Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Time Flies

Since a commenter on my last post quite reasonably questioned the fact that I don't seem to be clear and consistent on how many children I have, I thought I'd share the whole brood with you...along with the bit of nostalgia/dismay that comes from looking at these two pictures side by side. Except, of course, I don't know how to make them appear side by side here, so you'll have to imagine this part. Here are my three kids or, more technically speaking, my one kid and my two stepkids, in the summer of 1998:


My baby was just shy of 18 months old, Matt had just celebrated his fifth birthday that week (at Chuckie Cheese--I'm still not fully recovered), and Beth was seven. When we went to the playground, it was all I could do to keep count of them.
Now, as I've undoubtedly mentioned, my daughter is in MIDDLE SCHOOL. Matt is fifteen and growing a mustache, and Beth will be eighteen in just a few weeks and is planning to make me a grandmother (sort of) in June.



Last summer, almost nine years to the day after this picture was taken, was the first time we got them all together for a professional portrait again. Things have changed just a little. Well, okay, a lot. It turns out nine years isn't all that long at all.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Eight Random Things

I don't surprise easily, really. I was surprised, though, when Mark Stoneman tagged me for this meme. I've been tagged for this one before on RockStories and just recently on What's Wrong Around Us? , but Mark's tag gave me the opportunity to write something personal on my brand new personal blog. It took me a while to get around to it because I was busy sitting around an marveling about the fact that Mark had participated in a meme. No, I'm kidding. Really. I've just been really busy with work. But I'm giving this one some thought, because unlike any of my other five blogs, this blog is ABOUT ME, and this kind of thing is actually appropriate here.

1. I spent years actively trying to quit the job that eventually evolved into the amazing opportunity that just came my way.
2. I'm such a workaholic that my daughter, at about age 8, observed, "It seems like the way you get most of your friends is by hiring them."
3. It's been 17 years since I last saw an ocean, and I've never stopped longing to go back.
4. I am a better friend than I am a significant other; fortunately, I manage not to muck things up too much in the significant other phase and so can revert to friendship without too much trouble.
5. I like public transportation. I realize this requires some explanation since it's wholly irrational, but I haven't got any. I just like it.
6. I'm going to be a step-grandmother in June, and it's a little weird to contemplate.
7 . Chi Chi's was my favorite restaurant ever, and I'm still not over it closing. It's been several years, and when someone says "out to dinner", it's still Chi Chi's that comes to mind.
8. I love to dance in the rain, preferably with all of my children. (I wonder how long it will be before I can get that grand-baby out in the rain...)

And since we're branching out, I'm going to grab some totally new people to tag this time around. First, Carma, whose blog I discovered for the first time today due to a lovely comment she made about one of my posts on RockStories. And Brigid, because she recently made the mistake of saying, "There must be something I can talk about..." on her blog. She's a writer at heart, so it shouldn't be too hard. And finally Carol, at Can't Holder Tongue, who will not respond unless I go and tell her I've tagged her because this blog is so new that I'm quite sure she doesn't know it exists.

Turns out I Don't Need a Husband

Some months ago, I mentioned in a meme on my writing blog that every Monday morning when I was hauling my garbage up the hill behind my house in the dark, I wished that I was married. I hated to be that mercenary, but there it was. When I was married, I never had to drag a fifty pound garbage can up a snow-slick hill at 6:00 a.m.

Turns out taking the garbage out at 7:30 a.m. after eight hours of sleep is a whole different ballgame. Not my favorite thing to do, but wholly manageable. Certainly nothing to get married over.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Dryer Just Buzzed

I know, I know. At best, you're thinking that's not especially exciting. More likely, you're thinking, "I hate when that happens!" But listen: this is big news in my life. You see, I bought a new washer and dryer back in September, after being without one for more than a year.

Being without a washer and dryer was already a high-frustration point in my life, because I had a perfectly good full-sized washer and dryer sitting in storage, but my new townhouse required stackables. I set out to buy stackables several times, and several times I was sidetracked, derailed or otherwise restrained by invisible forces. Then, in September, I finally did it.

Except when the unit was delivered, there was something wrong with the water valve and the delivery guys couldn't hook it up. So the next weekend, my father came over and fixed the valve and hooked up the washer...and every time I started the dryer, the breaker popped. Every time. The dryer would run for three minutes or so empty, but with clothing in it, a matter of seconds.

So I started hanging my clothes on drying racks in my living room. Let me tell you, this was a big disappointment. After more than a year of running to the laundromat just in time to duck in the door before they closed or doing some quick midnight laundry at my mother's house because my daughter had just remembered that she needed her gymsuit washed for the next day, I was SO ready to have my own washer and dryer again. And then...no dryer. Of course, it was still better than going to the laundromat, but I had a backlog and I wanted to do a lot of laundry, and I was limited by the fact that I only have three drying racks. And by the fact that three drying racks was about all I could fit in my living room, anyway. And I was less than thrilled to have three drying racks in my living room at virtually all times--especially when people came over to visit and our underwear was hanging in the middle of the living room.

I know what you're thinking. It's been four months. You couldn't get the breaker fixed? And it seems like a reasonable question. But the insane fact of the matter is that I couldn't get the breaker fixed. I was leaving home at 6:45 a.m. and getting home at 8:00 p.m. or later. On the weekends I had such a backlog of things that needed to be done in and around the house, along with shopping, squeezing in some work, etc. that I was always getting to bed at 1 a.m. or so on Sunday night lamenting the fact that I hadn't accomplished nearly what I needed to.

I realize this is a very long and not especially interesting story, but I'm telling it (and will be telling others like it) for a reason: I had no idea how crazy this was when I was living it. I'm very familiar with that phenomenon; I once worked extensively with victims of domestic violence. There is probably no group of people on earth who so clearly illustrates the human tendency to adapt to consistent circumstances and begin to view them as normal. The trick--the thing people who have never been in that situation often have trouble understanding--is that knowing something is wrong and being able to experience it as wrong are two very different things.

For a year and a half, I've been literally killing myself. I knew I was killing myself. My doctors had warned me about the possible consequences of pushing too hard and not getting enough sleep and all that. I also knew that it was too hard on my daughter, putting in 12 and 13 hour days in middle school so that I could get her safely handed off before I went to work. And yet, I also believed that there was no other way. Truly, entirely believed that I was doing the right thing, and that this was simply what the life of a single mother looked like.

It was a good job and I really enjoyed it and I worked with fantastic people and if I were healthier and lived closer and wasn't a single parent it would have been the perfect job. But it was ruining my health and exhausting my child; I could count on my fingers the number of good nights of sleep I've had in the past two years, I hadn't seen my friends in several months, and my house was such a mess that I couldn't let anyone in it...and I had fully accepted that as simply the way life was going to be.

A solution dropped out of the sky for me. That probably doesn't happen very often. But it happened when I was so convinced that there was no solution that nothing else might have penetrated.

It's worth thinking about, how easily we get conditioned. How long we'll live with things we don't have to live with. How normal the unacceptable can begin to feel.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Just Following Orders

One of the exciting things about my new schedule is that I have time to do a lot more recreational bathing. I'm a huge fan of baths, but somehow they're just not the same at 5:30 a.m. when you're rushing to get out of the house. Last night, I dug into my bath products for the first time in a long time and came out with one of my favorite fizzers. For some reason, I just happened to look at the back of the wrapping for the first time, and this is what it said:

Direction: Dispense a piece of the product into the bath tub filled with warm water. Soak and enjoy.

For some reason, that struck me really funny. Not, of course, that my laughter prevented me from following the instructions to the letter. I saw nothing that precluded the addition of a good book. In fact, upon re-reading the directions I see that there's nothing inconsistent with adding a nice glass of chilled white wine, either...

Make-up and Music Videos

During the year that I've been dropping my daughter off to get ready for school at my mother's house, some things have apparently changed. I had a picture in my mind of the two of us having a nice breakfast together in my quiet kitchen. Well, I don't actually eat breakfast, but I could sit with her and drink my coffee while she ate like I did when she was a toddler. I always loved that morning time, just sitting and talking while she ate her Cheerios.

Turns out, though, that she's got Things to Do in the morning. She carries her cereal into the living room and flips on videos on On Demand while she uses a decorative mirror that was my grandmother's to put on as much make-up as she thinks she might be able to get away with and some earrings that I think are far too ornate for school.

I think if I'd been warned about this, I would have anticipated a tragedy. My baby! Turns out it's pretty cool. Not, you understand, that I wouldn't be delighted to sit down and share coffee and Cheerios with her (the her of today or the toddler in her high chair or any of the dozens of incarnations in between). But what she's doing instead is being herself, doing the things she wants to do and doing them in her own home without rushing or making sure that she's remembered to bring the nail polish she wants to wear along with her when she leaves the house at 6 a.m. It's good to watch, even if I could do without Fergie at 7:30 a.m.

And it turns out she looks good with a little bit of lip gloss.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Unemployment is Good

Don't get me wrong. I'm excited to start my new job tomorrow. And it isn't as if I've been hanging out on the chaise longue eating bon bons (what are bon bons, anyway?). I've been tying up loose ends, cleaning my house, rearranging for my office equipment, ordering a second phone line and some wireless thingy that will let me network my computers...but it's been three days and my blood pressure has dropped almost thirty points. And, you know, it's 9:25 p.m. and my kid is in bed. And I'm reading a novel.

Of course, things are slated to kick into very high gear tomorrow, but they'll be kicking into high gear right here in my own kitchen. Since it's my first day at a new job, I thought I'd better plan my clothes ahead of time. It took some consideration--after all, I'm going to be working with a lot of very talented people in this new position--but I finally decided on my new red velour sweatsuit.

For the afternooon, anyway.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Love Bleach

My bathroom smells like a swimming pool.

This might not sound all that exciting to a normal person, but that's because you don't know what it smelled like before--and I'll spare you that information. I will share, however, that I found a teaspoon behind my toilet. Fortunately, not all of my discoveries were unpleasant--did you know that there's a thing on the wall you can hang your toilet paper on, and then it kind of spins to release however much you want when you're ready to use it?

Yeah, you probably did.

I can't say this with absolute certainty, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time in my life that I've been excited to clean the bathroom. Turns out my fixtures are white.

Anyway, I've developed a deep curiosity about the transformation process and just exactly how long (and what kind of investment) it will take to get my house looking like...well...a house. I kind of feel like it should be a reality TV show, and I'm tempted to take photos in progress, but I decided against that because I'm just really committed to keeping custody of my kid. Still, I'm taking notes.

Just a Gratuitous Announcement

I drove my kid to school this morning.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Reclaiming the Small Pleasures

I just set my alarm for 7:00 a.m.

Now, to some of you that might sound pretty ordinary, and to a few it might even sound early. For me, though, it's a tremendous luxury. For the past two years, if I wasn't out of the house by 7:00, I was running late. Under ideal circumstances, I'd catch the 6:47 train. All this meant that I was dragging my poor child out of bed at 6:30 (or sometimes earlier) and dropping her off at my mother's house, where she'd have about two hours to kill before she had to leave for school. Long days for an 11-year-old, especially since I wouldn't come back around to pick her up until about 7:30 p.m.

So she's sleeping now. Her clothes are all ready for tomorrow and her homework is packed up in her backpack, and at 7:00 I'll get up and turn the heat up and get her breakfast started before I wake her up. Just a normal morning around the world--or so I'd like to think. But it's a whole new world over here. So I'm off to...read a book. Or email an old friend I need to catch up with. Or write an old-fashioned letter...or a short story...or any one of a hundred things that haven't seemed like an option for as long as I can remember.

Not Quite a Book Review

Earlier this afternoon, I picked up Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks. I haven't really read any of his other books--the fuss about The Notebook frankly put me off the whole idea. And I'd read a scathing review of A Walk to Remember several months back. But, as I've mentioned, I've been tired for a long time. I've got a stack of great books waiting for me to read them, and I'm eager to get to them. A few at the top of the list include the autographed copy of Elliot Roosevelt's As He Saw It that my sister gave me for Christmas; Sam Smith's Great American Repair Manual, which a friend sent me some time ago and I've simply been too immersed in chaos to read, and the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's Truth and Tolerance. But I'm not QUITE ready. This afternoon, I was looking for a bathtub book to help me fully enjoy this first weekend of my new life (without, frankly, doing any hard work), and I loved the Kevin Costner / Robin Wright-Penn movie version a decade or so ago.

But.

Um.

I'm a writer.

And even my days off don't really allow for things like this:

Since the divorce there had been only a handful of dates. It wasn't that she was unattractive. She was, or so she was often told.

I mean, what happened there? Did someone WRITE that? Did Nicholas Sparks write that? Or did some helpful editor change "it wasn't that she wasn't attractive" to "it wasn't that she was unattractive" WITHOUT READING THE NEXT SENTENCE? And how does it feel as a writer--especially as a successful writer who knows that millions of people are reading your books--to catch something like that later? ESPECIALLY if it wasn't of your own creation. This copy of the book is almost ten years old. Have that corrected that line in later printings? Do they do that sort of thing?

As you can see, concepts like "downtime" and "not working" are still very new to me. Is it possible that one day, when I've had enough sleep and enough time to walk around my neighborhood and play with my kid and hang my photographs on my walls and talk on the phone to my friends, I'll be able to read a book and gloss right over something like that?

I'm kind of thinking not.

Every Writer Needs a Personal Blog, Right?

I know, I know...this is number 6.

But it has a purpose. Really it does.

If you're thinking that this is one blog too many (or maybe three or four too many), I respectfully request that you blame Jenn over at Thrift Shop Romantic. You see, Mark Stoneman started a personal blog and announced it on Blog Catalog, where there was much rejoicing because Mark is a very educated, insightful contributor to discussions over there and we're all very interested in hearing what he has to say on more varied subjects. But then Jenn said, "it's funny how much of our lives we partition into blogs", and I suddenly had no choice but to start a new blog.

You see, I'm changing jobs. In fact, as I write this, I'm technically unemployed, having left one job on Friday and scheduled to start the new one on Wednesday. In many ways, I'm really sad about leaving the old job, which was fantastic in more ways than I can articulate here (I'm sure more of them will emerge as time goes on). But in another way I'm really excited, and not just about the new project I'm taking on. I'm excited to be reintegrating my life.

For two years, it's been pretty tough for me to do anything except work during the week and be with my daughter on the weekends. It was a great job and I have a great kid, but there was no life in between--and no easy transition between the two, with a 3+ hour commute making for 12-13 hour days every weekday. I hadn't seen most of my friends in months. I hadn't hung curtains in the townhouse I moved into a year and a half ago, and I didn't do much writing anymore.

So I had five blogs, and they were just like my life: one about writing, one about religion, one about social issues--anyone who read just one of those blogs might have come away with an entirely different impression of me than someone who'd read just another of them. That's the nature of the niche, of course, but "partitioning" my life is the last thing I want to do about now. So I decided to create a center point, a personal blog that reflects all of those little pieces of me.

It might be really boring. But at least it will be three-dimensional.