Archives for posts with tag: essay

Two families wait in line

A mom in her 30’s cradles her son in her arms
Two elementary school girls sit at her side
Silent on the concrete bench under the awning
Hair pulled back tight in braids
Pale pink lace dresses, two pairs of new sandals
One red, one white
A miniature white button-down man shirt
Tucked into tiny pressed navy shorts

Baby boy bounces from knee to knee
Tiny fingers pop bits of cereal into hungry mouths
Immaculate, contained, quiet

Greying father and mother sit in the front
Two pre-teen girls sit with their chocolate puppy behind
Parked at the curb in their restored vintage van
Hair wet and stringy tossed everywhere
Damp bathing suit underneath a faded junior lifeguard sweatshirt
A cat t-shirt stained with spots of paint and food
Over too-small blue shorts
Hand-me-down flip flops, bare feet

Dog wrestles in the back seat
Hands shove sandwiches dripping with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise into uninterested mouths
Relaxed, loud, bored

Both families wait for permission slips to roam over borders and return home

Numbers are called
One family enters
One walks away
One White
One Latino

Which is which?

Grandpa Joe, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only Grandma Gracie

Grandpa, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only “Gram”, Florida, 1983

My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was a fierce Italian woman who hugged too tightly and never hesitated to tell you what was on her mind. She fed us too well and despite the fact that she was only 4′ 11″, her footsteps were like that of an elephant’s (she was always in heels), and I swear that they based that TV commercial on how she would call my brother in for dinner (“Annnthony!”). She passed away last October, five days before I left for Nepal. I returned to NY to celebrate her life and then boarded the plane for a journey that would change my own.

In my backpack, I carried two of her prayer cards: a laminated version with a picture of the Blessed Mother looking down with love upon three children, and a paper one with a solitary image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was my grandmother’s lodestar, her namesake, and in her final years, who she remembered her own mother to be. It is because of my grandmother that my daughter carries the same name.

Two days after my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crouching on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, the gateway to The Beyond for the Hindu community in Nepal. A continuous stream of funeral pyres burn here, releasing into the waters the remnants of the dead, and are then re-lit over and over again, burning at the base of the Shree Pashupatinath Temple. In my hand was the paper prayer card, Mary looking out into an unseen distance. I thanked my grandmother for her love and devotion. I promised to always remember that “blood is thicker than water”, and to keep my eyes out for a “decent” girlfriend for my single brother—and then I let the card be carried away with the ashes of so many others in the waters of the Bagmati.

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 – photo credit: Sahadev Panday

Despite the fact that I was able to perform my good-bye ceremony in one of the most sacred places on the planet, it wasn’t until I was hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas that I encountered my grandmother in the afterlife. As we marched through one tiny village after another, we came across so many lovely, yet somewhat solemn individuals. Always smiling, they kept mostly to themselves, a resultance of not speaking our language I’d assumed. But rounding the corner one warm morning, we came across an ardent, ageless crone who we heard before we saw. We met what could only be described as my Nepali grandmother.

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

Also a nonagenarian, this woman called us over to show us her broken eyeglasses. Her fingers, bent by time and arthritis, pointed at each of us with aggression, while she animatedly explained to our guide that her daughter had left to go breed a bull in another village and she needed new glasses. She was hard of hearing, but sharp as a tack and had something to say about each of us. She had the same demanding attitude, the same crooked fingers, the same “what in the Hell do you know!” gestures as she waved us away, annoyed that we didn’t have any glasses to give her. I quietly sidled up to her and held her hand as she talked, expecting her to impart some wisdom or have a spark of recognition for me—for clearly she was my grandmother in another time and a very faraway place—but there was none. She took no notice of me and barely registered that I was touching her at all. I was okay with that. I had received far more than I ever expected and was grateful for the opportunity to see that my grandmother could live on in unexpected ways.

This past week, my grandmother’s cousin and her closest friend, also passed away. It was no surprise when I received the call. Nonina, as she was known in the family, was as fierce and Italian as Grandma, and together they had so much deliciousness to offer the world, and a lot to say about it too. Where Grandma held expertise in food (though Nonina was no slouch), Nonina knew her fashion, and thanks to her, as a kid I was dressed in the very best chiffons and polyesters that the 70’s had to offer. Her children were her life, as she would tell you over and over again, and there was not an award, a performance or a Halloween costume that would pass without her inspection. Now that she is gone, the world is a little dimmer, but I can only imagine the party happening now that she is home.

After Nepal, I am excited to see how Nonina will show up again. I look forward to the unexpected moment when I hear two older ladies arguing and instantly think of Grandma and Nonina. And I’m curious to see where I’ll encounter someone who refers to me as, “Doll”. While I miss them both very much, I can’t wait until they visit me once again.

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002 – photo credit: Joseph Schuyler

 

 

trainingcruise

Let’s get one thing clear about me training for a triathlon: you are witnessing a cosmic anomaly. Think of the Northern Lights or Hale Bop…you aren’t going to see this every day. I have run in exactly two 5k’s in my life and one of those was because I was just trying to keep my marathon-running boyfriend from breaking up with me. Aside from that, the grandest bit of public competition I have ever participated in was the Filene’s Basement Bridal Sale… and even that was 15 years ago.

Let’s also clear up another misconstrued notion: this is not a real triathlon. This is what the athletes call a “super sprint”: 500 yard swim, 6 mile bike ride, 2 mile run. I’m guessing the ‘sprint’ in the title is because there will be people going all out to finish this as fast as possible. Those people. The reason I was able to sign up for this without doing a shot of tequila first was because there is actually a parent child category, and I figured that if I was unable to get myself through the water, I could always use a passing child as flotation device.

Training Day 23: 

Waking up at 7am on a Saturday wasn’t that difficult, it was getting out of the bed that was sucking the happy out of my soul. Visions of me getting passed by 7 and 8 year olds as I puffed and wheezed my way through the running portion of the triathlon pushed me out of bed and got me dressed. I was going to kick some elementary school ass if it was the last thing that I did.

When I opened the garage door, I growled. My bike was in the shop after spokes began to spontaneously burst off of the rim. (I’d like to say it was because of the comet like speed that I had been generating, but upon my first “long” ride, I nailed a curb and possibly a parked car… I was too busy licking the ground to pay attention.) The bike that I was riding in the tri was a 24 speed hybrid, not the optimal bike for that type of race, but since this is only a 6 mile ride (and possibly one with a child tagging along) I felt that it would be fine. However, now with it in the shop, and time marching ever closer to race day, I had to take my beach cruiser.

If you do not live near the sea, as was once my case, then you might not be familiar with the common mode of transportation known as “the beach cruiser”. Beach cruisers come with names like ‘Low Rider’ and ‘Lil’ Betty’, wide handle bars and cup holders made out of coconut shells. Mine came from a school auction that we accidentally won after too many Moscow mules. There were no flame jobs, but a sassy bell and banana seat. And now here I was, trying to crank out a speedy six only to jump off and then run two miles… the “brick workout”. I wished that I had one of those cyclist outfits on to make this expedition truly complete.

As I happily peddled along, I imagined myself in the triathlon, smiling and waving to the people walking with their morning coffee. Bling bling! I bet they’re all looking at me and thinking, “Wow, is she training for a triathlon?” I spy an older gentleman with a crooked baseball cap riding up ahead of me, a bag of McDonald’s breakfast in his basket, so I nominate him as my official pace setter. I roll up behind him and think about how ridiculous this entire endeavor is, how if I had to plan a triathlon, we’d all go for a lovely 500 yard swim/float, get out and shower, have a nice breakfast, then a quick 6 mile bike to a vineyard where there would be a wine tasting waiting for us. Finally we’d walk through a magical set of Italian gardens 2 miles long only to be greeted with a fantastic lunch. That’s a triathlon, right?

I found myself getting bored as I rode, so I made a game out of swerving to miss tiny dogs, but not the ones with sparkly collars. I thought about all of the people that were rooting me on; my friend in NY that despite not having run in a year, went out for a 3 mile jog with me and pasted an ironman number leftover from the previous weekend’s race to my shirt; my sister-in-law who would sit and listen intently to all that I had (or more accurately had not) done to train, with tips, clothing and bike at the ready to hand over to me; my sister who sent me a package containing an article about an ironman competition that I would not only never attempt, but secretly loathe as I was accidentally present to it on my 40th birthday and might have something to do with me forcing this upon myself now. And my husband, and my children, and more and more and more. I realized that I wasn’t the only one swimming/biking/running this race. Apparently trying to kill yourself also takes a village.

As I pulled back into the driveway, I leapt from my bike, trying to obtain the most accurate re-creation of the transition that happens in the race. Of course, my ear buds were stuck in my helmet, then I accidentally shut off my music, and my husband had locked the garage so I couldn’t put the bike away… and 10 minutes later I was off and running. Well, less like running and more like a zombie rising from the grave and trying to flee after their decayed feet have fallen off. Oh, I get it—brick workout. My mind immediately calls roll on every reason why this is a bad idea, and my anxieties are jumping up and down with their hands raised and shouting, “Present!” I slow down to a discernible crawl, but keep moving. I chastise myself for not being able to run. I realize I’m not very kind to myself, remember that I’m not sprinting I’m just finishing, and still keep going, and when I can, I run some more. I feel tired but stronger, sore but proud. Just get to the corner. Just make it through this song. Walk three steps, run four. And breathe… and breathe… and breathe. At least I’m moving forward.

In the weeks that followed my brick workout, I have increased my bike speed by 10 minutes, can run two miles non-stop, and can swim twice the distance required. I feel stronger physically, as well as mentally. I have learned that having to slow down to a float/coast/crawl just means experiencing the world on my terms. I have learned that coffee and wine are like drinking sand when it comes to hydration. I have learned that my mind is the Fox News of my physical capabilities, and I just have to change the channel to Discovery.  I have learned that all of those words of encouragement that I tell my daughters every day, phrases such as “believe in yourself” and “you are strong” and “you can do anything” aren’t just cookies that you hand out to satisfy a craving, they are the meat and potatoes of our soul, sustaining us, growing us, guiding us.

I know now that I can do this, and because of that, I can do anything.

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

“So, why are you doing this? I mean, what is the reason you have decided to train for this triathlon with me? I have a bunch of different reasons why I am, and I’m happy to share them with you, but why are you doing this?” I was eager for my 10 year old to tell me how excited she was to have some one-on-one time with me, to share in a crazy new adventure together, and to learn how to become a team.

“Because you are making me,” she shot back.

I burst out laughing. Here I was, due to some rip in the space time continuum, talking to my own 10 year old self, and she was annoyed and sarcastically funny. My daughter smiled in spite of herself and immediately tried not to. Memories of summers spent hauled off to aerobics classes, herded on bike trips, thrown into tennis camps flashed through my mind; I had injected into my daughter everything I once upon a time hated about my own childhood. In the best trick the Universe every played upon me, I was my parents and my daughter was me.

That was the moment I understood why I swallowed a heaping dose of insanity and signed us both up for a triathlon.

“You don’t have to do this with me,” I countered. “You are welcome to stop at any time. I want you to know that this isn’t about competing, this is about just being together as we make a journey. If we walked, floated and coasted the whole time, I would be ok with that.”

But I knew that deep down, this wasn’t necessarily true. I wanted her to love exercising so that she would never be overweight. I wanted her to lose the weight that her already pudgy pre-teen self was starting to gain. Deep down, I wanted to protect her from becoming me.

As we jogged along together, my mind spun trying to sort out if I was giving us a memorable experience, or condemning my daughter to relive the frustration and failure that I grew up with, as adult after adult forced me into exercise programs trying to help me lose weight.

“Mom, did you do this as a kid?”

“Yes. When I was a kid, my dad would get me up at 5:30 every morning to run with him. I hated it,” as the words came out of my mouth, it was as if I was standing on the sidelines watching both of our reactions simultaneously. I knew that what I was telling her was what could very well be happening in this moment. But I could change that.

“He would yell at me whenever I wanted to walk. And when I couldn’t run anymore, he would run off and leave me to walk by myself.” The words sounded harsh coming out of my mouth, but they weren’t emotional, they were simply true.

“Why did he make you run?”

Somehow I never saw this question coming. I paused, wondering if I should protect all three of us and create some trumped up reason about his love for the activity, but ultimately I decided that this very same truth about how my father felt about me, was an evil reality about what I feared for my daughter.

“Because he thought I was fat,” I explained.

“Sometimes Nonno can be mean,” she replied.

My father has a passion for teasing, and not always in the most gentle and loving way. This was a truth that even she had experienced as a very small child, so she immediately accepted that this is how he would treat his young daughter.  But for me, in that moment, I knew better. He wasn’t mean. He was scared. He was terrified, in fact, of his daughter growing up heavy and struggling to be loved and accepted, as he once had in his teens. My father was doing everything that he could, as were all of those pushy adults in my life, to protect me from the cruelty that gets handed to you when you aren’t perfect in the eyes of society. They didn’t realize that the damage that they were inflicting, as I continued to fail and feel conditionally loved, was worse than what they were trying to prevent. I knew this about them in my head, but in that moment I fully understood this with my heart; and for the first time in 30 years, I loved them all for it.

I made the commitment then and there to have fun on this triathlon adventure, no matter what. I am working on letting go of my unrealistic standards for myself as I train, and all I need to do is to look to my daughter and determine if our goal of having fun is being met. Once again, she is leading me rather than the other way around. Already, I have gained so much from this experience, that if we never run a single step, I would still be so much better for having started. Once again, it is not about the destination, but all about our journey.

elfsam
Perhaps it is because I’m the farthest from home I’ve ever been at Christmastime, or because I’m still trying to wrap my head around decorating a palm tree, but all of the Facebook back and forth over why we should continue to propagate the myth of a mischievous little creature in our homes has left me pensive and nostalgic. And frankly, a little bit freaked out.

First the nostalgic. Don’t you remember when you were a kid, how you would just fill up like a water balloon, in the days following Thanksgiving, with the excitement of the holidays? Whether it was driving around looking at lights, or the anticipation of what treasures were held in the brightly colored packages, everything around us as kids screams wonder and happiness. Then, on Christmas Eve, we would practically pass out (literally, I remember trying to hold my breath in the back seat of our car to make myself go to sleep faster so Santa wouldn’t catch me awake on the ride home from my grandmother’s house) from anticipation that almost reached anxiety levels, just waiting to see what Santa was going to accomplish that year.

The Elf on the Shelf simply brings Christmas magic, the possibility of catching a glimpse of the extraordinary, into a kid’s home nightly. For the parents out there that are exhausted and frustrated with having to perpetuate this myth, particularly for their older kids, I beg you to keep going. This isn’t about them wanting to force you out of bed in the night, give you one more thing to add to your already overloaded and toppling list of things to do or challenge your abilities as a creative and caring parent. This is about them just wanting proof that there is magic still in the world. This is about them holding onto the innocence of childhood for just one more year. This is about keeping our jaded, meat and potatoes world at bay with just one more season of cupcakes for dinner. And for us parents, this is truly a moment when the lists and the ‘I wants’ are erased from the holiday equation, and what we are left with is children that are filled with wonder and joy.

Now the freaked out part. Our elf Sam has been visiting us for the last week, and it has taught me many things about my children (ages 6 and 9) but mostly how trusting they are in us and the world. There is no hesitation, there is no questioning, there is just acceptance that intentions are pure and actions are good. As a parent, this scares the crap out of me because I know, and have experienced, different. But I also know that those experiences, are my experiences, and coloring their world with my experiences removes entire spectrums of possibility for them. So, as a parent, how do I foster this beautiful innocence and wonder, while teaching them to be safe and discerning? The best I can come up with is to just enjoy each moment as much as they do, like playing the Elf on the Shelf game as long as they’ll have it, and take each life event for what it is while giving relevant instruction along the way. And, most importantly, to be inspired to reclaim my own wonder and joy around the season, so that I may see the world as that child once again (although I now know I’ll always breathe in before passing out). Sampling some of that magic will help me to understand and therefore communicate better as a parent.

A friend recently commented that the Elf on the Shelf was “a daily opportunity to fail as a parent,” which made me laugh out loud. Rather, I would like to propose that in addition to stealing from our candy stashes and tipping over Christmas trees, our elves are giving us a glimpse of being a kid at Christmas and an opportunity to connect with our kids in a way that is lost most of the rest of the year. I would even go as far as to say, our elves are helping us to be better parents.

rockclimbing

Do you remember a time in your life when fear just never entered into the picture? The summer I turned five years old, we visited a friend’s pond; a murky hole in the ground that was teeming with soupy rich greenness. Being upstate NY in July, it was beastly hot and humid, so submersing in more moisture was surely the best answer for finding relief. We were told that the only way we could enter the water was on a float, because it was home to several snapping turtles. (Yeah, looking back upon that concept really colors my childhood in a whole new questionable hue.) Not really understanding what a snapping turtle was, or how that possibly could be a bad thing, I eagerly accepted a ride sitting upon my teenage friend’s back, on the float. (I’m not talking the sturdy water crafts of today that are tied off to docks and boats across upstate NY. This was 1977. Half deflated and covered with Pabst Blue Ribbon emblems, this raft was less floatation device and more flagship for a drunkard’s folly.)

We paddled out towards the middle, leaving behind the oppressive climate of the shore, and the casual concern of our parents.

About 10 feet offshore, the raft tipped over. Looking back upon it now, I’m not sure what is more surprising, the fact that no one anticipated this or that I was in the middle of a snapping turtle infested swamp, practicing Cirque du Soleil-like feats and did not know how to swim.

(Seriously, I need to take a minute here. This is the first real good think I’ve donated towards this memory. Where in the Hell were my parents? I know it is the 70’s and all, and surely I don’t expect a helmet or safety harness, but my God!  Would it have killed them to strap one of those inadequate styrofoam eggs to my back at least?)

As I sank to the bottom, I remember feeling only one thing. The sounds around me went silent and as I looked up towards the green dappled surface, and felt the sweet coolness of the water around me, I felt completely at peace. I wanted to stay there below the surface, bubbled in this womb of nature, but before I knew what was happening, I was being yanked to the surface where heat, blindingly bright light, and shrieks of terror reclaimed me.

As children, our innocence prevents us from being swallowed by our fears. Often times we aren’t afraid because we don’t know any better. Then as we walk through the world, we encounter obstacles that tend to come with the stories, anxieties and failures of others, which then become fears of our own. If only we can remain in that innocence, and simply view each experience, each obstacle, as new and separate from every other moment, fear wouldn’t stand a chance.

Yesterday, I brought the nine year old and the six year old to an indoor rock climbing gym for the first time. Imagine a warehouse sized space with multiple two and a half story high walls built out in various gravity taunting formations, dotted with a series of shaped holds that appear to be made from Play Doh. In the middle of the gym was a structure meant to resemble a boulder, standing 15 feet tall.

As we entered the space, the palms of my hands instantaneously began to perspire. Despite having spent time in the quarries of Massachusetts and the rock formations of New Hampshire climbing in my youth, I could feel my pulse quicken and my breathing shorten.

My daughters, who had never seen such a spectacle, were mesmerized. To them, I couldn’t sign the documents declaring them able to throw themselves to the wolves of gravity fast enough.

Within minutes of donning the equipment, the nine year old had bouldered her way (read: climbing guide rope free and thereby giving her mother another reason to drink on a Thursday afternoon) to the top of the 15 foot structure. The six year old was complaining that she wanted to remove her safety guide line (the belay) because the tension of the automated rope was competing with her tiny sparrow-like frame, and preventing her from being able to get close to the wall.

For them, there was no hesitation, only excitement. For me, there was a litany of emergency room menu items scrolling through my head. I tried my best to keep my anxieties to myself, and gently guide as opposed to aggressively scream. I did see my six year old pause once, as I reminded her when she had bouldered her way three feet above my head, that there was no guide rope and I couldn’t come get her down. She retreated down the wall, only to chalk up her hands, immediately remount and make her way the full five feet above my head so that she could loudly declare me wrong from her perch.

Recently, The Universe was kind enough to call me out on my nightly prayer of wanting to be shown my path. Apparently there is this notion that I should be writing a book. To further back up this cosmic plan, a famous and well documented journalist has been placed in my circle, near enough for me to reach out to, ask for assistance, and firmly solidify this next evolution of Mikko Cook.

My palms are sweating, my pulse is racing and I’m finding it difficult to breathe.

Thanks to the lesson of living in oblivion from my children and my own youth, instead of hitting ‘ignore’ when I see The Universe pop up on my caller id, I’m going to set aside all of my ‘what ifs’ and my ‘remember THATs’ and take the call. I’m going to take this new experience for what it is… new and to be experienced. Sure there is so much that can go horribly wrong (don’t think I haven’t been calculating it all out since I took that initial call), but now what if I pretend that I don’t know otherwise, that humiliation and rejection are like snapping turtles to a 5 year old… something that exists, nothing more.

Guess it is time to dig out my chalk bag and begin my ascent.

typingmonk

Recently I was rejected by an online journal after I had submitted a piece for consideration. After much whining and foot stomping (on my part), I passed it along to a few friends for critique and then sat down with my own scalpel. Seems that the journal in question wasn’t all that insane and the piece did indeed need a little more meat on the bones. I scraped around inside my soul and came up with more batter, perhaps even some tasty morsels that should have made the first batch. I submitted and then waited… and waited… and waited.

I never heard from them again.

Here is a little advice to all of the editors out there who sit behind an inbox filled with the hopes and dreams of us typing monkeys, trying our damnedest to recreate our version of Shakespeare’s plays.

1. Please do us monkeys the favor of being consistent and clear about what your submission guidelines are. We are monkeys and we get easily confused. A simple email address, format for the submission, any requirements for attachments and a deadline is all we really need. If you would like to include your standard stylebook, that would be greatly appreciated, and would most likely make your life easier. What makes us bang our heads on the keyboard and fling feces at each other is when you have three different website links going to three different sets of instructions as to how to submit to your publication.

2. We appreciate you. We realize you probably have to slog through a football field of donkey crap each day just to emerge with a golden nugget, hoping it isn’t just a polished turd. We get it. We understand that as a writer, rejection is a part of our life now and without rejection we’ll only ever create polished turds. So go ahead, reject away! However I would ask that you do the favor of at least reading a good portion of the piece before rejecting so that the standard response sent out actually applies. If I’m writing a piece on footballs, please don’t tell me that you can’t possibly use one more article on palm trees.

3. Be honest. Isn’t that what editing is all about? Don’t tell us that you’d love to take another look if you really wouldn’t. We are all adults (well, according to our birth certificates anyway), and need to handle straightforward rejection without taking it personally. If you tell me that you’d be happy to look over the rewrite, then I don’t hear from you ever again, this really isn’t any different than that crappy guy I dated in college that promised to call me after he returned from spring break and never did. I’m left bitter and you look like a liar. Come on, we’re both better than that.

4. We realize that there are a lot of us monkeys out here, and we are producing a lot of polished poo, so if you’d like to give us helpful tips for revision, be sure to clearly state that these are great general tips and try not to infer that these were meant specifically for our submission. Again, we know that you’d like to let us down gently, but we’re monkeys and we need to be hit over the head. Don’t send me revision tips if you don’t really want my style of crap.

5. Finally, just be kind and courteous. I know we’re monkeys. I know we eat with our hands and have bad hygiene. But we are have feelings and thumbs and aren’t that different from you. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’ and the consideration of a response (even a standardized short but final one) would go a long way towards developing our relationship as future editor and writer, and more importantly is some of the best marketing for your publication.

Thank you for the job that you do. Without editors our literary world would be a steaming cesspool of blather. You stand at the edges with your industrial sized strainer, sifting to find the gems of our madness. We love you and appreciate you. We just want to remind you that once upon a time, on the evolutionary scale, you were a monkey once too.

kittylittercake

I was a total shit to my husband last week.  Not like cutting-the-nipples-out-of-all-of-his-dress-shirts kind of a shit, or texting-his-friends-pictures-of-him-playing-dress-up-with-the-girls kind of a shit… more like I-was-feeling-less-than-so-I-took-it-out-on-him kind of a shit.

In the moment, I thought I was being funny.  I thought, “Ha ha!  Wouldn’t it be great fun to point out just how many times I have cleaned this container of cat crap more than he?!?” (Which, if we’re counting is exactly every time since we’ve moved.  Every. Time.  For 8 weeks. But I assure you, I’m over it.)  And he would laugh, and I would laugh, and then he’d say something Brontë-esque that would draw tears from my eyes like, “My darling, you are too delicate a creature to have to bend to the wastes of felines.  Never again shall I allow you to humble yourself so intimately!”  And then he forever more cleans the cat box.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

There was no laughter, nothing quoted from classical literature, and while there were no tears, there was also no humor or good anything left in the room.  While the cat box was fresh, the air left behind after the comment was pitifully stale.

So, I decided I would try again.  After sourcing out the freshest, most divine specimens from the area farmer’s market, I came home to prepare a luscious, highly nutritious dinner for the family.  (And, let it be known that this was one of a long menu of meals that I had prepared as I was cooking all of our dinners lately.  All. Of. Them. Again, totally over it.)

As the family was leaning back in their chairs, satisfied by the rich culinary delights, my husband thanked me for making another delicious meal.  Inspired by my husband, my girls also complimented and thanked me.

“Aren’t you getting tired of thanking me for making dinner every night?”

See?  A total ass.  In just one sentence, I illustrated textbook marriage no-no’s  – scorekeeping and sarcasm.  And then, I followed it up with a dollop of Complete Surprise when he got angry and called me out on it.  Nothing like avoiding responsibility and demeaning his response to bake it into a steamy shitcasserole.

We spent the evening tossing verbal barbs back and forth.  To be honest, in the moment, I was completely put off that he was even the least bit offended, let alone thinking he was <gasp> JUSTIFIED in his response!  How dare he think that I can’t indicate my own feelings of frustration!  Just because he had been working 14 hour days, without the ability to stop for a snack let alone prepare a meal, doesn’t mean I get to feel like I’m servant to the world.

And there you have it.  Right there is where this heaping pile of doo doo rained from our sky.  Did you catch it?  Did you see the underlying crack in my perception that quickly spread to a chasm and widened itself to separate me from my love of these amazing people?

According to my ego, I am a servant.  My chief responsibilities are cleaning cat boxes and baking casseroles, and that is NOT acceptable to my ego.  According to my ego, to assume that that role in it’s entirety is me is an insult and I need to fight that identity, no matter the cost.  The title of ‘Servant’ is beneath me.

However, after I was able to get some space and clarity, this is the alternate reality that I came up with…

According to my soul, I am a servant.  While my responsibilities are cleaning cat boxes and baking casseroles, I do this because our cat brings us love and joy and deserves the respect necessary to not have to utilize a festering waste receptacle.  And for my family, it is my choice to shop the farmer’s markets, create the recipes and cook the meals from scratch because it is how I show them how much I love them.  Cooking dinner is not a chore but a labor of love.  I could easily return to my days of eating a single baked potato for a single girl, but is this really what I want?

I am worthy of far more than my chores, and that is the love that I give by doing those chores.  What I do reflects my gifts to the world. I am not identified by what those tasks are, but with the attitude I choose to embrace as I do them.

I also got, in a 2X4-upside-the-head kind of way, that if I have an issue with how I am identified, than I need to fix that.  It is not the responsibility of my husband to sort that out.  He’s busting his ass to get me the space and the resources to do that on my own.  And guess what?  I’m an even bigger ding dong for giving him grief about that.  And, while we’re at it, how about I sit down and sort out what is so goddamned important about having an identity.  Sounds like someone is swimming in the low self esteem side of the pool and needs to do a little soul searching about what this all means. (Yeah, I ate a bunch of chocolate after I swallowed all of these bitter pills.)

So, after I sorted all of this out, I apologized.  Profusely.  I confessed all of the aha’s that came to me and how every one illustrated how supremely awful I had been.  Sure, I harbored a bit of panic that this all might come back up in later arguments and be used against me in our Court of Life, but I had to take that chance and not hold anything back.  Love isn’t about trying to keep the upper hand.  Love is about handing them your heart and trusting that whatever comes next – cat poop or casserole – will all be fertilizer to make it grow.

He smiled when I spilled it all out.  He also gave a few confessions of his own, but I suspect those were trumped up to make me feel a bit better.  I now look at cleaning the house and cooking our meals more like love notes than community service.  And he has jumped in and helped out more than he really has energy or time for.

Like right now.  He’s photoshopping a picture of cat poop into a casserole for me.*

I so love this man.

(*Editor’s Note: He didn’t actually photoshop the above picture.  He googled the image (Really? You googled ‘cat poop casserole’?) and found this blog about a kitty litter cake.  Looks like a fun idea for Halloween.  Check out the blog here: http://kitchentreats.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/kitty-litter-cake/)

sidebyside
(photo credit: me. And I swear to you that these images are not retouched… except for erasing some water droplets that got on my lens in the Guam shot.)

There was a lovely man, with crazy hair, that proved that time is relative some years ago. I understood this to mean that waiting an hour in traffic when you are late for an appointment was actually akin to doing so in years, and spending an hour catching up with an old friend goes by in the time it takes a hummingbird to dry its wings. You know, the uncomplicated, easily digestible understanding of time. Then I traveled to and from an island in the Pacific to a town in the Northeast, in the winter, with children, and time became an entirely new concept for me.

No matter how much I prepared, how many activities, sleep aids and herbal supplements I packed, I now realize that I was preparing for something that I couldn’t possibly comprehend. Kind of like packing to climb Mt. Everest, and being sent to teach English to a group of small children in a Thai village. Not even English… Swahili.

Going there was taxing, but not insurmountable. We chased the sun as we flew west, and spent 21 hours in daylight. This just tricked us into feeling like we had lived through the longest day ever. Once we boarded our last flight (4 hours long), and the night sky descended upon us, we were toast. We tumbled off of the plane, out into the 86 degree humid air, and into the loving arms of our family. Congratulations, you have now arrived at Bliss State! We spent some short hours celebrating, then off to bed. It was midnight Guam time, 3pm our time.

In the days that followed, I quickly gave up looking at clocks, converting time zones and worrying about sleeplessness. It was easy. When you wake up in Guam at 3:30am, you simply strap the paddle boards to the car and go off in pursuit of some night snorkeling. And as you do so, you are treated to the most symphonic rising of the sun over the ocean that you can imagine. Even the rain, warm rain!, brings you waves of joy. You think to yourself, “Thank goodness that I’m awake and I did not miss this!”. And later, around 4pm when your children are passing out asleep trying to go to the bathroom, you simply scoop them up, kiss them on the cheek, place them into bed and look forward to swimming with the phosphorescent fish in the wee hours of the next day.

I never knew what time it was in Guam, and I didn’t care. When the sun came up, I was there waiting. I ate when I was hungry and went to sleep when I was tired. Our days were so filled with sun and warmth and activity, that we simply dropped when we couldn’t stand anymore. We were exhausted and happy.

I realized that I had put so much time and effort into worrying about my kids and the long flight and the time difference, that I never even gave the actual experience any thought. Perhaps that was a good thing. I can’t even say that our trip exceeded my wildest expectations, because I didn’t have any. But if I’d had… it blew them away.

And perhaps this tactic also backfired on me when I never gave a thought to the trip home. I can’t help now wondering if there was some way I could have steeled us against the jarring affect it would have upon us to return. I doubt it.

To come home, we boarded an early morning flight to Hawaii (7 hours) and crossed the international dateline. The day before we departed it was my youngest’s 6th birthday. Now, in Hawaii at 6:30 at night, it was her birthday once more. For this second birthday, Oahu pulled off a rainbow, right outside of our terminal as we disembarked our incoming flight. The sun was setting and the breeze was magical. My husband and I looked at each other with a flash of panic. Quick! How do we stay? How do we keep the inevitable at bay? My husband actually begged at the airline counter for any solution that would keep us in the Pacific breezes just a little longer.

“I’m sorry,” sympathized the agent. “Unless one of your children is either severely injured or desperately sick, which would prevent them from flying, there is nothing that I can do. You will have to board your flight.”

Our children will never be able to question our love for them. We thanked the man and left Oahu, Hawaii for Newark, NJ in February.

Hawaii to NJ was 9.5 hours, most of it filled with fitful sleep and repeated movies. Immediately following was a final 1 hour flight to our hometown, complete with no onboard bathroom, a 6 year old’s bladder, and a spilled carrot ginger drink. We arrived home at 2:30pm, miraculously collected all of our bags (I’m always thrilled and amazed when all of my luggage ends up where it is supposed to be. For this very reason, I will forever believe in Santa Claus.), and stumbled out into the NY afternoon… grey, brown, raining, snowing, cold.

The days that followed… well, I’d like to give you an honest recap of the days that followed, but frankly this must be what it is like at the beginning stages of rehab for a meth habit. Sleep became an elusive drug that was never available when we needed it. We try to go to bed at a decent hour, only to be wide awake to start our day in the middle of the night once more. However this time, there was no symphonic sunrise or gentle tradewinds to greet us – just darkness and snow and ice. So we’d toss and turn and cry. Sleep is like a lover who has moved on; the harder you to try to embrace her, the farther away she gets.

Nights felt like days, and days felt like Hell. That first morning I dragged myself out of bed, after 4 hours of sleep, at 11am terrified that I’d be left behind in the Guam time zone. Grocery shopping seemed like the most reasonable and less demanding activity, however it just intensified our feeling of culture shock. I craved to find myself once again in a sea of happy, vacationing, polite Japanese tourists, hearing nothing but their giggles and soft voices. Instead I was met with angrily knit brows, ashen flesh and the bitter sentiment that we’d all been orphaned in this godforsaken frozen wasteland and it was every man for themselves.

By the second full day home, I was desperate for a solution. Experts say that spending as much time as you can in direct sunlight will increase your melatonin and speed your recovery from jet lag. Yeah, great, I live where the light is like weak tea with a strong shot of whole milk. These grey skies did nothing for us. So, I thought perhaps we just needed some re-orienting to something familiar, warm and exhausting, and I made us swim at the local Y for 3 hours.

It was great and worked like a charm for the children – they slept for 12 hours straight. I don’t know if that would have worked for me. I got a call 15 minutes before midnight from my sister who was going into labor and I was the birth coach. Two days back and time to help deliver a baby. Most definitely the crowning achievement out of all of my beyond-my-bloody-mind moments.

After 3 days and nights with 3-4 hours of sleep, sporadic at best, and dangerously high levels of caffeine in my system (in my dreams, I would be lost and confused, and go searching for coffee to help me re-orient) I found myself dreaming while I was awake. My husband would be trying to hold a conversation with me, and I’d throw something in there about it raining macaroni, and quickly realize that despite the time on the clock, I needed to go to bed.

Perhaps it is only when we are so far out of ourselves, out of our comfort zone and the cushion of what we’ve come to expect, that we are able to perceive our situation and the reality around us in a new and never-before-considered light.

That first night, at 2:17am, in a pathetic bit of parenting, I turned on what would hopefully be an incredibly boring television show for my children to help them fall asleep.

[image of snow laden forest]
“Do you hate the cold? Are you tired of being stuck inside all winter? Why not live where it is warm and you can swim, snorkel and surf all year round? You don’t have to be rich to live in Hawaii, you just have to want it.”

I looked around to find the hidden camera, and in my delirious state, wondered how Alan Funt could hide in my closet.

“You know what Mom? I could live in Hawaii, as long as we brought all of our pets.”

Thank you Universe. I’m reading you loud and clear.

Crack pipe for the fitness obsessed

F you Nike Fuel.

My husband was a bit of an obsessive compulsive before.  Raised in a military household, you could almost hear Revelry playing in his head as he rose at dawn.  He literally jumps out of bed into his clothes every morning, and before the water has heated for coffee, plans for the day are strategized and mapped.

This is not me. I’m a stare into space well into lunch kind of girl. I like a morning where speaking consists of “Sorry, didn’t know you were in there,” and “Just a little milk, please.” That’s it. Let’s keep all of our thoughts, ideas, wishes and agendas until after lunch. If God wanted to know what you were thinking before noon, he would have thrown mass later into the day.

The Nike FuelBand, for those of you Luddites, couch potatoes, or people like myself who have no idea that technology and physical fitness could get any more obsessive, is a tracking service that monitors your calorie intake, physical exertion and fitness progress.  The system does this by tracking your every move via a bracelet that is worn and collects and compiles data on the Nike fitness site.  The bracelet shows you through a series of red to green lights how much more you need to work out that day (you wake up each day on red, as if that isn’t instantly stressful), tracks your steps with a pedometer, reminds you of how many calories you are allowed, and thoughtfully also gives you the time – aka tracking the minutes until your demise.  On the Nike website, you are able to monitor your progress, compare yourself to other fitness minded people, and get resources to increase your progress towards The Ultimate You.

My husband purchased this additive of insanity just 2 days ago.  It is Sunday morning, daylight savings morning, which means we get an extra hour to sleep in.  But Nike Fuel says otherwise.  This morning he was up at 8am vacuuming the house and throwing away the children’s toys… all the while watching to see how many steps Fuel calculated.  Breakfast consisted of hot water with lemon and coffee, while he rearranged the living room and announced to our children that “Sunday is a work day if I’m going to get all of my steps in for the day.”  By 9:00 (8:00 DST), he had almost finished closing the pool – IN HIS UNDERWEAR – certain that he would burn more calories if he was working outside in 40 degree weather and had to maintain his body temperature.  By 10am, myself and the children were loaded up in the car, heading out to test whether or not bouncing on the trampoline at my parent’s house would significantly increase his “progress towards green.”

I’m excited that he is interested in getting healthy. I want him alive and kicking to watch our girls grow up and get married. I can’t imagine spending any time on this marble without him by my side. And, if I’m going to be completely honest here, I’m tired of cooking fantastic meals from scratch that are low in gluten, fat, and sugar, only to find balled up cheeseburger wrappers in the door of our car. I suppose that I should be jumping for joy that he’ll finally be joining me as I juice greens for breakfast and walk from the far side of the parking lot at the grocery store. But I’m less than thrilled. And here’s why…

Because a nagging fancy bracelet is more effective than his nagging not-so-fancy wife.

F you Nike Fuel. You win this one… for now.