Sunday, January 25, 2009

My husband and the kids are out of the house and I can't think of a damn thing to do with myself. I suppose it doesn't help matters that my mom is over here trying to escape her stress. Hah! If she only knew.

I tried to occupy myself with on-line activities, all of which lead me to Facebook, which has become the bane of my existence. If I see one more picture of an old friend whooping it up in exotic locations, all tan and spectacular, still the same size they were in 1986 - or worse - so JCrew fabulous in professional portraits with their mogul husbands and neat little come-with-the-frame families I'm going to be in a permanent state of F&*K me. I know I'm not supposed to be swearing now, because that was my number one resolution for this year but I'll be GD'd if all my interactions with my life so far this year have not been the equivalent of curse-inducing medications injected directly into the bloodstream in high enough doses that the flaming pope might have a hard time keeping the F-bomb under his pointy little parade hat.

So I spent a few minutes sorting out the pieces of a puzzle I've been meaning to do. That was fine for the first few minutes. Until I noticed (not for the first time) the pathetic state of my dining room table. This is a table, which as part of a set, cost my husband and I $4000 - a hefty sum when we bought it and even heftier now that we have no income-producing jobs. The table is made of fine cherry wood and stained in a very intricate pattern unique to the artisan who did the work (or that's the crap the salesperson fed us when we were shopping and we ate it up yummy yummy). The table was the site of our first formal Thanksgiving and has been the altar at which many a dinnertime prayer has been offered since.

The thing is, the table is now irrevocably etched with the permanent remains of those dinners, and the countless other activities that have taken place at the table in between each meal, not the least of which have included:

laundry folding
things that happen with glue
things that happen with hot glue guns
things that happen with an iron
card writing
things that happen when your bathroom upstairs falls into the dining room downstairs
finger painting
things that happen when you don't tarp your furnishings while you paint the room
and other things.

At this point, if you were going to roller skate on the table, and I'm not ruling it out given the list above, you'd definitely need the knee pads because, like the Chicago streets after a particularly lavish display of mother nature's bitchiness expressed in ice and snow, you'd definitely fall into at least one or two potholes.

So I stopped working on the puzzle because it was not having the de-stressing effect I was hoping for.

I did some cooking earlier today, including a slow-bake of a chicken and asparagus cassarole. I was kind of hoping that would turn into a one-pot dinner type thing so I wouldn't have to cook again later. Unfortunately, if you leave creamy, cheesy, garlicky stuff around my mother and me at 3 p.m., the chances of that same item being around at 5:30 p.m. when dinnertime arrives are not so good. Also, the baking was not my most brilliant stroke, because like seemingly everything I use in the kitchen, the baking dish is not going to get clean in the dishwasher. And I've tried that thing where you just pretend that the dishwasher missed a spot so you leave an item in there one more time. And then again. And then do the heavy wash. And then throw it out because you've systematically and over a series of days affixed the once just sticky item permanently to the sides of whatever the article was in the first place. So I'm going to have to wash the baking dish by hand. And that pisses me off. So I'm not relaxing after dinner. Nor am I relaxing now in anticipation of being pissed after dinner.

I can't wait for my husband and kids to get home so I can be stressed with a sense of purpose. Relaxing is so annoying.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reflection Recovery

Well. At least I'm not Blago.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Reflection Rejected

Did you ever look at everything you did not want to be and then realize it was exactly what you had become?

I just had the great (and I mean this) pleasure of reconnecting with some old friends on one of those social networking sites. These are friends I really adored and have kept in my thoughts all these years. I'm thrilled to bits that we've found each other, that they are well and have families and stories to tell.

The thing is, I just took stock of myself in anticipation of meeting up with any one or more of these friends. To do so, I had to rewind quite a ways, past children and marriage and homeownership. In one case I went back to the last time I saw a friend from work, just a few years ago. In the case of another, I landed in the mid-80s, tall hair, shoulder pads and black washers as bracelets galore. And for one friend, I had to dust off memories of who I was when I graduated from grammar school. And then I cried.

Up until now, and with great pleasure, I had mocked my friends who'd hit the magic number 40 and had various shades of crisis dealing with it. I had a great time getting to 40. Sure, I played it up a bit on the way there. Got some extra gifts from my mom and my husband that way. I'm not ashamed to say so. They get extra stuff from me all the time. But honestly, I was fine with it. I'm a very youthful 40 in the sense that I feel I'm very current in my interests and connection to popular culture. I'm considered a 'cool mom' at my kids' school. I am not wearing polyester pants and seasonal sweatshirts with 3-D prints. I know the words to some 50 cent songs. Friggin A dude. I'm SO not old.

The problem is, I'm also not who I was supposed to be. And I just figured that out. Today.

I had talked myself into believing (and to a degree I always will) that my purpose in life had already been fulfilled. If you've met my kids you know that I've already done the greatest thing I will ever do. They give me so much pleasure and fulfillment sometimes I think it seeps out of me in embarrassing oozes of gush and brag. It's nearly uncontainbale, my love for and pride in my babies.

But then, some of that belongs to them and some of it really doesn't. Today, for the very first time, I completely connected with the idea that I've been wearing my children as an identity so as to not need my own. I've just realized that I have allowed my pride in my children to give me an excuse not to take pride in myself personally. And so I cried.

It may be that some day I look back on this day, like the gals on Oprah who are all plasticked and veneered up and shiny, and say 'That's when I did it." But its more likely that my lethargy and inertia will overcome me and I'll stay exactly the same as I was a few years ago when I left that job or more than a few years ago when I left high school, or even further back than that when I left elementary school. I'm a person with a ton of potential. And that's it. I'm a 'Man, you could totally...' be a writer; be a politician; be a lawyer; be a teacher; be a fill-in-the-blank.

But what I have become is a 40-year-old, kind of fat, kind of pretty, kind of smart, kind of funny, mom, with a nice house and a nice car in a nice neighborhood. I volunteer and I crochet and I go out with my group of mom friends. I love my husband and he loves me. I cook with real butter and I bake cookies for holidays. I'm Roseanne Connor with a slightly better decorating sense and a less vulgar (not by much) mouth. And I figured that out today when I saw my old friends. And then I cried.

I want so much to tell myself and everyone else that I am strong enough and interested enough and empowered enough to be one of those things on that 'could be' list. But the truth is I am not. I am not. I may be a writer, as I've asserted on this page and in countless other venues. But I'm not much of one. Otherwise, I'd have done something about it. I may be perfect for politics. But the truth is I am not. If I was any kind of politician, I'd have an office and a staff and my name etched on a glass window somewhere. And I don't. If I were anything, I'd be something. And I am not.

That's why I have such a hard time filling out those 'about me' questions on all these damn websites. There's not much about me. There's about my family and my kids and my husband. But "about me" there's not much. And so I've been crying pretty much all day.

So I know that this is all very lopsided and I'm experiencing some kind of situational depression that will pass soon enough. I also know that I promised to stop blathering about my self-discovery journey on this page. So I'm a liar. (Again, perfect for politics?) I know all the blah blah blahs about what a good person I am and all that I've accomplished and if I'm not happy I should do something about it. Yakkity yak yak.

Today, I am mourning the loss of the person I saw myself becoming when I turned around and faced the congregation celebrating the most promising of moments in a 14-year old's life. With that little diploma book in hand, in that gorgeous yellow linen suit, with strappy shoes and polished fingers and toes, looking at my mother's beaming face, I was sunshine waiting to light up the world. I wasn't 'could be'. I was 'going to be'. And I am so sorry that I did not meet the expectations and dreams of that girl. She was lovely and wonderful and deserved my better attempts at a life that included all that I have now, plus some.

Today I am crying.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Amen. Amen. Amen.

What a lovely end to a ceremony so profoundly spiritual in aura, so uniquely American in conduct, so fine and fitting in every respect. Amen, my American brothers and sisters.
To the colors of our flag, and the sacrifices they represent. See your brother. See your neighbor. See your friend. The red in our stripes was shed so that we could be together to share this day.

Amen to the colors of our people, who stood in multi-cultural glory, shoulder to shoulder, as witnesses today. Testifying through their solemn attention and private tears to the notion that the ideal is not obscured; it is held up in brilliant light. It is not quaint and dated, brought to life only in elementary school books. Nor does it belong only to past generations - the first, the depressed, the greatest. No, no. Today the ideal was shown to be current and relevant right now. The ideal is a real object. Something to toil after. To sweat and cry and lose sleep - even life - over. The ideal is real and touchable and we saw it today.
Amen to the color of our president, who in his singular American experience shows himself to the world as a product of the world, a man of all people and a leader for all who seek to bring the ideal to life.
Amen, with eyes closed and heart full and tears welling.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

All Aboard

Yesterday, my husband said to me, 'I don't get why Obama is doing this Lincoln thing. I think it's too much. He should do his own thing.' And I thought on that a bit. I answered him immediately - saying something along the lines of 'Obama walks on water. Shut up.' But I still thought on it. Could it be that this man of inspired speech, rare eloquence and near-perfect cadence is a copycat? My champion of realism infused idealism is a.. a... a coattail rider? Riding the coattails of a white man a hundred years dead and as uncopyable as Elvis? Could he be trying to live out some weird childhood fantasy about living life as Lincoln dressed as a black man? Ack! Is it racist to ask that? Boy I really worked up a good lather on this one.

The more I pondered the more worked up I got. Why wouldn't someone see it as all that and more? Why wouldn't it look painfully pretentious and put on? It's so obvious! I was practically foaming. And as I revved my way through my kitchen clean-up, serving as prosecutor, jury and judge on the indictment, I went to put up a couple of pieces of my kids' artwork on our refrigerator 'wall of fame'. They'd brought these two particular pieces home with great excitement, thrilled at the prospect that they'd be putting something up on the wall that would stay up all year. (We refresh at the end of each year, so its completely blank save for these two items now.)

I have 8-year old twins, if you haven't figured that out yet, so I get a lot of duplicates. These pieces are nearly the same, but so interesting in their variances. Both were prepared on blue construction paper. Hers was very clean, except for a little tear that she was heartbroken over. His was a little more rumpled, but it didn't bother him a bit. Both projects had red and white strips of paper glued onto the blue background in flag-like stripes. Her stripes have some curves in them. His are German engineer-straight. There's a black-and-white cutout of Obama superimposed on the stripes - his facing one way and glued all the way to one side of the paper and hers is facing the other way glued to the opposite side of the paper. The twins were delighted to tape up their pictures, standing back to admire when they'd finished. Together, the projects make a striking statement.

Obama represents, for alot of people, everything that is good and righteous about our country. He is the fulfillment of promise. He is what Martin Luthor King spoke about. He is what Rosa Parks sat down for and countless others stood up for. He is my friend Cameron from elementary school, who was always too tall for his pants and always too smart for his own good, and too dark to be in concert choir, the nun sweetly explained, because he'd fade right into the velvet curtain background. Obama is curvy (read that as liberal) enough to try to include everyone but straight (read that as conservative) enough to be careful about what people expect in return for being included. He is a black man like countless other black men - smart, thoughtful, married and faithful, a father, a son, a believer but a doubter. He is not just a black man, but a man and not just a man but a person and not just a person but an American.

In his Americanness he holds the hopes of a nation and the dreams of so many forefathers and, I believe, he holds Lincoln's promise in his hands. It is in homage to Lincoln that he rides, not to copy but to honor. It is in praise of Lincoln that he speaks, not to repeat but to revive. It is because of Lincoln that he is President, not to resurrect but to live for the first time. In a country where all dreams really can come true, Obama rides the path of Lincoln because Lincoln made it possible.

So my original answer to my husband was flippant and intellectually ridiculous. The real answer is in the art we create when we see Obama and all that he means to each of us as individuals.

Choo choo to that.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Blissed Oblivion

Eight years old. Still so new at it, but starting to get the sense of things. Still willing to suspend disbelief so Santa can be real and the happy ending makes perfect sense. Still, albeit now grudgingly, willing to accept discipline for the sake of being re-evaluated as a 'good girl' or 'good boy'. Willing to eat, not willing to eat, insisting on eating, preferring snacking over eating, generally centered around eating. (In the cases of men and dogs, I understand, this remains constant for the remainder of life.) Eight years old is a great age.

My 8-year old daughter has a friend over tonight. There're alot of Barbies and Kens involved and the last time I checked in the Ken was losing a battle to keep his pants on in favor of the girls giggling furiously over the sight of his plastic butt. I tried, but then, I remember being an 8 year-old girl so I admonished, tsk tsked and then went upstairs pretending I didn't hear a thing. It won't go much further, I know, because, much to the girls' dismay, my 8 year-old boy is down there with them, torturing to his heart's content. I expect Ken to be inducted into the GI Joe's platoon any second now and the surfer shirt and khaki's will be exchanged for Army fatigues.

Of course, it didn't have to be this way. Originally, when I planned the sleepover for my daughter, I wanted to invite a boy over for my son to have company. That would have been cute. Boys would have had their play space. Girls theirs. Little snacks and a movie in there somewhere. Very cute.

Problem is, after I scrolled mentally through the list of boys I'd have to consider, I came to the sad conclusion that my son's friends frighten me. They're a little edgy. I think they're allowed a little more roughness at home? I don't know. It's probably not so much the boys as it is me. Something about boy energy that I'm still not good at managing.

Plus, for some reason, the crowd my son hangs with has a real penchant for spy games. This starts innocently enough. Boys pretending to communicate through walls by talking into their imaginary wristband walkie talkies. Lots of peering around corners and creeping around tables. The occasional frantic leap into the air when surprised by another, but friendly, 'spy'. This is often accompanied by an uncharacteristically catlike yelp that, honorably, all boys ignore so as to not out the yelper as a sissypants.

Everything seems fine. Right. Except the last two times I had boys over to play this game I found my son, once tied to a chair in the backyard while his friend played inside the house on the 2nd floor - presumably 'spying' on my son tied to the chair in the backyard; and the second time, trapped in a closet with alot of my expensive (read that as 'from my single days') dresses draped over his head and a nice boy-shoe size tear in one of my last surviving Marshall Fields bags. The Lord moved through me that day and kept those boys alive, but the Lord and I had a nice long struggle before I gave in.

Of course, my son is fine with all of it. But I started to mentally re-picture the boys/girls playdate/sleepover extravaganza. And visions of Disney movies with spilled paint and cats tramping through bedding and pillow stuffing flying through the air clouded my vision. I heard the whining of air raid sirens in my ears and heard gunfire sputtering in the distance. My head started to spin and, suddenly, a mini-Rambo figure appeared, clear as day, right in front of me. Except he was shorter and scrawnier and had the face of one of my son's classmates. In one hand, a spygear walkie talkie. In the other, a length of rope hanging out of a torn Marshall Fields bag. He drool-spewed, "I can't wait to sleep over at your house." AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH.

I'll admit, I totally panicked. I shook off the cold sweat and announced, completely unprompted, "Son, none of the boys are sleeping over Sunday. And that's final!" Lucky for all of us, it was Friday mid-afternoon and the kids weren't even home yet so no one heard me except the cat. And given the wide range of town-cryer announcements I've made to my midday audience - anything from "So help me I am NOT picking up that sock!" to "A TWO state solution for crissakes! TWO states!" - this declaration about a boy-free sleepover policy didn't even rile a long blink from the cat.

Which brings us back to now. My son is walking around clutching his transformer and Ice Avenger (no idea) toys and attacking the Malibu Barbie caravan as it proceeds along the basement corridor. The girls are squealing and pretending they can't stand him when, really, they're glad to have some company in the basement from someone they think can actually defeat intruders. He's pretending he's annoyed at the hormonal imbalance sending riple effects of pink girliness throughout the house, when really, he loves making the girls squeal and much prefers hounding them than keeping me company upstairs.

This is the beauty of 8 years old. In a few years, his sister truly won't tolerate his presence. Especially since her best friend, you can see it coming, will be all giggly and blushy around the boy. The mildly clumsy and innocently malevolent crew of boys I'm avoiding tonight will be pimply and sullen and will barely make eye contact with me or the girls. A few years after that, everbody's going to be taking shape - literally - and the girls' interactions will be entirely different, as will the boys. There's precious little time left where my son can be convinced to use his Legos to build a bench for Barbie and Ken to sit on, giving the girls endless hours of enjoyment and imagination.

Soon, the games they play will be the lives they lead. And then everything will be different.

But for now, there is blissed oblivion. Disbelief is in full suspension. The happy ending does make perfect sense. And Ken needs to get some pants on quick!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stopping Self-Awareness Jabber

Now that I'm here, I'm going to stop talking about myself. That is to say, I'm going to talk from my own point of view, but not specifically about the inner workings of my curly little head.

So now that that's out of the way, I'm going to ramble off some quick opinions on two topics of interest. More to come as there is always more to say...

I'm from Illinois so, honestly, his story does not scare me. It is not original or shocking in any way. What is shocking, and somewhat pathetic, is that in news cycle after news cycle, people who are employed to describe news from around the world find it fascinating to dwell on three basic points as related to this story: 1. Blagojevich is not a "Smith" like name. Woowee - that's some sharp reporting. 2. He has thick hair. Man! Do the Pulitzer people know that you've uncovered this? and 3. Everyone from Chicago... make that Illinois... should we just say the Midwest in general? ... is crooked. Hmmmm. Really.

I'd like to think that what's wrong with all of that is obvious, but then, recent history has taught me in vivid technicolor that what I think is obvious really isn't obvious to everyone else. So for the short-sighted, I have this. We are a country of immigrants. His name is a name which reflects his immigrant background. "Smith" in my cultural language is pronounced "Esmeet". So I'm unimpressed with reporters being unable to pronounce the man's name. Practice off-camera and get it right. You're embarrassing your profession, if that's even possible at this point.

Thick hair, while noteworthy in some circles (I get alot of comments on this, myself, at the salon), simply doesn't meet the standard for news. News is something that is, inherently, new. Thick hair isn't. See reference above regarding embarrassment to the profession.

And then there are the crooked Chicagoans, which for purposes of this news story actually have spread their evil ways to the whole of the state and parts of surrounding territories. I'm so tired of this story. That Chicago has a tainted political history is a given. But its also a joke when held up to the light. We're not unique in this regard, so our reputations as the poster children for political corruption are ridiculous.

Just look at recent history. Are you telling me that the politics of New Orleans, which resulted in the hand-in-hand complicity of the local and state governments in negligence leading to the deaths of thousands of residents - are you telling me their politics are clean? How about Californians? These guys elected a waxed-up, formaldehyde-induced-perpetually-youthful, frightfully unqualified man as their governor. Twice - if you're counting his American Idol, Reagan. You think that's clean? He's completely tanking their economy and driving around in a Hummer when you can hardly see three feet in front of you because of the poor air quality. He -and the political system in California - are absurd.

Want to take a look at a larger corruption scandal? I wonder what would happen if a U.S. President were selected by the U.S. Supreme Court based on ideological bias rather than rule of law? We're corrupt in Illinois because Blago's trying to get paid for naming someone to the Senate? And he has a potty mouth to boot? Come on. Grow up.

He is a moron and a total offense to the office given that our history in Illinois includes Obama (you may have heard of him), the eminently qualified Dick Durbin, Paul Simon (delish), and Adlai Stevenson (a real gem). Our state has brought forth senators of historical import like Everett Dirksen - a key player in the development of the civil rights act of '64. We gave the country Senator Stephen Douglas of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. For that matter, we gave the country Lincoln. Burris couldn't debate his way out of a paper sack! I'm frankly disgusted that he's gotten this job and that all the political maneuvering that took place to get him there worked. I can't stand that he's my seantor. I'm hoping to eat those words and have him teach me how wrong I am. Not hopeful. But hoping.

I wonder if there's anyone out there, from Illinois, who could serve as a ray of hope for our politics. Someone real. Someone whose approach is genuine. Someone who's goals are lofty but whose methods are grounded and practical. Someone who could inspire us all to hope for a better day.


So that's the thing.

I'm still trying to find the right place for myself. All these years into the game and I'm still trying to decide on a game piece. Frustrating.
I was reading an article in a magazine yesterday and understood, from the author's description of himself, that he's a guy probably ten years my junior whose sole purpose it is to write about himself for one of the world's most-read publications. That's it. He writes and they print it and the whole world reads it. And I thought 'Seriously? How does he get a gig like that?'
I've had more people tell me 'you should write' than I can count. So I do that. I write all the time. I get accolades galore about my annual Christmas card. (The sheer brilliance of which is owed entirely to the fact that my children are so delicious its hard not to love the card, no matter what I say.) I crank out one killer of a thank-you card. (For which I often receive thank-yous - go figure.) I pour my heart into a myspace blog that a select few are really complimentary about. (All of them are much better writers than I am, so that's a real head-scratcher.)
But what, really, am I doing with myself? Am I a closeted greeting card writer? Yikes.
Of course, I've considered things other than writing.
My love of history and my unnatural affection for fairness led me, early in my search for self, to the idea that I might become an attorney. I was a pre-law/history major at university. Until I worked for a law firm the summer after freshman year. I saw the stress-filled, tiresome, family-deprived lives the lawyers led and thought 'I'm not good at stressed, tiresome, family-deprived tasks'. So that idea tanked.
Friends of mine who had similar awakenings in college but ignored them are currently in mundane and unfulfilling jobs. I'm sorry for them because although I haven't found exactly the right thing for myself, I'm still looking. Opting out of the search is not in the cards for me. Of course, finding the niche in the haystack might not be either, but I'd rather die trying than simper off having given up.
For now, I make quite the real estate broker. Got a pretty decent market share in my neighborhood, which if you know anything, actually means something. (I don't, particularly, know what that means, but I'm told its good and I'm running with it.) I love learning the histories of homes and neighborhoods I go see. It thrills me to add chapters to those stories by bringing new families to those homes and those neighborhoods. The idea that I am, even in a small way, contributing to the stories those places will tell is something I will always be proud of.
So that's the thing. Even when I'm not writing, I am. Because, really, that's what I do. I tell stories. I write. I am a writer.

So I'm going to use this spot to write. And I hope you find something here to laugh about or think about. And then we'll both have found something. Wouldn't that be great?