Friday, December 29, 2006

Sassy Molassy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

If I had read my horoscope for today, I bet it would have said "Stay home! Better yet, stay in bed!"

It was not really that bad, in between major catastrophes. The kids and I slept until 9:00 or so, got up and did the normal morning things, and Genevieve went down for her usual morning nap. About twenty minutes later Genevieve woke up from her morning nap and refused to go back to sleep. Ok, not a big deal, I just wouldn't be able to set her down until she went to sleep again. Somewhere around 12:30, I gave up on believing that she would ever do such a thing, and decided to yield to the older kids' requests to be taken to Bookstar to use the $20 gift cards we got them for Christmas. I somehow managed to put on clothes, wash my face, put on a little makeup, and do something with my Roseanna-Roseanna-Danna 'do with one hand while holding a baby in the other, and we all piled into the van.

As soon as we pulled out of the driveway, I remembered I was about out of gas. I usually try to get gas when the kids aren't with me, but since we're all still on winter break, they're always with me. Kroger is right there in the shopping plaza with the book store, so I foolishly thought I could fill up there without too much of an ordeal. As I turned into the parking lot by the gas island, I must have turned a second too early, because I went over the curb. I pulled up to the pump thinking everything was ok, and started the intricate process of scanning my Kroger card for the loyalty discount, pushing the correct buttons, scanning my debit card, and being told to "see cashier." Dammit. I tried again, hitting "credit" instead of "debit" since this sometimes helps when the computer is being irksome. No such luck this time. I went to the cashier, who told me to just hit the "pay cashier" button, which I did. So I had just started pumping my gas when the teenage boy next to me informed me that my right front tire was flat. Shit! I thought for a minute, realized I didn't even know where my spare was stored and that we never renewed our AAA membership, and reached into my purse for my phone to call Big Daddy at work. No phone. Are you f*#&ing kidding me? It was humiliating enough to have to call my man to rescue me from a stupid flat tire, but now I had to borrow the cashier's phone to do it and then explain that I had somehow left my phone at home.

I called him and explained the situation, feeling rushed and embarrassed on the cashier's personal cell phone, and he said he would either leave work and come himself or see if he could get my dad, who works nights and would be home and awake at that time of day, and help would be there soon. Right after this, the cashier told me my debit card was declined, even though I thought there should be plenty of money in the account. "Well," I sighed, "I'm not going anywhere. I'll have to pay you when he gets here." I flashed back to a moment earlier this morning, when I found my only other valid card in the dryer, told myself I should go put it in my purse, and then set it on the windowsill next to the dryer. Beautiful. At least she was nice about it.

At this point, Genevieve was screaming because she had seen me through the window and hates to be in the car when it's not moving. I put her, still in her car seat carrier, on the little seatless stroller cart deally and pushed her back and forth as I got out the jack and tire iron and tried to figure out where the spare might be. Once I established that it was not under any kind of panel in the way back of the van, I remembered the owner's manual in its special black zippered case in its own little holder under the front passenger seat. Sure enough, it revealed the bizarre location of the spare tire and the steps that would be necessary to remove it. At least that was something. There was a time, in college, when I went through so many tires on my little Chrysler LeBaron that I was once able to change a tire during the 15 minute break in the middle of an hour-and-a-half Tuesday/Thursday class and make it back in time to impress my classmates with my blackened palms. I found it humiliating not to be able to handle this situation myself. I can guarantee that if I hadn't had the kids with me, I would have at least tried.

About the time I figured out where the spare was and how to get it, my brother-in-law came walking up. "Are you my knight in shining armor?" I asked. He expressed disgust that "no sorry son of a bitch" had offered to help me, then got to work jacking up the van. I continued to feel worthless, but tried to focus on corralling the kids and restraining myself from saying "I'm sorry" every three seconds. And since my brother-in-law is anti-cell phone, I couldn't borrow his phone to call B.D. and tell him to transfer money into checking, so he had to buy my gas on top of rescuing my sorry non-tire-changing butt. I know he was glad to do it, but it's the principal of the thing. To say that I don't like to ask for help is an understatement, but I guess sometimes even I just have no choice. So thanks Uncle T. for rescuing us, and for thinking to put air in the spare tire once it was on, which I would never have thought of. I owe you one.

That crisis resolved, I went ahead and took the kids to the book store since we were already right there in the plaza. They picked out books and I got one for myself with a gift card I received from one of my students, and then we made our way home carefully but uneventfully.

The second bad thing that happened was later in the afternoon. After another brief yet unrefreshing twenty-minute nap, Genevieve was in her usual perch on my back in the mei tai while I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and got a chicken ready to roast in the oven for dinner when I heard a huge crash in the livingroom, complete with the distinctive sound of breaking glass. I ran (the three steps) into the livingroom to see Somerset standing horrified in the middle of the room with her hands up by her head. "What happened??" I asked, scanning the room for the damage. "I don't know!" she cried. Then I saw what had happened. Attempting to hide in one of her usual spots during a game of hide-and-seek with her brothers, she had moved one of the doors of the corner T.V. cabinet, dislodging the lighted Christmas garland that was draped across it, which took a large-ish snow globe down with it when it fell. The glass and ceramic snow globe I bought for Calvin's first Christmas. It had shattered on the floor beneath the small table where the kids sit to eat and play. Water, glitter, fake snow, and tiny shards of glass were everywhere. At least I didn't have to worry about the baby getting into it. Then as I set about cleaning up the mess, I realized the small basket of baby toys at the end of the couch was in the path of destruction. Sure enough, when I looked into it I saw a piece of glass right there on top. Big Daddy arrived home from work as I was sweeping, so he helped me clean it all up while I took the baby toys into the kitchen and went over each toy looking for glass. The basket must have been just at the edge of the spray when the globe burst, because my careful inspection only turned up two slightly-water-splashed toys and one more piece of glass at the bottom of the basket. I shook the basket out, checked it again, and re-checked each toy as I put it back in, then went over the floor again with the rag mop to pick up any small glass splinters. I think we got it all. I hope so.

After that, B.D. volunteered to take the older kids with him to buy some much-needed jeans with some of his Christmas money, leaving Genevieve and me in relative peace. I was nearly ready for a stiff drink, but settled for half a roasted chicken and three episodes of The Sopranos on DVD.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Does this make me a grown up?

I find myself in a strange situation. My parents, who have traditionally been all-things-new suburb dwellers, in contrast to my steadfast midtowniness and love of old houses and independently-owned businesses, have flipped the script on me. It's partially my own doing, too. To make a long story short, after selling their house recently, instead of immediately buying a new one, they moved into the guest house behind a pilot friend's "big house" and are living rent, utility, cable, and phone-bill-free for one year in exchange for my mom babysitting five overnights a month. My parents are now living my college life, but without (let's hope!) some (or, ok, any) of the more sordid details. It was college after all.

One of the strange outcomes of this arrangement is that my maternal family's big Christmas Eve dinner and gift exchange was held at my house this year, for the first time ever. I enjoyed being able to host, especially since I wasn't responsible for the whole dinner, and it rained all day so there was the added bonus of knowing I was not dragging four kids in and out of the minivan all day or listening to Big Daddy bitch about having to drive Way Out To East Jerusalem in the nasty weather. In my 1240 square foot, one-bathroom house, we had my parents, maternal grandmother, aunt and her husband, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, plus our brood, and it really worked out just fine.

Even though I know that next year my parents will have bought another roomy suburban house and will, in all likelihood, insist on hosting the holiday themselves, I feel like this was a rite of passage. Somehow I never feel quite like an adult in my parents' eyes. I think it's because so many of my lifestyle choices just don't jibe with their idea of adulthood. It's as if they are still hanging on to the hope that I will decide to move to the burbs, start going to church, express regret over my two (very banal) tattoos, get a "perky" haircut, and buy some bejeweled holiday sweaters and tops to be worn in the appropriate seasons. As I approach my mid-thirties, I think they are close to giving up. I hope so. Nevertheless, they seemed cheerful at our gathering, and my Dad even had a few glasses of pinot noir to help the holiday cheer along. I almost felt like I was being a bad influence!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

In a totally unoriginal move

Since I seem to be posting impaired, I thought I'd steal take inspiration from Andria's idea and post a list of 100 things about me. Except I seriously doubt I can make it to 100. We'll see. I'm guessing my list is going to be organized-like into loose categories, because that's the way my thought process works (scary!). Ok:

1. One of my students got accepted into M.I.T. today.
2. In an ironic twist of fate, the captain of our football team pretends to have a crush on me.
3. I wonder daily if my principal likes me or thinks I'm a freak or what.
4. Brevity is not my strong suit (have you noticed?).
5. I am extremely self-conscious about the fact that I talk too much and am sometimes powerless to stop it.
6. I often leave meetings and gatherings fearing that I have just been obnoxious.
7. I used to be obsessed with the book Lolita.
8. I have read at least five books five times or more.
9. I am finally reading Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and am finding it very British.
10. I own a signed first edition of my favorite book.
11. I finally read Pride and Prejudice and thought it sucked.
12. I also thought the movie "Lost in Translation" sucked.
13. I hate everything about winter except the holidays.
14. I am nursing a baby and typing this one-handed. (that only lasted a few minutes)
15. I wear black almost every day, and I see nothing wrong with that.
16. I think shopping is torturous.
17. I would kill to be tall.
18. I'm pretty sure I could kill someone who tried to hurt me or my family and have spent time thinking about how I could do it with my bare hands or household objects, and I would never feel bad about it.
19. I still sometimes feel shocked that I have four kids, and that one of them is almost 9.
20. In my last pregnancy, my hair turned curly.
21. In my last pregnancy, I had euphoric fantasies about eating sand.
22. I wish I were at the beach every single day of my life.
23. I love to travel but have barely traveled at all.
24. I am already struggling to think of things to put on this list.
25. I have issues with food.
26. I can't think of any food more foul than cole slaw. Except maybe tuna salad.
27. I wish I liked any kind of Asian food, but I just don't.
28. Chicken Tikka Masala makes me hum with joy when I eat it.
29. I would like to take an Indian cooking class.
30. I would one day like to go back to school for a Masters in urban planning, but realistically I'm more likely to go back for an MFA in writing.
31. I won the Allen Tate Poetry Award my senior year at Rhodes College.
32. I have no idea who Allen Tate is or was.
33. I am least likely to like people who see themselves as weak or helpless, but I feel kind of bad about that.
34. I have never been in therapy but that's probably a mistake.
35. I am a poor judge of character when it comes to first impressions.
36. I trust people easily, but I suspect this is because I have low expectations.
37. I have mixed feelings about nihilism as a personal philosophy.
38. I once took meditation lessons from a Buddhist monk who spoke only Vietnamese.
39. As a child I went to a Seventh day Adventist church with my grandmother.
40. I was raised Baptist.
41. I have been baptized twice.
42. I have a deep-seated aversion to religion and churches.
43. I can quote the Bible chapter and verse.
44. I will probably take my kids to a Unitarian church when they get older. I guess.
45. My husband and I were married by a judge but had an outdoor wedding.
46. I got married two weeks after graduating from college, and in the same location.
47. I married my high school sweetheart.
48. I married the only man in the world I could ever, ever be married to.
49. My husband and I dream of living on a boat after our kids leave home.
50. I left home at 17 and have never had to move back in with my parents (knock wood).

I just decided to make this a list of 50 things about me, instead of 100.

But, I like those actor's studio questions, so I will answer those, too:

1. What is your favorite word?
2. What is your least favorite word?
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
being out in nature, especially near any kind of water
4. What turns you off?
the phrase "turns you on"
5. What is your favorite curse word?
Oh, they're all so good!
6. What sound or noise do you love?
ocean sounds
7. What sound or noise do you hate?
my baby crying
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
urban planning
9. What profession would you not like to do?
car sales
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Remember when you said 'If there is a God who made me, and knows me, and loves me, then I'm pretty sure that God is not going to punish me eternally for a little thing like being wrong about his/her/its existence. I'm willing to bet that the religious authority figures who have emphasized belief over actions throughout history have done so because they were not doing good things and did not want to be questioned.'? That was so right on!"

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hissy Fit

The two hours between four and six p.m. are the trickiest part of my day. I have it easy in the mornings, since Big Daddy is the one who has to get the kids up and ready and to their respective schools and sitter. All I have to do is nurse Genevieve and pray she stays asleep while I shower, dress, make lunches, and scoot out the door by 7:00 a.m. Sometimes she does, but I still manage to be a few minutes late almost every day. The workday itself is generally pleasant, since I like my school and my students this year. I don't even mind the after-school dash to Mud Island to pick up Genevieve and then to the school for the other three. But once we get home, I am looking at two to two and a half hours of clothing changes ("Daddy wants you to change out of your uniform when you get home, you know that. Because you will spill stuff on it. Come on Somerset, give it to me. Fine, leave it on then, I don't even care..."), snack facilitating, homework coaching, squabble refereeing, and attempts to get the baby down for a nap so I can clean up a little and start dinner, which will almost inevitably end in screeching from the living room waking her up so that I end up cooking and cleaning with a sleepy baby tied to my back. All I really want to do is sit down and read or watch Oprah, but I can't and for the most part I've accepted that. Most days I do fine, biding my time until B.D. makes it home to at least keep me company in munchkin land and take his turn being the one to beg, plead, and threaten Somerset into pretended compliance with our meager rules.

But some days there are surprises, and that's where I fall. I've always prided myself on being a go-with-the-flow kind of person, able to think on my feet and take problems in stride. For some reason, those abilities seem to take a nap in the after-school hours. When that happens, various personalities step in to take Calm Mama's place. Sometimes it's Mommy Dearest, who causes a steady stream of nagging and bitching to come out of my mouth about the ungodly state of the kids' rooms, the mindboggling presence of so much of their crap in the living room, their arguing, their forgetting of things at school, and so on. Other times, like yesterday, it's The Big Baby. She throws tantrums. It is not pretty.

Yesterday afternoon, Calvin told me all about how the Santa Claus we know, in the red and white suit, is just an image that was thought up in the 1950's by Coca Cola, and how he always wore green before that, and how he isn't really fat but used to be skinny. I understood that he learned this in school, and was able to casually ask him where he learned about that. His student teacher. Of course. I did a good job of hiding, but this information just crawled right up my ass and made me furious. Calvin still believes in Santa Claus, and I realize this is probably the last year that will be true. At this point, he chooses to believe, even in the face of naysayers and some evidence to the contrary. Luckily, he seems to have taken this fascinating revelation about how Santa is just a cheap marketing ploy, which his tweny-one year old student teacher is so proud to have discovered all by herself on the amazing internet, and incorporated it into whatever logical process he has going on about Santa in that beautiful brain of his. But I was still pissed, and as soon as Big Daddy got home, I lunged for his laptop and fired off an email to Calvin's very lovely real teacher asking her to please tell her student teacher that some of us try hard to give our children an actual childhood, and could she please not kill Santa for them just yet. I felt somewhat better after that, until I went to move Somerset's lunchbox off the counter and noticed it felt heavy. I opened it to see that her entire sandwich and most of her chips were still in there, meaning all she had eaten all day was a banana. When I asked her why she hadn't eaten her sandwich, she looked upset and said it was time to go back to her room (from CLUE class back to the YMCA room) and she didn't have time to eat. There have been other times when she told me she did not have lunch on CLUE days, but it usually turned out that she was just confused because she ate in the CLUE room and thought it was "snack" time. This time, though, the food was still there so I knew she hadn't eaten, and this just flew all over me and reignited my fury over the Santa debacle. I decided to write a note to the Y teacher about how they need to get their shit together and make sure my poor baby gets to eat her lunch at the same time and place every day, but I couldn't find a pen. That was it. The Big Baby decided to throw a hissy fit about the impossibility of finding a pen in this disorganized pit, and how could it be that we don't even have a #$*&%$ pen in this house?? In fact there were probably more expletives than respectable words coming out of my mouth, but I'll spare you. B.D. tried to give me a fine-point sharpie, which I threw back in the basket, shouting "That is not a pen it is a #*&%ing Sharpie!" and then ranted about how I was going to throw all of those Sharpies away because the kids keep drawing with them and there was a mark on the table now from one. To his credit, B.D. did not tell me to pull my shit together, instead choosing to stop folding laundry to go and find me a pen. This left me standing alone in the kitchen, feeling stupid, and noticing for the first time that the Rosemary Clooney Christmas CD he had just bought me to replace a long-lost tape was playing on the kitchen stereo. It's my favorite Christmas album, and he bought it for me, and he put it on to play so we could listen to it while I cooked and he folded, and instead I had drowned out the wistful, melancholy version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that always makes me cry and that is the reason I love that album so much with the sounds of my temper tantrum. I felt like a complete ass. I thought about how irritated I get when he acts moody, knowing that in his worst fit of grumpiness he has never come anywhere close to throwing a fit like I just did. So I pulled it together. He brought me the pen and I wrote the note, and I mumbled an apology, and in a little while we were both able to act like nothing had happened.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In Which I Realize How Closely I Resemble White Trash

We just returned home from a Thanksgiving trip to Georgia, where we spent the holiday with Big Daddy's grandparents, mother, stepfather, his two sisters and their husbands, and one of his two younger brothers. We had a great time and that's not the white trash part (What, just because we were in Georgia and have a big family? Don't you judge me!). It was the trip down that caused my aha moment.

First of all, Somerset was sick and puked at intervals of about one hour the whole way down, which took about eight and a half hours total. My solution to this was to tuck a plastic grocery bag into the harness of her car seat, creating a kind of plastic-bag-bib (marketable? Hmm...), so she had it right there if she had the sudden need to vomit. She actually seemed to feel fine in between regurgitative episodes, and she had nothing but crackers and water in her pitiful little belly after the first time anyway. Until we went to McDonalds. Because there's nothing like amalgamated chicken parts boiled in oil to settle a sick stomach, right?

We make this trip just about every year at this time, and it's our habit to make the first stop about halfway, either on this side of Birmingham or the other, depending on who is asleep/crying/needing-to-pee/puking. This time we only made it to Jasper, Alabama, for obvious reasons, but found a McDonald's with a playland so the kids could stretch their legs. I should mention that Joshua was on the tail end of a coughing sickness that involves night-time fever, which he has since passed on to the baby. I estimate that with all the holiday travel coming through that McDonalds in Jasper, which was considerable, my children probably spread disease over a five-state area with a single pass down the curvy purple tube slide. Sorry everyone!

Sitting there at a table in the playland of McDonald's in Jasper, Alabama, which smelled like an ash tray in spite of the "Ronald's Playplace is a smoke-free environment" sign hanging above my table, I had a moment of unpleasant clarity. It looked something like this: I have on a pair of baggy, faded, stretched out Old Navy jeans, a worn fleece that zips up the front over a tank top that is not visible so it looks like I'm not wearing a shirt underneath (with some kind of schmutz on the left shoulder), unshowered, frizzy-haired, mascara smudged, etc. My four-year-old daughter, who may or may not have vomit in her stringy ash blond hair, is wearing hot pink sweat pants with a faded hand-me-down navy blue Buzz Lightyear sweatshirt that was hastily thrown on in place of the vomit-spattered pink sweatshirt (later the pink pants will be thrown in a gas station trash can after she projectiles her chicken nuggets over the top of the plastic-bag-bib). All the vomiting has given her face a dark-circled, pinched, Appalachian look. My five-year-old son has on red sweat pants that are about three inches too short (and have been officially passed down to his sister, except Big Daddy has problems knowing whose clothes are whose when he puts laundry away) with a too-large gray sweatshirt that is probably Calvin's. Both boys need haircuts. The baby has on pink terry footie pajamas that have seen better days. If I look around that McDonald's in Jasper, Alabama, and divide the parents there into two groups: citified travelers just passing through the likes of Jasper, and local yokels who either live here or someplace just like it, I would have to say I look more like the latter even though I am ostensibly part of the former. Depressing.

I sometimes joke that I am just one generation out of the trailer park. That's not exactly accurate, but not too far from the mark, either. And my mom did have a friend when I was a kid who not only lived in a trailer park with her several kids, but had an old toilet in the yard with flowers planted in it. I thought that was the coolest thing ever! Maybe not folk art's finest hour, but creative nonetheless.

Epiphanies like the one I had in Jasper are probably good for me, because truth be told, I have a tendency to judge people based on appearance. Yes, I know that makes me a "bad person." Whatever, you know you do it too. At least I realize that I am possibly the worst judge of character to ever live. My first impressions of people almost always prove to be completely wrong. So yeah, seeing myself through the eyes of those cute young moms in their comfortable-yet-not-dumpy traveling ensembles and realizing that I look like I just came down off the mountain was humbling. Luckily, I had a chance to recover on the way home, when we stopped at the slightly nicer McDonald's near Birmingham and crashed a birthday party in the playland. "Who still has birthday parties at McDonald's?" I asked Big Daddy haughtily. "Where else are you going to have it around here?" he replied as we sped away toward Memphis, where all the cool kids have parties that involve inflatables and all the cool moms show up looking like not white trash.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

No hablo pomo

I am supposed to be writing a post a day for NaBloPoMo. As you can see, I'm already one post shy. Can we redo November first, please? No? Well, ok.

The fact is that we are coming up to the end of the grading period at school, and as usual I am very behind on grading. It would help if I could get some of the work done at home, but let's face it--that's just not happening. I may actually stay home from work to grade on Tuesday, because I foolishly assigned a major paper to be turned in on Monday, and now I have to grade said paper, for 140 students. And grades are due Wednesday. And I still have a huge stack of answers to chapter questions on Grendel, which I foolishly insisted must be answered with full paragraphs and references to the text. Because yes, I am that teacher. I think John Gardner deserves full paragraphs, in spite of his dying foolishly in a stupid motorcycle wreck (why John? WHY???), thus needlessly depriving the world of his genius.

I don't have time to talk to you people right now. I have papers to grade!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'm still here

Just insanely busy. I have signed up to post daily in November, so that should be interesting considering the difficulty I have just posting every week. Let's see, what has been going on? last night, Richard took the older kids to the playground and met up with Stacey and Andria and their offspring. I knew Stacey's husband was out of town, so I told him to invite her over for dinner since I was making spaghetti and I tend to cook enough for an army even though my kids don't eat my cooking. He called from the park to say that the female 2/3 of Andria's family would also be coming. Since she's pregnant, I'm going to count her as two guests. So let me just brag for a second and claim that I cooked dinner for 12 people on a school night with a baby on my hip for the last half of the cooking (ok, subtract the fetus and the boob baby and that's still more people than you cooked dinner for last night). I am a badass! If I do say so myself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Just call me Winky

In the bathroom this morning soon after getting to work, I noticed that something about my reflection looked a little off. I had my hair in a ponytail because I got out of bed too late to wash it, so at first I thought it was just the effect of the Ugly Betty Bangs that I was seeing. Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that I had put mascara on my right eye but not my left. Lovely! I tried to figure out how I had managed to do this, and then remembered that Calvin came in as I was applying my makeup and asked me to help him find a picture of our dog. He needed it for CLUE class and of course, it had not occured to him to look for it before 6:53 this morning. So I guess I set the mascara down intending to come back, but then I never did. When I got home this afternoon, it was still sitting there partially open on the sink, right next to the necklace I picked up but forgot to put on. Luckily I did manage to get eyeliner onto both eyes, so the Lisa Left-Eye look was somewhat mitigated. And then, I teach teenagers who by definition don't realize that anyone over 30 has an actual face, so it wasn't really a big deal.

What's more disturbing is the thought that this is just one example in a greater trend of forgetfulness. Yesterday morning, as I was making the multiple PB&J sandwiches that I make for the kids' and my lunches every morning, I realized that I had put jelly on too many pieces of bread. No big deal, I thought, I'll just go ahead and make an extra sandwhich for Joshua's breakfast (yes, he eats one for breakfast and lunch most days, and often for dinner as well, because he is a freak like that). Then I realized I was one slice short in the bread department, meaning I took out an extra one in the first place. Ok, got out another slice, no big deal. But later when I bit into my sandwich at lunch, I tasted grape jelly instead of the sour raspberry that I prefer, which meant that someone else got the raspberry jelly and probably didn't like it. I could only hope it was Somerset and not Joshua, because she's a much more adventurous eater, and because the last thing we need is for Joshua to decide that he doesn't like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That would narrow his diet down to chocolate chip Pop Tarts and cheese pizza with the occasional granola bar thrown in for variety. Oh, and popcorn, let's not forget that. And bacon. Anyway, when we got home that afternoon, lo and behold, there was the breakfast sandwich sitting on the counter with only one bite taken out of it because it was, of course, the raspberry jelly. I explained to Joshua why it had tased funny, and there seems to be no damage done to his tender love affair with that important 1/5 of his diet. I wish I could say the same for my mental capacity!

Why do I keep spacing out like this? I hate to blame it on placenta brain. And really, I've felt so un-placenta-brained lately. My classes are great this year and I feel stimulated by what I'm teaching, which I think has gone a long way toward keeping me more focused and less flaky than I expected to be (and have sometimes been) at four months post partum. But these morning slip-ups have me worried. What if I've been lulled into a false sense of security, only to be hit with the dread disease now, when I least expect it? Tomorrow will I get to work and realize I have on two different shoes, or that my underwear are on the outside of my pants like a superhero costume? It will be like that dream where you're at school wearing nothing but big white granny panties and everyone is looking at you! This is what I get for not buying more prenatal vitamins when I ran out two months ago. Or maybe it's the cumulative effect of the massive amounts of caffiene and sugar I've been ingesting in the form of sweet tea (more on that later). Whatever it is, I've got to be vigilant, and you can help. If you happen to see me out in public with my nursing bra inside out over my shirt, make sure I've at least remembered to hook the cups back up, ok?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Southern festival of Books

This weekend is the Southern Festival of Books, which is hosted by Memphis and Nashville in alternate years. This year it's our turn, and it's killing me that Big Daddy and I don't have more time to spend down there. I feel like a crackhead who can't get to the Crack Festival. Well, except I did get to go yesterday and hear Lee Smith, author of my favorite book, read from her new book On Agate Hill. She was funny and charming as always, and she signed my freshly bought copy of the new book as well as my old, well-loved copy of Saving Grace. The last time she was here, at Burke's Books, I bought their first edition copy of Fair and Tender Ladies and got her to sign that. Now I have three! I can't explain why this makes me so happy.

Joshua's kindergarten class walked down to the children's stage yesterday to a party for Curious George. This also makes me happy. Hopefully we'll all get to spend some more time down there this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fall Break Friday

The kids and I were out of school today for "Fall Break," whatever that means, so we took advantage of the opportunity to sit around in our pajamas all day like we like to do. Well, in the kids' case, it was more like the clothes from yesterday that they slept in last night, but still. Big Daddy left early after being alerted to the fact that downtown was on fire, and Somerset woke me up at 8:30 which did not feel as late as it sometimes does, since someone kept me up late like he likes to do. Nevertheless, I got up and made her a waffle that she requested and then left three quarters uneaten. I also made myself a waffle with peanut butter and chocolate chips, because I'm a grown up and I can eat things like that for breakfast if I want to, and then took up my usual post on the front porch glider. I'm thinking we should just move the couch out there like the hillbillies we apparently are, because we live out there lately.

Before long, the offspring started appearing with scraps of paper, attaching them to the porch, then going back inside. I became gradually aware that they were "decorating" the house for Halloween. The whole decoration-making production line was eventually moved outside. It involved scissors, markers, paper plates, a roll of scotch tape with broken dispenser, a roll of black electrical tape, most of a box of perfectly good Puffs tissues, and fishing line. And an empty toilet paper roll.

I have to confess here that I have become alarmingly like my mother in my old age, in that my tolerance for having a lot of crap everywhere has gone way, way down. I was not loving the idea of a TP-roll Frankenstein hanging from my crepe myrtle, and little tissue ghosts hanging from everything that could be reached by their short creators, and little drawings of monsters and witches that had been crudely cut out taped to every vertical surface. But they were so freaking happy with their decorations that I didn't have the heart to rain on the paper parade. At one point, Joshua exclaimed "It looks so good, I want to stay out here forever!" After they were done, we took a walk around the block to see if we could spot any other decorations. I can tell you that we were shocked and apalled at the paucity of tissue ghosts in Chickasaw Gardens. We thought we saw some in the trees of one of the few families we know in the neighborhood that has kids, but they turned out to be store-bought, imitation tissue ghosts made of plastic. And they even homeschool! What is this world coming to? And as we walked, Calvin asked me this very Calvin-like question:

"Mom, do you ever feel so good that like, you don't want anything else to happen, you just want to keep doing exactly what you're doing? But like, it kind of makes me nervous because then I start wondering what is going to happen next."

To which I replied a very myself-like answer:

"Sweetie, try not to worry about what's going to happen next. Just enjoy the feeling good part." He just kind of nodded and took off on his scooter. That child is so much like his father, it's scarier than a whole box of ghosts made out of the cheap generic tissues that hurt your nose when you blow.

Later, after the baby napped and everyone had lunch, we went to the duck pond. The last time we were there, the boys hooked up with a kid who had a net. It was heavy duty and looked suspiciously like the one we had seen a week earlier and left alone because we figured it belonged to someone. The little boy was using it to scoop out turtles, after which he would immediately let them go. This was decidedly more exciting than feeding the lame old ducks, and Calvin has been asking for a net ever since. We made a quick run up to the Dollar Tree and got three flimsy plastic nets, which I warned the kids were only going to hold little turtles. They were thrilled, and off we went. Calvin caught a couple of turtles, but for the most part they had nothing to fear from us. We did feed the ducks, too, and then tromped around to the little peninsula, where we attached long sticks to the nets in order to give them more reach. Joshua decided his was a horse and started galloping around on it, scaring the little fish that Calvin was trying to catch. The whole scene was impossibly idyllic, with the dappled sunlight and the happy children and the baby cooing at the ducks from her perch in the sling. I wished I had brought the camera.

About halfway around the pond, Somerset started having a meltdown because she was tired of walking, but that's de rigueur and not enough to ruin an outing. I told her I guessed she would have to stay there and become the lady of the lake. "No, I don't want to do that" she said, as if it were an actual possibility.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Big Bang

Lately I am finding that even though I'm doing a decent job of staying on top of the daily routine, adding anything to it is practically impossible. Case in point: I have been trying for months to go get a haircut. Why is that so hard? Well, anytime I'm not at work, I have four tumbling, wrestling, bored/tired/hungry/angry/loud kids with me. Don't get me wrong, my kids are fairly well behaved most of the time, but there are four of them, so everything they do becomes multiplied. Big Daddy is great with the older kids, but he's still kind of scared to keep the baby alone for very long, being without breasts and all. I'd take her, but she won't sit in the bucket one second longer than necessary, and wearing a plastic cape over baby-in-sling seems like a bad idea. To make things worse, he seems to work the exact same hours that most salons are open, and is only off on Sundays when they're off too.

Since my parents recently moved from the burbs into midtown near us, I thought I could catch a break and have my Mom watch the kids while I ran out for a quick Saturday morning salon experience. After several weekends of having other things planned, I finally got my chance this Saturday. Or so I thought.

Let me give you a piece of advice: if you want to get your hair cut on Saturday, you need an appointment. Probably you know this. I foolishly thought I would be able to walk in somewhere and have services rendered. I'm not sure where I got such a crazy idea, but it might have been all those neon "Walk Ins Welcome" signs in the salon windows. Now, I know the higher-end salons are going to be booked, but I thought some of the funkier high-volume shops would have room for work-ins. You know, like leaving space for people who are actually sick to visit the doctor in between all the scheduled appointments for people with scheduled illnesses. I thought wrong. Times six.

My first stop was Bermel, less than half a mile from my house. I figured it was a long shot, but I was curious about what the scene was in there so I decided to try it anyway. I got hopeful when I walked in to find a woman helping a ten year old girl figure up someone's bill for the purpose of learning the math skills involved. But when I asked if there was an opening, the nice lady regretfully told me they were booked. I went on to Goulds in Poplar Plaza. This was my original destination anyway, and I was shocked to learn that they were booked up. Next stop, Dabbles, an old standby where I figured they could take me since they usually have several stylists working at once and it's a popular midtown spot for those with more style than money. No such luck. Ok, on to Tangles on Madison. Booked. Hi Gorgeous farther down on Madison. Booked. This was a sign of desperation, because I've gotten a bad haircut there before by a guy who did not look at my hair before washing it, then cut every hair to a different length with a razor, gave me a zig-zag part, and dried it flatter to my skull than I would have ever believed possible. I wasn't going to let that guy near my head again, but I was willing to give the shop another chance. I guess they didn't want one. On to Cloud Nine, next to Old Zinnie's and the now-defunct Green Orb, where I had the somewhat surreal experience of walking into the tiny, hallway-like space to see the sister of Big Daddy's ex-girlfriend, commonly referred to as "the cleanup woman" and "psycho skank," dying someone's hair kool-aid red. T.C.W. and I were actually good friends in high school (supposedly), so I knew her sister pretty well. She offered to "do" me after the customer she was currently working on, but that was going to be a while, so I declined. I think enough members of my family, (and everybody else's family, if you know what I mean), have been "done" by members of that family anyway.

I got back in my car, stunned by six straight rejections, and made a rash decision to go to Fantastic Sam's in Overton Square. You heard me--Fantastic Sam's. My hair had gotten pretty long, and I rationalized that I would just get a trim and how bad could it be if I told the person not to touch my bangs? I think you see where this is going. She touched my bangs. I didn't even really have bangs. I had a very thin layer of cheekbone-length fringe that I could never decide what to do with. Since I'm currently in the throes of post-partum hair loss, to be followed by the post-hair-loss "hedge" of new growth that will stick straight up along the my hairline, I figured keeping some sort of bangs until that passes was probably a good idea. The woman cutting my hair seemd to actually know what she was doing, so when she asked what I wanted to do up front, I threw caution to the wind and said "Um, I don't know" when I should have said "DO NOT TOUCH THE BANGS!!!" She told me they were "at the perfect length to do that side-swept bang that is so popular right now." "Um, ok." I replied. Apparently in crazy-bad hairdresser language, this translates to "Yes, please do cut two inches off my bangs, go back another inch from my hairline and bring that hair into the bang collective, and oh yeah, cut them on an angle going the opposite direction from my part." So that's what she did, of course. I now have Ugly Betty's haircut. I guess I finally have a reason to be glad the 80's are back in style.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

It's a wonderful life

Saturday morning, the kids and I slept in while Big Daddy got up and went to work. I never thought I would consider 8:45 "sleeping in," but now it seems absolutely decadent. I heard the boys get up and turn on cartoons as Genevive rooted around a bit in my bed and then looked up at me with her best "am I not the cutest baby alive?" smile. The lady Somerset generally does not show her face before 10:00 a.m. on weekends, but this day she came padding into my room and crawled up into bed with the baby and me. The three of us snuggled and chatted for a little while until gradually the boys drifted in asking about breakfast. Sugar is the rule for our Saturday mornings, so Calvin and I made our favorite, chocolate croissants, and we all took them out on the front porch to eat. The older three soon felt cartoons pulling them back inside, leaving Genevieve and me in relative peace. She likes to alternate between sitting in her exersaucer and rocking with me in the porch glider. While she practiced standing and reaching in the saucer, I gorged on chocolate and The New Yorker, reading a short story, a couple of poems (one good, one bewlideringly not good), an article about Bill Clinton's working post presidency, and a fascinating article about a WWII era sociological movement called Mass Observation. Somewhere in there, Genevieve fell asleep in the crook of my arm and I put her back in bed.

I sat there, rocking and reading and eating with my kids drifting in and out and the baby doing her baby things, and I tried to hold the sweetness of the moment in my mind. There were years when time seemed to be suspended in babyhood, when months seemed like eternities and I thought I would never see the end of diapers and sippy cups and Blues Clues. I never had baby fever. I lived for the day each one of them would walk and talk. Babies are sweet, but we had kids because we wanted kids. We became parents with visions of biking with them, going camping and canoeing, not of cribs and mobiles and pushing a stroller. Not that there weren't good things. Babyhood has its moments, but for the most part, I have wanted to kiss the ground as each child turned four, because the journey to that point has just about worn me out. Then one day, I realized I couldn't find clothes to fit Calvin in the toddler section anymore. Joshua was talking clearly and sucking his thumb less. Somerset, who was then our "last baby," potty trained and finally weaned on her third birthday. It felt like the end of an era, and it was bittersweet.

Two weeks later, I got pregnant. I have to confess that I was devastated. There was a time when I wanted a fourth baby, but then I had Somerset only fourteen months after Joshua. We decided that three was enough. We worried that we were pushing our luck. We had three healthy kids, why tempt fate? It was a hard decision for me, but once I decided I was done having babies, I felt good about moving on to the next stage. As it turned out, having babies was not done with me. When it started to dawn on me that I might be pregnant, I responded with strong denial. There was no way. I was so sure that I would never be pregnant again that I couldn't even wrap my mind around the possibility.I've had two miscarriages, so that always feels like it could happen again. I didn't want to miscarry, but I knew it could happen, and if it did, I would know that the whole thing just wasn't meant to be. The thought of starting all over with a newborn was just overwhelming to me. Then one day, I guess about a week (a very looong week) after I figured out what was going on, I saw blood. I walked into my kitchen, leaned back against the counter, and cried. It was crazy, I didn't even want to be pregnant, but at the same time, I felt like I had just lost something very real. I thought in flashes of everything that would never happen for that baby. I felt like I had wished away my chance to know one of my kids.

Happily, the blood turned out to be only a little implantation spotting. The baby was fine. I felt so relieved, but I still worried. I'm not the anxious type, and when irrational thoughts pop up, I usually shut them down immediately. But one day when I was driving the kids around, I looked to my right and saw a woman pushing what looked like a six-month-old baby in a stroller. A thought flashed into my mind with such force and certainty that it was almost as if it had been spoken aloud: "I'll never see this baby like that." I pushed it away, but the feeling that it was true was hard to shake. I never said a word to anyone, but through my whole pregnancy, some part of me was just waiting for the worst to happen. I did not allow myself to think about how it might go down, but I couldn't stop believing that it would. So when I was finally in labor and the nurse noticed that the belt monitor was not picking up the baby's heartbeat, that part of me just sort of detached and said "So this is how it's going to happen." My incredible nurse, Marta, moved swiflty and expertly as she attached the internal monitor, rolled me on my side, put an oxygen mask on me, and unhooked the bed from the headboard so she could tip me on my head. As she moved, she calmly explained what she was doing and how it would get more oxygen to the baby. It all happened so fast, and I was able to listen to her, but at the same time part of me was thinking that this was how I would lose my baby. I don't know if it was the guilt over not wanting to be pregnant, or just hormonal irrationality, or what, but it felt so real at the time.

Ultimately, my fears were unfounded and Genevieve was fine. She came out looking blue as Vishnu, screaming soundlessly, and when they laid her on my chest I said "Are you sure she's ok?" They assured me she was fine, but I was still shaken. Then my doctor held up a length of the umbilical cord between her hands and said "Look, a true knot." It was tied in a perfect knot but not pulled tightly enough to cut off the blood supply. Only two weeks later, I would learn that the baby of a friend's acquaintance was stillborn because of a knot in the cord. But my baby lived, and she was beautiful and perfect and she relaxed in my arms the moment the nurses brought her back to me. She rested her head on my chest in a way that said so clearly "Yes, you are the right one." I could write a million words and never be able to describe what I felt at that moment.

So, finally, with my fourth and definitely last child, I have been able to enjoy having a newborn. When she cries, I feel sympathetic but not like my own emotions are tied up with hers, which is how it always felt with the others. I do not feel like my head is going to explode. Ok, sometimes I do, but that's usually when I'm trying to do something else that seems important at the moment. Most of the time, I just hold her and smell her crazy hair that stands straight up, laugh at her babbling screeching baby sounds, smile at her smiling at me. She is indescribably sweet, and so much sweeter because I know now how fast it goes. I know that I wasn't even expecting her, my bonus baby, and she came to me through sheer luck, and before long she will disappear into the child she's bound to become.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Music To My Ears

This afternoon during the drive home from school, Calvin was perusing a freshly handed out book order form (remember those?). When he came across a selection of "Jigsaw Jones" books, he exclaimed "Only ninety five cents! Those are great books--they should cost a billion dollars!" My work here is done.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

At the Fair

When I was growing up, the arrival of the Mid-South Fair was one of the highlights of the year. My parents, long-time Fair enthusiasts, would even check my sister and I out of school each year so we could beat the crowds on wristband day. Naturally when I became a mother, I looked forward to taking my own offspring to the Fair. Only somehow I managed to breed with a Fair hater. My husband does not like crowds, fried food, or rides (yes, he is afraid of rides!), so the Fair really has nothing for him. He doesn't know what he's missing.

My first attempt at taking any of our kids to the fair did not go well. Calvin at age three was afraid of the rides (faulty genes), had not developed a proper appreciation for food involving funnels, boiling oil, and powdered sugar, and quickly tired of walking around. I didn't try again until last year, when my parents and I teamed up to take the three of my four kids who were in existence at the time. (Come to think of it, I must have gotten pregnant with Genevieve right after that.) They were 7, 4, and 3 then, and I suspected that they would all three be afraid to ride more than a tame kiddie ride or two, so I went the ticket route rather than spring for the $20 armband (all you can ride). That was a mistake. They loved the rides and begged for more, more, more! Unfortunately, they were also mesmerized by the games and the booths festooned with giant-headed Dora and Spongebob baloons on a stick. Afterwards, my Mom came up with the bright idea of collecting change in a coffee can so that this year they could ride more and play more and buy more (and of course, eat more). I think we managed a whopping $22.35, but wristbands were nevertheless purchased, one game was played, and much food on sticks and in paper cones was eaten.
Once we arrived and got through the traumatic childhood flashback that was my dad parking, we made our way to the kids' area just inside the gate. The first ride in sight was the caterpillar coaster, and all three kids went for it as of their whole lives had led up to that moment. I was so proud! But it wasn't long before Somerset came back down the steps saying she was scared. No biggie--it was a scary ride. Joshua stuck to his guns, but looked terrified all during the ride and came off saying in his funniest growly yell "I am never, ever riding that again!" Not to be scared off, though, they all rode just about every ride in the kids' area, (although after one or two, Joshua put a firm ban on rides that went up into the air). I had originally planned to sit out the rides, figuring I'd have Genevieve, who is three months old, in the sling the whole time as I usually do. But at the last minute I decided to strap her seat onto the little seatless stroller thingy I keep in the back of the sassy-mobile, and for once she loved it. I went ahead and got a wristband, which was a good thing, otherwise I would have missed the experience of sitting inside a giant, spinning, 90 degree metal strawberry with a farting five-year-old who was not at all certain he wanted to be in there. On a positive note, Calvin and I rode a really fun ride where you lie on your stomach and fly through the air like Superman, side by side above the crowds. Later he said that was his favorite part of the fair. No small compliment coming from an 8-year-old boy who's been waiting all year for this weekend in September. Somerset and I were cheated out of riding the bumper cars together by the guy at the door who was a stickler for the pesky "You must be this tall" rule. On a high note, I rode the swings all by myself, and it was just like I remebered. I held my slip-on sandals in my lap for fear of having one fly off and take out a pedestrian, and as I flew around in circles high above the crowd I was grateful for the distance between it and my pedicure-deprived feet. But back at casa Sassy, Somerset let me know that there was a "brown spot" on the bottom of my foot as I rode the swings. Eew! That's what happens when you wear sandals to the fair. Oh well, I still came out ahead of the extremely large woman wearing an extremely small tank top with a good three feet of belly hanging out between it and her stretchy pants.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Who am I kidding?

One of the reasons I haven't started blogging before now was that I could not really pin down what my focus should be. I have four kids, which apparently makes me the modern equivalent of the old woman in the shoe in many people's view, but I don't really want to write another mama blog. Plus, my husband already writes a funny blog about his experiences with them, and he steals all the good material. I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about my kids and my experiences as a mother in other places. Nevertheless, whenever I think of something I might want to write here, it's usually mama-related. Oh well. The truth is, having kids is probably the best and most interesting thing I've ever done, so I may as well write about it. But I will also talk about other things. I read voraciously, and whatever I'm reading at the moment will inevitably lead me to think about connections to other ideas and experiences. There will be book talk. I also teach English in an "urban" high school, so I'm sure I will talk about the adventure that is my job sometimes. I'm really happy with my school and classes this year, so it's not going to be a bitch fest or anything. And then, I'm generally opinionated about, oh, everything. That should lead to some good times. I'll try not to get too political, though, because let's face it, we're not really hurting for another angry-white-liberal-Bush-is-the-devil blog, now are we?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Here we are

Just a little while ago I finished reading Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle again, about sixteen years after reading it the first time. There's that scene, after the world has been mostly destroyed by ice nine, when the narrator and the lovely Mona have just settled in the oubliette/bomb shelter, where he spreads his hands and says "Here we are." At that point, they are two of the only people left alive, in a situation far removed from anything ordinary. And since it is in fact the end of the world, any relationship they could develop will be completely outside the context of what such a relationship might have been in "normal" life.

I think blogs are kind of like that, or at least they can be. I'm fascinated by the idea that so many of us take the time, now of all times, to sit down and play around with words, of all things. As a person who loves words and believes that they are powerful things, I'm relieved to see that they can hold such a space for themselves in the midst of so much technology. Maybe people are smarter than I've ever dared to hope, if so many of us can see the value in sitting down to write about life, and read about the lives of people we may not even know, and be entertained and moved by their words.

I guess I'll give it a shot.