Saturday, August 29, 2009

She Capshered the Love in Our Harts (six years ago)

Our eldest daughter turned six today. The birthday countdown finally hit blast off! today after months of discussion and planning. Her party is tomorrow, which thankfully curtails the extension of festivities beyond one more day.

In her defense, I'll admit that when I was a child, my parents had to initiate a rule that there would be no talk about my birthday until after Christmas each year. My birthday is February 4. My daughter comes by her birthday diva-ness honestly.

She's six. Six is a solid number. Her age by fingers requires two hands now. Accordingly, our petite firstborn is growing. She's spent the summer eating voraciously and mastering new skills like riding a "two-wheeler" and diving into the pool.

The entropy of independence is becoming more apparent as well. She is gradually migrating from our center, needing reassurance less, and requiring it differently, when she does. Where she used to seek physical refuge, she now requests a more intellectual explanation that there's nothing to worry about.

I'm beginning to recognize that our first grader has her Own Life. By Own Life, I mean to say, aspects of her and her doings to which I am not privy--or not invited to observe. What an amazing leap in development happens between one's child pleading, "Mommy, Mommy, come see; let me show you; look at my..." and the shrugging, "I don't know when/where I got that/did that/learned that/heard that...but yeah, it's mine."

Earlier this summer as I was purging lesser peaks in the mountain o' papers our daughter generates in Her Office, I stumbled up on some unfamiliar writing. It didn't look exactly like her handwriting, and it didn't sound like her usual missives. So I didn't think much about it until a week later, when I found a similar script in her notebook. The best way to characterize these "passages" is to say they approximate...cheesy song lyrics. Really badly misspelled song lyrics.

I timidly asked my daughter (fearful of embarrassing her and thereby extinguishing her compulsion to pen power ballads) if these were, indeed, her "songs?" written here and there. And her confirmation gave me a funky twist in my stomach like I had just read her diary.

Maybe because they're love songs. Where is this material coming from? Beats me. Overexposure to Disney Princess Songs is partially responsible, I'm sure. My own penchant for melodramatic poetry might be a genetic clue.

Here's a sampling (with spelling partially edited for clarity):

It looks like your dad (dead?)
But it looks like you
I like it the more you say
that is sounding just like you
I'll see you like you
It is just like you look like bfore!
I will see you speedin out all your love
You can allways hear love!


When are you gona save me
When I capsher your love in my hart
When are you gona love me
Just when gona part go and capsher the hart
Just go and capsher the love
Go and capsher the...
Everyday just go and capsher the love!


I will see you floing in the wind
Today I am seeing you flo
Days and days it will do!
You see me floing around to!
Youll see to
You see me floen my love around

These songs, they're funny; they're bewildering; they're a little bit poignant, too.

Oh, our little girl in the funky long socks. You, verging between small child and someone you are able to define by yourself: Happy birthday. We love you so very, very much.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One-Pot Wonder

My ideal family meal is one that includes all the food groups and fits in one pot. I am a fan of the casserole, the stew, the soup, the Crock Pot Creation. All my creative energy focuses on one dish; there's no need to compartmentalize; as far as setting the table goes, simple: it's either bowl-and-spoon or plate-and-fork. One-stop slop.

Last night's dinner fit the bill, and I write about it here not because it so much represents the best of the one-pot repertoire, but the among the most haphazard in terms of what I scavenged to throw in there.

We subscribe to an organic farm's biweekly veggie delivery. The original months-long subscription was a gift from my aunt after the birth of our first daughter--a thoughtful, rather cutting-edge meal/gift at the time. We let it run its course and lapse; we renewed it last year when the farm called with a rational plea: Help us survive in these tough economic times.

I've enjoyed the culinary challenge posed by the random assortment of food arriving every other Thursday. We never know what's going to be in our box. And sometimes, even after it arrives, we don't know what is in the box. I've learned to recognize swiss chard, bok choy, thyme, fennel, starfruit, kumquats, and purple green beans when they're bundled and unlabeled on our doorstep. Right now we've got a bag of tomatilloes whose fate I'm pondering. They narrowly survived last night's Amalgam Stew.

Most of my cooking begins with an anchor ingredient--the protagonist of the Dinner Drama. Last night it was a bag of green lentils. I sauteed an onion and garlic in some olive oil in the pot, and then foraged in the fridge for what else could boil up nicely with the lentils. I chopped up some nearly compostable carrots, beets who were waiting to be properly roasted, summer squash and kale. I poured in a big can of peeled chopped tomatoes, three cups of water, a tablespoon each of vegetable bouillon and curry powder, and simmered our summer stew.

Eldest daughter's sniffer sensed something on the stove, and she pulled up a chair to investigate.

"Where's the meat, Mom?" asked our little hard-core carnivore.

I satisfied her by adding some chicken-apple sausage.

We ate outside, in homemade ceramic bowls, with optional dollops of sour cream on top.

And dinner even earned that elusive seal of approval from our discerning daughters, with a request for more: "This time a super meaty scoop, please!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crossing the Line

I was thinking tonight about the poem I wrote for Almost-Not-My-Husband more than ten years ago in a rather desperate attempt to win him back after suffering temporary delusions (you can read about my uncomfortable epiphany--#9--here).

I remember the stereo turned up high with a mix of significant-song CDs on shuffle play as I handwrote my verses on papers and glue-sticked them to a large-ish piece of cardboard. I drove that cardboard plea over to his apartment and propped it against the front door.

I'm still not sure why I constructed a billboard of my ode instead of slipping a folded piece of paper beneath his door, although I suspect that it was clear at the time that this was a Dramatic Moment deserving of bold print and edification. I'm grateful I was gutsy enough to unleash some dramatic flair, because here we are surviving our seventh year of marriage.

I recalled the poem tonight as we sailed our boat in the Wednesday night Beer Can Races. The notion of a starting line in sailboat racing has always fascinated me. Certainly there is a line. You just can't see it in the water, of course, though it's defined like any other line by points. At our Yacht Club, Beer Can Races start between a flag in the water and a black-and-white-striped stanchion on the docks. Determining where a boat is in relation to the line requires looking back and forth between the flag and stanchion. So much depends on your position relative to that line. And your line of sight. Meanwhile, you're constantly in motion.

The start of a sailing race is about getting to the starting line at the start of the race, and not before, and not too late. Boats that are too far ahead turn around in front of yours and everyone angles for a spot between those two points. I guess it would be as if everyone in a running race had to be jogging toward the line--from different directions--intending to cross it right as the gun was fired. It's exciting and chaotic, with potential for near misses and collisions.

Tonight, and when I wrote the poem, I recognized how many starting lines are largely symbolic. A sailboat officially enters the race when it crosses that invisible line, but it's been racing toward the start long before the horn is blown.

The lines in our lives are often blurrier. It's hard to say when, exactly, I stopped being "young," at least in the minds of others. Where my private and my public lives diverge. As always when I return to work after a break, I struggle with the line between Working Mom and Mom. If each of my roles--Mom, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Neighbor, Vice Principal--are lines of my life, they intersect, run parallel to one another, and sometimes feel perpendicular. I'm pretty sure I'm straddling a line between "getting started" and "all done," particularly when I'm considering how much is enough. And I find it's the seamlessness, when one line merges imperceptibly into the next, that breeds contentment.

Drawing lines in the sand, it turns out, accomplishes only philosophical stands: the temporary definition of a status quo, subject to shifting winds and whims.

And on winds and whims, in my poem I acknowledge that I let myself be blown off course for a time before I recognized where I truly belonged. When the line between beginning and ending came sharply into focus.

Eleven Minutes

The starting line is a blur
of lapping waves and churning water
much like us I’m not sure when exactly
that moment was when we started
but we were ahead
before we knew it.

Winds blew;
You adjusted sails when
shifts caught us unaware.

No expert sailor
nor navigator,
I steered us to the end*.

*My husband would like me to mention that the ending of this poem left him unsettled. Given the fact that I, in fact, altered course before the finish line, we're now revising the last line of this poem to read, "I steered us around the mark."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Party Parents

By now most of us have heard the horrifying story of the deaths of eight people, including four children, when a New York woman drove her van the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway and plowed into an oncoming SUV. The driver, a mother of two, was allegedly drunk and under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident.

Since the event, there's been no shortage of sorrow, outrage, and social commentary. Time Magazine alluded to the incident in its recent article, "Moms Who Drink: No Joking after the Schuler Tragedy," arguing, in effect, that the "three-martini playdate" is over. And that there's been some "backtracking" by the "white-wine swilling" moms, particularly those in the blogosphere.

Time appropriately acknowledges that the "boozey" books on parenting its article references represent more of a backlash against pressures to parent perfectly than a rallying call for moms and dads to get their drink on. Nevertheless, the author summarizes a wide range of reactions among writer-parents, from defensiveness to condemnation.

While it's natural for a tragedy involving an apparently loving mother, a carload of kids, and vodka to raise media speculation, I find myself feeling uncomfortable with this accident being used to draw broad generalizations--and slippery-slope connections--about parenting and alcohol.

For one thing, the incident seems a little too bizarre to be emblematic. The collision happened in the morning after Mrs. Schuler drove away from a campsite where she vacationed with her family. It's unclear how, where, and when she had an opportunity to smoke and drink before inexplicably getting in a car with children. She pulled over at one point and called a relative to explain she was disoriented. And her family members claim to have never seen her drunk. Based on these "facts," one might surmise she was a deeply troubled woman who exhibited few signs she was careening toward cataclysm.

Should we be concerned that there are scores of other mothers only one fateful offramp entrance from destroying several lives? Perhaps. Though I think the more widespread issues of drinking and parenting are subtler, and more complex.

There's no doubt that parenting and alcohol are intimately connected. Or contextually intertwined, at least, in conversation, and on Facebook:

"The kids are driving me nuts. I need a drink!" or "Hosting a birthday party with twenty children under eight," which prompts the response, "Have you started drinking yet?"

Parenthood apparently provides one with license, excuse, and entitlement to enjoy an adult beverage in the way a sucky workday used to. But there's added nobility, with endorsement granted like virtual toasts: "Mommy Martyrs unite!" "Cheers for Beleaguered Dads!" And from our deliberately kidless friends: "You're crazy; have one on me!"

In that way, drinking is more of a metaphor, an acknowledgment of both the proud moments of parenting as well as its less-than-golden times, when we're not loving it or making ourselves particularly proud. Pour yourself a tall one=give yourself a break.

It's also a weak link to our more free-wheeling, independent days. A bunch of thirtysomething parents reluctantly pushing forty at Happy Hour sigh as the caps and corks pop off the bottles as if to say, We still hang out. We still have a social life. We still have fun.

While the neighborhood kids run under foot, of course.

But it's been interesting--not to mention, sobering--to note the differences between the drinking habits of our 20s and our 30s.

In my 20s drinking was something I associated with Going Out. Out was where the alcohol was, usually, unless it was stockpiled at home for a party. My drinking was generally confined to weekend nights and to going somewhere, with a cab ride home. Drinking was social; drinking alone was weird.

Since having kids, I--and my friends--don't go out like we used to. Making plans to venture beyond the front yard is a logistical and financial commitment requiring forethought, what with getting a sitter, and determining who's going to drive.

Therefore, drinking becomes just as likely--or more likely--to be associated with staying in as with going out. And if drinking is associated with staying in, and staying in is what we mostly do, when is it drinking time?

Well, it's always 5:00 somewhere, huh?

So suddenly the drinking horizon is broad and flat and stretches as far as the eye can see. Except often the only eyes that can see are one's partner's. Which begs the question, if a mother passes out on the couch and no one is there to hear her sink into the cushions, is she really drunk?

Perhaps it's the monotony of our predictable, structured lives (often lacking in spontaneity outside the occasional unprompted tantrum) which creates companionship out of the cocktail, particularly when one parent gets home late from work: make dinner, play with kids, clean dishes, help with homework, read stories, brush teeth, tuck in, clean dishes, do laundry, prepare lunches. Lather, rinse, repeat. The beer or glass of wine falls in line like one more habit, one more "check."

What so easily becomes daily routine ("just one more...") give us pause. Is it possible some of us drink more than we did in our 20s? We recalibrate and talk about cutting back, compare our drinking habits with those of our parents and their friends as we grew up. Is our generation really any different? Some of our parents were lonely ones and late-night drinkers and some gave up alcohol altogether along the way. So it goes.

In the meantime, it occurs to me that for some parents, light suggestions to enjoy a drink can be heavy prospects. The ones for whom drinking doesn't take the edge off; instead, alcohol is the edge, and there's real fear of falling off.

It helps to remember there's a grey area between the occasional empty wine glass and the oft-vodka bottle. That somewhere en route to the wrong way on the freeway there was likely a parent who needed to talk, who needed reassurance, who needed the real break and not just the happy hour.

It's easy for the media, and for other parents, to point to one extreme case with horror and judgment and relief that wasn't us. But more honest dialogue about drinking in our culture--and acknowledgement that discomfort, disapproval and shame seem to drive it underground--might save a mom, a kid, a family or two.

I'll toast to that.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Dry Spell

I am in a bit of a writing drought here.

This week I went back to work. With no kids, no controversy, and no one but the principal and three other staff members around, I mostly stared at my computer screen (minus the Twitter and Facebook tabs), changed my Pandora station every couple of hours, called some people, filled my cup at the water cooler, wrote some emails, and updated some forms.

My job, alas, is mostly reactive. And there's only so much preparation for reaction one can do.

Speaking of droughts, though, we're officially on a Water Shortage Emergency in this county. Since the beginning of June, Mandatory Water Use Restrictions have been in place and we are tasked with reducing our average usage or face penalties.

Problem is, our H2O usage at home dropped dramatically in the past year. Mostly because we've been responsible citizens way too busy to water our yard (plus, it rained once in April) and also too busy too fix the clogged kitchen faucet which reduced our flow to very gentle stream. I became a little stressed about the specter of fines for not conserving further; I mean, how low can you go? I whined inside, while others wrote impassioned letters to the city and the paper bemoaning this plan to punish the people who've been good all along.

Right before the restrictions came to pass, however, my husband saved the day.

One May morning I awoke to the sound of a peaceful river flowing in the backyard outside the bedroom window. When I groggily opened the back door, I discovered water gushing like Niagara Falls over the cement retaining wall leading to the crawlspace beneath our house.

Heroic husband had left a hose on, watering the peach tree in the backyard, All Night Long. Which turned out to be, you know, overkill.

I won't explain how much money it cost to pump out the moat we created beneath our hardwood floors, and to pay the company to generously plug in and leave their mind-numbing fans blowing on all sides of our house for four days straight, because I am sure we are going to recoup the cost in our water bill savings over the next year, seeing as how that month's usage alone, averaged in with the other months of conservation, gave us that nice little cushion to go ahead and cut back.

Oh, and we also stopped bathing our children in July. What? C'mon, they went to the beach or the pool almost every day! At least once a week.

I'm pretty sure the City Treasurer is going to give us a gold star for our efforts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back to Work, Y'all

Actually, I'm too tired...from anxiously wondering how I would manage going back to work to getting back on the morning bandwagon without incident to missing my kids to feeling accomplished to appreciating my amazing summer to experiencing that familiar chest tightening with stress to picking up the kids and having to put them rather immediately on time-out to figuring out what to make for dinner to being relieved when husband came actually write about my first day back to work after summer.

Instead, I am simply loving that the cover article of this week's issue of Newsweek is "True Crime: An American Obsession."

This American is not waiting 48 Hours to read it.