Thursday, December 31, 2009

Next Stop, The Future!

This week I received a postcard--a "Save the Date" of sorts--from my alma mater. My five-year class reunion is coming up. While I won't be going (as I'm short on travel funds and also, while not lacking for college acquaintances, strangely short on friends in my graduating class), I was a little flabbergasted to realize that it really has been five years since I wore a cap, gown, and foolish grin with a bunch of other women.

In college, 2010 was a zillion miles away. That was five (five!) whole years after graduation. The Future. Anything could happen between now and then. And anything did.

Just not the anything I was picturing, oh, eight-or-so years ago.

If you'd told me then that New Year's Eve 2009 would find me married (to a man!), enjoying a drink or two in the comfort of our recently-purchased home, praying that the (illegal) fireworks and (ought-to-be illegal) celebratory gunshots wouldn't wake our two-year-old, I would've...well, I'm not really sure what I would've done.

(I might've cried. The 18-year-old "I" was almost as weepy as the current one is.)

Despite reminding myself on a near-daily basis that I have no agency in the past, I continue to think back on the person I used to be--or rather, the person I used to think I was--before the baby hit the broad, and wish I could go back and warn her. Because (and I realize I sound like a complete fuddy-duddy saying this), if she had known then what I know now... Oh, if only.

It's going to be the future soon, I'd tell her, paraphrasing the goofy Jonathan Coulton song that strikes me as the tiniest bit heartbreaking, despite its silliness. You won't always be this way.

With two bathroom mirrors, I can see for miles!

That thing that seemed so far away when I was knee-deep in books and theories and fantasies is here. It's literally tomorrow. (It's today for my friends on the East coast.) And this time, I might actually be ready for it, unlike every other New Year's Eve.

Maybe it's because I've accepted Change as my personal lord and savior; I'm almost all-the-way-happy not to be where I thought I'd be. Maybe it's a happy coincidence. Maybe my first drink (of two!) has kicked in. But I'm seeing how quickly time passes, and while it continues to be surprising, I'm not bothered by it. I'm not missing out on anything. I'm right here.

I'm right...here.

Happy New Year, broads and bros.
See you in the future.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Styrofoam-White Christmas

Westley has a Sugarplum Fairy Godmother. One of the absolute highlights of our holiday was receiving a surprise package from far away.
We opened it to find...
Festive green peaking out.

(Westley dives in.)

It's a...

...polar bear!

Westley loves him.

But more fun than the bear (and the book, and the CD), is the box itself.

Full of potential.

Whoosh!

A Styrofoam-snow angel.

All was calm and bright outside, but we had a blizzard indoors. (And the clean-up was totally worth it!)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...Nothing Special

Looking around my house, you would never know that Christmas is the day after tomorrow. Nothing is decorated, no stockings have been hung by the chimney with care. There's some red and green in the living room, but it's orangey-red and avocado green, and it was there anyway.

I'm both saddened by and mostly okay with this. The "mostly okay" is easy to get to, as there are only a few moving boxes stashed in places they shouldn't be; generally speaking, everything is unpacked. Not being surrounded by Sharpie-labeled cardboard is celebration-worthy non-decoration enough for me. Besides, not putting up decorations means not having to take them down again, saving both time and energy! Yay! I still ache for a Christmas tree, though, and I can't really believe that I'm not going to have one.

I feel just a little weird not decorating for Christmas, but not having a tree is a huge deal. My vision of ideal design generally hangs out somewhere between cozy-modern and ultra modern (though the only European design I can afford is Ikea): that is to say, fairly uncluttered and tchotchke-lite. But when Christmas rolls around? Break out the holiday crap traditional decorations! Every surface should feature garland, holly, snowflakes, candles, poinsettias, elves, and at least one Nativity scene (at least!). The more Christmas-themed stuff, the better, actually. Yes, I would be one of those people who change all the sheets and towels and dishes and area rugs and wall hangings to reflect the holiday. I'm completely crazy about Christmas: hospitalize-me crazy. If I could have multiple Christmas trees, I would.

Not having a Christmas tree at all is against my nature. And yet, here I sit in my tree-free living room on December 23rd.

This isn't the first Christmas I've gone without a tree. The first Christmas Rob and I were married, when I asked about when we would get a tree, Rob explained that he'd assumed we wouldn't be getting one. I think I looked at him like he'd just sprouted a second head, and that new head bore a striking resemblance to David Bowie in full-on Ziggy Stardust make-up. He politely explained that since he and I were driving down to Santa Monica to spend two weeks with my parents, there would be no one home to enjoy--or water--the tree. His logic won out over my nostalgia. Fortunately, I had two whole weeks of Christmas-tree-enjoyment courtesy of my parents. And I compensated the next year by leaving our Christmas tree up until Valentine's Day.

The Christmas tree was always the signal when I was a child that It's really going to happen. Christmas is really coming, even though it still seems a million days away. Unsurprisingly, this year, I still don't really believe that Christmas will come, even though intellectually I realize that it's barely two days away. I feel like I should wrap presents or pop in a Christmas movie or glug some nog. Something with a little Christmas spirit might move me away from my business-as-usual mental state, and I might be able to tap into some of that Christmas excitement, tree or no tree. I mean, really; it's not the friggin' tree that makes the season, for Christ's sake!

On the other hand, doing a little bit seems sadder somehow than doing nothing at all. So I'll probably put off present-wrapping until the absolute last minute, and when the ribbon is off and the paper torn away, I'll run the Christmas scraps out to the trash and life will go on as though nothing special had happened.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Tearful

Last week, I started to cry because Michael Jackson is dead. He's been dead for six months (and gone long before that), but, sitting in the car with my husband and a backseat full of boxes, I suddenly found myself heartbroken that someone whose music I'd loved as a child was no longer here.

This was just one of the dozens (hundreds?) of heartbreaks I've experienced recently. I would say Suddenly, everything makes me cry, but that's not true at all. After Westley was born, I cried a lot: feelings of frustration, anger, impotence, disappointment--all related to motherhood, babyhood, postpartum depression. And while the sadness and the overwhelm has eroded, the crying has continued. I'm done crying about motherhood, for now. Now, I cry about everything else.

Music, more than anything else, makes me cry. It doesn't matter what kind. Classical, indie rock, even pop music can do it. I haven't been to mass in a long time, partly because I have a toddler and taking him to church is difficult, but also because I don't think I could handle the hymns. I'm afraid to go to Christmas services; the music might destroy me.

"Your defenses are down," Rob says. And I can see him thinking about my health challenges, the stress of moving, the holiday chaos.

I see where he's coming from, but saying that my "defenses are down" suggests a place of weakness. I don't feel weak at all. Just susceptible. And oddly, I don't actually mind feeling this way. While it's completely embarrassing to cry just talking about Glenn Close in a PSA, part of me really cherishes this sensitivity. For one thing, it means that the things I love and care about, I really care about. I'm not quite that happy-drunk friend who tries to make out with you after two-and-a-half glasses of wine, but I'm almost there. And I really do love you, man!

Yes, all right, so I get my heart broken half a dozen times a week, often belatedly or over "nothing." But I think it might actually be good for me. Art is more meaningful, life seems more hopeful, and my little boy has never looked more beautiful.

Now, does anyone have a handkerchief I can borrow?

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Friday, December 18, 2009

My Schtick in a Box

Moving is a strange process of self-discovery. I open boxes that were supposed to be neatly packed and organized only to uncover the truth: all manner of crap, odds and ends, and semi-useful knickknacks have been tossed together with the necessities of everyday life. Kitchen utensils sandwiched between middle school yearbooks. Shampoo and dental floss sharing space with wall hooks and a tea-light holder that looks like a bird's nest. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.

I had this fantasy that moving out of our apartment and into our house (woooooo!) would be straightforward, if challenging. It turned out to be not at all straightforward, and incredibly challenging. Maybe it was the deadline that we set for ourselves. Maybe it was the toddler underfoot. Or maybe--just maybe--it's the now undeniable fact that I am not the organized person I once imagined myself to be.

Yeah, I'm going to have to go with that last one especially.

The downside to being completely incapable of planning ahead and putting things that actually go together in boxes together is obvious. Sure, it seems like a fantastic idea to sweep everything on the left side of your bedroom into a single box because, well, it all fits, and look at how much packing I just got done! But later, on the other end of the move, you find yourself kneeling before a holy shrine of chaos shrouded in cardboard, wondering, "Where does all this go? And what the hell is it, anyway?"

There's nothing fun about confusing yourself (or maybe there is?). There's certainly nothing fun about making a bunch of extra, sorting-through-crap work for yourself when you're already going to be busy worrying about whether or not your new furnace is emptying its condensation into an illegal drain, and how much your cracked skylight resembles an aquarium after a rainstorm.* However, through extra work, I am finding a navel-small upside to gazing into the chaos. As I unpack boxes, I've been unpacking their contents...and finding an interesting self-portrait.

What can I discern about this person (me) who packs her journals with her jewelry? This person who can find her favorite books but not her camera, and her hot-in-a-funny-way lingerie but not her sports bra? What about the person who packs her vitamins with the program for Carrie Fisher's one-woman show, Wishful Drinking?

I refer to this phenomenon as "my life having a production designer." Because I only kind of believe in coincidences.

Seeing myself in my moving-generated chaos has been extremely entertaining, and perhaps somewhat enlightening. Accidental self-reflection is an interesting mental state to occupy while feeling out a new living space. I pull back the tape, assess the disorder, and gradually decide that I like this strange, sensitive girl.

Even though (because?) she sucks at organizing things.


*Water was a big theme during our move. Between the furnace and the skylight, the gutters and the oh-shit-we-need-to-get-everything-into-the-pickup-before-it-starts-to-snow, it was our own personal Great Flood. (Next time...fire.)

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Friday, December 4, 2009

So, good night, with lullaby.

I'm not much of a singer. I can carry a tune (usually), but I only sound good in a couple of keys. Don't misunderstand: I love to sing. But I basically suck at it and I'm very self-conscious about my singing voice. So you can imagine the sinking feeling that came over me when Westley started requesting to be sung to at bedtime.

Now, I get that my child doesn't really care (yet) whether or not I can hit that high note. But I guess if you're me, several bad experiences with your church's children's choir plus one awful musical theater audition in high school plus several instances of being told, "I can't listen to any more of your singing" add up to bedtime state fright. So when I'm tucking Westley in and he says, in his sweet toddler accent, "seeng...a song," my mind is as quiet as the dark bedroom. I draw a complete musical blank. Until "Fuck and Run" or "Suffragette City" or "Total Eclipse of the Heart" pops into my head, and then...just, no.

For weeks, the only child- and my-voice-friendly song I could think to sing to Westley was "Jesus Loves Me." It seriously was the only thing I could come up with while mentally belting, "turn around, bright eyes!" Unfortunately, there's not much to it (I thought). To stretch the song out a little, I added the verse I wrote when I was tiny:
Jesus loves the cats and dogs.
Jesus loves the rabbits and frogs.
Jesus loves them all day long.
Jesus loves to hear this song.
(You're welcome.)

That wasn't a satisfying answer for either Westley or me. I thought I'd be stuck with the classic (and creepy) "Rock-a-bye Baby," or I'd have to give in and go with whatever inappropriate, un-singable thing popped into my head when Westley made his nightly request. Until yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, Westley suddenly zeroed in on a picture of a lollipop in one of his books: "Get! Loll-pop!"

"We can't get it, honey," I told him, knowing the high-pitched misery was about to set in. "It's just a picture."

Sure enough: "GET! Loll-POP!"

"I don't have any lollipops, baby. I'm sorry."

And then I realized: I know a lollipop song. (No, not that one.) So I started singing, simultaneously brilliant and like a huge dork. Westley stopped fussing, listened, relaxed, smiled.

Tonight, as I tucked his blanket around him, Westley asked me to "seeng." And then he added, "loll-pop song."

And so I did.


It might be the strangest lullaby ever. But it sure beats trying to learn all the verses to "Jesus Loves Me."

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Post-Birthday Post

Yesterday, Westley turned two. Two!

I've been mentally gearing up for two for a long time. Certainly for the past few months, but really since I had a brand new baby in a sling across my chest, and I talked to the mother of a two-year-old while standing in line. I remember thinking that two seemed impossibly grown-up and far away. Two is a real age: none of this such-and-so-many-months business. I thought some of that aura of seriousness would fade as my child got closer and closer to this somewhat mystical number. But now that it's here, it really is as grown-up as it sounds in my head.
Maybe it just feels serious because two has exploded into my life over the past several days. It's not the terribleness that alliterative culture says I should expect. ("The challenging twos" doesn't have the same ring to it.) Suddenly, Westley's comprehension seems to have increased tenfold, and his vocabulary is quickly catching up. It's the most amazing, frustrating, amazing-again thing I've ever experienced. Truly! I'm joyfully exasperated most of the time, because my son (who was an itty-bitty, fussing, pooping meatloaf with an alien belly-scab a mere two years ago today) is communicating with me! I want to grab strangers and exclaim, "You don't understand! I can have conversations with him now!"

Most of those conversations are about the characters from books and "Yo Gabba Gabba," but still.
Maybe it's because I majored in English, but I'm floored by Westley's language: he speaks in long, clear sentences, uses the right pronouns and articles, and can refer to things in the past tense. If he could write, I'm sure he'd punctuate correctly.

Westley's ability to really communicate with me--and his ceaseless desire to do so--is like a gift. Even mid-tantrum, he's still clear about what he needs and wants. Each day, I guess less and get it right the first time more. In that regard, two seriously awesome. It is the light of certainty at the end of the mystery tunnel.
God only knows what I'd be without two.

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