Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taking care of business (sometimes)

Last week I published an article, processed a bunch of photos (for which I got paid!), had a few meetings, and generally took care of business. It took near-Herculean effort to stay on task.

Which I didn't do: I also forgot what would have been my dad's 52nd birthday, forgot to call my mom, failed to e-mail my mom, forgot to call my mom a second time about not e-mailing her, spaced on a promise to help my son with his advanced spelling words, and generally came to fear that I would ruin my life and my family's life because I am an incompetent, unreliable space cadet.

I should back up a bit. I did, in the end, help my son with his spelling words (most of his classmates have words like threw; he has internationally). But only barely. I did remember my dad's birthday, but I meant to call my mom on the day and write up some nice commemorative something, maybe take my son to my dad's field again, you know, an Official Gesture. All I ended up doing was talking to my son and acknowledging it via response to my uncle on Facebook.

Things are so much better in my head. In my head everything falls into place. The house never has clutter or misplaced tax documents or a you-left-the-garlic-pasta-out-last-night-and-you-REALLY-need-to-scoop-the-cat-litter smell. I take care of shit the first time, without a hitch.

In reality? Clutter overwhelms my home and my mind. I can manage; I know it's not THAT bad, at least in the physical world. I'm able to race around and clean up before my son has company so the house is almost spotless, or at least so I don't become known as The Mom Who Keeps Socks in the Kitchen. But mentally? I spend more time in anguish over things I can't manage to do than really doing anything.

My son fails to see my shortcomings and has officially declared me the "best mom in the whole world," owing largely to the fact that I made a game out of practicing spelling words via the rear-view mirror on the way to school while he inhaled a frosted rainbow-sprinkle Pop-tart; and also because I warm his blanket before bed and feed him way more pizza than I should. Also, his version of "the whole world" consists of central Arizona and a tiny bit of California (Sea World), so he might be biased. Still, I'll take it.

And anyway, who am I to say I shouldn't get credit for heated blankets and spelling-word drills? The little things are always the biggest things.

They're what I remember, anyway. I lay awake in bed this morning, listening to the thunderous emanations from my asthmatic warthog of a sleeping partner husband. I couldn't sleep, partly due to the morning's respiratory serenade, partly to the two feline posteriors crowding my face off the pillow, and partly to the video game noises coming from the family room and a son who's not as sneaky as he thinks he is.

I didn't want to get up, but I wasn't going back to sleep. I read a page or two of a novel I grabbed from the floor, but it wasn't taking.

So I daydreamed. My mind wandered around my parents, my dad's birthday, and on to my son, how he'd talked to me yesterday about spelling bees, winning his class bee last year, why couldn't he compete in district-level ones yet like I had, and where were my old trophies? Which took me to my own spelling bee days -- fourth place at regional, just shy of advancing to state -- and of practicing with my dad, page after page after cramped page of tiny-print possible-spelling-bee words. Cross-offs for getting it right immediately, highlighting for wrong, little marks for correct, but by dumb luck. Weird-ass mnemonic devices he'd give me to remember the harder ones: You pull a cork from a bottle; ampullaceous means bottle-shaped. A girl I knew named Becca was kind of dumb; an abecedarian is someone still learning the alphabet. Words like gneiss, guillemot, hematozoon, or hoatzin were supposed to be hard, but I had my mom's love of naturey stuff and my dad's innate knack for words down by then, and we crossed them off on the first round.

We practiced in the living room on evenings during the week. He sat on the couch and I sat on the floor. I'd have carpet imprints on the heels of my hands by the end. On the weekends, the family would visit my grandmother, and while my dad and I had a reasonable tolerance for bridge, knit tissue-box cozies and small talk, during spelling-bee season we'd escape take a walk around her apartment complex with The List, eventually landing to practice at a poolside table until it got too dark to see the words.

I won the school bee a bunch of times, and usually got second when I didn't win. I remember it was so serious. When I advanced to the regional bee, my parents both took the day off, and we stopped somewhere fancy (so probably Walgreen's) and I got chocolate milk. I made it through round after round. My dad had an apoplectic fit spelled along in the audience. My mom kept him in line. Once, he hung his head, certain I'd gotten it wrong. I hadn't. Then, when there were four of us left -- everyone but the next sucker to get out advanced -- I got out. I don't remember the word. I cried. Just like everyone else who was eliminated. I remember during the car ride home, the first-place winner's mom happened to pull up at the stoplight next to us. The winner was nice, I remember. She smiled from her seat to my left (around a profusion of balloons; the car was taken over with Mylar and ribbon and trophy). She mouthed "Good job."

Bitch.

"You got a harder word," my dad told me. "That's just the way it goes." Then we made fun of how he'd have been out rounds before I was, and we recalled a mnemonic device my mom had invented during one of her turns coaching -- chinfest, or "What your dad would have if he ever found his chin." (The same could be applied to me, actually.) Another kid had gotten chinfest, which wasn't a hard enough word to need a mnemonic device anyway, but it was an inside joke and we loved that the word had come up. We went home and bought a celebratory french silk pie from Village Inn.

It isn't the big gestures. That's the thing. I can't remember many big things my dad did, parenting-wise. Still, he was an awesome dad, a colossus among father figures. It's not just me, either. He was a second father figure, or the goofball-teacher father figure, or sometimes THE father figure for dozens, maybe hundreds, of other kids. It's who he was.

Of course, he did significant things throughout his life. But those aren't the things kids remember, are they? My son doesn't care how competent I am. He cares how there I am. I can screw shit up all day long, and if I end it just being there, I'm the Best Mom in the World.

It wasn't the big things that made my dad a good dad/teacher/person. Truth be told, he kind of sucked at some of them. Sucked at planning stuff. Sucked at keeping his to-be-graded papers organized. He never threw anything away, so he'd end up spending hours going through old crap before doing what he'd intended to do. He sucked at signing my permission slips any time earlier than the morning of the trip (when he worked in the same school, and was often on the same trip). He probably would have kept socks in the kitchen, if my mom wasn't there. Taking care of us? Being there for us? Freaking always. Taking care of business? Not always.

I guess I'm just as disorganized as I ever was. As my dad ever was.We share our passions and talents as well as our lack of both chins and organizational skills. Sometimes my dad would have an ocean of papers around him on the floor, and he would come over and sit with us. Just sit. I feel like I'm drowning in my own ineptitude, like it'll bring me down and eat up all the time I could be Showing My Son the World, and all I can do is just take a break. And sit.

I'm not even organized enough to know what this post is about until just now. That I'm a barely-manageable mess, but it's cool. Whether it's the best way to be or not, I really don't have a choice. It's how I'm wired, and it's how I was raised. (At least on my dad's side. Sorry, Mom. I don't know why it didn't take.) It's how I'm doing the raising now.

Maybe it'll be something my son remembers fondly, or at the very least, maybe this stream-of-consciousness, life-embracing, beautiful mess of an approach informs some of the best things we share. Like driving out of our way on a whim to make the preserve "on the way home," wandering the paths more or less aimlessly, in search of the best shafts of sunlight and a flock of grunting cormorants, instead stumbling upon a great egret and watching the sun set together over glassy pink-orange-yellow ripples, and Hey, wait! he says, Did you know that "great" and "egret" are almost made from the same letters? and then, in the same breath, he tells me not to answer because I'll scare the geese that just walked up, and I wonder if it's their mating season?


(It is. It always is.) 

My best times were never planned either. We never planned the spelling trips/practices. We just did it. Trips and conversations were seriously flawed if they didn't meander significantly.

Official Gestures are overrated. Chins are overrated. Throwing things away is overrated. Taking care of business is overrated. At least, it's not the only thing. Taking care of people is more important.

4 comments:

kirsten said... Best Blogger Tips

I wanna be just like you <3

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Heavens, no. I don't think the world needs more than one of me. :-)

Gpabill said... Best Blogger Tips

A very fine tribute to your Dad and the joys of improvisational living.

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Improvisational living, exactly. Thanks, Bill.