Friday, May 25, 2012

Things to Do While the Baby is Napping

after Dan Albergotti's "Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale," with thanks to Susana.
(italicized lines borrowed from Albergotti)

Pray it lasts. Put on tea. Drink it down hot. Look at pictures of the baby you took that morning. Count up all the submission deadlines you've missed in the past month. Hum. Eat cookies. Design an exercise regimen. Set the auto-correct on your phone. Text your friends nonsensical messages they won't get because they are currently trying to get their babies to nap. Research what happened to 80s one-hit-wonder bands on Wikipedia. Plant a garden. Water it. Miss your mother. Review each of your life's 10 million choices. Endure moments of self-loathing. Find evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Become convinced you've harnessed a finite list of universal truths. Hold imaginary press conferences to deliver the news to the outside world. Look unsuccessfully for your glasses. Write blogs about how you never have time to write blogs because the baby never naps. Be thankful you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait. Remember the first time you felt him kick, your hands going again and again to your belly in surprise.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

on rainy days, I take a shower: a wee vignette on gardening and parenting

California poppy and marigold seedlings in my garden

snaps with alyssum

I don't mean that I step outside into the rain and “shower” in a rain shower. While this conceit is quaintly poetic in a not very interesting way, what my gardening poet mama self means is in fact quite literal. Believe me, poetry aside, I know something about the literal. I live with an engineer.

I mean, on days when the weather is rainy, I step into the bathtub – a beautiful clawfoot tub one well-meaning former owner of my 116-year-old farmhouse painted green on some decorating bender which I'm sure at the time seemed like a glowing stroke of genius, and I turn on the water, which, thanks to that engineer, for the first time in 116 years, sprays from a shower pipe stationed above the green claw feet in my 5' by 7' bathroom that sits, naturally, as a modern afterthought – urban, city slicker cousin to the original outhouse – off our kitchen, itself a modern afterthought.**

I take a shower when it rains because I will probably do less gardening on these days and it seems a safe enough effort to scrub my fingernails and untangle my hair. Of course, I must qualify with “probably” because you do never know. One of my first acts of gardening after moving to Massachusetts was planting daffodil bulbs in a blizzard. But there you are.

The other part of my rainy day hygiene routine is that as a mom of a 9-month-old baby and a 7-year-old first-grader, the mornings get more than a little busy and the evenings no less so. Showering doesn't tend to happen every day, as unAmerican as that is to admit.

When I get to take showers, however, I am loathe to leave the green clawfoot. The world becomes a caressing stream of warm water, the knots in my neck show signs of wanting to unlock and ideas percolate among the synapses of my brain like gorgeous soap bubbles shimmering in rainbow colors.***

And then I get out.

“Mommy?!” “Mommy??” MOMmy!!”

** This is the kind of unending sentence that my husband tells me turns readers off. However, I like to think that someday (when I'm discovered, right?) it will be the kind of signature within my writing that marks my style. It will be, in fact, the REASON I am discovered -- some editor will be reeled in by such a layered and original voice and my college political science professor who handed me back my essays exasperated (“Kitty, can you please just give me a subject and a verb and move on!”) will have to write me an apology. (One sentence of substantial length will do, Jeff.)

***And here, I leave the literal to move toward the poetic once again, albeit in a somewhat trite fashion since these are the first comparisons that come to mind and the baby is due to wake up any minute and wouldn't it be nice to post a blog entry?
kale with rhubarb leaves

end of the allium

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

heartache, gardens, and odd bedfellows (aka, just try to make sense of this one)

I have many days when I think I see someone I know, and am sometimes even on the verge of calling out to them, when I realize it can't be that person. That person doesn't live here. I left him back in Monterey. I haven't seen her since exiting California. It's always startling.

Ever since I was in college, I have experienced what may or may not be related physical symptoms of a subtle ailment or ailments that has never been satisfactorily labeled by the measures of western medicine nor a few other kinds either. The issues are never crippling; always hard to accurately describe; often flare and diminish by turns; never obvious to the casual passerby. Yet they are persistent and they affect how I can function and what kind of success feels within my grasp. This heartache is like that.

In April we went for an almost two-week trip to California. It was wonderful to be back. It felt like being reintroduced to myself.

I'm having more than a little trouble letting go, believing that we are staying here, on the east coast. (And, really, people, I use the term “coast” rather loosely since there ain't no beach in these parts.) I got to do a poetry reading while I was back in California, which made it all better/worse. Ironically, just after I returned I was also asked to be the “local spotlight poet” at a new open mic here. I'm feeling conflicted about this “local” billing.

I am sitting here trying to figure out how to write about what I want without knowing what it is I want. Without simply whining all over the page. The way I interact with people here feels not unlike the first year after I moved to New Jersey from Long Island when I was 10. I am weary and unconvinced that this new environment will save me. I am hostile toward whatever is different – the weather, the radio stations, the baseball team. And my heart aches all the time. So far I've managed to keep my conversations with neighbors about gardening, but don't think I haven't considered calling them out to prove how tough I am. Hit me! Go ahead! I'm from California!

I really do wish that the New Englanders could say shit like, “Shut the fuck up and go back if you don't like it!” I'd appreciate that. It'd feel like a conversation opener. But they are way to repressed polite for that. And so I bumble along, defending wherever I am not. Bringing back more succulent cuttings, orange poppy seeds hoping to see some California in my garden.

People who listen to my whining keep asking me if we are going back. These people a) need to better familiarize themselves with the nature of whining, b) have clearly not already moved a family cross country once in the last 11 months, and c) don't hold out unrealistic hopes of the 116-year-old house they bought because it had a big kitchen and was close to the park becoming livable for more than the mice someday.

Oh and to help me along in my house confidence, there's this...

The bank that owns our mortgage has paired with Duncan Donuts. I can't decide. The road to solid and sure financial survival? Or kitchy and embarrassing? Now you can get your Boston cream and drop off your interest payment in the same location! So convenient.

As we set off into the land of (hopefully) summer renovations, plans to increase the value of our investment, I feel assured that the folks backing the biggest purchase of our lifetime will be there for us, our hopes handed back to us, an extra for each dozen dreamed, separated by little squares of wax paper in those perennial pink boxes.

I guess I had expectations I didn't know I had. Such as, a bank should stand on its own, its employees well-manicured, their desks bereft of anything personal, and not sharing real estate with people on a caffeine buzz jaunting in and out before work dunking rainbow sprinkle-infused fried dough into their morning cuppa.

Maybe 2012 is more insane than even it aspired to be. Or maybe we just all need some company in who we are. Maybe it's healthier to coexist with those unlike us. Standing on our own has always be a dubious American value.

In fact, when I stop to think about it, I have tried to explain this concept in my own way to my New England neighbors who all ask me when they look at the gardens we've dug – “Vegetables or flowers?” “Yes,” I answer. Whoops! Did I forget to plow a perfect grave garden – a rectangle of dirt with all the little plastic markers lined up like tombstones? Did I forget to ghettoize my garlic, lest their tassled little heads bend to touch the calendula?

I am making my mother a garden. As in, I am planting a garden that reminds me of her that I can go to and think of her, that will henceforth in our house be known as “grandmom's garden.” I put in a few canna lilies, planted cosmos, zinnias, marigolds. I'm working on what else. It's not a big space right now. Just a circle (I know, right?) around a small forsythia bush, its yellow blossoms done now for the season.

I started the garden a couple weeks back. The old man down the street walked by with his dog and told me he thought the ground was still too cold for things to germinate. It's May. MAY. I don't give a New-fucking-England. It's MAY. Shit should grow in MAY. I thanked my neighbor and continued. I knew they'd grow. First of all, I'm planting my mother's garden like my mother would plant a garden, that is, I'm throwing seeds at the ground and sometimes I cover them over in dirt with the toe of my shoe. Okay, truth be told I'm not being quite as true to her methods as I could be. Sometimes I remember what I planted where, and sometimes I even have a kind of plan when I begin. Sorry, mom, I'm just an apprentice.

Zone this, baby. All the seeds are up.

Today, I was out in the garden looking. Not just at grandmom's garden, but all my gardeny bits. The rhubarb, the tomatoes, the snapdragons out there with their little towering mouths, trying to intimidate the alyssum, the dalia bulbs coming to life, the chamomile stretching its arms like a good yogi. It's the first place I go now when the small creature goes down for a nap. I just go to the garden. Usually there is something else to put in the ground still. Sometimes though I just wander, pull up a maple tree seedling, watch. And I realized something. Every garden is my mother's garden. She is why I do this. She is part of every decision in the dirt.

I'll keep grandmom's garden what it is, though. And keep my other gardens “mine.” Because we like to pretend we stand on our own.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

a year to remember

I was filling out paperwork for a two-week summer camp Isaac will go to in July and I came across this question: “Has anything significant happened in your family in the last year?”

Dude. How much time do you have?

We could start with the natural disasters...This time last year, while we were still on our way, Mike stressing out that he wasn't working, Isaac begging for popsicles and playing with dinosaur bone replicas, Emily finding her balance in the space formerly occupied by an air conditioning unit in the van, Kitty foraging for anything that looked like sustenance for a pregnant vegetarian in the middle states – there was the tornado that tore through what would soon be our new hometown.

After that there was an earthquake, and a few weeks later, the coastline much too far for my liking or to make any sense of this weather pattern, a hurricane here in western Massachusetts.

In between the earthquake and the hurricane there was the birth of our baby – a month early, at the house we had purchased with no small amount of effort and moved into that morning. Six weeks on we would get the news that Mr baby needed open heart surgery, which would happen just after he turned 4 months old, shortly before Christmas, which somehow managed to come like in some Seuss-inspired movie (the one that did not star Jim Carey) providing my older son with what he would later deem a disappointing haul. Moving on to spring, my father-in-law dies, not unexpectedly and notably peacefully, leaving us hard-pressed to find many of the top ten stressers left out of our year.

Might I add that we still have not actually been here, in our new home for a full year. Can't wait to see what the finale might be.

The prelude, after all, was nothing less than staggering. When I arrived at my mother's house at in June of 2010 at 1:00am on a Saturday morning, I crawled into her bed. It was unoccupied as she had taken up residence in a cardio-ICU unit about 45 minutes up the parkway. After she died Saturday afternoon, I crawled back into it and slept there for three more nights, each day when the sun rose, unfeeling star, I got up and threw away her things. The path to the bed cleared slowly, like a river widening as the monsoon blew through its season.

If that bed still existed, I would still be there, surrounded by her smell and the pictures on her wall. Even in California it was a stretch to remember, to grieve in any productive way. And now, here, I feel uprooted from the process, unable to call to mind memories I want. This is a place my mother was never in. This is a life I never got to share with her. My own life uprooted so quickly after, I am derailed, confused, and yes, in a tradition my mother knew well, so, so tired.

On this Mother's Day, if you are out there, readers, tell me how you remember.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

really tired and this is what came out

I was checking my email the other day with the baby on my lap when I noticed he was chewing something. My Page Up key.

It is difficult to capture the extreme chaos that is the first year. It is nearly impossible to explain to those with "good little sleepers" the overriding and absolute collapse that threatens hour by hour your life when you have a child that doesn't sleep well - day or night.

It is Mother's Day weekend and I arrive here broken, convinced that raising the next generation means nothing less than imminent self destruction. It should have been plain all along: They will take our place. I just had no idea it would be quite so soon.

Sometimes when I should be getting my full two hours of contingent shut eye, I instead read profiles in Poets & Writers magazine where the writer is described sitting in some beautiful room of her beautiful house with its beautiful art on the walls sipping what can only be assumed to be beautiful tea. They live in some town or city or village somewhere and no matter what you know of that place or have previously concluded about it, it now sounds beautiful. Beautiful and exotic and exactly the type of place a successful writer should live and I wonder why I don't live there and where on earth they got the money for that space they own.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with children? Just everything. Everything.

I offer up Billy Collins' "Lanyard" (and here is the poet reading it on video) in honor of mothers this weekend and in acknowledgment of the lag time it takes children to appreciate theirs - hell, society in general still hasn't figured out what we're worth.

I swear, seven years ago, I never even gave a single thought to what might be in those strollers.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

a poem for Mike

My Husband Burns the Yard Waste After His Father Dies

The Fire Marshall came, looked, shook his head, nope.
Seventy-five feet from any structure. Not possible in this yard.
Then he turned on a half-wink, sniffed the breeze, said,
Nice spot for a little camp fire.

All morning my husband stands with it, the burning.
He stares, like one does, into the fire
until the winds shift in his direction
and his eyes begin to water.

Safe Passage, Ray. July 28, 1931 - April 28, 2012   

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