This has been the year of letting go, expanding independence, or finally reaching the limits of my creativity, energy and stamina. Depending on how you look at it.

The kids are 10 and 11 and this was the first year we did not do a joint giant birthday party at some place with the entire class invited. Just couldn’t think of something that the ever-clicquey kids would want to do in a price range I would want to pay. First sleep-over and one-on-one kid time.

The tooth fairy had to visit while on a road trip and she was sleepy in the hotel room after all the screaming and accidentally gave out two $5 bills instead of one. Later, the tooth fairy forgot that a lost tooth was under a pillow for the first time instead of the little bag in the kitchen. When she did remember the next night, she accidentally kicked the minecraft Lego creation on the floor to pieces on the way out.

The kids count how many gifts they each get at Christmas, this year was an all new low of 5. It seemed like a lot at the time.

I also let the 10 year old decorate the tree by herself. I didn’t really like how it looked, but it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t adjust anything except to move ornaments off the branch right in front of the TV. It finally occurred to me when reading a Christmas post by another friend how much looking at her ornaments was like visiting memories and people from the past. That’s it! That was what was missing!

The decorator elf had hung most of the ornaments facing away. I never got to visit and smile upon my favorite holiday moments. I don’t know if she thought the empty house next door needed a little cheering up or she just didn’t pay attention or their cheery little ornament faces were too much that day.

The star Mom painted on my 50th birthday trip to Woodstock NY and the butt of a cute little owl.
But Santa, don’t look away. We love you!
The snowman family from our first Christmas together as a family! I’m melting!
Yes, you are leading the sleigh, but you could at least say Hi!
Who’s a cute little piggie? Nobody knows; is that even a pig?
The yeti I got in Vermont or a lint from under Jim’s side of the bed?
I don’t know if this will even come out, but there are 3 ornaments down here on the lowest branch dragging the floor. All together now!
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I’m going to have to be more specific in my titles, because I can’t tell from a quick preview whether I wrote about this already or not.

I think my husband’s mother must have been critical. I only got to meet her a few times before she passed away, but her nickname from others was “the Queen.”  I said ‘meet’ on purpose. She had dementia by the time I came into the picture and only remembered people that she knew before the dementia appeared.  So we kept getting introduced. Sometimes she liked me and that he was in a relationship, sometimes she pretended I wasn’t in the room.

He said when he was a kid her immediate response to any request from him was always NO.  You started at NO and worked backward from there to get what you want. She once told him that when he was little, she always thought he was out to get her.  He told me this story before we had kids, and I thought WOW, that’s dramatic.  And now that I’ve had kids, yeah, I can kind of see how the sentiment might arise.

I think his mom was critical, because for a long while when we were first married, he was SUPER sensitive to my response to anything that he said or asked.  *Exaggerated examples to follow, but really the truth was not far off.*

Him: I think we should paint this wall blue.

Me: Oh, is that the blue we looked at the other day?

Him: YOU NEVER AGREE WITH ANYTHING I WANT TO DO! I’M TRYING TO MAKE A GOOD DECISION AND WE CAN’T EVER AGREE ON ANYTHING!!!!

Him:  I’m thinking about making spaghetti for dinner tonight.

Me: Remember you showed me that chicken that is about to go bad and you wanted to cook that pretty soon.

Him:  YOU NEVER LIKE ANYTHING I COOK; I TRY SO HARD TO COOK THINGS YOU LIKE!!!!

Get it?

It was baffling to me, so illogical.  So I tried logic first (hahahahahaha) – no need to get upset, I’m just reminding you what YOU said etc.  Then I got mad right back. Um, not successful. Then I tried reassurances and affirmations during the hissy fit, he couldn’t hear it.  Then I came upon a trick that worked – through trial and error, exhaustion, despair – you know, all the best creativity boosters!

“That sounds like a great idea.”

I started to say this phrase after everything he said or asked.  It calmed down whatever was in his brain that was already waiting for me to be critical of his idea.  After awhile, I could say the phrase, count to 5, and then say whatever suggestion, alternative, reminder, idea and even an actual critique that I did have.  And he didn’t fly off the handle.

Him:  I think I’m going to cook spaghetti for dinner tonight.

Me:  That sounds like a great idea.  (5-4-3-2-1)  Oh hey, remember you said this morning you wanted to cook that chicken that was about to expire?

Him: Oh, right, I forgot, let’s do spaghetti tomorrow.

Him:  I think we should paint this wall blue.

Me:  That sounds like a great idea.  (5-4-3-2-1)  You know, I like the green color we looked at too, can we look at those again?

Him:  Sure.

I did this exact thing many times a day for many months, and I was waiting for him to get mad at me for trying to placate him or being insincere.  I never said it sarcastically, oh yeah, that’s a great idea, but I did say it plainly without enthusiasm or emphasis.  But he never did. He never noticed, and when I tell him about it, he doesn’t remember.

I’m not writing this to make him look bad or crazy, just a tip for you and for me to help each other’s brains calm down.  Or at least be aware that was is logical for you is not necessarily logical for me.  We all have our things.

 

After LSU, I thought I would move to New York (doesn’t everyone from a small town?) After a year working in advertising for a company I like to call Fucker Johnson, I hated work in the degree that I had just received. (ssshhh, don’t tell the folks who paid!) Baseless dreams thwarted, I seized on the opportunity to go west instead.  (My slovenly behavior on visits home caused my Mom to dub me “the guest from the west.”) I had no job or prospects, just my cousin who had moved to Phoenix to go to college because her brother was stationed there with the Air Force.

I really came to love my time out there, but it never grew familiar, and I did not mind when I moved again after 4 years to Florida, then Ohio, then West Virginia.  These moves were all related to the ex’s job and we only stayed in each place for 1-2 years.  He got laid off during the baseball strike and had the nerve to insist that we only relocate to a place where he could get a job.  Ahem, I never got that consideration, West Virginia!

I’m thinking on this today, as I just returned from a trip to Ft. Collins, Colorado.  Jim also went west after college, to Denver for a few years before being transferred and then stuck in New Orleans during the oil bust.  There are fond memories to be had in the early years of independence, freedom and first taste of our own money.  For Jim that feeling lives in Denver, no, not in, near. “Denver sucks, it’s like Houston now.”

Jim was rehashing a conversation about what it would be like for the kids to live somewhere else, and I said for the first time, okay, let’s look at Colorado.  It stunned him for a minute.  Now that my mom is gone, maybe we should look at a quieter place, more nature, less over-stimulation, not so many things to do, not so much to hold on to and maintain.  And then I got assigned a work trip to Ft. Collins, CO.  Coincidence?

Colorado thoughts: what we would leave in New Orleans, how often I would come back for beading, for family?  Sell our house and Crane Creek and buy a small shotgun, rent out half?  Would we live in town to walk everywhere or out of town on land with water (please) and trees and animals passing through.  How bad is the winter? How eccentric are the people?  (New Orleanian concerns).  Loving the leaps ahead in green thinking; or did I just get exposed to the hippie-preppie side of CO?

Should we move, because we can?  Isn’t it right and good and joyful thing always and everywhere to access the best that you can afford for your family?  Or am I at the drive-through, ordering a white flight supreme?

I thought about moving until I drove back in the sunrise to the Denver airport.  It should have been a beautiful site, but for me it just felt desolate.  Am I such a flat-lander?  Used to seeing only what is right ahead of me or around me?  Not vast stretches of land to the mountain in the distance?

Does it feel desolate because it was my landscape during the greatest period of loneliness I have ever experienced?  Yes, striking out on your own when you are young is the compelling quest.  But you leave behind your extensive network of knowledge, comfort, shorthand conversations, laughter, sex, choice, and history.  That would happen again, you know, if we moved just because we can.

 

 

Exacto Man!

The power to see things in black and white.

The ability to interpret all things literally.

Exacto Man works to right all of your obvious wrongs!

…or at least point them out.

Exacto Man

This is actually the safety inspector exhibit at the Louisiana Children’s Museum, but it fits his Superhero Engineer personality:  Exacto Man!

6:30am.  Breakfast table.  Me sitting down.  C. bouncing up, down, all around.  Me saying one more bite, sit down, please eat, don’t play, come back here, no, just, stop, wait.

I just stop and look at him.

What?

Why are we still here? I ask.  You are 7 years old; why am I still trying to get you to eat?  You can do it at school.  I’ve seen you sit at the table and eat your lunch there.  Why can’t we have that here?

His little face crumples:  I’m just… I’m just living a natural life!

Well, what can you say to that, but a big hug.  This is the day to day balance of preparing them for life in our social world, and being the safe place that they don’t have to hold it all in and just be themselves.  Naturally.

—————–

A. asked for spaghetti without the sauce.  I like it bald, he says.

Added to the family lexicon forever.

My new daily spiritual discipline for 2016 is doing lectio divina with my book of Mary Oliver poems; this one is called New and Selected Poems, Volume One, 1992.

I read, meditate, pray and contemplate on one poem or part of a poem in the morning after the kid cloud has evaporated and my two point breakfast has fulfilled its promise .

Three times so far, what I have read that morning has reconstituted later in my day.  I know it could be attributed to the concept of attention; where what you notice changes based on you noticing it.

But it feels is a little strange.

On the day I found six snake skins in the Mississippi cabin, was the day I read “The Forest.”

At the back of the neck

the old skin splits.

The snake shivers

but does not hesitate.

He inches forward.

He begins to bleed through

like satin.

The next weekend, my Mom is texting me about two friend/family members who died, and I go to the wake of a cousin by marriage where my Dad’s first cousins guilt me into planning another family reunion.  (“We’re letting down Louis Joseph’s legacy”, uuggghh, twist twist).   That morning’s no-brainer lectio…  “When Death Comes.”

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

Yesterday afternoon, playing on the playground, I notice the 8 year old laying face down on the smooshy surface.  He tells me he is sad again about our dog that died 6 months ago.  We resolve to write a letter to God and see if we can pet one of the many dogs cavorting at the nearby dog run.  I don’t remember until this morning, that yesterday’s poem was “Her Grave.”

A dog can never tell you what she knows from

the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know

almost nothing.

 

This morning’s poem is “Goldenrod.”

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

they rise in a stiff sweetness

in the pure peace of giving

one’s gold away.

 

Sshhh, don’t tell Jim.

 

This is a little gross story about my nieces that I forgot about already, but wanted to save here to remind them later…because family.

My brother tells me he was pretending to be asleep one night recently, because he heard his wife hollering at their two daughters and didn’t want to get involved (aka get out of bed).

It was 11pm and the girls had already been in bed for awhile.  The 7 year old got a pocket mirror as a prize at school.  Her mother found her sitting on the toilet looking at her anus (“butthole” is what he said) with the mirror.  Her 5 year old sister was also in the bathroom.  “She was looking too!”  When asked why she was doing this at 11pm; her reply was so sweetly 7 year old Calvin & Hobbesish:  “Because I never saw it before.”

Also writing to those who say boys are grosser than girls. (and my one reader, hi Shokufeh!) It’s not boys, it’s kids.  And this isn’t really gross to me (maybe because of my two), but just funny.

Years ago, I was walking with my friend behind her two young daughters who were running their hands along the wooden rail as we strolled along the boardwalk.  She broke me out of my fond reverie by saying very seriously, “They get worms, you know.”

I want to pull this out of my back pocket when she’s a teenager and says things like she can’t possibly spend her vacation with her family, or how unfair it is to share a bedroom with her sister, or she can’t even wear non-designer jeans, etc.

“Oh, and this from the girl who used to look at her butthole with a pocket mirror.”

So many applications.

I want to be like Denzel Washington’s mom, as he talks about her here.

When I was young and started really making it as an actor, I came and talked to my mother and said, ‘Mom, did you think this was going to happen? I’d be so big and I’ll be able to take care of everybody and I can do this and I can do that.’”

“She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there, stop it right there, stop it right there!” he continued.  “She said, ‘If you only knew how many people been praying for you.’ How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer talks she gave, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind.”

“She said, ‘Oh, you did it all by yourself,'” recounted Washington.  “‘I’ll tell you what you can do by yourself: Go outside and get a mop and bucket and clean these windows – you can do that by yourself, superstar.’”

Go Lynne Johnson!  Superstar and inspirational mom!  This is family – lifelong unconditional positive regard and support  and then a perspective smack when the culture of this world skews your view around to their shallow, materialistic, shiny space.

So to my nieces, nephews and kids, always know I am here for you for support and perspective!

This is going to sound crazy to write about something so mundane, and I hate reading about the mundane, usually. But I feel the need to document a few things that are.  In case things get progressively worse, so an older me can look back at the relatively “good times.” Or in the eventuality of time travel, a younger me can get a preview of what is to come, but that may change the entire future of our planet.  Look away, Rachel of the 1990s!  Rip off those fake nails, listen to your gut regarding that first marriage, and go that U2 concert by yourself or you will forever regret it.  Now, read no further.

So for this year, I won Celebration in the Oaks.  That’s right, the holiday decorations at City Park were my bitch.  What?  We tried to go several times, but it has been a very rainy holiday season.  Cousins  from the Houston-based branch were supposed to join us, but one threw up in their truck earlier in the day, good-bye new car smell!  A few friends were going to meet us, but got grounded.  All is well, it would not have been as good with other people to corral.

We got there just as they opened; 6:00.  I drove the van to make this happen, and knew just the right way to go and where to illegally turn into the parking lot to get a great spot.  The kids literally skipped and giggled their happy way through the great lawn (I think they call it, new) to the entrance in the Botannical Garden.  I had pre-purchased tickets, which cost an extra $4 plus a wasteful one sheet of paper each, but worth it today to breeze in without a line. (Sorry, Rachel of the future, we did waste a lot of paper when we could back then.)

We walked through the Botanical Garden first (in past years, we have walked in on the Story Land side and faced grumpy attitude to go through places of beauty that have no game).  They really enjoyed running through the garden mazes, checking out dead ends and generally being silly.  As there was hardly anybody there yet, it worked beautifully.  The bug garden, the train garden, the dripping trees, the musical light shows – it felt like we were a normal family on a normal family outing.  We held hands while the kids cavorted in front of us, safe, happy and loving.

City Park did the train rides very well this year – they had 4 trains in service, so the line wait wasn’t too long – we went on 2 small tugboat rides while Jim held our space.  The 10 minutes or so we did have to wait, I had to pull out all my tricks – playing Subway Surfer on my phone (fight over which game to play), the promise of hot chocolate for the absence of whining and complaining, holding hands with the ever-increasingly agitated Jim, and offering a prize for whoever saw the Pirate Ship lights first.  Okay, 2 prizes, stop crying, everyone is a winner, no the hot chocolate is not the prize, stop yelling Pirate Ship at every light…  All the attention on this caused us to not be aware that someone had taken our second seat, so we all had to cram in one, but wedging the kids in our laps fairly immobile was better anyway.

Then off to the kiddies rides, lost Clifton for a moment, Arthur was so enthralled with all the stunts he could do on the swirling tunnel in the fun house, silly giggles on the drop ride thing.  Then we go to the snack area in the botanical garden (not the cafe in the kid rides area), get hot chocolate and hot dogs.  There is a dj and lots of people dancing and line dancing.  We all do silly dances at the table and up on stage.  You have to really enjoy the silly crazy things to get through the not so fun parts (a lot like living in New Orleans!).  We are already near the exit, so it’s 8:30 now and there are no distractions impeding our egress.  A small comment about not making it through Story Land, but not to worry, as it is always available for future visits.

I already have more snacks available for them in the van as well as a new movie in the dvd player, so the ride home is without incident (aka screaming, hitting, whining, crying, you know the usual).

I win Celebration in the Oaks!

Noting the in-depth preparation to make this a win.  Is it worth it?  Should we have just stayed home as we usually do?  Is it a memory worth keeping?  Repeating?  A tradition?  A habit?  Is it not really in-depth preparation, just my perception of what mother hood would be, or my preference for an extremely simple lifestyle?

I’m kind of tired of typing, but I did mention a loser in the title, so I guess I have to finish this.  I wanted to write about this separately anyway, to try to help me figure out what it is and how to help him get beyond it.

The Clifton Christmas Conundrum was playing around in my head.  I kind of mentally prepare for it, but am still continually surprised.  Although Clifton got many things that were on his multiple voluminous lists, and he liked every gift he got from Santa, his behavior and attitude Christmas morning was subdued, jealous and cranky.  Tried to have a Skype with Sharla to show them playing with presents and he would have none of it.

He cannot enjoy what he receives, because he is always thinking of what he didn’t receive.  It is never enough; his desires are a cavernous gaping hole that can never be filled.  Example of the Cinderella at the ball doll – cost $40, compared with $10-20 for the others.  ToysRUs asked me if I wanted a 2 year warranty (ha, just spelled that like guarantee and couldn’t figure out what was wrong) with that doll.  Really?  He’s going to have this doll stripped and hair undone in 24 hours.  As a joke, he put the Cinderella dress on an undone Elsa doll and came to show it to me as what he had done to Cinderella.  So funny.

Later that day, he tells me what he really wants is the Cinderella gets married doll set that comes with a prince and probably several other pieces.  I had to cut him off, telling him he has been writing about this doll to Santa for months and he just saw that doll recently (or not at all as I haven’t seen it yet, could be a new category of made up desires.)  And a little while later, he is the b-word.  No, not bitchy, the other b-word that riles the hackles of any mom on a regular day and turns her into a raving murderous lunatic on a heavily purchased, meticulously planned gift-giving day like Christmas and birthdays.   When I hear the two preceding words come out of their mouths I am already gesturing explosively and cutting them off at the pass with a “You better get away from me with that.” etc.  But again, an occurrence on Christmas Day is an apocalypse unto itself when uttered by a 7 year old who got 10 presents plus stocking.

Aargh.  I am bored.  That is what he said to me on Christmas Day.  The sadness of it overcomes me after the anger subsides.  Cleaning out the Christmas detritus this week, I come across the letters both kids wrote to Santa after receiving their letters from him ($15 each) assuring them that he was real.

Clifton wrote

Dear Santa:

I wonder if you like me why do you think that I am kind. I say bad thangs to my brother. I like what you give me for all of the Christmas toys. and I wunt all of kindes you give kids.  I love who you are do you care if I act like a girl do you care? can you sint a picture for christmas a picture of you. When I grow up I will still blive in you. Did you get all my lists I gave you.  Tell me if you have really magic.

Love Clifton

do you like me

to santa from clifton

Now I’m really tired,and I need to work.  Just wanted to put this down to help me remember and to help me process.

Love to the winners and the losers and a reminder that a new year is just around the corner and a new day is just around the sunrise.  See you there!

 

 

Rich guys

in bow ties

Get daily news

and doses of blues

in a sometimes war

of words and caffeine.

It’s the well dressed chicks,

the hopeless perfection

the thin-waisted display

who seem

to me

to be mean.

I have decided to do one anti-procrastination thing every day for Lent.  Not just your average mop the disgusting dog-haired bathroom floor tasks.

Majorly procrastinated items such as:

Kelli’s baby gift for her beautiful daughter.  Who just turned 2.  I remember being so excited that I actually bought gifts soon after I heard, on that Mother’s day I spent in the quarter by myself.  2 years ago.  Procrastinated because I owe Kelli an essay on whether or not child rearing is just like owning a dog or not at all like owning a dog.  Obviously requested 3 years ago, when Kelli was considering reproducing (she didn’t know how absolutely adorable her daughter would turn out, obviously!)

Cornucopia of gifts for Sarah and family, including the squirrel Christmas ornament that I so delighted in buying, because Sarah is irrationally afraid of them.  I’m sweet as condensed milk for that one.

About a dozen books on London, borrowed from John.  Who now lives in Texas.  For Jim’s big birthday trip.  11 years ago.

Why now?  Well.  There is a bag of Christmas cards that I finally got around to printing, addressing, stamping, putting in envelopes, but never mailing… somewhere.  The envelopes that I got from an estate sale (along with a wallet of auto and airline membership cards for Clifton and a bag of rubber bands and miscellaneous stuff for Arthur which just happened to include some Picasso cards that might be considered nudity if you didn’t consider them art), anyway, the old envelopes would not stick together, and so I had to put a stick of tape on them.  So close.  They are somewhere in my office, in a bag.

I’m mailing them. Before Easter, when I will be redeemed of my lame procrastination woes.

Happy Spring y’all.  Hope you get a holiday card from me!