Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Along came a (few dozen) spider(s)...

Most people avoid black widow spiders like ... well, like creatures with potentially deadly venom.

Not me, as you might have guessed:
But most people have a vague idea that they are nocturnal, and relatively shy. People know that they just don't go traipsing around in daylight, right? And that if one did happen to be out in daylight, it would probably book it to the nearest rock or hidey hole, or back to its web? And that if it just happened to walk over some bozo's hand, that bozo might look at her hand before automatically swatting it because, well, it has potentially deadly venom inside of it?

I think you probably all know where this is going:

This spider was the latest in an ongoing quest to keep at bay a burgeoning population of black widows that have decided our house is prime real estate. I love the creatures. They're some of the most gorgeous spiders out here (and we have our share of spiders). However, their venom is potentially problematic. (It's rarely lethal, actually. Surprisingly, however, many people are less comfortable with "rarely" than "never.") That goes double if you have a kid, especially one who can be absentminded; or a cat, especially one who, though he isn't allowed outdoors and hates to be outdoors, occasionally tries to go outdoors, and has been known to eat spiders. If the webs and spiders are far enough away from the house I don't worry, but our widow population has taken to making webs against every freaking corner of the house. That includes the part everyone's ankles brush every time they walk out of or into the house, the corner our legs lean into if we're grilling, and the nooks along the area where David likes to play with his friend. (First thing his friend told his dad as he picked him up: "Hey Dad! They have BLACK WIDOW WEBS in their yard!" Great.) So last night and the night before, I waited until they were all coming out, grabbed a cheap flashlight (but not a partner, as my husband is a big giant baby has an aversion to spiders) and stalked the front and back yard. I'm probably a huge geek weirdo Aw, whatever geek and weirdo, but it was kind of thrilling. The moonlight was faint, almost absent. I could only see a patch of world at a time, just a little circle of weak yellow light sliding over the gravel, grass, dirt, and concrete. I could just make out the tangled heads of trees, darker shades of black against the almost-black sky. I played the light left and then right, keeping my feet always in the periphery of the beam and then whoa a something ran over my foot (probably a lizard) and holy crap the ground is moving over there and There, there's a black widow, huge and hunting. And another. And another.

I had to dispatch of more than I would have liked. But the excursion itself? It was stimulating. I paid attention. To everything.

The Arizona desert -- my backyard -- is so commonplace to me that I forget it's pretty exotic and remarkable. Outsiders already know this. Things I consider everyday, or at least not super rare -- using looming mountains to get my bearings, glimpsing a roadrunner or coyote, dodging a giant tumbleweed, walking past any of the hundreds of saguaros I might see in a day, finding a scorpion in the laundry room -- are Super Big News to a visitor or someone hearing about it. One friend of mine spent her first month here taking pictures of every saguaro she saw, and stopped her car in the middle of the road to photograph tumbleweed.

For the record, it works both ways. I bug the crap out of everyone in earshot every time I visit Upstate New York, or anywhere in New England, by commenting approximately ten times a minute that "It's so green." They get it. Also, I spent a whole afternoon photographing seagulls in San Diego, found the deer at Goucher College incredibly exotic, and was super-excited when I found this multicolored, active beetle on one trip.

I love the desert. (Well, usually. I could do with out temperatures that, as my husband says, are hotter than Satan's armpits. Actually, I'm pretty sure he stole that phrase. But I don't know the original source, so he gets credit for now.) I love its sunsets and mountains and cacti and especially its critters. But sometimes, well, I get used to the desert.

I could do without the black widows sometimes. But sort of, thank god for 'em. And for my ever-questioning kid, and for my chosen profession. I would hate to stop paying attention. I would hate to get used to this place.

**Also, I'm taking requests now, if you have any. I am used to this place all too often. My son provides a fresh perspective, but for those times he's too engrossed in the comparative merits of Bakugan and Ben 10, what would you like to read about? Widows? Sunsets? Cacti? Coyotes, wolves, roadrunners, javelina, Gila monsters, other spiders, insects, monsoons, the Grand Canyon? Am I leaving stuff out? (Well, of course I am. I could go on for much longer than you could possibly want to read. But I want to know what you find interesting.) And I promise to take my own, minutiae-including, booger-involving, amateur casually written, weird idiosyncratic approach.**

Sunday, June 21, 2009

We hit the father lode

Last week at this time, my husband and I were planning to have lunch with my mother-in-law. As we contemplated if the restaurant would be packed and keep us waiting like a bunch of goobers (not good for an impatient perpetual motion machine kid, a hungry post-church mother-in-law and grandma-in-law, and a couple who manages to turn an idle ten minutes into a passive very aggressive whispered argument over who has been nicer to whom, vis-a-vis an incident the night before involving Tuna Helper), my husband said, "Well, isn't it Father's Day?" My heart/brain/facial expression melted. I raced through options in my head, rushed "secret" trips to the store/cards made/goodies baked, until I realized it wasn't that weekend -- I thought. But I wasn't sure. (I totally promise to be easy on you next year when you forget whether my birthday is on the second or third, babe.)

But others are much more on the ball, and I've been watching/reading a fair bit online the last few days about dads, their roles, their treatment, and so forth, in time for Father's Day.

The thing is, I've never really given much thought to "Do fathers get a raw deal," "Can they do just as good a job as mothers," or "Are fathers treated as second-class parents." Partly because my brain is busy thinking things like "Is the toilet going to flood our bathroom for a third time today," "Why on Earth did the universe entrust me with such an awesome kid and give me such a great partner," "Can we afford mortgage this month," "What the hell is that smell," "What's the difference between an eared grebe and a pied-billed grebe," and "Which Bakugan is blue, again?"

(Not necessarily in that order. Sometimes, though.)

(Yeah, these are all thoughts in my head at this moment.)

But it's also because my own family was never like that. Sure, there were times, many, that my mom was the "primary" rule giver, and when the shit (which, if it was there because of us, we'd better clean it up ourselves or ELSE) really hit the fan, she usually took charge at home because 1) she was the one home most often and 2) she was her (if you know her you'll know what I mean). But they were a team, and my father was about the most involved father one could possibly have. He taught me reading and humor and music appreciation and that Beach Boys are great if you're happy and Jim Croce is good if you're sad and how to be sarcastically snide to the music guy at Best Buy if he calls him "Jim Crochet." He taught me as much about baseball as is possible to cram into a three-year-old's head, and later, everything else about baseball. (I've fallen out of following it, but could still properly keep score in my sleep, backwards Ks and all, and I know that Ozzie Smith switch hit. Go crazy, folks.)

More than that, my dad was sort of a superdad. He was the popular teacher/coach at school, the goofy (though you can't really help but be goofy if you're as tall as a phone pole and wear SHORTS in front of 11- and 12-year-olds), sarcastic, teacher-it's-cool-to-like teacher. If a kid needed guidance or coaching or extra anything, he was there. We shared our dad often, and it somehow always seemed to add rather than take away in terms of his dad-ness.

I've written on my dad before. I pretty much idolized the guy. That, I always thought, is the standard by which all dads are to be measured. I have never exactly made a secret of how I felt.

So already, you can possibly see where my husband could have maybe felt pressured. Just a tad.

But it's not even that. I ... well, I don't hide it exactly, but there are some things I don't exactly broadcast. I used to think it was to not make my husband feel weird, or even my son. But it's me.

It's just: David didn't start out Aaron's.

But that's not how it is at all. The thing is, Aaron chose David. He chose both of us.

If I were telling another story, a romantic story, I’d tell here how my husband and I came to be married one December afternoon, with my son as ring bearer, how the ceremony went on to recognize the union of my husband and son as father and son. I’d tell how we all got to that point -- how Aaron and I had dated through high school and a few years afterward. How we had been the forever and ever couple. I’d tell about taking Aaron to my prom, unbothered when his family threw scandalized looks at my dress straps, as if this was exactly why their son had been home-schooled.

I’d tell the usual tired stories about betrayal and sex and school, and maybe some less-tired ones involving a diabetic coma (his), a black bear encounter (both of us, and we think a black bear), and even more daunting, encountering my mother after a particular indiscretion ("... and a teenage female, last name Henry-Ocean-Sam-Edward-Yellow. I think the male's head is about to implode from mortification. Wait, I just heard 'im yell 'Your mom has a POLICE SCANNER?!' I think I'm gonna make 'em wait a minute more, mess with 'em.") (Most definitely both of us, as my mother was delighted share).

I’d tell how our relationship had survived fights, only to disintegrate from stagnation. How it had nearly torn us both apart as individuals. How I’d dived headlong into a job I didn’t really like, met someone I didn’t really like, had a child, alone, and why I honestly never think about that man. I'd tell who Aaron had used that time to date. How, when we finally became good friends once again after three years of little communication, all of that seemed to fall away and it seemed natural and easy that we’d be together again. How it hasn’t really been that easy, if I'm honest with myself. How I know so completely that I want it, and him, anyway.

But I'm not telling that story. I guess the only important points here are: Aaron and I have known each other for about eighteen years. We've been super-close friends for the better part of those years, if not consecutively. We dated, then we didn't. I had a kid. He married me and embraced that kid. He loves my son. His son, our son.

No matter what we'd ever gone through, even before he was his "father," Aaron was there for David. He was the first visitor when I had him, a fixture around the house when I brought him home. Even before we'd considered anything like getting back together and back when he still thought he hated kids, he loved David. He was covered in spit-up and at least tried to change a diaper. Which is what parenting is, in my experience. I'm not a mushy goo-goo girl. I didn't know how to change a diaper until after I had a son. I am much more kid-inclined now that I used to be, but it's more by immersion and philosophical understanding. Kids are still a pain. But it's different with mine. And that's how Aaron is. He's not a kid person. But he's definitely an our-kid person. He's a dad.

Aaron isn't just like my own dad. Which isn't better or worse, just different. (Actually probably better for me specifically, since I never would have married someone just like my father -- two sarcastic, opinionated, never-backing-down bigmouths wouldn't have worked too well.) We're our own family. He's his own person, learning and growing and loving and screwing it up just as often as he gets it right just like the rest of us. But the one thing that is the same between them is the caring. I haven't known very many people who care as fiercely as my own father, and this one:

Happy Father's Day, baby.

(It IS this weekend, right?)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Slowing down at the ripe old age of 29

My husband tells me I say "Sorry for not posting" too often. So, I'm not not sorry for not posting. How's that.

Blame it on age. I had a birthday a few days ago. Twenty nine. Seriously.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to escape the realization that I am, in fact, a full-fledged adult. Not a young adult. Not just an adult with respect to being a mom, but it's still OK to eat a bagged salad out of the bag and watch Dawson's Creek without feeling ashamed. Not even a twenty-something anymore, really. I'm almost thirty. Eek.

But if one thing has come with age, it's an appreciation for detail and the understated. An ability to slow down and zoom in. Well, that, and an inability to eat peanut M & Ms with impunity.

I'll back up. In sixth grade, I was a burgeoning intellectual. Of course, I also wore those shirts that change color when you breathe on them like when you fog up windows, and bunched them up in those shirt-holder-things that looked like big "No" symbols, so my self-assessment skills might have been lacking. But I was the shit, trust me. I won spelling bees and academic bowls and, you know, all the stuff cool kids do. I wrote acrostic poems ("Dinosaurs" and "Nature"). Also, I decided to write a book. My book had two space explorers who were thrown off course and couldn't find their way home. They decided to settle on a strange new world. Adam decided to name it "Earth," and Eve agreed.

Yeah, I know.

In junior high (by which point I'd abandoned the Hypercolor tees and clips, in favor of plaid and an otherwise totally brown and green wardrobe), I still wrote stories, and though they weren't as blatantly unoriginal, they invariably ended with the main character finding out that (gasp!) that shopkeeper had died three weeks before he talked to him or (gasp!) he had been dreaming the whole time. (Or HAD he?) Gah. Also, I decided I would write about marine biology, but pretty much only the mega-est of marine megafauna. You know, because no one's thought of covering that before.

In high school (by now I had graduated to No Fear shirts) I wrote a paper about, and entitled, "Religion and Science." The assignment was to write at least twenty-five pages. I wrote forty. I thought I knew it all, but all I cared about was the All. Never the parts. So I never noticed enough to really know anything. Because everything's about the parts. Even megafauna depend on the tiniest creatures. I didn't even know about the existence of phytoplankton back when I considered myself a marine biology expert.

Even my first several newspaper articles suffered from this inability to zoom in and notice what was important and unimportant. (By this point I'd totally stopped trying to dress impressively, and filed most stories wearing satin Tootsie Pop shorts.) It might not be so bad since the stories were probably read only by editors and my mom. Still, I had a hard time writing about a thirty-minute tax workshop at the community center in less than forty inches.

(I've been both a reporter and editor many times since those shitty amateurish early stories. I'm sorry. You guys must have hated me so much.)

It was about patience. I had none. I could always write -- where "write" is defined as "vomit words." I could write twenty pages in one go by the time I was ten. It doesn't take much patience or attention to "write" twenty pages. It takes a lot of it to write two. If the idea or concept couldn't be seen from space, I wasn't likely to cover it, and I covered it all. I was unable to sit still, to read, to really think for long enough to find nuances, to pare down ideas and words.

I must be growing up, though. Now, I "write" just as much, but I sit. I let it ferment. I think. And then I write. Or, I try to. Sometimes it happens.

Other aspects of my life have gone through a similar maturation (though, sadly, not my sense of fashion).

Take food. I used to cook: 1) chicken nuggets or patties; 2) pizza; or 3) whatever my mom sent home. Now, I can reliably cook over a dozen semi-complex dishes, and they usually taste like what they're supposed to taste like, and if atmospheric conditions are right, I can rattle off the names of at least seven or eight spices. And I'm not even counting salt, pepper, and powdered cheese.

Or cars. I used to know the following about cars: 1) whether a car was running; 2) how to change a flat so creepy dudes don't stop to "help" me; and 3) not to barf all over the car taking me home from the New Year's party where I shotgunned Jell-O shots all night. Now, I can name at least ten car parts, and point out probably five of them!

So I thought I was getting better at things -- writing, cooking, not killing my car -- because I was growing up. Learning to slow the hell down and notice details. And all by myself, too!

Well, maybe not.

See, if there's anyone who has an excuse for not noticing details, it should be my son. Most of the day, I live with a cat, my husband, and a boy-shaped blur. It begins at about six each morning. And doesn't stop until nine at night, when I cover him, still chattering, and force him into a supine position. In between, it's:


And on like that. He's like those characters in storylines who have sped-up bodies or whatever (I'm pretty sure I wrote a story about them in seventh grade) and they can't experience the normal world because in relation to their own movements it's all frozen and imperceptible. You would think it would take a monumental force of sheer will to notice anything at all.

But he's gifted. He slows down when it matters. Every time.

That's it. He just slows down. I really don't have anything particularly enlightened to say about it, which seems right, somehow. It just is. He just is. He notices the barbs on a dragonfly's legs. A twitch of my mouth or a slight change in my inflection, and he's there, telling me exactly what I need to hear. A song plays, and he can name the instruments, even the ones I never noticed. At the lake last night, he sat shoulder-deep in the water, and ducks and grebes swam by, almost close enough to touch. He didn't try, though. Just watched.

Anyway, I think that's where I must have learned it.