Saturday, December 29, 2012

We Were On A Break.

I took a little unintentional blogging hiatus this week.  I haven't posted in over 10 days, which hasn't happened since the beginning of the year.  On the one hand, I'm really disappointed about this.  On the other hand, I'm too exhausted and burnt out to care.

I think it's pretty obvious which hand is winning though, because here I am, posting the Excuse Post.

We celebrate Christmas here.  Merry Christmas, by the way, if you're into that sort of thing.  If not, hope your day was merry regardless because merry days are probably better than whatever the opposite of merry is.

Celebrating holidays takes up time.  We host Christmas dinner, so I do some cooking the day of and the day before in preparation.  We also go to dinner with friends on Christmas Eve, a 10 year tradition at this point.  It's nice to have these things to count on, time spent with family and friends.

Nathan was kind enough to tell us that since Santa would be bringing him things, his father and I didn't have to get him anything.  That was kind of him, don't you think?

And, work.  What can we say about that?  It's been steadily getting crazier and crazier.  The benefits industry, like many others, has a lot going on for January 1.  That means my Decembers are nuts.  Most of my blogging time was spent working instead.  I wish I could say that the extra work made my life less stressful.  I suppose in some way it did, but not enough for me to not feel incredibly stressed out.  I can't really do much of anything but shrug and say, "Eh." I just have to keep trudging through. I see a small glimmer of hope by the end of January.  At least I hope that's what I see.

Over the last two nights, I've had the pleasure of spending time with friends.  Thursday I got to see friends I met in high school when we worked together at a Dairy Queen. There's something about people who've known you forever to make your heart feel full.  We joked and laughed, reminisced about the good old days, you know how it goes.  It was a great night.  Last night, we had delicious Indian food with a fun couple.  Good food, good conversation, that's really hard to beat, too.

But, all the social commitments, the work, the family obligations, they've left me exhausted.  I haven't written, which makes me really sad.  I've had stuff to say, but the work it takes to move my fingers across keys was really too much.  I missed Yeah Write this past week and I was too tired to even beat myself up about it.  Something had to go.  I wish it wasn't something I enjoy so much, but, you know, earning a paycheck and feeding my kid had to be the priority.

We are about to get snowed in today.  Monday is New Year's Eve and we'll celebrate with friends.  Tuesday we'll celebrate my son's 6th birthday a day early since January 2nd will find us back to school and work.  I have a lot to catch up on around the house and if I don't rest there is no doubt in my mind that I'm going to succumb to whatever illness has been threatening me for the past few weeks.

If something has to get left behind, sadly it will be writing and reading.  I wish there was time to do everything that I wanted to do.  There isn't.

Thanks for sticking around while I get my non-writing life in order.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lockdown Drills.

The Saturday before last, the 8th of December, to be clear, on a drive to a friend's house, Nathan was telling his father and I about the lockdown drills at school.  When I asked him to explain it to us, he gave us the details of where they hide and the steps they take.  He needs to remember the procedure for the gym and his classroom.  I assume there are procedures for the art room and the library, too.  They are not allowed to talk or move or make any noise.  Then the principal comes around to each room to see if she can tell if kids are in there.

This isn't the first time he's told me about the lockdown drills.  He mentioned one earlier in the school year.  When asked why they do these, he said it was in case someone bad gets in the school.  I asked him if this scared him and he told me it didn't.  I was disturbed the first time it was brought up and I was no less disturbed the second time.  I hate, hate, hate the idea that these are needed.

I took solace in the fact that he's only in kindergarten.  He's not at an age when retaliation for bullying is a realistic fear.  I believe, perhaps naively, that the kids in his class and in his grade are probably not dangerously violent.  Even though my maternal instinct always says to keep him by my side, to protect him at all costs so that he is never, ever hurt, I have always known that it's not possible.  I know I have to send him out into the world and trust that he will come home to me every day.  I believed he was safe.

And then the tragedy in Connecticut happened.  In my head and my heart I know that most of the world wouldn't do such a thing, but the fact that it could happen, the fact that it did happen, has taken all of my fears and given them a validity that I am not comfortable with.

I read about the teacher who was killed, but not before hiding her children in cabinets and closets.  When I think that it could have been Nathan, scared, shoved into a hiding space while his teacher was murdered a few feet away, I can barely contain my fear and sadness.  What those children saw and heard is unimaginable.

On a regular day, it takes a lot for me to not worry about all the things that could happen and all the ways tragedy could strike.  These are no longer regular days.

After my conversation with Nathan, I had planned a post about the lockdown drills and just didn't get to writing it last week.  Nathan doesn't know about what happened in Connecticut and I don't plan to tell him.  I don't know if he really is scared about the prospect of a bad person getting in his school and a lockdown being a reality.  Maybe he is just so innocent that he doesn't understand.  I hope that's it.  Worry is a burden I don't want for him.  All too soon he'll know why they do these drills and I can't handle the thought of him thinking he's in danger.

Right now I'm watching him, sitting at his kid-sized table, in his almost-too-small dog jammies, watching SpongeBob and flipping the foil top of a single-serve package of Pringles.  I want to scoop him up and hug him and never let him go.  I know I have to let him go.  I know he needs to live in this world, and so do I, and we have to believe we are safe while being prepared for when we're not.

I don't have words to express how sorry I am for the losses of the families of Newtown.  I keep trying to write something that can equal the magnitude of what happened and I realize there is nothing that can be said or written that will do that.  I can't fathom what they are going through.  

I am heartbroken and angry.  I need to do something.  I can't sit here any longer, wishing the world was different.  I need to speak out and work for change.  Because I believe we can change things.  I refuse to be afraid and not do something about.

The time for wishing and hoping is over.  Quite frankly, it should have been over a long time ago.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Memory of My Grandmother.

This was originally posted on December 2, 2011.  Today is the 14th anniversary of my grandmother's death.  I hope you'll indulge me as I share it again. 

Sunday marks what would have been my grandmother's 88th birthday.  12 days later marks the 13th anniversary of her passing.  So many things remind me of her and I think of her so often.  December always feels like Grandma Month to me.

I was lucky to live very close to my grandparents while I was growing up.  I spent every Saturday at their house.  In the summer, my grandmother would carry around a little radio so she could keep track of the baseball game that was on.  Her favorite team was the Mets and I actually knew some of the players' names.  One of her other hobbies was puzzles.  Often you'd find partially finished ones in the house and I loved when she'd let me help.  I was not a good help at all though because they were very difficult.  I think she had one that was all one color, or something equally complicated.  My favorite one had all the pieces shaped like salamanders.  I loved to take that one out to play with.

Grandma's house was always prepared with the snacks we never had at home.  She drank soda (fun brands like Tab and Shasta and Vintage) but always had a bottle of Shop-Rite brand for the kids.  She had great flavors like grape and orange and root beer (she pronounced root to rhyme with foot, not toot) and birch beer.  My brother and I had our own special cups too.  Mine was Strawberry Shortcake.  There was always Cheez-Its or ice cream (or both!) in the house.  And Oreos and Devil Dogs.  I didn't like the Devil Dogs, which she knew, but my brother did.  She used to get me "finger cookies," which were Keebler Fudge Stripes.  You could put your finger through the hole and it was like you had a cookie on a stick.

We always stayed for dinner on Saturday night.  One of her specialties was Spanish Rice, which was a recipe from the back of a Minute Rice box.  That recipe card was so old I think it was actually from the first box ever made.  What cracked me up was that she always took out the recipe and yet it always tasted different.  As she got a little older (and a little more forgetful) she would forget if she added salt.  She did not find it so funny the day no one could eat the rice because it was so salty.  She was an avid food-salter. She always referred to ground beef as "ground round" and I never knew what she meant.  She also made "Quick Spaghetti" and I really never understood how it was different from the never-mentioned "Slow Spaghetti."

Great days were when I'd enter the house and she was making lasagna (she cubed the mozzarella cheese so there were always chunks mixed in rather than a layer) or making fried chicken.  These were infrequent, so they were all the more special.  She was often peeling potatoes when I would arrive (and I LOVE potatoes) but sometimes she's serve them boiled (yuck!) instead of mashed (yay!).  I remember standing on the step stool, which I now use in my house) to help mash when I got older.  I felt special when she let me do that - like I was one of the grown ups.  Don't ask me why that was so important to me when I was only about 5 years old, but it was.

And a really not favorite day was when she was peeling carrots.  Carrots have never been my favorite vegetable, but when you boil them to mush they are 10 times worse.  It just didn't bode well for the meal.  For example, there was the carrot, ground round, boiled potatoes with onion stew that a friend once told me looked like prison food.  Everything tasted like carrots.  Then there was ground round mixed with onions with sides of boiled potatoes and boiled carrots.  My mother and grandmother would just mix the whole thing up on their plates, so I never really understood what was the point of not making it in the same pot.  I guess so the kids would eat more of the stuff that wasn't soaked in carrot juice.  And then there was the best of all in this genre, the "hamburg patty" with mashed potatoes and boiled carrots on the side.  At least the carrots weren't canned. And truly, beggars can't be choosers and I'm thankful that she fed me, lest anyone think I'm an ingrate.

After dinner my grandmother would always indulge me in endless games.  Crazy Eights, Go Fish, Life, Camp Grenada (these were my aunt's games from when she was younger).  She almost never said no to playing a game.  At the end of the night we could always count on getting our backs scratched (sometimes my brother and I at the same time) and she never complained.  Never.

One of the greatest things I remember was how she never smothered the children.  I saw this mostly with my cousins who are quite a few years younger than I am, but I'm told she was this way with us too.  She'd watch the kids play - just sit back and watch.  And she'd say that you just have to let children come to you and they always do.  My grandfather was more the type to try to engage the children, sometimes against their will (and I mean that as kindly as I can) but my grandmother didn't do things that way.  There was a sweetness about it that I haven't ever seen in another person.

Grandma used to play the lottery.  I'm pretty sure it was daily.  And she had this elaborate record keeping system and formula for doing something to calculate the numbers.  I do not have the slightest idea what she did with those numbers, but every night she'd write them down on 1/2 sheets of paper, then do some THING with them, make boxes around some.  I don't know.  There were STACKS of these papers in the closet (same closet as the puzzles and the vacuum) and in other places.  I wish I knew what she did with those numbers.  Whatever it was, it did not make her rich.  I assume it made her happy though.

Walking to West End Pharmacy or Shop-Rite Liquors with her to get the lottery tickets was always a treat because it usually meant she'd get my brother and I candy.  And it was nice to take the walk with her too.  I'm sure as a child the candy seemed more important, but now I know that wasn't really the case.  She liked 3 Musketeers bars.  And she'd usually pick up Wintergreen Certs and a carton of Marlboro Reds.  Sometimes she shared the Certs.

Somewhere around my sophomore or junior year of college, my car died in the middle of the street on the way to school.  I didn't have money to get a new one.  I found a car I could lease, but there was nothing for a down payment.  I could put it on my credit card, but it would have maxed it out and I needed that for all of life's other incidentals (you know, food and gas to get to work).  It was a very difficult time.  I was at her house because I had walked to the insurance agent's office which was around the corner.  I was sitting there for a few minutes before I walked home.  I was tired and upset and didn't know what I was going to do.  She reached into the pocket of her housedress and pulled out a wad of cash.  I didn't ask for it, she just gave it to me.  It was enough to get me through.  I told her I had no idea when I could repay her, she said don't worry about it.  She didn't ask me for a payment plan.  She didn't get on my case about why I didn't have money or priorities or anything.  She just told me not to worry about it, it was a gift.  "Because I can and you need it," was all she said.  Now, I know gifts don't show love and it's not about the money.  It was the fact that she got it - she got how hard I was working at school and an internship and my job and that I was taking care of my mother on top of it.  She got that there was just NOTHING else I could do.  And she never, ever mentioned the money again.

I can't believe she's been gone so long.  I wish she had seen me grow up from the 22 year old I was - so much has changed.  I wish she knew Nathan and had gotten to know Kris better.  Like anything else, there are things I'd change if I could.  But I hope that she knows how much she meant to me.  I wouldn't be who I am without her.  Saturdays at Grandma's saved me as a child and I'll never forget them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Long, Full Life.

"Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight--how to get from shore to food and back again.  For most gulls it was not flying that matters, but eating.  For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight." - Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I first read Jonathan Livingston Seagull in high school and it easily became one of my favorites. I haven't read it in years, but I remember the moral. Life is not just about existing or surviving.  It's much more than that.

All my life, I've wondered why I was dealt the hands I received.  It wasn't that I was whining or wishing for something different, it's just that I wanted to know why.  What was I meant to learn?  

I don't believe we are put on this Earth to simply live here and die, but I'm not a religious woman and I don't believe in heaven or hell.  I do believe that we are here to learn in our life and what we don't learn now, our souls are doomed to have to learn in our next lifetime.

Why was I given one alcoholic parent who abandoned us and another one who abandoned us emotionally?

Why did we face the hardships we did? Why did I have to learn about finances, taking care of a home, cooking, home health care, do not resuscitate orders, powers of attorney, mortgages and credit years before my peers?

Why do I struggle with things that seem to come so easily for others?  Why can't I make a simple decision without agonizing over whether it's the right choice?  Why do I take things so personally without even knowing they are about me?

There has to be a lesson.  I wouldn't keep facing the same issues over and over if there wasn't. I wouldn't keep battling the same demons, having the same conversations and arguments repeatedly, if I wasn't meant to learn something from the experience.

And then, in the midst of yet another hectic week in what is proving to be a very hectic month in a very hectic year, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  

I was lamenting, yet again, my son's difficulties with some recent transitions.  He doesn't handle disruptions well.  He's not a go-with-the-flow sort of kid.  He likes things just so.  He is inflexible.

He is just like his mother.

I do not handle change well.  I resist and rebel against anything that bucks the system, anything that alters my schedules and habits.  I am the one who would often continue to do things the hard way rather than learn a new easier method.

I am rigid.  I am inflexible. 

And it is this inability to adapt to the natural rhythm of life that causes me such stress.  So set in my ways am I that anything that doesn't go as I planned is evil or bad or wrong.  And when others reap the benefits of new things or seemingly breeze through life, I am the one left resentful and angry.  I am the one left behind and sad.  I am the one who suffers from my own doing.

The lesson, I realized, is to accept change.  The lesson is admit that I cannot control everything that happens in the world around me but that I can control how I react to it.  I can slow down, take a deep breath and find a solution.  I can control me.

"Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull's life is so short and with those gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed."

I can have that long, full life.  It's not just for the lucky few.  

I'm going to go find my copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and read it again.  I think it's just the kick off I need.

I'm linking up with the super-supportive crew over at Yeah Write, the best blogging community on these here interwebs.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mary's Birds.

I took a deep breath and turned the key.  I held the door with my left hand as I pulled the key from the deadbolt with my right.  One foot on the threshold, my eyes just about to peer inside and it struck me.

Wait, was that a dead bird on the walk?  Did I step over a dead bird?

I left my purse and Mary's groceries on the porch to investigate.  Sure enough, it was as I suspected.  I crouched beside it, trying to get a closer look without actually getting closer.  A small crust of bread lay a mere bounce away from its beak, clearly a casualty of the harsh landing.  A few pavement ants were preparing to carry it off.

I turned my gaze upward, even though I knew there were no tree limbs above.  Shielding my eyes from the afternoon sun, I wondered out loud where that bird had fallen from.  Off to the side, just on the perimeter of the lawn, I found a small twig.  I picked it up and poked the bird gingerly, just in case a small jolt would cause it to flip over and fly off.

No such luck.

Remembering that I left the door open, I headed back up to the porch.

"Mary?" I called as I stepped inside.  The house was warm and the radio was blaring in the way that you only find in the home of an elderly person.

"Mary?  I have your groceries!"  I looked around and found Mary in her armchair knitting, as usual.

"Did you leave my door open and walk away?  There's a draft in here.  Did you get a nice cantaloupe? Last week the cantaloupe you brought me wasn't sweet.  I like them when they're sweet."

Mary, a widow whose children had passed tragically many years ago, had no one.  My visits with her weren't pleasant, but every now and again I'd show up with her weekly groceries and she'd have something nice to say.  The one week I was sick and sent my friend over, Mary complained that my friend did everything even more wrong than I did.  I think she secretly missed me.

"I think this cantaloupe should be better.  It looks nicer."

Mary nodded to acknowledge she heard me.

"There's a dead bird on your front walk.  I'm going to go clean it up," I explained, holding up a trash bag I found in the kitchen as proof of my task.

"Oh, the birds.  Yes.  I've been finding quite a few of those.  Thank you."

I went back out front and there were two more birds on the lawn, all on their backs, feet pointed towards the sky.  I put the bag over my hand and picked up each one, turning the birds down deep into the bottom of the plastic.  I spun and tied it as I walked around the house over to the garbage can, which I found surrounded by flies.  I lifted the lid to the most putrid smell I'd ever encountered.  Trying not to gag, I peeked inside.

The can was filled nearly to the brim with dead birds.  I slammed the lid on, dropping the bag beside it. I darted back to the front of the house.  I had to skip over two more birds that were not there but a minute earlier.  Taking the stairs two at a time, I bounded back onto the porch and nearly collided with Mary who had come to the doorway.

"Look," she directed, pointing outside.  The lawn was littered with dead birds, heads all pointed towards the house, feet all pointed towards the sky.

I gasped in horror.  Mary was calm.

Birds began falling from the sky, all in the same direction in a way that defied logic and physics.  Each gave a light bounce when it hit the ground but didn't move after impact.  I pushed Mary in as gently as I could given the urgency and slammed the door shut.

We stood mesmerized at the window until the storm passed.  By the time it was over, hundreds of birds covered Mary's property.

When I finally ventured out, pushing birds aside to clear a path, I noticed that only Mary's lawn was covered in birds.  I turned back to face the house.  Mary was still in the window.  I saw her shrug and turn away, headed back to her her armchair to knit, I presume.

I'm linking up with the Speakeasy again this week.  If you want to read more about Mary, you can you do so here.  If you want to read more wonderful works of fiction, click through to the Speakeasy.  And if you like voting for things, come back Thursday and vote for your favorites.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nothing Is Good Enough.

I had a whole post written in my head that I planned for Yeah Write this week.  It was positive.  No one died, no one was sad.  I think it showed some emotional growth on my part, if I do say so myself.

The trouble is, I can't write happy when I'm not.  When I'm cranky, or worse depressed, all that comes out is cranky and depressed.  I can't fake it.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and on the page and on the screen.  Believe me when I tell you that I find it as irritating as everyone around me does, and at times I have as much control over my mood as they do.

When I feel like this, somewhere in the middle of a ven diagram of furious, apathetic and despondent, I tend to listen to music that feeds these feelings.  I don't listen to upbeat songs in an effort to snap out of it.  Instead, I listen to music that pushes me further and further down until there is no place left to go but up.

The lyrics to Aimee Mann's "Nothing Is Good Enough" came to mind today at a point when I didn't know if I should cry, scream or run away.  I asked my coworker if she was familiar with song and she was not.  I pulled it up on my phone and played it for her.  It was all I could do to not bawling at my desk.  I should have known better than to play it when I couldn't sing unrestrained and let out the bottled up crud I call feelings.

I excused myself when it was over and headed to the ladies room to splash some water on my face and mentally smack some sense into myself.  One can't pick up in the middle of the day and leave the office.  One must get back to work and do what is necessary and expected.  A complete emotional breakdown had to wait.

By the time I got home today, I realized that the person that nothing is good enough for most of all is myself.  I can't expect to please others when I don't believe I'm anything more than an enormous letdown.  It's that whole you get the respect you command thing.

I'm pretty sure I didn't hit the bottom of this current downswing or not.  I don't know if I'm ready to champion my own success yet.  I might need to sit on this one for a little while longer.  I might need to listen to more Aimee Mann so I can get this one over with already.

When I get there though, back up where I want to be, I'll hurry up and write that post before it's too late.

I don't know what's up with the weird picture, but if you've never heard "Nothing Is Good Enough" by Aimee Mann from the Bachelor No. 2 album, give it a listen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

You Have Exactly.

"You have exactly one hour," Mother said as she walked back toward the living room.

"Oh, exactly?  Not 59 minutes?  Or 61?"

"Do you want me to smack you across the face?"  She never broke stride, even when she was threatening me.

I shuffled the music pages on top of the organ seeking out the piece I was to play this weekend.  I stared at it, each note blurring into the next.  I hate this piece.  Not because it's difficult, because it isn't.  I hate it because I've been playing it over and over for weeks.  First to learn it, then to perfect it, now to practice it endlessly for Sunday's service.

If my kids ever express an interest in music, I will never treat them like this. I don't care how good they are.

I remember the first time I played outside our home.  I was 3 years old and we were at our regular Sunday mass.  I snuck up to the organ when Mother and Father were talking to the organist.  I began to play the music that Miss Judy, the organist, had used earlier.  I had never played those songs before, and yet I hit every note just right.  Miss Judy came over to me and Mother followed, smiling her approval.

She should have been happy, she was the one who orchestrated the whole thing and told me to pretend it was my idea.

"Give her anything you want.  She can play it.  Right, Amelia?" Mother smiled at Miss Judy.

"Isn't that right, Amelia?" Mother turned her glare towards me.

"Yes, Mother."

Miss Judy handed me something else to play and I played that perfectly, too.

That was 10 years ago.  I haven't missed a single day of practice since.  Mother wouldn't stand for it.

"I don't hear you yet," Mother sang from behind me.  I could hear the ice clinking in her scotch.

I began to play.  Every note was spotless, my timing was impeccable, as always.  Mother only spoke to tell me to start again each time I played that last note.  I did as I was told.

When the timer buzzed that my hour was up, Mother released me.

"Go make yourself some dinner.  You have exactly 15 minutes.  You have much more work to do if you're to be ready to perform next week."
I'm submitting this work of fiction to the Yeah Write Speakeasy where we were given a first line and a photo prompt and sent on our way.  Please click through, read the other submissions and come back Thursday to vote for your favorites.