First Love

July 25, 2007

You know how one moment you’re living your day in the most ordinary way possible and then the next, something takes you back into memory? This is such an odd phenomenon as a mother, because in so many ways my life seemed to start at the birth of my children. Every day, the majority of the people with whom I spend time don’t know of the me before them. Heck, sometimes I forget that I lived a full color existence before Abby, Rob and Dan.

I’m going to date myself here, but driving home from meeting Tim for lunch, two songs came on, one right after the other. The first, Cheap Trick’s, “The Flame,” became a very private sad song for me after my break up with a guy I’ll call Sid. Yes, I’ll admit that it’s a totally corny, sappy love song…but still one that captured a particular time in my life. Sid and I dated for only about five months, such a ridiculously short time in retrospect, but oh the intensity of those five months…we met at church, and he was my first love. I’ve developed a theory that most of us only love like that once — the falling headlong, feeling sweaty and nauseated with the thrill of it, unable to sleep because each and every moment with the loved one is so precious, so perfect — why sleep? Loving and being loved by Sid was being swept up by wave after wave of emotion, not so much about the long term commitment needed to survive as a couple…and after that relationship ended, I knew on some level that I would never love anyone quite like I had him.

Because I was cautious, then after the breakup. I had given him something in the transaction — something I could never get back, and no, I don’t mean physically or sexually. But I had given him that “firstness” of my heart — the unfettered, fearless, total belief of the young. And coming back from losing that…wow. It sounds melodramatic as I read over what I’ve written here, but all I can say to defend it is that for me, being young was an exceedingly melodramatic time — the highs so very very high and the lows unspeakable in their desperation. One of the best parts of growing up for me has been the balancing between these two poles, thus finding myself more often in the center.

But at nineteen I had none of the hard won wisdom I do at thirty nine (I expect I’ll say the same thing of fifty nine!). I just knew that loving a man would never, could never be the same as it had been with Sid. And I was right. Falling in love with Tim was an incredible high — to know and be known so thoroughly and to find someone who fitted (and fits) me — I’ve tried never to take that for granted. And if I fell a little more thoughtfully, a little more carefully — well, that’s okay too. Over the years I’ve learned that loving someone has so much less to do with emotion and everything to do with choosing and committing for both parties — when you, as a hopeless screw-up, can love someone in his own messes as he does for you — then, I think the truly good stuff of love takes root and grows. And thank you God, I have that with my dear husband.

But Sid. Twenty years after the fact (and I can’t believe I’m even saying that!), there’s a blurry softness to my memories, a fondness, a private smile. I’m sure that I partially forget the gut wrenching sadness and hopelessness and simply dwell on that feeling — that once in a lifetime giddy joyful feeling.

After Cheap Trick came Modern English’s “Melt with You“. Our song. I laughed out loud, a delighted little burble that my trip through memory could continue a moment longer. “What is it, Mom?” asked my son from the back seat of the mini-van (and oh yes, the mighty have fallen, my friends!).

“Nothing, sweetie.”

I sang along the rest of the way home.

Braces

July 18, 2007

Who is she? This girl child/woman who has taken up residence here? Five minutes ago she sat napping in her baby swing. But now she seems on the brink of a life larger than herself.

My daughter got braces on Monday. Not a big deal, right? Lots of kids get braces (and lots of parents pay for them like we are — on the installment plan — so frighteningly large is the total number that I can only let myself think about it in smaller monthly chunks or I wake up in a cold sweat). But Abby isn’t lots of kids in so many wonderful and challenging ways. As I’ve mentioned here previously, she’s not really a dentist kind of girl, so the actual getting of the braces had taken on a monumental life of its own. We had a countdown on the calendar. We had talked and prayed and cried. And Monday she was ready.

“Mommy, I’m just going to say to myself, ‘You have to do this, Abby. It’s just going to be worse if you drag it out. Just do it.'” Nike would be proud of my daughter because that’s exactly what she did. She agonized over the color choices (yes, braces come in colors! now that can be changed at each appointment) before finally settling on green and black. We dosed her up on ibuprofin, but Monday night she broke down — after an incredibly brave showing — and told me that she wished she could take them off, “just for a minute, Mom.” They hurt and felt funny.

I remember so clearly my first night with braces in the June after 7th grade. My mom cut the corn off the cob for me that night, but even taking tiny small bites made my mouth ache. And I had waited so long for my braces. To be blunt, Abby and I have both suffered from pretty phenomenal bucked teeth — yeah, we have crappy recessed jaws and too many teeth crammed in mouths too small (hard to believe I actually have a small mouth, isn’t it?). My grade school years practically revolved around kids making fun of my bucked teeth, and wow did that impact my self image for years. Truly, I was in my twenties before I stopped feeling like I had bucked teeth. And I had to wait until I was 13 to get braces because of how slowly my adult teeth came in. I am so grateful to God — I mean, really grateful — that braces are done in 2 phases now, and that the early phase starts when the child’s first 8 teeth come in. Honestly, I worried for Abby that she would suffer the same meanness I did, and I am so glad, SO GLAD, that these braces will make such an aesthetic difference for her. Please don’t misunderstand this as vanity on her behalf — it’s just that life for a girl in this culture is plenty difficult, plenty fraught with pain, without adding something that makes one markedly different than other girls her age.

These braces have had an unexpected consequence, though…Abby just seems…older. More adolescent to me. And all of a sudden, I see this glimmer in her — a glimmer of the truly beautiful woman she is unfolding to be. Her beautiful brown eyes and long dark eyelashes, her high cheekbones, her long lithe limbs. And of course, her smile. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always loved my daughter’s smile. Her first smile all those too many years ago honed right in on my heart. But sometimes when she smiles at me now, her face almost transforms for me. And I can see forever and ever.

Let me preface everything I am going to say with this: go out and buy Will Allison’s first novel, What You Have Left. I glanced through it at the bookstore and it looks splendid — plus it’s gotten fabulous reviews from all over the place.

But the thing is…I went to graduate school with this guy. I didn’t know him well, but what I did know of him was all good. He seemed to be both a lovely person and a lovely writer (and I probably couldn’t say the same for very many of the people from that period in my life!). And he’s obviously made a great success of his writing life, as well as having gotten married and had a daughter. Good on him. And I really mean that.

But.

Maybe everyone has certain aspects of their lives that they wish they either had lived or would live differently. Maybe we all fall victim to the comparison trap, where we look at someone else’s successes and wonder what in the hell we’ve done with our very ordinary lives. I used to joke in graduate school that people would go on to become successful writers, while I would end up with a mini-van and a “Soccer Mom” bumper sticker. Okay, I don’t do the bumper stickers, but my boys had a great soccer season this past spring, and I loved every minute of their games. Just as I loved taking my daughter to her dance classes and watching her recital.

But.

Sometimes I really feel like nothing I’ve done is enough. I’m not a good enough parent or a good enough wife or a good enough Christian. I haven’t accomplished all the lofty writing goals I had for myself back in the days when Will Allison and I shared an office. And I’m not getting any younger. For the most part, that makes me glad because I like my life and even myself better now than I did ten years ago, certainly. And I wouldn’t want to go back and re-live any of that time, thank you very much. But sometimes I long to do something truly wonderful, truly laudable by others. God, that sounds…petty…self-focused. But hey, it is my blog, so I can whine if I want to!

But that’s not it, really. I’m really not trying to whine here. Maybe I’m just coming to terms with the obvious fact that for every good thing we do in life, we turn down doing lots of other good things. I couldn’t have written a novel and have been the stay at home parent I wanted to be in this last decade. Maybe some people could have, but I know that I couldn’t have pulled it off. And I know, I know — I’m not dead yet. There’s still time. And lots of true accomplishment happens in life’s interstices, where we’re living and loving and somehow trudging through each day. I have a great family, a great church and great friends. To be sure, I have little to complain about.

But. I have to admit to more than a little jealousy. Not a pretty emotion, I realize, and not one I like to admit. Pretty human of me, damn it. Much as I try, I just can’t completely shake this whole being human thing.

After attending the Def Leopard/REO Speedwagon/Styx concert at the Germain amphitheatre last night, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that nostalgia is an emotion best not put on display. If one is old enough to experience nostalgia, chances are that one is also not all that enjoyable to look at…harsh to be sure — but really, seeing 40 year old men with beer bellies and women too old to not be wearing bras “rocking out” kind of frightened me.

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Holy hell, people drink a lot at outdoor concerts. And I don’t mean water.

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I don’t even exactly know why I went. A girl from my book-club wanted a bunch of us to go and I couldn’t think of a great excuse, so…the concert was fine, if a bit sad, that a band I used to love in high school (I listened to Styx records! on my stereo!) has been relegated to being the opening act for other bands.

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I need to learn that “No” is a complete sentence. I need to remember that my time is valuable.

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I spent much of the evening observing others — especially a group on a blanket in front of us. I finally came to the conclusion that the group consisted of a mom and her (very under-dressed) daughter, her daughter’s friend and the friend’s boyfriend. Plus there was a “Daddish” kind of guy, but my vibe kept telling me that he and the mom were no longer married. The mom, who looked to be about my age, though at first glance she looked much younger, seemed to be trying so hard to be her daughter’s best friend. Though I’d wager any amount that the daughter was underage by quite a bit, the mom kept plying her and her friends with beer. And the mom and daughter kept dancing in the weirdest sexual way — yet they both seemed to be trying too hard to really enjoy themselves. Meanwhile, “Dad” simply sat on the blanket, staring stoically forward, while Daughter got tanked. The whole group reeked of a PhD dissertation on sociological and familial dysfunction.

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Why do some people seem so comfortable in their own skins that they can dance and sway in front of others with no thought as to how they look? Why am I not one of those people and why does that whole experience make me feel like I’m in junior high?

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I came home with a big bad case of the munchies — haven’t smelled that much grass since college.

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People under the influence of multiple mind-altering substances scare the crap out of me. Case in point: a huge bearded guy who looked like a pirate kept dancing past me, occasionally falling down and rolling around in the grass. At one point, he grabbed my blanket and snuggled with it. I don’t know if my washing machine can get the “ick” factor completely out.

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Re-reading these, I sound like a judgmental bitch. Heck, maybe I am. But the whole experience took me so far outside my comfort zone. I barely knew most of the women that went, and I felt like a gawky outsider to almost all their interactions. So apparently I missed out on the “fun” aspect of concert going — somewhere between the 90 degree heat and drunken middle-agers, I stopped having fun.

On the plus side, the bands were all pretty good. Yes, cogent and detailed reviews by Beth!

Dan: Mom, how come Sponge Bob is a sponge and he still sinks in the ocean?

Mom: (trying to wrap her mind around this and failing, stares blankly at son)

Dan: And if he isn’t a sponge and he still looks like that, then I’m thinking he’s actually cheese. Right?

Mom: Maybe because it’s a cartoon. Maybe that’s why he sinks…

Dan: No, I think he’s cheese.

And then 10 minutes later I think to myself, “Then why don’t they call the show “Cheese Bob Squarepants”? But alas, Dan has moved on in his thinking.

I read blogs. A whole lot of blogs. You know, one link on a page, another link on another page, etc. I am, of course, drawn to the mommy blogs. On many of these blogs, there exist effusive posts as to the wonder of children. The splendor to be found in each little moment. The feel of that tiny hand in yours…and not just in general, but in specific detail how each mother’s child is a beautiful blossom unfurling for the world to enjoy.

Um. Okay, sure. I love my kids, I mean really really love each of them for their many wonderful qualities. But.

Children are irritating. There, I’ve said it. I’ve opened that particular can of worms, and to that pile of squiggly worm-meal I’ll add this: my gosh, my own children are awfully damn irritating. Driving home from the fireworks last night, I felt like a bear in a trap willing to chew off my own leg just to get free of the caterwauling and silliness. While stuck in a poorly designed post-fireworks traffic pattern, I was subjected to such words as “Farticus,” ridiculous repeating over and over and over of words on signs (“Med West,” “Med West 2,” “Med West, “Med West 2”), and one child’s incessant complaining that he had to pee. Bad.

This after they had squabbled about sparklers and who would sit where and by whom. This after I told them repeatedly to get away from the street and stay on the (damn) sidewalk!!! This after we trudged up the street to the parade, the sole purpose of which appeared to be bagging a whole lot of candy.

Yeah, we were all tired from the days’ festivities and perhaps our nerves (or at least mine) had been rubbed a little raw. But I had one of those truly revelatory moments in parenting: this is hard. You read it here first — I know, I know — my white hot insight staggers the mind. But it is. Sometimes it’s fun and often it’s great, but some moments and hours and days and weeks are just plain hard. Because, truly, I don’t always want to get out of my own selfish thoughts and minister to their varying needs and desires. I don’t always want to listen to their high pitched voices and deal with getting them to bed when I feel more tired than they do.

Before we had kids we had friends tell us that they simply “adapted their children” to their lifestyle. Whaaa? Are you telling me that your pre-kid lifestyle involved regularly being interrupted in the bathroom? That you paid for lessons and school with any of your disposable cash? While I think we can incorporate our kids into lives, I think the notion that children are not incredibly — and wonderfully — disruptive is a big crock. Like it or not, our lifestyle (such as it was!) adapted to having children, not the other way around.

Most days I really wouldn’t have it any other way. And in the times when I feel irritated, I often need to look to my own attitude to improve the situation. And face the fact that people — big ones and little, me included — can be annoying as all heck, but we’re worth it.