Friday, March 27, 2009

Things I don't love

I need to have some regular blog feature.

My friend, Mary over at No Titles, is great with blog features. She's started a Wednesday feature called the Nonfictionist in which she interviews us writerly sorts. The latest installment features yours truly, though I'm preceded by Tom French, Pulitzer-winner author and all-around incredible guy; and Leslie F. Miller, whose awesome "mosaic of cakeness" book, Let Me Eat Cake, is due out April 14. My inclusion with these two makes me proud. Also, it makes me realize I've gotta get/keep crackin'.

Mary's also got a Thursday feature she usually does, entitled Things I Love Thursday, or TiLT. I think at some point she mentioned I and other bloggers ought to take up the feature on our own blogs, which I mentioned to a friend.

"But what would be the point?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," he said, "you kinda love, well, everything. Even things you don't love, you love."

"That's not true!"

"Two words: Battlefield Earth."

He's right, of course. I have the hardest time not loving something. I spent a good twenty minutes photographing a fly on a pile of garbage one day. I have an even harder time writing about it. Even bad-at-the-time experiences, like almost dying in childbirth, only occur to me as things to cover because they end so nicely. And then there's the sunsets and kiddy converstaions, and well... Yeah. Rose-colored glasses have permanently fused to my eyes. And I'm happy about that too. Maybe Things I Love would be a little superfluous.

The one time I don't love everything is online. Ignorant morons. Hateful morons. Morons among those I love, about whose moronic beliefs I was heretofore blissfully unaware. I mean, ugh. So that's how I'll balance it, at least today. If I love doing it (I love everything, but it IS online now, so you never know) maybe it can be a feature. Maybe, hmmm, Links I Can't Help Endlessly, Needfully Scorning. Or LICHENS. (Lichen, in case you didn't know, is a composite organism of fungus and a photosynthetic partner such as algae. They love each other, as my son says. And we love them. See how this sappiness works?)

So here are a few things I don't love, either ridiculous in link or in nature of what it covers.

* Needing to make one's point via lack of compassion, and/or blatant idiocy. No matter what my opinion on most issues, I'm more than willing to listen to the other side. But please. Condemning condoms as something that makes AIDS worse? Quashing the teaching of science in science class because your faith isn't strong enough to stand up to reality? Feeling vindicated, even HAPPY that several of one person's family members died in a tragic plane crash? You've lost me.

* The International Federation of Competitive Eating. Came upon it the other day. Pretty self-explanatory.

* The ridiculous fixation with Obama's use of a teleprompter. Do people have nothing to say on the substance of Obama's words? Do they think other presidents haven't used a teleprompters and speechwriters? (Actually, Obama is involved in writing a lot of his own speeches.) Was this better? Seriously, I don't see how this is news at all.

* Hate. It increases with things like fear and uncertainty and, gasp, differences, which most people seem to take as staples of continuing to live but which cause a sizeable minority to lash out with righteous contempt and sans brains. It's bad enough when the real nutjobs trot out their usual brand of hate, and bad enough that the recession and having a biracial president is bringing them out of the woodwork. But now I get the occasional e-mail from an acquaintance about stocking up on guns for one reason or another, always something to the effect of "It's time to fight back." It's an us-versus-them message. Sorry, e-mailers. No. I'm part of them. So are you. There is a middle ground between homogeny and all-out war.

* LOLcats. Still don't care about them.

* Perfectly intelligent people believing totally batshit-insane things. I just read something from someone (who really should know much better) about how the Illuminati secretly engineered the First, Second, and coming Third World Wars. Really? I mean, can't you at least be more creative in your conspiracy theories? And Boston Latin School's headmaster had to officially tell people that there are not, in fact, vampires at the school (leading to such irresistable headlines as "Headmaster sucks life out of rumors" and "Boston school drives stake through vampire talk"). What really gets me is that in both cases it's otherwise normal, reasonably intelligent people believing these things. What is it that makes otherwise sane people idiots? The company of other willing participants?

* Lazy faith. Don't have time to pray? Sign up to have a computer do it for you. Please. Whatever your beliefs, this is ridiculous.

That's all I've got for now. I'll get funnier and less preachy next time, hopefully. Until then, here's something you can't help but love, for good measure:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Looking back

Since I've started blogging at least semi-regularly, I've begun to get requests. I'm one of only a few bloggers among my offline acquaintances, and so it was kind of slow going at first. Blogging. Um, sure. But in the months I've been active, blogging's picked up in popularity among even the uninitiated, and I like to think I've also hit a stride of sorts. So it's my thing now, and I get requests. They take three forms, with some overlap -- the topical ("You have to write on such-and-such issue!"); the experiential ("Come on! When are you gonna write about when you: forgot your pants/hiked the Grand Canyon/got mugged for your trash?"); or the writerly ("I loved reading your essay. You should so post it!").

I find the last one particularly flattering, being a writer and all. But I always feel kind of like it's, I don't know, cheating. I'm supposed to write new stuff, right?

I'm cheating today anyway. But this one's different.

David's seventh birthday is tomorrow. I can't freaking believe it. Seven. And between the preparations for his birthday and assorted drama in my own life, I haven't written much about it yet. I will. But I'm feeling too darn nostalgic right now. So here, a repeat for some of you and with less polish than I'd like but pretty much the way I wrote it years ago, is his birth.


It didn’t occur to me until I saw the blood.
This is not how motherhood is supposed to begin.

Blood soaked the sheets, forming a pool, the slick surface undulating. Mine. It never happened like this in the movies. It happened in those “emergency childbirth” shows - blurry, strobe flashes and a melodramatic drumbeat, the narrator grave.

My most coherent thought was that the shows underplayed the drama.

It had begun routinely. The doctors asked the requisite questions and calculated the number of humiliating positions I could assume. After posing me on hands and folded legs, like a terrified jackrabbit, the anesthesiologist prepared the epidural and reassured me. I produced a crackly squeak, which I hoped he would interpret as a polite laugh.

As I steeled myself for the jab, the electronic beeps monitoring my son’s - David’s - heart rate slowed conspicuously, like a neglected wind-up toy. The doctors’ eyes narrowed.

I was flipped on my right side. “…definitely a placenta abruptia.”

On my back. “…gonna need a C-section.”

On my left side. “… don’t want her to bleed out.”

As I wondered if they would employ a mother-to-be rotisserie, the bone-white sheet turned reddish-black.

“Whoa, that’s too much blood. We gotta deliver now.”

I signed to have the operation. I would have signed for a C-section, lobotomy or castration. My hands shook. My arms, legs, torso followed, as if a maniacal puppeteer were throwing a tantrum with my limbs. And why was it so cold?

My sister stood aside as my mom frantically tugged on one-size-sort-of-fits-all sky-blue scrubs.

“She’s in shock, isn’t she?” she hissed to my mom in a stage whisper. She fingered circlets of hair, pulled the sleeves of her sweatshirt up and down - she would not be in the operating room. And there was no father. Only my mom came with me.

Fluorescent lights raced overhead as I sped feet-first down the hall. I gazed at the floor. The beige and taupe tiles became tracer bullets in my path. My limbs crashed against the cot, with a thump-clang-rattle-thump as they hit sheets, frame, sheets again.

It’s all wrong. I’m not ready. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

A Caesarean section, I’m told, takes about forty-five minutes. Mine took nine. I managed to turn my head and watch David’s birth. He was blue. Not bluish. Blueberry Popsicle blue. Ice blue. I held my breath with him. The doctors - there were a dozen now - rubbed him, rolled him, and fed him air. Finally: a small, uncertain, “Wah.” His cyanotic tint faded into a coralline red-pink.

Six years later, I’m still not ready. But you’ll know who I am.

A plastic tarantula, empty juice pouches and the books Slinky, Scaly Snakes and Bugs, Bugs, Bugs! litter my car. A Vivaldi CD I played impulsively on the way to the lake one evening has remained in the player for three months, by decree of my son. The only acceptable replacement, I’ve been told, might be the Shrek soundtrack.

My philosophy discussions, once rooted in Kierkegaard and Hume, now begin with “If it’s time to make baby birds, why do the girl birds run away from the boy ones?”

My bedroom-playroom-home office is a hodgepodge of academia and an advertisement for Toys “R” Us. A plastic Superman bust looks over cosmology texts. A scientific paper titled “Candidates of red shift 5.5-7 galaxies” bookmarks Diego Saves the Whale.

I spend days playing, reading, running, teaching, kissing and making it better. I spend nights, and a few afternoons, working. I seldom sleep. I smell like chicken sticks, bubble mix and Play-Doh.

My prayers have turned from generic petitions to the weirdly specific: “God, please let my son pee in the toilet this time. I’m out of dry underwear and paper towels.” Or, “God, please let me say the right thing when the dog dies. I can’t stand to break his heart.”

Every issue is weighty - eating (you can’t have Pop Tarts nine times a day), religion (sure, God might sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus on Christmas), animal care (cats and dogs cannot “play robots”). He wants to be an animal rescuer, and volunteer at the zoo. It’s an hour’s drive. I can’t wait to take him.

Asked to name my favorite actor, I couldn’t decide between Squidward Tentacles and Scooby-Doo. My physics and calculus are rusty, but I can recite every Dr. Seuss book and know how many times SpongeBob has taken his driving test (thirty-nine).

David’s wide, tooth-packed smile is an explosion that takes over his face. His laugh trickles like the lyrical, playful flow of a mountain stream. To feel his rose-petal lips on my cheek, or his silky, gold-brown hair in my fingers, is to experience love.

It came to me, at the arboretum, as it often does: just watching him. He danced and swirled near a bush, disturbing a flurry of black and iridescent-blue butterflies, which spun briefly about him before alighting elsewhere. This is exactly how motherhood is supposed to be.

For many a young to middle-aged woman, a pivotal moment of anxious resignation is when she finds herself filing coupons alphabetically, scolding drink-from-the-carton culprits or uttering the phrase “You’ll poke your eye out,” and realizes she has become her mother.

Not me. I have become my son.

I giggled the other day when the cashier farted while ringing up our purchase. I have developed an unusually high affinity for Pop Tarts and string cheese. I was always horrible at delivering punch lines, but I don’t even know the jokes anymore. My son’s favorite joke goes:

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Me! Ah ha ha! Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”


(Repeat for ten minutes.)

Other than that, I don’t really know any jokes. But my days are still filled with humor. I do know, for example, that the nature-show narrative “The boobies come in great numbers, as far as the eye can see,” is good for an afternoon of laughter. I know the simple joy that comes from pulling up to the stop sign beside the neighborhood horse stables at the exact moment two mares engage in synchronized defecation, or the snickers borne from lifting one snail from the dirt only to discover a second one attached to it, the hermaphroditic parts “lined up.” I’ve relearned the joke that “your epidermis is showing.” I know that spelling out the word “up” on the talking computer at the science center makes it say “You pee.” I know that I don’t get invited to any parties. I choose to believe everyone in attendance wishes to avoid being overshadowed by my newly acquired comedic repertoire.

I was warned motherhood would mow me down like a trimmer over wild, unruly grass. Make me into a tame, monotonous turf. Get ready for boredom, I was warned. Be prepared for repetition.

Instead, we have tended the wild weeds in each other. There is repetition, sure, and I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand how the same cartoon episode remains enthralling upon viewing forty five times. But rarely is there monotony. We seem to have an unspoken pact, a refusal to abandon wonder. If this is an anomaly of nature, either his as a child or mine in my simple-minded refusal to be bored, I welcome it.


And lastly, if you're wondering where he got the baby-jowls, I give you me, circa 1980:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Happy (belated) birthday, Dad

I tried and tried yesterday to think of a fitting post to do for what would have been my dad's 51st birthday. I did one last year, and was thinking of him all day. But nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly. Fits and starts. I wrote a bit here and there about how he lives on through me in unexpected ways, how he chose "favorite" baseball players whose cards my brother and sister and I would "collect" (starting in infancy; my "favorite" was Keith Hernandez). I scribbled down a list of random quotes I remembered from him:

On religion: "I'm Catholic, but that doesn't mean I agree with everything the Pope or the priest does. It's like being an American. If you agree with everything the President does and don't even question it, you're a pretty lousy American."

On buying ten cartons of ice cream: "Well, it WAS on sale."

On an argument with my mom: "Well, sometimes we do argue. We love each other, and we'll be fine by tonight ... but I am right."

On my mom deliberately ruining his eggs (because he deserved it): "That's fine. I LIKE them this way."

On my mom and I arguing: "Well, I think you're both being a little ridiculous!"

On our response: "..." [Retreat.]

On my mom revealing, after months, that she'd switched the brand name for a generic: "Well, yeah. I figured that out right away. I just didn't say anything."

On political affiliations: "Well, you're Republican. We're Republican. Obviously."

After a huge fight once: "You should know something. You and you mom. You're my heroes. You've changed me more than you'll ever know."

But I couldn't wrap it up, tie it to anything. Because I am my dad for better or worse, including my short attention span, propensity to procrastinate and my devotion to my kid. So I tried in two- and three-minute spurts, and nothing. How do you commemorate someone you're already constantly commemorating in your life and thoughts? I talked to my mom twice yesterday and it occurred to me I had forgotten to say anything. But what do I say? Happy Dad's birthday? Probably, I guess. But that seemed inadequate, somehow, which was the same problem that I had with everything I tried to write. So sorry, Mom. Definitely, Happy Dad's birthday.

My son and I went through old pictures last night, and we found some old pictures of my dad and me. (I'll scan them in and add them to this post later today.) My son, without really looking at them at first, saw the kid and the postures and immediately assumed it was me and him.

And then we went for a walk, and saw this amazing pink and red sky.

David knew what day it was. The world knew.

I guess I'll end with a conversation David and I had last night. It was prompted by a book (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), which seems more than fitting.

"Harry must be sad his mom is dead."

"Yeah. I'm sure he's very sad."

"Like, when he wonders what to do, and wants to ask her, and she's not there."

"That would be really hard. He just has to do his best. And he has the memory of her."

"But why does the memory make him happy? Doesn't it make him sad that she's gone?"

"Well, of course he's sad. But I guess Harry's happy because the memory is kind of like him, I mean her, still being there. And when Harry needs advice or love, Harry can still think about what he would have said."

"I'm not talking about his dad. We already talked about that."

"I mean she. What she would have said."

"You miss your dad, huh?"

"Yeah. I do, sweetie."