him. It's knowing how little time he gets to play during the day - other than recess, one brief "Choice Time" which is always the first thing to get cut if they need the time for something else. It's knowing that in 2nd grade things start getting "serious" with prepping for the 4th grade test. It's realizing now, that in the afternoons Wally is so often the oldest one on the playground or in the playroom or available on any given afternoon, to play. 

How long can I keep this going, where he doesn't have activities during the week while everyone around him is schlepping around to Karate and Mandarin and Gymnastics and Ballet? I don't think he needs any more structured activity outside school and I want to spend the time with him, but will I turn him into one of those kids who is totally out of touch? Like the ones from our generation who didn't watch TV or eat candy? I tried and tried and tried for years to keep things little so the world could be big. And I just don't know if I can do it anymore.  

(Petra's up. A lamb! The stuffed animal is a lamb. I hadn't ever realized it but yes, looking now I see it clearly is one.)

We haven't read the poems since last summer. If he had the time, Wally could read them now, to me.






6 comments:

  1. "How long can I keep this going, where he doesn't have activities during the week while everyone around him is schlepping around to Karate and Mandarin and Gymnastics and Ballet? I don't think he needs any more structured activity outside school and I want to spend the time with him, but will I turn him into one of those kids who is totally out of touch?"

    You know what he needs, you know what you need, you should feel guilty for neither. Who cares what everyone else thinks or does or has? You won't turn him into anything, he already is. Believe in yourself :)

    - rhonda

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  2. We were the ones without a tv- and I think it is a much bigger deal than when we were little. When my boys were young they would talk with friends about watching pokemon or power rangers. We just disconnected the cable, but have hulu plus and netflix.

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  3. We were those kids who didn't have a tv. I was surprised when I reconnected with people from elementary school (on facebook) that they asked me if I had a tv- that was apparently what they remembered about me. I think it is a much bigger deal than it used to be- to be out of the loop. We just disconnected the cable, but have hulu and netflix. In high school they seem to discuss shows- Max can watch them, but not on the night they air.

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  4. Thanks for the encouragement Rhonda...I've finally started to really feel this and I so enjoy our afternoons of singing, dancing, stuffed-animal exercise class etc. It's so obvious to me, too, how much happier and more himself he is the less we have going on especially on school afternoons.

    Jenny - I never knew that. It's funny that elementary friends asked you that on FB but I can say I very clearly remember one friend of Dara's who didn't have a TV at home and clamored for Degrassi Junior High marathons whenever she came to ours. I agree- it does seem like a bigger now than in the past to be out of the loop. Wally keeps mentioning how "all the boys" play ninjas at recess and he doesn't even know what those are. (I think he's finally caught on, but he's never seen any show/movie/game with them.) I like the compromise you have for Max. Seems sensible.

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    1. It isn't so much an issue of when he watches (he watches netflix and hulu all the time), it just was ridiculously expensive when we hardly watch tv. In 8th grade he asked to watch south park and it was a connection to other people. I think he might like to see things on the night they air- he came home from school saying they were all talking about something, but I don't think he minds that much.

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    2. I appreciate that you say he watches netflix and hulu all the time and that the issue was more the money. I find it so incredibly irritating when people talk about "not having cable" or "not having a TV" in a sanctimonious way but meanwhile stream videos for hours every night or some equivalent of watching movies/shows. Unless you're watching Italian arthouse cinema how is one morally superior to the other? From what I hear most binge-watching goes takes place on Netflix.

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