Sunday, January 28, 2007

the blessings of renting (or, another house about to be sold out from under us)

I am writing this from where I'm holed up inside Isaac's bedroom waiting for the people who've come to look at the house to go away. Isaac is asleep. Has been for an hour. I told the landlady he would be and if they wanted to see the whole place and not tiptoe around, she should change the time. She didn't. It's her house, we just made a life here.

I am sitting on the floor with my back barring the door and feeling more than a little like a protective mother bear. I didn't want Isaac to wake up and find strangers wandering around his house, and, frankly, I didn't want to have to deal with them myself – didn't want to worry about how much to smile or smirk, or where to be while they peered into our closets and sniffed around our salad spinner. Okay, I'm lying – we don't have a salad spinner, but you get the idea. Mike's out there; and I'm in here.

Isaac hasn't moved from the position I put him down in. He's tired. Been out with his dad playing in the dirt all morning. But all these new energies in the house must be reaching him, at least you'd think. Aha, he's starting to stir. I just want him to hold on until all this is over.

It must be a blessing. This shuffling, this moving against our will. Four rented houses in three years' time. How grateful I am as a writer to be given this opportunity over and over again to reinvent, live in turmoil, flare with anger at realtors and property managers, the former arriving in canary yellow Porsches and standing in the driveway discussing my family's fate with the landlady. Thank goodness I am forced to review my years one by one, or by season, (“Hmm, that was spring, we must have been living on 10th Street.”), forced to look hard around me at what would soon be taken away.

Why just the other morning I swelled with joy and nostalgia on seeing that man in the black knit cap walk past the white for sale sign in the front yard. He walks past every day. Every single day, talking to himself. I sometimes hear him shouting at invisible people as he approaches from farther up the hill. Whenever I back the car out, I look for him first. You never know when he'll just appear, one shoulder sagging, always dressed too warmly for the weather, muttering crossly and staring at the ground. He waved at me once. In a couple months, I'll never see him again.

He'll be banished into history like the man who used to wander around the Forest Avenue apartment – that was four moves ago already – his big belly never quite willing to remain under his striped teeshirt, his beard wild. He came to our garage sale, bought my Matisse prints for 50 cents each.

What would I rail against? What would I worry about? If landlords kept promises and leases were more than leashes? How would I be able to write so carefully and with quite as much ardor about the sunflowers in the small square of dirt the gophers tilled for me, their rust and gold plumage blooming nearly to the size of hubcaps a foot from the ground, and when they're through, bowing their starry heads.

the essential nature of context

Isaac: “Dai?”

Me: “We can't go outside until you put on clothes, Isaac.”

Isaac: “Dai?”

Me: “Okay, you're ready to go inside?”

Isaac: “Dai?”

Me: “Yeah, if you hang it there, it'll dry.”

Isaac: “Dai?”

Me: “Well, penguins don't really fly, Iz; they like to swim.”

Thursday, January 25, 2007

the color of justice

It was Mike's idea to go fancy.

I was in Goodwill looking for an old, ornate frame for one of Isaac's paintings. He's an interesting toddler artist, my guy. Gets in close with his markers, concentrating on the lines he's about to make. Chooses each new color with fanfare. His favorite new sign, by the way is 'rainbow.'

With a paintbrush the other day, he watched the thick strokes carefully. One pass with red. A second pass. Orange next, coming in curving complements. As if he were raised crawling around studios and galleries, he steps back, stares at his work, tilts his head, replaces the brush, pronounces it done, and walks away.

My friend, whose son is busy slathering layer number six of red on red, his canvas a solid block of goo, looks over at us, stunned. “That's a framer!” she comments.

It was a Saturday, and Goodwill was busy. Everything with a black tag was half price. The wide gold frame had potential but wasn't quite right. And the popularity of metal, mauve numbers was simply not acceptable. I had already determined this lack of cool, old frames in the right size, but lingered, checking out the burnt orange sectionals and rows of identical flower vases. There were two boys playing nearby in the toy section. Well, really only one was playing – he looked about nine, his brother was about two, not much bigger than Isaac.

The two-year-old was trying to play, but his older brother kept thrusting a giant stuffed green snake in his face, pushing him over with it, half frightening, half annoying the tyke. Again and again it happened, until the snake was abandoned for a yellow truck and then a large white bear – the little one squealing in protest, moving away, begin pursued, crying, the cycle repeating itself.

Their mother appeared not to be fully tuned in to the scene, busily choosing among sleeveless turtlenecks in shades of blue and grey from a rack of knit tops.

It bothered me more than I would've imagined, this teasing, this sibling rough housing, maybe because only one side was being rough, or even had the ability to be. This was a classic case, and I routed for the underdog with more emotion than I had at any other time I could remember. I was incensed, but seemingly helpless.

We drifted apart, me and the victim/victimizer. Then, just as I decided I was done and began a brisk stride for the door from the back of the store, I saw him again – the nine-year-old. He was walking in my direction holding the snake, looking a confident master of his world.

Damn me if you must. Put me down as perpetuating the violence. I am guilty of a lack of compassion for the aggressor. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.

Ever so subtly, I edged over as we passed each other, crowding the boy in next to a rack of pink and purple plus-sized women's blazers. Just a toe, only that, turned out just enough.

I kept my eyes focused ahead of me, but I felt the bump of his sneaker hitting into mine, heard the muffled thud of a small frame meeting thin, brown, industrial carpet.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

the truth about trucks

Once we made it to the board book section of the bookstore, all hell broke loose.

Apparently, Isaac's truck obsession is shared by one or two other little kids, since on the shelf were parked about two dozen books on various trucks, these books taking the shape of the truck they starred, wheels afixed to the bottom.

Isaac arranged all 24 on the floor like some emergency scene/late night truck stop, while I perused the other books, humble though they were without the benefit of parts to make them ambulatory.

“There are trucks for all kinds of jobs,” I read aloud while Isaac crashed a cherry picker into a gift collection of Harry Potters in Spanish. “This dump truck is hauling coal from a mine.”

“Oh,” I continued, still speaking aloud, “I wonder what kind of health insurance the miners have, Isaac. Mmmm, yummy. Burning coal,” I added sniffing the air. My son ignored me, a tractor book in one hand, fire engine in the other.

Isaac's fascination with trucks knows no bounds. It is his sole purpose for getting in the car – to look for big trucks (“dig ducks”). He has had a personal relationship with the garbage man since he was 16 months old. Construction sites send him into peals of joyous laughter. He can hear a truck that's thinking about turning up our street from blocks away. “Vrrrrrooooom!” he narrates gleefully and races to the window. His little feet stomp and dance when he catches sight of the phone book in anticipation of the towing section. But both of us tired of the same old flatbeds in the yellow pages, we had headed to the bookstore.

In the middle of the store, before we had journeyed as far as the children's section with its fleet of mobile literature, Isaac suddenly and uncharacteristically broke free of my hand and ran pell nell toward a display just ahead. “Dig duck! Dig duck!” he squealed, clutching a jigsaw puzzle box to his chest. When I could finally pry it from his arms, I discovered the picture on the box showed dump trucks and backhoes positioned about in some sort of quarry setting – clearly a fantasy destination for my boy.

My mind is far, so far from what you could ID as simple or innocent, far from this pureness of fascination. Sometimes I worry that I am the wolf put in charge of the sheep, raising this child. Whose version of the world will win out? Will his, in its enthusiasm, lurch forward ahead of mine, its darker sister? Will it have to be me who tells him, “Isaac, those trucks bulldoze the trees you love, and those over there pollute the air so that we sometimes get sick.” Or will he pull me over to his side in one clean burst of ferocious, simple love?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

two kinds

There are people, like us, who arrive at the playground early and wipe the bird shit off the slides. And then, there are the other people who get there later - after someone else has already done the dirty work.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

the phone: an evolution

A baby is born. You call everyone you know to tell them.

The first week goes by. Everyone you know calls you to congratulate you.

The first months go by. Your baby reaches curiously for the phone when you are talking on it; you are easily able to distract him.

A few more months. Your baby figures out what you never could - how to change the ringer on the phone. It is now a high pitched ding-a-ling piercing through the scene of your every day.

You survive the first year. Your baby becomes wildly jealous of the phone, howling like an abandoned pup whenever you touch the receiver.

Toddlerhood full-blown. Bedtime routines are revamped and fortified. You turn off the ringer so the phone doesn't wake up the baby while you're putting him down. You often forget to turn it back on.

More time passes. More friends recede from you. You no longer have to turn the ringer off; no one calls anymore.

Monday, January 08, 2007

fantasy future

Sometimes I think about all the trials Isaac could be subjected to growing up– the stupid pranks, the name-calling, the peer pressure to do any number of things, the just-plain cruelty that kids can dish out onto one another, that leave us doubting ourselves, or doing things we don’t want to, or believing that someone else knows more about us than we do, that, in turn, leave us wounded, even as adults, of course as adults, that make us questioning, and vulnerable, and writers.

I can’t bear to think of Isaac going through these things, and I told Mike recently that I often catch myself imagining just the right thing to say, the right way to go about it, so that Isaac won’t have to suffer the indignities of childhood. I told him, laughing at myself, that I just need to believe for a while longer I have the power to protect him. I told him, I am just not ready to accept that he will have to go through some form of nonsense no matter what, or that (god forbid) he may not listen to his mother and therefore find himself trying to juggle his doubts in the aftermath of some less than positive incident. I have decided to hold onto the notion, for now, that I will find a loophole through which I will pull my son to safety.

To my surprise and relief, my husband shares my fantasy.

“But what if we can?” he said.

And that was all it took. I was right back up on the rocks with him, standing, waiting to swing out over the creek at a moment’s notice, the rope secured to the tallest tree, one foot coiled around it and resting on the knot at the bottom. Parents at the ready, and all possibilities open, as we gaze out ahead of us at the smooth, calm waters of our boy’s future.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

signs of the times

Today was exciting. I received two DVDs in the mail that I'd ordered on sign language for babies/kids thanks to a friend's recommendation.

We've watched one and a half so far, which is amazing considering Isaac wanted me to replay the section on "train" 150 million times (approximately). They didn't teach "truck," so I guess it was the next best thing. Having the train sign will be good, since he's had the misfortune of acquiring the word "choo-choo" for train and in most words Isaac says he tends to replace the first consonant sound with a "d."

Whenever I tell people that I'm teaching my son sign, they say things like "Oh! Great! ...(extended pause)... Is he...?" "No, he hears perfectly well," I manage.

I know I should be educating, telling them about the advantages both socially and intellectually for the child who learns to communicate with his or her hands, regardless of hearing ability, and I do, usually, though it's rare they are truly interested. What I really want to do when faced with these people is hang myself boneless across an armchair like my friend's 10-year-old at Christmas brunch, look up at them with a mix of disbelief and disdain and then say things like "Can we go ice skating? SOMETHING? Anything is better than THIS! I'm so BORED!" Because really, that's how they make me feel. Bored with their tiny little narrow vision of the world.

I'm left with a question: With a fondness for such small boxes to stuff all they know in, why do they need such big SUVs and McMansions?

PS - there is a great online dictionary of American Sign Language with video demos.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

the wisdom of youth

I remember how excited I was when Isaac learned to shake his head “no” and nod “yes.” What a world of difference it made in our communication possibilities. He has a new, similar tool at this stage of the game – his own version of “little” and “big.”

To say “little,” once must hold one’s thumb and pointer finger as close together as possible; also, squinting one’s eyes closed while doing so adds emphasis. To say “big,” one raises a slightly cupped palm over one’s head – such that it resembles someone about to attack someone else, and utter the word “Bo” (pronounced something like the beginning of the word “ball”).

With little and big, Isaac describes just about his entire world. I know which truck he’s looking for, I know his perception of the dog we just passed. He knows which pot to hand his dad to make the oatmeal, and how to tell us how much oatmeal he’ll be eating.

Today, while cutting open (at Isaac’s request) one of the three pomegranates left in our kitchen from the by-now defunct season, and already covered in bloody juice, my knife slipped. Normally, this would call for much shaking and sucking of the effected area of the hand, cursing, pronouncing my impending death, and repeatedly whining about my discomfort. Since becoming the parent of a sensitive toddler, however, my days of melodrama are over. Any cry of pain from Mama is very distressing to my boy. (This is the same child who sobbed uncontrollably when the floating Christmas candles singed a leaf on the plant next to them.)

Naturally, upon the knife making contact with my left ring finger, I did make one of those sounds, the kind that mean “Ouch.” plus a touch of “How stupid could I have been?!”

Isaac grows solemn. Then, frowning, pronounces “Mama,” accompanied by the sign for “pain.”

“Yes, Mama has a boo boo. Let’s just go take of care it,” I tell him, all the while aching to throw my maimed body on the couch and wail.

I get out the box of bandaids, my babe watching me closely. The first one I pull out seems good enough. It’s one of those H shaped things that I think are for fingers but I’ve honestly never been able to use. I quickly decide this would be the day to start taking advantage of first aid engineering.

“This one’ll work,” I tell Isaac.

“No,” he says seriously. “Nooooo, Mama. Bo!” he explains, his attack hand in the air.

“Yeah, this one,” I tell him. “It’s not too big; look.”

At first, application goes well, but the upper half of the H won’t cooperate. The cut is too far up on my finger.

“Bo, Mama” Isaac keeps repeating. “Bo.”

“We’ll just wrap this part around…”


“See? It’s perfect.”

“No. Bo, Mama.”

For the next hour, any time Iz catches sight of my wrapped finger, he shakes his head. “No. Bo.”

It might have been less than an ideal fit, but I wasn’t giving in. “Mama likes it big. Look, it covers my whole finger. It feels better this way.”

“No, Mama.”

Finally, I couldn’t ignore the flapping bits of bandaid impeding my work and play.

“Well, looks like I’ll throw this away, Iz. It’s not working anymore,” I admit to Isaac, extracting my wounded digit and discarding the bandaid.

He makes the motion again, fingers splayed, back of the hand arched, then shakes his head for the last time and lets out a heavy sigh. “Bo,” he says, and shuffles off, leaving me alone in the kitchen.

Dammit. I hate it when they’re right.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Isaac, Christmas 2005 (p.s. Nice hair.)

What a difference a year makes!

Monday, January 01, 2007

coming home

It's like entering a crime scene.

The Three Little Pigs are in the hallway. Dr. Seuss sits open on the couch. The sweetly embroidered sweater I bribed him into that morning lies wet and muddy on the floor next to the hamper. The cat's bowl overflows with kibble; the cat herself slithers out from underneath the love seat to complain about it.

I start to deduce things: They ate cereal. I step gingerly around the books, the cat, the fire engine, the scattered blocks, one shoe.

I can hear the bath water running. Isaac is talking a steady stream – his language, not ours – although every day we win him over just a little more with our strange dialect.

The faucet sound halts and I hear Mike's voice say “Let's see what's in those pants.”

“Nothing!” he exclaims a second later. “No more poopies. You had a lot of poopies today. Three poopies.”

Despite the fact that I may have been out in the larger world, flung into whatever paltry respite it can provide under its broken wings, in general, once I step back over that threshold, I'm home instantly. As if I'd never left, the chaos envelopes me again, and I can't remember the adult conversations or the way I sashayed down the block alone, savoring freedom.

This night also I am nonplussed by what I'm overhearing, and I might have missed it altogether, the chance to step away from my life and see it, really look at it from an outsider's viewpoint. But then my husband begins to sing.

“Once. Twice. Three times a poopie.”

"Happy New Year!"

...that's just what two guys walking down the street said as I frantically tried to dig the cell phone out of my bag, my husband's 1993 Honda del Sol stranded in the middle of the intersection beside us, its clutch history.

"Thanks," I said. "Thanks a lot."

Last day of the year. Don't tell me cars aren't sentient beings. It's just like with babies - you have no way of knowing just how much they understand.

My angel this time came in the form of Sandy - the random woman who pulled over and helped me push/pop start the sucker get it into the hotel parking lot and then drove me home.

I didn't have Isaac with me this time - what with the del Sol being a two-seater n all. I can be grateful for these details.

I went searching for my last car-broke-down blog entry from 2005 so I could link it and had the hardest time finding it in the archives, until I realized I wasn't going back far enough. The Jetta screwed us in August, we didn't get the new car until November! Nuts. Anyway. So much to write, but had to get this out of the way first.

Thanks again, Sandy. And Happy New Year. For real.

Share Related Posts with Thumbnails