Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I may lack fine motor skills.

Dear Friends:

The next time I imply that I am time-strapped and overwhelmed by responsibilities, please remind me of that night when I decided to spend the good part of an hour driving to a nearby friend's  (at 10:30) to borrow back our shared bottle of corn syrup, whipping up (stubbornly runny) vegan royal icing to dress my army of whole-grain, vegan ninja men. With a fancy cocktail toothpick. Obviously unsuccessfully. Attempting to painstakingly build eyes, and a random red belt, from artificially colored, artificially everything did not help.

I give up. The rest of my wholesome—and truly delicious—ginger ninjas will run nude. All natural sweeties. Plus, looks don't matter, right? It's all about the stuff you're made of. How you treat other people. These spicy dudes treat well—and they kick the asses of those seriously sandy (in a really bad way) gluten-free Sandies I attempted a few years ago.

That is all. Good night.


Monday, December 16, 2013

I suck at stories.

I call myself a writer. Jon is an engineer. Our children—like all children—love stories. And in this family, one of us parents is constantly creating fantastical stories: full of magic and forests, dragons and fairies; the other tells tales of two little brothers who get lost in the woods or boring "mini-shorts" about animals who learn that it's awesome to be different, and it's important to be nice to people.

I am "the other." I suck at telling stories. (Jon rocks but who's comparing.) Sure, my brain churns out fiction but it tends toward character development. I've never really gotten very far with plot. That's why I've only dabbled in short stories and why writing a novel, even a really bad one, feels way harder than running a marathon. But even if I were able to draft a novel with a solid plot, it'd be fraught with family secrets... or it'd circle around one moment, one event, or one meeting that unraveled relationships, or saved a life. I don't know what exactly—but drama kids definitely don't care about.

Nevermind  the topic or tone, anyway. Telling anything on demand, isn't something at which I excel. Particularly at the end of the day. I try. Tonight, I told Julian about a monkey who loves oranges and all the other monkeys make fun of him but his mom tells him that he is so special for loving what he loves and, because she and his dad and his brother collect bananas, the oranges make their dinners more colorful and delicious. This 30-second story was lame-ass and Jules told me so, nicely. And because he was super sleepy and because I actually am a good back rubber, I got off easy.

Not so with Kai. I started with a story of many dinosaurs. His request. This story was about a carnivorous dinosaur who'd decided to become a vegetarian. Kai demanded that I include a pterodactyl, an allosaurus and a "long neck." So I made the allosaurus, a carnivore, the star. Basically, he walked around looking for plants. I named all sorts of plants. I asked Kai to contribute. He added onions. Brilliant. So the plot became that the dinosaur had bad breath and his friends taught him to eat mint. Kai thought this plot lame. He was right.

"Tell me about the long necks."

"What should I tell you about the long necks?" This is what I do. I turn the tables, looking for interaction, or a team-effort exquisite corpse sort of story approach. It never works.

"Long necks are brachiosauruses, Mom," he says, exasperated.

I try my best to think of something, talking about the long-necked brachiosauruses looking for food in trees. It does not suffice. I offer a back rub.

"I want a stooooorrrrry!!!" Kai begins kicking me. For real. Kicking. And punching.

I literally am incapable of producing an acceptable story. I tell him this. He keeps kicking and yelling. I leave, walking downstairs, telling him I won't listen until he can be nice. Moments later, he appears at the bottom of the steps.

"I'm angry at you, Mom." He snarls and growls. Literally. I laugh. He is not joking. This is serious—and I am fucking up. I get serious.

"Why are you angry?"

He runs up stairs, screaming—and sobbing, like his feelings are hurt. I follow. He reiterates that he is "angry at [me]" and turns away from me to face into a large plant in the corner of the hallway. I tell him he needs to talk with me about why he's angry, or to go into his room for some alone time (after he sits on the potty because he forgot to do that earlier and I'm sick of washing sheets... I didn't say that last part). After a bit more snarling and pouting he reveals that he's "very angry at me" because "he wanted more story and a snuggle."

We go back to his bed and I cobble together a tale about a beautiful girl with long green curls and purple basketball shorts. Her name is Sack (Kai's choice). She's sad because her brother is at school and so she has no one to play basketball with. She rounds up a bunch of insect teammates (reminiscent of those in James and the Giant Peach - I have no imagination). They walk to the court and... to be continued. Tomorrow, I'll tell the story of who they encounter there...

This story was incredibly lame. But Kai snuggled it all up with his "favorite blankie" and, with heavy eyes, started nodded off, satisfied.

I feel only defeated, a storytime failure. I'm sure there's a some sort of solution out there for unimaginative parents like me and I'm going to find it. And get more sleep, so that my brain isn't too tired to tell tales. Perhaps I should start reading books about fairies and dragons instead of ones about mothers dying of cancer. I could use a little more magical thinking, across the board. How 'bout you?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Glitter will earn you a pat down.

I have some helpful travel insights to share:

1. Glitter will earn you a patdown. Apparently the cozy sweater I changed into for the flight home was littered with glitter. Lest you start imagining some shiny bedazzled duds, here's a picture:

Subtle. So subtle I didn't notice till I got the no-go from the scan machine and quick pat-down from a super nice security officer woman who noticed the glitter right off. Later while lunching in the terminal, I noticed a woman wearing a long-sleeved shirt made of sequins. I wondered whether her screening demanded a call to airport security. 

2. If you want a fantastically loving phone call with your newly present-obsessed kids, order something from Amazon to arrive while you're away. When traveling without my kids, I normally call before their bedtime but the conversation is always a little disappointing. I can't tell which boy is talking and, typically, neither one is all that into chatting (typically I'm trying to connect right when shit is hitting the fan at home). I just end up feeling sad. Last night, we couldn't get the timing right so I phoned this morning, at 6:45 am. The kids were thrilled to hear from me—and I quickly learned why: a package arrived, from Amazon, and they wanted to know if they could open it. Noooooooo, I thought and started to panic that I'd clicked too fast and kid-gifts were coming here, instead of going to my secret storage, at Ri's. I quickly logged in and realized that the package was actually the LifeFactory sip top for Ri. I'd also meant to sent this to her house but it was A-OK to open... phew. The boys didn't care who the package was for—they just wanted to open it. And I let them. Via Facetime. I was a hero. 

So, to recap—and to rephrase: 1) during this glitzy holiday season, pack the glitter; dress plain if you're riding on a plane and 2) go ahead and send the right package to the wrong address; it might have a unexpected silver lining benefit. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

I can imagine loving-kindness.

I’ve been navel-gazing.

It started with a yoga/movement/writing/visioning retreat that was to be an early birthday present to myself. I really have no words to describe this experience. But if I did I probably wouldn’t share them here. And, in fact, sharing words at all was verboten for the second half of this two-day workshop. Which wasn’t easy for me.

I talk. I question. I prompt. Incessantly. That’s why I became I journalist. That’s why I like mingling at parties full of people I barely know and why I often strike up conversations on playgrounds, in lines, airplanes. Or at least, I don’t shut them down.

But my yoga/writing workshop experience proved not only that being quiet has its benefits (which I know) but also that I was capable of staying silent and, if forced encouraged to keep my observations and opinions and inquiries to myself for a somewhat extended length of time, I might be rewarded with realizations. Important ones.  After all, that’s what happened at the transformative (there’s a word but it’s an insufficient one so it doesn’t count) yoga/writing workshop.

Maybe I won’t be rewarded with profound realizations. Maybe, in these moments of quiet, I’ll just come up with stories, fictional shorts that serve to entertain me—and in some cases even inspire compassion, loving-kindness.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been traveling a lot in the last week. Uncharacteristically, solo. No kids. No Jon. Just me. And, to strangers, I’ve remained mostly silent. Which, as it turns out, that makes me more observant.  And imaginative.

As an eavesdropping voyeur, it’s been fascinating to listen to the dynamics of couples in stressful travel situations—mostly caused by snow and sleet but in one case, by a passport-verifying machine that forced one half of a two-person family unit to back down, cancel out and join her other half, two spots down, in finishing  his half-completed customs declaration screen. She. Was. Pissed. Her wrath was directed at Brian—that was his name—but we all got to hear it too. Brian and his domestic partner continued bickering. Like children. Did Jon and I sound like this? In public? I thought back to the man sitting in the Burlington terminal a few days earlier: so optimistically relating his (unfortunate) travel situation to the woman on the other end, the one who kept asking the same questions over and over again, in a kind yet-totally-annoying way. (Amazing as it may seem, I was eavesdropping on BOTH sides of this telephone conversation.) He seemed to be so happy to keep repeating his answers. I marveled at their considerate conversation—it seemed so nice.  Again, I wondered: where were Jon and I this Brian-and-his-angry wife/remarkably-kind-couple spectrum.

Twenty minutes later I came across a 50-something woman with strewn-about suitcases, bright makeup and big hair. She was in the process of combing her hot-rolled tresses in wide strokes while a growing line of stall-exiters waited in line to wash their hands. Who is this woman and why is she hogging up the counter with her vain primping? And – ew, gross – surely those strands are going to land all over the sinks. Then the story started forming… she was off to meet a guy she’d fallen in love with online. For the first time. Of course she wanted to look nice. Now I was rooting for her.

And then, tonight, just minutes after takeoff, the guy in 15D slumps over, his sleepy head falling over the invisible line dividing his side from mine and starts snoring. I feel an almost irrepressible urge to poke him. I want to tell him to SHUT UP. But my mind starts reeling: he’s a very anxious flyer. He’s medicated to get through. I pull out my iPhone and the headphones I’m grateful to have remembered and I start listening to “Marathon2012”—one of the few playlists I’ve synced to this device. When I tire of that, I turn to “Relaxing,” which consists of one 7:45 minute song that was supposed to be the soundtrack to Kai’s birth—till I requested that the doula switch to a running mix. The 15D Dude’s snorts sound over the ambient chimes. I feel twitchy. I want out of this seat. I remember how 15D slammed down our shared armrest and occupied all of it without even asking. Surely, he’s just a big jerk. I have no feelings of loving-kindness toward this character in the next seat. 

Maybe I should wake him up and ask him where he’s going? Did he have any delays? Did he wake up at the crack of dawn and that’s why he’s so sleepy and must snore so close to my shoulder.  I wonder. Maybe I should ask. But he's sleeping so I don't. I just sit and wonder.