Monday, January 31, 2005

January in Southern California

January in Southern California

Friday, January 28, 2005

Kids and Their Routines

Mommy and Grant (March 2001)
March 2001

Yesterday was my son's birthday, and we had a fairly low-key day. He was excited when I picked him up from his dad's house at 9:00 a.m., and excited when he saw the presents that had magically appeared here at our house. There was a big Tonka fire engine, smaller Tonka ambulance and Berenstain Bears racing book on the couch, and a music box (with cool see-through case—he was coveting this at Seaport Village last weekend) and birthday edition gold Hotwheels car on the nightstand. A friend of mine has a family tradition of receiving "nightstand presents" on birthdays, and I wanted to start something special like that for my son.

Anyway, after he opened and played with his presents, he asked when he would get more presents. Typical four-year-old. ;-) He didn't seem terribly fazed when I said he'd probably get some on Saturday, but I think he was missing his dad and/or having some feelings about his dad's not doing anything special on his birthday (?). Earlier I'd asked him if Daddy had done anything birthdayish that morning and he'd said no, so maybe the fact that I was making a big deal out of the birthday and Daddy wasn't was confusing...? The fact was that my son's dad had taken him to Disneyland the prior weekend and bought him various Disney toys, and told him he turned four that day. Okay, but he could've called or at least had a small gift for the boy on his real birthday. Also, my brother called and sang to my son, and my son apparently thought it was Daddy and insisted on this even when I told him it was his uncle, so I dropped it. (My son's dad never called, probably thinking he'd already celebrated the kid's birthday, so it wasn't necessary. Who knows?)

After a certain point, my son seemed out of sorts for awhile and was hitting me and generally acting out, so I told him if he wanted to talk about his thoughts and feelings I would listen when he was ready. He said he wanted potatoes and I told him I'd gotten red ones the night before because the store was out of brown ones, and he burst into tears. I stealthily peeled the red potatoes in the kitchen and prepared them, and all seemed well for the time being.

Knowing how kids love their routines, I asked my son if he was tired of having an unusual day and just wanted it to be a regular day. He said yes.

Golly. It must be confusing when you're four and have all sorts of birthday celebrations and schedule variations from house to house.

Later in the day I pulled out a few photos and asked him if he wanted to look at baby pictures and he said no. He did see a couple of photos of his dad and me, and asked what we were doing in one picture (holding hands). I wonder if that was too confusing.

We started making his birthday cake because he just couldn't wait. As we cracked eggs and measured ingredients, I realized that not only was he learning how to make a cake—I was learning how to teach someone to make a cake. I'm accustomed to doing these things alone, and working with my son on the cake was a real exercise in patience for me.

Finally he curled up next to me on the couch and fell asleep for a few hours, and I took the opportunity to catch a few winks myself. When he awoke, he stayed in a half-asleep/half-awake weepy mode. I carried him upstairs so he could go potty (he refused to go by himself and I felt he should go since he hadn't gone for hours), then I made him a little supper and he seemed to feel better for a while.

Just before bedtime, he went back into weepy mode and I asked him what was happening. "I'm just sad because I'm sad!" he told me. This is very much unlike him, so I helped him brush his teeth and put him to bed.

Poor little duckling.

I think the schedule upheaval had a definite effect on him. Today is a much more normal day and he seems perfectly happy as usual. Thank goodness.

Today we'll get a new battery for my Pentax K1000, which I've had for about 23 years. I love that camera, and I look forward to photographing my son with it. :-)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

My Son Is "This Many" Today

Happy fourth birthday to my son today. You are a blessing, a joy, and I'm so grateful to be your mommy. I love you, sweetie! :-)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Pretty Poppies!

Posted by that other Beth. ;-)

I'm so pleased that Beth used my suggestion for coffee filter poppies as a project for her son's preschool class. These are great! She even went the extra mile and dyed a hundred of them...and has the purple hands to prove it! Holy smokes. Somehow it's nice to know my humble messing around (and time spent online) has benefitted someone a teensy bit. I hope the kids enjoy the poppies, Beth, and I hope you and your husband stay sane while managing a class of preschoolers today! ;-)

Stepford Stewardesses

Stepford Stewardesses

Monday, January 24, 2005

Sunset at Seaport Village

Taken January 23, 2005.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The other day I was telling my son a story about something that happened to me long before he was born.

"Was I growing inside your tummy?" he asked.

"Nope," I said. "You were just a twinkle in Daddy's eye."

He frowned and looked sort of irritated, then demanded, "Who put me there?"

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Better Than Midol

Last night while watching television I turned to the TV Guide channel and was horrified to see that the normally large-font listings had shrunk to the size of Joan Rivers' sense of tact. I could hardly read the words from across the room.

Call me premenstrual, but I had one of those this-is-the-last-straw, pounding-on-the-coffee-table kind of moments, except I didn't really pound on the coffee table. I did, however, mutter a few things I was glad my sleeping child couldn't hear, and I meant those mutterings, by golly. What the heck did they think they were doing messing with something that was perfectly fine in the first place, and I pay good money for my cable, and it's the freakin' end of the day and reading teensy fonts makes me feel old and life's hard get the picture.

(In retrospect I suppose a few Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a bag of white cheddar popcorn would've calmed me right down, but I checked my medicine chest and those things weren't in there.)

Anyway, I called the 800 number provided for "feedback" and tried to think of a socially appropriate way to phrase my complaint. I wanted to register my feedback because I figured if enough people called in the station would change the font back to the regular readable size. A woman answered and put me on hold while I politely simmered.

After a minute or two, during which I thought I'd probably hang up after five minutes because, hey, I was calling from my cell phone since it was the closest phone available and I didn't want to waste my minutes complaining about fonts, even though font size is obviously a very important issue, a different woman picked up. She asked if she could help me, and her motherly tone bounced off satellites and towers and floated through the phone.

"Um, well, I'm sorry to say this (wince) but I have a complaint," I said.

"Tell me all about it," she soothed. I swear I could almost hear her smoothing out her dress so I could sit on her lap, the way my grandmother used to.

"Well, um, I'm looking at the fonts on the TV Guide channel and they're smaller than normal and, um, on a dark background, and um, they used to be large (she was just listening) and now they're very hard to read, and well...what's up with that?" I am just that eloquent sometimes.

She assured me the change was only temporary and the fonts would return to normal within the hour. I thanked her and hung up, a little bit embarrassed and a little bit, well, comforted.

Dang, I hope they're paying her enough over there.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Conversations With My Son

My son's dad said he would drop off a video accidentally left at his house, so we waited outside on the deck for his arrival. Today is like summertime, and we actually started to feel a little too hot, so we moved into the shade. Yes, you may hate us for our beautiful weather. ;-)


"God bless you," I said.

"Thanks, Mommy. I made sure I didn't sneeze on you. Instead, I sneezed that way [points in the opposite direction]."

"Wow! That's what I call being considerate!"

"And responsible," he said.

A few moments passed as we enjoyed the lovely day and the sounds of life around us, then he spoke: "So, Mommy, how do you feel about not being sneezed on?"


Friday, January 14, 2005

My Son the Jailbird

Yesterday as we were leaving Wal-Mart, my son remarked on the police cars we'd once seen parked outside. Back then, he'd asked me what the police were doing there, and I'd told him I didn't know, but my best guess was that someone was probably trying to take things from the store without paying for them, and that's naughty. Somehow jail was mentioned (?), although certainly not prominently. Anyway, yesterday we were leaving the store and he said, "Remember when the police cars were here to take those people to jail because they were taking things from the store without paying?" I said again that I didn't know for sure that that's what was happening, but yes, I remembered our talk. He said, "When I go to jail, will you come with me?" I told him he wasn't going to jail. "Why?" he asked. Because you're a good boy. (scrambling) He became frustrated and said, "Yes, but when I go to jail, WILL YOU COME WITH ME??" I told him I'd go anywhere that he goes, and he was happy.

I don't know exactly what to do with this... ;-)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Here...Hold This Jump-Rope

St. Joseph church and school as I remember it.
I took organ lessons in the convent; the nuns would
make a sandwich for anyone who forgot her lunch.
(ahem) Birds routinely flew into the second-story
windows, the janitor was scary, and I got to carry
the Baby Jesus in a Mass procession once.

In 2004, my son's dad acquired a girlfriend, broke our financial agreement, broke our emotional agreement, took me to court for custody and basically turned my life upside down. For some reason, I'd trusted him to at least try to rebuild our relationship after I moved 100 miles away from my family to be near him; my bad, I guess. He showed me the last scrap of his true colors and I began to think the Universe had a message for me it had been trying to deliver for the past four years; it just took something this extreme for me to finally get it.

I got it, all right—right between the eyes. I began scrambling for cash, trying to avoid running into my son's dad and his girlfriend around town and seriously grieving for my dreams of family.

During most of 2004—from late January to early November—I felt like my life was on hold. I felt alone despite my having a couple of acquaintances in the area and one good friend about 22 miles away (can you tell I look at my odometer a lot?), and wished I could be near my family. In the months leading up to the hearing, I felt as though I couldn't make any new friends, although I certainly tried, because no one wanted to be near my pain. I wondered if they thought it was contagious, or if I was too much of a downer when I answered their questions about whether I was married or where my son's dad was. I might have imagined their mindset, but who could blame them if they didn't want to hang around? I had stuff to work out and a hearing to get through, and it's a lot to ask of a new friend to listen to me hash everything out again and again.

As a result, I spent a lot of time with my son, or alone, or on the phone with my family, and it was only recently that I started to reach out to people who "knew me when." Something about the idea comforted me, although I couldn't put my finger on it. On a whim, I went down to my garage to search for the last newsletter sent to me by an old college roommate—I found it, sent her an email (she lives in England now) and we're in touch today. I called the lovely parents of my college boyfriend (his parents live 40 miles from me) and had a long, wonderful conversation with his mother. I snagged the email address of an old college friend from one of my former roommate's emails, sent him a note and possibly inspired him (maybe a little?) to join Flickr. I sent a Christmas card to my best friend from grade school, with whom I hadn't talked for about 16 years.

There's something very reassuring to me about touching base with people who knew me in other phases of my life. I like the fact that they knew me when I was more...optimistic. It gives me the sense of living on the continuum—feeling like it's possible to swing back toward hope again.

My grade school pal and I were fast friends from grades one to five. She'd sent me cards in the past, but I'd been too busy or too preoccupied with life's events to get organized and respond. Finally I sent her a little card that I'd painted, and included my email address with my greeting...and she responded. I didn't recognize the email address and thought it was spam at first, so it's a good thing I read it anyway!

I was six years old when I met K. in first grade at St. Joseph school in Addison, Illinois, in Sr. Aquinata's class. The particulars of our meeting escape me (!) but I remember we used to walk around on the playground during recess, arm in arm, physically leaning into each other as we wandered. This will sound corny, but it was a pure and innocent kind of closeness that I've never experienced again since. The kind of closeness kids should have.

She was the fifth child of seven, I was the first of four, and she always seemed much more worldly than I because of this. We used to jump rope with other girls, and chase boys. One time we caught Michael K., tied him to a tree with a jump rope and smeared dandelions on his face. Poor Michael. The bell rang and we left him out there to untangle himself. When he slunk into class a bit late, he didn't even rat us out, as I recall. Maybe K. remembers differently.

Once I invited her to my slumber party, but she had a pint-sized anxiety attack and wanted to go home, so I just slept at her house a lot after that. A couple of times we slept in the bedroom she shared with two sisters and her gazillion horse figurines; we slept on the living room floor where I was awakened by one of her formerly stray cats licking my feet; we slept on a sofabed in the basement, where she kicked me off the bed in my sleep. She introduced me to MAD magazine; we sat on her brothers' bunk beds and read a stack of issues. I remember my mother being a little bit surprised when I relayed some of the jokes to her after I came home.

We traveled with her mom in their family station wagon. It was fun to fold down the back seats and bounce around in the open space. This was before wearing seatbelts became a law. We used to bother her younger sisters until they whined and tattled on us, and we feigned innocence.

She was left-handed and I was fascinated by the way she wrote with her hand impossibly curled around over her paper. I bet she still writes like that. She did a spot-on and delightfully irreverent impression of our fourth-grade teacher, Sr. Angelora: "Get in ranks! Get in ranks!" I can still hear it.

In fifth grade we were required to attend a sex education night at our school. The boys went into one classroom and the girls filed into the other. I think our parents were there, but I sat next to K. as always, and listened to the instructor (a nurse?) explain where the vagina was. I didn't quite understand the logistics of sex, so K. whispered an explanation to me and demonstrated to me with her hands. We tried so hard not to giggle, and that explanation has stayed with me ever since.

Also in fifth grade, the two of us sat directly in front of John G. and John O. I'd had a crush on John G. since first grade (I'm telling you—I've either got a very strong loyalty gene or I'm just very persistent), so it was distracting and thrilling to sit in front of him in Sr. Cynthia's class. K. was my partner in crime as we secretly ate Smarties that we both hid in our desks, and we flirted and fought as John O. and John G. yanked our chairs with their feet during lessons.

She lived close enough to school that she walked every day, and sometimes I'd get to go home with her. For some reason I found that unusual to the point of being exotic. Such independence! In the summertime we'd hang out in her above-ground pool and pretend sharks were after us—or pretend to be sharks ourselves. She was into suntanning, and sometimes she'd slather herself in baby oil and hang out on the redwood deck next to the pool while I tried to squeeze in a few more minutes of swimming before I had to return to my pool-less home.

I remember some talk of UFOs or planets in the news at one point, and K. and I and a couple of other friends gathered at K.'s house to research UFOs. This consisted mainly of copying information about planets from our textbooks to looseleaf paper. We thought we were doing something important, and I suppose our parents were just glad we had something to do.

K. had style; she wore halter tops in the summertime, and once she let me borrow her super-cool faded bell-bottom jeans that had no hems and were all raggedy where they'd been stepped on a lot. That was the epitome of hipness for me.

She continued to be more worldly than I, and after my family moved to California and returned to Illinois for a visit when I was about 12 or 13, the two of us swiped a carton of cigarettes from her older sister's room, hung out in the park all week and smoked them all. Of course, she'd been smoking for a while, and I felt like a nerd as she effortlessly inhaled. We invited another classmate over, and she scored more cigs for us when we ran out.

(As I type this, I imagine K. reading it—she has the URL—and thinking it somewhat silly or overly sentimental, but that's where I am right now and I'm probably projecting my crap onto her anyway.) ;-)

Amazingly, she came to California to visit me once. I'd remembered her anxiety about spending the night away from home, so I really appreciated her traveling so far. We went to Disneyland, I remember, and the rest of the trip was a blur. In her recent email she said she remembered my youngest sister being five years old and carrying our pet hamster ("Hammy") around.

Now she's married and has three kids—all boys!—and I have my son. It's hard to believe we're grownups. We walked about 18 or 19 miles in a Walkathon once. In a picture of us taken back then, she had her hair in braids and I had mine in barrettes. We posed with another classmate, J., who committed suicide several years later. How could we have known then what would become of us?

At times I feel like my life is compartmentalized. K. is from my cognizant years in Illinois, mainly. The rest of my life is split up into sections in a way, and my other friends figure prominently in these, but I think K. stands out to me because she was part of my early childhood, before life got too complicated. We didn't question our friendship. We didn't question most things, I think. We just were.

Although I don't necessarily wish to go back to that time, I do yearn for that kind of simplicity in relationships, at least a little. The idea of just being appeals to me, and my challenge now lies in finding a way to be in the moment while taking care of grownup concerns like making money, putting dinner on the table, teaching my son how to be a good man and finding someone to share my life with. Someone with whom I can walk arm in arm and pick dandelions.

I promise not to smear them in anyone's face. ;-)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Noo Shooz

These shoes were made for walkin'.

Living in Southern California means I usually get to indulge my affinity for open-toed shoes...or at least indulge my hatred of socks. I hate socks, and yet I somehow have acquired a huge drawerful of the things. Go figure. Anyway, my six-mile walk a while back convinced me that I needed some appropriate shoes so I can go for more long walks without hating myself afterward. My son also needed shoes, so I had the perfect excuse to go shopping. Of course, he loved every pair I tried on and wanted to go home after about two hours. (I'm sooo not kidding, and that's just the time it took me to decide on a pair—he decided much more quickly!) He was rewarded with a Hotwheels car for his patience. :-)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Strength Does Exist in Silence

"Strength Exists in Silence" by Timothy McClellan

I have this painting on my wall, and its meaning has taken a while to reveal itself to me. When I first told someone the title, she disagreed with what she inferred as its meaning. She was in a social justice mindset, and silence about the world's injustices equals oppression and stagnation and death in many cases.

Years ago, my sister had a roommate who couldn't endure a moment of silence. She kept her radio or TV playing at all hours—even as she slept. I think the constant sound and influx of information kept her from having to face herself.

When I first met my son's dad, I told him, "I'm so tired of telling my first-date story. Could we just sit here in silence for a while?" I started to love him when he smiled and said yes.

The Quakers, of whom my uncle was one, and with whom I've sat a handful of times, join in silence every First Day (Sunday) and sit together in silence. It sounds like nothing, and yet it's a powerful thing, this silence. For me, it draws my energy inward and in a way I can imagine the collective energy in the room quietly whooshing upward as the energy of others is similarly focused. Literally uplifting.

Recently some friends were discussing the merits of remaining silent. Keeping one's grand plans to oneself. Not allowing the energy of one's plans to be dispersed through idle chatter about the plan, leaving no energy for the execution of the plan.

Some people would probably argue with this. When I took a slightly controversial three-day seminar (the Forum, based on est, but not quite as kooky) a few years ago, the coaches advocated sharing one's thoughts, plans, etc. with others in an effort to make them "real." We spent hours taking turns in front of the microphone, spilling our guts and sharing our goals, and I enjoyed this part of the weekend (although it was a complicated experience and I think my money could've been better spent elsewhere).

There is strength in sharing information. For one thing, how else would we know we're not alone in our suffering and joy unless we're privy to others' experiences?

But some of us, and I do include myself, spend a lot of energy on the telling...and not enough on the doing. Sometimes after I've told a bunch of people about my plans, I have no juice left over for executing the plan. I'm exhausted from the telling.

Occasionally I've found that sharing information with the wrong people has devastating effects. I've had the horrific experience of having my dreams and missteps exaggerated, exposed and documented for review by a judge who had the power to decide how much time I get to spend with my son.

All I can say is thank God for savvy judges.

But most of the time it's fun to tell, tell, tell about what I want to do. It's fun to imagine it. It's fun to shop for it (!) when necessary. It's just not always fun to do it. Maybe that's because I can be one hundred percent successful in my verbal descriptions of my plans, and my executed plans often fall short of what I envisioned. Perhaps I forget to choose to enjoy the doing. Perhaps I shoot too high. Perhaps I don't give myself a break.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not huddled in a corner, babbling to the air about my plans. I do stuff. Sometime I'll take a picture of my craft table and post it. I wish I could take a picture of the inside of my head to show you. There is Stuff goin' on. But I have more to accomplish than a stream of decoupaged boxes and tiny watercolors. I have articles to write, a house to clean, walks to take, a life to redirect.

When I do catch myself shying away from a project, I try to treat myself the way I treat my son. I gently remind myself that perfection is boring. I remind myself to breathe and try to stay open to surprise outcomes. I put in the time and enthusiasm and see what happens. Sometimes this works.

Today I responded to another blogger's request to be kicked in the ass. I told her the things I tell myself: Much of the time, inspiration happens after you start—not before.

Focus the energy on the task at hand, and not on the telling about it.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Small Chair to Eat Corn

This cracks me up.
Originally uploaded by zen.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Usually I post photos of something or other with each blog entry, but after viewing photo after photo of the devastation and death resulting from the tsunamis, I just can't post any images. I don't even know how to think about this event. It's too horrific and huge for me to even get my head around. My son and I sent a donation to the American Red Cross and he decorated the envelope with hearts and smiley faces so he could feel like he was contributing somehow, but it seems like so much...futility?...even though I know every contribution helps.

What really gnaws at me are the faces of children in shock, having lost some or all of their families. I'm praying for everyone who suffered or is suffering from the disaster, but these kids' eyes haunt me.