Monday, February 27, 2012

Strawberry Hill

My parents nicely offered to watch the boys for a bit last night while the Howe sisters went to a party. Luckily my boys were TUCKERED OUT from a long day of play and fell asleep without a fight. We had gathered up a pile of friends and went sledding at our town's best kept secret. Strawberry Hill. Most beautiful place ever. Anyway, several inches of fresh snow had fallen, and even though it was cold (like COLD cold) the kids and dogs were in heaven. Eli kept saying, "Mom, it's the top of the world!"


Despite the fact that I hadn't seen (and practically hadn't even HEARD of) any of the movies nominated, we went to the Oscar's Party in White River last night. I was in a crap mood...frankly, it really wasn't my thing and I wasn't feeling well, but of course, surrounded by family and friends, and watching Vermont drag queens sashay about for a couple of hours is bound to cheer you up.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Morning Has Broken

It's Eli's half birthday at school today. The kids who have summer birthdays get to celebrate their HALF birthday during the school year, to be fair. (And to drive parents batty, I suspect.) Putting the last batch of cupcakes in the oven, late, late last night, I wondered, as I often do, how there are people actually CHOOSING to single parent? Not single parenting because of divorce or death, but by choice? Are there really super humans who are so TOGETHER, so infallible, they can add children to their life with barely a ripple, knowing that as just ONE person, they can handle it regardless? I am actually acquainted with a few people like this and am still awestruck by their proficiency. It must take a certain mindset I suppose, and I guess they are used to doing everything by themselves anyway. And truthfully, I'm getting better all the time, but still, some days are harder than others. I love my kids, and I'm happy to be with them every minute of the day, I just wish there were two of me. Dear God, sometimes I wish there were FOUR of me.

This morning, I stumble out of bed with Ira wailing because I've tugged my braid out of his sweaty little hand where it's been twisted and tangled for the last couple hours. I blearily frost two dozen cupcakes with an entirely made-up recipe, that hopefully tastes vaguely like cream cheese spread, after Eli calls out from his bedroom that a bunch of his friends hate chocolate. (What kind of crazy kids hate chocolate?!) I go back to drag both boys out of bed and set them to washing and brushing while I start to make breakfast. I hear a some whispering, some giggling, a thud, a pause, and a "Whoops". ALL the toothbrushes have somehow fallen into the toilet. (Luckily, I have extras in the cabinet. The boys look crestfallen at this.) Back at the table, nobody wants what I make, as usual, and there are my normal pleas and demands, in the hopes they'll eat enough to keep them alive for the next couple hours.

I frantically glance back and forth between the swiftly ticking clock and the sprinkles I'm applying to the lopsided cupcakes (mostly, the sprinkles do not stick and simply roll off the sides while I try and pat them gently into the frosting with my fingers...which, unfortunately, stick far better than the dratted sprinkles.) In between moans that he HATES this kind of bagel, and the fact that his brother won't take his foot off his stool, Eli insists that the cupcakes have to be gluten-free because several of his classmate's have allergies. Nothing I can do about it at this point, I heartlessly continue to decorate them as he whines, "MooooOOOm, just take the gluten OUT!"

I send Eli outside to retrieve the backpack he left in the car all night, while I start making his lunch. He comes back reporting that the car is entirely encased in ice and the doors won't open. Knowing that one of the back doors is broken and permanently locked, I send him back out to try again on a different door. He finally returns with his backpack in which his soggy snow pants and mittens have frozen solid as did the water in his (now sadly misshapen) canteen. In between packing his lunch I dive around into all the random hiding places to ferret out clean snow pants and matching, dry mittens. (Success on the dry part, less success on the matching part.)

The apartment is now rank with the odor of tuna because although I DETEST fish, the kids adore it, and so I wrinkle my nose and stir together two things that make my stomach turn, tuna and mayo, for sandwiches, while the children wander off and start coloring, ignoring my request to get their outdoor clothes on. Balancing the empty tuna fish bowl on top of the cupcake batter bowl on top of cereal bowls in the sink and filling it with a little soapy water, I turn away to continue packing Eli's lunch bag. Hearing a clatter behind me, I spin around just in time to watch my leaning tower of dirty dishes collapse and to be showered with a spray of soapy tuna fish water that drenches me from head to toe. Wrestling Ira into pants and boots he proclaims: "Mom, you STINK."

I grab for the car keys, sling the backpack, lunch sack and borrowed canteen over my shoulder, and carefully lift the platter of tinfoil covered (gluten-filled) cupcakes with one hand while I steer Ira along with the other, smirking at the clock and feeling insanely proud that we'll be right on time. EAT THAT WORLD! I win!

Just then I look down and happen to notice I'm not dressed.


I'm sitting here by my parent's wood stove, typing, while they watch a Joan Baez documentary. Watching Joan's involvement during the Civil Rights Movement, Dad spews: "God, this was the 60's, just YESTERDAY, and people were so RETARDED. Disgusting." (My dad is a weird mixture, both very accepting and completely un-PC with his language at the same time. Am I glad he's not a bigot? Yup. Am I glad he uses words like 'retarded'? Nope.) Mom goes to get a history book to confirm the actual date of the Civil Right's Bill. Now they are moving on to Joan's pacification efforts. Ira has wandered in from the kitchen where he was happily sailing little bowls in the sink, and Mom is attempting to answer Ira's questions about why the singer got thrown in jail for standing at the draft induction line and telling men they don't HAVE to go. Mom is trying to explain that people occasionally go to jail for doing good things because sometimes the laws are wrong, not the people. Interesting to see what a four year old naturally perceives as right or wrong. Interesting also to see my mother explaining these things. If my mom had more balls, she'd have been a kick-ass activist. (See that? I am my father's daughter after all...I just sounded exactly like him right there.)

Although they have no idea of this, watching my folks watch movies is wicked funny, usually more entertaining, in fact, than the movie itself. They never just sit and WATCH like other people do. Movies are entirely interactive. They stop them occasionally to clarify things, take notes, look stuff up, and discuss it all. They have now pressed the pause button to argue about how long Joan's husband David Harris was in jail, and trying to recall how they felt about it back then.

Even if I wanted to, I couldn't write you a review on this film because I don't know if I'd be writing about it, or about the behind-the-scenes commentary from my parents, which is practically a movie in itself. Anyway, I forgot the name. THEY, however, appear to be enjoying it very much, as both are still in their long johns this morning, transfixed by a high pitched warble singing of peace and equality. They have amassed, on the sofa's end table, several books, a magnifying glass, and many questions, which is always a good thing, I think. Questions. At four OR sixty, questions are good.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

AA (Appreciate All)

Last night I went with Rusty to do a show, a free show at a recovery center for it's workers and the folks who are...well, recovering. As usual, it was nothing like I thought and you know what? If I could afford to do that sort of thing (and man, I'm glad Rusty can) I'd do it every single night of the week, free.

Firstly, I didn't expect to walk into a room full of addicts and ex-addicts that look like, um, regular people. I could have been walking into any old room, Cousin Amy's baby shower, a cafe', a PTA meeting, whatever. I saw men in ties, elderly ladies with Scottie dog sweaters, kids (literally KIDS, like 14 years old), cops, farmers, young women, construction workers with mud still on their boots, CEOs. A whole room full of them. If you had just plunked me down in this room and made me guess what these people had in common, I wouldn't figure out their connection. Huh. Dumb of me, but I tend to be slow about things like that. Of course my brain knows perfectly well that drug addicts and alcoholics don't have to look like homeless people, it's that stupid, old, snap judgement rearing it's ugly head. You just assume they'll look a LITTLE different at least. Or if you are as naive as I am, you do.

Anyway, after I got over thinking "Hey hold on, I could be here as a performer, employee OR addict, and nobody'd be able to tell the difference", The second thing I started to wonder was: "What on earth is Rusty - a man who's never been drunk or high in his life, comes from an incredibly supportive, loving family, leads a charmed life, and doesn't even like COFFEE for God's sake - what can he possibly say to these people, people who deal with terrible things he knows nothing of, WHAT is he gonna say to them that could be meaningful?"

Surprise number two. I underestimated compassion. I've never been so proud. Out of his mouth came humor certainly, (he IS a comedian, after all) but also the understanding that we are all 99.9 percent EXACTLY the same. Me...the construction worker in the next seat...the high school English teacher...the millionaire...him. And all we have to do is to believe that. And TREAT ourselves as if we believe that. The roofer is the same as Bill Gates. Rusty is the same as the drug dealer in the back row. It just takes wanting something bad enough, and any one of us can have it. ANY of us. We can make something of our lives.

I helped set up and clean up and mingle afterward to answer questions. One woman quietly thanked me for coming (I don't know why since all I did was carry the guitar and be the butt of several jokes) before she hesitantly asked: " he for real? Is it an act or is he truly that positive?" I had to laugh as I replied, "Well, he just threw up his hands in a restaurant and yelled "This parsnip puree is GODDAMN FANTASTIC people!!!"

Another man, an ex cop who, at his lowest point, apparently traded valuable pieces of court evidence for drugs, was a guy that Rusty knows from the gym. He spoke to me at length. That's when I got a bit teary eyed, because he said: "You know what your friend does for me? I'll tell you. My wife left, my kids wouldn't speak to me, I've been to jail. When I think about all that I've struggled with, and what I've lost because of it, I get to feelin' pretty low. But THAT man comes up to me while I'm finishing up my squats in the morning and says: "Hey there Bud! Ain't you glad to be alive on a day like this? Jeezum Crow, can you believe we're lucky enough cusses to be walkin' outta here on our own two great-workin' legs, feelin' the sun, and all we got to do is BE?" And then this red-faced muscle man with a military buzz cut shook my hand vigorously between both of his meaty ones for a long time, as if he was somehow grateful for my support as well as Rusty's, and Lordy, I wished I could do this for people.

I understand how he felt because that's what Russ does for me too. I don't know anything about substance abuse, but I do know plenty about feeling sorry for myself lately. He's the kind of friend that WILL NOT allow you to wallow in misery or fall into the darkness. He doesn't know it...(or probably he does, actually)...but dragging me along to AA meetings and nursing homes has reminded me that pitying myself is just as much of a handicap in life as addiction, or dementia and old age. I've got a choice. I've got life ahead of me, beckoning, to waste or live, as I choose. I'm well and alive, I'm LUCKY.

Oh, he's very sly about it. I'll be going on about my week's frustrations or hardships and he'll interrupt me politely with: "No disrespect, I'm listenin' ya know, but quick, look at that before it goes!" and he'll point to the sunset, or the way shadows are stretched out across a field, or a child skipping on the sidewalk, or he'll rush to grab the door for a loaded down UPS man, and that's all it takes. I'll turn back to him sheepishly as he he gestures for me to finish my story, but my tone, my perspective, it will be different when I start again, and he knows it, the sneaky bugger.

And that's the secret. His much sought after Top Secret Meaning Of Life. One of the most valuable things I've ever learned from someone. You want to be happy? Forget YOU. Make other people happy and you're home free. And life IS beautiful, people need to be interrupted and reminded once in a while. Quick! Before it goes!