30.8.06

Taking a Break

I'm supposed to be scrubbing down the walls to make sure there aren't any kid fingerprints or footprints left. But it's 11:30 and dark, and I'm almost completely done with everything except making the sink shiny, sweeping the patio, (Anyone know how to get melted crayon off of concrete?) and the aformentioned wall scrubbing. Since I have all day tomorrow to do it, give or take the care and maintenance of two toddlers, I am going to tell you a quick story instead.

The Boy saw some friends on the weekend that he hasn't seen in 7 months, and has only seen occasionally over his few short years. We look at pictures and remember people but he's four so 'nuff said. I told him he was going to see his friend's Kai and Kenya and meet their baby brother. He looked doubtful, and said, "I don't know them any more, mom."

Later on in the day when we were visiting he came up to me at one point and confided, "I know my friend Kai again mom, I remembered him."

I thought that was a great way of describing what happens in long distance friendships. When we see each other again, and have that moment when we remember why we're friends and all is the same as before, it's like we know them again.

Now I'm off to scrub a window sill before bed. (Why is my computer still at our old apartment you ask? I'm stealing unguarded bandwidth from the neighbors upstairs, don't tell. We have our own, but discovered right after moving in that theirs can be picked up by our computers and since the new place has yet to be installed.......You get the picture.)

27.8.06

This Weekend.

We are moved, I am happy. Remember the trees? They are definitely worth it. In the middle of the afternoon at the hottest outside temperatures, the new apartment had a nice cool refreshing breeze blowing in the windows, while the old apartment was hot and stuffy and stinky from all of the closed windows and the air-conditioning running full blast. That alone makes the move worth it for me, but there’s more. Falling asleep on Friday night with my window wide open, I didn’t hear any car radios or brakes or engines. I also didn’t hear any clomping footsteps, loud conversations or screaming babies who are up way too late.

The Girl needed some reassurance sleeping for the first time in our new location, there was a lot of crying, and “I want to go back to my house.”

“But this is our house now honey, we moved here, we’re all sleeping here tonight.”

“No, I want my red house.”

(I’m amazed at the way she thinks. We had a red wall in our old living room, actually we have one in the new living room too since the landlords do an accent wall for free, but I love that she thinks about it in colors.)

So I lay with her a while and noticed her staring eyes wide listening to sound she doesn’t usually here from her bed.

“Do you hear the crickets singing?”

(Yes the only night sound is crickets. How wonderful is that?)

In a scared and uncertain little voice she answers, “Uh huh.”

“Do you like the crickets singing us to sleep?”

Doubtfully, “Uh huh?”

The next morning when we went outside she asked me where the crickets are.
It was great to have family helping, fabulous SIL’s that can put dishes in cupboards exactly as they were in they old place. Now I have to get the old apartment spotless in the next three days before we have to turn in the keys.

**************

We spent a great day with Journey Mama and her family today. I finally met the Leaf Baby after 7 months and saying goodbye as his momma headed to the hospital and we headed south. He is such a perfect and adorable baby. I can’t get over how calm he is and smart. He poos on the toilet, he lets anyone hold him, but he mainly smiles at mommy, he is beautiful and edible and I held him as much as I could today while he just looked at me with those wise little eyes that didn’t miss anything.

I managed to enjoy myself in spite of a killer migraine, that I wouldn’t have tried to go anywhere with except to see her because I miss her. Another friend (Dori) from the same year when we all slept in a church by the beach and fed homeless people and begged for showers or used the beach ones was there this morning as well. We all met and married our spouses within two years of that amazing year together and all have children. Sitting around the table this morning all holding our youngest child was a strange and wonderful moment as we are all in different stages of babyhood. Dori’s second child is a month old, Leaf Baby is 7 months, and I held the Girl at 2 1/2 with number three on the way. It’s amazing where time takes us and how it’s starts to rush by as we age. It’s been over 8 years since we all met and between just the three of us we have 8 children. It feels like yesterday we sat around broke and single in cute little coffee shops and talked about everything under the sun except breastfeeding and diaper changes.

A part of my heart has ached for these girls, except I should say women now, ever since we parted ways. I have never, not even in my own family been in such a close community with so many people at once. We started out not even liking each other and disagreeing about everything augmented by the tension of sharing life together as we muddled our way through. By the end of that year I felt completely loved and completely known. They had seen me at my worst and had loved me through to a better place and still loved me, as I had them, and it was powerful.

One of my FIL’s favorite sermon slogans is that the message of Christianity is that you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, and you are given the power you need to change. That year I experienced that, and it changed my life.

It has me thinking though. I have been wondering how it is that I got to this place where I am so cast down by the way another is towards me. How have I lost myself so much that when the Genius Husband becomes emotionally distant and unsupportive as he has been, and really, he will always be like that from time to time because he’s a man and only human though this season feel harder than most, that I fall apart without him there. Pregnant hormones aside of course, how little of myself it seems I have retained in the past little while.

I know that to be the person I want to be, the woman I like when I see her in the mirror only exists when I feel loved and accepted exactly as I am. That in itself frees me to change things and move forward in gigantic ways. I felt that with the girls, I felt that way with the Genius Husband for a while as well. But have I been unconsciously trying to manipulate people to give me that feeling when there is no person who is capable of loving me that unconditionally all of the time, even if I were perfect, which I’m not? I think I have, at least with the GH, and I know my efforts with him have been met with resistance, because he really hates to feel manipulated.

It’s time for me to remember that the love I have felt from the people around me is only a taste of the greater love that the Universe is filled with, and that I need to connect again with the source of love Himself instead of just the various conduits, because I don’t like how weak I am now, and trying to do this whole life gig alone is awful and depressing. I remind myself of the Girl who insists on doing it herself even if I help, slides back down the hill so she can climb up herself and then screams in frustration as she tries to reach the top without help and keeps on slipping. I need to stop being too proud to admit I need help and start to say thank-you for the blessings that are there for me if I will only receive them.

25.8.06

Moving Day

The great move of 100 yards commences today. My internet access will be disrupted until late next week. I am still completely ambivalent but that can't be helped now.

The lovely little sisters in law are coming to help and watch the kids while we move things around, and my Milly will be here to help tomorrow, so yay for that. I just wish I were more excited about where we're going, I keep telling my self ,"TREES, REMEMBER THE TREES."

Ah well. C'est la vie.

Have a good week.

PS. Just found out the lovely and wonderful Journey Mama is in town at a mutual friend's house. I desperately hope we can squeeze a visit into my moving and her vacation schedule because she is one of my all time favorite people, and my kids love hers.

23.8.06

Commitment

So we’re moving this Friday, to different place that’s almost exactly the same. Why you ask? I’m not exactly sure anymore. Perhaps because I just wanted a change. The new place has new carpet that isn’t growing mold, it’s not near a parking lot or a dumpster, and it’s closer to the playground. These were things that mattered when I decided to take it. It also has an enclosed patio so there will be no more kids running out the gate and down the sidewalk.

I have this problem with decisions especially the more major but largely inconsequential ones. I second-guess them the instant they are made and can’t stop until I have no choice but to follow through. It usually happens when we are moving, but not very far. In the end it’s just an apartment, in the same city, same friends, it’s a small transition but there are reasons for the changes reasons that we could live with if it weren’t possible to change them.

The fact that the genius husband doesn’t care is making it harder for me rather than easier. He always lets me make these kind of choices, after all, I’m the one who is there 24/7 he gets to leave and come home at night. But when I’m so indecisive I’m hungry for an opinion, any opinion. When I couldn’t decide between this place and another slightly farther away, he said, “Then lets just move to the closer place because it’s easier.”

I said, “Okay.”

I was so relieved to have the decision made and be done with it, and then I started to think. The other place has laundry; this doesn’t. The other place had tile floors; this has carpet. The other place had teeny tiny bedrooms; this doesn’t. Oh yeah. Every day I have to remind myself of the reasons why this place is good, and everyday I think maybe we should just not move at all. I hate that I have this great ambivalence about things.

I think it’s because I’m aware that in the end it doesn’t really matter, these are small things; I can live with small things. Only some days I can’t, some days I am not the person that I fantasize about being. Some days having a carpet under the dining area is the final straw, like after pomegranate juice is spilled. Some days needing to go to the Laundromat to do laundry is more than I can handle, like when I’m out of quarters and the boy wets his bed again, and I know that it will take me all day to deal with this. By the time I get my pregnant self and two children the 6 blocks to the grocery store to buy quarters in the heat and, and come home (two hours minimum) then get all of the laundry to the laundry room sorted and started, while dealing with things like lunchtime and nap time, and kids that scream “I want to come with you Mommy” and spend 10 minutes looking for their shoes when all I have to do is run about 50 feet, throw the loads in the dryer and come back, something that will take 2 minutes if I do it myself but I then end up keeping them from falling in the pond, throwing rocks in their hair, getting the clothes they have on filthy in a matter of seconds, I will still be folding laundry and working on this job after they go to bed at night. Some days I will be kicking myself for not choosing the place with laundry, tiny bedrooms be damned.

And in the middle of all this, artificial, and yet not inconsequential angst, I can’t shake the awareness that there are millions of women the world over who would love to have my problems. I have a home, with real floors instead of dirt. I have air conditioning for crying out loud. I complain that I can’t get to Trader Joe’s every week, or Jimbo’s for fresh organic produce because I have no car, but clean water comes out of my tap. Some women walk as far as I won’t walk to the stores I would prefer to shop at just to get water to drink and clean their clothes, and that water is making them sick as they drink it. I can walk 6 blocks to Albertsons and I can buy bottle water if I want to. My kids have a closet full of clothes, as do I. Some 13-year-old girl in China was paid 30 cents each to make some of their shirts, and she was glad to have it.

I live in the most expensive area in the country to live, if we don’t count Manhattan, What I pay for rent is a healthy mortgage payment for someone else, is more than some families in Africa will make this year or next year combined. Why am I whining?

But I went the other day to look at a place near here that my neighbor told me about in a fit of doubt and second thoughts, and I fell in love with it, the floor plan, the giant eucalyptus trees, the ensuite laundry and the fact that it’s $200 cheaper per month. They have no vacancies; the last suite was rented the morning I went to look. I should have gone a month ago.

But then I wonder; would I really like it as much if I was already committed to it? Because I’m messed up like that; I can commit to people without a second thought, an apartment on the other hand…

18.8.06

My little girl

She comes running from the bath, white blond hair tousled by the ducky towel she has been running around in and throws herself down in all her naked golden splendor on the pile of floor pillows next to my computer. Life radiates out of her face as she smiles up at me with her blues eyes and dark lashes and I think to myself that she is perfect. I want to catch her up and hold her to myself in a mommy squeeze that never ends, to keep her like this forever.

The days are coming when she will be aware of her beauty, or doubt it. When she will become self-conscious, when she will change from a girl to a woman, and I fear them and welcome them with equal intensity. I know that hurt will find her as it finds us all, and I want to shield her from it. I only hope that, as it is for most of us, great joy will find her also, the joys that can only be experienced with growth and change, and I hope that is the case for her; because even if I want to I can’t keep her this way forever.

As she moves on to gleefully join her brother killing ants next to the window, I just pray I don’t ever forget this moment.

17.8.06

In which I mention several things about the specific functions of a woman’s body. You have now been warned.

I have clinical prove of my virginity, up to a month after I was married. Not many can say that. Not many would care anymore, but hey, it’s a good way to stop conversation at dinner parties. I did choose to wait until I was married to have sex. I just happen to believe that it is more than a physical act as our bodies and souls are co-existent with each other and that something that can be so physically vulnerable must be spiritually and emotionally vulnerable as well, And I’m not comfortable with vulnerability, I wanted to feel safe. Turns out there were some other things going on as well.

So after a couple of weeks of trying to make me a not virgin anymore, we realized that we may need professional assistance, and an emergency consult with an OB/GYN was scheduled. The immediate diagnosis, unusually thick and fibrous hymen, it would have to be surgically altered in order to allow for other activities to occur. I am one of the less than one percent of women who in earlier days would have ended up in a convent because there was really nothing else that I could do in the wife mother front.

Thanks to modern medicine I instead went under general anesthetic, the doctor made two tiny little crisscross cuts across my hymen, put in a stitch or two and I woke up. This is not the end, and for all you that thought your first time was uncomfortable, wait until you hear this. If you’ve had an episiotomy you know already, except for the stretching. For three months, every single day, we had to stretch my tissues out to be sure that they didn’t scar closed. Every day, starting with pinky finger and working up to two whole fingers I needed to have my very tender bottom tormented a little bit more before any honeymoon type activities could take place.

In the spirit of being in this together, the Genius Husband would do this for me most of the time, which was good, because I couldn’t have kept it up without him. He was an absolute saint, gentle, patient, comforting me when I just couldn’t stand it anymore and broke down, and keeping the whole experience more positive than negative, making up for the pain in other ways. The running joke was that we were now the champions of foreplay, which I think we were.

Though it hurt physically, the torment mainly came from the brokenness I felt that I was broken, that I didn’t work properly as a woman. I have never been comfortable in my body, I’m not athletic, and I’m not coordinated. I longed to dance and took classes, which helped me to be less awkward, but never really graceful, I have very rarely enjoyed the feeling of my body performing an action well. (This is perhaps why I loved playing piano so much, I could do it, my hands could play music.) Only as I have grown older has it occurred to me that maybe it’s because I never tried, I never stuck with something long enough to become good at it. But I had long been uncomfortable with myself as a woman, insecure about my body and its many functions, and afraid of so many things.

There are lots of reasons for this. But I know that my father was a factor. Shy and insecure himself, he was far from masculine in most respects. He was afraid of touch, awkward around others and himself. The hand on the shoulder would flutter for a second and be quickly withdrawn. The hug was short and insubstantial, the discomfort was readable in every line of his body especially as I grew out of a little girl body and into a woman’s body, which happened quickly, and my father had no idea how to deal with it. He had always been shy around women, debilitatingly so. He compared my appearance with my friends, usually not in my favor, said he was just being honest. He very delicately tried to encourage me to get involved in a sport when I was at that slightly more round preadolescent phase before a growth spurt, he said it would keep me from getting fat and help me to be more graceful, which was true. My heart heard that my daddy thinks I’m ugly. I know that all of this contributed to some of my more recurrent messes, the insecurity, feeling abandoned, unloved, and afraid, etc. But this was just a part of it.

Anyway, the story goes on, the stretching passed; I got pregnant. I enjoyed my first pregnancy, except for the huddled on the couch over a vomit bowl that is my first trimester. I was healthy, eating better than I ever had, at least since my mother was completely in charge of my diet, but I wasn’t even eating wheat or dairy. My body was growing a baby and it was doing everything right for a change, I don’t even get blips on the uh oh radar for something going wrong. I eat, baby grows and comes out perfect, so far. Then I went into labor, which wasn’t labor but something else entirely and I ended up vomiting uncontrollably for hours and looking like I was in transition while only 3 cm dilated, and my planned homebirth became a transfer and section. Now my uterus had been cut into as well.

Five years later I know that it was probably completely unnecessary, and had I trusted my body more and my own instincts the whole outcome may have been different. In a nutshell it was fear that kept my body from doing its job, it was fear that bound me in ways that I didn’t begin to understand back then and barely glimpse now. Once again I felt as though I was broken, didn’t work properly, and that somehow the core of my femininity was dysfunctional.

But I didn’t notice it too much until the second pregnancy. I become way more vulnerable emotionally when I am pregnant, many of my walls disappear, and things flood in and demand my attention that I’ve held at bay for years. With baby number 2 I was forced to confront my poor self-image disguised as vanity and a temper tantrum over getting fat again, which was really the flip side of insecurity about my body and my appearance. Thanks to my new healthy habits I was looking and feeling better than I had in years, and I was taking way to much identity from that, and the approval that I was getting from the people around me. I felt myself losing that as I outgrew my jeans. I also couldn’t hide from the disappointment and pain that I still carried over things not going as planned with the first birth. My husband was scared away by the intensity of the things I was dealing with. Though he didn’t actually leave.

So I used the things I had learned about trusting my body, and listening and being in tune with my birth, and my second child was born at home, a successful VBAC. I needed an episiotomy, at a home birth! That never happens. She crowned and stayed stuck at the ears for so long that the kind and gentle midwife urged me to push hard enough to tear or she would have to cut. I couldn’t push her out, and yet another incision was made into my feminine self, this time my perineum. I don’t know if it was because of the strange toughness of my pelvic floor tissues or because the irritating backup midwife made me roll onto my back after she crowned so she could hear the heartbeat and I couldn’t push effectively from there. It doesn’t matter really, but at the 11th hour, after all of my hard work, this child too was cut from my body.

I called my Milly two days later, who has birthed 8 children, weeping because I am broken. There is not one part of my reproductive life that has happened without the aid of a scalpel. That’s how I felt. She let me cry, understood why I would feel that way, and then pointed out that I had no problems nursing, my breasts do their job quite well. My baby’s grow to term and are born strong and healthy, these were all thing that worked about myself as a woman. Then she suggested I think of it in terms of allowing life to enter. That each of the times I’ve been cut, it’s been to make way for new life, for a different life, and that, in a sense, they’ve been choices I’ve made to allow life to enter me, and to enter the world. That helped me some. Though I wonder now if my problem isn’t letting life in but letting it out, instead of keeping it trapped inside by fear and doubt.

Today I was reading at State of Grace. She talked about how the birth of her first child was how she was finally able to become a woman, after a lifetime of abuse and avoidance. It hit something really deep in me, though my experience hasn’t been the same. The birth of my children has dragged me along in the journey to accepting and being comfortable with my body and myself, but I think I’ve been kicking and screaming the whole way, and it feels like there has been just as much damage to my woman self as acceptance.

So in 20 weeks or so, this new life will be knocking at the door to be let out. I have already been engulfed by all of my issues, fear, loneliness, abandonment, they have flooded in to drown out the force of life inside of me, and have made me feel helpless. But that life is starting to assert itself now, kicking my ribs often enough to remind me what this is about, and so I have finally realized again that what needs to change is me, not the things around me. That I need to once again decide to let life in, to enter into life, and choose not to fear. I need to remember that I have a father in heaven who loves me and won’t abandon me, and as much as I doubt this on a daily basis it’s the only solution I have to this mess that is me, and the only way I am healed. Every time I manage to with much quaking and trembling to let go of my fear and to trust in this love, I become a different person, I become free, and I stop being overwhelmed by the things that haunt me. For a long time now I have been huddled up in my old place in the corner, the child who is afraid to come out and play and runs back to the corner at every scrape, fall, and bump. I have forgotten that I can trust Him and it feels like a long road back, but here I am standing at the beginning. I may even take a step soon.

Maybe this time around you will see me brave enough to go down that slide; I hope I might even be smiling a bit.

*******************

I almost didn't post this after a reread. It's a bit scary but I could feel that writing it was healing, so I think I ought to post it as well.

14.8.06

Thinking, Remembering, and following where it leads.

I was over at DotMoms today reading a post by Robin about the war in Lebanon. (I can't get the link to work, but if you follow the first one an look for lessons in friendship you'll find it.) She is Jewish and wrote a great post about a conversation with her daughter about friendship and prejudice. It's good, go and read it.

I got me thinking about how we can raise our children without prejudice, and teach them not to generalize, or assume they know about a person from their race or situation before they get to know them. I don’t know how my mother did it, but I need to ask her, because I remember growing up color blind.

Somehow she managed to shield me from my grandfather's strong prejudice against immigrants, and my father's bias against Native Americans long enough for me to grow up and form my own opinions. Of course in small town Alberta there are very few people who actually looked different, so I may not have realized that the few people I knew who did might be significantly different from me culturally.

I remember two friends that I had in middle school who were East Indian, only I didn't realize it. I literally hadn't noticed that they were brown except in a sort of jealous because they were so pretty way. My friend Helen wore a traditional outfit to school one day and I thought it was the beautiful, so I asked where she got it.

“It’s a traditional costume that my people wear.”

“Huh, what do you mean your people?”

She floundered a bit and repeated, “My people, where my family comes from.”

I still didn’t understand so I asked, “Where did you come from?”

“Carrien”, she exclaimed, totally exasperated, “I’m east Indian!”

I replied, in total surprise, “You are, I never knew that.”

Then I wanted to follow her around even more, because she didn’t just look exotic, she actually was.

My friend Suzie was beautiful, her family were kind to me, even if only a few of them spoke English I never thought anything of it really, I liked her, I liked them. And I had never seen anyone toast bread on a stovetop before.

I remember some other girls in my homeroom were talking about a science project about hair. They asked me if I could think of anyone who’s hair was naturally curly because they needed a sample. I immediately thought of Suzie. I’ll never forget the way they recoiled and the words they said.

“Oh gross, I would never touch her hair, it’s so greasy. I bet she has lice or something.”

They walked away from me trying to think of someone else. I was shocked. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would think something so wrong and mean. I knew her hair wasn’t greasy, I knew it always smelled pretty, I knew she didn’t have lice. My 12-year-old self was completely confused by such gross inaccuracy.

At this age in Canada is when I remember social studies classes that dealt with stereotyping and discrimination; we are taught political correctness from a very young age. But I don’t think that’s what formed my brain to be inclusive of other cultures instead of xenophobic. I know many others who grew up in the same small town as I and attended, or slept through the same classes and are embarrassing to be around when they get on their little racist joke kicks. I think it was my mother. I think it was the Bible. Shocking I know to say that considering what is on the news about the religious right, and the loudmouth Bible thumpers claiming to represent the Christian majority.

When I was in grade five there was a boy who moved in with his family down the street from my best friends house, and we made fun of him. He was brown, though that’s not why we did it, it was his name: Ravosh Samari. It was so strange to us, and so we would make fun of it, usually calling him Rubbish Salami and giggling. We weren’t trying to be mean, it hadn’t occurred to us that it might hurt his feelings to be called that as he went in his front door everyday after school, we were just trying to be funny and we were stupid. (Totally off topic, but he grew up to be very good looking, hot good looking, and I never talked to him because I was so embarrassed about the name calling from elementary school.) There I am confessing it to you Internet, if it finds you Ravosh, I’m sorry.

My mom heard it one day. Later at home she casually asked me, “Why did you call him that?”

“Because it’s funny, because his name sounds funny.”

“Would you like it if people called you something you didn’t like because your name sounds funny.”

“But it doesn’t mom, his does.” I was getting defensive because I could suddenly feel that what I had done was wrong.

Once again, as she had done many times before and since that day, my mother pulled her Bible down and opened it. She turned to a page and made me read it out loud.

“…You shall love your neighbor as yourself, there is no other commandment greater than these.”

There was more discussion, and I never called anyone a name after that day.

Between my mother, and the scriptures she loved I grew up to value others and see in everyone someone of worth, though I admit it’s harder to find in some than in others. If I really believe, as the Bible teaches, that we are made in God’s image, how can I look at another in hatred, how can I consider some to be less valuable than others?

I grew up with hard sayings echoing in my heart.

“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

“True religion is to feed the widows and orphans.”

“Do not judge.”

“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.”

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

Hard you might say, impossible, ridiculous. Maybe, but I know that it was trying, and failing, to follow these ideas that helped me to be the person I am and be able to identify with and care about people from so many different back grounds. Imagine what it would look like if more people tried the impossible, to think of others first, to forgive instead of seek vengeance, to love the people around them that don’t love them back.

I don’t claim to be successful even half of the time. But I think it’s something worthwhile to try, and to teach my children to try as well.

In which a not wealthy housewife complains about the help.

So I have a moldy carpet in my bedroom, I’ve mentioned this before. I haven’t yet related the whole saga however.

Mold likes to grow in the small airless space between my bed and my carpet. I have called the office before and they have sent someone over promptly to check on the situation. He pulled back the carpet to check underneath, sprayed to kill it and then came and put it back. Then they hired a new staff member. His name in Brandon, and he’s the dorky kid that would have been in middle school when I was on my way to university.

About a month ago, in the middle of a very humid heat wave, I found mold under my bed again. While in the office I mentioned it to Brandon, who said he would put in a work request. I told him that they could come in whenever after Monday. A week went by, no one came, another four days and I mentioned it to another employee, Erin, while in there working out the details of my transfer and new lease. (Oh yeah, I’m moving to a better location in the same complex, with brand new carpet and a kitchen window, and trees to look at instead of a dumpster, and I had to live on the phone for a day or two to get them to let me move, but Erin in the office did the hard work for me. Bless her.)

A day later there was a note stating that the man came by and found no mold, but I could tell he hadn’t looked under the bed. So I called, and Brandon answered, and I told him to tell them to come back and look UNDER THE BED. He said he would tell him. Another week goes by, no word. So I tell Erin again yesterday. Today he shows up, while I’m on the phone, feeding my kids lunch AND wearing nothing but an African sarong that my Milly brought back for me wrapped around my expanding pregnant body. Nothing indecent about it, and very comfortable, just not something I would wear if I were expecting someone. The Boy opened the door for him before he even rang.

So I was caught, phone to my ear, sarong wrapped around my chest, and I pretended that it was perfectly normal to be wearing nothing but a piece of cloth while a strange man walks into my bedroom. (Well, he does come all the time to fix things, but still.) My pretending couldn’t fool my body as the sweat started to prickle up and down my back and under my armpits.

So I go into the bedroom and he has pulled up the bed and looked at the mold spots on the carpet and says to me, “I don’t think that’s mold, that looks more like a stain to me, it’s not even wet.”

I stand there, in my sarong, with the sickening smell of moldy carpet wafting up to my nostrils from the recent disturbance and respond, “Why don’t you get down there and smell it then, because I can smell it from here.”

He looks hesitant still so I say, “I don’t really care anymore, I’m moving in two weeks, but I though you all might since it’s a mold problem and they only tend to get worse.”

So he pulled up the carpet and sprayed, and even though I was wearing real clothes when he came back later this afternoon to replace it, and even though I know a moldy carpet when I smell one, hello I used to live in Vancouver, I’m sure that I am now fixed in his mind as the crazy lady in a towel who keeps smelling things that aren’t there. I hope not much needs fixing at the other place, ‘cause I could be waiting a long time.

13.8.06

This summer we learned to swim.

Okay, so they don’t actually swim yet, but put water wings on them and they do everything they see the big kids do, except swim along the bottom of the pool; something that they find fascinating.

The Girl has always been drawn to water. Last summer when she was only 18 months she would run headlong into any body of water she saw, lakes, rivers, wading pools, the ocean. It was nerve wracking to say the least. The first time I put water wings on her and actually let her go in the water she swam like the fish she always pretends to be. She has never looked back, even the time her uncle took her swimming at the pool and I forgot to tell him that she thinks she can swim on her own and he had to make sure she had floaties on before she got near the pool. She walked right in kicked out, and sank like a stone. He pulled her out a second later. He tells me she spluttered for a second and then tried to go right back in. Nothing, it seems, can scare her. (Unless we count strange objects floating in the water, then she screams like she’s been bitten.) I’ve seen her go in and go under one other time. In the split second before I was able to pull her out I watched as she kept her eyes open in surprise as she kicked and kicked trying to figure out why she couldn’t stay on the surface. She maintains her fearlessness when it comes to water.

My favorite memory from this time is of the Boy, standing at the side of the pool, body stiff with excitement as he cheered for his sister as she swam around. He was so proud of her. He told all of the bigger kids that came to swim that day to look at his sister, “She’s swimming ALL BY HERSELF!!!!”

The Boy is not like his sister. His favorite position when we were in the water was usually clinging to my neck and choking me to death while we stood in three feet of water, which he is tall enough to stand in. After a while he got brave enough to hold on to the side of the pool and pull himself along around the edge. He refused to let go of something solid and allow himself to float, not even in a life jacket or on a raft. His dad was afraid of water as a child so we’ve been gentle and slow with him, doing our best not to do something to add to his fear. This last month during the heat wave we spent almost everyday at the pool, and he has ever so slowly gained confidence. With the help of a little girl, who is an amazing swimmer, and daddy’s goggles, he got brave enough to put his face under water and retrieve dive sticks. Although he had water wings he often refused to put them on. We would have heart-wrenching conversations, for me anyway, where he would be full of confidence and excitement that he would swim today.

“Mom can you teach me to swim today?”

“Sure honey, do you want to put your water wings on and practice floating?”

“Yeah, that would be so cool, and then I can learn to SWIM.”

“Okay, let’s do that when we get to the pool.”

We would get there he would put them on, I would try to lead him out into the water a bit holding his hands, he would latch on to my neck, and cry that he wanted me to take him back to the side. Then he would take them off and go back to clinging to the side.

But he would wake up the next day full of hope again, most of the time.

Finally I asked him why he was afraid with the water wings on and learned that he was afraid I would let go of him if he was wearing them. So I promised not to, and held his hands as he floated all over the pool. This went on for days. As long as he held onto one of my fingers with each hand he was fine, but he panicked if I let go with one hand, even if he held the other still. Finally the day came, at a friends pool, when I realized that this child is just like me, he will not step over the edge of something scary or hard without a little push, so I let go. Or rather, I pried my fingers out of his steely vice grip, I wasn’t sure I would be able to use them after. He panicked, he flailed, I smiled into his panicked eyes and said, “Look, you’re floating.”

As everyone else echoed me, and he looked around his panic was replaced with a proud smile. “I’m floating, look, I’m floating by myself.”

Since then he has tried everything. He jumps in, he does flips off of the side into the water, he races with his friends, he tries back floating and front floating. He has finally taken to the water.

Tonight we went up to the Genius Husband’s grandparents’ for a barbeque and pool party. It’s been a few months since we’ve been to their house, and the last time they saw him in the pool he was clinging to daddy’s back or the side still. It was so fun to watch him show everyone how he could jump in, from the mini trampoline even, and flip and swim all over the pool. He could join the play as his dad threw his younger brothers and sisters, the Boy’s aunts and uncles, around in the pool. I am so proud and thrilled for him to have overcome his fear in this area and to be enjoying his newfound confidence.

11.8.06

Nice: The word that doesn’t mean anything.

I used to use the word nice without really thinking about it, though I’ve never really LIKED the word. The Genius Husband on the other hand detests it. Being the philosophically trained mind that he is, he is bothered by the misuse of words, and the constant use of poorly defined words. Needless to say, when talking to him it is important to get one’s terms straight, and know what you mean by them when you use them. I have become much more precise in this last decade than ever before.

So back to nice. Nice is a word that can be used in several situations, which makes it quite useful, but which also strips it of meaning anything at all. Moms use the word nice I think more than any other group. “Now honey, play nice…be nice…wasn’t that nice…does that feel nice…oh this is nice, do you like this?” It goes on, but I think you catch my drift. A long time ago, when I had time to do such things, I looked up nice in the Oxford dictionary. It used to be used to describe the peculiarly specific routines of patients in mental hospitals. One used to say that someone is too nice if they were too picky, demanding, particular, exacting etc.

Now I know that language is always evolving and meaning and use change as time goes by but on this one word I was willing to agree to the Genius Husband’s requests that it go unused in our family. It was hard to get out of the habit at first, and I would often catch myself for a second wondering what it was that I really wanted to say, but as I persisted I found words that I rarely hear any more that for me have so much more depth and richness; words like generous, thoughtful, kind, caring, compassionate, good, gentle.

Do I really want my child to be nice to other children or do I want to tell him to be kind to others. Do I want him to be nice, or to be generous with his possessions? I felt as though I had walked into a broader and deeper way of talking to my child and myself about the person I hope he becomes. As I try to instill in him, and now his sister and this child who will soon join us, good character and inner strength, I realize the main problem with the word nice is that it is not a character trait or personal quality, but a surface type of interaction that may or may not be genuine. I am thankful for the things I have learned in abolishing that little four-letter word from my vocabulary.

I thought I’d share because tonight at dinner the Boy said to me after thanking me for making such a yummy dinner and getting my water for me, “I’m such a thoughtful guy mom, because that’s what four-year-old boys are supposed to be, and I’m four so I can do that for you.”

8.8.06

Culture Shock

I have been gradually getting used to the site of military personnel in uniform walking around outside my window. Located as we are in San Diego, close to Miramar and Camp Pendleton, a lot of my neighbors are in the employ of the US military. This has been a weird enough for my Canadian and somewhat leftist, pacifist brain to absorb but yesterday I think I saw the ultimate juxtaposition in living color at the leasing office.

As I turned around to leave, I saw standing behind me, in full fitted uniform, a woman who had to be at least 8 months pregnant.

My brain almost short-circuited as I tried to comprehend and reconcile the opposing ideas contained in that one image.

7.8.06

Confessions of a Reading Addict

Hi, my name is Carrien, and I’m a reading addict. I have been since kindergarten. Words have been my friend, solace, and constant companion. They have sheltered me through childhood, cradled me through adolescent despair, and guided and distracted me into adulthood. I read everything almost without discrimination. If there is time to sit and something to read, it will be in my hand and I will be unable to put it down until I’m satisfied that I have gotten everything from it that I can.

This love of reading was seen as a blessing when I was a child, I got good grades, I have a large vocabulary, I aced english lit. and the IB exam, I didn’t get into the kind of trouble most teenagers find themselves in, I was too busy on Saturdays. I would read late into the night, inhaling every story I found, classics, science fiction, fantasy, teen romance novels, historical fiction, anything that had enough of a story to keep my attention. I would wake up the next day and read in bed until noon, eating chocolate that I was supposed to sell for fundraisers. I had very little taste, in either literature or chocolate, I ate everything that came my way.

As I have grown older I have come to see this addiction as more of a curse than a blessing. Though I have successfully weaned myself off of my addiction to crappy candy bars, one hit of pure chocolate with more cocoa butter than wax in it cured me for life. I can’t say the same for literature, I still read insatiably, and it rarely matters what. (Though I can now truly appreciate the good stuff when I find it.) I would find it hard to study for tests in university because I would keep reading other parts of the text that weren't on the exam when I was studying. I let it keep me from living my life with full presence, and from the things I need to do in order to successfully navigate reality; like sleep, or loading the dishwasher before bed so I don't wretch in the morning at the smell and feel frustrated and angry because of the over whelming work load in front of me, which drives me back to the computer in order to escape it all.

When I was in school there were those who speculated (mainly counselors, teachers, my mother) that my reading was an extreme form of escapism, a way to run away from the constant fighting between my parents, a way to ignore the pain that for no apparent reason gnawed away at my heart for most of my childhood and adolescence. Books became my solace, the place to lose myself in stories different than my own, that took me away from my problems for a while. The characters and plots stay with me long after I put the book down. If I was called away from my book for some reason when Frodo and Sam were winding their way through the battle-wasted marshes that lay before the gates of Mordor, or when Elizabeth has just realized how bitterly mistaken she was about Mr. Darcy, or Aslan still lay dead upon the stone table, I was miserable to be around. I carried with me the feelings of the characters I identified with between the pages. Likewise, when a story ended well, all things satisfactorily resolved, I would be filled with elation in ways that very few other experiences provided. I was even known to skip and bounce on furniture. Perhaps it is that feeling I am addicted to, and once the reading has begun, I must go on until satisfaction has been achieved. Then there were the stories that ended in such a way as to leave me satisfied and full of longing at the same time; worlds that were too beautiful to end, places that I never wanted to leave, or stories that ended bravely but tragically; Arthur, Achilles, the archetype of the kingdom or era that was and would come again, the golden and yet marred place of story, that which makes life poignant, all these would make me want the book to never end or need to find another to begin right away, in my search for that ultimate happy ending. When I find it, I rise from my place and return to my life with the energy to put all things that have fallen back in their place, with renewed zeal for living the life that I do have, most of the time. I have spent a lot of energy trying to engineer happy endings into my own life, constantly frustrated at the way problems don’t seems to stay solved, or new things arise, or the fact that the story continues and changes when I want it to stay the same.

Eventually I started trying to write my own stories, and I like them, I think they are good, though few are finished because I spend so much time reading what I’ve already written, and editing, that I rarely get much new material written before I’ve run out of time. Likewise with blogging; I enjoy reading everyone else’s posts so much that I run out of time to write my own. Or I write a post within someone else’s post as a comment, sharing stories that really would make great posts if I would take the time to write about them. The problem with blogs is that they aren’t written to give a happy ending, they aren’t intended to conclude, and so I keep reading, and reading, searching for my fix but there is none to be had.

Reading blogs has been my escape from noticing morning sickness this time around, last time it was knitting but it’s been too hot for that, it’s also a way to pretend that the aching lonely abandoned feeling hole that I have in me right now isn’t really there, because I can almost pretend I’m having a conversation with friends, and always, whether I mean it to or not, reading blogs keeps me from remembering the tasks that I have to get done in order to keep this family running somewhat smoothly. It seems though reading is for me a much easier way to escape than to write. Reading distracts, writing forces me to look at and feel things that I want to ignore, and that’s a good thing.

All of the writing teachers I’ve ever heard say that in order to write well you must read as well. I think I have paid my dues in the reading department, and that it may be time to do more writing than reading, though I don’t think I’ll be able to resist visiting all of my favorite blogs, I will write my post first. And maybe I will even add some more to those stories that I have all plotted out and half composed and just need me to lose myself in them for a while to come to life.

4.8.06

Tantrums

I’m in the middle of writing a different post, but the Boy wailing for half an hour about the last popsicle that I gave him having a little plastic fork stuck in it instead of a “real” popsicle holder, because we’ve misplaced one, interrupted me. He eventually told me as he wailed and alternately clung to me and flopped his way around the living room and on top of the Girl that if I wouldn’t give him a Popsicle with a real holder, he refused to eat any more snacks.

So I eventually decided I needed to attend to this behavior and sat him down to explain that very few people get exactly what they want in life, we often can’t choose our circumstances but we can choose how to respond to them. He could choose to be happy with his popsicle and the other snack I gave him, or he could choose to stay in his room and whine about it. I told him that mommy and daddy don’t get what we want most of the time, but we can choose to cry and whine about it, or we can choose to make the best of it and count our blessings.

He decided to eat the popsicle, and then the girl collapsed on me because she had already eaten hers and thought she should get another one. She has been throwing massive two-year-old temper tantrums, erupting into screams and fits at every obstacle to her two year old will. In her defense I discovered when I put her down for a nap, with another round of tantrums, that she is growing three molars at once and her teeth hurt. That explains the requests for nursing after a month of being completely weaned also.

It got me thinking though. You see, our lease is up and I have been frantically searching for a new place to live. I have grown-up reasons for needing to relocate; the moldy bedroom carpet that hasn’t gone away thought they’ve been in to deal with it repeatedly, the dumpster outside the bedroom window, and the lovely noise of garbage trucks in the early am that accompanies them, as well as the late night dumping of trash and the occasional homeless person sifting for bottles, the fact that we face the parking area and my kids are constantly running ahead of me out the gate near all of the cars, and the baby coming and I can’t imagine having my homebirth here in this little apartment with so much human traffic passing by, the air quality is poor, and we are far from any parks or outdoor places that I miss so badly. But the real reason I am desperate is because if we stay we have to sign a minimum 9 month lease and the thought of being trapped here that long makes me want to scream and run away. I have spent a miserable pregnant summer here pining for my old home, country, friends, family, cooler climate, etc. I have felt lonely, I miss my husband even though I see him every day, and I want to run away from everything that isn’t the way I want it to be.

So while I try to find a new place of residence, without a car I might add, that makes things tricky, I keep hearing this voice in my head, one that has guided me truly all of my life, that tells me that the real problem will not be fixed by moving this month. I may feel better for a while, and for a while longer be distracted from the real problem that plagues me, I am not going to be happier anywhere unless I deal with the real problem.

In a way I have been like my son, whining about what cannot be changed, and demanding the impossible. As I heard my lecture to him today about choosing to count our blessings, I realized that it was for me also. Perhaps instead of trying to manipulate my circumstances to meet my needs and give me what I am seeking, I should stop and truly choose thankfulness for the blessings I do have, and they are many.

I don’t know right now if I am able to do that. Every time I think about letting go and being thankful I feel as though I am grieving for something as yet unnamed, and I feel anything but strong.

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