Archive for the 'childhood' Category

hmmm…

Watched The Reader a couple of nights ago. I’m a bit haunted by it. I’d have to say that I loved it, but it’s not a romp in joy land. Though I liked the sex scenes alot. Have to admit that too. Sex and literature. In the bed! What a pair. Some would disagree with me, but Hannah is a fascinating character. Not easily likable, and not easy to sympathize with.

I think I can because watching Hannah was alot like watching my mother…though we’ll never catch Roz, it’s pretty safe to say, locked in passion (ok, I got that from Vicky Christina Barcelona, another flick I just loved) with a much younger man/boy. Roz much prefers older men. She and I disagree on that matter. But we both agree on keeping it legal. Just so you all don’t go wondering about me.

My mother appears simple, even naive and inspite of her age; innocent, even, but the more I’ve come to understand her (yes, I think of her alot, as faithful readers all know here), she’s incredibly complicated to my eyes.

Not long after she married…oh, maybe a month or two after the fact, my uncle Arthur observed to her sister as my mother waded in her swimsuit, that “Quack-Quack is pregnant.” My aunt disagreed. Even married, my mother seemed virginal and chaste, right down to her nurse’s whites. There is nothing remotely sexual about my mother, and that’s not just because she’s my mother. I chalk it up to her being a Virgo. However, she did go on to produce six children out of ten pregnancies. Go figure. But that’s  another story, perhaps. Crazy stories. I might tell you sometime, in someway, if I can figure out some way to actually say it. And then, I might not.

My mother’s been named Quack-Quack in her family since she was very little. Because she talks so much! All the time. Quickly, rapidly. Quack-Quack says a lot without actually saying much. I think she feels a need to expel her natural nervousness by filling the air with noise. There’s a lot of noise, both literal, and symbolic, in Quack-Quack’s world. Her house is a maize of narrow tunnels and passageways occupied and obstructed by  various treasures and duplicates of things she or anyone else just might need someday. There is probably more stuff than air, actually, by now. We, her children, fear for her safety in such a creation, but despair, after many lost battles, of ever changing it. I think of dealing with that house in the aftermath of…the inevitable…and I just want to cry.

Quack-Quack had done some pretty horrible things to us, her children, long, long ago. The specifics are unimportant details here. Through the years, with time and distance as a buffer, probably, Quack-Quack acknowledges by apologizing in a diffuse and non-specific ways, the damage. Like Hannah, it’s what Quack-Quack actually doesn’t say (for her, a miracle, really), that offers up the tiniest evidences of remorse. I know the tiny shreds betray beneath those meek offerings vast, perhaps bottomless, volumes of guilt and sorrow that are even larger, heavier, and more burdensome,  than the chaos she’s created in her house. My mother is sorry and I believe her. I never deny the facts, and can recall most of them, by rote, chronolgically, at will. Like most PTSD survivors, I can’t dial up the emotion. A shrink (actually one of the rare good ones I’ve met), once remarked that our sessions, no matter what dreadful recall I’d serve each time, had the demeanor, if not the character, of a very proper tea party. I know no other way of communicating it. We do politeness to a fault in my family. Big time.

Like Hannah, in spite of doing terrible, unmentionable things to others, my mother saves the very worst punishment for herself. My mother has not been a free woman, liberated and joyful, for a long, long time. I think she believes, deep down, that  she doesn’t deserve it.

I don’t know how to change that. But it’s my last wish for her. I want to take her by the shoulders, sometimes, and look squarely at her, and say, at least regarding to myself….to let herself finally, really, breathe and remember that people heal…where there’s scars, the skin becomes stronger, tougher. More resilient. She’s a nurse. She just might understand that.

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just like a first grader!

That’s the mantra chirping ’round the house in these parts. It’s the kiddo’s “moving up” ceremony today. I’m not so sure she’s excited about being a first grader so much as she’s excited about summer off. We both gleefully tweet “…five more days…(or four more…or three more, and so on…)” and the other will finish, “and no more school!”, practically whipping our hands together and rubbing them maniacally. “And then, ” the kiddo adds, “We’ll be TOGETHER!” Ahhh. We’re just happier that way. Together, all of the time. For awhile longer.

First grade. She asked me what it was like last night in bed, and I didn’t know what to say. “It’s just…more, I guess”, said I.

I wasn’t crazy about first grade. It was a big switch from a tiny schoolhouse with grades k-6, to a big, big building that sheltered k-12. I had to ride the bus. I hated it. I remember, on one of the first days, seeing poor little T., who’d just started kindegarten, getting beat up outside the bus in the afternoon by Beth Disotoll, who was the same age and twice her size. The damned bus driver wouldn’t let me out of the bus so I could clock her one. Can you imagine the frustration of being stuck in a box behind a window, watching your kid sister getting thumped? I was seething. But anyone who bothered us inside the bus got theirs. I was a ferocious kid.

Anyway, on the first day of first grade, I ran to someone who I thought was good ol’ Jaime, my best pal at the old school, but wound up being someone else. I had to eat in a big cafeteria with kids I didn’t know, and without dear Mrs. Thoma, the lone cafeteria lady, who sat right next to me at lunchtime, coaching me to eat more, while wincing at the huge globs of mustard I’d pile on my hamburgers. It just wasn’t the same. It got better, but it was never the same.

I don’t think the kiddo has to worry about anything like that though. For at least one more year, the school will be in a tiny building that it shares with a Montessori school. She’ll still be in the highest grade level the school offers. And Mommy will still drive her to school. We can wait for the new school year, though. We’ve got stuff to do.

Have a happy summer, peeps.

Late Valentine

“Sagittarian Jakob Dylan has created a solid musical career for himself. He’s a bit defensive, however, about the possibility that the fame of his father, Bob Dylan, has played a role in his success. His contracts specify that he should never be called “Bob Dylan’s son.” I understand his longing to have his work be judged on its own merits, and I sympathize with his urge to be independent of his heritage. But in the coming weeks, Sagittarius, I advise the opposite approach for you. You will place yourself in alignment with cosmic rhythms by expansively acknowledging all of the influences that helped you become the person you want to be.”

-Rob Brezsny

Free Will Astrology

Free Will Astrology. It’s my required reading in the Hartford Advocate every week. Never miss it. It’s also the only horoscope I read, not just for the forecast, but for Rob’s quirky goodness and free associations. Damned if he isn’t usually right, too.

Thing is, I’ve been thinking of stuff like this a lot, recently. Specifically, I’ve been musing on my mother, Roz. Dear Mom. I’ve kind of come to see her as a sort of peer in my later years, something I’d never imagined when I was a angry  young thing.

I’d always emulated and near worshiped my late father. If I’d wanted to be anything, it was him: Calm. Measured. Logical. Tres intelligent. Except for a quiet demeanor and shy nature, we couldn’t be more unalike. It took me a very long time to figure that out. He knew, though. As much as I tried to fit into this ideal, I just couldn’t cut it. It was too easy to be as willful as my ego demanded instead of the team player he was.  My creative side mystified him and his nicknames, often uttered in patronizing, mocking tones,  for me were —The Artiste, and when he was really frustrated, “la Actrice” (that would be actress).  They were pretty much spot on labels, then.

We all still talk about my father, almost thirty years later. Who’s the most like him? Wouldn’t he just love his grandchildren? (Absolutely). Were we really going to move to….Florida….before he died? He is an elevated and very much missed figure in our clan. Poor mom never had a chance, unless she’d gone first, and only maybe. But none of us really wanted to cop to any of her qualities, anyhow. So flighty. Erratic. Exasperating.

I’ve come to realize that actually, I really am alot  like Roz though. I’d give the shirt and more off of my back for anyone I loved. And I,  too, never met an auction or tag sale I could resist. Or an animal in need.

How did this reckoning happen? At first, because I’d become a mother myself. Don’t most daughters nudge back into the maternal fold that way? But largely, it’s been through my experience with attention deficit disorder and its maddening travails and daily frustrations, that I can relate to what Being Roz, with everything that comes with that, is. “You must get that from me”, Roz offered, when I told her the news.  I’d have to agree.

Roz is an almost ceaseless screwball comedy. That is, when she isn’t enduring the untimely heartbreaks of losing the father to her children  and a daughter much too soon. Or raising six children on her own at age 33, one of which had special needs.  She’s even named for an actress known for screwball humor. I always think of Lucille Ball when I think of her though. Despite of all evidence to the contrary, I believe my mother is really a redhead. Except that she hates red hair. On a good day, Roz could probably trump anything Lucy did  in spades without even breaking a sweat.  

There really is a reason, and somewhere, a rhyme, in whatever madcap episode of Being Roz constitutes, but it’s not always easily recognized, or accepted. She’s always late. Always. Missed her own daughter’s wedding and couldn’t show up until the reception. Actually, that wasn’t entirely her fault though. But everyone knows to invite her extra early in order that she might just get to wherever she’s going on time. Usually, she doesn’t.

I’d wondered often just what my father saw in Roz, whom he met on the job at Sunoco. My mom walked home from her job at the hospital, but everyday, she’d stop in for chips and a Coke. He must of loved her rotten, for  Roz was an event. Roz  once smashed a car into a McDonald’s in driver ed. Roz had a wicked temper. The little hot head once took a hammer to the most recent addition to my father’s snowmobile collection in the early, hardscrabble, impoverished years of their marriage. She then hotfooted it down the street to her parent’s house, with my father in furious pursuit. “Are you coming back?”, he’d asked, finally. “Are you still mad?”, countered Roz. I guess he wasn’t anymore. Roz would lock him out of the trailer if he came home late (he’d just unscrew the doors and giggle the whole time), and once bombarded him with mustard in the middle of a fight. Dad reciprocated, and the pair  ended up covered in  tangy, sunshiney globs of day-glo yellow. Right before some colleagues from the hospital  showed up. I’d  never do anything like that. Ketchup bottles are so much easier to squeeze. I don’t think they had those back in the day though. Roz made do.

We never really got along much when I was growing up. I was more than a little scared of that temper. And she confused me. Alot. Still, I’d stick up for her in fights, and let her in through the window once in the early hours of the morning when my father forbade her to go to some country concert at the county fair.

I gave it to her hard in my adolescent years, and made her cry more than once. She really tried at times. Like the time she offered to take me out to dinner after I was to accept a medal at some art show…which was right after I was supposed to meet  the bishop for a pre-confirmation thing that she practically had to bribe me to do. (Confirmation is a Catholic coming of age rite to all of you incredibly fortunate non-Catholics. It’s sort of like…marrying the faith. “Do you take this faith  sham to be….I do! I do!” Or coming out. Except the shame never quite goes away. At least that’s how it seemed to me at the time. Anyone who knows me well would get why this was such an issue trauma for me.)  How did I respond? By getting as drunk as a top at a secret celebration of my own with friends the night before.

“You are going. You are especially meeting the bishop for this, little girl! I don’t care if you have a fathead! That’s what you get for drinking!,” roared old Roz.

“I did NOT! I’m actually sick! I can’t believe you’re doing this to me! I need ginger ale! I need crackers!”, I’d wailed.

I got the ginger ale and crackers. And eventually, my medal. Roz eventually got her  freaking confirmation sacrament ceremony, but not without some heavy duty balking and sulking, and a wad of cold hard cash. I needed those drinks. And I’m still not one bit sorry for imbibing practially every weekend in high school. I figured if I kept strict observance of The Cardinal Rule, which would be no association with the opposite sex (which is not an easy feat when you’re drunk—but I accomplished it) while under her roof  (Unless it was M. Pierce, who’d graduated first in my class and liked me. I was lukewarm to him. Roz still talks about him.)—then,  she could put up with my chosen  indulgence, especially if she didn’t know about it most of the time.

She’d give me and everybody else hell at the dinner table. I’d respond by flipping  my paper plate and its contents over and storming upstairs to my headquarters. She never made me clean it up. The kiddo surely would, if she ever pulled something like that.

Roz understood things though. She always stuck up for me in my running spats with teachers. She’d let me stay home from school whenever I wanted, as long I actually stayed home. She kind of mostly understood my absolute need to create art, even if it meant plaster and india ink all over the bed quilts, the curtains, and the shag rug. And surely Roz might understand (if she ever found out) vengeance in the name of loyalty to a pal; the kind of teenaged drunken caper in which freshly caught frogs are stuffed into the car of some  redkneck cur who’d foolishly betrayed a friend of mine. Hell, Roz might’ve actually  jumped right into the pond and probably capture the frogs herself!  I just held the bag. Most recently, she understood and never questioned the empathy and compassion  I’d felt for someone  too long in a relationship that was unhealthy. Never questioned me or made me feel bad about it, but when I finally got myself out, she was also behind me all the way, and my most sympathetic and reliable ear.

She hurt me in ways that I won’t  reveal on a public blog, and in which no doubt obstructed a fully realized relationship until well into my adult years. But underneath it all, and without condoning it, I recognize that wasn’t who mother really was. I know her now. I know and understand  now, thanks to my diagnosis, what it is to be inconsistent, confused, and impossibly, helplessly, overwhelmed on a daily basis, as she was then. I know I loved her then, and longed for her, always.

Kathryn Harrison says:

“We’re taught to expect unconditional love from our parents, but I think it is more the gift our children give us. It’s they who love us helplessly, no matter what or who we are.”

Agreed.

I am shamed

We did spend all day painting yesterday, and had so much fun. The kiddo is amazing. When I paint, especially when there’s colors all over the drop cloth on the table, I miss my grandfather, in his white splattered painter’s overalls. He was a painter and a painter. I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s and have come to remember my mom’s side of the family in recent years as nice, but a bit uptight about little things. Like cleaning. Not him. The kitchen, the garage/studio and the garden were a veritable riot of experimentation and wonder under his tutelage. He trusted me. And never, ever worried about the mess. Not once.

I myself have been attempting to impress–gently– upon the kiddo the need to pick up after herself/ourselves, particularly with regard to clothes and toys everywhere on the floor. After a late night session of yoga and collage work, the teacher left a rat’s nest of papers all over the floor. The student pounced on them this morning, and the floor was spic and span in no time flat. I didn’t see that coming.

We have to keep clean, Mama!

cleaning up

I’m still here. And no, I haven’t taken to my bed after the Yank’s latest debacle at the hands of the Red Sox. Not me. I don’t take this sweep too seriously right now. There’s not much to read into the tea leaves of the sweep when half the starting pitching staff is on the DL and known Red Sox killer Hidecki Matsui is keeping them company. I feel for the poor overworked bullpen with a pitching staff that can barely go past five innings. But Chen Ming Wang, the closest thing we have to a savior, rises again tonight, and I expect good things to start rolling around. Nothing lasts forever. Arod’s superhuman homerun hitting won’t either, but underneath even that is an relentless offense full of contact hitters that keeps coming back. So I expect to be cheering well into October. I always do.

There are some things that do make me want to take to my bed, Victorian style, on my pretend fainting couch (I’ve always coveted one of those). As mentioned, the sight of the kiddo in her little pigtails, which she insists on now because “they make me look like a puppy.” If she could, she’d have us serve all meals and drinks from a feeding bowl too. But we don’t do that. Goddamn, though…what is it that I’m feeding her that makes her so tall and her feet so long; that slims her face out? She looks like…a tweener, zipping around, getting her clothes dirty while playing with “the sisters” next door. She climbs trees now. My baby. It’s not fair.

The thing that most calls me to the bed is my detox. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. After a half a lifetime under the buzzed influence of caffeine which did nothing for my insomnia or anxiety issues, I’ve decided to pull the plug on my Diet Coke drip line, or, “Jane”, as Pentyne slyly calls it. If I do this, I’m reasoning, then I won’t crave the sweets so much and reel throughout the day from the dramatic sugar spikes and lows. But that’s another story. Down the road. Baby steps.

I’ve danced this gig before, later feeling clearer, lighter, better. But I can’t promise I won’t need to do it again. Somewhere I’ll be at some function, probably a family one, where all there is is “Jane”, and one little sip of carmelized, carbonated goodness, and I’ll be in the arms of the red and white bottle again. Because certain pleasures in life are even better mixed with a slurry of guilt and subjugated desire let loose from its tether.

Like many addicts, I blame not myself for my ways. I blame my mother. Of course I do! It was she, she who planted the seeds with her little six packs of Pepsi (another of what would become just one more thing that we don’t agree on…I’m a Coke girl all the way.). A bottle here, a bottle there, discovered strung along the house on a counter, or by her bed, or sometimes by the bathtub. Like all things that belonged to my mother, things over which hung the invisible sign “patties off“, I coveted it. Things like the half a Hershey bar she’d shared with me and then set upon the top of a bookcase before putting me down for my nap when I was four. My first act of larceny. The chocolate covered cherries she kept locked in her closet; the ones that I didn’t even particularly care for, that my brother and I delighted in plundering, once we figured out how to immaculately fix the lock so it cooperated. And the Fashion-Two-Twenty cosmetics in their lilac colored makeup case that looked like Barbie’s, all in stacked, tiered trays in tapered bottles. Leg makeup! Nude Foundation! Cotton candy colored lipstick! Which, my mother, with her perfect skin and unlined face, never wore. I took the Sarah Coventry jewelry, and the Avon too. My mother never really wore those either. The nurse’s uniforms, with their deep, functional pockets, were the best…powdered latex gloves, little scissors, alcohol swabs, bandaids, maybe a coughdrop. Her smells.

I never really did anything with this stuff, beyond hiding it. Well, except the leg makeup. I did try out the leg makeup. My legs looked like orange cheetos with tiny reddish dots the size of pin pricks where my pores were. Freaky.

She always found her stuff, under a bed or a dresser, stuffed in a closet. I knew she would. It didn’t stop me. I certainly didn’t need any of that stuff, or even want it for itself. It was just….hers. Some piece of her that I sort of needed around like a talisman, since she was always seemed busy working or sleeping off her shift. And yet, when confronted, I could never just tell her that. I know it drove her positively crazy, but I couldn’t do anything beyond either lying repeatedly through my teeth even in the face of damning evidence, or giving her a confused shrug.

I couldn’t give her the soda back though. Not really. I’d try to be merciful and refill what I’d siphoned with water; maybe toss in a pinch of sugar when the brew was looking flat. She never did say anything about the soda. I don’t remember a single time. If I could, I’d buy her a Coke now, in a sort of conciliatory gesture rooted in solidarity, but she doesn’t really drink it anymore.

I certainly don’t tolerate people swiping stuff from me in my life now; in fact, one of my mantras to my own kiddo is “stop touching my stuff” at least eleventeen times a day. In vain. But a part of me is convinced that some larceny is more about the need for psychological compensation and less about material gain.

I look around at my stuff and wonder what will become the kiddo’s heart’s desire. What about me and my stuff will leave tea leaves for her to read and then ponder someday, if I’m lucky, in some Proustian way?

I have words for her though: lay off the stupid Diet Coke. It’s baaaaaaaaad.

into the woods

There are few things in the news that upset me more than stories of missing children, murdered and found cast aside, their robbed bodies discovered in open fields and in dark places . It upsets me now, and it upset me even before the kiddo came into my life. I’ve come up against the strange cold, hard side of human nature and have been damaged by it myself. Still, I can’t fathom what it takes for a human to do that kind of damage to a child, and eliminate life and innocence as though it were a disposable toy, some dirty secret that must be smothered and hidden away.

Christopher Michael Barrios is the just the most recent story among too many stories, told and untold. And of course, there is the conviction of John Couey for the murder of Jessica Lunsford that was recently all over the news. I went to school in Utica, New York when Sarah Anne Wood disappeared while riding her bike in nearby town. I saw the signs with her picture on them plastered everywhere, like little prayers flapping in the wind.

She’d just been riding on her bike during her summer vacation. Something I’d done during my own breaks. When I was that age, I was out, unattended and unsupervised, all day, until it got dark. It wasn’t any safer then, either. Things happened. I won’t go into them. I did have a place I’d felt safe, a place some would consider scary, but not for me.

Behind a small Mennonite school across the street from my house, a school I’d attended in kindergarten, beyond its tennis courts laden with fallen black walnuts, lay an expanse of woods. Soft and hushed, as a secret is, from the pine needles that carpeted the earth, to the evergreen’s shaded darkness-in-the-daytime shroud that enveloped me the minute I walked into their cover. It was the perfect place to hide and the perfect place to play; to make believe. I very seldom felt afraid there. When I heard a noise, it was a noise that belonged there, something natural; common. I made up camps. I took Mrs. Beasley with me. I collected things, little things. There was an ancient dump that we took my mother to eventually to dig for old bottles that are part of her collection now.

I can’t imagine a childhood like that for my own daughter; alone and unattended. For us, it was circumstances of overstretched resources and energy as a result of two parents working full time during different shifts. I don’t think lawmakers and Mr. President know enough of the kind of life and experience at-risk kids have when they cut funding for community aid like after school centers or summer programs for kids. The kind of things that happen to kids unattended and unsupervised can breed criminals…that’s obvious. But what about those that don’t become criminals; those that run the risk of being damaged enough that they can’t hold a job, or a home as they survive into adulthood?

My siblings and I often compare notes on child rearing. We all know that life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t stop us from also trying to compensate in our own ways. It’s not a guarantee, and unfortunately not a given, but I do believe that every child is entitled to a childhood, to be a child and feel safe.

I can’t control everything; I’ve long given up on that. But I want the kiddo to know the spirit of the natural world, and the woods. We have that when we visit her babci and djadji, who take us, and their dogs, for long walks into their unfettered lots of forest behind the house. We pick mushrooms….Babci is an expert mushroom identifier. We study the frog eggs, which should be appearing very soon, along the edges of the pond. They look rather dark and mucky in the water, but hold a clump of goopy, jellied eggs up to the light for a moment, and they are stunning masses of pin dotted life evolving and waiting to emerge.

Two of my favorite bloggers, A Bird in the Hand and Little Birds, who happen to be sisters, are doing work for an upcoming show at Kati Kim’s Doe. It’s titled Lovely, Dark and Deep and features the odd, charming, and mysterious beauty of the woods in three dimensional soft sculpture and in two dimensional collaged pieces. Both Lisa and Stephanie document their progress and additions in both of the blogs. Check them out.

long live softies

When I was a little girl….ok, I must include beyond little, I have relatives here who will blow this cover….I liked to make up stories and adventures; some of them rather mature and even disquieting, starring my stuffed animals. I’ve never really outgrown them, and some I still own and have passed onto the kiddo. The animals, not the stories. Heavens, no.

I never cared much for dolls, though I had just about every “it” doll of the Christmas shopping season. They never really seemed real to me, and I’d lacked a maternal instinct until well into my thirties. I’d just drop in on my sister T. when we played “house” and I’d pretend I had a hot date and needed her to mind “the children” while I went off to park myself in front of the t.v. (or, “the movies”, as I would tell T.). But the expressions on my softies made them more than real and were a viable and sometimes outrageous escape that entertained myself and my siblings well into the night before we went to bed. Our rooms were connected closely, sans a hallway, and the stories would start with some details I’d harvest from the sibs, and off I’d just ad-lib until we fell asleep or until my mother would pass through on her way to get ready for her night shift duty as a nurse. If she heard any of these, she’s never told me so. Let’s hope she did not.

Now I have the kiddo and she, like me, prefers her softies, which she has in abundance, over the few token dollies. Some live in her teepee, others hang out with us on the bed, though she for some reason won’t let them sleep with us, instead tossing them unceremoniously over the foot of it until morning.

I’ve been sewing like mad this week…so relaxing…and one of my projects is the stuffed cat in Denyse Schmidts excellent quilting book. And I have just received notice that the adorable Fofers, whom the kiddo and I are quite fond of, have a blog.

Softies Central is another blog that I have been drooling over for inspiration which is almost completely and entirely dedicated to softies in all shapes and materials.

I’m off to go play with some more fabric and thread.