Dec 25 2009

Happy Birthday to Supergirl!

louloubdayIt’s lucky number seven for my girl, my Supergirl – the girl who rocks Christmas every year and rocks my world every day. She is the perfect antidote for my grumpiness, my cynicism. She’s intrepid, optimistic, irrepressible and happy. But she’s no Pollyanna, my Supergirl. She’s funny and mischievious and wise beyond her years. She is high energy, low maintenance, creative and busy. If you need someone to pull you out of a funk, she’s the man for the job.

For me, December was kind of gross this year. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t feeling it. I clomped around like a grinch and a scrooge and a bitch all wrapped up in one tawdry package. The cloying smell of cloves, cinnamon and allspice wafting around the stores was enough to make me wretch. Scented candles – barf. Potpourri – double barf. Christmas carols set my teeth on edge. Every gift I bought for the kids had me mentally calculating what was going to have to go in order to keep us from overcrowding and mahem. Every line I stood it, I’d sullenly survey the others wondering whether they needed all that stuff, whether they could afford all that stuff. And I wondered the same about myself. The excess, the forced merriment, the consumption, the waste – it was looming large for me and I knew I had but one choice – beat it down, overcome my angst, and get my game face on because of the four other cats in this house who happen to love Christmas and who happen to deserve Christmas.

As it turns out, this was the best Christmas in memory. We had tons of snow, tons of time together as a family, some delicious meals, and the best reason of all to celebrate on Christmas Day: Supergirl. Oh pishposh, I know Jesus was born too, but you know what? Right now, Jesus isn’t the one tagging every paper surface in the house with increasingly peculiar and witty drawings. He’s not the one who takes everything in stride in a family of moody bastards. He’s not the one who skips to do me favors. He’s not the one who makes me laugh every day. Supergirl is. 

Happy birthday, girl. Keep on doing all the things you do, exactly as you’re doing them. Keep on shining that light, baby. I love you.

Dec 24 2009

To Santa or not to Santa.

kidssantaI don’t know if you would find this surprising or completely predictable about me, but I’m a huge fan of the fat man. The reason I phrase it like this is because at Lady Doctah K’s holiday party, my ladies were shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that we have a fake tree. Oh, please, I can practically hear you gasping too. As if somehow, the persona I project out in the the world is someone who would sooner lay herself over the tracks of the Polar Express than forgo the bracing red-cheeked adventure, the spindly glamour, the bright piney smell of a real tree. Truth be told, I was thinking that our tree looks rather bushy compared to all my friends’ trees. And I think – well, I think I know – bushy ain’t good. Bushy ain’t good in any arena of life that I can think of, except for maybe squirrels tails and actual bushes (and I don’t mean the lady variety, so get your mind out of the gutter). My friends Rip Van Techno and Circus Lady always have a gorgeous tree – tall and leggy, like a supermodel to my hairy peasant. But in my defense (not that I’m defensive), I grew up in a stridently faux tree family, annually regaled with cautionary tales of fires, allergens, critters, and messy pine needles. As a girl, I would wrinkle my nose at the carcasses of natural trees, pathetically awaiting removal at the ends of driveways in January, thinking Hooo boy, that family dodged a bullet, they’re so lucky they aren’t dead. So it’s not surprising that the first year Doctor Dash and I were married, I went right out and bought a big beautiful fakey for our apartment in Boston. And now I’m kind of stuck with the bushy beast, unless I’m willing to step into multiple tree territory, which as of this date, I am not willing to do. But that’s not at all where this post was going.

I’m feeling the need to talk about Santa. We are on the eve of what is most likely the last time we will have a houseful of believers. Saint James is nine. I thought for sure it would be over for him this year, but he seems to be, as of yet, a true albeit muted, believer. We went to get the annual Santa picture taken yesterday and he waited in line in silence, as if weighing the evidence for and against, ticking through his Santa knowledge base: collected memories, words overheard, cookies vanished. He gamely sat next to Santa for a picture, smirked and when asked what he wanted for Christmas, answered: I don’t know. Now, I know he knows. What kid, in this day and age, with the material blessings he has, doesn’t know exactly, precisely what he wants? I think Saint James was trying to avoid bringing down this whole house of cards. He was trying to buy himself some more time. He was trying to avoid catching Santa, and all of us, in a great sad lie. I remember being crushed when I asked my mother about Santa and she told me the truth. I had been looking for affirmation, just a word to let me know that in the face of everything I was hearing at school, it was ok to keep believing – because I still wanted to believe. I remember flipping out and shrieking at my mother as I ran from the room: I don’t care what you say! I still believe in the Easter Bunny! Waah! Waahh. (Have a mentioned I was a rather melodramatic girl?) 

We go to extremes to keep the dream alive: stashing gifts at other people’s houses, buying and hiding different wrapping paper, eating cookies we’re not hungry for on Christmas Eve, keeping our antenae on the alert for those nasty third born children, wise and mouthy, threatening to ruin everything for our precious innocents. A few years ago, my son’s best friend started to mouth off about the mall Santas not being the real Santas. We had yet to cross that bridge as I had been careful to always take them back to the same guy at Southdale Mall. I’m not proud of this, but I smacked that boy down like an angry Grizzly sow. I summoned up all of my gigantic, prickly, legitimate adultness, locked eyes with him and cooly replied that WE SAW THE REAL SANTA. TOO BAD YOU MISSED IT. MAYBE NEXT YEAR. Oh, geez. Bad mama? Good mama? What the fuck? But look! It bought me a couple more years! Well worth it, I’d say.

I’ve heard talk of parents coming clean with their kids because in an era of truth-trumps-all, that’s what you’re supposed to do. This article in the New York Times has various experts weighing in on the Santa issue. It’s fascinating reading, especially for someone like me who is watching with alarm as the cobwebs lift from my son’s eyes by the minute. I like what Allison Gopnik has to say: “Why do children love imaginary figures like Santa Claus, then? Because they like to pretend. And when children pretend, they are exercising the evolutionarily crucial human ability to envision alternative ways the world could be. In adults that ability is at the core of our very real capacities for invention and innovation.” That’s a pretty snazzy rationalization for the big old guy – makes me puff up my chest like I’m doing something really good for my kid, for humanity even! 

But the whole Santa thing is so much simpler for me. None of these articles mentions the simple fact that it’s fun. It’s fun to believe. And as you grow, it’s fun to pretend. And when you’re grown it’s fun to knit together a world so your children can believe and pretend. The years where they’re old enough to understand about Santa and young enough to believe in Santa are breathtakingly few. They skip by as quickly as elves scattering out of sight. That kind of magic – it’s a big deal. I would hazard to guess that everyone remembers the moment they learned the truth: how they found out, who told them, the stash of gifts they discovered in the back of their parents’ closet. First teeth lost, first periods, first kisses, first bras, first drives, first jobs, first loves. These are the things we remember. They each represent stepping over one of the many shimmering lines between childhood and adulthood. Sometimes taking the step is messy, sometimes easy, sometimes painful, sometimes mind blowing and perfect, but always seemingly inevitable. And here, now, both feet firmly planted on the other side of the line, I can say:  Honeys, my loves, please believe me when I tell you this. Wait. Wait as long as you can. There’s no rush.

Merry Christmas my readers, my friends. May your holidays be simple and lovely, shiny and bright.

Dec 15 2009

Holiday Cackles

cwvDm9asA3Lw9atmAbl5etGTDgLady Doctah K and Doctor Mister Lady Doctah K throw a lovely holiday party every year. It is elegant and pretty, warm and inviting. There are beautiful flower arrangements, delicious food, lovely wines and a well stocked bar. And. And there is always a gaggle of loud rowdy women from book club who storm in lookin’ all fancy with bemused partners in tow, get their hands on a cocktail within seconds and start to surf the waves of shrieks and cackles that crash through the house for the duration of the fest. I describe this as if I am nothing more than a detached observer to the phenomenon, a curious sociologist scribbling notes, when truth be told I may actually, kind of, sort of be in the midst of the ruckus. This year Doctor Dash was on-call and Lady Shutterbug was also stag, which I think upped the ante a little bit. Without the calming influences of our well behaved hubbies, we went in fast and hard on the gin and tonics and ended up staying until two a.m. Although this hardly explains Lady Homeslice’s behavior, as Mister Lady Homeslice was in da house and she still managed to titillate a group of innocent fireside sitters with her silver panted gyrations. Twice! Oh, it was beautiful. By the end of the night my bookish sisters were screaming and dancing to Tom Petty, getting their sequins all tangled up and laughing. Laughing and laughing

I can’t even figure out why we laugh so much. Half the time no one has even said anything and there we are, eyes locked on one another, horse faces in full neigh (OK, maybe that’s just me), the hysterics bubbling forth like a shaken bottle of champagne. There’s a piece of it that’s purely and joyfully auditory. Every one in the book club has an uh, umm, uhhh, robust laugh. So if one person starts, it’s hard not to follow. This month we’re reading Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates who describes Goldie, one of the members of the girl gang, as follows: “(she was) famous for her hyena laugh which had the unnerving power to draw your laughter with it whether it was your wish to laugh or not or whether there was logic to such laughter or not . . . ”  So there’s a bit of that, except everyone’s a Goddamn Goldie, so you can imagine. Also, I think that because month after month we delve into all sorts of difficult issues through our books, the emotional barriers between us are gauzy, stretched almost to the point of transparency. When you talk about books, you’re really talking about yourself a lot of the time. I feel like I’m always right there at the surface with these guys, hence the hair trigger tipping into laughter. And finally, but most simply, there’s the obvious fact that being as smart as they are, these ladies are funny – plain and simple. They just say and do funny things. They crack my ass up. Alas, Lady Doctah Poodle and Lady Peace had left by the time Lady Shutterbug unearthed her camera and some of the other ladies were MIA, but, hey, there’s always next year (or next month).

In the post mortem flurry of emails, Lady Tabouli wrote something to the effect of: Did you ever think you’d meet women who would make you laugh like this in your late thirties and forties? The answer for me is a resounding no. I never thought I would. But I have. And I thank my lucky stars for the giggly gift of them.

Dec 13 2009

The Mad Scribbler

melonSupergirl is constantly writing. On everything. No surface is safe. She writes on her hands, feet and arms. She writes on her stomach. From afar she looks like a delicately hennaed girl, until you get close enough to see what she’s graffitied on herself – Peace Out, I love snow, Hey Hippie, HoHoHo, Rad Elf, Hippie Hobo. Her drawings turn her knees into wizened faces, her arms into long snakes. Trails of balloons, rainbows and skulls float up her legs. Last Thanksgiving she even colored Lil’ Salami’s nipples green as if to say “welcome to my wild-girl-running-around-shirtless-and-coloring-on-myself-tribe”. No Vogue magazine is ever safe. Before I know it she has scribbled mustaches, hairy warts, unibrows and blackened teeth on all the pretty ladies. Sometimes there are fangs and horns. Often there are boogers – or clouds of flatulence poofing out of the taught rumps of willowy models. She writes in my calendar, filling the ever decreasing white space with stick figures, smiley faces and exhortations to BUY WIP CREM! The top left corner of the month of December has the following ditty: My buns are brown, my teeth are white, my hair is rad and my clothes are outta sight. It’s penned in Doctor Dash’s hand, but Supergirl wrote her name below it. I keep forgetting to ask what that’s about.

And a melon lying around on the counter, minding its own business? She is swift, my mad scribbler.

And sometimes Supergirl scribbles in solidarity, in empathy. Relations with Devil Baby have been degrading over the past weeks. She’s been fighting me on absolutely everything, stubborn as all hell. At the end of a couple especially frustrating days, I found myself crying in the kitchen feeling like a bitch and failure, frantically searching through old emails for the family therapist contacts a couple of my book club ladies had shot my way back in August. I didn’t register whether Supergirl saw me in this state or not, but see me she did. And in her inimitable way, she reached out to me through pen and paper leaving this note on the laptop. Sweet and naughty, a tightrope Supergirl walks with ease, it broke my heart and made me laugh. What can I say? The girl has a way with words.lounoteThe pink writing says p.s I hope you get a new kid and get rid of “M”.

Dec 8 2009

Big boots, stray socks and drama.

flowersThere have been some recent events, which I’m not at liberty to discuss, that have gotten me thinking long and hard about females, friendships and feelings. For better or worse, I’m not sure if I’ve ever given more than a glancing thought to these issues. I pride myself on my relatively drama free life. I love the ease of all my guy friendships and my low-maintenance girl friendships. The last fight I was in was in seventh grade when my best friend Sweet Sue and I broke up for a whole summer. I can’t even remember why. I do, however, remember seeing her on the first day of eighth grade in Mrs. Strong’s classroom and just adoring her violently Sun-Inned hair and realizing, in a rush, how much I had missed her. We made up. Just like that. Then once in college I got really mad when my friend La Peruanita took my big red boxy sweatshirt, which if I recall correctly, wasn’t even my sweatshirt and might actually have been her sweatshirt, but I had kind of adopted it and it was a crucial piece of my wardrobe. She heard about my ire through the grapevine and the wretched thing reappeared in my milk crate in due course. Crisis averted, I suppose.

When I wrote about the Babe-o-matics recently, it occurred to me that it was remarkable that six girl/women had made it four years with zero drama. But in retrospect I wonder if that was really the case. One of the original Babe-o-matics chose to cut ties with us a few years after we graduated. The rest of us have tried to work through the why’s of it, with little success. There is never a time that we get together that she doesn’t come up. It might be something that has to do with her more than us. Or maybe, something did happen and we missed it.

I have another more recent friend who would say time and time again – she doesn’t like me, or that one’s hot and cold with me, or she has it in for me, or I never know where I stand with that one. And I would listen with a mixture of fascination (because what’s more fascinating than someone else’s drama?) and scepticism. I find her loveable and thus constantly felt like Jerry Seinfeld’s mother shrieking in my best Jewish old lady voice How could anyone not like you?  And every once in a while I’d feel a little frightened by it – like is this ever going to trickle over to me? Because I have a horror of this kind of thing. I don’t think I could go through even one day suspecting that someone I deal with on a frequent basis has a beef with me. It would drive me absolutely bananas. And so I avoid the whole kit and kaboodle.

No drama for this mama.

But I wonder if my drama free life is really as drama free as I think it is. The recent episode that got me thinking about this made me realize that I sort of stomp through life in big boots and maybe I need to be more careful. The whole thing took me by surprise and I realized that I’m just not tuned into this kind of thing, at all. And because these people are special to me, I felt bad about it, even though I wasn’t directly involved in it. As a rule I don’t feel a lot of angst or insecurity or competitiveness with other women and I choose to assume everyone else is the same. Maybe in my fervor to steer clear of sticky situations, I have let myself become impervious to other people’s fragilities and feelings. Maybe my mellow, low-maintenance, confident schtick is really a cop out – because I don’t want to tangle, or tango, or whatever.

Assume socks are drama. It’s possible I’m the guy who truly doesn’t see them on the ground when he walks by. Or maybe I’m the guy who doesn’t want to pick them up, so he pretends he doesn’t see them. I really don’t know. I hate that second guy. On the other hand, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life picking up socks. Isn’t it better to turn a blind eye, sail on above it all, and if you miss a couple hurt feelings here and again, so be it? Or is it better to be open, to be perceptive, to be sensitive to the drama like my Jerry Seinfeld friend?

I don’t know. I don’t know which is better. And maybe it’s not even a choice so much as a reaction you can no sooner control than fear or surprise. In any event, I think I’m keeping my big boots. And I’m not saying I’m going to pick up any socks, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll try to see one every once in a while.

Dec 4 2009

Saint James has a nemesis!

ClintEastwoodTheOutlawJoseyWalesPhotographC12148287And I’m tickled pink about it. Actually, he doesn’t call her a nemesis. His term is rival. A piano rival to be specific. I only just got wind of this rival a couple days ago, but he talks about her with the blasé resignation of a life long fact. As in, oh ya, my piano rival, yawn. Who knew you could even have a piano rival? I mean, piano is not typically a competitive undertaking; it just doesn’t seem to have the requisite head-to-headness for rivalry. Plus the students only see each other twice a year at recitals. But what do I know? From what I have been able glean, her name is Sasha, she is his age, she goes to another school and they have been plonking through the piano books neck-in-neck. I think his teacher has been stoking the rivalry and it’s a genius manoever because he’s been practicing a ton lately without reminders. The other day I took a seat to listen for a little while and he muttered Amy says I’m ahead of my rival as he tried to sight read a Christmas tune. Well done, Teach! Well done!

And you know what’s even better than bestowing him with his very own rival? His teacher has them playing a duet in the upcoming recital! Hoooweee, are sparks gonna fly at that nursing home! Watch out, old folks, the rivals are laying down their weapons and coming together for the love of music for one night only! Don’t miss this spectacular, unforgettable showdown. It’s a performance of a lifetime! Talk about drama. I am all a’dither.

I can just picture how it’s gonna go down and I can’t wait. The air is thick with tension. A florescent light flickers casting a sickly glow over the large hall where the residents of the nursing home have been brought for a holiday concert. Two skinny nine year olds glare at each other from across the room. At a nod from their teacher they begin to approach the piano, their eyes narrowed and their piano books tucked in the crook of their arms, matching each other step for step like two gunslingers. Agitated whispers ripple through the room like an electrical current. An old woman gasps in the corner. When they reach the piano they pause, breaking their focus to look over the crowd. A roomful of elderly people stare back at them, mouths agape. The rivals look at each other again and then turn to take in the tiny expanse of the bench. Each sighs a small unperceptible sigh before sliding in and sitting shoulder to shoulder. Their blond heads bob in unison as they silently count together one and two and . . . 

Dec 2 2009

Just thinking.

threeEverything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” Paul Bowles

I came across this quotation weeks and weeks ago over at Sweet Juniper (a blog I love written by a stay-at-home dad and a fellow Detroit homey and ex-attorney). It’s been been steeping in my mind all these many weeks and unbeknownst to me, coloring the mundane in deeper, richer shades. Sometimes you read something and it stops you cold. Sometimes you read something and it creeps up on you. In either case, one small string of words allows you to see something in a completely new light – manages to unearth the thing behind the thing.   

I constantly struggle with the idea of being present, being awake, staying in the moment, living in the now. Especially when it comes to my kids. It’s something I aspire to, it’s something I work on, but it’s not something for which I have a natural aptitude. I am analytical. I am a worrier. I am hyper verbal. I am impatient. I am easily bored. I am a malcontent. And all of these things conspire against me to take me out of the moment. I go to yoga not only for my body, but to try to quiet my mind. I write this blog in an attempt to pay attention, to elevate the minutae to the level it deserves, to give the stuff of life the credit it is due, to remember. I make promises to myself. I start fresh nearly every day. Sometimes more than once a day.

I look into my childrens’ eyes, at the striations in their irises and try to stamp them into my memory: Saint James: stormy sky filled with black birds, Supergirl: green grass and honey, Devil Baby: blue cotton candy and swirls of sweet cream.

But inevitably, I fail. The whining gets under my skin, someone runs through the house in muddy shoes, I have to make dinner, the laptop beckons, I just want to collapse on the couch to watch a show with Doctor Dash, the phone rings. It is so easy to get pushed out of the moment. And such a struggle to get in, to stay in.

And if you think I’m so intent on being present for the benefit of my kids, you would be wrong. I seek this for purely self-interested reasons. In the most ludicrous feat of mental and temporal contortionism, I find myself worrying about a certain time in the future when I will be filled with regrets at all the small moments with my children that were lost, ignored, overlooked, or just plain wished away. I will ache for the time when all they wanted was my attention, my time, me. I manage to have piercing nostalgia for the time that I’m in right now. How is this possible? Why don’t I just fully relish every waking moment with these guys now, and save myself the regrets later? It seems so simple, but the doing of it is anything but.

Which is where Paul Bowles’ beautiful words come into play. We all know that whatever phase of life we are in is fleeting, that time flies, that all those cliches and platitudes are true, but perhaps that’s all too amorphous to mean anything. The notion that specific things happen a certain number of times is chilling. But it’s concrete and something I can wrap my head around. It is something I can call to mind and feel in my bones every time Saint James climbs into my lap. Every time Doctor Dash carries Supergirl to bed after she has fallen asleep in ours. Every time I read a book. Every time I make a puttanesca sauce. Every time I hug Devil Baby in the morning, breathing in the biscuity smell of baby dreams and pee. How many more times will I get to do that? It’s pretty easy to figure out. She’ll probably be out of nighttime pull-ups by this spring and after that, mornings will never smell the same. How many more letters to Santa will Saint James write? One? Maybe two? And what about all of those things that have already been counted to their finite end? How many times did I nurse my babies? When I was in it, it seemed limitless, infinite, but now, on the other side, it’s one of the things I miss the most.

It’s not possible to live in a count down. It’s not right. But the idea that every act, memory, sensation, emotion has a number while terrifying, is oddly helpful to me. It gives me something to hold on to, a foothold, a way to stop myself from spinning and taking everything for granted. It makes it easier to stop and look and say yes, I’m here.

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