Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the ethics of secondhand

You've seen them. If you spend any time at all in antique stores or thrift shops, you've seen them. Other people's old family pictures. Some with frames interesting enough to warrant a second look. And you feel sorry for those people. All done up in buttons and corsets, or newer faces smiling unwittingly while their loved ones haven't even had the decency to remove them before chucking the frame they're in into the trash bag of other junk -- candle holders still clinging to their drippy stubs, jeans that never really fit them in the first place, a decorative plate stamped with the name of some foreign city they've never been to personally, that someone (who??) will buy for 50 cents, though they too have failed to stroll the streets of the named city.

Those discarded family members are proof of perhaps the most blatant of evils committed in the name of spring cleaning, but there are others – subtler to be sure, but still reeking of severed ties and desecrated memories.

And that's where my husband comes in.

He runs. Jogs. Whatever you call that odd pastime where you become sweaty for no good reason apparent to me. As part of this activity, he likes to have brightly-colored teeshirts. I suppose it's a good idea for the Hummers and Expeditions to have their attention called to something human as they drive by him hoofing it on the side of the road. Or, should his broken body have to be recovered from a trail somewhere, the Coast Guard helicopters would hopefully see a smudge of orange in the brush before it cost them too much money.

Every once in a while Mike goes searching for new shirts.

Plain, solid-colored teeshirts are few and far between, and he's come home with some interesting ones. Like the green one printed for the Bautista family reunion. A yellow tree snaking up it, its branches are labeled with related surnames, its roots hailing the patriarchs and matriarchs of a proud line. This is almost as bad as the pictures in the frames. Some Bautista, embittered, perhaps, indifferent, maybe, has dumped off this tangible piece of a celebration of his ancestry. And Mike is willing to parade around in it, in essence, wearing a lie.

Additionally, if you peeked in my husband's dresser, you might think him one of the most charitable and social men around. He apparently volunteers for fundraisers involving research on any number of diseases. And while Isaac and I weren't looking, he's attended numerous festivities culminating in a souvenir shirt – clearly, hard won, of course.

“I like to live vicariously through my clothes,” he tells me when I question the ethics of his wardrobe.

“The irony of the name 'Goodwill' is not lost on me, either, honey. – You, my friend, are no ambassador. Oh no.”

Recently, he was lamenting having to give away his family reunion shirt, his shoulders, he decided, a bit broader than most of his kinsmen, it seems. Once again, I confronted him. “May I just remind you, you are NOT part of the Bautista family, dude! Nor were you on 'STAFF' at the Juvenile Diabetes Walk for the Cure!”

“Maybe not,” he shrugs smugly. “But I sure did have a great time volunteering at that beach festival in Santa Cruz!”


Monday, August 10, 2009

whatever it takes

I had searched and searched, straightening the house as I went. Pretty much nothing short of a visit from the in-laws could have gotten me to clean the place these days. That, and the tearful pleading of my son.

Hannah had not been seen for days, and although Banyan Bunny was much loved, I was getting the feeling that her substitution days were coming to a close. I'd position the 3-inch blue stuffed rabbit on Isaac's pillow at night and watch him pause, just for a second, before lifting her to his face and proclaiming his love for her. Last night, the pause lengthened until it was replaced with a long, low wail.

“Where's Hannahhhhhhh?”

The truth, something that involves much tact and trouble on average anyway, becomes a virtual land mine while parenting a young child. What is God? Why do people throw trash on the ground? What are you eating, Mama? Where do babies come from? Why do people die? Is there really a Santa Claus?

Recently, a friend was admiring one of Isaac's small wooden cars that run on his wooden car track. “Did someone you know make this?” she asked. Before I could answer, Isaac chimed in with “The elves made it, Silly!” It was charming and sweet and I loved him for saying it. I also walked away with the tiniest of lumps knotted in my stomach. Maybe it's my memory of an assignment I once gave my college freshmen – to write about a family myth, or something to that effect. One particularly apathetic boy who most classes enjoyed spending discussion time showing off his new piercings wrote a passionate piece on how angry he still was that his parents told him when he was 7 that his dead dog “went to live with another family.” It was the best thing he wrote all year. I had a mentor once who claimed that all writing was persuasive writing...

The truth was I had no clue where Hannah, Isaac's prized baby doll, had gotten to. Like the rest of the household, I was beginning to think she was quite lost. Slightly bigger than your outstretched hand, Hannah, whose name until recently when Isaac took seriously to naming things, was “Baby” and for one brief inexplicable period “Nacho,” was a $4.99 job from Target. Only the best for my kid. On the day we brought her home and for months afterwards, Isaac had ignored her heartily in favor of any truck with a scoop, but lately she'd become irreplaceable for bedtime and would often join us at the table for meals.

“I think she's missingggg!” Isaac says the tears streaming in fast little rivulets down his cheeks. “Where is sheeee?” I talk him down with much time and effort, reminding him that we don't know for sure if Hannah is actually lost and promising to scour the house for her in the morning.

“If we can't find her, wi-wi-wi-will you buy my another baby doll? Ju-ju-just like her? Little, s-s-s-so her clothes fit?”

“Of course,” I soothe. “Of course, I will.”

And then the WCS – Worst Case Scenario, proving once again that he is truly my son his brain spins out the ultimate in sorrowful outcomes: “Wha-what if...What if.. we took her somewhere and w-w-we dropped her on the streeeeeeettttt?” While you and I can think of all the terrible things that might befall a young doll on the street, for Isaac, I'm pretty certain the terror in his eyes had everything to do with the possibility of Hannah being raised by ANOTHER CHILD. The cooing and calming have to start anew.

I left Isaac's room well after 10, when he had finally fallen asleep and wrote “Hannah” at the top of my to do list for the morning.

And so, there I was cleaning my house in the hopes of locating Hannah. I had pretty much given up when my eyes landed on the radio flyer rocket ship my niece had bought Isaac the Christmas he turned one. Suddenly, I was moved to flip up the seat – and there she was, naked but for a Bandaid covering her left arm – Baby “Nacho” Hannah. With my clothes hung up, my rug vacuumed, the puzzles in the puzzle drawer, and just the two of us face to face, all I could think to say to her was, “Thanks.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

the boy believes in second chances

"Can you skip like THIS?"

"Like THIS?"

"No, that's not it, Mama. Like THIS!"

"How's this?"



"Anyway, I've been practicing my skip since I was one. Maybe when you're all done and you start again, you can start trying it when you are one and then you'll get it."

"Are you saying that maybe I'll learn to skip like you in my next life?"

"Uh-huh." (Skipping away across the park.)

"Gee thanks, Iz."

a little music if you would, maestro

"Hot Cross Sponge, Hot Cross Sponge, One-a-Penny, Two-a-Penny, Hot Cross Sponge."

Monday, August 03, 2009

the biggest challenge to this union puts in another two cents

Me: "Isaac! Tomorrow is the day 8 years ago that Daddy and Mama got married and decided to be together forever!"

The Kid: "And it's dinosaur week at school!!!"


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