Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ahh The Brisk Smell Of Pencil Shavings

( gave me the picture. Isn't it creepy how the Cleaver boys resemble my kids? Thankfully, my Wally doesn't have a creepy spray on tan and my Theodore is about a foot and a half taller)

I was chided yesterday for almost making Beav late to school. "Mom, we need to leave earlier because I didn't get to class until just before the last bell." I hope I didn't give him the WTF look I was feeling at that moment because that would have been rude. So I asked myself for about the 5000th time: who is this child? And where did this genetic drive to achieve come from? Not me, because all I want to do is hang out and sort of let life happen to me; and we all know it didn't come from his slacktastic asshat father! Somewhere across town there is a couple who are...I don't know...lets say they are a heart surgeon and a judge...wringing their hands and hanging their heads in frustration because their child is not like them: over achieving, motivated and an academic star. This kid across town has the Rasta-man approach to life. "When da' boat comes mahn, theen I do mah homework, don sweat it mahn, I get it done." I just hope the hospital doesn't realize their mistake. Even though this go round with high school is a big gear change for me; (picture slowly backing up and suddenly slamming the car into drive while jamming the gas pedal to the floor) it's not a bad feeling to have a kid who wants to be in his seat and ready for class when the final bell rings because his brother (and his mother)were thrilled if they were sliding into their seat as the final bell sounded. The Beav even had homework the first week of school! Wally didn't have homework until the last three or four weeks of the semester when he realized he was in danger of failing and decided it was time to do the work his teachers would assign all those last minute projects because that's how those teachers roll. (sure they do, honey. Everyone wants to grade a twenty page project the last day grades are due!) Do I really look that stupid? Do these pants make me look that stupid? Because my kids think I'm as dumb as a rock. I suppose I am as dumb as a small rock because when Beav announced he was doing homework last Wednesday, I was a little bitched up and commented: "You have homework on the second day of school? Isn't that a bit much? Your brother never had homework during the first week of school!" The look of utter disgust with the accompanying eye roll was almost warranted in this case. His brother--God love him, I know I do--wasn't an honor student. Even if he had worked really really REALLY hard he wouldn't have been an honor student. So he didn't bother to work at all and then suddenly in the home stretch he would make an effort and end up with a C. It. Drove. Me. Out. Of. My. Mind.

So now I guess I have to act like an Honor Student's mother. I'll need to practice saying things like: "full ride" and "financial package" and "Vida" and "admissions essay" and "loans" and "dorm assignments". I'll also need to work on my sniff and sympathetic smile after I breathlessly and thoughtlessly ask after Snively or Bratleigh (the IEP kids) when I'm quietly told Snively hates school and Bratleigh can't wait to start community college. What I won't do is make a judgemental remark about their parenting abilities or the effects of divorce on young children to our other friends when Snively and Bratleigh's mother is out of earshot. (Does high school ever really end?)

My only other experience parenting a high schooler was being the mother of a kid who had yearly IEP (Individual Educational Plan) conferences. What hell this was for Wally. One teacher, a guidance counselor, the psychologist and his parents gathered around a table to tell him the fourteen ways he was a great kid and the fourteen ways he sucked. No wonder he hated high school. He was the kid in the separate classrooms just down the hall from the big classrooms and he did horribly in them because he hated it so much. All he wanted to do was blend in with the rest of the kids. Of course this is what he wanted and it was completely appropriate. Only after he was mainstreamed in an honors history class (the honors part was a misplacement) did he excel. The teacher adored him and let him stay in the class and Wally even earned an A. You would have thought the kid brought home a letter announcing he was a Rhodes Scholar. I wept over that grade. Not because it was an A but because of what it meant to Wally's self esteem. Wally learned at a young age what it's like to work hard for something and fall just short. Wally also knows what it's like to work hard for something and succeed. This is what gives Wally his heart. The Beav on the other hand, is sort of set up to be a dilettante. He can do school with his eyes shut and his hands tied behind his back. This sort of ease doesn't teach the lesson of what it means to throw yourself into something mind/body/soul. If he decides he doesn't want to attend one of the academies and settles for a state college it will be because he doesn't want to make the supreme effort. But if he really wants to go to one of the military academies, it will be necessary for him to actually apply himself and not just do the bare minimium for an A but the extra steps it takes to make an A+. Even though he is rocket scientist smart he is not Einstein/Oppenheimer smart. You see, Beav made the mistake of confessing to me he didn't really work as hard as he could in middle school and now I know his dirty little secret and I have an excuse to ride his ass.

In some ways, It's back to school for me, too. After next Monday, Wally becomes a maggoty maggot on the shoe of a big mean drill sergeant and Beav returns to Alexis' show house, I will have two glorious full days of absolutely no commuting, no meal prep, no driving to Parkour or cross country or patient care or supervising anything besides my own projects. My writing project has taken a life of it's own and I was given a flash or insight via a dream Sunday night so I begged to take call Monday for the explicit purpose of writing. (I didn't tell them this) This absolute drive to write something down that minute is a new sensation. (my wish was granted, I was at home on call and I worked on the hot mess of a novel and my efforst were fabulous if I do say so myself) I get all bliss-out just thinking about next Tuesday and Wednesday.

When I was a wife and living in the Fabulous House In The Suburbs, one of the neighbors was renowned for having a gathering on the first day of school. Cocktails commenced at 0900. The idea of such a party amused me (cocktails at 0900 repulsed me). But I'm such a pragmatist and in many ways so close to my roots of Quaker farmer; I always "celebrated" by doing chores I had been putting off all summer and sorting out the boys' clothes. This year wasn't any different. I cleaned out Beav's closet and sorted clothing.

Yee Haw, Party on June!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pebble In Pebble Out

I've borrowed a fable from the ancient Greek writer Aesop to create a parable you can use in the coming weeks. Once upon a time there was a very thirsty crow. Rain hadn't fallen in a long time, and the creek from which she'd always drunk had dried up. Searching and searching for a bit of moisture, the crow finally happened upon a tree under which sat a ceramic pitcher with some water in it. But the pitcher's neck was narrow, and the crow couldn't fit her beak past it to reach the water. Inspired by desperation, the crow at last got an idea. Why not drop small rocks into the pitcher, making the water's level rise? And that's exactly what she did. How sweet it was when at last she quenched her thirst.

This is becoming a theme isn't it? I swear this is the last time I'll use my horoscope to spin a short essay. But this week's is intriguing. . . Last week, Rob didn't intrigue me but made me scratch my head with this gem of a horoscope. I spent a little time this past week contemplating this fable and what it meant. It wasn't until tonight I realized in a sickening a ha moment how this fable applies to my life.

I think I'm trying to quench my thirst after an arduous ten months worth of life. Most of the time I can prop myself up but frankly it's getting harder and harder. So much has happened and changed in my life over the last 300 plus days. I've experienced a great deal of loss and the people who seem the most blind to it are those closest to me. I've lost my mother, 10% of my income, my son is leaving home and he is estranged from his father; my other son is worried he will be his stepmother's next victim; I am estranged from my sister after the toxic waste that is our relationship escaped from it's safe container I keep buried deep inside; my dog is dying; and my partner has such pain in her right shoulder and arm she can not raise it over her head and it has rendered her sleepless and unable to do much around the house (something immensely more frustrating for her. It just annoys me when other shit is on my plate). The icing on the cake is of course when I'm not at home taking care of people; I'm at work taking care of people.

Is it any wonder I went to the gym tonight (while Beav was at Parkour) and managed to work out all of twenty minutes before I decided the better idea was sitting in my car; crying and eating a 700 calorie snack? I suppose this is better than finding a liquor store and drinking in the parking lot. While the image of doing this gives me the shivers don't think for a minute it didn't occur to me.

It's a good thing I had a "refreshing" break from reality because it didn't sting so much when I returned to a messy kitchen and clean laundry lounging around the family room.
Good thing I have more pebbles.
One edit at 0835 the next day: My problems aren't HUGE life changing problems like having cancer or a chronic illness or a loved one with either of this issues. So maybe I have an extremely low threshold for giving and a low tolerance for drama and upheaval. And maybe I can't continue to give and give and give because ultimately I'm selfish. If this is the case then I guess I'm getting what I deserve.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Trivial Pursuits

Steam Reassures Him

My husband is watching me iron,
Steam reassures hm. The hiss of starch
The probing slide around each button of his shirt
Speaks to him of Solway Street in Pittsburgh.
As for me, the wicker basket is a reproach.
There is last summer’s nightgown,
And several awkward round tablecloths
Which refuse to lie flat.

My house specializes in these challenges.
Bags of mail I did not ask to receive
Choke the floor of my linen closet.
A photograph of me, holding a baby on a beach.
But which beach and, for that matter, which baby?
A Japanese chest whose bottom drawer has irresponsibly locked itself,
And who can remember where I put the key?

That night, waiting for sleep, I whisper,
I did only trivial things today.
And he asks, Why aren’t you painting?

Elizabeth Pierson Friend 1933-2003 ("Japanese Box" was painted by her in 1982 and taken from her website)

A few years ago, after I read this poem, I immediately sent it to Oldest Friend, no doubt in an email titled something like: "Because I was ironing your shirts, Dumb Ass" Stupid husband, she was running household with all it's drivel and he is hounding her to paint. Why wasn't he doing something to help so she could paint! don't know...iron his own shirts, look for the key, read the mail? I just knew OF would completely get the angst of this poem because she had been there so many times with her husband(s). I will never forget her first husband asking her when she was getting a job because all she ever did was write and that wasn't really much of a contribution. Mind you, she cooked, cleaned and laundered while she was working on her thesis. What he missed was WRITING WAS HER JOB. Over the last few years I have lightened up on the husband in the poem and have sat the responsibilty squarely on the shoulders of the woman. It wasn't like he said: "Too bad about that painting, today, cuz you're one talented little lady, y'know. So did you get them shirts all ironed for me, or what?" Now I read his tone as sympathetic and he does recognize the importance of her art to her essential self and her wellbeing. That doesn't mean I think the inequality between artists who are spouses is a thing of the past. Frankly, I think silencing the wife in these marriages is due to a fragile male ego. OF has run against this ego time and time again with her husband who is a writer. One would think he would get it...But again, writing is not her "real" work. Who is to blame for this blindspot? As much as I would like to place a broad stroke of blame over the entire male population on the planet, I can't. Women need to take resonsibility for claiming their creative selves and the act of making art is tangible work. However, we simply reaffirm this creative process isn't real work when we turn the other cheek and scuff our toe in the dirt and say things like: "well I guess I don't have time to make that picture or write that sonnet because I need to sew a button on a jacket or make lunch." To be succinct about this: Ishould take responsibility for claiming the value of creating. I don't even have a man telling me ironing takes precidence over writing.
I do need to clarify that I am the only person in my life who gives me the message "your writing isn't valuable". I am fortunate to be fully supported in my endeavors and this support is not feighed hairpatting or half assed. Given this, it is now up to me to make my art real and declaring it an important focus in my life; not something which amuses me after the ironing is completed. Last night, when I reread this oem, I read it as an internal dialgue between my higher self and my lower self:
"Why aren't you [writing]?"
"I don't know. Perhaps I'm frightened. Perhaps I'm frightened what I have to say is uninteresting and people will read and then laugh in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps I'm afraid I'm wrong and I don't have anything of merit to say. Maybe it scares me that I will never write literature as meaningful and evocative as LaMott or Niffennegger."
"So you aren't writing because you are certain it won't transcend time and have great meaning for many? Great excuses. But the icing on them is this: you don't want to write unless it sings out like LaMott or Niffenneger? Because everyone knows Time Traveler's Wife was published in first draft form. Egomania much, June? Well I guess this takes care of the whole writing thing. If you don't write, you won't fail. You won't succeed either. It's a good thing great writers have never failed...sheesh just shut up and write."
I litter my life with so many things in lieu of sitting in front of the screen that giving the people I have conjured becomes secondary. Trivial pursuits are my excuses. I have filled the last four days with more or less trivial activites rather than fulfilling a self made promise to write a few hours each day I'm home. Not only are my actions avoidance behavior but they also reaffirm this whole writing hting isn't real. I mock myself when I ask: "Why aren't you writing."
Late summer is here and this is the time of year I kick start projects or reach big decisions. The transformation I'm seeking this August is creating the discipline of writing. It wasn't enough to say, "on my extra day off this summer, I will write." The days I have worked at my writing--over and above the blog--have been deeply satisfying, and to put it simply, fun. I need to own this feeling and recognize the special value writing has for my life. Hell, even if it's just a hobby that doesn't render it meaningless.
Leaving behind my excuses is problematic in some ways. If I leave them behind, someone will need to tackle the sack of mail, the mysteriously locked cabinet and the misshapen table cloth. I have a story to tell.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

WheEEee!!! And Away We GoOOoooOOoo!

picture from

Wally leaves for Georgia in twenty-four days, his date was bumped up by six weeks, so I gulped when he told me. I've known he was leaving home to join the military for almost a year but think the date being pushed from July to October put off the inevitable: he was leaving home to learn how to fight in a war. A stupid war, I believe we can't win. I have tried to live as an example of fighting for what you believe and walking your talk. Where I failed with my kids is not teaching them to walk my talk. (I'm joking a little) I'm proud of him; proud he wants to serve his country but I wish it were in a less dangerous capacity. I made the mistake of seeing this film. Not the best choice in movie entertainment a few weeks before your eldest son leaves for the army. But I'm glad I saw it because it confirms what I have believed for years: we are the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing how strongly I feel about this, a few of my friends have asked me: "How can you let him do this?" How can I not. Number one, he's an adult. What am I going to do? Lock him in his room?

All in all I had good parents. They had their issues--who the hell doesn't--but they did a lousy job at supporting our choices and their lack of support led me to make even more horrible choices (case in point: my first first marriage). If they had not shunned me but tried to understand who I was and what I wanted in my life; things would have been so much easier for me. Namely, no first marriage. Luckily, their mistakes with me and my sister have taught me to step back and allow my children to be individuals.

The other reason I'm glad I saw The Hurt Locker is I realized my son, like me, is driven by adrenaline. Watching the specialists deactivate bombs and assess who was "friendly" and who wasn't was exhilarating. As much as I bitch about how busy my job is...the expectations are unrealistic...blah blah whine blah... if I'm not dealing with some sort of rapidly changing situation I have a tendency to get bored. I noticed this on Saturday when we had a "normal" day. No admissions, no discharges, no "events". By three o'clock I was reveling in the way it felt to be completely frustration free. By four I was bored. When I was a young nurse, just a few years older than my son, I was an adrenaline junkie. It wasn't a good shift unless I was taking care of the sickest baby in the unit or going to the high risk deliveries. Sick, eh? People ask me why don't I work someplace less dynamic and less stressful, like telephonic case management or wellness counseling or--my favorite "kill me now" job--a doctor's office. No thanks, I would rather put a sharp object in my eye. Eureka! Despite our differing politics, the apple didn't fall too far from the tree. I can at least warn him that adrenaline junkies burn out, sometimes in a flaming spectacle of life changing PTSD.

The Beav was born on the 49th anniversary of Hiroshima and by the 52nd, my life felt like a bomb had hit it. Oh. My. God. The boy was a handful. Because I didn't give him to the gypsies when he was three, I've been gifted with a delightfully even tempered teenager. As I type, Mr. Busy is on his way to the DMV to get his permit. Looks like this fall and winter, I will be revisiting Adventures In Driving. (there's an adrenaline ride if there ever was one!) It was on Beav's sixth birthday when his brother told him about Hiroshima and how we were going to name him Enola Gray. Of course, this brought on a chorus of tattling: "Mom, Wally's teasin' me!" Luckily, the teasing has stopped. I can't say I miss it, either. Now Mr. Busy keeps himself occupied by upgrading his computer on his own and jumping off walls. His methods for adrenaline rush.

I am amazed how much Wally has matured in the last seven months he has lived with his father. The other day we were in the kitchen and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Wally wave his hand quickly towards Beav's head (like he was going to knock off his cap). My conditioned reflex was to drop my voice a register and bark in my finally honed K-Mart mom voice: "Leave your brother alone!!" I got as far as a barked: "Leave--" when they burst out laughing," Gawhd mom, he was brushing away a fly! We don't pick on each other anymore!" Too bad they were laughing too much to hear my explanation that a fourteen year habit is hard to break.

Sometimes parents forget to grow along with their children. I think this is another way my parents failed. My father still thinks I'm twelve. He is in a complete f**kin'' uproar over the the health care bill because Obama is gonna take away his medicine and urge him to just die already. I've tried to explain Palliative Care and how it figures in to the new health care plan; how it doesn't mean he won't be eligible for medicines due to his advanced age. Years ago, when my mother was having open heart surgery and I was able to explain the indication for each gizmo attached to her and every med going into her body, he was stunned I knew so much. It makes me insane when he asks me a question and then doubts my response. I think the next time he asks me a question, I'm going to make up the answer just to see if he fact checks it! But what joy he will experience when he gets to correct me. What affirmation he will feel that I am still an ignorant child!

It looks like my next touchstone in parenting is remembering my boys are growing up and have the capacity to manage (gulp) deadly weapons. That would be the Really Big Rifle and Really Powerful Side Arm in Wally's care and my truck under the direction of the Beav.

This makes me nervous.

Beav's goal in video driving games is to run over buildings and pedestrians until it all ends in a fiery crash.

Wally's goal in Halo is to stay alive.

I think I'm more worried about Beav and the truck.