Monday, April 26, 2010

Militant Diapers for Social Change

It was a rainy Saturday morning: we all piled in the car to head for our school's annual Fun Run, a campus-wide effort consisting of hundreds of children, and some adults, running en mass for a good cause. This year's money goes right to The Leogane Relief Fund, which was formed to aid in rebuilding our sister schools in Haiti: St. Jean Baptist, St. Mathieu, and St. Margeurite. As we got close to the entrance, we had the following "teachable moment".  How do you think it went?

Son, age seven: Hey Mom, do you think Dad can run as fast as a car?

Me: Dad can absoLUTELY run  as fast as a car!

Husband (kind of Ward Cleaver-ish): Well, son, that depends on how fast that car is going.

Me: Daddy can run at least as fast as we're going now. Honey, slow down. See?

Husband: Actually, guys, I don't think you realize how fast this would be on foot. It's impossible.

Me: No it isn't. Don't you remember that guy from the Olympics who was like the fastest man on   
earth? Carl Lewis. Carl "The Cheetah" Lewis. Yes, that's right. He was going at least 55 from where I was.

Husband: Which was on the couch. And I don't think they called him "The Cheetah."

Son (accusingly): Yeah, Mom. Dad's right. I think the animal you're thinking of is a big black cat. That likes fish.

Me: A Panther?

Son: Yeah, a Pamper. A Black Pamper.

Daughter, age four: I'm a Sister Pamper! And you're the Mommy Pamper!

Husband (bewildered): How does this happen?

Me: Just go with it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


So it turns out, I don't handle persecution well. I know, right? Who knew? And by the way, I'm with y'all: enough with the negative posts, already. I promise, cross my heart: this is it. No more will I regale you with stories of uncertainty, heartbreak, or plagues; from now on it's nothing but cotton candy, blonde-haired babies, and rainbow-wielding unicorns!

But first-just this one more thing.

Some stuff has been going down, and I thought I was cool, that I could carry it all with some sort of scrappy grace-and for the most part, in daylight, I can. There's enough to distract in the everyday: cursory things like dinner and dishes and bathing; paying bills, deciding if I can wear the same pants one more time. There's a forbearance, I've found, in dealing with the immediate, in the act of looking around instead of ahead. So I fill my day with these small things, and they provide a framework of discipline  and order, that, quite honestly, keeps me from losing my mind altogether. Without these daytime duties I'd have way too much time to fritter away on issues of injustice, on matters as yet unsolved. But for now, though, my nine-to-five routine is working.

It's a different story in the dark. Once the lights go out, and the citizens inhabiting our household are asleep, I lay there with my anxiety, and I fester. At the first sign of it coming on, I'll usually try to employ one relaxation technique or another, my favorite being where you first tense, then release, every muscle in your body, starting with your toes. It's a great way to truly relax-and in fact, it works so well that I'm often really tired when I'm done. Too tired to fight off my anxiety.

Sometimes, while I'm laying there, feeling really relaxed, but with no daily grind to occupy my thoughts, I can't help but go into mental overdrive with the rehashing. Really-there are things to be said. Defenses to raise, truths to shout from rooftops. I could justify a small-scale press-conference. But who would hear me at one in the morning? When you're in a situation like the one we're in, the grown-up thing to do, the loving thing to do, is: wait. I have a hard time with that. I am not a very patient person when it comes to nonsense. I once chased down a stranger in a Walmart parking lot for publicly berating the handicapped clerk he thought was "too slow". It was Christmas Eve, and cold, and as I shivered before this giant, over-grown bully, I was emboldened by one thought: You are lucky, I said sternly, that Jesus loves you.

I guess the same could be said of me. Sigh.

I am trying to ride this out. If I, if we--the four of us, are laboring for a cause-if there is something to be birthed at the end of this season of upheaval and change, I am willing to weather this. But I need a  focal point-a mental picture, to get me through. The other night, I woke up Joshua to share this thought with him. I don't know what to think of, I said. When I think of the past, I feel regretful. If I think about what's going on now, I feel heartbroken. When I think about the future, it's like a big, pulsating question mark-- with fangs! I added that last part so he'd know I was serious.

He told me that maybe I should try not to think at all. Typical.

The next morning, I took this picture-the one at the top of this post. I've been watching this arbor ever since we moved in, admiring the way the branches twisted over the frame, wondering how long it took to train the tree to grow like this. We have a boatload of established shrubs in our landscape-azaleas, hydrangeas, roses--along with garden structures and paved pathways galore. One of my favorite things to do is walk around and admire it all, like Scarlett O'Hara. This spot, though, has significance that extends beyond my fantasies of picnicking with the Tarleton Twins, fiddle-dee-dee--because on the other side of this is something you'd miss if you didn't walk through. It seems simple enough, but just the other day, I had to convince a friend of mine to keep going. I didn't even know this was here, she said. An explosion of pink and light, a destination on another side. An after.

This is my focal point. A door. A way. A passage. Where we are now is twisted, and woody, and rough-but blooming in crazy ways, too. Beautiful. And on the other side is more. I just know it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Bright Side

Several days ago, we stopped at a drugstore and saw this sign outside, and with all that's going on in our lives, decided it would be a great way to commemorate this one thought:

It Could Be Worse.

So. We've been in limbo, and we've had better days, me and that dashing hunk of 100% man I like to call husband; the two of us just trying to anticipate the next round of natural and relational disasters that continue to rock both the world in general and our own little plot on the social landscape. If these times were being recorded in biblical prose, the text would include many references to the gnashing of teeth, along with snarls, snares, and instances of crying out to the heavens more times than I can count. But there'd be moments of beauty, too-of trusting, of staying the course, of azaleas blooming like crazy, of blowing bubbles in the backyard with the children and thinking that no matter what's around the corner, we've got love to spare. So there.

But we don't get too comfortable in having, good day in about ten, and because it wouldn't be biblical unless there was a good-old-fashioned calamity of some sort, there's this:

Mouse Infestation.

For the past year, we'd been storing all our furniture in one of the outbuildings on our Ohio land; furniture and really everything else-toys, books, appliances, keepsakes...our entire life's worth of stuff. Since coming back south, we've been fortunate enough to have been able to stay with people who had room and beds and hospitality to spare, and for these sorts of people I am grateful beyond measure. We were never without hearth or pillow-but there was still a longing for the day I'd be able to recreate a true home for my family-and I kept that hope-flag flying in my heart, like something barely visible on the horizon. As in, we might be, all four of us, sleeping on two twin beds right now, but someday in the not-too-distant future I could feather my nest with all the things I knew were tucked safely up north-my vintage linens, fabulous sofa, kids' artwork...I must have mentally rearranged my living-room-to-come at least a dozen times. I even downloaded this image for inspiration-thinking I had most of those elements anyway, except maybe not quite that much Leedsware?

So-on my last trip to Ohio, I needed some spring clothes for Winnie, which I knew were with our things in storage.  My dad had mentioned that we might have a "mice issue" out there, and he ordered some traps on eBay (who orders traps on eBay? my dad, that's who) which I assumed we'd bait and strategically place, thus mitigating any damage. Why yes, of course I believed extermination works retroactively.  Don't you? Well, think of me as the Simon Cowell of the vermin industry: it doesn't. By the time you can smell them, they've already wreaked their tiny little mouse-havoc. They've moved in, had babies, elected a mayor, and built a highway system. It's true. And by the way, you sing like a cat.

So what was the damage, exactly? Oh, just about everything we own. I'd say 50-75% of the furniture is toast. My sofas were litterboxes, boxes of linens were shredded for nesting, and all but a couple of cookbooks munched. Photos, artwork. It's like a fire, but stinkier. It would almost be a relief to burn it down and start over.

I loved my things. Isn't it sad?  They were, for me, the promise that I'd have a normal life again. I couldn't help but wonder, would I have been even more distraught had I not been living like a gypsy for so many months? Maybe. And what does that say?

The hardest part was not having my husband there to help me sort through it all. My brother-in-law, who is just wonderful, did his part in the heavy-lifting and vacuuming-up-of-mouse-poop department. But only Joshua could get down to business with a brave and hopeful face-and besides, he knows what's worth salvaging, and what is just...stuff. He wasn't there, though, so I put on my Muck boots and some yellow doing-dishes gloves and went to it. It was almost incapacitating. I could only work in 45-minute increments. If you think that sounds morally weak, then riddle me this: how would you feel if you came home to find that a multi-generational family of rodents had built a the world's largest trailer park in your living room? With no indoor plumbling? Did I mention they ate an ENTIRE bag of Starbucks coffee beans? It was basically a Mickey Mouse Crack-House.

So what next? We can buy replacement stuff. We have to pay of course-- because of the following, guess what loss is NOT covered by insurance? Volcanic eruption, terrorist attack, mudslide, sonic boom, mouse infestation.

But we've got love to spare, right? Right. The greater loss would be this-not knowing who we are, or whose we are. And come what may, perspective is scrappier than any mouse, and softer than any pillow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

About a year ago, my husband and I decided to spice up our fairly-uncomplicated lives a bit by buying some land in another state: seven acres, along with a house I'd call a fixer-upper, several greenhouses, a pond, Ford Tractor, and a fully functioning flower business. I know, right? That's not spice-that's Adam Richman chowing down a Four Horseman burger and getting his name on the wall to prove it. Why didn't we just institute "date-night", you ask, or repaint the dining room a lovely shade of cinnamon? Well-in the first place, we were living in a rental house with a dining room that had already been HGTV-ed within an inch of its life by the homeowner-complete with a diamond marquis wall-pattern in two colors, a sponge-treatment top coat, and three-quarter chair rail just to keep it lively. So we had spice covered, I guess you could say, from a faux-finish perspective.  And just so we're clear, those  colors were turquoise and gold.

  I suppose, ultimately, that the appeal in going Green Acres was greater than just change of pace. Growing our own food, being our own boss, and enjoying our very own built-in babysitting network of grandparents, aunts, cousins, and friends. We lunged hard and wrapped our hearts around what seemed to be the stuff of dreams and Barbara Kingsolver books and in the span of a few weeks, derailed our life and careers in Atlanta for another life, in another part of the country. I was going home, to the wide open spaces of my childhood, to the familiar faces that had, over time, merged together to form one, nameless, friendly face I was sure would welcome me back even though I had no idea who it was anymore.

We  left the place where we'd really gotten married-because it wasn't the steeple or white dress or perfect August day that bound us together in Ohio-it was our adventure in this Atlanta, where we knew no one and had nothing but one another for comfort and for calm. We left the career my husband built almost from scratch, and we left relationships and we left gardenias and traffic and 70 degrees in February, for what was greener. We had no idea what we were doing, but we held hands, closed our eyes, and jumped.

When I write about those early days-before we got there and the reality sunk in that it wasn't going to be all romping through the fields, the four of us on reclaimed barnwood picnic benches under an orchard canopy, enjoying heirloom tomato salads while a crew from Martha Stewart Omnimedia captures us in perfect light--when I write about those days, I can still feel the romance; how we dwelled in possibility. How it could have been.

It wasn't what we thought. Is anything, ever?

I haven't written about our return to Atlanta, even after nine months, because it is just still so close to the bone for me. And I can talk and write about some really difficult things; I am kind of available that way. But I haven't yet found the language with which to trust the story. I can say that it wasn't right, and that I was desperate with anxiety, and that we did what we had to do, which was run. There's more to it, yes, but even after thinking about this choice for the last 270 days, just when I think I have perspective-I sit down to write this post and a river of grief trickles underneath a crack in the office door. And then it's in my shoes, and rising, and the only thing I can think to say is: I wanted it all.

On my last night there-when we knew we were coming back to Atlanta, and we were just all so broken, and tired, and the sadness was thick like humidity, I walked outside on our land, and it was dark, and perfect, and the stars were more beautiful, I knew, than they'd ever be, anywhere else in the world. Ever. And I gave that up. Along with a blackberry patch, and a sledding hill. Dreams on top of dreams.

I am still in both places. Living in Atlanta, with the husband and children-but we own the spice, still. It's probably more spice than we wanted--this double life. I don't like being spread out this way, hearts and to-do lists divided. I wish I had a home of my own, only I do, right? In another state. It's a complicated order. We have no idea what's going to happen in the next couple of months-in our lives here, or there. What I want for this blog is for it to be a place where I can communicate freely about all I'm juggling-and how I enjoy it most of the time. But how sometimes, I'd like to send this all back to the kitchen, and have them start over.  Maybe just some oatmeal this time?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My People

I know you want to hear from me--all eighteen of my followers, who, one would think, by the way my dear husband is carrying on, are holding court on the front lawn like I'm freakin' Eva PerĂ³n. Yes, I've fallen behind once again, but this website is important to me-and you, my people, are also, and I count your praise, devotion, and readership among my fairest blessings. Take heart, however--for the burdens I carry, though many, are light (laundry, groceries, etc.) and henceforth, expect mine blogging eyes to be opened afresh to the needs of the masses: and, lo, a post shall be born unto you. Yes--here, on the balcony of the internet, I shall appear again-and deliver an aria. I guess what I'm saying is, I'll get back to you-maybe tomorrow between ballet, carpool and income taxes. Kisses!

And please--nevermind my gratuitous punctuation.