Sunday, September 02, 2012

you are what you eat with

The day started out as usual, the baby calling to me from his crib, swaying and babbling like a drunkard, falling over and then climbing up again with a smile and a wave. There was the relay of the cereal boxes to the table and the discovery of the dead mouse in the dining room, though Emily, having vanished under the bed for the morning was not willing to take credit.

But on this day, all this normalcy couldn't stave off the weight of knowing: we'd be going to the dentist. Isaac had a check up and cleaning scheduled and like all our other appointments – eye exams, physicals for school – we were trying to get them all up-to-date before the end of the year when Mike's job and, thus, our insurance coverage runs out.

I didn't have any particular reason to dread the dentist really, on my behalf or Isaac's, except for the fact that like with most any visit to a western “specialist,” we'd be temporarily sucked into their world where, overwrought with everything dental, we'd thrash and spin until they released us again to the larger world unscathed to the naked eye.

I miss our pediatric dentist in Monterey. He had a son Isaac's age. He spoke quietly and often said things I almost agreed with.

On this day, that started out so typically, we find ourselves at a place where the staff speaks in the forced and predictable cadence of people who are trying to sound kid-friendly, but really have no interest in anyone shorter than their shoulder. Everything that is said to Isaac, naturally, is actually for my benefit and comes out in patronizing tones that imply we have not done everything humanly possibly to optimize our son's oral health and by extension that we are horrid, horrid people and even worse parents.

The hygenist continues to interrupt me while I try to read the annual issue on whether MFA programs are affective in the writer's magazine that gets all its advertising money from MFA programs, to show me a tiny dark spot on my son's molar. “That's a tooth to watch!” she says more than once. And, after I try again to return to my magazine (Can writing be taught??), “I'm just going to show mom one more thing on this side.” It's my cue to get the hell up and look – look at what I've let happen!

“Mmm-hmm,” I try as a show of concern. And Isaac with his perfect public demeanor, says nothing, just opens and closes obediently.

If it is under these conditions that I must write, then so be it. And so, I am drafting this essay real time as the passive-agressive hygenist berates me with her sighs and hums.

Chipper, faux kid-friendly hygenists' names are required to be things like Maricella, Kayla, and Leanna. The final “a” is important. Like the upturn in a smile, the circles over the I's when you are writing your name and the last name of the boy you have a crush on over and over again on your folder in high school chemistry class.

Isaac lost the two teeth that flank his upper front teeth ages ago and the replacements have not yet seen fit to grow in. This situation, as you might imagine, is impossible to bear – if you are Maricella or Kayla or Sienna or Vivianna. I might find it impossible to bear wearing scrubs with Tweety Bird on them, but there you have it.

She convinces me to do x-rays (that damn finite stretch of insurance) to see what's going on up in the gum line. Before she goes to take them though, she spells out all the tragic ways in which my son's teeth will ruin his mouth and his life. She recommends (strongly) what I've come to think of as preemptive braces to “help the teeth come down.” If, in fact, they are even there (gasp). When I ask for more information on the real implications of such a situation and the option of waiting as opposed to vomiting big bucks to spell out to my seven-year-old in orthodontia just how unacceptable and imperfect he is, she offers “He's going to look like he's missing two teeth.” To which I reply, very slowly, “That's because. He's. Missing. Two teeth.”

“I have a referral right here for you. We'll email over the digital x-ray today,” she says by way of response.

Release me, oh great goddess of orthodontia (who is married, by pure coincidence, of course, to our dental deity), out into my sordid world of dead mice and cereal. I have nothing for your altar.

Friday, August 31, 2012

sit up straight and look like a poet

I'm sure it's just jealousy. Most things are.

I've come to resent the book cover photos of the poet that looks out at you, his expression appearing as though he is startled to have found himself there, his most intimate thoughts published for all the world to see, by BOA Editions or Coffee House Press, by Michigan, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Georgia. And I have nothing to offer him in return but my undying devotion – after all, I am one of the few, the small pod of humans that buys poetry books, albeit second-hand.

And what has he got to look alarmed about? I mean, really. He must have known this was coming – writing in some disciplined way every day that he will ultimately reveal in a Poets & Writers interview from his light-filled house, churning out poems, essays, revisions, hob-nobbing electronically with his old MFA pals, submitting with some regularity to prestigious journals and being accepted half of the time. It's not as if he spends his days crawling under furniture, picking up gooey Cheerios, fleeing the house every couple days, or weeks, the baby wailing at him, stretching out his little arms for him like a drowning man going down for the last time, then having to avoid the questions from the older kids in the driveway: “Where are you going?”

“To write,” he'd have to tell them, as if none of this affected him and then get in the car, sweating.

At the cafe, the super-ordinary adultness and freedom of saucers clicking would make him want to close his journal into which he had managed in the course of 15 minutes to write the date, lower his head into his hands and weep.

No, it's not like that at all.

And it makes one think that every one of these author photos should be set up like an 80's Glamor Shot or posed on the top of a mountain – arms raised in triumph over their literary heads and silhouetted against a pink and orange sunset.

What is it with these photos anyway? Sly looks. Shy profiles. Pensive, pondering Bodhi tree expressions. Aren't poets meant to be the heralders of truth? The carriers of clarity? Open your eyes, man, and look at the camera! Isn't that what your mother, who probably spent her days crawling under furniture, picking up your gooey Cheerios so you could go off and become a freaking poet would want? And another thing on her behalf – pick up your damn feet when you walk!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

the New Englanders 13

Today the New Englanders are reading. They could never get through all the books on their list! They keep lists, they are afraid, long and unmanageable on slips of paper meant for groceries. There is no more room on their shelves for books, and they think often enough about getting a Kindle. Sooner or later, right? And as for the lists, they are shut away in the left compartment of the drawer organizer. Besides, they already have them memorized.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

the New Englanders 12

Today the New Englanders are making art. Pottery in glazes the colors of sunsets, iron work in such detail it puts snowflakes to shame, the kind of art that covers over life with something beautiful. Other New Englanders buy the pieces and put them in bay windows, hang them in the guest room. Every Saturday they dust them, admire the technique, each brush stroke nearly invisible.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The New Englanders 11

Today the New Englanders are drinking coffee. Medium roast. It should be roasted locally even if it originally comes from far away – exotic places where the trees give beans instead of sweet sap. Maybe if those beans ended up in lemonade, salad dressing, on pancakes, well, then they'd be useful, then, perhaps, the New Englanders might live in those other places. But of course that's just silly to think about, a hypothetical game, laughable, really. Those other places could never, never be New England.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

birthday getaways

When we lived in Monterey, it was hard to find places to go on vacation. Let's face it. The Peninsula and the Big Sur coast are some of the most beautiful places I can think of.

When we were planning our honeymoon, the weather was also a consideration. It would be August and so thoughts of hot and sticky also limited our choices. We ended up in Ecuador – you know, equatorial and all pretty much solving our worry over weather extremes. And while Monterey lacks the Amazon rainforest, it has many other flora and fauna in common with Ecuador.

We were there over my birthday during which we stayed at an old hacienda that had a lot of llamas, as I recall. Or maybe they were alpacas. Frogs and toads. Bees and wasps. Porcupines and hedgehogs. I'm not that good at the world's oft-confused animal pairs.

It's the kind of birthday that sounds interesting enough to write about, but in reality, it was somewhat drafty and kind of lonely, like we had booked one of the California missions for ourselves. They also insisted on making us an “American breakfast” which involved many, many eggs.

The countryside was pretty, but familiar. There were ferocious aloe bushes (that's not a poetic descriptor, that's the name of the plant), callas and crocosmia flowers, just like the ones I'd left rotting at home in the form of my wedding bouquet.

This past weekend I was chasing yet another birthday celebration. It's worse than New Year's Eve for me – always trying for the ideal fun time. I just wanted to go away overnight somewhere close. I tried to think hard about what could work with the kids and still be fun for us. A simple, pastoral Bed and Breakfast, I thought, that took kids. A pretty place with a chair and a book.

There are in fact many, many New England B and Bs that claim farm and family fun. They mostly have 2 or 3 or possibly 4 rooms and exist at various stages of wonk. Two-hundred years old, 300 years old...they compete for status. We found one about an hour away with a lake.

Like our last family vacation (the June camping trip), it poured rain. Poured. Did I say “poured?” Because I meant POURED. All day. All night. At first it was charming, but the bottom line was no lake, no trails, just us stuck in the house.

Around the time I was observing Isaac enjoying the collection of Happy Meal toys proudly displayed in the sitting room, I realized that when you live in a wonky, old house in rural New England, you don't need to go on vacation to a wonky, old house in rural New England. What they have, I have, minus the Happy Meal toys. The ability to crack my head on the upstairs slanted ceiling – check. Creaky floor boards that threaten to wake the baby – check. Clawfoot tub – check. Lightswitches that never turn on the closest, most obvious light – check. Children running down the hallway screaming, dressers that need refinishing, screens that let in bugs - check, check, check.

The harder I try to escape my life, the more I seem to run smack into it, THIS is why I watch reality TV. You'd think I'd have been forewarned when the places we looked at suggested things in our town among the list of “what to do during your stay.” Sometimes, people, you have to throw large heavy objects at me before I get the picture. Bricks, maybe, but that's for another entry on renovation.

Monday, August 13, 2012

bathroom renovations – the love story

“So in terms of toilets,” my husband says to me after I descend the stairs having just tucked Isaac in and finished off Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Until that moment, the moment when the mention of toilets wiped all else from my mind, I had had in my fragile head some morsel of writing I dared believe I might get onto paper and a list or two I'd planned to scribble onto the unopened insurance envelopes pooling on the dining room table, but now all that riff-raff was gone in favor of other considerations.

Days after our 11th wedding anniversary, one day after the anniversary of when we met 15 years ago, the love of my life has as the primary subject on his mind – toilets.

All these years together and never once before the start of this home improvement project did I have any idea of his love of skirted toilets with round seats. He was so immediate and self-assured when he spoke up in the plumbing show room that day, and I'd turned to him to see him as if for the first time. “Round seat. Definitely round,” he'd said. Most women would agree, that kind of confidence is downright sexy.

If the renovation workers are trying to reinforce our decision to install a second bathroom, one that is not miniscule and a direct extension of the kitchen counter, then they're doing a great job.After two and a half weeks of men in boots tromping in and out of my house between 8 and 5 – the carpenters, the architects, the drywaller, the electricians, and, of course, the plumbers, most of them at some point visiting my one existing bathroom, I learned to appreciate my three-sister-having, always-seat-putting-down husband anew. Being paid 50 bucks an hour, being essentially a guest in someone else's home, does not preclude, it would seem, leaving the toilet seat up.

Let me just send a shout out to my charming husband, who 'in terms of toilets' has won my heart in more ways than one. Honey, I love you, happy anniversary.

Friday, August 10, 2012

evolution's a bitch

The final triop is dead. We starved it, I think. Unintentionally, of course.

Isaac's cousin gave him one of the Smithsonian science kits for Christmas. We needed to wait for warmer weather to break it out, and this summer, break it out we did.

This particular one is labeled “Prehistoric Sea Monsters” to make it irresistible to any 7-year-old. “A world of adventure, discovery and wonder,” the box says. “Hatch and grow your own prehistoric pets!” it promises. “Witness a 220 million-year-old species come to life!”

Besides the triop eggs and food naturally, there is also the all-important “poster” of the snarling T-Rex wading into the water that you are meant place on the back of the plastic aquarium facing its sea creature contemporaries.

Apparently it was not enough to be in the middle of year one with an infant, a house renovation, a house sitting gig, a job search, and a few million (220 million?) other things, I also needed to add to my list of responsibilities a tank of prehistoric sea animals. So, we couldn't find the food pellets for a few days. They were there all along, eventually unearthed from under a pile of potholders and expired coupons, but by then it was too late.

Oh, I crumbled it into the tank like the directions said, but little Tri-Tri didn't budge off the bottom. “He does that a lot,” Isaac said, unconcerned, as he ran for his Legos. “He's probably just trying to sleep,” Mike said, projecting. But I knew. And as the day progressed, I was sadly proven right. Let that be a lesson to any life forms from any era that might come around in a box: The asteroid, no problem. My pantry, sure death.

I shudder to think what might have happened if we'd caved and gotten the bunny.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The New Englanders 10

In some places it's said you ask for so much as directions you're likely to get an earful – stories about what used to be on the corner, who's cousin left town before the War, the plight of farming. The New Englanders believe in the art of summation. If it's directions you want, you'll get them and Good Day. This kind of talent for efficiency could only be God-given. Brevity and directness are rewarded. The world has many gods. The New Englanders are not forsaken.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

the New Englanders 9

Today, the New Englanders are gardening. Look at those tomatoes! What a cucumber harvest! The bounty is almost embarrassing. Thank goodness there are the weeds to temper the good fortune that flows like springs from the mountains of New England.

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