Blowing Off Dust

It’s been so long, this blog has acquired a patina.

Seriously.

It’s so out of date, I might as well label it “Vintage.” But instead of fixating on sorry appearances, I’m just going to jump right in and start writing. That’s right, I am.  It might be messy and chaotic and contain typos and not be at all important or tremendously well-written, but I’m going to write it. Mostly because you’ve caught me riding the emotional roller coaster that happens after we relocate to a new state. Again.

Okay, to be fair, Massachusetts isn’t exactly new to us, we’ve just returned after a six-year hiatus. This time I demanded  we chose a nice house in the ‘burbs rather than the heart of Boston. What can I say, I wanted to live near the beach this time and own a car without dents, dings and gouges. I wanted a driveway instead of street parking and neighbors who probably don’t sell crack. Also, we have these three little kids and it turns out good schools are pretty much a big important deal. Huh…who knew?

So we’ve landed on the South Shore in a town we liked to visit back when I was first pregnant and Dave was still in law school. We’d drive down here to hit the beach during heat waves and wonder what it would be like to live in this place. If you’d asked me, I never would have dreamed I’d be sitting at a kitchen counter in the same town ten years later, rocking a little bit of a paunch and having birthed two additional kids.

I’ll never fail to be amazed at how, just when I think I’m comfortably settled somewhere, the universe throws a curveball our way. As it turns out, Maine didn’t want us anymore. Or maybe all the reasons we landed in Maine in the first place had simply run their course. After all, it was our move to Maine in 2010 that threw me onto the emotional rollercoaster that resulted the birth of Narragansett No. 7. And this silly little blog led me to grad school in Maine where I befriended some of the most important and supportive people I’ve ever had in my life. These are people who read some very raw work – memories of childhood buried so deep, that as I began writing my memoir, it felt more like projectile vomiting than any type of creative process. And they still love me, but grad school has ended and we have all retreated to our laptops.

Last fall, as I was attempting to throw myself into a post-grad school routine, I took on the home preschooling of our youngest daughter. Remember Kate? The one with a penchant for the filthiest of potty words? Anyway, it seemed our formerly cooperative preschool had begun to turn into something resembling an MMA Cage Match. For one thing, I wasn’t really into mandatory parent meetings where parents called the other parents “fuckers” and routinely threatened legal action over a case of head lice. Uh, uh… these are the preschool years, people. PRE. SCHOOL.

So, I fantasized about a nice, mellow year. One where I’d help Kate learn her upper and lower case letters, make sure she could count to at least 50. A year filled with play dates to keep her (us) socially involved and away from rabid women hell-bent on mandatory fundraising via lame calendar raffles. I thought, Oh , I’ll totally have time to write! Hell, I thought I’d be done with this memoir and sending it out to agents by spring. I conjured the image of a stress free summer in Maine.

Well, that’s not how my year went. Not at all. You see, as much as I thought Maine was our place – no matter how much I adored our beautiful home – it seems the universe had something else in mind. When we stopped paying attention to all the little messages that it might be time to move on, the universe or God or whatever force always seems to put David or I right where we need to be when we need to be there, started making Maine far less lovely.

From Dave’s insanely shitty job to the loss of friendships, missing cats, dead pet lizards, Joe’s continued difficulty in the school… It all piled up and pointed us to the door.

So here I am, sitting at the kitchen counter of a home in a suburb south of Boston – the one where I never imagined I’d live – and I’m wondering what the universe has in mind this time.

It feels good to come home.

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Mommies Don’t Get Sick Days and That Sucks

I like to think that most mothers eventually find their groove. Like finely conditioned athletes, we stoically power through colds, migraines and bouts with projectile vomiting. Sure, we might gag or hold our breath and we might even shed a tear, but we carry on and cross that finish line no matter what the cost. Why? Because that’s the circle of life and, unless you want your children to write tell-all blogs about what a crappy parent you were, you’d better suck it up and perform.

Eventually even the best athlete is bound to suffer an injury. In motherhood, the equivalent of a pulled muscle is strained nerves. It generally occurs after a days-long bout of illness compounded with kid fights, whining, schedule confusion, picky eating and a stint as the parent helper at preschool. Parent Helper Day is the equivalent of the Big Game. Most of the time, you’re prepared for the Big Game and nothing can take you down. You remember to wear your bra and cut up the fruit and show up on time so that you can stand at the door to escort the kid whose mother “has a job” inside so she can tear down the road in her giant SUV.

Eventually, you’re bound to walk on to the playing field with some strained nerves and a nasty cold and, by the end of the Big Game, you are officially placed the injured player list. When your two and a half hours as Parent Helper come to a close, you retreat to the car with your crying children, your shame and your illness and somewhere in the privacy of your drive home you shed an exhausted tear, thankful that you made it through that part of the day.

You cry because you fondly recall the days when you could call in sick and get paid to lay in bed and watch cheesy Lifetime movies. No co-workers ever stood at your bedside demanding that you get up to feed them and wipe their ass. Your co-workers didn’t want to see you in that condition, but your children don’t give a shit. They simply want cookies and Juicy Juice and they don’t care if you have to drag yourself to the kitchen on bloody stumps in order to retrieve them.

In a perfect world, Mommies would be able to call in sick and someone would happily cover our shift without the need to miss work or make the sick mommy feel like a failure for succumbing to germs. But this world isn’t perfect and back when we were dreaming of snuggly babies; no one explained that when you get sick you’re on your own, sister. You’ll throw up then brush your teeth and go make those kids breakfast, dammit! On his way out the door, your hard working husband will cast a sympathetic glance at you and kindly offer you the option of going to bed as soon as he gets home from work. The sentiment is lovely, but the vast amount of time between his offer and the actual arrival of relief looms ahead of you like a hellish marathon.

Once, when Joe was just a baby and we were new parents, I experienced my first bout with simultaneous illness. Joe was running a fever and I knew this because, as a new mother, I shoved a thermometer up his ass at least twice a week to reassure myself that he wasn’t dying. This time, however, he actually did have a fever and as I changed his diaper I felt my own face blazing with heat. In my bleary flu-induced fog, I grabbed the thermometer from the changing table and placed it under my tongue. As I closed my lips around it, I realized that I had just placed the baby’s rectal thermometer in my mouth. The thermometer was promptly spit across the room and I spent the morning disinfecting my mouth with Listerine and toothpaste before calling my sister in New York to cry.

I hate shots, but this year some inner-voice advised me to get the flu shot in the middle of the grocery store on a random Wednesday afternoon. It was totally unplanned. I rounded the corner of the wine aisle and saw a table surrounded by nurses and their shots. There they were, all lined up and eagerly waiting to stab someone in the arm.

Public inoculations generally make me feign bravery. A public inoculation with my four-year-old daughter watching required extra bravado and even a bit of humor. When I feigned terror, the nurses giggled and Gwen rushed to hold my hand. She soothed me, “Don’t worry, Mommy. It’s just a little pinch and it will be over weewy fast.” She patted my hand and tried not to look horrified as the needle approached my arm.

Her eyes widened with terror as she watched the needle pierce the skin of my upper arm. She worriedly met my eyes with panic and expected, I think, for the same kind of wailing lament she lets out when the needle breaks through her skin. I smiled at her to demonstrate my (totally fake) bravery. She stroked my hand and said, “Shhhhh…Just a pinch. Here…have a cookie.” She turned to the nurses wearing a serious expression and with great authority asked, “Can we get a sticker over here?!”


Stink-Eye

It was that exchange that I pulled from my memory bank in my final moments as Parent Helper yesterday afternoon as that same precious little angel hid beneath the jungle gym, refusing to leave the preschool playground. It wasn’t until I offered to call her cab and asked if she remembered the way home that she came out. Her furrowed brow and public use of the ‘stink eye’ told me that she wasn’t happy. She began her dramatic rage-filled exit from the playground, pissed off that I was making her leave because, well…it was time to go and I didn’t feel well. Then I coughed.

Oh, Mama…are you okay?

I really don’t feel well, Gwennie.


I’m sorry, Mama. Let’s go home and you can rest on the couch with me. Would you like to watch a princess movie under a nice warm blankie?

She’s a beautiful little girl.

Day Two

Tuesday, April 19. The year is 2011. The writer is a woman just beginning her battle. She is slowly realizing that the only war she needs to win is the ongoing war within her own brain.

Its 9:20 in the morning and I’m attempting to work in the hours that I’m most creative, but with the distraction of three children at home. Ominous music from level two of Super Mario Brothers pours from the television in the kitchen and mixes with a deeply philosophical conversation about the origins of Mario’s villains. Gwen wonders if the one wearing pink is named Lady Gaga.

In the family room, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse isn’t entertaining enough, so Kate has crumbled bits of Irish soda bread into the sisal rug and the tufting of the leather ottoman. She put the finishing touches on her mess with a series of milk sprinkles and smears across the leather. I know this because she entered the kitchen bearing a proud smile and wet hair…hair washed in milk that caused me to sprint through the house to investigate the damage.

Sigh

Yesterday morning I felt guilt. Guilt induced by the Facebook statuses of people who are currently enjoying beaches and Disney World with their children. Those people who, as I began to tell myself, were better parents than me. The photographs of their smiling children continuously tell me so. Those people didn’t sacrifice family vacations for stints in graduate school. Those people are no longer saddled with student loan debt from the family’s last stint with graduate school. Those people started their careers as grown-ups in a manner more timely than David and I did.

Yes, I was feeling guilty yesterday morning so I suggested a ride to pick up some new crayons and craft supplies.

I’m a stupid idiot.

On the way, I suggested that maybe we could all get some lunch. Immediately, Gwen assumed that we’d be dining at MacDonald’s. As a parent, I’ve grown to abhor McDonald’s. My overly-dramatic mind has spun the Golden Arches into a den of fat-laden death and Ronald McDonald has come to resemble the clown from Stephen King’s It. Pennywise has nothing on the evil corporate giant backing Ronald McDonald.

They don’t even like the food. It’s the toys they’re after and for some reason, McDonald’s suddenly made me see red yesterday afternoon. I inwardly sighed and said, “You know…there isn’t much that I’d like to eat at McDonald’s, maybe we can try a different restaurant.”

From the rear of the minivan Gwen vehemently shouted, “NO! I WANT McDONALD’S!”

Joe met my gaze in the rear view mirror. “Maybe we could go get pizza, right Mom?”

“That’s a great idea! We all like pizza, right?”

“NO! I WANT McDONALD’S!”

“Gwen, McDonald’s isn’t good for us. Besides you don’t even eat the food…”

“I. WANT. McDONALD’S!”

My hands gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter and my teeth clenched. “Why don’t we try to agree on food that we all like?”

Joe’s eyes told me that he wanted McDonald’s too, but was struggling with compromise. At six-years-old, he is developing reason and consideration. I love him. “I know, Mom…why don’t you get something that you want first and then we’ll go to McDonald’s and get what we want?”

“That’s really nice of you, Joe…” I am interrupted by Gwen’s screaming voice.

“I’M HUNGRY! I WANT TO GO TO McDONALD’S RIGHT NOW!”

At that moment a woman stepped in front of the car without looking and the wheels of the minivan brushed against the curb as I turned the corner of the crowded mall parking lot to avoid her.

That’s it.

“Gwen, do you care at all that Mommy doesn’t want McDonalds? Do you care at all about anyone but yourself?

“No.”

I sat at the traffic light, inwardly seething. My eyes shot daggers across the road at the tacky red and yellow building that has placed my children under its nasty spell. I could smell it from there. The cloying grease of those french fries coats the air and, I imagine, leaves film of tacky grease on anything that comes to rest for too long in the vicinity.

I hate you.

I pulled into the parking lot and threw the van into park. When I grabbed my wallet, I saw that my bank card was missing. My thoughts went back to Sunday when I swiped my card to buy expensive gasoline and placed it in my coat pocket – the coat that was now neatly hanging in the closet at home.

Do I need to describe the chaos, crying and yelling that ensued when Gwen and I experienced our dueling meltdowns?

David took a 1/2 day after my psychotic phone call. You know the one. It’s filled with things like “I hate my life” and “selfish kids” and “spoiled brats” and other filthy expletives.

Before I knew that he was coming home, I made the kids egg salad sandwiches. David entered to find those spoiled children polishing off their cupcakes. The ones we baked on Saturday.