16 June 2015

Broken Down Basket

Today's post is courtesy of Literary Mama, who posted the following prompt on their Facebook page this morning:

Free write about something that is special to you and no one else.

Funny that as I was showering and dressing and getting my coffee, as I mulled over what I might write about, the prompt changed in my mind to: write about something you and only you care about.

So naturally, I thought of my laundry room floor.  Nowhere else am I more apt to be found muttering: "No one cares.  No one cares.  Only me.  I'm the ONLY person who cares about this floor!"

At certain points along the tidal wave, I'm not so much muttering as I am growling at the nearest child, or ranting at the nearest teenager, or silently, violently, grabbing clothes and towels and socks and sheets from the floor and jamming them into "clean" baskets.  Clearly: no one cares about the laundry room floor except for me.

Coffee in hand, I sit to write.  I look at the prompt again.  It's not what I thought.  It doesn't go with the post I've been composing in my head.  The laundry room floor is most definitely not special to me.  I may, in fact, be the only person on the planet who cares if the dirty and clean clothes are mixing in scandalous ways on that floor.  I may, in fact, be the only person who tries to maintain some semblance of order and clarity and water conservation down there.  But special?  Nope.

So what is special to me and to no one else?

This is harder than I thought it would be.  Everything that is special to me is special in relationship to someone else.  The crest in the road on Highway 121 overlooking vineyards and hills of mustard in Springtime, that looks like a postcard and reminds me of dear friend Ann every time I drive over it?  Also special to Ann.  The hook and eye lock on the bathroom door in my childhood home, installed on my wedding day by my tuxedo-clad father?  Also special to Rick.  The small embroidered handbag my mother brought to me from a decades-ago trip to Russia?  Also special to me mum.  

But then, there on the laundry room floor of all places, I find it, a thing that is special to me, and to no one else.  There, crushed under the weight of discarded soccer jerseys, tossed jackets, and maybe-clean-maybe-not towels, is a lovely, broken down wicker basket.  The once-sturdy woven handle, that used to arch proudly over the top, is bent and bowed under the weight of the jackets and towels and everything else my family has thrown on top of it.  The colorful wicker pattern is faded on one side from too much time left in the garden sun -- not by me but by a child using my special basket for some kind of imaginary wild play.  It is all but forgotten, relegated now to the laundry room floor.

But once, I drove north, along the incomparable Pacific Coast Highway, alone and exploring and thrilled to be both.  I was single, well-employed, slender, confident.  Happy.

I stopped at Point Reyes, enjoying the sun and the freedom I felt at going wherever I wanted without task or timeline.  At one of the tourist traps, filled with funky handcrafts and magnets and mugs,  I spied a lovely, wide and frivolous basket.  It made me inexplicably happy, and I bought it.  I brought it home, and it has made me smile for years and years.  It is special to me because it is the only thing I have ever bought simply and only because I loved it.

Like almost everything else that has been special to me -- necklaces, earrings, skirts, pictures, candles, paintings -- it has been destroyed by time and family life.  I can't keep anything nice and am nearly resigned to never having anything remain intact, at least not until the kids grow up and get the heck out.

But just the other day, in my rush through the laundry room searching for socks and underwear, I felt a fleeting thought go by, almost obliterated by the push and pull of family life, lost forever but for this writing prompt: I will buy myself another basket someday.  I will drive out some country road, alone, long-married, happy, content, and I will spy another lovely thing.  I will buy it because I love it, and I will bring it home, and it will make me smile for years and years.

In the meantime, I will sometimes smile, sometimes scream at my laundry room floor.

* * *

08 March 2015

Get Ready to Ramble

I feel a rambling, unfocused post coming along…

I received an honest to goodness piece of mail on Friday, a card from a good friend.  Tears, people.  I shed tears.  She wrote such lovely things about our friendship, such good reminders to me of what really matters, and what really doesn't, and she wrote in an actual card, not in a Facebook post.  Such novelty!

So the front made me laugh and the inside made me cry and all at once, she made me want to be better.  A better mom, a better friend, a better calm (let's make that a noun, shall we?), a better presence, a better Lover of Life.

But then I woke up on Saturday morning and I. Was. Daunted.  I was the very picture and definition of Daunt.  I desperately wanted a lovely day, a love-filled day.  I wanted to be grateful and peaceful.  Oh, and I wanted to shop at Costco, do all the laundry, clean the bathroom, fix Little T's scooter, buy myself some new clothes, read my New Yorker, and take a looooooong nap.

None of that got done.  Exactly NONE.

One small thing did happen: I took my kid and my dog for a hike, and tried not to let Little T's rastafarian hair (fine on an actual rastafarian) chastise me.  We had a delightful time.

We ate apples.

She contemplated life with her dog.

I stared at her a lot.

And I got a little taste of that woman I want to be.

Later in the day, I drove all over creation, to futsal games, and play rehearsal, and birthday gift shopping, and birthday party drop offs, and Awards Night dinner…and there were clashes at home over bedrooms not cleaned and plans not communicated and feelings being hurt.  There were defensiveness and pride and laziness.  There were large hair tangles and larger laundry piles and no moments to read my New Yorker.

In other words: family.

* * *

Her rastafarian hair does, in fact, chastise me, and makes me cringe when she takes that head of hers out in public.  But apparently, it does not chastise me so much that I actually do much about it, at least not as often as I should.  This is an interesting lesson in chastisement.  Because I think I chastise my children rather a lot, about those bedrooms not being cleaned, for example, and I freak the f*** out when the behaviors in question do not change.

What makes behavior change?  What makes a mother better?  What makes a kid do what his mother says?

I'm not sure about the kid.  But for me, words written on a card and sent through the US Postal Service seem to work quite well.

I found a little slice of peace and gratitude this weekend, under the many layers of life that usually clamor for my attention.  I hope this is the beginning of a habit of being peaceful and grateful.  I hope I get many more reminders and that I pay attention to them.  I hope to lose myself in reminders of what really matters.

* * *

22 February 2015

Wherein a Cynic Rethinks Some Things

All those awesome happy beautiful good life photos we see on social media: they're all a total crock, right?

When my kids see their friends' super cool Instagram photos and respond by decrying their own boring lives, I whip out my tried and true lecture entitled The Problem with Social Media and wax on and on about the insidious nature of the filtered, photoshopped, edited, culled and selectively presented Beautiful Life we think everyone but us is having. 

It can make me crazy, this 24-7 invasion into our homes and minds and psyches, and I feel a certain sense of urgency about making sure my kids know that all those sick shots are not necessarily an accurate portrayal of life. 

As you might imagine, my kids roll their eyes at me a lot. 

I'm a bit of a fun sponge like that. 

Today I had occasion to re-consider my opinion.  Because ya' know what? This weekend has been super average -- dare I say boring. My house is a mess, I've been kinda grumpy and my kids have been unpleasant and annoying.  I'm half-heartedly cleaning a ridiculously cluttered garage and serving uninspired meals; my kids are half-heartedly doing homework and serving up complaints.  Rick is, as usual, working hard and not taking any time to relax.  Just normal, tilting towards Bummerville, ho-hum life. 

Who wants to document and remember that?

In the midst of all that mediocrity, this happened too. 

And I immediately grabbed my phone and posted these photos on Facebook because they're fun and cute. 

I chastised myself. Gently, of course--nothing too serious. But I did roll my eyes at myself for a moment. 

And then I realized that I would rather remember these moments, thank you very much, instead of the bickering in the car on the way home from Mass, or the mountain of laundry defying physics in my garage, or the truly inane battle of wills I got drawn into with my kid, or a hundred other challenging moments in this long, mundane weekend. 

Maybe it's narcissistic at worst or fake at least to only post what makes ours look like a charmed life. 

Or maybe it's what keeps me grateful, keeps me going, keeps my head in the game. 

Whaddya know, a cynic can still learn a thing or two from this crazy world.  Photographs of a happy family never tell the whole story. But the part they do tell is pretty damn important too.


15 February 2015

Thank you, Philip Levine

On Valentine's Day, Philip Levine, our 2011 Poet Laureate, died.  To mark his life and the small but significant impact he had on me, I am re-posting a reflection I originally posted back in 2011, shortly after his appointment as our nation's "First Poet."  I still think about this post, and its impetus, frequently.

* * *

from The Poetry Foundation's website
biography of Philip Levine
Written August 11, 2011. Yesterday, the Library of Congress announced the appointment of Philip Levine as the new Poet Laureate of the United States. The job of the Poet Laureate is "to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry." (Taken from the website of the Library of Congress.)

Prior to that announcement, I knew little to nothing about Philip Levine, although his name was familiar. But the news came to me yesterday while I was lamenting the quality of my children's exposure to arts and culture, at least any arts and culture that doesn't make my ears bleed. So when, in the car on the way to camp this morning, our local public radio station KQED aired an interview with Levine, I turned it up. I wanted my kids to hear this guy talking about poetry. I'm sure my intended audience was more attentive to his/her electronic devices, but I turned it up anyway. I paused to explain to my captive audience what a Poet Laureate is, and was greeted by blank stares.

But I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the interview. I liked what he had to say about teaching at Fresno State, where he has been for 30 years: 
"I've got these students, who are capable of learning, gave themselves the freedom to learn because they gave themselves the freedom to fail."
He goes on to say that at other, more prestigious schools where he has taught, like Yale and Vanderbilt, "students had a lot of trouble being told that their poems were no damn good." It seems that education, for these high achieving students, is more about being brilliant already than about expanding one's mind and possibilities. (You can access the whole interview here.)

What an important concept to keep in mind. Amidst all our striving towards excellence and achievement, it's easy to lose sight of real learning. We can forget the importance of failure in shaping our minds, our hearts, who we are, and how much we grow, in intellectual and in more personal or creative endeavors.

While we may want our children to work hard enough to go to a good college or university, what we want for them even more is the freedom to fail, the freedom to find more and better paths for their creativity and innovation to flourish. Maybe in art or poetry, maybe in engineering, maybe on a soccer field or in a medical lab, maybe in their personal pursuits or in common cause for others. 

Maybe in family life and raising children, too. Maybe parents need the freedom to fail, in order to grow and get better at crafting children, the way a poet crafts his poems. Perhaps it's not about being perfect already, but about keeping ourselves open to the possibilities before us, to directions we aren't expecting to go.

Leave it to a poet to remind us how our hearts and minds expand.

* * *

Read more about Philip Levine in his biography on The Poetry Foundation's website.

03 February 2015

Sights and Sounds

It has been such a busy and challenging year so far.  Many highs and lows, many, many activities, and not much down time.

Today: the perfect antidote.  A much needed day off.  Some California winter weather (read: sunshine).  A trusty dog.

Not much in my world cannot be made better by hearing and seeing the following:


What sights and sounds soothe your rough edges?

06 January 2015

On Laundry and New Beginnings

I don't make New Years Resolutions.  Per se.

Instead, I spend the whole last week of each year in a perpetual state of "Oh My Gosh I Need To Read More, Eat Less, Breathe More, Yell Less, Calm the F Down, and Take Charge."

Then I resolve to be a better person.  All vague and stuff.  Because really, resolutions don't work.

Do they?  December 31 is just a day on a calendar.  It doesn't matter.  It's not significant.

Is it?

Anyway, who the hell knows?  I only know one thing for certain: I spent an inordinate amount of time on my two week vacation sorting laundry, doing laundry, folding laundry, finding laundry, and re-organizing the laundry area of our garage.

The one thing I didn't get done was putting it all away.  And I am oh so very terrified, now that I've been back to work for two days, that all my hours of thankless labor will be a big fat waste of time because while I am at work, I fear the small and grimy hands that could be rifling through my neatly folded piles looking for just the right pair of leggings, toppling piles and wreaking havoc.  The face belonging to those hands might as well just spit in my face and reject me outright.

Because as is the case with every organizational project I ever take on, peeling back the covers and discovering the extent of the problem becomes a daunting and downright sysiphisean endeavor.  Case in point: I told my daughters to clean out their dresser drawers so we could put away all the folded clothes as neatly as possible.  My youngest is adamantly insisting that one of her drawers is her "crayon holder."  And so, I find myself in a power struggle with an 8 year old over whether or not a depressing collection of mostly broken crayons really belongs in a dresser drawer.  The power struggle is too much for me, when I'm pretty much doing 3+ full time jobs at the same time, between main job, raising kids, keeping house, and doing freelance gigs.  (Husband also doing multiple jobs, also helpful, also fighting the same battles I am, just so's ya know.)  So I put off winning the battle, or so I tell myself.  I tell myself that I will finesse her, that I will bring her around to my point of view without having to argue, that I will charm her into submission…tomorrow.  When I have more energy.

And then tomorrow comes and it's the strangest thing, but I don't got no more energies.

So I don't charm her.  She is un-finessed.  Crayons are still in the dresser drawer.  Folded clothes, slumping and sliding in their piles, are still on the laundry table.

Take that power struggle and multiple it by 5.  These days, I feel like I'm locking horns with each and every one of my little darlings…and this is just normal, not a crisis, not dangerous and not anything to really worry about.  I can spend 10, 15 glorious minutes with my crazy-bright and funny 10 year old, impressed by the sheer speed of her wit and dazzled by her laughter…and then BAM, I do or say something that prompts her to tell me what I mean and terrible mom I am.  Horns lock.  Battle lines emerge.  She won't let me hug her or tease her into playfulness again.

It happens on the daily.  Times 5.  How am I supposed to get the laundry put away in such an environment?  How keep resolutions to be better?

But one other thing I know for sure.  Want I want to do more than anything else in the world tonight, after I finally get home from a full day of work, followed by an evening school board meeting, when I am utterly exhausted, and just as all the children finally have my ear to pull and my arm to tug, is this:  I want to put all of the folded laundry away.

I resolve to do so.  I resolve to be a better person.  Eat more, sleep less.  Or the other way around.  Whatever.  I just. want. order.

Instead, I have children.  And many piles of folded laundry.  And a brand new year to...conquer.

* * *


09 December 2014

Cupcake Dreams

I want to be a kid again.  I want to tell stories the way my youngest daughter does.  I want to dream about cupcakes.  And I really, really want a Dream Teller of my very own.

During dinner last night, Little T was devouring my homemade spaghetti sauce and making me feel like Martha Stewart, Julia Child, and Ree Drummond, all rolled into one, and she mentioned that she knew she was going to have a good dinner tonight because her Dream Teller told her so.

Come again, daughter?

Your what?

That's right.  She has a Dream Teller.  Every morning, after a night of dreaming about cupcakes and unicorns and whatever other lovelies visit her while she is sleeping, her Dream Teller tells her what her dreams mean.  Here's last night's:

Actually, I don't want to be a kid again: I want to be THIS KID.

* * *