Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fantasy Buttons

I upgraded my iphone the other day. Yes, I'm so fancy, I know (it was FREE). I'm incompetent. Today, a student of mine showed me how to turn my ringer on (oh ya, I'm recently out of retirement, I just can't stay out of the classroom, mainly for technology guidance, clearly).

So my most noticeable upgrade--my Sudoku (which is what justifies this ridiculous Smartphone cost, and takes up more of my time than I care to admit) has a new feature: Validation. Yes indeedy. At any point during a game of "put-the-#s-in-the-right-damn-spot" I can request to have my game "validated." Which means the God of the Game will descend upon It and tell me if I'm putting each number in the correct spot, or not. This is an insecure person's worst addiction. And a control-freak's best friend. And I am both, so I find myself fantasizing often about the potential joy of adding this button to other facets of my life:

My two best friends (Aby and Caby, I call them for short) and I hang out each night. Sometimes we walk together. Sometimes we go somewhere, though I would never drive. We make each other happy, and help ease each day's pain and frustration. Sometimes we even go to wineries and talk to random strangers.
Validate, please?

My sons are attending the Catholic school, yet I keep meeting fascinating, seemingly wonderful people that attend the public school. Even people who adopt Asian children. Asians in Grade One. Shit.
Validate, please?

I accepted this teaching position. A fantastic opportunity to teach Grade 12 in a private setting. All boys, all being recruited by D1 Universities (in football) in the states. They are awesome young men. But the pay is low.
Validate, please?

The last few meetings at my new Church, I've been thrown in with the older ladies. And not by choice, though I don't object. I usually meander to a lonesome chair and this particular population must feel the most sorry for me. Or perhaps the younger crowd truly thinks I belong with the elderly, with my grey hair and all. Sorry for the lack of updates on it. Here:

This is white hair, folks, not blond. Look at those freakin' forehead wrinkles! Awesome!

Anyway, I like it. And it has earned me a place at the old-lady table. Should I stay with this crowd? I mean, I have missed this population in my life; they're so wise and so confrontational. And all of my grandparents are dead. And I haven't hung out with many people over 40-ish in several years. True story:
Elerly woman, JoAnne, while eating dinner: Yum. So good. I'm going to get more. Are you?
Me: Well, maybe. I'm not quite done yet. But yes, it is good.
She: I'll wait for you. Eat up.
-one minute later-
She: Bottoms up. Let's go.
It was like I was 21 again in a bar. I am quite partial to JoAnne. You know she learned that lingo somewhere. I feel like we could connect.
Validate, please?

Oh, and I just moved to a new country. Validate, please? 
I believe the litmus test for validating my new citizenship is when I stop gasping over a possible exciting connection when I see someone with a CANADA shirt on. I have to stop myself from approaching with the words: "Oh! You're from Canada?!?! Me too! Well, I was born there, and then I married a Canadian... and, well, I go there every summer..." And OMFG I live here now.

What did you think Fantasy Buttons would be about?!?!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ai = Love

A few weeks ago I watched a film called Mao's Last Dancer. It is about a Chinese ballerina who leaves his parents at 11 years old to train as a ballet dancer, and then travels to the US from China and defects. Only to realize afterwards that he will not likely see his parents for quite a while, if ever. Several years later, he is performing at a premier ballet in the States and his parents have (unbeknownst to him) arrived from China to see him. Cue sappy music: The cameras show two primitive looking elderly people sitting in the audience in shock while gawking at their son's dancing (something they had never witnessed in their poverty-stricken village); they are crying while watching their uber-talented son, and wondering why he is not wearing pants. When they go on stage after the production to greet him for the first time in several years, the son crumples to the ground.

While I was watching this scene, I was sobbing in that shaky way that happens when your body wants to bawl, but you don't want it to, and then I was surprised when my youngest son came to watch it with me. He was curious what ballet was all about and wondering what could make mommy as crazy as he sometimes does. At one point, the hubs had to ask me if I was okay, and this little 5-year old said, "It's okay Daddy, they're happy tears." I wonder how he knew.

Yes, happy. But. Also curious tears. Curious about what my child's birth mom and dad would think of him if they could see him now. I long to show him off to them, and I wonder at his response--I confess I am partly terrified that he might like to return to them instead of me. Because he does accuse me of being "mean" sometimes often. And no doubt he has fantasies of a better life he could have had anywhere other than here.

You see, about five years ago the hubs and I went to China to pick up our son Thys. Every year on his birthday, I write a little cyber-note to his rents, even though I know that the likelihood of them ever reading these notes or actually meeting him is the same as me suddenly becoming a 22 year-old again.

To the birth-parents of a baby boy with a cleft lip born in late September, in or around Chongquing, People's Republic of China:

Your son is healthy, thriving and well.
He reads. He plays hockey. He is Canadian now. He is in Grade One.
He laughs as loudly as he cries. He is passionate. Fiery. He is a Dog, you know this. He loves action figures, especially knights and swords. And lions and pandas. And puzzles and ipods. He's freakishly good at Temple Run and Plants and Zombies.

He turns six today. You know this too, I know you do. You are thinking of him today and wishing him well. I know it in my bones. And I know you must sometimes ache in your core while wondering and questioning and missing and loving. You must feel the reminder pangs of could a mother forget? When a human comes out of your body, you can never pretend one did not. It is as if you deliver a part of your soul. And it lives on with or without you.
I long to reassure you. To show you: Your curious souls inhabit his little body, birth mom and dad, and is one I sometimes do not recognize. It is not mine or my husband's. It is yours. It exists. You exist in him.
And he reminds me often that we as parents are only a temporary gig. We will expire with the sun. Our job is calculable. Then he returns to the universe. To God knows where. To look for you? To find his soul?
Right now, we do our best around here. The most anyone can do as a parent on duty. He keeps us laughing... and crying... and cleaning... and he keeps us honest.
His memory is impeccable.
We talk of you often. He even prays for you sometimes.
I'm sorry you do not get the pleasure and pain and expense of raising him. But I'm glad that we do.
He is our son too.
Nothing but Ai, Ai, Ai.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Behold: Random Friday

I used to see an old man with an ugly face whenever I ran around the park at 4 p.m.
I often tried to smile and say hello, but he never returned my eye contact.
Eye contact is meaningful. It can mean everything. Or sometimes nothing.
I used to get at least ten hugs every Sunday morning at my Church
It will be some time before I receive another hug from anyone other than my family.
But. Hugs from my family are better than a clean house, Greek yogurt, and sunsets.
Sometimes my husband bribes The Children
to hug me and tell me that they love me.
They don't know I hear him do this.
And even though I know it's a paid deal, I still love it.
I used to know where everything from liquor stores to the DMV were located,
and the back routes to get there.
Now I need to program everything into my phone's GPS,
and risk getting an expensive ticket for having my phone out while driving.
I need to leave it in the trunk.
I used to sit on my back patio most evenings,
And within five minutes I would usually have a visitor or five.
And these evenings would often turn into late nights of laughter and music and stories.
Now I watch all of the strangers walk by and I hope that someday I will know them.
I used to check my phone several times a day to see what was going on.
Now I barely need to charge it, no one likes to make international calls.
I used to get my mind all tangled over all I had to do in one day.
Now after I get the boys to school, I read Julian of Norwich with my coffee.
It's nice being retired. But it's scary too.
As in, how are we going to afford my 40th birthday party/vacation of the century scary.
Julian of Norwich was a genius. She says things like,
"In God's voice I never hear a hint of blame."
And. She uses the word "behold" often. And I like that word.
I also like the word colloquialism. Say it. I feels good. And kinda sexy.
I used to think about writing often.
Now I write.
Myles bumped me when I was taking this shot (this is mere feet from our new home) and I liked the crooked.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

sister, let me

The particular community in which we've chosen to reside in Canada reminds me of 1982.

As if I've been away to college for the past few decades, and have just returned to my childhood. Particularly at Church. And since I'm retired, I have time to go to Coffee Break. This is a CRC (my childhood denomination, one that we're considering re-entering) staple. It is a weekly meeting for women that meets throughout the school year. In it, women socialize, study the Bible, sing, and drink coffee (duh). One of my new friends invited me to her Church's Coffee Break (well, okay, actually it was my Realtor who invited me, and I suspect that her motive was an effort to introduce me to other women so I would stop bugging her twice a day for recommendations for everything from dentists to hairdressers). I read the "invitation text" to my husband and his drink got stuck in his throat. It was like telling him I got invited to a Tupperware Party, or a Sewing Club. And then he said, "You're going to go, aren't you, for fodder for your blog."


So. I did. I went. Even though I texted my Denver girlfriends and asked, "should I shoot myself or go to Coffee Break?" And they recommended the former.

And my Realtor/only friend in Canada was thrilled to see me. It was sweet really. It was like she had just won the Bring-A-New-Person-To-Church Award. I had to write my name on a sticky Name Tag which an old lady stuck on my boob. And then we played Bingo Name Games. Sure did. I didn't win, but we all clapped for the person who did win. Clapped so loud like she had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. I think the woman next to me may have been crying. And then we drank coffee out of real China--cups AND saucers. And then the Lady In Charge told us that we should bring our own cups next time and that we should also help with dishes after the meeting. And then an older lady handed me a Bible Study book and said, "Here you go. You can pay us for it next time. Read it and be prepared for the study next week." And I said, "Bite me." No, really, I just smiled and kept my hands in my lap, waiting to see if she'd actually drop it on the table. She didn't. I simply said, "I'm going to need to think about this."

The only person with a penis, The Pastor, made an appearance. He congratulated us all for being "women who care about and study the word." To me it felt like he was saying, "Thank you for understanding your diminished place in the world. You are best at dishes and fill-in-the-blank Bible studies. You are best at holding babies and mopping floors and giving blow jobs. Leave the real study and teaching to us men."

I am not making any of this up.

The singing: A woman in stripes went to the podium to lead us in singing (she had complimented my dress during the Bingo game, so I was a bit partial to her). She stood behind the podium and her little blond head barely bopped up and down to an old hymn. I'm not sure how she "led" us other than she was something we could look at while we sang. Because when you sing in a room with 80 other women and you're sitting at circular tables, that deeply awkward feeling creeps into your gut. You have nowhere to look except the words. And you desperately want to look up. But when you do, you catch someone else's eye and you both look down quickly. Because you're supposed to be worshipping. It's like trying not to notice when someone is naked. This happened to me once when I was enjoying a long walk along the beach with a dear friend, deep in conversation. Suddenly we realized that we had entered a Nude Beach because we saw a man with visible jangles approaching. And I tried so hard to act as if the ocean soaked up all my attention, but when I faltered, I happened to look right at the wrinkled jewels. And I said hi.

The second song that Stripes led us in she called, "Number 91 in your Coffee Break Song Book."

And it went like this:

Sister let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
We are pilgrims on a journey, fellow travellers on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night time of your fear; I will hold my hand out to you speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I'll laugh with you. I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony, born of all we've know together of Christ's love and agony.

And even though I was disgusted at the awkwardness and cheesiness of the whole business, I was crying. Real tears. The words of this debacle reminded me of all my girlfriends who are far away. The bring-me-a-bottle-of-vodka, call-me-at-2 a.m. friends that I don't have in Canada. The ones who held my hand when I was scared of a diagnosis, and laughed with me after I claimed to know how to parent, and held me to a high standard when my marriage began to show signs of crumbling... And maybe I was also crying because I am just not ready to be in public yet. Or maybe I got smacked in the face, once again, for my own arrogance. As if I'm any better than this collection of women simply because I may be used to more progressive worship or teaching. As if I can condescend to them because they still have feathers in their hair and I can't tell if they're trying to be stylish by wearing high-wasted pants or they have been wearing them for the past 20 years.

In truth, they are on a journey, like I am. And in truth, I think some of them could hold my hand. If I can find the grace to let them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

stripping to sermons

Now that I'm retired and my kids are finally in school, I am finding things to keep me occupied during my lonely days. Most recently, I have taken up...stripping. I know, it's a stretch at 38. And even though I'm not very good at it (I'm rather clunky) and it's tough work (I almost fell off a high surface twice today) and I get really sweaty (it really is a lot of work), and the hubs interrupts me often (though he's totally okay with me doing it, as long as I only do it in our house), I enjoyed it immensely.

I enjoyed demolishing WALLPAPER into shreds today because I listened online to my former pastor's sermons that I've missed over the last few months.

And I found my soul nurtured in a most ironic position. While scraping, I re-learned all about the Apostle Paul and his battles with the early Church... while soaking down walls with Dif, I was reminded that I am loved by the Creator of the world, and that there's not a thing I can do to make him love me any more or any less... while reaching up to high corners of my ceiling with a sharp object, I was challenged to let go of my misconceptions about a God of judgment and fear and instead embrace a life of adventure and devotion.

And then I missed my old pastors desperately. The new ones I've found here don't hold a candle or even a dim-lighted alarm clock to them. But maybe I need to give Canadians a bit more of a chance. Maybe I listen differently to people who know my soul like my old pastor's did. When someone holds your hand through the depths, you tend to listen to them.

Things can happen in the most unusual places.

And no doubt my biggest reader and fan will be slipping one dollar bills into my g-string sweatpants when I'm back at it tomorrow.

*correction: My hubs already read this and gently informed me that Canadians do not use one dollar bills, they were replaced by the one dollar coin, The Looney, long ago. Now he is quietly tapping my behind and saying, "clink." Clearly, I am not Canadian yet.

Monday, September 10, 2012

awkward letters

I found this letter recently in a used book I bought online:

Your pearls and dress are in my room/Dad's study. I no longer wish to receive your spitefulness and hatefulness (your comment about my weight loss is an example of your hatred and disrespect for me). I do not know why you hate me so much--but that is your problem. However, I do not wish to have my looking forward to my family diminished because I know I have to deal with your malice. You haven't been much of a sister to me anyway--except when it suits you--so it will be no great loss for me to no longer associate with you.
I do not intend to interfere with whatever relationship you have with the rest of the family, and expect you to do likewise.
Any efforts at reconciliation would have to come from you--when and if you ever deal with your problem of the mean and abusive way in which you have treated people in general, and myself in particular.
Sincerely, Cath... (?)

And I wondered about this mysterious note for quite a while:

-how old is this person?
-did her old room become Dad's study?
-how much did Cathy weigh? How did she lose weight?
-what on earth did Lydia actually say?
-were they real pearls or fake?

I also made several assumptions:

-it's from an adult because it is written in grown-up cursive: letters slanted and skinny, not fat and happy like we write when we're young.
-and, young people don't use words like malice and diminish, unless they're trying to get into an Ivy League school.
-it's from a woman because she borrowed pearls and is sensitive about her weight
-it's a rough draft, many words are crossed out and reworked, and it was printed on two index cards--did she ever send a final draft?

The primary reason I spent so much time mind-fucking this doozy is because I could have written it myself... to someone in my family.

And I let it bother me. Too often.

And we likely all have people like this in our lives. People we allow to steal our energy while we waste it on thinking and re-thinking how what was done in the past was interpreted so differently than we ever intended... how a slight misstep or a casual remark was taken as offensive... how a missed occasion or a lack of calling was perceived with malicious intent.

Yet. To confront this person and attempt healing is a vulnerable step--one that requires risking much discomfort and awkwardness. Confrontation is like getting a bikini wax--I know I'll be happier that I did it, but I dread the appointment. Much easier to take Cath...'s path: Just cut 'em off and give them all the responsibility.

"I do not know why you hate so much--but that is your problem." Well, Cath... I'm afraid I may have to disagree with you there. I suspect that hating someone is more difficult on the hater than the hated. My time spent hating, resenting, and stewing over my nemesis causes me more pain than it causes her. The time I've wasted in anger toward her are more revealing of me than of her. My anger points to some work I need to do in my own soul, maybe some truths I need to deal with about my harsh personality, maybe some sharp corners I need to sand. The anger reveals my own disappointment that not everyone loves me and thinks I'm wonderful. Why the hell not? My anger reveals my search for an identity in the approval of humans. My anger reveals that I want this person to be different than who she is. As if I have the magic potion and have figured it all out. My anger reveals arrogance. And it also reveals that I have a difficult time picturing her as a "child of God... dearly beloved." And treating her as such.

So, instead, I should say, I don't know why you hate me so much, but it is MY problem that I haven't done more to help heal the wounds and distance between us. It is MY problem that I wallow in anger over the seeming injustice of your seemingly unfair appraisal of me. It is definitely MY problem that I have lowered you in my estimation merely because you don't like me as much as I believe that you should.

So, I'm going to try and let my anger go. Just drop it like a spider in the toilet. Flush it away. In reality, it may be a bit more like weaning... the web is attached, so it may take some effort.

Cath... I hope you're able to do the same.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

insecure 'renting

Insecure Writer's Group: I'm a day late in my contribution. Hey, I just moved to a different country! Can I get a break? (I plan to milk that one for at least another few months). I've missed the group, though; it's like therapy to me. I suppose that is precisely what support groups are designed for. Well, group: If you're reading this, welcome. I hope to be back more permanently as I'm now "retired" from teaching and would like to give this writing thing a serious shot.

I confess: I feel insecure lately about this whole parenting thing.

Picture: My two boys on their first day of school + the hub's butt.

Sometimes I feel smug about it. I do. Like when I take my boys somewhere and people tell me how nice and polite and cute they are. It does happen. Well, it happened once anyway. Perhaps I have a habit of making an unconscious choice to interpret people's glances in my direction while out in public with my children as saying that as well. I do feel like I survived the horrible trenches of sleepless nights and crying tantrums. I know that because I now look at people with babies and I'm not jealous.


Now I've entered a new stage: The Socializing Stage.

It started like this: On our way to the second day of school we approached the playground together. I was busy checking out the other children: assessing potential bullies, listening for appropriate language,  and recognizing all of my own clothes from the 80s. Then suddenly, Myles (the Grade-Three-er) side glanced me and quietly said, "Okay. Bye." And he started walking away. Just like that.
And yes, I did it. I did. And I even hated myself while I did it.
I called after him, "Can I have a kiss?"
He turned around like I asked him if he wanted to eat squirrel vomit for dinner. And he lifted his disgusted face to my pouty mouth so I could kiss him.
There was no embrace. He walked away and began scouting the grassy battle grounds for potential victims of his friendship. As if I didn't exist at all.

In a matter of seconds you can go from meeting your child's every need and whimsy to being nominal, expendable, and at best, somewhat useful. As in, dinner, please?

And you're just supposed to take it?

Socializing has also required me to become hostess to new friends. Their friends. Not mine. I don't have any yet. The most challenging part of this hostessing gig: I can't yell at other people's children to put their shoes where they belong, or not to touch my newly painted walls with their grimy hands, or to stop being bratty. And I can't walk around without a bra, pee with the door open, or pour my drinks at 3 p.m. It cramps my style.

I had an epiphany: There's a certain joy a child has when his or her friends are present. It comes from a tacit understanding that Mom's yell button is mute while humans who don't share her last name are present.

I remember it. Those days when I knew my teachers had likely called home and my best defense (or at least my best stall) was to have someone show up. Better yet: Ask a 'rent for permission right in front of a friend and their defenses got even softer.

And then there's the dreaded "I don't have any friends" chapter to this saga. My five-year old is not as gregarious as his older brother. He still hugs and smooches me in public, willingly. But now his jealousy over his older brother's friends has turned into a full-fledged, vindictive slaughter. His indignation that his summertime playmate and soul companion chooses to abandon him and even shut his bedroom door in his face delivers enough fuel to light up Colorado. And I'm stuck reeling with ideas for how to entertain a disheartened, rejected five-year old. I thought I had two children to avoid having to actually play with them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lucy and me.

In the closing scene of the movie, Prince Caspian (from the Chronicles of Narnia series), Lucy (the youngest of the enlightened children) has to walk through a giant, split-in-half tree to get back to "normal" life. The magical tree delivers people to a different world, and in her case, back to her childhood. This is Lucy's reward after helping to save a million people and animal-people in a few hours of justified violence in Narnia. In this particular scene, the young Lucy walks through the tree with a confident air: she smiles, she juts out her chin a bit, she struts. But. When she turns around to look back at what she loved and left behind, her smile turns to the shade of disappointment and regret. She turns around with an expectant face only to see only the reality of a crude bus station in England. And the horror of what she has lost seems to punch her in the throat.

This is the best way I can describe my recent experience of moving. I'm here. Through the tree. I'm finally settling in and hanging pictures and getting to know the grocery liquor store clerks. And I take a deep breath and turn around to assure everyone that I'm fine. We're fine. We're all here together, right? And I turn around and... Oh shit. No, we're not. It's just me and my husband and these two little humans (one of whom has been a citizen now of THREE different countries, at the age of SIX) and the rest of you are gone. Out of sight.

And set to the music of Narnia, it is quite a tear-jerker. A first-world whiny problem, no doubt. But. Sometimes, a first-world problem (even with the layer of guilt on top) still punches you. And hurts.