Thursday, July 26, 2012

musings on renovation

the dining room floor after we pulled up the fake wood vinyl

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack...
-- Talking Heads

I really want to write to my children. I want to write them letters and tell them how much they mean to me and who they were when they were tiny and who I was when they were tiny and who we grew into together.

When Isaac was a newborn I took a special little journal of handcrafted paper and carefully began an entry or two to this little being I barely knew.

Very quickly it became clear what was unclear – At what aged Isaac was I directing this writing? What kind of language made sense? Is he reading this as a 10-year-old? An adult? Other?

Then, very quickly after that it became clear that I could not keep up a journal to my newborn because I had a newborn.

When Obama was elected, I started another letter to Isaac. He was three then. I got farther with it, but it's still not finished.

I think it's a bit like our contractor who has never finished the renovation on his own house.

Yes, we have a contractor. We are moving ahead with putting a bathroom upstairs and creating a bedroom out of the store room. Why, Kitty, where will you store things? Meeee?? What on earth might I want to store? Everything is out in the open here, baby. Closets are for wusses; attics are for sissies; store rooms are for the weak and foolish!

The plumber is coming tomorrow. This may not sound like a threat to you, but when spoken to us by our contractor, it most certainly was. He was trying to get us to go choose the crap we want in the bathroom, and well, as you may have gathered from previous entries, we are stretched somewhat thin and this choosing activity has not been at the top of our to-do list.

And here is where we return to the idea of writing, sort of. Picking out fixtures is a bit like choosing a font – You can look at a whole alphabet/style line together and decide on the style that suits you – Serifs? Sans serifs? Square head faucets? Bold hardware? Italic? Condensed? Brushed nickel finish? You may like the main line, but then you see the F or the towel rack and you think, “No! No! No! That won't do! Why's that swirly thing swirling there?”

And while you are still caught in the showroom delirium wondering how and why anyone would bother to spend two hours doing this and screw it let's just go to a store and buy our own damn towel rack that's in stock and a helluva lot cheaper even if the contractor won't guarantee it for a year like he will if we spend 5x as much on it, and you suddenly have this revelation that will change your life forever: OMG. I now understand why Home Depot exists and maybe it's a good thing that it does. It was like when I learned that only the female mosquito bites, the males – wait for it – pollinate flowers.

The only person who was probably less excited than we were today about picking out shower valves and vent fans was our contractor who was calling messages in to the plumbing show room from his long weekend camping in the Berkshires. (Another path I wonder about – one minute you decide to go to school for architectural design because you like lines and you can visualize space well and the next you are talking to people about where the toilet paper holder should go...)

And you may find yourself using the word sconces more than you ever thought possible. Yet, it's a good word. A good word. Maybe even making my top 100 list. And here, again, is where we return to the idea of writing. Because, in fact, we always return to the idea of writing. What a relief.

dining room floor refinished

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

the height of summer

We read over and over again about the end of the dinosaurs. The theories, the facts, the animals that made it to the other side. My son's fascination with things prehistoric has not gone away as he has grown, but only deepened. Now besides the lists of meat-eaters and plant-eaters, we read about the famous paleontologists, all they can learn from delicate imprints of skin in ancient sea beds. Sometimes I confuse the names of the great beasts and he corrects me.

In this, this moment that won't last either, the trees are flat out green. Full of their own abundance, their proclivity for life, leaves that flourish, some – no kidding— since the Jurassic Period. The problem is I don't know their names.

My son runs in from summer play out of breath, face red from heat and exertion, ankles black with mud, in this, this moment that won't last either. Some days I do not know what to call him.

At night, we sit on our still-hot porch and listen to the moths ping against the glass. Sometimes they almost sound like rain. If I close my eyes, I can taste the water.

After this, this moment that won't last either, the rains will come back, the bark will turn dark, and life will continue (though I wonder if I should scan the sky for asteroids). Russet leaves I still won't know what to call will wave to me at my window as if I've lived here for ages.

In a flash they will drop all pretense, their fancy dresses – so familiar they act with me though they've never bothered to ask my story – and stand in only tall trunks, their stick arms lifted to the whitening sky, while I hunker below waiting for the snow to create of the world a new page.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

this moment

California poppy blooming in Massachusetts

I have never been this kind of tired -- too tired to think well enough to write. The worst kind of tired imaginable to me.

I watch the progression – my husband gets more and more exhausted as the week goes on and he continues to take on the brunt of the teething nights. At dinner, pasta with butter, (our farm box of vegetables rotting in the frig), he looks haggered, dark bags form under his eyes. Later, I retrieve him from our 7-year-old's room where he's fallen asleep doing bedtime and take his hand to lead him back downstairs where he squints in the harsh light.

For over a week now, the two of us whisper the same thing to each other before we go to bed, “White sand, turquoise water.” We've been trying to dream about a little cabana on the beach for just us. A hammock and a drink with an umbrella. Somewhere out on the horizon, the orange sail of a catamaran still visible in the setting sun. We just want to dream it, for godssake. So far, nothing. We are awake every two hours; we are rigid minds of havetos and can'ts; we are wasted.

Instead, last night just before dawn, I dreamed of Monterey. I had to say goodbye to everyone again. I kept going back and forth among my friends, unable to break away.

Mike is sprawled, eyes closed, on the couch now, and before him the detritus of the day maps our path: a plastic recycling truck, its back hanging open like a yellow wagging tongue; a teddy bear Isaac got as a gift when he was one leaning on its face in the corner; a remote control car that hasn't worked for at least a decade which my mother-in-law insisted we bring home with us from her basement; a container of blocks, mostly empty; a hundred wooden blocks strewn the length of the living room; a dozen board books, their spines gouged with teeth marks.

There is no clever ending to this story. There is no sharply creative metaphor. It is just the story of a family holding on, just holding on.

Friday, July 20, 2012

the New Englanders 4

This afternoon, heat notwithstanding, the New Englanders are mowing their grass. It is like summer's auditory balm. When the impossibility of disquiet arrives, the white noise soothes the soul back to even rows, up and down, like the breath. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

the New Englanders 3

Today the New Englanders are camping. With their pop-ups, their RVs, their tarped tents, with their American flags, their spinning frog lawn ornaments, their soda can airplane pinwheels for sale out front of their campers. Despite the signs warning of the practice's prohibition, they are riding their bikes down the campsite roads after sunset. Because it's summer time, time to let loose, go a little wild.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

the New Englanders 2

This morning the New Englanders are walking their dogs. Old dogs, small dogs, dogs panting from the already 80 degree air, dogs pulling wheelchairs, dogs chasing chipmunks, baby-kissing dogs, dogs sniffing gardens, dogs barking at other dogs. The dogs all need to walk. And the New Englanders obey.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the New Englanders 1

Today, the New Englanders are blurry through their screened-in porches. They are using power tools; they are sorting seeds; pixelized forms, bent, working. The New Englanders are always at work.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Isaac update

So, other than his guest post recently, I haven't said much about the kid that started all this blogging in the first place. That little cell cluster that showed up 8 years ago and made me violently ill, acutely terrified, exceptionally tired and joyously happy.

I haven't written about the kind of big brother he is. I take it for granted I guess you could say. While I was pregnant, everyone told him over and over how he'd be the best big brother ever. He would smile slyly at these words and stare at the floor. Finally, one day he looked up and said, “What if I'm NOT?” He is.

Just by virtue of being so big and so much in his life, Isaac is magical to Rhys. There is that. And then, there is all that is Isaac.

When Rhys was tiny and I dared put him down anywhere, his brother would find me, empty-armed and ask, “WHERE is Rhys?” “In there,” I might say, pointing to the bedroom, the blanket on the living room floor, as I attempted to make myself a sandwich or pour a glass of water. “ALL ALONE?!?” Isaac would accuse, dashing from the scene to be with the nonplussed infant.

He tolerates all the attention that is heaped on the baby with more maturity than I know I could have mustered at 7. I asked him once if it bothered him.“Not really. He's cute,” he shrugged sagely, as if the logic of it was enough for him to bear this not so small change in the focus of his world.

Isaac is attentive to a fault. We get things like this a lot: “Um, he's near the edge you know! Um, so, do you have him??? Mommy!”

The monitor often forgotten in the wrong room or turned off, Isaac is often the first one to scoop his baby brother from the crib at nap's end, his hearing attuned to the softest squeak.

Rhys has been greatly enjoying having Isaac around more with summer being summer and all. But today begins a period of camps. Isaac will be busy away from the house more for a few weeks. Doing big boy things.

We start with soccer. That's right, I'm afraid my boy has made of me an official soccer mom. Ugh. Okay, it's just a couple hours of skills in the morning at the field down the street. And maybe he'll hate it. (Was there a touch of hope in that last sentence?)

I'm skeptical. Of sports. And most specifically of coaches. There seems to be a “Type C” personality – Coach. This is the person who believes anyone can pull themselves up by their boot straps if they want to, and has been known to use that exact phrase ad nauseum. The person who believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything you need to know about life you can learn on the field/court/diamond. The person who is overly confident, who pushes, who shouts and uses whistles and regularly says shit like, “Let's go! Let's go! Let's see some hustle!”

When I left him this morning, Isaac was tapping a soccer ball lightly with his foot, barely moving it, in a sea of bigger kids, one of his new turquoise and neon orange cleats untied (“They had the normal kind too,” he'd told me of the purchase he'd made with his dad, waving his hand in a dismissive way). This was out of his comfort zone. Isaac did not learn to crawl one week, begin to stand the next, and go over and over again to the stairs, trying trying trying. That would be my second child.

Isaac has always been the one to hang back, ask me to come with him, watch and observe. As awesome a big brother as Isaac is to Rhys, the benefits go two ways. His baby brother will be good for him in ways he cannot yet imagine.

Over dinner, I asked Isaac what his favorite part of soccer was.

“Probably when I scored a goal,” he said.

“Oh!” I say trying not to sound too surprised. “Congratulations!”

“Yeah, I was going down the field and then another kid tried to get the ball away from me and I lost my balance and my foot knocked it into the net by accident.”

Rhys will be good for him because again tomorrow when Isaac leaves the field, hungry, hot and pushed to his limit, he will be there, squealing wildly, flailing his arms and leaning with all he's worth toward his favorite 7-year-old, like his big brother just intentionally wailed on that ball and sent it flying from mid-field into the center of the goal, winning the game in overtime.

(more pics to follow)

Monday, July 02, 2012

the beach


People that build their houses inland,
People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore --
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
Spanking the boats at the harbor's head,
What do they long for, as I long for, --
Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning --
One salt taste of the sea once more?

-- Edna St Vincent Millay

It had been over a year. I mean, honestly, how does my family expect me to function?? The beach. The coast. The sea. The water. Finally.

We headed out camping – in the van! First time riding in it not pregnant. No cat this time, but that baby guy came along. Seems we've reconfigured our family just a little since the last van adventures.
Rhys meets the pop-up

We went to Connecticut – Long Island Sound. Hammanesett State Beach to be exact. I did not bring my camera. It wasn't purposeful, just forgot. So, no scrolling shots of the boys frolicking in the waves. A few pictures from Mike's phone, though.

cool sky

phone case in flight

We were trying to pick a beach with decent camping options that wasn't too terribly far. This one was under 2 hours. Except that we left with an awake, crabby Rhys and it turned into a very noisy and stressful 2 ½.

I wasn't sure we were making it, in more ways than one. It was one of those times you are pretty sure the folks at Google Maps were just bored (No, no GPS) -- up this road, down this hill, turn, turn, do the hokey pokey. It did not feel like we were at all approaching the coast. Small streets of greenery and loads of low rock walls so quintessentially New England that at any moment I figured Robert Frost was going to jump the hell out of the woods and point down one fork of the road. “It'll make all the difference!” he'd call after our camper van, his hands cupped around his mouth to be heard over the roar of the VW engine before waving us adieu.

But then, finally, there it was. The end of land. I let out a little inadvertent gasp when I saw it. And, stumbling out of the van, pretty nearly broke down and wept at the smell of the salt air.

These are not west coast beaches, of course. But they are beaches and the beaches of my youth – the ones with miles of sand to walk, warmish water, oyster and welch shells deposited in long lines. It was familiar for sure.

I kept driving past the spot for our campsite confused – according to the map it should be there, but no parking spot, no firepit, nothing there. Then I found out you rent the firepit (lame) and you just park on the grass wherever the hell you feel like it. In California, this would never fly. Complete anathema. First of all, there would never be so much freaking grass, and if there were grass, you sure as hell wouldn't drive all over it. The presence of grass would mean someone worked really, really hard to make it green and since there is actually no water to maintain it, you have to respect that it's there at all. Here, of course, the flipping state song of Massachusetts is the lawn mower.

There is an odd conundrum about space and the coasts. In CA, there is so much land, but everyone is shoved into tiny, expensive premium spots that they fence off. In the northeast, there are tons more people and less land, but everyone has huge yards, separated by maybe a line of bushes if anything. (This set up could partially explain why people felt the need to constantly walk right through the middle of our site while we were there, while the baby was trying to nap etc. It didn't sit well.)

Like everything done with kids as opposed to what we'd do “back in the day,” the beach was different. I went later than I wanted to, left earlier. Isaac would have eaten sand and slept in the beach roses of course, but his brother was another story.

On our 10-minute trek to the beach multiple times a day, we'd pass the closest campsite to the water (our own spot carefully chosen for the shade), which besides being steps from the sand, had no shade, no character, and suffered the constant stream of people walking and biking past their tents which they'd pitched inches from the road. Why would they put them there? I wondered.

“Eh, they are probably a couple of 20-somethings and just hungover anyway,” Mike comments.

I look around at the general demographic of that section of the campsite – its RVs with satellite dishes, its occupants' grey hair blowing in the breeze over their lounge chairs – and am dubious. However, on our return, another nap on the horizon for Mr Rhys, we see two guys roughly 25 years old shuffling around a fire in plaid pajama bottoms. One of them is smelling something he's about to eat, the other is shooting Nerf arrows from a kid-sized plastic bow. Bingo. Husband-guy nailed this one.

“Those guys are awesome,” Mike says, perhaps a touch wistfully, as our family crew saunters past.

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