Monthly Archives: September 2009

Whadduya know

There were many thoughtful comments on my posts of the last two days.  The ones that made me chuckle, however, were those that expressed surprise that I am an extrovert.  It got me to thinking that, although we can know so much about another person from her writing, there are also some pretty basic things we do not know.  So, I thought I’d start a meme that the rest of you should feel free to pick up on your own blogs.

Today’s exercise is for those who do NOT know me In Real Life.  I am asking you to leave a comment with one to three personality traits you think describe me, as you imagine I would be in the flesh.  Then, tomorrow, I’ll ask those of you who DO know me In Real Life to comment on the list of traits.

This is an exercise in narcissism, to be sure, but it is also about the way a writer portrays herself and is received by her readers.  I hope you will play along, because I am interested to see the results.

And, I am way too tired to write much of a post on my own.

Make new friends and keep the old

In Yom Kippur services yesterday, a friend came over.  “Have I done anything to offend you this year?” she asked, earnestly.

“No, of course not,” I answered.  “Have I done anything to offend you?”

“No, no.”  She paused.  “It’s just that we haven’t seen each other much lately and I thought maybe I had done something…”  I quickly assured her that she has done nothing, and, frankly, I cannot imagine what this particular friend could do that would offend me.

I pointed up two feet above my head.  “Honestly, the air is up there and I am just trying to get to it. I am treading water here.”  She was gracious and understanding.

They are always gracious and understanding.

Over the past several years, I have spent so much time with one nostril above water, frantically trying to float, that I have been a negligent friend to far too many delightful and interesting people.  I make choices about what is going to get done and those things happen consistently.

The kids get regular checkups and are up-to-date on their vaccines.  We eat healthful, home-cooked meals. (I typed in “homo-cooked meals” first, which is a slightly different thing.)  The kids have been to the dentist, we reward with sticker charts, we read with Zachary, Benjamin seems to finally be learning his letters, and Lilah is getting tested for all her food allergies.  I read sometimes.  Now and then we call J’s aunt whose husband is very sick.  I exercise a few times a week.  I dropped off muffins at a house with a new baby yesterday (because everyone likes to get home-baked muffins on Yom Kippur).

I write.  Sometimes I even find time to submit articles and pitches.

But, these things are all that happens.  There is a pile of stained clothing that sits in my bedroom, waiting to be turned into rags.  It has been there for six months.  Every now and then, when our current rags are disgusting, I grab a few old onesies and quickly tear them into rags.  On top sits a box of clothes to be donated.  I am two sizes behind donating Lilah’s old clothes.

The blinds in the boys’ room have been broken since July, but they are still functional.  J wanted to know when I was going to schedule someone to fix them.  “After I find time for a dentist appointment,” I snapped.  I haven’t had a dentist appointment since I was pregnant.  The baby is now a year old.

Our counters have piles on them.  We need printer paper.

And I don’t call my old friends.  I don’t get together with new friends. I rely on them to understand, to forgive.  As they have done for years now.

I don’t understand why other people seem to have it together.  Lots of people have three or more kids.  But somehow they find time to keep in touch with people, to have dinner with friends.  I put all that energy into playdates for my children and the infrequent date with my husband.

So, I write this, and I post this.  I will send it out to all those people who I have neglected time and again.  This is my plea that you will all forgive me, wait for me, and be there when I finally resurface, no matter how long it takes.  Because I value you, even if I don’t show it enough.

Forgiveness

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance.  Repentance is a funny thing in Judaism.  We’re not big on heaven or hell, yet we make quite a fuss over our sins.  There are ten days between the start of the new year and Yom Kippur, during which Jews are supposed to seek forgiveness for their sins against other people.

Here’s the deal: if, truly repentant, I seek forgiveness three times and the other person refuses to grant it, the whole thing is over with.  I am supposed to walk forward and let it go, as I have done everything I can to atone.  As long as I have repented fully in my heart and deeds.

Now, I get this, as it seems to me that there needs to be a way to move on past one’s transgressions.  There is room for abuse in the system, as a person who does not deserve to be forgiven blithely can move on from the crimes of her past.  However, it does seem that anyone who can fool herself into thinking she has truly repented when she has not probably would let herself off the hook with or without the third-time’s-the-charm rule, so really it just offers protection to those who cannot win forgiveness from those who really ought to allow them to move forward.

This brings up some interesting questions in my life, as there are those I have hurt.  I lived with my aunt and uncle for my teen years.  It was an unpleasant situation, at best, and I was not particularly treasured, but there was no abuse to speak of and they gave me a roof over my head and food on the table.  When I was in my early twenties, I sent a very hurtful letter to my aunt and that more or less severed all ties.

It has been fourteen years.  I feel sorry for hurting my aunt and uncle, for allowing myself to be separated from my cousins.  Yet, I absolutely do not want my aunt or uncle back in my life, as that relationship was incredibly toxic.  So, I could ask forgiveness three times.  But I could not do it the way they want, which is begging them to return to my life.  They made it very clear several times that in their minds forgiveness was tied to a continuing relationship.  I don’t want them in my life, and how do you say, “I’m sorry I hurt you, now bugger off?”  It seems that would hurt them all the more.

I don’t expect them to ask me for forgiveness, of course, but I’m talking about my side of things here.

Then, of course, is the highly theoretical question of what would happen if my father or step-mother asked me for forgiveness.  Could I grant it to the parents who abused and neglected me?  Is it right to do so?  I have made on in many ways, but to grant them forgiveness is to say that abusing a child is a forgivable crime.  It is not.  It never is.  So, although I have made peace within myself, I could not grant absolution.

Not that they would ever ask for it.  But, forgiveness is about both the asker and the askee.  Even though they may never ask for it, part of my healing is deciding whether I am in a place where I could forgive them.  I don’t think I am, although I desperately want them to ask for it.  I want some acknowledgement that what they did was horrendous.

What bothers me about the Ask-Three-Times-And-Then-Move-On Rule is that it is taking my power away.  I should be the only one with the power to offer forgiveness to my father and step-mother.  (I mean, me and all the other people who have been hurt by what happened in that household.  Like my kids who will forever be the children of an adult survivor of child abuse.)  The fact that a loophole exists bothers me.  I don’t want anyone else, even some mythical higher power, to have the right to forgive those parents.

I think, however, that the rule exists to free us all. It reminds us that forward is the motion of life, and constantly circling back is unhealthy for everyone.  Unfortunately, I am here to tell you that forward motion, while fantastic in theory, is not always realistic for those of us who were locked out for long afternoons in Western Massachusetts winters and sent to elementary school on empty stomachs after spending the night sleeping naked in the hallway.  We can move on and heal, but forgiveness is too much to ask of us.

Forgiveness is a funny thing.

No more hall passes

Today is my birthday.  I am thirty-six years old.

My mother died before she turned thirty-five.  She left behind two small girls.

Last year, I dreaded my birthday because I was afraid I would die just before it.  Instead, I was in the hospital with a two-day-old baby, celebrating life every which way.

Now, I am thirty-six.  In some ways, I have accomplished little in my life.  I recently watched a video of Springsteen from the mid-eighties and thought, “Shit, he was my age and he was already one of the greatest living musicians.”  Yes, Toni Morrison did not publish a book until she was thirty-nine, but Barack Obama entered the State Senate when he was my age.  I don’t have a book deal or any major articles.  I am not a full professor, despite the Ph.D., a degree that is sort of a pointless accomplishment if one uses it to drive carpool and wipe asses.

However, I get out of bed every day.  I am a reasonably good parent.  I am in a stable marriage.  I floss my teeth, am nice to at least 65% of the people I meet every day, and wear clean underpants.  None of these may seem like monumental accomplishments, and perhaps they are not.

But with my childhood, I have every reason to be howling at full moons and ripping the hair off of my head.  To be more or less sane is actually a pretty big deal for me.  Yeah, I have a tendency to thrust my tongue up against my teeth and I have a short fuse.  Yep, I like to be in control of my life because I feel totally vulnerable if things spiral out.  I think I probably have earned the right to these mild neuroses.

Other than that, I am a pretty average member of society.  And average is a sizable accomplishment for me, given how far back I started.

While my childhood gives me a hall pass out of being extraordinary, it does not excuse me from being responsible.  I do not get to sit back and say, “Eh, I’ve suffered plenty.  I’ve paid my dues.”

Because we all have dues.  Yearly dues that we must continue to pay as a price for residency here on this planet.  We are renters here, not owners, and we must treat the property with dignity and respect.  We cannot throw the clothes in the drier on a sunny day because we’re too busy rushing out the door to hang them on the line.  We cannot say, “Fuck it.  It’s been a long week.  I am just too tired to cut up my own fruit, so I’ll buy it wrapped in plastic and already cut.”  We don’t get to use paper towels just because we deem ourselves too busy to cut up stained clothes and make rags.

Every single choice we make must put the environment first.  We don’t get to put our convenience first anymore.  It has gone on too long, and there are no more excuses.  Every thing we do, every moment of our lives, every bite we eat, place we go, decision we make, must take into account the impact it has on our planet.  We will not always be able to buy local or organic or used; sometimes, people affect the world they live in.  But even when we are forced – due to any number of factors – to do something that is more injurious to the planet than we would like, we must be cognizant of that fact and understand it as a problem, not just the way things are.

We must plan ahead so that we don’t take too many trips to the store but also so that we aren’t throwing away wasted food.  We must think in advance about what we will need, voluntarily forgoing convenience because it comes at too high a cost. It is simply too late to do it any other way.

That is, if we want to continue having birthdays for ourselves and our children.

Life is not always convenient or easy.  We need to suck it up and accept that. We must live life with fewer new machines, working with old technology instead of replacing a phone because there is a jazzier model and accepting that the business of our lives is not to have fun but to survive, and that there is work involved in that process.  We need to stop excusing ourselves because we think somehow our lives are harder than everyone else’s, so hey, we can drive three blocks instead of walking.  I don’t get out of it because I had a fucked up childhood, and you don’t get out of it either, no matter what your reasons.

Today, on my birthday, I reaffirm my commitment to make choices based on what will keep my planet and my children safe, even if it means I have to work harder and give up conveniences.  That is the price I pay for getting another year here on earth.

Birthday girl

Lilah started hollering the moment she was from my womb untimely ripped, pausing only for the brief moment they put her in my arms.  Then the nurses took her so that the doctors could perform my tubal ligation, and that baby fussed the entire time they rooted around in there, pulling the plugs.  She bleated as they sewed me up, and then cried as they cleaned and weighed her and moved us all to a recovery room.

Finally, almost an hour after she was born, they handed her back to me, and I was able to given her what she wanted.  She took that nipple into her mouth and shut the hell up, sucking away as if to say, “You fucking morons.  That’s what I’m talking about.”

When she was a week old, she re-entered the hospital because of jaundice.  Shortly thereafter, she needed a scan because of something called a “sacral dimple” and an x-ray to diagnose her reflux.  At two months old, we had the saga of the pneumonia, complete with ambulance ride and six days in the hospital.

She was a very expensive newborn.

I won’t be spilling any secrets if I tell you she is worth every penny.

This is a baby who takes off across the floor, doing her own thing, while chaos reigns around her.  She began crawling at five-and-a-half months, perhaps because everyone kept ignoring her and she needed to find her own way around.  I have never seen a baby so adept at entertaining herself, although I do wish she’d do it with something other than the toilet.

Yet, oh my god, does that baby adore her mama.  She was born hollering for me, and from day one she knew that the sun rose and set around me.  The boys, yeah, they love me, but for this child I am the complete package.  And when she crawls for me, repeating “mamamamamama,” I drop everything because nineteen pounds of sweetness is coming at me.

She is good and sweet and independent and physical and – the biggest blessing of all – she is pretty quiet.  She babbles enough to let us know she can, but, thanks be to the heavens above, I think I have earned a quiet child at the last.

And I don’t care that she breaks out into hives from about 30% of the foods we feed her and that she has sucked her thumb so much that she has chronic eczema and that she thinks it’s funny to drop grass down my shirt.  Because she is worth all the trouble with that sweet smile.

“Lilah, do you want Bunny?” I ask, and even though she cannot talk, she laughs to let me know she approves of my suggestion.

“Where is Zachary?” I ask, and she laughs and looks at him, pleased with herself for knowing the answer.

We walk past a book and she starts laughing, only to turn to agitated screaming if we continue on without stopping to pick it up.  When the moronic adult gets the message and picks up the book, she urgently flips to the page with the tiger, then, delighted smile on her face, she turns to the reader and growls.

People, I am not overstating the fact when I tell you that Lilah is the happiest accident ever to occur.  That my life has grown and filled beyond description because one day, 21 months ago, I peed on a stick and it came up pink.  Someday, she will be a teenager who hates me and reminds me regularly how idiotic I am.  Someday after that, she will be the kind of strong woman that comes from having two older brothers.

For right now, though, she is sweetness on the go, stopping only for a snuggle, a quick thumb-suck, and a cuddle with her bunny before she heads off to pull all the cups out of the cabinet and then push that bunny around the kitchen inside our colander.  I am thankful daily that we decided to use a previous history of infertility as birth control, because a year ago today, I fell in love all over again.

Daily bread

Hi, I’m Emily, and I’m a compulsive cook.

On Sunday, I baked bread and cinnamon rolls for the week, cooked black beans for dinner, and prepared the dough for the tortillas, which my husband graciously rolled.  We also went to the farmer’s market, where I bought assorted fruits and vegetables for the week to come, including the spinach that the next day I turned into a soup.

Yet, somehow, I felt as though I was slacking on Monday because I wasn’t baking anything.  No muffins – I’d be doing those on Tuesday.  No bread, which I’ll probably need to do on Wednesday.  No zucchini bread, which I’ll make on Thursday in anticipation of Zachary’s belated birthday celebration at school, which is Friday.

My weeks are organized around food, which is getting increasingly complicated, I must add.  Lilah seems to be allergic to, well, everything.  So far, the foods that have made her break out in hives include lentils, chicken, tomatoes, eggs, and all forms of squash.  Given that she has only one tooth, it’s a bit of a challenge coming up with food for her, although thanks to the food gods, she’ll eat anything I put in front of her.

Unlike Zachary, who refuses to eat anything.  Every day is Yom Kippur for this child.

And my husband, oh King of the Processed Foods.

Fuck if I know what to cook anymore.  But, somehow I persevere, partly by making bread for most dinners, so that if nothing else there is something The Pickiest Boy on the Block will eat.  And I cannot stop myself.  I want to cook, to feel in control of my world by chopping onions.  Article rejected?  Knead dough.  Au pair fired?  Bake beans.

Food seems to be my cure-all these days.  It is real, concrete, and under my control.  I want to be in my kitchen, where good smells and nourishing food are achievable, since so much else feels far beyond my grasp.

So, forgive me as I neglect to read your blogs and let weeks pass without a post.  I am in my kitchen dissolving yeast.

Every day, it’s a getting closer

Hi, there.  I have a post up at L.A. Moms Blog about the new year.