Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Boss: In It to Win It

I have no idea what The Boss knows. I haven't got any context for this four year old girl and the way in which she assigns meaning to the world around her. Hints come out only in cryptic bits.

"I don't want to go to heaven. I want to live more," she told me as we watched an HBO Family show that broached the topic of death in a segment on dreamcatchers. "I want to live more than ever."

I nodded. She was nestled in the microsuede loveseat across from me. I was on the sofa, where the leather crackled beneath me as I pulled my feet in close to my seat. It was cold. I rubbed my hands together, less in heated promise than in prayer. I am always searching for the words. "You will," I said. Yeah, that's good, I thought to myself. I nodded again. "You will."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Do Re Mi on the Loudspeakers, or, Aunt Flo Has Left the Building

I was crying in front of the laptop, moved to tears by the viral video of 200 people dancing to The Sound of Music's Do Re Mi at a train station in Antwerp. From the first splash of the salt-laced liquid on my desk, I had to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. I cried and contemplated, unable to enjoy the strange wonder of the moment.

A quick assessment of the facts didn't lead to me to any conclusions: a catchy tune reverberating from loudspeakers across a huge expanse of stone and marble; people going about their business; a few of them breaking into dance; more and more joining in; and, finally, a whole lotta happiness! As it ended, I remained in front of my computer, stumped. I couldn't understand why my emotions needed out of my body so badly because of a bunch of Belgians.

That's when the first of two truths became evident. The logical idea of questioning my hormones reminded me immediately that it was, indeed, almost that time of the month. My visit to the loo a few minutes later proved that it was exactly that time of the month. I felt strangely proud of the fact that my mind was so in tune with my body that I could pinpoint just when my monthly need for Tampax would commence. I am nothing if not self-aware.

The second truth--what is left when I consider that even hormones need some basis in logic with which to operate--is that I love spectacle. I love boardwalks with neon lights flashing and amusement rides twirling in the hot night. I love propagandist montages with soaring eagles and black and white photos of immigrants. I love gospel choirs. I'd love the circus if it didn't smell so bad. I am putty in the hands of those seeking to play with people's emotion. I love a parade!

It's a nice video. It would have something for all the senses, if only one could feel the grime of the train station and smell the body odor of 600 Europeans. It filled me to the brim with happiness, forcing out these womanly tears of the temporarily insane. But so what if I'm a little nuts. Worse things have happened. Worse things will continue to happen. And when they do, spectacles like these that will remind me that it is still possible to be overcome by something good.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Put Down the Phone

It was the end of a day full of errands as The Partner, the kids and I traveled up a two lane state highway toward home. This particular stretch of semi-bucolic road is known as a death trap due, in part, to exorbitant levels of traffic that would be better routed elsewhere. Construction began in 1971 on an expressway to alleviate the congestion, but was halted because of lack of funding. The half-baked expressway ends abruptly in my town, with traffic forced to exit before the weedy approach to an overpass that leads nowhere.

It's imperative to stay in one's own lane in the best of circumstances; on this road, it's the only means of survival. There WILL be oncoming traffic. On this trip home, we were following a young driver who, apparently, didn't get that email. And it wasn't for lack of it being sent through his BlackBerry.

The car swerved slightly into the oncoming lane. It's to early to be drunk, I thought, though I know the laws of probability didn't mean it wasn't possible. The car swerved again, right next to an SUV sailing by in the other direction.

"I bet that asshole is texting," The Partner said.

We followed the car for five or so miles until the intersection that serves as the center of our town, and as a busy thoroughfare between towns much larger. Both cars stopped at the traffic light side by side as we lined up to turn right. The other car's passenger side window was open. The Partner rolled down his.

"Put down the phone!" The Partner yelled.

A tow headed teenager was caught in mid-grin as he chuckled at a message on the cell in his hand. He jolted, searching for the source of the directive. The boy clutched his phone as he focused in on us, agape.

"You were all over the road back there!" Evidently, this young man had never been spoken to like that. He could do nothing but stare. The phone hovered.


The boy jumped, the cell coming to a rest in the center console. The light changed. We drove off in separate directions.

If The Partner's reaction seems overblown and indicative of supreme road rage, there may be some truth to that conclusion. But more pressing in The Partner's mind were the images of a YouTube video he saw recently that graphically depicts a car accident resulting from a young driver texting while driving. I haven't seen it--won't watch it--but The Partner told me as much as I could handle. He said it showed a small child in the backseat, strapped into a a carseat behind two dead parents. Then a tiny voice: "Mommy, daddy, wake up!"

That is what gets The Partner. That is the only thing that melts his heart of ice. Every tiny voice is The Boss's, every baby girl is his. As far as the protection of his daughter is concerned, his is a primal rage, on the road or anywhere else.

Put down the fucking phone.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Me Time

Parenting young children requires a selflessness that is more apparent in its whole than its parts. On any given day, I don't necessarily recognize that my every act is dependent upon one of the subordinates running around at my feet. I might grab a cup of coffee and think it's about me, or read a chapter from a book and feel renewed. I might even get out for an evening with the Partner. But I know that, looking back on it when I am in the position to do so, I will understand that there was a span of 10+ years during which I was not myself. I was the mother of small children.

I define my personal time by small pleasures. For the road: one medium iced coffee, one sugar, skim milk. I drive scenic routes through our rural Connecticut environs for the sake of peace and quiet. I listen to the Howard Stern Show if the situation is right (e.g. the child(ren) in the car are under the age of 2 and/or not sufficiently verbal to rat me out to anyone). At home, I sneak in some HGTV. After the kids go to bed, I might drink wine from a box (it's come a long way) or bourbon and Coke. Through it all, I read at random moments.

The bigger projects are done in fits and starts, while the kids are sleeping, or at school, or the TV is on. It’s so haphazard. I make plans for myself that aren't kid-related and I wonder how I will get them done. I'm sure that, a few years from now, I'll see this period even more clearly for the personal impasse that it is and be amazed that I accomplished anything at all.

Research for my novel happens while Number Two naps or when The Partner can stay home to watch the kids. I coordinate the production of a quarterly town magazine that is about to cease publication because I cannot be the editor, business manager and layout designer all at once. For free. At morning meetings or in scattered moments after noon, I help run a club that gives other parents of younger children an outlet for themselves and their kids.

This morning Number Two threw his arms around my leg while I fried up two eggs in the kitchen. I think he said "I love you."

These days are busy and full. They aren't mine, but that's fine. One day I'll have time for me again, and that's precisely when I'll begin to look longingly at exactly what I have now: a quick coffee from the Keurig; sheets of paper strewn about my office covered in ideas for plot and characterization; one load in the washer, one in the dryer, four on the floor; and a growing baby clinging to my right calf, reminding me exactly why the best moments of my life aren't about me at all.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Undefined Value

A group of women got to talking about life insurance coverage. Who has it, who doesn't. I mentioned that my husband, at my urging, finally bucked up and purchased a policy for himself, but that I do not personally have one. The latter fact is based on The Partner's assertion that I have no monetary value, which is a supportable (and sad) assertion once one does the math. I am currently raising my kids and working on a novel; neither gig promises a big payoff anytime soon.

Some of these women were confounded by this logic, and probably more than a little offended by the idea that stay-at-home moms are construed by some as having no value. The added cost of child care alone, they said, was enough justification for purchasing a policy in my name.

I brought the issue to The Partner before I responded to the group. Not wanting to put words in his mouth, and not wanting to spew out that kind of shit in my own name, I looked for a quote. He chose his words carefully. He knew this would end up on the Internet.

"You used the words 'no value' and that's not true," he said. "It's just that your value is not high enough that it justifies the additional insurance premiums."

Oh, right. I nodded. Please go on.

"I make enough money that, if you were not around, there would be extra costs but it would be within my means."

I nodded again. He saw my skepticism and he leaned back in a shrug that said sorry, but I can't fight facts.

"Having a lot of insurance just means that people have a vested interest in your death." He smiled apologetically. "You should be happy that you're not insured. You're worth more to me alive than dead."

I laughed. A lot. Long and hard.

He kills me.