Yesterday, I was in the living room playing doll houses and Hot Wheels simultaneously. Yes, that's possible; after several years of cooking with an infant in one arm, typing while nursing, vacuuming while playing indoor hopscotch, and other types of multi-tasking, playing two different sedentary games in the same room is easier than talking on the phone and to my preschooler at the same time.
Anyway, we were happily playing along when I heard an ominous crash from the kitchen. It was one of those multi-layered, item decimating, drawn-out, smashing, shattering, why oh why did we choose to install tile on the kitchen floor? type crashes. I instantly felt a heavy foreboding in my gut.
"Are you okay in there?" I called out to Husband, even as I knew that the dread I felt was not a premonition that he was hurt.
"Yes," he replied stiffly.
Somehow I knew that the spreading sickening feeling was not a fear for his safety. I dashed towards the kitchen, calling out "What broke?" as I went.
And then I stopped just short of the doorway. Fanned across the floor were pieces of copper colored crockery. Many many many pieces. Instantly, I knew. I looked around, trying to comprehend the quantity of pieces, as Husband fumbled with his words, "I was just trying to organize the shelves up here, and..."
...and my anger welled up. Throwing a green Hot Wheel across the dining room, too roughly pushing my barefoot children out of the way of the shivers of glaze and shards of stoneware that littered the floor, I walked into the kitchen, stood in the middle of the mess, and utterly shocked myself by bursting into gut-wrenching sobs. I stood there, helpless amongst the ruins of my dead grandmother's dinnerware, and bawled as though I just lost the beloved woman herself. With heaving shoulders, I wept and wept and wept. Over three broken coffee cups.
Apparently spying a handle on the floor, my perceptive Son said, "Mama, you loved that cup, didn't you?" And the empathy of my preschoolers brought tears to their own eyes as they contemplated their heart-broken mother, crying over crockery. Refusing to stay out of the ceramic minefield, they surrounded me, hugging my legs, leaning small heads against my body, mutely offering their love, and sympathy for a grief they did not understand.
Hugging them back, I led them more gently out of the room, explaining that they could cut their feet on the tiny bits, and then I started picking up pieces. Husband went to throw them in the trashcan, until I stopped him with a reminder that they would simply slice through the bag. So we piled them on the counter. He kept apologizing, sounding so guilty. Hot fat tears oozed down my cheeks throughout the time it took me to vacuum the floor, the entrance to the dining room, and its carpet.
Thirty-six hours later, I still cannot bring myself to throw the pieces away.
These dishes belonged to my grandparents for nearly 50 years. They are Russell Wright "Casual China," made in the 1950s. The set for eight came to me with nary a chip in it -- dinner plates, salad plates, coffee cups and saucers, a stacking sugar bowl/creamer, a gorgeous coffee carafe. There is an oval serving platter, a divided serving bowl, and one bowl, about the right size for a large soup lunch, which my grandfather used every morning for his cereal -- used so often that the glaze on this bowl is matte where the rest of the dishes are still glossy.
There have been a few casualties to the set since I got it. One plate inexplicably snapped in half one evening, as I was drying it. One nice straight line right down the middle. *crack* And one plate now has a chip in the edge due to some overzealous stacking.
And then through the random kindness of strangers, I was actually given two new dinner plates in this hard-to-find color by a lovely woman named Sophia who owned a little bakeshop and breakfast place. And the set was once again complete.
But now, I have three broken coffee cups.
Lovely, smooth, and round, these cups are just the right size for after-dinner sipping. Every time I pull them out, I think of the grandmother who so lovingly held her hand to my tight, growing belly, hoping to feel the kicks of Son, to connect with the infant who would become her only great-grandson.
She passed away when I was eight months pregnant.
I did not go to the funeral. Technically, I could have. My doctor told me I could make the trip so long as I identified the nearest hospital ahead of time, and because I was on the smallish size for a very pregnant woman, the airlines might not have known I was pushing their "no flying after 36 weeks" rule. But I was too timid to make the flights and be in a strange city so close to my due date. Truth be told, I think I was also too timid to face that much grief at that particular moment in my life. The day I found out she had died unexpectedly the night before, the baby (I didn't know Son was a boy until he was born) flipped and squirmed, wriggled and writhed, all day long in paroxysms that mirrored my own heavy grieving. I didn't think I could do that to my child or myself without pause for funeary days, or risk delivering in a city that was no longer my own. And so I stayed behind, wrote a memorial for my sister to read, and quietly said my goodbyes as I was preparing to say hello to the new life I carried within.
Suddenly, yesterday, it was as if some unspent grief caught up with me. In the face of the shards of her coffee cups, I sobbed for the grandmother who never got the chance to meet my children, for the woman who made me peanut butter cookies after school, who helped me learn to sew, who passed on her favorite cookbook, her quiet thoughtfulness, her love.
And then, today, I though to take a photograph. One of a whole cup. And it made me feel somewhat more at peace. I still don't know what I will do with the fragments of the three cups that became smithereens on our kitchen floor yesterday.
But today I know, I will choose to remember the five more I still have that are whole. The memories I have of her that are wonderful. Mourning her passing, our loss, I will myself also to recall all the richness that she has left behind.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Yesterday, I was in the living room playing doll houses and Hot Wheels simultaneously. Yes, that's possible; after several years of cooking with an infant in one arm, typing while nursing, vacuuming while playing indoor hopscotch, and other types of multi-tasking, playing two different sedentary games in the same room is easier than talking on the phone and to my preschooler at the same time.
Monday, December 29, 2008
I love art fairs. Not for the sweet paintings of apple-cheeked chickens on the handles of whisk brooms, but for the toys. I walk through the aisles admiring lovingly hand-made trains in multiple shades of natural wood, little cars with peg people that slide in and out, wooden name puzzles, and rag dollies. There is always someone who has spent the last year carving astonishingly lovely rocking horses who are four feet high and whose warm ruddy legs are almost impossibly smooth with hand-rubbed wax. I want to touch and drink them all in, buy them for every child I know.
When Son was nearly one year old, a cousin of mine sent him a fantastic wooden train made by a toymaker in upstate New York, who also makes replicas of 1930s Packards and 1920s fire engines. This toymaker has no online presence, but I met him in person at an art fair last summer, bought presents for my nephew, and kept his flier so that I could order more as soon as possible.
In the past few years, uncertainty about the safety of toys from China, in combination with my own preference for toys that foster creative play, has steered me more and more in the direction of hand-made, local, fabric-and-wood based toys.
You may feel the same way -- wanting to shop local and support small businesses, valuing the beauty and craft of things lovingly handmade.
Did you know that as of February 10, 2009, you may no longer have the chance to do just that?
That's right. The U.S. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, passed legislation last August to mandate stringent product testing for all items sold for children -- not just toys, but also furniture, clothing, feeding items, and anything else designed to make it into little hands. Working in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the law (known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) requires that every product manufactured for children undergo testing to determine its precise lead and pthalate content, and that each product then be labeled to certify its compliance with the law. Given the numerous recalls of lead-covered toys made in China, and the recent understanding of the danger of pthalates in plastic products, this sounds like a huge step forward.
Of course, like many regulations that sound great in theory, in practice this legislation is exceedingly short-sighted and problematic. Producers of children's toys will be required by law to pay for third party testing of every single toy design they sell -- testing which can cost up to $4000 per item. Mega-manufacturers will be able to absorb the cost easily enough. Mattel, for example, annually sells approximately $1.9 BILLION in Barbie products alone, raising the cost-per-unit of Barbie junk by just pennies. This testing and certification, which also includes provisions for random batch testing of finished products as well as of sample units, might certainly help ensure fewer lead-covered toys arriving here from Chinese factories.
But the toymaker of the gorgeous wooden train set my son has
-- one crafted only from local woods, unstained, and sealed with a hand-rubbed wax finish -- would have to spend these thousands of dollars to test every different style of train car he sells at craft fairs around the country. Because, of course, according to the way the legislation is currently written, despite the fact that the engine and caboose are made from the exact same woods, through identical processes, but are simply different shapes, they -- along with every car in between -- would each have to be separately tested and certified. (If you're interested, he also has circus cars filled with removable elephants, and all sorts of other fanciful things to put between the engine and the caboose. When I saw him at the craft fair, I counted 10 different cars available, plus engine and caboose.)
The grandmother who makes one-of-a-kind children's cooking aprons from recycled fabrics to sell on Etsy? She has to have every single apron tested before she can legally sell it.
This testing is so cost prohibitive as to put crafters, local toymakers, and small businesses out of business. Even if we imagine that the New York train maker pays a mere $2000 per item for his testing, he is facing something like $100,000 worth of product testing for the dozens of styles of train cars, trucks, and antique automobiles he makes. Where does a business that depends entirely on sales at one local shop and a dozen craft fairs around the country per year come up with that kind of capital? How can he possibly pass on such costs to his customers without pricing his toys out of the market?
Even more absurd, while local toy makers and small businesses are often at the forefront of their communities in terms of seeking out sustainable components for their toys, natural ingredients for their diapers, and enviromentally-friendly items to stock their shelves, the mandate for lead and pthalates testing is NOT nuanced to exclude, for example, "natural" components that could not contain these elements. Pthalates are a chemical ingredient used in the production of plastic. How would these end up infused in sheep's wool or maple planks? There is no concievable way. And yet makers of textile toys (say, hand-knit dolls) or unpainted wooden trains will still have to pay thousands of dollars to have their toys tested for dangerous pthlates they could not possibly contain.
In addition to making no rational exceptions for "natural" components like wool or unpainted wood, the legislation does not currently allow for component testing rather than finished product testing. So, small producers who pride themselves on buying only rigorously tested and certified components -- such as all-natural, unbleached cotton stuffing or locally harvested wood -- would still have to have their finished products tested and certified, even if every part of the final toy, from glue to thread to finishing wax, has already been tested and marked with batch numbers.
This kind of redundancy in the name of safety is precisely the opposite of what our economy needs right now. With big businesses crumbling around us, the economy in shambles, and proof at every turn of the unreliable safety standards of large-scale toy manufactures, the best chance many people have of making it through this financial mess is small business. And the best we can do to help out our own communities is buy local. ONLY THIS LEGISLATION IS GOING TO MAKE THAT IMPOSSIBLE. Small businesses by the thousands will be unable to afford this testing, and in six short weeks, will thus be unable to keep their doors open legally.
Ironically, then, the very legislation that is supposed to be helping to ensure we have safer products in the hands of our children is turning out to favor only the mega-scale producers that have had problems with lead and pthalates in the past and is punishing to the point of driving out of business the very companies whose exemplary safety records make "Made in USA" a point of pride.
And one of the biggest travesties of all, in this whole mess, is that this issue is getting almost no press. I have done a lot of digging online, and I can find no coverage on major national news outlets. There are small stories, with heartbreaking details of how this will affect specific local businesses, in places like the Grand Rapids Press. There was one short story in the Wall Street Journal online back in November. And beyond that, the only coveraage I can find is on people's blogs.
During a holiday gift-giving season when the nation's economy is in such dire straits, you would think that a story about the imminent demise of tens of thousands of small-business livlihoods would be making it into news cycles. But no.
It seems to me that the only way to combat this legislation is to raise our collective voices until they become loud enough that the incoming administration recognizes what a disastrous thing this law is for local small-scale producers of toys and children's items.
Here's what you can do to help:
1. Go sign the petition sponsored by the Handmade Toy Alliance -- a collective of small-scale U.S. toy and children's product makers formed to help raise awareness about this detrimental legislation. The petition itself voices support for more stringent safety standards but calls for rational revisions to the legislation to make it possible for small producers to comply. (See their proposal here, which includes exceptions for "natural" components, certification of components rather than finished products, and revisions to the testing procedures on the basis of scale for makers who do not produce toys in "batches").
2. Go to Barack Obama's Change website, and vote for this as an agenda item that deserves immediate attention.
3. Write to your United States Congress Person and Senator to request changes in the CPSIA to save handmade toys and children's products. Use the sample letter drafted by the Handmade Toy Alliance or write your own. You can find your Congress Person here and Senator here.
4. Write a post about this issue yourself and try to get the word out.
5. Twitter, Stumble, Digg, or otherwise pass on this post to anyone you can think of who might be in the position to get more attention to this important issue.
Failing these, your only option is to RUN, don't walk, to your favorite local toymaker, and buy all the birthday presents you'll need for the next few years, since unless this legislation changes, you've only got six weeks until she or he has to go out of business indefinitely.
For more information: you can read a copy of the legislation here (which also includes testing standards for the fashion industry and many non-child-related products as well). Go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and read their information on the bill. Check out the Handmade Toy Alliance.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
We've had a week of family in town. It's been a joyful time of cooking and overeating,
shoveling almost daily to get out from under snow storms,
and the quiet hush of Christmas Eve lights in the lull before the storm of children descend.
I hope you and yours have had happy holidays -- Merry Christmases and Happy Hanukkahs -- thus far. I'm looking forward to catching up with you all in the next few days.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
A British Christmas Cake is cousin to an American fruit cake. But they are related in the way that Isaac Mizrahi's couture fashions are related to his Target line -- the latter is fine by some, wouldn't be touched by others, but no one finds it anything to write home about. Christmas Cake, on the other hand, is perfectly fabulous, even if you HATE fruit cake. It takes a long time to make (two days just to soak the fruit in brandy -- which is how you know it's better than fruitcake right away), but it's oh, so worth it. Especially because it makes so much that it takes even longer to eat. Be sure to read the whole recipe before embarking. And then, enjoy the adventure.
4 cups raisins
2 cups golden raisins
1 cup currants
1/2 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup candied lemon peel
*(see note below about the dried fruit choices)
1 cup brandy
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 1/4 cups butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
3 finely grated apples (no need to peel them first)
2/3 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup whole pecans
1/2 cup whole almonds
Mix dried fruit*, brandy, zest and fresh juices in a bowl. Stir well. Let it sit and soak for two days, stirring occasionally. All the liquids will eventually be absorbed.
When you're ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Beat together butter and sugar until white and creamy (in a very large bowl). Then alternately beat in 1 egg, then 1/2 cup flour, beating until each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next. When all eggs and flour have been added, mix in all of the remaining ingredients, including the brandied fruit. Stir until thoroughly combined. Butter a 10" springform pan, line the bottom with wax paper, and butter the paper as well. Pour the cake into the pan (it will be very heavy). Bake for 1 hour at 300 degrees. Reduce the heat to 275 degrees, and bake 3-4 hours more, until the top is nicely golden brown, and a stick inserted into the cake comes out clean. While still hot, pierce the top of the cake all over with a thin skewer, and pour 1/2 of brandy all over the cake.
To ice the cake, you will need one tube (7oz) of marzipan or almond paste, 4 egg white, 2 pounds of powdered sugar, and a tablespoon of lemon juice.
First, separate 4 egg whites into a large bowl. Beat until you can form stiff peaks. With a wooden spoon, stir in 1 pound of the powdered sugar until smooth and shiny. Let sit 30 minutes.
Next, roll out the marzipan very thin. I usually divide the tube into 4 chunks, and roll one at a time. The easiest way is to roll it on a flexible cutting board. Your goal is to roll it thin enough that you can cover the entire cake, top and sides, with a thin layer of marzipan. It takes a little over 1/2 of the tube to cover the top of the cake. Since you will be covering it with another layer of icing, it's fine to piece the marzipan.
Now, stir another pound of powdered sugar into the icing mixture. Icing will be quite stiff. Stir until smooth and shiny. Add lemon juice as you are incorporating powdered sugar. When the icing is smooth, ice the cake. This recipe makes enough icing for a nice thick layer, fancifully applied to look like snow.
Decorate top of cake with little figures if you wish, or with nothing at all if you are a purist.
Serve this 10 pound cake to 150 of your closest friends.
Well, maybe not quite that many. But this makes a giant cake (10 pounds is not an exaggeration), and it is quite rich. It is perfect for a holiday party. In Great Britain (home of Christmas Cake), slices of this cake are served with tea (it's particularly nice with Earl Gray in my opinion) to anyone who stops by for a visit during the holiday season. Ideally, you would make the cake a little ahead of time. It can keep, tightly wrapped, for a month or more before you put the marzipan and icing on it, and many people swear that this aging is necessary for the flavor of the cake. Personally, I am never that organized. But then, I am not British.
You could easily make a half recipe (bake in something like a 7" springform, I'd guess), if your family doesn't want to be eating this cake until Valentine's Day.
* If there is one of these fruits you don't much like, or you prefer to have something like glace cherries in the cake, you can substitute things nicely. One year, I left out some of the raisins and added apricots. As long as your total dried/candied fruit is 8 cups, and raisins are predominant, you can experiment.
Friday, December 19, 2008
When I was a child, I pined for snow. There was a lot of longing for not a whole lot of gratification, since I grew up in Atlanta. Once every five or six years, we would get a BIG snowfall (4" or more). Out would come the scarves, heavy socks, and plastic bags. Heavy socks went on your feet and your hands. Over your socks and shoes, smaller plastic bags made perfectly acceptable boots. Underneath you, garbage-sized plastic bags made excellent sleds. We lived at the top of the best sledding hill in the neighborhood, and since there are no snowplows in the entire city except at the airport, it was perfectly safe to sled down the street into the cross street at the bottom. Not a soul was out in a car, and dozens of kids would gather in front of our house and launch themselves down the hill atop cookie sheets, full-body-plastic bags, or rubberized cutting boards. I don't recall any of us using a real sled, though surely someone might have had one.
Those were blissful days.
Then I went away to college in Vermont, and at the first sign of a real snowfall (in mid-October), I begged and dragged at my friends to come outside with me. One of them finally looked up at me, laughing. "Hurry up, HURRY UP! Get your boots on!" I was saying. "Why are you in such a hurry?" he asked. "It's going to be snowing until March." OH. Yes. I'd forgotten that this was not a land in which the snow might stop for good faster than you could even get your shoes and coat on.
I spend many evenings solacing my romantic heart, taking long walks in thickly falling snow. There was a golf-course abutting one end of our campus, and I had an indulgent friend who would walk for hours with me in mid-snow-storm. I loved the quiet swish of falling flakes, the slight squeak new snow made under my boots as I walked, the growing layer of white on my heavy wool overcoat, the sparkling chill of a snowflake caught on my eyelashes. I loved the hush that comes with heavy snow, the sense of being alone in the wide quiet world that a blanket of snow can produce as it isolates you in a world of glittering crust and knee-high powder, the unbroken sweep of hills not yet marred by a single footprint.
Now, living in Michigan "below the thumb" (look at the mitten-shape of the state, and you'll get it), I don't get giant all-winter-long snow very often.
But this morning? Ah...this morning, it is snowing. The weather warnings promise 1-2" per hour throughout the morning, tapering to a slower fall after noon. We got about 3 or 4" earlier this week, just enough to make a good base for what's coming down now. Everything outside is sparkling and misty. The snow just keeps coming. Our patio table is groaning under at least 8" already, and the swirling flakes are making no dismal sign of stopping any time soon. We are sitting around, respectively drinking our coffee or warm milk. Grandma and Grandpa -- who made the entire drive from Atlanta in one day yesterday, so as to get here before the storm -- are still cozily asleep in their beds.
And. we. have. snow.
Enough snow to satisfy my deepest longing heart. The world is good good good.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
My typical approach to Christmas gifts lies somewhere between the frenzy of abject consumerism and the ability to make beautiful jars of preserves from the contents of one's own garden to give as gifts. I love to make presents for people when I can, and I love to buy presents for people when I am inspired by finding something they will truly love. I have always thought (even before this year's economic downturn emphasized the point) that it wasn't how much you spent but how perfect the gift was for the recipient that mattered.
I also have a somewhat stronger philosophy when it comes to my children: I prefer them to receive things that encourage creativity and inventive play rather than lots of plastic stuff that basically plays itself (with two volume choices, LOUD and Slightly Less Loud, you pick!). Son routinely asks for every Power Ranger, Ben Ten (which he pronounced "Bun Tun," much to my amusement), and Spiderman thing he sees in the stores or on his friend's show-and-tell days. But in our house, Santa and I have a deal, and that stuff never makes it under the tree. The man in red comes up with some great alternatives, however, that keep the inventive play going far longer than I think the all-plastic-all-the-time stuff would. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not completely immune to the consumer urge. I happen to have insider info that suggests there will be a laser-firing, talking Buzz Lightyear under the tree; I just try to ensure that there are plenty of things requiring really creative play.)
We spend hours at our house on what we call projects. "Would you like to do a project?" is a pretty common question, and the result might require torn paper, glue and paintbrushes, or paper bags to make into puppets, or glitter paint and egg cartons...there's really no telling. One thing that is really registering for me this year, though, is that when you cultivate family traditions of D.I.Y., it is easier to buy presents that are not super-expensive. All the brand-name marketing costs money. Crayon rocks, on the other hand? Not so famous. But hours of fun.
So, for anyone out there looking for "one last perfect gift" and hoping to spend a little less money, and get something that fosters creativity, here are my best ideas for a range of ages.
Art supplies. Remember that glorious new crayon smell? Remember how you were never allowed the box of 64 crayons because it was an extravagance? But there are so many great colors in there...so many possibilities. At $5, it's a relatively small extravagance, especially if it's wrapped with a tablet of oversized drawing paper. For littler hands, I also like these fantastic Crayon Rocks. You might also consider finger paints, or a nice tin of water colors. Add interest by buying a giant roll of paper and repurpose an old shirt into a painting smock.
Puppets. Last year, I bought plywood, upholstered it in fabric, and built a puppet theater. A lightweight hanging wall bin from Ikea is attached inside to hold all the puppets sent by family members in the know. The kids play with this all the time, making all kinds of plays. You can get great puppets here or here. And, if you're not insane (read: crazy, overachiever) like me, you can also get a great table-top puppet theater from Ikea for about $6.
Costumes. They're not just for Halloween anymore. We have a firefighter, a knight in armor, and a pirate, in addition to all the many Halloween costumes we've collected. We have masks, and hats, and super capes. We routinely make accessories using sparkly gift boxes and sticks, and a lot of packing tape.
Vehicles. Sure, you can buy cars from Little Tykes or adorable pedal-car fire engines (both of which we love). But you can also make a canoe from two diaper boxes taped together. How does this become a Christmas gift? Why not give a "canoe kit" -- with all the supplies, decals and paints for decorating, and some Daniel Boone hats for them to wear while they're exploring the wilds down the river?
Music. We all know how annoying kid music can be (Barney, anyone?). If you spend long stretches of time in the car, or you like background music the kids can sing along with, I was given the best cd that I can actually listen to for hours and hours on end. Elizabeth Mitchell's "You Are My Little Bird" -- filled with lilting, slightly folk-song-ish songs, with great melodies. We have listened to this cd approximately 700 times (roughly once a day for two years), and I'm getting a little sick of it. But only in the last month or two, which I count as a pretty darn amazing investment.
For more active musical interaction, may I suggest a dance dvd? The Swingset Mamas sent me a sample of their "Swing, Dance, and Sing" dvd recently, which Nick Jr. rated in its "best for preschoolers" gift category. Two energetic mamas, singing, dancing, and bopping with kids have put together a great dvd that got my kids up and dancing too. I love that they liked the music AND wanted to do something other than just zone out in front of the tv (something I try to restrict as much as I can). The music is fun and catchy, and many of the tunes also send good messages to kids. Both my nearly-five and two-and-a-half year old had fun, and I will be playing this one again when they need to work off some energy and it's too cold to be outside.
Coupons for personal days together. One-on-one adventures, a shopping, mother/daughter manicures, you name it. You can pick activities that are low-cost, and give activity coupons promising real together time throughout the year.
Books of poetry. Elizabeth Bishop (gorgeous, musing). Edward Lear (hilarious, perfect for kids). Pablo Neruda (romantic, stunning). Spend an hour in the poetry section at Border's browsing.
Black-and-white framed candid portraits (perfect for your spouse). Take your digital camera, follow your children around for a day taking a zillion pictures, and then choose one or two to blow up and frame. Picassa (Google's photo editing softwear) is free to download; or try Picnik. Crop close to the subject, and don't be afraid to lose most of the background, or even crop off the top of a head, frame just a set of feet on a beach, or get down to child's eye view.
So, that's the best I've got. Anyone else want to add to the last-minute list to help out the rest of us? Especially if you have an idea for a mother-in-law...
The holiday photo shoot in our house always involves me taking scores of photos, 95% of which I hate, 4% of which are bearable, and perhaps 2 or 3 of which are worth thinking about further. If you have even one child, you know the problem: wrangling a squirmy being dressed in unfamiliarly formal clothes to stand in any way that looks "nice" can be more than a little daunting. Trying to be the child-wrangler AND the photographer at the same time can be a nightmare.
Which is why one ends up with photos like this, produced just after Son said "make the silliest face you can":
Or this, which could be sweet, except it's a little too underlit to tell:
This year, our collective family brainstorm for the "perfect" family photo created even more difficulty for us by involving the dog. If you think it's hard to get kids who would rather be dancing and making funny faces to pose for anything like a "nice" photo, try adding a canine to the mix. Preferably one who will suddenly not speak English as soon as you try to dress her up even in just the tiniest of costumes.
But we did finally manage to achieve what I think might be the funniest holiday photo we've ever taken.
Son was very particular about the costuming. He had to wear his Santa jammies. Daughter had to be dressed as an elf (a concession she made by adding pink candy-striped leg warmers under her green dress). And Dog, of course, needed to be Rudolph.
One benefit of this type of photo, at least, is that there is not the added pressure of formality.
I did manage, after the chaotic dancing was over
to get one decent holiday-ish picture of the kids together.
Which, really, is all any doting grandparent needs. Right?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The other day, I was reading stories to Son. Daughter had already been tucked in for the night. Slowly, his door opened, and a little apparition, covered head to toe in the quilt Auntie had made for her when she was born, walked silently into the room. She made it a few steps in (her arms were clearly held out in front of her slightly), and then she announced in a quavery, spooky voice, "ooooohoohoohoo, I'm a ghooooost." Then she sat down cross-legged on the floor, still completely covered by the quilt. When I went to pick her up to return to her bed, she kept herself in a sitting position and didn't flinch under the quilt.
Flash forward a few days...she's been tucked into bed several times. All is quiet upstairs. Husband and I are sitting in the family room, working at our respective laptops. In glides the quilt-covered ghosty. Mind you, this quilt comes all the way down to her toes, so I have no idea how she made it down the stairs (one can only hope she didn't don the outfit till after that portion of the journey).
She said not a word. She walked softly through the room, around behind Husband's chair, and sat on the floor -- a sweet little pile of lavendar and green quilt. She never spoke. I was laughing so hard I was crying (partly from trying to laugh without making any sound). At one point, she stood up, moved a few feet over to sit behind the other armchair, and then finally took the blanket off her head. Husband looked over at her. She didn't look back, but when she realized he was looking at her, she covered her eyes with her hands, so that she could continue to be invisible. She must have been down there for a good ten minutes before Husband finally acknowledged her, "Oh! What a surprise! Where did you come from?" She smiled. He carried her back up to bed. During the whole thing, she never spoke. If it hadn't been so cryingly funny, it might have been a little weird.
Unrelated, but equally funny, here's the girl, completely exhausted from a round of Cheerio eating. This picture is not in any way posed. It's just how I found her when I walked into the family room.
We're nothing in our house if not champions of eating ourselves into a stupor.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
My father and step-mother live in a preternaturally clean house.
I'm not casting aspersions, just stating facts (enviously). Their house is many shades of tan, and cream, and beige, and off-white -- with lovely dark wood furniture and color on the walls in the form of paintings. There are never any spots on their cream carpet. There are never any fingerprints, crayon streaks, shoe scuff marks, dog toenail gouges, train wheel marks, food splatters, colorful paint smudges, or unidentifiable hardened bits in shades of amber on their off-white walls.
The carpet is vacuumed about four times a week (down from a minimum of once a day when they had a dog). The stove is spotless between meals. The inside of the toaster oven has nothing cooked on, discolored, or charred in it. In fact, it contains no crumbs at all because its innards are wiped clean every time a slice of toast is achieved. Dust is persona non grata, and all horizontal surfaces have been deputized to arrest and send into exile any dust that dares to show its face.
When something spills in their house (which it never does, unless we are visiting), it is cleaned up immediately, fully, and leaves no lasting mark. Things that would stain my carpet do not stain theirs. It is not that they have better carpet. It is that they have the liquids in their house better-trained. Liquids would not DARE stain that carpet. They know better.
As you know, I do not live in a preternaturally clean house.
My parents are coming to visit this (not preternaturally clean) house in just a few short days, to stay through Christmas. We all look forward to this visit every year. There is feasting, and merriment, spoilage of grandchildren, and many activities all day long.
But BEFORE their visit? There is, as you might imagine, much to be done.
We are not particularly dirty people, though we are untidy. That is to say, we leave too many piles of papers and toys sitting around, but we do not have a yukky refrigerator or a gross bathroom. We scrub our bathrooms and change our sheets, and do our laundry, and mop our floors on a pretty regular basis. Of course, we could stand to do all of these things a little more often, but there are trade-offs in life, and we choose to play with our children rather than vacuum daily.
BUT. I am fully aware that my standards of cleanliness do not match my father and step-mother's standards. In my house, you would not, at any spontaneous moment on any given day, necessarily be able to use the glass plate in the microwave as a serving platter. You could not feel completely comfortable, if you dropped your contact lens on the hall floor, popping it back into your eye without cleaning it first. The shoes are not always lined up nicely on the shoe-rack (though they will be lounging at odd angles within four or five feet of the shoe-rack, depending on who "put them away").
And the walls and carpets? Well, let's just say that the liquids in my house are not that well trained.
And neither are the children.
Or the crayons.
In addition to lack of training, there is the general mayhem that can be produced by two preschoolers. You may, for instance, recall this little incident:
And so it is that the annual preparations for Christmas in my house include not only hanging stockings, decorating a tree, putting up wreath and ribbons on the front door, and organizing the toy bins. We also, as a matter of course, get out the spackle, the putty knives, the primer, the mini roller, the paint cans, and one full-sized roller. This morning, I ran around and spackled dings in walls in Daughter's room, the staircase landing, and the upper hall. I finished sanding my repair job for the incident with the "Beep Beep" pictured above (which required six or seven layers of spackle, applied over several days).
Then we went out and rented a carpet steamer.
I am not even slightly kidding.
We rented one about a year after we moved into our house, and I raved to my father about what a tremendous job it did and how clean our carpets were afterwards. "I'm going to rent one every spring!" I said with enthusiasm. "Just think how that will prolong the life of our carpets!"
He looked at me quizzically. "Carpets don't have to be steam-cleaned once a year," he responded. We've had our carpet for thirteen years, and we've never steam-cleaned it once. It looks just fine.
Of course, he was right about that fact.
Then again, in those thirteen years, I do not think his carpet had had even 1/10 of the ground-in Cheerios, knocked over cups of coffee, splatters of juice and milk from sippy cups, tracked in mud and snow, dribbles of tempera paint, or cat-hair-ball detritus land on it that our carpet had in 12 months. I did not remind him that he had never lived on that shining sea of creamy pile with two small children. I simply smiled and said, "Well, I think we might be a little bit messier than you are."
Which brings me back to today.
I have steam cleaned the carpets in all the bedrooms, the hall, and the stairs. Husband did the family room (which required all the heavy lifting), while I sawed the bottom 1/2" off the bathroom closet door so that I could rehang it. (We only installed the new tile in there a year ago, so you can see why we hadn't gotten around to hanging the closet door yet. This is what happens when you insist on doing these things yourself. Sometimes they take a little longer.)
The spackle is all dry, so I'm about to make my rounds with the primer. Then come all the little touch-ups in lavendar and inky blue and sandstone.
Then, after the kids are in bed, I'll do my annual repainting of the lower 2/3 of the walls in the downstairs hallway. If the lower 2/3 of the one long hallway in your house -- the one that leads from the kitchen, past the bathroom, and out to the garage -- doesn't need an annual repainting to cover a plethora of streaks and marks of multiple colors and various unknown origins, I don't think I want to know.
I do worry occasionally that there will come a Christmas when we realize that walking down that hallway is getting a little tight, and that we'll look up to realize that too many layers of paint on the bottom portions of the walls have substantially narrowed the passageway.
But I hope we'll simply have moved by then.
For now, I just think of it as my annual Christmas present to myself: clean, freshly painted walls. It takes such a short time to make it look so very much better. Why wouldn't I?
Fortunately for all of us, I draw the line at the door out to the garage. It's a disaster out there, and every year I'm embarrassed about it. (Of course, my parents' garage fits two cars AND has a lovely area of organized shelving containing books, tools, gardening equipment, and infrequently used kitchen items, all properly labeled and in places where one can find them easily.) But I've decided, if it's not within the warmth of the house, I don't have to clean it before they arrive.
And so, by the end of this evening, our house will be perfectly presentable. (Except that I still have to scrub the bathrooms and make the beds, but at least I'll be able to put away all the tools and wash out my painting clothes. What, you don't have a stack of painting clothes that you put on for such projects? Bizarre. How do you survive?)
Perfectly presentable. Now all I have to do is figure out how to hermetically seal the children between now and Thursday night, so that it stays that way. Do you suppose there are any Boy in the Bubble contraptions out there for cheap that I could get my hands on real quick?
P.S. Thanks to you all for your good wishes. The eyes are on the mend. I have to wear my glasses for another week, but otherwise, I'm fine.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I would really love to write a lyrical post about how wonderful and holiday-ish our house smells right now.
Or a funny one about Daughter, who passed out mid-Cheerio crunch on the couch yesterday.
Or a silly one about Son's latest idea for a holiday photo. (Without giving it away completely, I will say that it involves putting antlers on our dog.)
But unfortunately, I've been suffering from intense eye pain since Tuesday night, which turns out to be the product of small corneal ulcerations, combined with lots of inflammation, and a doozy of an infection. The pain is getting better, but the ache lingers -- and one side effect is that it is really uncomfortable to sit and stare at a computer screen. (Or read anything, such as, for example, the student papers I'm supposed to be grading during this exam week.)
So, woe is me, I've been doing some extra napping. But no reading of your blogs, and precious little replying to your comments, since my eyes really just want to be closed as much as possible.
I'll be back when I can see better. Until then, think: chocolate cookies, homemade orange-cranberry bread from someone great-grandma's recipe, and a fresh-cut evergreen, and enjoy with me the smells (even if the sights are blurry) of the season.
(Do check out that link if you want an easy, delicious recipe that will impress everyone with your baking skills. It's my go-to sweet bread at this time of year.)
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Prior to having children, the amount of time it takes to get out the door in the morning is directly proportional to how routine-oriented you are. If you always hang up your coat on the coat rack, toss your keys and wallet in the key drawer, and refill your bookbag/briefcase the night before, then it takes about 45 seconds to get out of the house in the morning. You put on shoes, coat, and gloves, grab keys, wallet and bag, open the door, and walk out. Voila. The day has begun.
Back then, I used to pride myself in being able to get ready to go anywhere in 20 minutes -- including showering, drying hair, putting on makeup, getting dressed, and making a toasted peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to eat on the way. (Breakfast IS the most important meal of the day.) It took me about 25 minutes to get to work and find parking (no small feat on our college campus where parking is not guaranteed even for faculty), which meant that I could go from pressing the snooze button to meeting with my first student in less than an hour.
Then I had one tiny infant, and I realized quickly that I had to adjust how much time I thought it took to leave the house. What with the bottles and formula powder and spare diapers and burp clothes and extra clothes and wipes and binkies and blankies and toys and snacks, packing for a trip to the Post Office could take 30 minutes alone. And, of course, the child would have a blow-out diaper just as soon as his coat was on. Back to square one. But then I got the infant thing sorted out, and became more effficient.
And then we had another child, which took some adjustment. But I got my head around that one too.
This winter, though, something has changed. And that something is: independence. They want to do things themselves, and yet cannot really do these things themselves, and I swear it would be easier to get two trained circus monkeys out the door faster than it is to get my two into the car in the morning.
Nowadays, despite the fact that I have whittled my personal routine down to 12 minutes (no makeup, no hairdryer, no breakfast till I get to the office), it is completely and utterly impossible for it to take less than 1 hour from the time I get out of bed to the time we walk out the door. And frankly, an hour is ambitious, though it can be done on days when the school breakfast includes muffins, so that they only need a pre-breakfast snack of a bowl of O's and a glass of milk before leaving the house. Most days, we enjoy breakfast together. But no matter whether we do or not, it takes absolute eons to make it down the hall, through the door, and into the car. (Our hallway is not a mile long, it just feels like it.)
Daily, I try to grant them some independence, and so we have conversations like this:
Me (to Husband): We're leaving now. Have a good day. We love you. (to kids): Please put on your shoes.
Son: Giddyup, Jacinth!
Me: Son, please get off your horse, and go put on your shoes.
Daughter: Milk, milk, milky, milllllllkkkkk....peeeeeeezzzzzz!
Me: Okay, go put on your shoes, and I'll get you some milk for the car.
(pour milk, find sippy cup lid, walk to mud room to find Son wearing only one sock and Daughter hiding behind the mitten cubby)
Me sternly: Both of you, put on your shoes now! (They both are capable of doing this, but choose to be too distracted to accomplish the task.)
(walking away to get my bookbag, on returning, I find Son now hiding with Daughter behind mitten cubby, alternately hugging her and smacking her with his mitten which he's swinging in speedy circles from the end of his elasicized mitten clip)
Me: DIDN'T I TELL YOU TO PUT ON YOUR SHOES?!?!?!
Son, blandly: Oh. I forgot.
Yes, he forgot. Because it's quite possible that the plan to leave for school sometime this very morning might have been jettisoned in favor of building a fort out of the mitten cubby.
So I remind them again to put on their shoes, while I go grab my keys. (Husband, meanwhile, is still in the shower, blissfully missing all of this.)
I return to find, of course, that no one is wearing shoes. So I put on their shoes. And coats. And mittens.
(aside) There was a day when, in explicit response to the lack of cooperating and inability to be "a good listener," I took Son to school without shoes. I actually made him walk into the building and into his classroom without shoes on, so that he had to explain to his teachers why he was shoeless ("I wasn't being a good listener and didn't put my shoes on when Mama told me to."). Once he was properly contrite in front his teacher, THEN I hand over the shoes. The lesson worked for a while. Then, again, he "forgot." *sigh* I don't want to be cruel. I just want him to believe me when I tell him to do something. But it's not really practical to make him walk through the snowy parking lot in his socks, so I need a new way to make my point this winter.
For now, I just do it myself, which is certainly the quickest way. And once we have achieved outerwear, I begin to heft armloads of things that must accompany us to school. This past Monday, here's what I gathered:
2 pairs snowpants
2 pairs boots (invariably, 3 of 4 boots are readily available, the 4th must be hunted down)
2 sets naptime cot sheets and blankets*
2 Show and Tell items, bagged to retain secrecy*
2 pairs spare "big girl underpants"*
1 full spare set of clothing*
cash for the magic show**
2 packages baby wipes (used for all-purpose cleaning)**
My hat and gloves
* These items only have to be remembered on Mondays, as they are replenished weekly.
** These items only have to be remembered on the first Monday of the month, as they are replenished monthly.
I buckle in the kids, load enough luggage for an overland journey to India in the back of my car, and remember that I've forgotten to put on my watch. I have already made at least three trips out to the car by now; a fourth is hardly worth counting.
So I go back inside and upstairs to grab my watch from my dresser, and find Husband, getting dressed in the blissful silence of privacy. He looks at me questioningly: "I thought you left the house 20 minutes ago," he says.
Because, of course, despite the fact that our children are 2.5 and nearly-5 years old, he has not registered what has become painfully obvious to me, which is that once you start moving towards the door, the actual accomplishment of closing the door behind you now takes at least TWENTY-FIVE minutes.
In fact, so as not to bore you utterly, I have substantially condensed the inane conversations that often accompany the processes of donning coats and hats, which have been known to include such gems as:
"But I don't want to take that hat to school today, I want to take this one," (proudly displaying a flowery sunhat that matched her swimsuit the summer before last; need I remind you that we live in Michigan, and temperatures are in the 20s right now?)...
and "But Mama, there is something WRONG with my SOCK and it JUST does NOT feel RIGHT. Please can you fix it?"
and "I hafta' go potty" (only after all the winter gear has been donned; never before).
I know these few brief years will pass, and they will be able to put their own boots and coats on, and I will watch them and feel nostalgic for these lovely days of lapsitting toddlerhood, storytimes, and the sparkle of their eyes at being given the privilege of doing something grown up like stirring the muffin batter.
But I'm pretty sure I won't be sad if, on the long trek from kitchen to mudroom, they can remember that they were heading towards the shoerack for the purpose of putting on their shoes.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
This morning, Son bounded into my room to awaken me.
"MAMA!" he said with much enthusiasm. "Wanna' hear a song?"
"Sure," I mumbled.
"Jingle Bells, Batman smells
Robin laid an egg.
The Batmobile lost its wheel,
And the Joker ran away -- HEY!"
And then, a few minutes later. "Mama, Ethan said in Madagascar II Escape to Africa, Zooba is in it. That's Alex's father."
"That's pretty cool," I said, obviously offering the only acceptable response.
"Yeah. But he said it's not as good as the first one."
To be clear, these peers who are such astute movie critics (all the grown-ups are saying the sequel is not as good as the original too) and mockers of all things Christmas-carol-y are only in the "nearly fives" room at school.
Yes. The peer influence of the pre-kindergarten set is already a mighty force.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Him: Maybe this year, we should get an artificial tree.
Me: (wincing slightly, replying quietly) Hmmm...
Him: Why not? It makes so much more sense.
Him: It wouldn't leave needles everywhere...
Me: (slight head nod in faint acknowledgment of the truth of this statement)
Him: and then we wouldn't have to clean them up. Every year, there are just so many needles everywhere.
Him: And it wouldn't make me itch.
Me: (Slight head nod in faint sympathy for the fact that he is allergic to evergreens; head nod redacted halfway upon realizing that in fact apart from the 20 minutes it takes to carry the tree in and get it firmly in the stand, he doesn't actually have to touch it at all, since I do all of the decorating -- and since he know he is allergic, he enters the setup process ripe with Benadryl and clothed in heavy long sleeves and leather gardening gloves -- and the thing doesn't bother him in the slightest unless he touches it. None of this is spoken, however.) *crickets*
Him: And it would just be so much cheaper!
Me: (finally roused to words) No it wouldn't. Those things are expensive. The nice-looking ones are like $150.
Him: But it's better than spending $40 every year on a live one. We'd be saving money in four years.
Me: We never spend $40. We spend about $25.
Him: Whatever. In the long run, we would still be saving money.
Him: (sighing) There is just no good reason to get a real tree every year. It's such a hassle.
Me: But it smells sooo good.
It might be hard to call it a "debate" when one of the speakers utters approximately 25 words during the entire 15-minute conversation. But, we go through these rounds every single year. In our house, it just wouldn't be Christmas without the Great Tree Debate. It always goes exactly the same way. He always makes the same three points (mess, allergies, expense), to which I always respond in the same ways (silence, head nods, last year's tree receipt). The conversation always ends with him drawn over to the Debating Dark Side, resorting to the dissatisfied "Hmmmm."
And then, a day or two later, we go out and buy another glorious, woodsy smelling, bristly, bushy, gorgeous, ceiling-high perfect evergreen for our living room.
Some years, we have cut it ourselves at a local tree farm, tramping across frozen ground carrying a sharp tree saw, and marveling at just how much junk the "One and Only Shake-ee" really can shake out of a fresh-cut wild tree. (Never seen one of these amazing machines? You stick the tree base into the circular clamp, tighten it down, and the Shake-ee vibrates the heck out of the poor tree to get rid of all the loose twigs, birds' nests and other bits of nature's rubbish that adorn a tree in the real world.)
Other years, we go to local snow-covered parking lots, walk between the rows, examine the trees critically from this angle and that, assess symmetry, problematic bare spots, and which side is properly the front, before finally making a choice.
It is a ritual, this choosing. The bitter nip in the air, the squeak of boots on fresh snow, the excitement of the quest, the warm knowledge of how beautiful the tree will look all set up.
And then, every day for the next three weeks, as you turn the corner to go up the stairs, you get a whiff of Christmas in the form of wafting evergreen.
But do I say any of this to him in The Great Debate?
Because that would be cheating. (Or at least, veering too far off the script.) I have a feeling that when we are 75, we will still have this conversation every year (sometimes twice) in early December. I will always remain relatively silent, and let him talk through his tired old objections. He will always end with a "harumph." I will always smile slightly to myself.
And I will always win.
Because he lets me, of course. He stands firm in his conviction that his logic is unassailable. I stand convinced that Christmas is about rituals. And that smell. That heavenly heavenly smell. And so he, mystified but indulgent, caves. And magic is born in the long feathery needles that look like a fairy land filled with little white lights.
What about you? How would you finish the sentence "It wouldn't be the holidays without..." in your house?
Friday, December 5, 2008
The holidays always make me nostalgic. Not so much for particular days gone by, but rather for the people who are no longer in my life.
Christmas Day growing up always had a predictable pattern. My sisters and I would sleep together in one bedroom, awaken before it was light, and sneak out to add the presents from us to the tottering piles under the tree. We always got a thrill from seeing how much bigger the stacks grew when we added our own offerings. Our grandparents would arrive early, and we would have grapefruit -- cut in half, with the bites sectioned out using one of those special serrated grapefruit knives that have a curved tip. Then we would open presents, which would take most of the morning, since only one person opened at a time and everyone had to "ooh!" and "aaah!" appropriately before we could move on. Then we would have breakfast, which was always scrambled eggs, bacon, and homemade cinnamon rolls courtesy of grandma. My sister makes those rolls for us now, and we keep the very same schedule at our house with our children and their auntie and uncle.
And while the rolls are delicious, and the tradition is lovely, I still miss my grandmother. Her skin almost impossibly soft, with that tissue-like quality I now associate with newborns. Her scent, gently floral, but not really floral, mixed with the merest hint of cigarette. (I've never known anyone else who smoked who had a scent so pleasant and un-smokey.) Her low kind voice, her unobtrusive movements, her stories of my mother as a child, her uncanny ability to have a small coughing fit whenever one of us said something inappropriate and yet hilarious. All of these things I miss, along with her strong and comforting hugs, when I think of Christmas.
But I have other nostalgias too, for people it might seem much stranger to miss. I cannot help but wonder, though, where they are and what they are doing, these people who were once so important to my world, but whom the river of life has carried off down a different tributary.
My college boyfriend's mother. It's true. I have a sense of longing to know what she is doing far more than I wonder about him.
He was never very good for me. In fact, I know where he is and what he is doing in the most basic sense, and I don't really have any interest in knowing a lot more. (digression alert) Though I would like to ask him for my letters back. Is that still done anymore? I know it's an almost impossibly Victorian thing to do, but several years of dating someone English produces a LOT of letters, and I would feel more comfortable if those missives were in my own hands again. When he and I were dating, he had an old picture of himself with an ex-girlfriend that he still carried around with him, on the grounds that they were still friends. But I always felt like he was secretly trying to torture me with how pretty she was, and I always felt mousy when I caught a glimpse of it. Sure, he had my picture in his wallet too -- but shouldn't hers have been gone? I would hate to think some new woman is secretly tortured by the thought that he has a giant box somewhere of love letters from me. And I am more than a little mortified to think what effusions they might contain, which no longer represent any modicum of my feelings for him. So I would like to have them back. But how do I tell him that without being rude? (end of digression)
His mother on the other hand? She was one of the loveliest people I've ever met. She used to write me a long letter on my birthday and another at Christmas (I'd spent a Christmas or two at their house back when he and I were dating), and I always did the same. Even after he and I broke up, I got the letters from her. But then she moved, and I moved, and we lost each other's most current addresses. I think of her every year, and have even tried googling her, because I would love to reconnect with a woman whom I so admired for so many reasons.
In fact, she is one of two boyfriend's-mothers whom in retrospect, I see I liked far more then I ever liked their sons. I'm sure there's a moral in there, though I couldn't say what it is. The other mother is in new Hampshire and for a while wrote a wonderful column for her local newspaper. She was a fantastic cook, a creative soul, a fascinating woman and very kind. She is another I regret losing along the way.
It is a strange feeling, this kind of regret. It has a kind of bittersweetness to it. On the one hand, these people raise up in me such warm feelings of being included in their families, of late-night chats over tea, of togetherness. On the other, there is the tinge of awkwardness to consider: what exactly would I say to them? I do not really have any interest in reestablishing any kind of connection with their sons. Perhaps the bubble of the past is best left unpierced in these cases? Perhaps it is better to continue to think of these women in the golden light of past admiration rather than in the prosaic terms of today?
As for the old loves themselves, the vast majority of them do not raise in me the slightest curiosity. There are reasons, after all, that they are exes. They are memorialized in old journals, at which I am sure I would laugh if I ever opened their pages. Or cry, perhaps. The tears of long-ago humiliation. The tears of memory. But, in no cases, the tears of regret. I am thankful that I carry around with me no "what if?" no wondering. I know that by miles and miles, the man I married is far and away the best man I ever dated (in fact, the only man I ever dated that my friends uniformly liked, which certainly has a moral to it, and one that is easy to see).
And yet there are a few old crushes about whom I do wonder. They are not the ones with whom I had long relationships. Indeed, they are people with whom I never had a "serious" relationship at all. Perhaps that is why I wonder about them. There is not the weight of heartache, the power of love, the bitterness of love gone wrong, the emptiness of longing, or any other strong emotion associated with them. They were the light flirtations, the not-quite-just-friends, but never boyfriends. They were the ones who were fascinating and sweet, who shared late-night dorm conversations or summer rambles in the woods. I do not feel nostalgia for the what-might-have-been. Rather, I am curious about the what-they-became. I do not want to know them again; I simply want to know of them.
But I feel there is some impropriety in finding out. I don't particularly want to talk to them or see them, but I am curious to know the rest of the story. Did they take that round-the-world trip? become journalists? settle in a small town? end up off-Broadway? For a person who spends her life immersed in stories, who is perhaps overly-sentimental, it is hard to leave people behind without knowing what happened next. It is difficult to reconcile the once-fierce ties of friendship with the present empty question-mark.
For eleven months out of the year, I don't think about these things at all. But as Christmas cards start arriving from friends I haven't heard from since last December, and I go through boxes of ornaments many of which are associated with specific Christmases past, I cannot help but recall all the people I once held fondly who now have disappeared into the world. An email exchange (were I even to find their email addresses) would surely look like this: "Hi. Remember me? I've been wondering how you are." "Of course I remember you. I'm just fine. It's been a long time! How are you?" And that stilted awkwardness would do nothing to resurrect a warm friendship, and thus it seems pointless.
So I sit and do nothing. I do not reach out because I do not know what I would say if my outstretched hand miraculously grazed once-familiar fingers. Instead, I reminisce, like some old lady in a rocking chair, sipping coffee, thinking back to the young and foolish days twenty years ago, smiling quietly to myself at the enthusiasm of that folly, and recalling the heady scent of summertime and darkness, the sound of crickets, or the swish of walking through snowdrifts and laughing at the stars.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
How long does it take to make basic fleece pajamas? About 15 minutes to cut out, an hour to sew up.
This is what you will be counting on when you go to the fabric store intending to buy adorable printed fleeces for the holiday jammies this year.
How long does it take to adorn basic fleece pajamas with fleece trim and cuffs and a giant belt, and to invent a design for feet since the jammie pattern was footless, and to figure out the correct proportions to be able to make those feet and the lower parts of the legs black and boot shaped because your Son has a brainstorm in the fabric store and now really really REALLY wants Santa pajamas?
A really really REALLY long time.
But will it be worth it (especially when your delighted Son gets to sleep with his boots on)?
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
We all know that the number of people in the United States without health insurance is staggering and tragic. While it is always heart-wrenching to hear about people who face unexpected emergency medical needs that drain their savings, another less publicized but even more widespread problem is the number of uninsured children in this country who do not have access to basic "well-child" care. Well child care includes things like immunizations, which not only protect the child who is immunized but also protect communities from serious contagious diseases that can cause epidemics. Without insurance, many families opt to take their children to the doctor only when they are already seriously ill, and thus they miss out on some of the (less expensive) preventive care that might have prevented more serious complications.
The point of this post is that tonight I read about one small step in the right direction that seems worth publicizing: the MIChild plan. Qualifying families pay just $10 per month for health insurance for children under the age of 19 (this is a per family cost NOT a per child cost), and the coverage includes well-baby and child visits, immunizations, emergency care, prescriptions, and dental exams. There are no copays and no deductibles for this insurance plan (although there are annual maximums for some things, such as dental care).
This is a program offered by the Michigan Department of Community Health for Michigan residents only. It runs its coverage through major health care networks including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
I don't know if other states have similar programs, but it would certainly be worth checking out. Most states have a Community Health division or department; even if this particular office doesn't offer a health insurance option like Michigan does, it's a fair bet that someone at their information desks would be able to tell you if there are any offices or partnerships the state has with any insurance company to offer affordable insurance for working families. You can find the Community Health portion of your state government by going to the state website [statename].gov and searching around.
I'm sure there are applications and paperwork involved, but for a family that has lost its insurance through losing employment in these tough times, or for one whose employers don't offer insurance, or for one who is struggling for myriad other reasons, this program seems incredible! I have to applaud the state of Michigan on this one, and I hope other states are doing something similar.
If you know of a plan like this in your state, please leave me a comment. I'd love to add links in this post to other similar opportunities.
*Please note: this was not a solicited post, or a paid one, or anything. I happen to have Blue Cross insurance, and there was an article about this plan in my monthly newsletter, and I thought the details were too good not to publicize.
Monday, December 1, 2008
* a toddler on the potty
* caramelizing onions
* a dog on a walk in a brand-new neighborhood
* the perfect sunset
* a preschooler donning snow pants
* growing up
* your officemate who likes to talk union politics
* a child eating anything
* the accumulation of enough snow for sledding
So, I've discovered, you might as well savor the process.
(In case you can't tell, we are still eagerly awaiting enough snow to warrant dragging out the sled.)