Monday, February 22, 2010

Messy Jessie

I’m pretty good at taking care of people. What I’m really bad at is keeping things off the floor. I was expecting a challenge when the doctor told us that Scott’s foot would need to be completely immobilized for four weeks, but I didn’t think it would come in the form of having to conquer my own compulsion for chaos.

Scott can only get from here to there with his left foot. His right foot may not touch the ground at all. He can use crutches, he can use a walker, he can hop or slide or shimmy on his butt. But he can’t put any weight on his ankle for another two weeks.

We live in a house with approximately one thousand stairs, so there’s that to contend with. But bigger than that, there’s me to contend with. She who leaves clothes on the floor, cabinets open, shoes strewn about. It is my nature and my habit to carry armloads of parcels in from the car and just dump them on the floor until I’m ready to deal with them. Often that takes days.

I pile things on the bottom steps to be taken upstairs whenever I’m making the trip. I have my places for backpacks, tennis bags, laundry baskets, snow boots, magazines to be filed, garbage to go out, and guess what – it’s all on the floor.

My head hurts from trying to turn myself into a person who puts things in their proper places. I don’t mind the extra chores, the bed pans, the tracking of meds, picking up all the little slack that my husband can’t manage. But picking up in general – I just don’t roll that way.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My February Anniversaries

I’ve missed a few “anniversaries” this past week. I blame it on Scott’s broken ankle – I’m out of my routine. In truth, I’m not really big on anniversaries to begin with.

I know, I know, I celebrated the anniversary of my blog, but that was mainly because I needed something to write about.

Scott and I got married many years ago, two days before Christmas. In retrospect, that was an ill-conceived plan. I have a hard enough time gifting for Christmas and then suddenly I had an wedding anniversary to contend with. For the first many years, I simply forgot about the date altogether.

Eventually I decided to move our anniversary to a new season entirely. My aunt did this with her birthday – moved it from whatever wretched time of year it actually fell to her favorite time of year: autumn. That move worked out well for her, so I decided we would employ a similar strategy for our anniversary, moving it to April 1st, which is an anniversary of a meaningful moment in our courtship, and which, conveniently, falls nowhere near anyone’s birthday, including that of JC.

One of the anniversary dates I forgot about this past week was February 12th, the anniversary of my quitting smoking sixteen long years ago. I did not quit stoic cold turkey, but rather kicking and screaming – a pregnant woman weaning herself from her most beloved vice in the hopes that someday her offspring would more than make up for the loss.

I was telling someone just today that Scott’s ankle break has left me with what feels like a hundred untended to tasks. I’m so overwhelmed by the catch-up that I spend most of my time avoiding it all and just playing online Scrabble. I recalled that in the old days I would make lists – good, hardy, productive lists – and those lists would keep me focused. I would sit down at the dining room table with a paper and pen, a cigarette and a cup of coffee, and I would organize my days and weeks and life.

Without the coffee and cigarettes, my list-making has never been as productive. It’s hard to believe, but I really haven’t gotten much done in the last sixteen years.

The other anniversary I completely forgot about is that of my dad’s death. I’m not so good with numbers, so I’m not certain how old he’d be right now. All I know for sure is he’s been gone far longer than the last time I had a cigarette; longer than the 25 years I’ve known Scott. It’s hard for me to believe that he's been gone nearly two-thirds of my life. So long that I can no longer remember his voice.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Date Night

“Well, we’re out together on a Friday night. And I’m nude.”

My husband really did say those exact words to me last Friday night. And they were true. Unfortunately we were in the emergency room, he on a stretcher, me by his side, both of us in the corridor waiting for an orderly to wheel him over to the operating room for surgery.

He’d fallen on a patch of ice on his way home from the bus stop. His feet slipped out from under him and he landed entirely (and wrongly) on his ankle, which was dislocated and fractured. A neighbor moved him into my car, we went to the nearest hospital, and they moved him onto a stretcher and into an examining room. Then hospital procedures took over.

Hospitals seem like alternative universes in some ways. Time doesn’t work the same way in there. I remember realizing this the first time I was in labor – thinking that everything seemed to take forever to happen, but also that time seemed to gallop along much more quickly than you’d expect. That was certainly the case on this Friday night, where Scott was examined, x-rayed, sedated, reduced (that’s what you call it when the doctor pops the joint back into place), x-rayed again, and ultimately prepped for surgery. He was in the operating room four hours after he was wheeled in the door, which seemed like forever and also seemed like no time at all.

It felt as if a million little miracles happened that night. First off, that Scott managed to avoid being run over by the neighbor who was backing down the driveway that he lay at the base of. That we were considered at the top of the triage list. That the orthopedist was already in the ER when we arrived. That the nurses were able to remove Scott’s favorite pants without having to cut them.

Every time a “worst case scenario” was presented, it never came to be. Little miracles, just like that, until the miracle of all miracles: ten o’clock on a Friday night, my husband and I are out together -- him naked, me awake. But alas, we’re not alone.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Jessica Who Cried Wolf

Is there a moment where every mother looks at her kid and realizes that she’s blown it? That despite the fact that things seemed to be going well for all these years, she is now confronted with a set of circumstances that are born so completely out of the essence of her parenting style, and create a situation so intertwined with the fabric of her being that, at this point, there’s no real way to change things. The only way to make it all better would be to scrap the whole project and start again with a fresh, new kid.

If such a moment exists, I had mine last Thursday.

While cleaning out my office, I came upon a fancy, glossy, tantalizing brochure I’d received in the mail about outdoor summer adventures for teens. I don’t know how I got this brochure in the first place, but before throwing it away, I passed it along to my teenager to take a look at.

The company offered expeditions for 8th through 12th graders, domestically and abroad, all expensive, all death-defying. Every kid in the brochure looked like he was having the time of his life.

My son never pays attention to anything I give him, so I was surprised when, 15 minutes later, he came back to me with the brochure folded back to page 29.

“This is the one I want to go on,” he said, thrusting a four-color glossy of smiling teens and snow-capped mountains into my face. “I want to climb the Matterhorn.”

“No way,” I said.

“Why? It’s one of their trips.”

“You could get Altitude Sickness.”

By this time my younger son had joined us and they both stared at me wide-eyed. And then they started to laugh.

“Altitude Sickness!” said one of them. “That’s a good one, Mom.”

“Are you telling me you’ve never heard of Altitude Sickness?” I said.

“I’m sure you, like, die from it, right?” said the other one.

They were laughing and mocking me as if it were the most ludicrous thing I’d ever suggested. They wouldn’t even follow me to the computer, where I could show them how it’s impossible to tell beforehand who will be susceptible to the illness, how some people do die.

Slowly, like waking from a dream, I began to see the trajectory. The mother who ushers her children into the house during wind, who terrorizes them with the possibility of falling trees, who rips spoons of raw cake batter from their hands and lectures about salmonella, e. coli and botulism is the mother who lands right where I stood on Thursday: in front of children who consider her every concern an overreaction. Children who think she’s made up a malady called Altitude Sickness right out of thin air.

Children who will no doubt make it their life’s work to prove her wrong.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

This is My Holiday Letter for 2009

Every year for the past several, I’ve sent out a picture of my family or my kids along with a “Holiday Letter” that usually focuses on a few memorable moments of the year – whatever moments happen to pop into my head when I sit down to write. It occurs to me in October that I should start thinking about writing such a letter. Then November and December come and go in a blur, and my letter gets written sometime in January and sent out as a New Year’s Greeting.

Not this year. I sat down a few times to write and each time I did, I thought, Oh I already wrote about that in the blog.

In truth, most of the people who would receive the letter read the blog. Except one.

My first boyfriend’s mother is an avid reader of my holiday letters. I haven’t seen her for at least 30 years, but we’ve exchanged holiday cards each of those years and she always writes back telling me how much she loves receiving them and maybe one or two other gushy things.

Doris and I hit it off almost immediately back in 1977. She hadn’t had any girls, and I was one, so right there we were a match made in heaven. Her son was eccentric and she took it in graceful stride. He came up with one after another wacky idea and she was always respectful and supportive. One such idea was that he and I would go to a Halloween costume party as a Wizard and a Frog. Doris, an accomplished seamstress, offered to outfit us. A day or two before the party, I came over to try on the costume. My boyfriend brought me to a pile of expertly crafted felt and handed me a green garment off the top.

“What’s this?” I said.

“That’s your costume.”

“It’s green!”

“Of course it’s green,” he said. “You’re a frog.”

I'm not the frog!” I said, tears welling. “I’m the Wizard!”

I can’t remember if Doris walked in at that time, or if she discovered later that I was positively crestfallen to be the frog. I wanted to be magical and powerful in a long, flowing purple cape. I had no interest in being the squat, warty frog.

My boyfriend wouldn’t relent and it was too late to do anything about it even if he had. I bought some green tights and scored some SCUBA fins and I flip-flopped up a long gravel driveway to a party where all my friends were dressed as sexy bunnies or sexy punk rockers.

That Halloween came and went, but for years every time my birthday came around, friends would present me with frogs. Ceramic frogs, stuffed frogs, frogs made of blown glass. Even my own mother made me a needlepoint pillow: “Before you meet your handsome prince you have to kiss a lot of toads.”

From that point on, I hated frogs. Of course I never blamed Doris for the mix-up. She had only followed her son’s instruction. And I’ve also learned firsthand, when you spend your adulthood as the mother of boys, it’s often not apparent how tenderly you have to handle a little girl’s dreams.

In the middle of last month, Doris called me. She hadn’t received a card from me and she worried that something was wrong. I told her I’d been busy and I hadn’t gotten to cards this year, but that her call inspired me to get to that holiday letter I’d been meaning to write.

This is my holiday letter for 2009. I know it’s not what anyone was expecting. But I feel like this is really all I have to say this year: Thank you to all the people in my life who have encouraged me to tell stories, then and now, and for not holding it against me when I sometimes turn into an ungrateful girlfrog. It’s a huge gift you’ve bestowed; one that’s changed my life.

Happy Belated New Year.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles - VIII

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

The first victim on my hit list of possible foster parents for the gecko was Mr. G. Mr. G. is the Science teacher at my younger son’s school and he has a room full of critters and varmints. He also took in Shelley’s skinks a few years back.

I was at the school last spring and on a whim I wrote him a note and stuck it in his mail cubby. “Dear Mr. G., You don't know me, but I have a cute Leopard Gecko that needs a new home and I was wondering if you’d be willing to take him in.” I included my name, phone number, cell number, two email addresses and my younger son’s homeroom (in case he wanted to respond, in kind, with a handwritten note).

Weeks went by. Nothing,

Years ago, when Shelley offered him the skinks, she included a $50 gift card to Petco, which would pay for their crickets for years to come. I was certainly willing to do the same, but I didn’t include it in the note because I’m cheap and first wanted to see if I could just unload the lizard for free.

I wasn’t sure if Mr. G. simply didn’t want the gecko or if I needed to sweeten the deal. I made it a point to run into him whenever I needed to visit the school. I introduced myself. I chatted him up about gametes. During the hot and crowded Science Fair I spent 20 hot and crowded minutes lingering over his Power Point presentation. Once I felt I’d fully ingratiated myself, I popped the question. “So, did you ever decide about my gecko?”

He had no idea what I was talking about. He’d never gotten the note, or if he had, he doesn’t remember it. He would certainly consider the gecko, he said, but not now. It’s almost summer vacation. Talk to him in September, he told me.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Birthday Blog

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday Dear Blog
Happy Birthday to you