It’s the four-time-supplier-of-genetic-material’s birthday tomorrow.

Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday, and I’ll tell you the truth:  sometimes, it really pisses me off that I’m the kind of person who can’t refrain from remembering shit like that.  Not that I hate the man, because really, I don’t.  There’s just sort of a void in the place where he should be.  Like…you know how people are always talking about the father-daughter bond?  Well, if it weren’t for my husband’s relationship with his Continue reading “It’s the four-time-supplier-of-genetic-material’s birthday tomorrow.”

The spice of life

My grandma used to say “variety is the spice of life.” She said it often and with a twinkle in her eye, but I can’t for the life of me remember the context. She and I were never particularly daring as a duo, though we liked people to think we were. Maybe the words were just her trying to amuse her 50-years-younger grandkid on a Friday night. Probably. But I love the memory of the smile that accompanied them, regardless.

I think, in general, that my grandma had a fairly unhappy life. When she told me stories, they were often traumatic or sad or both. She was once hungry enough to literally eat dirt. She was kidnapped. She was shot. She had cancer. She had bad relationships with her father and her second husband, and her feelings about both of them remained unresolved even years after their deaths.

When she said “variety is the spice of life,” I’m fairly certain that the traumas she experienced and the awful things she felt (and said) were not what she was referencing.  In fact, I actually have no idea what she meant.  I remember loving everything she cooked, but there was never anything surprising or spicy there — not until her first husband moved in (after fifty-some years during which she thought he was dead) and started doing his own cooking, and I was long grown by then.  She never went anywhere except to visit her oldest daughter in Pennsylvania and maybe her sister in Florida once or twice.  Her music was always the same; she never even got rid of the solid oak console television in the living room, because she needed it to listen to her Andy Williams records.  She went to the same church for as long as I can remember.  She parked in the same place, sat on the same side, and said hello to the same two or three people every week for 30 years. She drank a fair bit, but it was always the same thing:  7 & 7.  When the first ex moved back in, she switched to wine.  Aside from one brother, one sister, and a friend she’d had since grade school (but only occasionally liked), she had no friends and no standing social engagements.  She had her hair done once a week by the same stylist from the time I was born til she moved away in her 80s.  Aside from some flower and vegetable gardening in the summer, I have no idea what she did with her time; she hadn’t had a job outside of the house since her kids were little. In retrospect, she always seemed to know more about cleaning and stain removal than anyone should.

Where was the variety?  Where was the spice?

I think sometimes that she must’ve had a very active fantasy life.  In her youth, she was movie star beautiful, and people commented on how stunning she was well into her old age.  Maybe in her dreams all that beauty took her somewhere.  Certainly, she had the material on which to base her imaginings. She had learned to read early, and she often told stories of walking to the library in all kinds of weather.  Her living room bookshelves were the inspiration for my own, and I spent many hours of my childhood inspecting each and every title they held.  I know she read, but I don’t really know when or what.  In later years, I saw her do it only occasionally and never more than 30 minutes at a stretch.  She spent more time with our small town’s morning paper than with any book.  She painted a few things.  She meditated nearly every morning, from the time I was a kid until she moved away.  What did she fantasize about?  I never saw her do anything daring, and I don’t think I ever saw her truly having a good time (though I’ve seen pictures and old videos that make me think there must’ve been some happy times before and soon after my birth).  The only family lore on the subject says that back in the day (the 1960s and 1970s), the brothers and sisters could throw down with the best of them.  At the time, my grandma would’ve been in her 40s and 50s, the oldest of all her siblings.  They sat around in one another’s backyards and basements, drinking and smoking, laughing into the wee hours of morning.

I wonder if she felt like her life was on a downhill slope once she hit 60, if it even took that long. She never seemed particularly happy to be married to the man I called “grandpa,” though they’d known one another for many, many years and even my mom considered him family.  She quit smoking after forty years though it always seemed to be something that brought her joy.  (I wonder if she still measures her life in seven minute segments.)  She didn’t go out.  She played solitaire for hours.  When the first husband came back, she switched to gin rummy.

Where was the variety and spice in her life?  I can only think that it was gone before I ever arrived, although I think we loved one another an awful lot for most of my existence.

I worry, occasionally, about my own life, about what I’ll do with it when I reach whatever age seems deadly and past hope to me.  Maybe — hopefully — I’ll never land where (I think) she is, but people used to always comment on how similar we were.  I worry.   I wonder if I’ll think I did all that I was supposed to do, or if I’ll spend my remaining time daydreaming, wondering like I did when I was 10 if my life had been somehow switched with someone else’s, someone more fortunate or valuable.

But I like to think that for all the books I read, for all the time I spend writing or watching television or playing old computer games….I like to think that my life is spicy and various enough.  I like to think that there are people in my life who make it bigger than just me, people who I love and who love me in return who will remember with me all the ridiculous and wonderful things we did back when we could still hold our liquor.  I like to think I won’t ever be sorry for any of it, and that no one will ever look at me in my old age and think that’s all there is or ever was.  I like to think they’ll know — without a doubt — that I was happy in my life.  There was singing and silliness and joy and love…and all the spice I could’ve ever wanted.

And no matter how boring or unhappy it might have looked to anyone else, I’d like to believe that Gran’s life was happy enough, too. I wish I could go back twenty years, sit with her at her kitchen table, and ask her, nonchalantly, over coffee.
I’d like to imagine that she’d clear her throat, close her hands around the mug, look me in the eye, and be honest.

*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Spicy

Partners

Mama used to say that if only she would’ve had someone to help her pull her wagon, things would’ve been a lot easier for all of us.  She meant another adult, of course, but what she got was a couple of kids.  We weren’t very good pullers, my oldest brother and I, but our hearts were in the right place.  We tried.

Since I starting “dating” my sweet husband in 2015, I’ve thought a lot about that “pulling the wagon” image of Mama’s.  It’s apt, actually.  Those little red wagons aren’t at all easy to pull, particularly if the terrain is rough or if you get it too heavily loaded.  When we were growing up, there were very few patches of smooth ground.  And there were four of us, so the wagon’s burden was never light.  Some of us fell out sometimes.  We got hurt or lost or both.

When Hubby and I got together, his wagon had been stuck in the mud for so long that he’d given up trying to move it.  The kids had taken it over and made a useless mess of it; it was no longer fit to move anything anywhere or to keep anyone out of harm’s way. Indeed, they all had cuts and scrapes from the wagon’s rusty edges, and we worried (and still worry) about infections that never fully go away, that could be life-threatening.

My husband is a hard worker and he brings home a decent paycheck.  He is also a wonderful man with a huge heart, and for several years before I arrived on the scene, he was dad, mom, and sole breadwinner for his three children.  Unfortunately, it was just him trying to do all those things (aside from occasional help from his visiting mom).  Like Mama, he needed serious, permanent help to pull his wagon, and the oldest boy (no matter how good his intentions) wasn’t getting the job done.

When I talk to Hubby about that time, he says there was no opportunity for anything except triage, trying desperately to prioritize on the fly and decide who most needed help.  I can’t imagine how horrific it must’ve been for him to see all his babies in trouble and to only be able to offer temporary help to the one who was bleeding out the fastest. I’m sure his persistent worrying (over a situation he had no power to fix) is to blame for most of his current wrinkles and health problems.

I knew my husband for 25 years before we ever got together, and I think every day about how much different both of our lives would’ve been if it hadn’t taken so long, if we both hadn’t taken so much damage beforehand.  I came in to our relationship with a feeling of worthlessness that was directly tied to how much money I was making.  He came in with the persistent and nagging feeling that he was solely responsible for getting these three little people he’d made into adulthood alive.

I’ve said it before, but I think I was born to be a mother.  As soon as I walked through the door, I started trying to make a safe home for these kids that I really didn’t know at all except through occasional pictures and stories my sister (in-law) told.  At the beginning, hubby gave me $400 a week to buy groceries and the stuff the kids needed.  They had to come to me with their requests instead of to their dad.  I cleaned, went grocery shopping, cooked actual food, and enforced a go-home time for the oldest’s friends.  (Hubby was working midnights, and five days a week, I had to make sure nobody ended up injured, traumatized or dead.)  I bought clothes and school supplies, toiletries and tampons.  I discouraged Hamburger Helper and fast food wherever possible because none of them needed to continue to live that way now that I was there.  Hubby seemed to drop 50 pounds overnight.

My very presence was enough to ensure that within a few months, the kids had new beds and we lived in a nicer house in a better neighborhood.  There was also a new school for the youngest two (the oldest moved away when he hit 18) and car insurance for my husband, who hadn’t been able to round up the extra money to start it while he was busy putting out fires.  This fall he’s going back to school to pursue a dream and to work toward getting the hell out of the factory.

The point of all this is, the experience of marrying my sweet husband and becoming step-mom to these awesome (if occasionally irksome) kids has shown me once and for all what it truly means to be and to have a partner, how it feels to help someone pull their wagon and to know that they are there to help you pull yours, and how sometimes you can help without bringing a single dime of your own to the table.  I would never have guessed.  Seriously.  That was not at all the lesson I’d spent the preceding years of my adulthood learning.

Even more than a year later, it still blows me away when my husband (or my mom or my sister) points out all the ways that the lives of these three people have changed and improved in the time I’ve known them.  I say “I didn’t do anything.  I just showed up.”

My husband says “Baby.  I love you.  You’re so silly.”

*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Partner.

Escape from the Land of Fog

Once upon a time (not so long ago), I lived in a beautiful — and frequently foggy — state. Many times, I woke in the morning to fog laying on the ground like a 40-foot tall endless wall of clouds; it obscured all but the closest branches of the lovely, lightning-split water oak at the center of our circle drive.  Fog also led to my belief that I lived in a state full of idiots; I watched nearly everyone on my morning commute pass on two-lane roads with zero visibility.  They didn’t care about what they couldn’t see.  I always did, and I patted myself on the back for having enough sense to be afraid.  But regardless of the fear, I considered myself an expert on the subject of fog.  I saw it so frequently that I could predict within fifteen minutes the time until it would burn off.    I was proud of this.  It — along with other things — was proof of my Southern-ness, proof that I had begun to fit in.  Actually, it was hubris.  It was silliness.  It was me lying to myself about something little that meant nothing, and transposing that lie onto the whole of my life.

During the 13 years that I was “expertly” navigating the actual fog, I was unfortunately ignoring the figurative fog that had enveloped me.  I was trying to survive in a place where I had no family of my own and no friends to speak of, and in order to do that, I had turned a blind eye to both the day-to-day and long-term truths about my life and the people in it.  I had learned to “stuff” anything that I couldn’t deal with.  I ignored slights and insults and outright meanness.  I pretended not to notice my partner’s unwillingness to defend either me or herself.

In the South, you can get by with damned near anything as long as you don’t advertise. You can be a drug addict or a drunk or a psychopath.  Hell, you can even be a lesbian…as long as you’re willing to never (ever, as long as you live) pat your partner’s ass in front of company or refer to your relationship as anything other than a friendship.  Initially, this was hard for me to accept, but soon enough I let all of it go.  I couldn’t fix it or control it or face it, so it lived somewhere outside of my consciousness and awareness.  I let it stay there (biding its time for a future explosion) while I dealt only with the immediate: the people and situations that were right in front of my face at any given time.

For a while, that behavior — that coping mechanism — enabled me to survive pretty much unscathed.  I formed what I thought were good relationships with a few decent family members.  I loved on my partner’s nieces and nephews as though they were my own (which, of course, they weren’t).  I made a few “mistakes” over the years, but I avoided any major issues until I realized one day that I’d taken altogether too much shit from one particular family member, and it was high time I gave a little back.

But it turns out that — at least in the small-town parts of the South — I really wasn’t supposed to speak the truth on any subject.  For example, even after she tried to turn the entire family against me, I was not supposed to call my (pretty much) sister-in-law a manipulative, hateful, lying, pretend-Christian bitch.  I mean, seriously…who knew?  Also unacceptable: suggesting (very nicely and entirely on the down-low) that maybe the other sister-in-law could take her sexually inappropriate, high, and drunk ass out of the public areas of the beach house we were all sharing while there were pre-teens around.  I know it seems counter-intuitive to the rest of the thinking world, but rather than address any one of those issues, the rest of the Southerners in the house (including my partner) patted the addict on the back while she fake cried, and for days afterward, looked at me like I killed Jesus.  (For the record, neither I nor my people were to blame.)  And of course, they weren’t done making me pay for my transgressive use of the truth.

The point of all this is, I thank the universe and whatever higher power there may be every single day for putting me into an environment that forced me to address all those things head on.  In the course of trying to include and protect my mom, my sister, and my niece and nephew as they mixed with my partner’s family, I saw a lot of things that I’d been willing myself to ignore for years.  The way I had allowed myself to be treated (and used and looked down upon) all that time was unbelievable to me, and I saw it all in a flash — instantly — as my family and I carried our belongings to the car three days before the planned end of our trip.

[All of us had to step over the addict sister-in-law every time we went out the front door.  She wasn’t sleeping or passed out.  She was just laying there because she was a bitch and she wanted to demonstrate that she’d won.  I’ll be painfully honest:  at the time, I really felt like she had.  But I only felt that way because neither my mother nor I (during any of our multiple trips down the steps) used her head as a football.  Moreover, we didn’t say a word, which is totally out of character for both of us.  In retrospect, we should’ve said whatever we had to say.  We’re both good on the fly, and I have no doubt that either of us could’ve made the bitch cry.  Unfortunately, even if we had, we still would’ve been 1-3 on the day.]

It was September when we returned to the land of fog.  I was in the middle of my last semester of grad school, so I couldn’t go back home to Illinois with my mom, no matter how much I wanted to.  I had to stay in that beautiful, foggy, mountain-y, backwoods, hillbilly, awful, repressive place for an additional two months with a partner who — every day — I was breaking up with.  But I’ll tell you what:  it was the easiest end to any relationship I’ve ever experienced in terms of its emotional impact on me.  I couldn’t — I wouldn’t — go back to living in the fog.  I had finally seen what was true and real, and I knew for certain that I’d never choose to turn a blind eye to my own best interests (or my family’s) ever again.

2174089494_859a2a2dcc_bWhen my cat and I drove away from that place (and that warped ass family) two months later, there was no fog at all.  It was days before Christmas — clear as could be with a light dusting of frost on the ground.  I was singing carols with the radio as I turned out of the driveway for the last time.  Mama was behind me driving an SUV full of my stuff, her small, feisty, and brilliant dog on the seat next to her, settled in for a long ride.

My former partner was standing on the porch, but I didn’t look back; I knew there was nothing left there for me.  I think I also knew what was coming, sort of. I knew that ahead of me was Joy and better days, and I couldn’t wait to get there.

*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Foggy

Shimmer and Shine

I was divorced from my first husband for 21 years before I hit the proverbial lottery and managed to get this one to say “I do.”  I was young for that first marriage — awfully, painfully, irritatingly young.  He was a nice guy — a decade older than me — but to this day, I cannot fathom how on earth I ever could’ve been immature enough to find him at all interesting.  I’m also at a loss to explain why I didn’t listen to what my mother had to say on the subject, epic Wise Woman that she is.  The only possible excuse I can muster is that he was pretty cute, and I was 20 years old.  My brain wasn’t yet fully formed.

In the intervening years between the demise of my first marriage and the start of my second, I had occasion to see other relationships up close — both those that seemed built on bedrock and those that everyone in their right minds could see racing toward termination.  I began to notice, of all things, the women’s wedding rings.  Admittedly, it’s more than probable that the highly unscientific study that follows was based solely on my own short-lived and ill-advised first marriage; but it also seems to me that this is the way with all the real-life and common sense knowledge we acquire in our time on the planet, so I’m gonna go ahead and keep talking.

Anyway.  I like shimmer and glitz and shine as much as the next girl, and I had even more appreciation for it as a 20-year-old.  That first wedding ring was cookie-cutter, yellow gold, part of a 3 piece set.  All of the pieces had diamonds, albeit only small ones. The existence of the diamonds in my ring(s) was (at the time) more important to me than their size.  I was insistent on bling to such an extent that I didn’t even make a thing out of preferring white gold.  I detest yellow gold.  It looks horrible against my skin.  But it was what everybody else had, and I was by God gonna keep up with the Joneses.

The good news is, when I got divorced a year later, it was no problem at all to pawn my rings.  =)

What I began to notice in the years after my divorce was the frequency with which the blingy ringed people got divorced vs. the people who wore simple gold or silver bands.  Also, the folks who had huge, massive-debt-incurring weddings vs. those who were married at a courthouse or in Grandpa’s barn.  Seriously…I know there are exceptions to the rule here (I can think of at least a few of my own friends), but if you really look around, take stock, and ask questions, you’d be amazed at the extent to which this shit holds true.  (Heh…I’ve also seen it where the couple did the big wedding and the blingy rings and then stayed together for 50 years when they absolutely should have gotten divorced ten minutes after they were married because staying together was obviously no good for anyone involved.)  In any case, I saw it often enough that it changed my entire way of thinking about marriage and about weddings in general.  I told anyone who would listen that if I ever got married again, it would be in a courthouse, and we’d both have simple wedding bands.

IMG_0458

Mostly, that’s exactly what I did.  We were married in a courthouse, and our families stood up with us.  Hubby has a simple titanium band.  I, however, ended up re-purposing my mom’s (very shimmery) wedding ring (which she’d had custom made into a dinner ring some years before).  Hubby and I had it fitted with a new, thicker band and plated with white gold to cover the yellow.  I adore the thing.  It makes me happy every time I look at it, but not because of the diamonds.  No…I love it because it’s one of a kind.  It’s like nothing anyone else possesses or has ever seen.

Which coincidentally is exactly how I feel about my husband, my mom, and the family I married into.  Even if it had no shimmer at all, it would still shine.

via WordPress Daily Prompt — Shimmer

Bloodless

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anonymous blogging, partially owing to Tiny Rubies’ post on the subject.  A few weeks ago, I was toying around with similar ideas, though certainly I didn’t so eloquently put them down.

I can only say this: The new “normal,” the new online journaling environment is a struggle for me.  I seem to have trouble navigating it at every turn.  Back in the day (2000 to 2010-ish), I took care to leave off all identifying characteristics of myself and everyone else I knew when I wrote online.  Even after talking on and offline for years, less than a handful of the other online diarists I was friends with knew the real names of the people I talked about.  And boy, did I ever talk!  It makes me more than a little cringe-y to imagine putting 75% of those things out there now.  Then, my online diary was so indistinguishable from my paper one that while I was writing online, I totally stopped keeping the ubiquitous notebook that I had kept on my person since I was ten.  I have no doubt that I over-shared with regularity, and my twenties and thirties were the most drama-infested of my life (or anyone else’s, I’d wager).  Without batting an eye, I chronicled the ends and beginnings of relationships, as well as the everyday ups and downs that led to them.  Most of the time, my readers even knew when I was getting a little “action.”

Jesus, I need wine just to think about it.

But I was fearless, and there’s an undeniable appeal in that, even now that I’m older and wiser.  I guess I want there to be a happy medium for my online journaling, and for me as I exist here inside its entries.   Presently, I put down on the page the interesting things I do and see, but I seem mostly to be stopping myself at the feeling.  I know what my creative writing teachers would say if they were reading:  there’s no blood going to it.  I think they’re wrong; I’m just bleeding on the keyboard and on the backspace key where you all can’t see it.  But yes, by the time it gets posted, a lot of it is bloodless.  I only seem to find the more carefree version of myself in writing that is a decade old, and I end up re-posting that old stuff more than I would like (though I almost always have to go through it with a fine tooth comb beforehand to make sure it won’t offend anyone).  It’s a strange spot to inhabit, because a big part of me really likes that there are people I actually know reading now.  But again, I’m sure as hell not posting the stuff I used to.

Truth be told, I’m actually not sure about the extent to which I’d write like that again even if I felt entirely safe doing so.  I grew up online, but I think the process was completed in the four or five years I spent away, when I was keeping my thoughts to myself.  If I had gone back to my trusty Mead notebook in that time, I might never have come back to online journaling; but alas, I only have so much willpower, and I was using it to do other things.  I put pencil to paper about twenty times in the four years I was gone, and that was it.  Writing here again makes me push myself just a little bit, just enough.  I tell myself I have to sit down and do this once a day, and then I have to make the rounds and read you all.  It makes me move my brain around for awhile every day, and I also have to use the writing muscles that had just damned near atrophied.

I’ve said this before–I miss the community, and I’m trying to find it again.  It isn’t easy, primarily because I have no idea who my community is anymore.  I’m not nearly as young as I used to be, so those people who are putting it all out there and bleeding all over the interwebs aren’t my people anymore, though I can surely identify with where they are in their lives.  Maybe it’s the younger me I miss.  Then again, maybe I’d just like to see her again so I can slap the shit out of her.

I don’t know.  I do know that I feel awfully exposed nowadays, and it’s definitely choking off my flow.  I use my real name to blog here, and my mother, my husband, and my entire (real life) Facebook circle of friends have the address at their fingertips should they choose to use it.  And of course, if I ever decide to trade in my SAHM card to go out and look for a real job, no HR person worth their salt would hire me without a Google search.  I don’t know how the world of the employed works anymore — do people still get Dooce’d?

Eh, I’ll figure it out.  I’ll get some blood flowing to it again.  I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m going to have to sink or swim.  Shit or get off the pot.  Say something or sit down and shut up.  Thank goodness I’ve never been one to back down from a fight, even when it’s with myself.

I Am From…*

I am from a tinny-sounding radio on the kitchen counter, a wooden porch swing that occasionally fell down on one end, and Matchbox cars and GI Joes playing with Barbie. I am from a hundred books before age thirteen, soda bottles exchanged for sno-cones, and going down to Farm Fresh for a bag of penny candy or some sour straws. I’m from Dr. Seuss and made up stories, from 4-actor plays and pageants performed on a dining-room chair stage for an appreciative audience of one.

242466704_ae95c15787_bI am from the dilapidated brown-shingled house that used to have porch railing, but gave it up about two years into the third boy, from wooden clothes racks and radiators used to dry clothes after the dryer quit. I am from windows left open at night and screened-in patios in the rain, from mother-hung drywall, partially kid-painted walls, and kicked-in front doors. I’m from the house with the 3-foot deep mudhole “fort” in the backyard, where the mama was better at “catch” than anyone else, where jumping in mud puddles was encouraged.

211176922_0f5a98c602_oI am from the daffodils, peonies, irises, poppies, roses and petunias in my grandma’s yard, from the marigolds my Grampa Wendell stuck in my hair, from the purple flocks and tiger lilies that grew sparsely in our neighborhood and that N once tried to sell out of our little red wagon. I am from exotic flower loving stock, but I’m almost positive that the three generations of women in our family would identify themselves as wildflowers if asked. I am from people who grow where they’re planted.

211178406_d8ba09769b_oI am from 3am Nintendo games, singing in the truck, and fist fights, from mayo and lettuce sandwiches and fierce loyalty. I am from a flattop Gibson guitar, a flute I buried in the backyard, and jitterbugging in the kitchen. I’m from Music as a Means of Survival, from strangely named psychotic cats and unnaturally smart dogs, from a mother who convinced us we could learn to swim in the water hose, and who made sure we looked better than everyone else on Halloween (even if our costumes were homemade). I am from the rusted-out swingset where we played while Mama hung clothes on the line. I am from Grandma, who taught me to love Tony Bennett and Andy Williams, and who freaked me out with her ability to sit with her legs around her neck at age seventy. I’m from Mama, who makes me laugh every time I talk to her, who always wants to “pick my brain” about something, who tries to show me how to exact Joy from the people around me and from the small every day moments that make up our lives.

I am from the Martins who have weak hearts, the Meltons who lived on religion and passion and very nearly starved to death, and the Hodgeses who have greasy hair, bad teeth, and drinking problems – the first two of which I didn’t manage to escape. But really, I am from the same strong line of “gypsy people” that spawned all the women back to my Grandma Faye, from folks who made their family where they found it and always had a sparkle in their eye.

211180163_a195f5feed_oI am from Sunday afternoon drives in the country and the illusion of getting away, from McDonalds french fries stuck between the cushions of the back seat and Dilly Bars when our ship came in.  I am from homemade “bowl” haircuts, apple pies, and sugar cookies; from a mother who didn’t eat vegetables and a Grandma who did, and from a brother who learned to cook steak better than my dad ever could.

I am from “you’re a late bloomer” and “that boy’s got a nice package,” from “that’s…interesting” and “there is no reality, just perception.”

I am from “use your Presbyterian personality,” from “sing in my ear,” and “the hymnal’s too close, I can’t see it.” I am from a family who realized early that the pastor was a yutz; from, during-church note-passers and candy-eaters and squabble breaker-uppers. I am from faith that just is, and from understanding there is something more without needing to define it with doctrines, creeds, or any other follow-the-leader mentality.

I’m from small-town rural Illinois, from ice cream churned by hand on the front porch, from Mom’s macaroni and cheese and bag-boiled mixed vegetables, and from Grandma’s chicken noodles and broccoli.

I am from a woman who reunited with her runaway first husband fifty years later, and a woman who chased her husband down with a large green truck before she found Al-Anon. I am from Oletta and Gwyn, from Juli and Rachel, from Aunt Wuss, Aunt Millis, and Aunt Sylvia.

211180169_fad22d2c4e_oI am from a stack of unfinished baby albums, from a typed booklet full of the first gazillion wonderful things I said, from a few studio pictures and thousands of snapshots that were far better than they should’ve been given the limits of 110 cameras. I am from Peter, Paul, and Mary, from Simon & Garfunkel, from Judds songs and always singing harmony. I am from the family that always sang, no matter what. It echoes…and remains.

I am from a collection of strong women, from three brothers I love beyond reason, and…from me.

 


*The “I Am From…” thing made the online journal rounds several years ago; everybody I knew did it at least once.  If you’d like to make your own, the template is here.  If you do it, leave a link in the comments so I can see!

Inspired to nap

Sometimes, I feel a little less than inspired.  Granted, I haven’t let the lack of inspiration stop me in the past couple weeks, but before that, I went months without writing at all.  I’d feel bad about my inaction when I remembered — which was usually about the time I looked in the direction of my bookshelf and caught a glimpse of the beautiful, empty notebooks stashed there — but usually, I really didn’t think about it.  Obviously, my urge to write has not always been so easily forgotten or dismissed.

In high school, for example, I carried a mid-size, spiral Mead notebook wherever I went. I wrote in class and at home, at band rehearsal and play practice.  I didn’t bother to hide what I was doing, and I took more than my share of flak for doing it.  Truth be told, somewhere in the back of my head, I’ve always felt a bit like Harriet the Spy when I carry around my notebooks.  I can write whatever I want and it’s true and no one can debate me on it.  I can think what I want to think and how I want to think it.

Writing in this forum has been an adjustment.

Nowadays, of course, my fallback excuse when I don’t get the writing done is the children, the chores, the cats, Donald Trump, The West Wing, and/or the insurmountable and all important READING LIST.  Naturally, I’m only making these excuses in my own head; I set these arbitrary deadlines and quotas for myself.  No one else is asking for my word count.  But for some reason, it feels important that I (figuratively) get off my ass and do something, in some area of my life.  There’s no two ways about it:  our current political situation (which is also very personal and immediate to me and so many of the people I love) has got me down.  I end up saying “fuck the diet” every day, regardless of how honorably I begin.  I also say “fuck the cleaning,” “fuck the reading,” and “fuck everything else,” because even seven months later, sometimes it’s still difficult to put one foot in front of the other.

Writing makes me move.  It makes me get other things done first before I can allow myself time to do it.

Today, while I was staring at the blank screen and fishing for a sentence with which to start, my sweet husband managed to convince me that instead, I should really come lay down with him and take a short nap.  I never take naps, but Step-son was gone to a friend’s house, and even the cat looked exhausted.  I had nothing in my head to write, so I decided to take the hand of the man I had to wait half my life to marry.  Sometimes, it seems like I don’t choose him often enough or well enough, even though I try to be grateful for and mindful of every moment I get to spend with him.  I slept draped over his chest like I haven’t since we were dating.

When we got up, I cooked supper and ran a load of dishes.  My husband went to the store for a Coke and ended up with a pack of cigarettes and a pair of lottery tickets.  We hope the lottery tickets win us enough change to send us to the Netherlands for the rest of our lives.  The cigarettes are because they won’t.

Don’t worry, Mom.  We’ll quit again tomorrow.

I still don’t know what to write.

Dear Step-son…

First of all, I love you.  You need to know that.  You need to see it written down and really take it to heart and believe it, because I don’t say it very often and you tend not to hear schmaltz (You are 13, after all.)  I also think that you are reluctant to admit that you share my feelings of affection, most likely owing to the very existence of your biological mother. Please know that — contrary to what you probably believe — I understand that you feel pressure to love your mother…both from her and from the universe at large.  I also understand that you’re a teenager, and therefore you automatically want to do that which will annoy your father and me.  You think loving your mother will accomplish that, but it’s not true.  She’s your mother and of course you love her.  What you don’t know yet is that some people don’t get the best moms, and they spend their whole lives wishing they could un-love their mother and undo all the damage she did to them.  I’m so afraid that’s where you’ll end up.  Please believe me when I say that this is my only feeling on the subject.  If you could love her without danger to yourself, all I would have to say is “that’s terrific!” (and to be honest, there are times I could use a break from all your teenageryness).  But you choose to love her up close, to spend more time with her than you should, and in so doing, to put yourself repeatedly and needlessly in harm’s way.  When you come home from there — after several days of bar food, not sleeping at night, and only seeing her drunk if at all — you’re a total shit to us.  I’m sure this is because you imagine yourself greatly inconvenienced to be back again in a house where you are actually looked after and parented.  Regardless of how misunderstood you might feel at these moments, your father and I understand a lot more than we let on.  We try not to pick up the horrible things you say to us, or even all the ways you act out.  We make these allowances (for a little while) because we figure this behavior won’t last forever.  Also because we love you. Both of us, not just the one you’re cloned from.

Have you got it?  Great.

stepson ocean

Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, here’s one of the many reasons I’m writing: Your Axe products are slowly killing me.  Yes, I breathe better now that I quit smoking, but I also breathe better now that I quit smoking, if you see what I mean.  Where I used to only react to about half of the smells in my environment, I am now subject to all of them, at full potency.  When you take a shower and a bath a day and use far more than the required amount of product for both, it makes me think you want me dead and you’ve grown tired of waiting for nature to take its course (or the cat to take his revenge). In retaliation for this everyday attempt to end my life, I have started to rather passive/aggressively do a few things I never did before where you are concerned. First, I no longer go looking for the missing socks and underwear that are not in your laundry basket. This means you run out of both items a few days earlier than usual, and you are forced to make that pouty face because you can’t change two or three times a day.   I am secretly amused by this to such an extent that I find it extremely difficult not to laugh like Renfield and wallow joyfully in your misfortune like Kitty Boy in catnip.  In addition to vowing never again to search for your missing laundry, I have also gleefully stopped making tea.  Admittedly, this used to bother you a lot more than it does now.  But be on your guard, kid; I’m looking for something new and innovative with which to torture you as we speak.

Second, I know you don’t share my opinion on this, but Jesus, Spaghettios stink.  Granted, this is another one of those smells that I notice more because of the non-smoking thing, but they reeked even when my sense of smell was compromised.  But the actuality of the stench is not why I’m bringing this up; please, for the love of god PLEASE, stop making Spaghettios at 3AM.  They wake me up out of a dead sleep, and I have to fight the dry heaves.  The same goes for eggs, although I love those — when you’re sleeping, happily cocooned inside a fluffy cloud of blankets that smell good, anything being cooked is undesirable.  Stop it.  Eat when we eat.  Sleep when we sleep.  You are not a vampire or a drunk, you’re not on mood or behavior altering drugs, and there’s no reason for you to be awake and eating at that time of day.

Third, stop distracting me with stupid YouTube videos.  More to the point, stop distracting me with endless and pointless chatter about stupid YouTube videos.  There’s nothing for me to learn there, and engaging in “conversations” with you about something that took ten seconds to watch and was virtually incomprehensible does not make me feel as though I’m spending quality time with you.  Remarkably, I also don’t find the endless videos of commentary about video games at all interesting.  In fact, I’m not particularly interested in the video games themselves.  Unless you’re talking to me about Final Fantasy or old school Mario Bros., count on getting nothing but a blank look back from me.  Now, if you want to talk to me about the books you read in school or even about South Park and American Dad, I’m there.  Unfortunately, it seems like you stopped watching quality, inappropriate television shows a couple years ago, and the truth is, I am still kind of reeling from the loss of my favorite kid’s perspective on the subject.  Come back.  At least sit on the couch with me for the Trump Show (formerly known as the news) and help me yell obscenities at the screen.  I miss you.

Fourth: boy, I will cut you if you don’t start lifting the lid and hitting the bowl.  Please note that this is a two-part statement.  Both pieces are necessary to prevent my screaming my head off when I enter the bathroom after you.  Now, I understand (from my brief time living in the house with your older brother) that this is some kind of a natural teenage boy thing, but come on.  I knew you two years ago, and at that time, you were perfectly capable of putting your bodily fluids where they belong.  If anything, my presence in your life has made you more civilized, so I seriously don’t understand this recent turn of events.  You are not living in a barnyard, boy.  Get it together.  Otherwise, cleaning the bathroom will become a daily chore that moves over to your list.  Heh….you think it’s hard to get your allowance now.

Fifth: if you’re trying to irritate me with your love of sub-par rap music (when I can barely stomach the really good stuff), you’ve succeeded.  But you should know that if I keep hearing it playing on a loop at a steady and monotonous drone while you’re otherwise engaged with playing a game and chatting online, then I cannot be responsible for my actions.  Your phone (from which the music streams) might just up and disappear. My little brother needs an iPhone, and I know for certain that I can trust him to use it to play decent music.

Finally, please PLEASE make an effort to be the boy I know you can be this year.  Last year, you lied to us about homework, you didn’t study until you had nearly flunked out, and you hung around with the only thug in our corn-fed, miniscule town.  I know you’re smart.  I’ve talked to you.  I’ve nearly fallen out of my chair a hundred times from laughing at some hilarious and undeniably smart thing you’ve said or done.  I damn near have a master’s degree, I’ve read a shit-ton of books, and I have more life experience than I can stomach; you couldn’t possibly crack me up like you do if you weren’t above average.  Please, show your teachers that side of yourself this year.  You’re handsome and you’re charming, and nothing in the world could stop you if you stopped trying to stop yourself.

I love you, step-son.  Get your shit together.
~Step-mom

Rich

There are times — few and much too far between — when Step-son, Step-daughter, and I are on our own all day and we actually enjoy one another’s company the whole time.  In the months before I married their dad (when they’d been without a mom for a startlingly long stretch), those days seemed to occur more often; now, I’m lucky if I get two or three a year.  Last night, I had one.

I’ve been spending a ludicrous amount of time on the computer lately, and they’ve both been undeniably teenager-y.  Plus, it’s summer, and it’s been kind of a stretch to get us all in one place at the same time.  But last night was nice.  I made a real supper, and we sat around the table visiting while we ate it.  Step-son just returned from a trip upstate working with his grandpa, and he brought back a healthy sum of money for a kid; we were looking forward to making a nighttime trip to the local Wal-Mart so he could spend some of it.

I remember fondly that oh-my-god-we-have-a-shit-ton-of-money giddiness when I was a kid.  I think I’ve written about it here before.  But it’s almost as much fun, almost as awesome and hopeful and huge — to be party to it as an adult.  Of course, our little family isn’t poor, and we’re a two parent household, even if one of us is only here by marriage.  But in the past, the kids have seen some shitty days, and I’m sure they’re a lot like every other person on the planet who’s lived through crap:  whether you want to or not, you carry some of it around with you for the rest of your life.  If you’re lucky, the bad days behind you only serve to make you appreciate the good ones more.

More than anything, I hope one day that’s how they feel about their lives.

So we’re not in dire financial straits at the moment, but they remember pretty clearly what that was like.  And despite their ages, I think they also have enough of the little kid mentality remaining that they see a small amount of money and imagine a thousand amazing things that it could buy.  Frankly, I’m pretty surprised we didn’t head straight for the candy aisle (or the ice cream), but the kids went in with a mission.  We took our time wandering around and dreaming a bit while we shopped, but we left with an entirely reasonable haul.

After we spent a little of our money on shoes, school supplies, bananas, and the 750th fidget spinner of the summer, we got in the car to head for home.  I was just beginning to wonder about a possible trip to Dairy Queen, when Step-daughter spotted the bright pink remains of the sunset half-hiding behind Wal-Mart.  I hurriedly turned right out of the parking lot instead of left and whipped the car behind the building.  We pulled over and all of us leaped out with our cell phones, each determined to get the best picture.  (We do that sometimes — it’s all about the bragging rights.)

IMG_2764.JPG

Step-son managed to get the most contrast-y and hot pink tones with his camera, but I’d like to think I got more variety.  Regardless, as we drove home, they were both resetting their phone’s wallpapers, talking about editing tools, and enjoying the company.

No one even mentioned it when we drove past the ten stinky cow and pig farms on our way back to the house.  I’d like to believe that it was a night so perfect they didn’t even notice.