Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So beautiful it hurts

The evening before, it was homework that stole our sunset.

He'd promised to do his homework in exchange for an evening stroll. I happily agreed. We needed a walk. He then proceeded to stall doing his homework, to whine about his homework, to get generally snotty about his homework. The sunset outside was amazing. It went from gentle melons and pinks, while he SWORE I was making it up when I gently corrected his spelling; to richer oranges and reds as I received the death glare for reminding him there was a back side to the worksheet; to blues and finally totally dark as he staged a small protest when I tried to point out his name looked like "Pavid" when he was petulantly, deliberately lazy with his handwriting. His homework got done, but we missed our walk, our moment.

And this evening, it was the boogers that did it.

I'd worked hard on my own stuff. I'd tried to catch up in both my personal and professional dealings. I'd taken a break to pick up my son from school, played a board game with him, served a snack, nagged him to do his homework, answered about ten million MomcanIhaves, MomcanIdos and MomMomMomlookitMomlookitMoms, and then rushed back again to the phone and computer. He'd call me back to the living room about every thirty seconds -- if he'd just give me ten freaking consecutive minutes, I'd grumble to myself -- but I was managing, slowly, to hack away at the day's tasks.

He called me out, a-freakin'-GAIN, and proceeded to ignore me once I got to the room. He was watching a commercial wherein the announcer apparently aimed to drill the product name into kids' -- and by extension parents' -- heads through sheer obnoxiousness: "So get ZEROGRAVITYMICRO!!!! Only ZEROGRAVITYMICRO can zoom on the floor, walls, or upside-down! It may even be able to violate the time space continuum! Really! So ask your parents for ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! Again, that's ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! Right now, ask for ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! Seriously, go ask! Now! ZEROGRAVITYMICRO!! Go ask your parents! ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! That's ZEROGRAVITYMICRO!!"

Finally, I asked what was up.

"I just wanted you in the room."

"Five minutes, David. Just five. Please."

Five seconds later, he called me back in. He said his hands felt funny and presented gunked-up fingernails. And even though I had about ten minutes to finish what I had been trying to do before various deadlines whooshed by, and even though cleaning my son's nails is about as easy as bathing a cat, I tried to clean out what seemed to be glue. To accommodate his nails-being-touched phobia, I was trapping one hand at a time and facing away from him, using my body to block his view as I scraped the glue out. About a minute in, however, with the glue now all over my fingers, he stopped me.

"Mom? I think my nose is bleeding."

I looked up. He'd quietly used his free hand to try to wipe it -- resulting in a sort of bloody handlebar mustache look. "What happened?"

"Well, before when I was scratching my nose ... I think I scratched too hard."

Realization struck. "David, what's under your nails?"

"Probably nose stuff."

"David! You weren't SCRATCHING your nose. You were PICKING your nose!"


"Yes huh! Did you put your fingernails into your nose? Did you dig?"

"But I wasn't!" (He was really whining now.) "I was scratching itches on the inside!"


"Waaaahaaaaa! I'm sorry, Mom!" His feet pounded the hallway to the bathroom. Slam. Muffled sniffling.

Ten minutes later he emerged from the bathroom, sans blood mustache and fingernail boogers. He asked if we had time to go out somewhere. I told him I wasn't sure; the day was almost over now. The sun was just about down.

"But I was waiting for you all day! I would have used a tissue if you were out here! And you said we could go out!"

He was laying it on a bit thick, but he was right. And really, what did I have to show for the day? What had I done? I'd e-mailed and written and blogged and Flickred. I'd worked a bunch and rested just a few minutes. I'd packed and called and cleaned and fixed. I'd even made a start in the Christmas lists. (Actually, one list: "1: Art kit; 2: Butterfly raising kit; 3: Transformers action figures; 4: EyeClops Bionic Eye; 5: NO Zero Gravity Micro...") I'd nagged.

And now I'd made my kid cry.

I really could have been out there.

Seen one way, parenting will always leave you guilt-ridden. No matter how much you play, take care, clean up after, tolerate, sing, laugh, sympathize, admonish, teach or help there's always something you're not doing. There's always something you're leaving out. There's always something you're missing. If you really, truly love your child, then every minute missed (especially if it's because of you) feels like a sin. Like sunsets. In a state with 360 clear days a year and spectacular sunsets nearly as often, if you truly love the planet, how can capturing only a few dozen sunsets -- either in photos or through sheer experience -- be anything but a sin? In either case, it seems the moments consciously treasured will forever be dwarfed by the moments missed.

But we decided to try to go out anyway. We yanked on our shoes (playground sand still rattling in his), grabbed a water bottle each, swiped some dry cat food (to feed the geese and ducks) and dashed out the door. I caught every green light on the way there. The sky was burning orange and yellow. Things were looking up. Still, I didn't figure we'd make it. And sure enough, we pulled up as the sun was dipping completely below the scrub and trees that lined our view over the east end of the water. The sky had turned a dull, darkish shade of faded violet. Crap.

Again, we'd missed our moment.

But he smiled. He dug his hands in the cat food and flung it into the pond. A couple dozen ducks and geese hastened over, casting Vs in their wakes in the darkening water. The geese honked and barked. The ducks chattered. A squadron of egrets flew overhead, impossibly long legs trailing behind them. One duck had taken to flying up as David threw the food, snapping and missing each time. He cracked up.

And we had our moment.

Some moments of parenthood are like blazing sunsets, vivid and Hallmarky and just oozing with overt awesomeness. But others are less noticeable -- and go totally unnoticed, if you're not careful. Sometimes the moments just creep up on you. He'll befriend a friendless girl at school, and you'll just about explode seeing him walk her out one afternoon. Or you'll catch his smile refracted dozens of times through raindrops on a window. Or he's sitting in a cardboard box that he's christened "David's club," and you're the only one allowed to join, and the passwords are "I love David," "We love playing" and "Magic Tree House." Or you'll watch as he coaxes a cat out of hiding or gently holds an insect. Sometimes, he's not even doing anything: just standing, in a baggy shirt, grasping his teddy bear and watching the last rays of light hit the parking lot pavement. And you'll think: Damn. This is My Kid.

And sometimes, mundane moments blossom into vivid Moment moments. He'll be pawing through your books, say, and he starts to sound out the lines in a book of poetry. You abruptly notice the way he holds the hand of an elderly person he's only just met, his fragile fingers resting over the delicate blue branches of the man's veins. You'll be rushing like mad to clean up for dinner and he presents you with a fistful of slightly stuck-together Christmas M&Ms, plopping the mass into your hand and withdrawing his own hand, covered in green and red polka-dots, and declaring that "You deserved a treat." Or you'll be packing, full of worry and preoccupation, and he'll push play on the CD player and dance with you to "Thunder Road," jumping and spinning and grinning just for you at "Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair." And you wonder how does he do that, how does he know, how can he bowl me over so completely? How is life so damn beautiful it hurts, and I only just now noticed?

The sunset unexpectedly turned into a Sunset sunset that night. It put on a second act of sorts, and the rest of the day -- the bills and the deadlines and the forms to sign and folks who won't call me back, the e-mail and mail mail and articles, the boxes packed and not yet packed, the stuff not yet fixed or cleaned or even considered, the homework and boogers -- just ... well, didn't melt away, really. This is reality, after all. But for a moment, they were hidden behind a curtain of deep blue and vivid pink, of bold streaks of orange and yellow, and of the silhouette of my son, his Casper-the-Ghost head and rounded cheek backlit by the surprise encore.

We sat and rode the evening into night. Carpe noctem, apparently. Seize the night.

The next day, we drew each other pictures about it. Carpe parvulus, maybe. Carpe occasus. Seize the child. Seize the sunset. Because the horrible truth is you'll miss out on so many moments. But the cool thing is, for a while, you get a perpetual fresh start, another chance every day.

Also, boogers are harder and less fun to clean out from under nails than caked-in cat food dust, but not as bad as poop or dried blood. Just in case you were wondering.

Kiss my Aspartame

Dear (name withheld),

I received the following message from you the other day (I've omitted your name from the screen capture to protect the gullible, and the answer, gasp, Hitler, because, well, the scrolling-way-down-for-the-obvious-answer thing annoyed me enough one time):

Really? I mean, really? You do realize that I could make up a list of commonalities for you, or me, or anyone and imply you or I MUST be like Hitler, right? Or that I could make up a list and compare just about anyone to Hitler, or Jesus, or Ghandi or President Bush or Justin Timberlake or just about freaking ANYONE ELSE?

I love you, and I'm totally happy to get real e-mails from you. In fact, I get so many solicitations to write about stuff in which I have no interest, or e-mails asking where the hell is the article I SAID I'd write, that it's a welcome breath of fresh air to read your notes. But your spam? It's gotta stop. Most of these have been debunked a LONG time ago, and I know you're kind of new to the online-socializing thing, but let me just say: Spam = bad form. It doesn't make it better if the spam is morality themed or religion themed.

Also, in a bold, uncharacteristic move, I henceforth swear to write mainly on my stated areas of interest and semi-expertise; namely nature, parenting, and a dash each of humor and science. I hereby (well, after this post) leave political-ness mostly to others. (Unless you visit, whereupon you'll get your fill.) But I almost entirely give up e-mailing, blogging and Facebook-statusing about such things. Even to correct you. So please know that I'm not ignoring you, even when I am.

Also, in case you were wondering:

  • Sadly, there is no food giveaway at Panda Express tomorrow. Thanks a lot for getting my hopes up, though.
  • The book of Revelation does not contain a description of "the anti-Christ," nor is there anywhere a description of someone matching Obama's description. Doesn't it seem a little suspect that every time some new and different person comes on the scene, either Revelation or Nostradamus is found to have condemned him and described him in eerie detail?
  • Aspartame was not developed as ant poison. Nor is or was it responsible for an epidemic of cancer or multiple sclerosis. This was debunked a pretty long time ago, sweetie.
  • Diamond Rio's "In God We Still Trust" wasn't played because it wasn't released as a single for a long time. If anti-Christian sentiment was responsible, would we be hearing even half the songs we currently hear on country stations?
  • I am not offended that products come with multiple-language instructions, that I have to press 1 for English, or that English-language teachers are employed. I think these things are good ideas, and have to question the logic of anyone who objects to classes that teach English as a second language but carries "Learn the %$#@ Language" signs. Can you automatically download a foreign language to your brain?
  • I am totally against persecuting Christianity. However, I don't think any such persecution is taking place in some large-scale way. There are no insidious plans to make coins omitting the phrase "In God We Trust." There is no overt war on Christmas. The ACLU actually has defended Christmas displays. Some stores will start saying "Merry Christmas" soon, others will say "Happy Holidays," others will just render friendly service without season's greetings, and some will remain as customer-unfriendly as ever. There is no Satanic or religion- or God-hating conspiracy in schools, grocery stores, post offices, or anywhere else. Nor are Arrowhead, Folgers, Procter & Gamble or any other company paying a "secret tax" to anyone.
  • If I receive any e-mail entitled "Agree or Delete," I will delete.

I think there are some folks who are pompous, intolerant, immoral, or who have an over-inflated sense of entitlement. I also think there are some people who are too quick to judge, who are hypocritical, or who are entirely too gullible and credulous. Unfortunately, all of us are these things a small portion of the time. Fortunately, most of us are not, most of the time. I do not think these e-mails help matters, in any case.

Besides, if I'm going to waste time doing not-work, I'm heading over to Facebook. There, I can update my status with my OWN crazy beliefs and opinions, hundreds of times a day!

Say hi to (name of mutual friend/family member withheld) for me,


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things I'll never understand

In no particular order:

How a six-year-old and a diabetic have consumed most of the cookies I baked less than two days ago.

The irrational, unfounded fear some folks have.

The appeal of crocs.

My own inability to shut up when it's prudent.

Faith. I think anyone who claims to fully understand it is mistaken or not being truthful.

The extent of the total wonderfulness and awesomeness of my kid.

How, exactly, a car works.

Why we seem to be fine with the rising price of any number of things, but will drive out of our way to save two cents a gallon on gas.

The inverse relationship between the popularity of a meme and its coolness.

How people can say arts in the schools are a waste of time.

Why my husband puts up with me. Especially when I tell him things like "I totally promise I'll have the laundry done and ready before your super-excruciating long shift at work tomorrow," get mad if he doesn't totally believe me, and then present him with second-stringer boxers and a slightly wrinkled work shirt for work the next day.

Ginormous aviator-style sunglasses.

How I manage to utter phrases like "What did I say about butts?" "Your penis is fine," and "If you lick that, I'm going to be really mad!" while keeping a straight face.

Why the heck people insist on saying "an historic," as in "This has been an historic election." Do we say "an Hawaiian" or "an hotel?"

How my mom single-handedly raised three teenagers.

Why my husband insists on putting empty soda cans back in the refrigerator. (And how I manage to refrain from harming him when my morning caffeine fix is repeatedly thwarted.)

Why nobody within earshot the other day congratulated me on my cleverness for my usage of the phrase "Barack me Obamadeus."

Child abuse.

Why the cat treats every time I go to the bathroom like an urgent, special social occasion between the two of us.

Why an entire forest had to be paperized just so we could try to buy a house.

Many of the things I act like I understand.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A blue evening in the red sea

Saying my peace
Originally uploaded by khosey1
UPDATE: Herein I agonize a bit about voting and political choices, and wonder if the box I marked today will have any ramifications. Let me just say that I can answer that question already: it did. Long story short, my husband and I made up after a semi-long discussion/fight/reconciliation/more fight/more discussion that peaked with me screeching "I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR WHO I VOTED FOR!" and storming outside to throw the trash away with severe prejudice while muttering dirty words.

(Yes, folks, it was that bad. I was so upset I didn't even notice my sentence ended with a preposition.)

So yeah, I voted today, and it occurred to me that more of my online acquaintances would have been able to predict which box I marked than the folks I see regularly in "real" life. This would be true even if I wasn't a computer nerd who needs to get out more. And it didn't really seem right.

I have a colorful political heritage, both in terms of my family background and personal journey. I won't bore you with details (largely because if I ever see you or currently do already, I'll gladly bore you in person), but suffice it to say that most members of my close and close-ish family, my husband's entire family and most of my social and professional circles are vivid, dark shades of red or blue.

My dad, for one, was a through-and-through conservative Republican and huge Reagan fan. I actually have a shirt I inherited from him hidden somewhere, emblazoned with large red letters "Top 10 Reasons to Elect Rush Limbaugh for President." ("Knows it was 'Adam and Eve,' not 'Adam and Steve,'" and other such gems.) To be fair, this was before Limbaugh was a total raving racist. Also to be fair, my dad usually had well-reasoned thought behind his opinions, even if he opined just a tad too loudly and obnoxiously. And I ... well, I totally and completely (and with considerable justification) idolized my dad, pretty much always. So even as I was developing my own views, that colored them considerably.

My family has left leanings as well, to be sure. My uncle, for one -- my dad's brother -- is a Democratic committee member on the west side of Buffalo. It sounds like he and my dad, even growing up, sort of made a career out of playing each other's devil's advocates. I respect the hell out of them both, and it is/was edifying just to listen to what they have/had to say. The tradition throughout my family tends away from the "Don't talk about politics or religion at the dinner table" and closer to "Hash out politics, religion, and everything else over dinner, breakfast, lunch, snacks, beer, tea, coffee and coupon cutting. Make up with sarcasm and humor."

I could go on about family political ties: my mom's a beautifully nuanced political landscape: Republican but a member of Greenpeace, conservative on most moral issues ... but progressive on race and gender politics. My brother is conservative, usually, but has some of the most well-thought-out opinions of anyone of whom I consider myself a peer. My friends are liberal, about 95 percent of them. My husband's family is incapable of separating religion from politics, and thinks it should be that way. But my story is everyone's story. Few of us come from a monochromatic background. I will say that times like this tend to be slightly more ... volatile in my experience than maybe in those of some of my friends.

(I promise, this graph wraps up the preamble.) I remember when I was in grade school, we did one of those "Kids Pick the President" things. We had to fill out dummy voting cards. I knew my family's political leanings more or less, especially my dad's. But I didn't usually hear party-name talk. So when I had to bubble in an "R" or a "D," I chose the latter -- because, I reasoned, I believed in democracy above all. My dad, understandably, was crestfallen when I told him this later. I was "set straight" at the time, and spent a good several years pretty much living on the Republican party line. But I always sort of wondered about that "D." What if it was better, sometimes? I have a strong opinion on nearly everything about which I bother to have an opinion. But I wouldn't say I'm a raving liberal or conservative. I guess maybe left of center. It's not that I'm wishy-washy by any means, just that maybe if you took all my views on various issues, it'd more or less average out to there.

So here goes.

[Deep breath]

I voted for Barack Obama.

Um, yeah. I know. Big huge news, right? Well, not to most of you who follow any of my online goings-on. (I swear I have a real life. I just think it's such a rich life, why not share it on my blog? And on Facebook? And on Flickr, and science forums, and reading forums...)

The thing is, this may possibly be news to one or two people, which is shameful, for someone who's proud of being opinionated and revelatory in her writing and all that jazz.

Obama is a statesman. He's a family man. He's got growing to do, but I can see his growth enlightening rather than endangering the country. He's intellectually curious (which, really, is a biggie) and honest. And regardless of who gets the blame or credit, followers and supporters of Obama have largely behaved more respectfully and productively than many McCain supporters, which I tend to think is instructive of how the worst and best of Americans would act under either candidate as president. It may not be fair, but to some extent I bet McCain's supporters have cost him the election (along with Palin, of course). I mean, with friends like these...

And inspiration, and hope, and eloquence are not empty baubles that make Obama merely seem better. They matter. The same appeal, rhetoric and communication skills will be in play in his role as president. Yeah, sure, he rehearses the speeches and sure, McCain's slip-ups of "My fellow prisoners," "I couldn't agree with him (the guy with whom I totally disagree) more," and "cunt" instead of "cut" are just that, slip-ups that garnered way more reaction than was warranted. But McCain practiced too, didn't he? And wouldn't his future speeches be in front of a hurting country or on the precarious international stage? Are you telling me that communication, rhetoric and inspiration don't matter there? That slip-ups won't get blown out of proportion?

My husband used a good analogy the other day (though he will surely object to it being appropriated here). "Obama's got him intellectually," he admitted. "Obama would be the guy who could build a chemical treatment plant from scratch, could probably draw up the chemical structures and how they interact on the spot. But McCain's worked in them; he'd be the guy who could tell you how it all works and how it runs and what to do when the front part breaks down." That may be a fair point, and insofar as time clocked and miles walked can qualify a candidate, McCain might edge him out. But first, I think Obama can run the country capably and has had relevant experience, albeit for a shorter span of time. And second, what we need right now is some fresh air, some rebuilding, some straight-up building. We need the guy who can draw up the plans and work out the equations.

Silly as it is, I'm still nervous about this post, even though my worries are probably largely unfounded. Will I have to have the abortion argument with my husband again? (EDIT: Yes, yes I will. That and more.) The experience argument with part of my family? Will the other portion of my family be chagrined I haven't resoundingly denounced McCain? Will my extended family just outright disown me? What of the arguments of Arizona and veteran loyalty? The ethical debates? Economy issues about which I still feel unqualified to even have opinions?

But it is my choice, and I have labored long and hard, if only in my own head. And it feels disingenuous to conceal it, even by omission. Hell, it feels downright chicken shit. And though each vote counts and I feel my vote is undeniably essential, it's just like everyone's. I'm not special. I'm not anyone. Today, I'm not a writer, or a snarky conversationalist, or a long-suffering intellectual among people I secretly (and perhaps wrongly) think are less intelligent than I. I'm not the conservative one among my writer and liberal arts friends. I'm not the raving liberal among my and my husband's immediate family. I'm not the one who dare not even open her mouth among certain extended family members for fear of the fallout. I'm not the one who accidentally bubbled in the "D" instead of the "R" and spent the next two decades wondering if it was a providential slip. I'm not the pathologically conscientious mom who wonders what, if anything, to tell a six-year-old about candidates' differences.

I should never have been afraid to voice this, in real life, loudly. I'm just me, deciding here, today. I'm Kim. Not everyone will agree with me. And I voted for change. Hopefully for myself as well.