Go To Project Gutenberg

Friday, September 30, 2005

Marcia's Hair

During my fifth year of life, I suddenly noticed my hair. Short, brown and curly, it was an uncontrollable mass of cowlicks and waves. My mother loved it and worked hard to keep it that way. Because it was curlier when shorter, Mother determined cuts should be frequent. She must have been living vicariously through me, because her own hair, when not permed and coiffed, was stick-straight and black.

Instead of my hair being my crowning glory, as I imagined it should be, I hated my hair. Beneath it, I felt hideously ugly and robbed of whatever potential beauty might be within reach. I was frequently mistaken for a boy, and even at age five, this bothered me a great deal. When playing-house with friends, I always had to be the dad. When I asked why, I was told I looked the most like a boy. I believed it.

This was during the mid-1970s, and about the one non-cartoon television show I could tolerate watching was “The Brady Bunch.”

Oh yes, you know where I’m going now.

Marcia and Jan, with their long, straight, yellow hair became the standard by which I judged my own tresses and the tresses of every other female alive. When my mother refused to buy me the blond wig that I desperately coveted, I did the next best thing: I wore the bottoms of my long, yellow-footed pajamas on my head. Strutting all over the house and yard, I flung and swirled the beautiful polyester locks around my shoulders.

During that time, I also had a good friend, Peggy Smith, nicknamed Pegetha-Bread. Peggy’s hair was enviably long and straight, but instead of being blond, she was a dark-brown brunette. Peggy was a special friend because her birthday was the day after mine, we had many of the same friends, and we were neighbors to boot. We often had joint birthday parties. I loved and envied Peggy’s hair, and while she always said she loved mine in return, I never believed her. In any case, we used to talk about trading hair, one strand at a time; a painful but wonderful metamorphosis. What a delightful joint-birthday present this would have been – exchanging our hair.

When I was old enough, I refused to let my mother cut my hair. She grieved for herself, and delivered a grave warning about growing my hair long – I would now be responsible for cleaning and brushing it all by myself. So, it grew longer and longer, but never turned blond, never got further than the middle of my back, and never got much straighter.

For years - and I do mean years (almost 20, if my math is right) - I straightened my hair every morning using a hair dryer and curling iron. In the humid climate of the greater Puget Sound-area, it was a losing battle. I shudder to think how many hair-dryers I must have burned through during those years. (Only God knew my agony when one putzed out before my hair was completely dry and straight.)

As I grew older, I gave up activities that involved adding excessive amounts of moisture to my scalp; things such as swimming and all forms of exercise, which produced hair-curling amounts of sweat. I was certain straight hair was the only way to get a boyfriend. I got so good at de-curling my hair, that when, at age 31 and pregnant with my third child, I decided to give-up and give-in and go curly, no one realized my hair was curly to begin with. Everyone thought I’d gotten a perm. Even my mother had no idea how curly my hair could be. For a good year, she lamented the loss of my smooth look, troubled over the mess I allowed my hair to be when going “a la naturale.”

A year and a half later, we moved to Anchorage, Alaska, a climate famous for its desert-like dryness. I suddenly found it difficult to keep my hair curly. I had my fourth and last child several months after we moved, and was disappointed that I had had yet another baby with straight, blond hair. I had hoped at least one of them would have hair like me – brunette and wavy. One day while listening to five-year-old Sabrina scream while brushing her honey-colored locks, I commented, “I would have given anything to have your hair when I was a kid. You have the hair I always dreamed of.”

At that moment I had a deeply gratifying thought: that though I was destined to carry the burden of unruly brown hair for the remainder of my life, a new generation of blondes had arrived, born of my own flesh, and that somewhere deep inside of me, thanks to the miracle of genetics, Marcia Brady’s hair lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Just Breathe

Last Friday was one of those days that, by the end, seemed to be one long object lesson.

While driving from Ellie’s preschool to Darlene’s house for Writing Group, one of the songs I happened to hear on the radio was Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2AM)”. This one of those songs I love to sing along with, so I cranked the volume and attempted to keep up. I say “attempted,” because while I think it’s great, I don’t really know the words. Rather, I managed to mostly mumble off-key until I got to the one part I can actually remember, the refrain,

…breathe, just breathe
…oh, breath, just breathe

I vowed to work on learning the rest little by little.

Friday morning Writing Group is usually one of the highlights of my week. There are only three in this “exclusive” club – Kathryn, Darlene and myself. The three of us have been meeting for over a year, sharing our fledgling attempts at writing, patting each other on the back, and commiserating over how deluded we must be to take our writing seriously.

We are all in similar places in life – homemakers with young, school-age children, and professional husbands. All three of us have entertained a life-long desire to write, but thus far none of us has been published (with the exception of Darlene who will have her first magazine article printed next month.)

I was looking forward to Writing Group this particular morning because for the first time since the previous spring I had no kids in tow – the older three were in school, and one-year-old Evan was at home being babysat by his visiting grandma. Darlene was hostess that day, which meant I had strong coffee and goodies, like scones or muffins, to look forward to.

However, Anna Nalick’s heart-tugging melody and lyrics put just the slightest edge of shadow on my mood. I remember thinking how true her words are:

'Cause you can't jump the track,we're like cars on a cable
and life's like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button girl,
So cradle your head in you hands
And breathe, just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe

I’m 35-years-old, and, statistically speaking, my life is half-over. I’ve reached the top of the bell-curve, and the downward descent has begun. Not much I can do about it either. Time stops for no one no matter how “timeless” he/she seems. Paul Newman is an old man (though, admittedly, he’s still “got it”), Harrison Ford is getting there (though he “lost it” when he split from his wife), Britney Spears just had a baby (lord help us all), and Peter Jennings just died.

Though I know better, I too succumb to that undercurrent of belief that somehow the odds can be overcome and I might escape death; that somehow, with enough face cream and influence, beauty and charisma, or simply enough self-determination, I can keep myself young and eternal.

But the immovable hourglass really is glued to the table. Sometimes, I have moments of being completely overwhelmed, feeling like I wish I could just stop everything for just a minute – the ringing phone, the screaming kids, the constant regeneration of dirty laundry and dishes, and especially, the overwhelming pain that is in this world: the brokenness, the dysfunction, the addiction, the blindness. Can’t we stop all of it for five minutes!?

According to Anna Nalick, in the middle of desperation and despair, I need to rest and breathe.

When my kids get hysterical, I tell them to take a deep breath. When I’m stressed out and my heart is hammering, I breathe slowly and deliberately to calm myself. Laboring women are told to breathe through painful birthing contractions. A key component to exercise is proper breathing. Going underwater or ascending high above the earth can only be accomplished when proper breathing mechanisms are in place.

Sometimes, it is all we can do to just keep breathing.

When I arrived at Darlene’s house she was indeed baking. She was sloppily spooning cake batter into muffin tins, the phone wedged between her ear and shoulder, talking animatedly, jumping from one call to another, with barely a moment to breathe. As it turned out, the cupcakes were not for Writing Group after all. Rather, as she later explained between harried phone calls, they were expected for her daughter’s 8th birthday celebration at the elementary school. She also explained the multitudinous phone calls being made to address an unexpected, but dire need – to help a mutual church acquaintance pack for an imminent move.

Clearly, the occurrence of Writing Group at her home was going to be more of a hindrance than an help that morning.

One aggravating element of the sudden moving situation was that the person being moved had a history of not planning ahead and then expecting other people to drop everything in order to fix her lapses in judgment. Darlene was frustrated, but committed to the responsibility of helping out anyway, even when it completely threw her entire day off-kilter.

I regretted that Darlene was being put in the position of raising an army of helpers, but I was full of tendrils of resistance growing out from my core and twining tenaciously to every available surface. Darlene might be willing to be pushed into the crisis, but I wasn’t going anywhere.

However, standing right in front of her, I was an easy target. She asked if I was available at any point during the day to help with packing. As I was not feeling particularly merciful, I sighed, clearly showing my hesitation. Nevertheless, I admitted that I did have some time, but only at that moment, during our regularly scheduled Writing Group girly-time of reflection and camaraderie. Not something I was cheerfully willing to surrender.

Though neither of us wanted to help this person in crisis, when Kathryn breezed in and said she could only stay a half hour, Darlene and I looked at each other knowingly and resignedly. That morning, Writing Group would be ending prematurely anyway. Clearly, we were “meant” to help this person in need, so very begrudgingly, we committed the remainder of our morning to the cause. Though it was not my first choice of time allocation, I had known all along it was the right thing to do.

Even so, before parting ways, we indulged in some enlivening chit-chat and coffee.

None of us had any new writing to share, so instead Kathryn pulled out “The World According to Mr. Rogers” a collection of quotes from the late host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Fred Rogers. She read us a quote discussing the idea that though it can be very hard to do so, it is possible for a person to change. I thought about the person who was moving; the person about whom I was having a bad attitude. Change is possible, despite many layers of woundedness and habit, but through the persistent kindness of others, the habits of the past can start to be reversed.

But true change is immensely difficult, not just for the person changing, but for those who are pledged to help. If I am unwilling to be inconvenienced and am too impatient to stand alongside those who struggle, what kind of message am I sending about a person’s current personal value and my belief in their future potential? How can I expect them to have the forbearance and courage to climb the mountain alone?

After “The World According to Mr. Rogers”, Darlene read an article discussing E.B. White’s classic, “Charlotte’s Web,” the final line of which I will paraphrase: “It is not often you find a friend who is both kind and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” We discussed wanting to be good writers and good friends, using simple and gentle, but direct words. To capture the gentleness of Fred Rogers and the beautiful prose of E. B. White is our collective dream.

Our foreshortened Writing Group was a lovely time of being reminded that we are to be humble servants and hard workers; there are times for self-care and times of caring for others. During coffee, we were caring for ourselves, in order to go out into the world and become others-focused.

After coffee, Darlene and I caravanned over to the house which was being vacated. No sooner had stepped across the threshold than we were asked to leave again to go buy boxes. When asked “how many”, we were told, “Oh, I don’t know. Do you think 20 will be enough? Just make sure they’re small, because I’ll need to be able to lift them myself.”

I resisted the urge to look at Darlene. No boxes? Expecting us to go out and buy a bunch? This was poor planning taken to a new level. Irritation found another excuse to rear its ugly head. We were there to help! Not be ordered around! Darlene, on the other hand, ever efficient and frugal, graciously volunteered for the task and departed while I started packing the few remaining boxes.

Darlene returned shortly with a van-full of smallish boxes. She said she arrived at the recycling center at exactly the right moment, when a man was just about to chuck them. She was giddy with her miraculous acquisition, suddenly acutely aware of God’s hand in this place, and the excitement of being His tool.

We filled the boxes quickly. Though we made a substantial dent during our brief hour and a half, perhaps even the worst of the packing, the job was not yet done when boxes were gone and it was time for us to leave.

Upon returning to my car, there was no medal waiting on the seat memorializing my two hours of selflessness. I heard no angels singing, nor was there the usual warm-fuzzy feeling of a do-gooder.

Rather, I struggled with emotions of sadness that often accompany exposure to lives convoluted with brokenness, poverty, and struggle. I thought about all the people in the world who are trapped in abnormal levels of dysfunction, compulsion, and destitution, and wondered how they manage to get through every single day. They have more courage than I. I also realized again, as I often do, that only a hair’s breadth of luck and good-sense separate me from a similar state.

However, I didn’t entertain those thoughts for long. After brief consideration, I pushed them away, and instead concentrated on safely driving to pick Ellie up from preschool.

Once again I found myself flipping through the radio stations trying to find just the right song for my drive, stopping when I stumbled across the Rolling Stones. Though not a favorite band of mine, the song felt particularly fitting.

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Illness has been going through our family this week, so I haven't been doing any writing. Yesterday, I relaxed on the couch and Bruce managed to snap my picture with Evan. We had to get a new digital camera as our old one went belly up. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"School Days, School Days..."

The first day of yet another school year.

Jack, only in first grade, refused to be walked to his class. My instructions were to drop him off in front of school in the usual place. I was noticeably the only parent doing so on this first day, when all other kids were walked inside by loving, affirming parents. Is Jack already too cool to need to be chaperoned the first day? A sixteen-year-old in a seven-year-old body.

I spent the gray, rainy day doing laundry, and sweating off a mystery-virus. Took Evan to the doc to rule out the ear-infection that would have caused Monday’s 101 degree temp. The questionable ear was sufficiently pink to warrant an “as-needed” prescription, but the rest of the day he was his normal, chipper self. My fingers remain crossed - we may have dodged another antibiotic-bullet yet.

Spent a couple hours this afternoon in bed, first reading, then sharing space with the girls, then actually snoozing. At 2:30pm sharp both Evan and I were wide awake, as were Sabrina and Ellie, who were downstairs playing computer games.

At the end of his day, Jack was nonchalant about school. First grade is a combined class with a whopping 46 kids between two saintly teachers. He cited 18 kids from Mrs. Kruse’s previous-year kindergarten class, 19 kids from Mrs. Davidson’s previous-year kindergarten class, and 9 new kids. He proudly informed me that all kids ended the day with “greens,” meaning none had serious behavior issues. A good start to the year.

While preparing dinner, the kids ran amok screaming, as if they were being simultaneously tortured and tickled. On his way home, Bruce cell-phoned me and wondered about the sounds in the background. “What the hell’s going on there?” he asked in alarm. I explained it was the sound of excited, happy, masochistic children enjoying being reunited after seven hours of separation.

We had homemade pizza for dinner and Neapolitan ice-cream for dessert (per Jack’s request – his first day, his choice for dinner). Tomorrow is Ellie’s first day of school, so it is her choice. She informed us she wants “Winnie the Pooh” and “a dragon cake.” Okaaaaay. I’ll have to call Darlene and see if she has any extra bear-meat in her freezer.

Bruce chastised me for being “negative” towards the kids during dinner. Apparently, when Jack rolls his eyes for having to hold Sabrina’s hand during prayer, I am supposed to say, “Gee, Jack, I sure love it when you hold your sister’s hand.” What was actually said was something along the lines of, “Gee, Jack, try to act like you’re actually glad to see us.”

I explained to Bruce I am naturally inclined towards negativity. He and the rest of them can just “deal.” Trying to be positive at dinner time is a definite drain on the limited reserves of “good-lovin’” - a reserve that I know Bruce will want to tap at adult bed-time. He can’t have it both ways.

It has been raining torrentially all evening. While Jack retreated to his “other home” for the evening(Charlie and Hayden Conner’s, two doors down – on the aerial satellite photos of our neighborhood, it is bright-yellow, the only interestingly painted house to be seen), my younger three played on the water-logged deck, swinging brooms, umbrellas, and iron hammers through the air in rain-drenched jubilation. I, meanwhile, numbed from two strong margarita’s, leaned contentedly against the doorjamb watching the babes, serene and unconcerned about the bunches of water that would soon be tracked into the house.

Such a stark contrast from yesterday, Labor Day, in which I bitched and screamed at the kids all day. (A definite “blue” day for all of us, according to Jack's school-behavior spectrum.) Granted, the kids were particularly annoying, but I also had a case of raging PMS (I’m pretty sure the girls are on the same “cycle” as I am, which would explain A LOT). Meanwhile, the “red mist” was lurking about from the moment Ellie awoke me with screaming until I finally got a feverish Evan settled to bed.

In contrast, today we all managed to end up the day with a “green.”

Thank God for the public school system.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Purge and Binge

My husband may find my ways circuitous and mysterious, but in the end, he often appreciates the result.

Last night, Bruce lay supine on the family-room sofa listening to 70s and 80s era rock-and-roll music (I still find myself toe-tapping to ACDC’s “Shook Me All Night Long”), the fire-place and sconces lit. It was a rare moment of peace and serenity for my wonderful husband, who works and plays very hard.

I, of course, take full credit for his ability to relax. For it was due to neuroses-of-the-week, both an inability to resist a deal, and my current need to purge our house of clutter, that created the environment that triggered his lounging instinct.

Lately I have been in a state of purging. As I am not naturally a neat and tidy housekeeper, this is a significant event. The windows boast four-month old peanut butter smears and six-week old mosquito corpses are sprinkled on the windowsills. A few dog “markings” have been completely ignored in the hope they’ll just go away by themselves. (They haven’t.) And I am the only person I know who has thick crescents of dust around the edges of her stairs. The best gardening success of my life is currently occurring in my gutters, which after two years of accumulated dirt and leaves are growing darling little birch trees.

Visitors to my house are given the opportunity to witness how dirty my berber carpets are, when I lift up the edge of the area rug and compare it to the adjoining, unprotected high-traffic zone. This phenomenon, and generally evokes a response somewhere along the lines of, “Wow, Linda. That’s really something… Huh.”

I remember when my oldest son, Jack, was born, thinking that my days of indolence were over. I realized it would be awhile before I could sleep-in again until 11:00am. My mom was similarly concerned. Though I was nearing 30 at the time, and she had a naked desperation for grandkids, I remember her asking, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I was 8-months pregnant at the time. Sure enough, since June 26th, 1998, I have gone kicking and screaming into a mode of keeping up with the daily demands of caring for a family. And with each kid those demands have increased exponentially.

In any case, four kids and many soiled onesies later, things are changing in my life. After deeply grieving the end of my child-bearing years, and still clinging tenaciously to every moment I have with my youngest child, I am starting to taste a new flavor, one that is exciting and freshening, and promises all new adventures. No more diapers, no more Teletubbies, no more bibs; children able to buckle themselves in the car, kids reading to themselves, growing and changing and learning and rebelling.

All this and more is around the corner, and though I’m noticing a startling amount of gray hair these days, I’m also aware of a growing wisdom – I feel at times like a wizened old shaman who is teaching her followers. “Ah, Grasshopper, when you run a load of whites, add a bit of bleach to kill germs and odors! Then, all will be well with you!”

My husband’s “procedure” seems to have been successful - before, he used to just breathe on me and I’d get pregnant. Now, no matter how hard he tries, I remain un-knocked up. So, I guess we really are done. I guess it’s safe to get rid of seven years of baby detritus. We have accumulated a lot.

Evan turns 18 months old today. He just moved up into size 2T clothes. That means I no longer have any reason to keep baby clothes any smaller than that. He no longer plays with rattles, preferring his brother’s toy light-saber (ala Star Wars). We still use baby-bibs, but not often – I sorted through them keeping only several of the biggest and most absorbent, giving away a whopping 17.

Among the other items recently purged and donated:
2 Boppys (rarely used)
2 Crib skirts (possibly never used)
4 books about being pregnant
10 infant hats (also never used – my kids’ heads were so big, they just popped off)
20 rattles (now, seriously, how many rattles does a baby need?)
22 pairs of shoes
36 pairs of socks (almost all of these came out of Ellie’s drawer)
44 pieces of infant clothing (boy-stuff only; this doesn’t include the prodigious amount I’m forwarding to my sister-in-law)
52 pieces of toddler clothing (girl-stuff only)
55 items of maternity clothing (stuff I had “lost” during my last pregnancy and only just found – how I wish I’d remembered about them!)

Aside from these donations, I have taken other drastic measures to establish my post-babyhood-dom. I also donated the infant swing, got rid of the “super-saucer”, and last night, the most significant measure of all – we put away the playpen that was slowly being filled way past capacity with toys. No longer any room in it for a baby, even if he would tolerate being “caged” (which he won’t).

What I’m finding is that I have a hell of a lot more storage space in my house.

I’m also realizing that were I to decorate a room, it might actually be noticeable through the dwindling forest of toys and infant-equipment. There is something about purging that makes me want to “fancy-up” the house, arranging couch pillows just-so and keeping the kitchen counters clean.

Last spring, I made Bruce paint one wall of the livingroom orange. Now, I’m determined that he should do the downstairs bathroom. It has been a bit of a conundrum, because there are just a few sage and brick tiles, both of which are colors I don’t want, but which I’m obliged to incorporate. After a great deal of thought, a shade of eggplant seems to be a suitable choice.

Yesterday, while Bruce was out ice-skating and bowling with Jack and Sabrina, I took Evan and Ellie to Lowe’s to look at paint chips. I brought home at least 20 and taped them all up in the bathroom.

When Jack came home he asked in a wary voice, “Are you going to paint the bathroom purple?”

I corrected him. “Eggplant, dear. And I’m not the one painting it. Your father is.”

Bruce expressed concern that any of the potential shades would drastically darken the bathroom. I patiently explained that if you look closely at that room, there really isn’t that much wall-space. Its mostly mirror, shower tiles, cabinet, toilet, etc. Amazingly, after seeing things through my eyes, he agreed.

When I tried to tell him which color is my favorite, he insisted on guessing.

After a moment’s consideration he said, “Poetic Purple.”

Another miracle.

“Yes! Don’t you just love it?! But, really, don’t you think it’s more of an eggplant?”

While we were at Lowe’s, I couldn’t help but buy a little something. I’m always guilty taking color samples. It feels a bit like stealing. So, by buying something, I am justified in the handfuls of color swatches littering the cart. (A hint for tightwads: they make great homemade playing cards for the kids!)

This time, I bought a couple of storage pieces for the mudroom. They are those pressboard deals you assemble at home. One had cubby-holes I thought would be perfect for the ridiculous amount of children’s shoes strewn around. The other had two small drawers which I thought would be great for the copious numbers of mittens, hats and scarves that are about to emerge from their summer-slumber.

I got the cubby-thing together okay, but a critical piece of the drawer-unit was broken, so after dinner, I took the girls back to Lowe’s to return it.

I had every intention of simply replacing it, but then I saw they were having a sidewalk sale. Fabric deck chairs for 80 percent off! Perfect for next summer (nine months away). I got four. A wrought-iron fireplace screen for 75 percent off. I got one of those.

When Bruce saw me unloading the car he just shook his head. When I told him how inexpensive everything was, he just sighed and put the chairs in the garage to wait, packaged and stacked, until next summer. Then, he went into the familyroom, and removed the playpen from where it blocked the fireplace. Then, he set up the discounted fireplace screen, turned on the fire and the radio, and chilled. And as he lay there I’m sure I know what he was thinking: what a genius his wife is.

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

web site traffic counters
Dyson Vacuum Cleaners