Thursday, November 7, 2013

Smoking age

My dad passed away five years and three months ago. I see him in random dreams, hear him in the crackling wit of my siblings, and remember him through a well-worn, highly curated collection of memories. I’ve never been good at remembering, but the few I have are important. They buoy me up when the dreams are few and far between.

I came into my dad’s life when he was already an active St. Vincent de Paul member, and he left mine no less passionate about the welfare of the people most of us don’t see. Or we see and ignore, content with our comfort. One of his regular contributions to the Society was a monthly trip to a local nursing home, where he’d visit with the residents and hand out... gifts. The gifts are key. They're why I laugh whenever I think about it.

I found this and a lot of weird stuff
when I Googled "1980s M&Ms"
As soon as I was old enough to charm the old men with my bowl cut and overbite, as soon as I was mature enough to appreciate the doll collections and family photos of the women there, my dad began to bring me along on those trips. We’d wander around florescent hallways, greeting the orderlies and the disoriented. And we’d go from room to room, handing out M&Ms and cigarettes.

Shortly before each trip, my dad would load up the trunk of our Chevy Celebrity station wagon with economy-sized boxes of M&Ms and a few cartons of Pall Malls. I always got my own bag, and I always accepted the fact that, like the candy, the cigarettes were more a necessity than an indulgence. This was the mid-80s, and I was still bringing a Kool-branded water bottle to tee-ball practice. Smoking was as commonplace as hydration.

After a few months of regular trips with my dad, I grew attached to certain residents who I was especially fond of, or who were especially enamored of me. I reviewed yellowing artwork by prized grandchildren, listened confusedly to bitter rants about deadbeat kids. I saw the chicken coop out back and the stump where the cooks chopped their heads off. I smelled the smells and saw the fits, the age-addled and the catatonic. And I wasn’t scared.

I learned about the sudden disconnect of death when my dad gently explained why a woman we’d been visiting for a while, a great grandma with an impressive collection of Madame Alexander dolls, wasn’t in her room anymore. And I was sad, but not scared.

I can’t rightfully overanalyze how these trips influenced me in the bigger picture. I really enjoy the company of the elderly, and I’d like to think that interest was born in those bright and blinking hallways. But really, I find meaning in the chance I had to experience my dad’s unparalleled compassion firsthand. The rawness of those surroundings. His hovering protection.

When Emilia is finally old enough to understand that life is cyclical and that there is wisdom to be gained from the people who lived entire lifetimes before she ever came screaming into this world. Or, at the very least, when she's old enough to see a stooped, wrinkled person without yelling, "What's that!" I'd like to revive this tradition. It would be good for her. It would be good for me. We'll bring M&Ms. And, depending on nursing home policy, maybe a pack or two of Pall Malls.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Not as easy as I thought it would be.

While on my third or fourth trip to Target last week, I responded to the siren’s call of a box of Swiss Cake Rolls and brought them home with me. End-cap specials are the WORST. And the best.

“I’ll serve them to guests on a fancy tray, and we’ll chuckle at the delicious trashiness of it all, but I won’t actually eat any.” That’s what I told myself. Since then, no one has come over except the FedEx guy, and I’ve eaten half the box all by myself. Hiding them in the back of the refrigerator has just made them more appealing. My only justification is that I will never let it happen again.

Here she is eating a donut
The point of this morality tale about dangerous Target addictions and general impulsiveness is that I would rather ramble about snack cakes than write about my daughter. I bet you didn’t see that coming.

When I found out I was pregnant, I’d been blogging regularly* for about four years. It was actually a very important part of my life. Comforting and fun. Something I genuinely looked forward to. I loved the challenge of stringing stories together to create some sort of tenuous (but funny? Maybe? Sometimes?) link between inane events and big life lessons. My blog followed me to Chicago and saw me through a lot of painful stuff. And then so many joyful things. So I assumed that, as my joy was about to reach its fever pitch, my blog would come along for the ride.

And I envisioned myself as the great scribe of my child’s life, snagging every funny story or poignant moment and saving it for posterity. But I didn’t really feel like writing about my pregnancy, save for a few mentions here and there. And, when Emilia was born, aside from a recap of her birth, I really didn’t feel like writing about her.

That sounds so horrible, but my intentions were and are good. I was initially inclined to attribute this dry spell, this Emilia-induced writer’s block, to the fact that I’ve become maniacally possessive of my time. It’s flying by so quickly, and she is getting so big, and she can almost say “belly button” now, and I’m afraid that if I take time to type, I’ll miss actually seeing things. And that is true, but it’s not really THE reason. After all, I could stand to put down my phone more often and just take. her. in.  

And here she is playing with keg cups
More so than that, I’ve found myself slipping into that place that I think other moms have found themselves in at one point or another. I’ve become paralyzingly self-conscious of my abilities, my style, my decisions, my story as a mother. I have a funny little thing I’d like to share about how in love I am with Emilia’s devotion to Elmo that I’m willing to buy any Elmo item** she covets – even if it means blowing the grocery budget – just to hear her say, “Melmo!” and smile like she’s just won an Oscar. But then I worry that it will make me sound like I can’t tell my child no. And then I scrap the whole plan and look at your Facebook page instead.

I’m self-conscious of what she eats, and how frequently we wash her hair, and how much time I spend with her during the day, and how she behaves in public, and how often we read to her, and how many episodes of Game of Thrones*** she’s seen from the corner of her tiny bat-winged eyes. And when you write about your life, you open yourself up to the internet's side eye. That’s just how it works.

When I started this new blog, I prematurely promised to make it a regular thing. And I’d genuinely like that to happen. But first, I have to carve out the time between Melmo-watching and snack-cake-eating, and secondly, I have to accept that my version of motherhood is imperfectly acceptable and, on occasion, worth reading about.

*Once every two months
**$7 and under
 ***This is probably not ok

Friday, May 3, 2013

I feel like that sad fictional dad in who says he's going out to write blog posts and buy cigarettes and never comes back. There are a lot of sparkly distractions at the intersection of good intentions and bad planning/timing.

More to come...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Learning to curate.

I'm not a hoarder. I don't keep sewing machines in my bathtub or dead kittens in the ceiling tiles of my crumbling, odorous manse. I like my kitchen relatively clean and my floors 72% clear of random objects and debris. I never stack phone books in doorways.

But what I guess I should say is that, if we're going by the reality TV definition, I'm not a hoarder... yet. Parenthood is threatening to push me over the edge.
Because I am a saver.

While you can easily throw something away without giving it a second thought, I will develop an emotional attachment to it so strong and passionate it will knock your socks off. The socks you threw away and I pulled out of the trashcan.

Those gold coins are actually Cheerios.
In our little duplex, there are drawers filled with movie stubs and Christmas cards. Ribbons from gifts I've long since forgotten about and instruction booklets from toasters that spontaneously combusted years ago. The door of my car is stuffed with tourism pamphlets from the welcome centers of at least 17 states.

And I could tell you, piece by crumpled piece, the emotional significance of every expired coupon and Altoid tin full of earring backs. Matt is exceedingly patient, but I know he dreams of a house-wide purge. Sometimes he mumbles about burning old magazines in his sleep.

So when Emilia began bringing home art projects from daycare at the ripe old age of 10 months, any sense of doubt surrounding the authenticity of their production was trumped by an irrepressible need to save.



Save because if your child is your heart with arms and legs, then these are art projects created by your heart’s arms and how could you ever throw something like that away?

Within just a few months, our refrigerator had become a shrine to cotton-ball snowmen and watercolor turkeys. Emilia’s abstract art (which was more likely created lovingly by her teachers while she ate crayons and looked on) was piling up on the kitchen counter.

Then, one day, as I moved her paper plate maraca out of the way to reach the coffee maker, I felt myself crossing the threshold – the hoarding threshold where you start living around things. When you have to crawl over a pile of rotting pumpkins to reach the bathroom. Or whatever.

I’m still not ready to start throwing Emilia’s art away. But now it’s going in a box. She has an entire childhood ahead of her, and if I don’t develop a system, pretty soon we’ll be living in one giant macaroni necklace. Because, while it’s important to save some things, the memory isn’t in that clump of Easter grass glued to a piece of construction paper.

It’s in my head. And in my heart. And sometimes – just to keep things livable – in the trashcan.