Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Days Gone By

This evening my daughter went to a slumber party. As a single mother, I don't get many evenings to myself, and I had a few possibilities for this one. I opted out of all of them and went out to dinner by myself, to a tiny Mexican restaurant that my daughter doesn't like. I ordered too much food and sat for more than an hour, picking at bits of it and reading an old Robert Parker novel that I'd somehow missed the first time around.

If you have children, perhaps you understand why I didn't go out to dinner with friends or my family or even take the all-too-rare opportunity to hear some live music. An hour of silence with a good book and food someone else cooked was like a little slice of heaven.

When I left the restaurant the night air was soft and so I rolled down the window and drove through town with the wind in my hair and a friend on my CD player and didn't feel the least bit like a grandmother. Quite by accident, that drive took me through the neighborhood where we lived when my daughter was a baby, and suddenly its cracked sidewalks and run-down houses looked a little bit like heaven, too.

I gave up my job when my daughter was born; my husband paid child support for his two older children. I scarcely exaggerate when I say that we didn't have a nickel to spare. More than once I went digging through coat pockets and purses in hopes of finding a few dollars to buy dinner with, and I put together a little book of dinners you could cook for under $3.00. And however we all tend to romanticize it, there's nothing glamorous about being poor. It's hard and it's stressful.

But what I found myself thinking about tonight was the quiet night air around that neighborhood, about walking the dog in the evening, about the adolescent neighbor girl who loved our baby so much that she became like part of the family. There was something somehow richer and more real about that neighborhood, where my husband didn't want me to walk alone at night. There was a little dog whom I don't think I'll ever stop missing. But mostly, there was time.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the trade-off between time and money. For a parent, it's a Catch-22 of astronomical proportions. Your child wants and needs your presence at exactly the same time that she needs and wants your financial support. Then day she's supporting herself, busy with her own life, and you have time to slow down...but for what?

I know I have nothing to complain about. I've got a great job that allows me to earn a good living from home, family half a mile away, a fabulous kid whose friends have adopted me as a second mother...but some days I think that I'd give most of this money back and go back to digging for change in the seat cushions if I could have back those aimless days when my daughter sat sleep-mussed in the chair with a doll in her lap and said, "So...what do you want to do today?" and the answer was wide open.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thank God I Don't Love You Anymore

I chose the title because it's the name of a song by my friend Maggie Brandon, and because I'm still amused by the fact that back in the third grade, my daughter (who has a great voice) recorded the song for a boy in her class (but requested that he return her tape after he'd listened to it).

But it's something I've been thinking about seriously lately. It seems we put a kind of premium on the ability to "get over" people. In a sense, in our world of relatively short-lived relationships, that makes sense. But in another, it's a sad commentary and maybe even risky business when we congratulate ourselves and each other for learning not to love someone anymore. On a personal level, it might seem like a triumph to close off that piece of our hearts when a relationship ends--or changes--but in the greater scheme of things is a little less love really a positive development? I'm inclined to think not.

For a mish-mash of reasons, I've been thinking recently about loving and stopping loving and loving again...and how maybe every love is diminished by the ability to "get over" the last one and the possibility that one day we'll "get over" this one, too.

My own life has been a bit unusual in this regard. Though I've been in a few serious relationships that changed shape, I haven't ever been in one that really ENDED. I broke off my first engagement in 1993, but we still talk regularly. I've been separated from my husband for four years, but just this morning he checked out a little sound my car was making, and I'm doing some writing for his website. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me that someone can be an integral part of your life for years and years and then that just disappears when things change. I think I'm about to walk away clean from someone I once loved for the first time in my life, and maybe that's why this is on my mind...maybe. But I think it's more than that, too.

I'm thinking more about training ourselves how not to love, and what kind of effects that's going to have in the end.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aging Gracefully

I'm not actually sure what that phrase means. I always thought, when I was younger, that it meant accepting and working with nature's changes instead of trying to use clothing and make-up and surgical enhancements to defy nature. In other words, aging without objection. But then, when I was working on my book about Rick Springfield, I noted that a number of reporters made comments about Rick being the poster child for aging gracefully and such, and he didn't appear to be aging AT ALL.

I can't honestly claim to have given it much thought, but it did leave me uncertain as to what people might mean by that phrase. I must admit that I still don't know, but today I got a taste of something that might have been a hint.

As I've mentioned here recently, I became a sort-of-grandmother a couple of months ago.

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to sit on the edge of a pool and feed my grandson for the first time while his mother swam with her younger siblings. Back in the day, she got up at 6:00 every morning for swim-team practice, but today she couldn't remember the last time she'd been in the water. Her first dive was hesitant.

I'm a water disciple myself, but I couldn't have been more content than I was sitting on the deck with that child in my arms and watching my not-so-kids kids play together.

I remember seeing older people doing things like that when I was young, and kind of assuming that they were beyond swimming and splashing and all that. Not so, it turns out--I'd swim every day if time and space allowed. But then, I'd hold that baby while he slept every day, too, if he weren't 200 miles away. Maybe it's all about new dimensions. The great thing about aging, it begins to seem to me, is that the new joys we discover are more numerous and more significant than those that fall away.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Think Someone's Missing the Point

My sister sent me an email at work not long ago. Her language wasn't entirely clean. I don't know exactly what she said. I'm sure it wasn't meant to be offensive, but I missed the context because our filters at work screened out the email.

Now, I have no objection to that. Short of having a human being reviewing filtered mail, the only way to really make it work is to create lists and screen out forbidden words. And if a business wants to make a hard and fast rule against curse words in company email, there's nothing unreasonable about this.

Here's the thing: although I don't know what my sister's email said, I do know that the forbidden word she used was "bitch".

I know this because the filtering program clipped it and sent it to me. That's right--all of the clean, innocuous words were blocked. All of the context was eliminated. But I did receive a notification in which the word "bitch" was prominantly displayed in a graphics box.

So. Good thing they protected me from all those OTHER words, hm?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things I Didn't Do on Vacation

We're heading for home tomorrow, carrying a load of books I didn't read, and I've just written out directions for the return trip in a notebook in which I didn't write a word along the way. I thought when I headed out that this trip would be a good time to:

1. Finish reading the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers, which I decided to revisit after a discussion about the upcoming election back in February.

2. Sneak in a little work...I know...I know...but I DID bring along a little, just in case.

3. Do some writing for Rational Outrage, which has been badly neglected due to my recent deadlines at work.

4. Do some creative writing--hence the optimistic new notebook purchased along the road.

5. Watch a couple of recent movies in the hotel at night, since I never get that opportunity at home.

6. Tour many more historic locations in Savannah than we've seen.

Instead, I slept late, read a couple of throwaway novels, watched a couple of movies on Disney Channel with my kid, played in the ocean, dug shells out of the sand, drifted in the hotel swimming pool, ordered room service, spent time with a couple of friends that I never see in real life, ate breakfast on the balcony and played Uno, War and Slapjack. And I'm pretty good with all that.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Past, Present, Future

During the summer of 1990, I worked for Legal Aid in Augusta, Georgia. There was one other clerk in my office that summer, a girl named Kim. My sister, then a teenager, said that if Daisy Duke had become a lawyer, she would have been Kim. It was an odd compliment, but clearly intended that way--she was awash with admiration for Kim's denim-cutoff chic, the offhand way she pointed out Pete Buck on her way by the bar and hardly spared him a glance, the bottle-fed goat in her backyard.

For me, Kim was simply a friend, in the crazy way that we make friends when we're young. I knew her for 12 weeks, eighteen years ago. We didn't have email in 1990, so keeping in touch wasn't as easy as it's become, and we didn't. We lunched and dinnered and occasionally drank together and fought the good fight side by side. I was hundreds of miles from home, and she took me to both of hers: a summer afternoon by the pool on her mother's near-farm and a weekend in Athens, where she went to school. At the end of the summer, we drove to Chicago together, and then...

Eighteen years passed.

The modern world being what it is, I found her through Google, on a whim one day. Maybe it was chance that I'd planned a trip to Savannah for this summer, and it turned out that she'd moved there. Maybe it was simply luck that we arrived just a few days before she was going out of town herself.

Today, we had lunch in downtown Savannah to plan the dinner we were going to have tonight. We had dinner at a "shack" on Tybee Island, dining on the deck with the ocean breeze in our hair and palm trees surrounding us, and after dinner we got up to walk across a wooden bridge to the ocean--which Tori had never seen before.

Kim's daughter, Ava Grace, is two. Tori took her hand, and Kim took her other, and I smiled, and then Tori said, "Want to join our chain, mom?" and reached out her other hand for me. So we walked hand-in-hand to the ocean, my old friend and I and the children who weren't born the last time we were together. And, as we crossed the bridge, Kim pointed out a school of dolphins. I told Tori to roll up her jeans and we walked into the surf, laughing, and she picked up seashells for the first time in her life.

It's been, in many ways, a nostalgic trip for me. Sunday night, we stayed in an old inn down the block from the house I rented in Augusta that long-ago summer, and I passed by the park where I walked my dog every night and ate breakfast on the balcony with my daughter, looking out at the same view I'd enjoyed on the lower terrace with friends nearly two decades earlier.

Still, there hasn't been a mistier moment--and probably won't be--than the one in which I watched my baby run barefoot into the ocean for the first time while the friend I'd thought long lost but had never forgotten looked on.