Airborne Again

1-iphone 30 December 2013 093For a while, I was grounded

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But now, with altitude,

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Attitude,

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And style,

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The bots are back.

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They are Both So Beautiful Girls

(from the very interesting blog, http://www.buckbokai.com)

I’m blogging infrequently not because I’m participating in NaNoWrMo (is that how you spell it?)–I’m not. I’m blogging less because right now, there are so many things competing for my two most marketable commodities, 1.time, and 2.the ability to have things not die on my watch.

Although my plants would argue about commodity #2, if they weren’t shriveled, blackened versions of their once plumply-chlorophylled selves that looked out eagerly from the shelves at Lowe’s at all the possibilities open to them. If they had known better, they would have screamed to be spared when I put them in my shopping cart beside Mbot and Gbot. For all I know, they were screaming, but their plantly pleas were overwhelmed by whatever bottish conversation/bickering was already occurring in the cart.

I plead guilty to the murder of two fine plants that had not wronged me in any way.

I am starting to feel like my writing is wizzling, too.

Yesterday when I might have been writing, I was installing pull-out bins in the kitchen cabinets so I can finally organize the kitchen and get all my paperwork off the counter. One can only ignore such an ungodly mess for so long (a year). My friend Solveig, visiting from Colorado, helped enormously by not only ripping out the original crappy shelving, but by playing a game with the bots called “Who can stay out of the kitchen the best?”

Tuesday, when I might have been writing, I was doing fifty-three administrative tasks related to my volunteer work as caregiver, teacher, peacekeeper, entertainer, home manager, laundress, sous chef, chef, dessert chef, server, busser (although the bots are junior bussers now), interior designer, social secretary, event organizer, correspondent, and chauffeur.

Then I was attempting to keep my children from ransacking the child-free home of the very nice child-free friends of Solveig’s, with whom we were watching the election returns. Or rather, Solveig and the very nice child-free friends were watching the election returns. I was watching to make sure the bots didn’t launch themselves through the very nice plate glass window as a result of jumping on the supersized beanbag chair. What? Huh? Who won? The candidate campaigning on the platform of subsidized childcare? What do you mean, there isn’t one???

Monday, as Solveig watched the bots at home, I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble, telling myself I should be writing. Instead I slouched in a stupor in the children’s book section, reading picture books. The kid’s book section–when I am there by myself–is one of my go-to recharging stations.

It is a challenge finding the necessary combination of time and energy to complete any task larger than emptying a loaded diaper or laundry basket. (And even then, the towels get left in the dryer overnight by mistake…when will I get around to hanging that clothes line in the garage? Oh right–right after I put up the shelving in the garage….)

It is not that I dislike any of the tasks I am called upon to complete. (Well, anyone interested in doing just dishes, laundry, mopping, sliding bin installation, and plant watering, please call, I am hiring.) It is simply that there is such a vast accumulation of tasks, that I find it difficult to complete them, and my writing projects, too.

Do I want to play with the bots? Yes. Do I want to cook a lovely dinner? Yes. Do I want to sew Junepbear a fluffy sweatsuit out of fabric Mbot picked out himself, because Junepbear sports more and more unfluffy spots these days? Yes. Do I want to paint a mural in the bots’ room? Sit in a quiet room by myself with books and a computer? Get on a bike and sweat for an hour? Start teaching at the college level again? Yes, yes, yes, yes. Do I want to clean the litter box? Actually, yes. But what do I need to do? For my family and for myself? The need to prioritize wisely–and reap contentedness from my choices–has never been so urgent.

I am working on solutions. One is as simple as leaving the YMCA and joining, for $11 more per month, a gym that has educational computer games in the childcare area, which is open all day, as opposed to the one at the Y which, as fun as Gbot finds it, is closed during the critical hours of one to three. If I took advantage of this service, I could get up to two hours per day to either write or ride, work or workout, while the bots are in good hands. It’s a start.

I am trying not to feel guilty about this decision, and to understand the roots of the guilt. Guilt rarely has roots in logic or rationality. I just started reading Pamela Druckerman’s bestselling mommy memoir, Bringing up Bebe, about the differences in American and French parenting–and so am trying to open myself up to “there are many ways to raise a child right,” and, “as long as I am worried I am not doing a good job, I am probably doing a good job,” and, “I need to be healthy and happy to help raise children who are healthy and happy.”

Finding myself with so many things I want and need to do, I feel a little like Mbot must have yesterday at snack time. On the drive home from school, I asked him who he’d had snack with–his friend Mbug? Obot? Hbug?

“Oh, by myself,” was the answer.

“Why, Potato Sweet?” I asked.

He shrugged, raising his hands in the air, both palms up. “Well, Mbug and Hbug are both so beautiful girls, I just can’t pick.”

Hiding my smile–he just turned four! It starts so early–I explained that he could sit with Mbug one day, and Hbug the next, and be friends with both.

There is not a lot of time for introspection these days, and so I will leave it at this: I may not be able to do everything on my list. But I need to be friends with my achievements, and friends with my expectations, too.

I think this means I need to stop buying house plants.

I Love You But do I Have to LOVE You Every Day?

In belated celebration of my one-year blogiversary, I’m reposting the post I posted exactly a year ago, 13 days after arriving in Bloggingshire. There’s no particular reason I chose today to celebrate being with WordPress for nearly the gestation period of a manatee, except that I’ve been meaning to look back, and I finally got the chance. So here we go:

*  *  *

Due to operator error, yesterday’s post was not published ’til this morning, marking my official Off Blogday debut since September 13. My sister (the one who has ten shelf-feet of National Geographic (as compared to Mom’s forty, see Saving the World, One Stick of Secret at a Time), suggested recently that I post once or twice a week. My friend Solveig suggested that a decade ago. Of course I ignored both of them.

I ignored them because I liked the idea of a daily meditation that results in a completed thing outside of myself, little and whole, like a nut.

I still do.

But I have a paying job (a manuscript to edit), and query letters to send, essays to complete, and Midgets who need me to be present outside my head.

Urging me to cut back on the blog, another friend, who wished to remain anonymous, cited a married couple who’d had sex for a hundred and one days straight. People get around the world on rafts in fewer days than that. Annie and Doug Brown did it, literally, so they could write a book about it, like a naked heterosexual version of Julie and Julia. “Can you imagine?” asked my nameless and knowledgeable friend. “I’m sure it got to, ‘Can’t I just enjoy thinking about it for a few days before I have to mount it?”” 

Apparently the book, Just Do It, published in 2008, has a happy ending. After their project, the couple reported that they touched more and felt more intimate. One could argue that soldiers in a foxhole evading flying mortars feel more intimate toward one another afterward, too.

Not that posting 400 words can be compared to either.

If blogging has made one thing abundantly clear to me, it’s how insulated and safe my middle-class American life is.

But back to the point: This post is my official notice that I may miss a post or two. Not that I don’t love to be with you, WordPress. But can’t I just think about you for a few days before…?

Have you had too much of a good thing lately?

Yesterday’s Mystery Post, Take Two

Sorry it’s so dark. But it IS a cave. Mbot is modeling the giant bat ears that demonstrate how well bats can hear. So here he is hearing the story of the unlucky sloth, told over and over again, really really loudly.

For those of you who read yesterday’s cryptic post before I discovered that most of it was missing, I apologize. Now, in today’s few bot-free minutes, I will try to recreate it:

11,000 years ago, a sloth fell through a crack. It fell into a cave. It couldn’t get out. It died in the cave.

The kind docent in the Shasta Ground Sloth cave at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum told us this story on Sunday when we were admiring the fossilized skeleton and the ancient sloth poop that I managed to not delete in yesterday’s post.

The bots listened with great concern and then baraged the docent with questions. “Why did he fall through the crack?” (I was going to answer, ‘because it didn’t come when it’s mother called it’ but she beat me with ‘Sloths don’t have very big brains.’) “Why could he not get out?” (There was no door.) “Why did he die?” (Because he couldn’t get out of the cave.) While Mbot tried on a giant pair of bat ears which magnified all the cave sounds, Gbot stood rooted in place beside the docent, craning his neck upward to look at her and repeating the questions. Perhaps hoping for different, better answers. But the answers didn’t change.

On the way home, he retold the story many times.

Gbot: “The three-tailed ground sloth fell through the crack. He fell into the cave. He couldn’t get out and” (voice lowering sadly) “he died in the cave.”

Over the next few days, the story was told over and over again. To Daddy, to Aunt Susan, to Grandma, to Nanny over the phone, to Miss Mary the music teacher. It was obviously sad and disturbing. How was I to know it was going to turn into a story of rescue and redemption?

On Wednesday, from the backseat, Gbot told the story again. “But Mama,” he said, “we could use Bob the Builder’s tools!”

“You’re right!” I exclaimed. “A jackhammer can cut through concrete and rock.”

Gbot: “Yeah, and we could make a door and he would say, ‘What a wonderful door you made, Mama and Gbot,’ and he would go through the door in the cave and he would go home to his mommy. And we would go home and talk about how the sloth fell into the cave and got out the door. And the sloth would say, ‘Thank you for making my door in the cave.'”

I praised his creative solution to the sloth’s big problem. Now, perhaps, we could stop hearing about the sloth in the cave. Although it was awfully cute.

But of course, as all answers do, this one led to another question. After a brief pause from the back seat, Gbot asked, concern edging his voice again,

“What if we were sloths, Mama?”

“We would be careful sloths, Spice Bear,” I said. “And we would always carry jackhammers, just in case.”

More about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum later this week. There were many moments to savor. Today’s recommendation, which would have been yesterday’s recommendation if my post hadn’t fallen through a crack, is: Go there!

 

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: the 2012 Remake By Gbot

The upside: I now know what a hornworm is. (photo credit: classicalvalues.com)

It is fascinating to me that when I search Google Images for “tomatoes smashed on a door,” pictures of homemade bruschetta, a bowl of soup, a hornworm, and a mean-looking cartoon Viking come up on the first page, but no actual tomatoes smashed on a door.

After I purchase the memory chip to put in my phone to replace the one that disappeared from my desk last week, I will change all that. The appearance of tomatoes on my door and the disappearance of electronics from my desk help to explain where I’ve been for the past seven days, which is obviously not in front of my computer posting tips and tales from parenting, writing, and life, as my business card promises.

For the past seven days, I have been attempting to adapt to just-turned-four-year-old Mbot’s second week of his second year of preschool. For Mbot, it seems to be going very nicely. And for that I am thankful. For me and almost-three-year-old Gbot, some days are better than others. Some days, we build impressive MagnaRepTiles (I would show you a picture, but it’s stuck in my phone.) Some days, we go to the Y, where I am summoned off the treadmill prematurely because my younger half put his tooth through his lip under a table in the playroom. Some days, we play in the pool, where Gbot wants nothing to do with actual swimming, or even bobbing, but instead insists on playing catch with a SquiDiver for an hour from the cooling comfort of the steps. Other days, I try to work. Like today.

I had a lot to do. I was behind. Very behind. Husbot was in the bedroom getting dressed for a meeting. I let Gbot play by himself while I stared into my computer screen begging it to take me back.

Over the monitor, out of focus, I saw Gbot playing handball against the bedroom door with the half-deflated mini soccer ball I’d thought I’d left in the car. “How good he is at entertaining himself!” I thought, pleased. “And thank heavens, because I’m so behind.” I listened to the rhythmic, gently “Thump. Thump. Thump,” as he played. Every once in a while it would stop, and I’d see him race across the living room, out of sight because I didn’t bother turning my head, and then it would start again.

I was deep in mid-edit when Husbot opened the bedroom door. “Did you see this?” he asked in what seemed an overly alarmed tone.

“What?” I asked. “Gbot’s been playing ball against the door.”

“With tomatoes,” he replied.

If my floor had been cleaner, I could have turned it into this. (Photo courtesy of “Door to My Kitchen” at lemonca.wordpress.com)

I snapped to attention.

Had I already forgotten that earlier that morning while signing Mbot into school, and while all the other children had been milling around interacting with other humans, the Bots had gotten double time-outs for conducting a hands-on investigation of the office paper cutter?

I leapt to the scene of the present crime and yes! It was true! The vine-ripened tomatoes that had been on the high counter were now splattered up and down the bedroom door and across the floor. It looked like a murder scene.

The slipcover on the arm chair which he climbed and on whose arm he stood to reach the tomatoes will have to be removed and washed.

The velvet and beaded silk throw quilt responded surprisingly well to dabbing with water.

We will have pasta sauce with canned tomatoes.

I will have a glass of wine.

Probably two.

And I will continue working–and working toward serenity tomorrow. Thank goodness the tomatoes are gone.

Why Am I So Popular? Search Me.

(designagency.co.uk)

Yesterday afternoon I flopped nearly comatose onto the sofa to check my blog stats. (It  was the first day of school! I should have been relaxed! Wondering what to do with myself! There were complications.) I was shocked to find that nearly 1,000 people had visited the site since 2 p.m. I’m kind of a stealth blogger, and numbers like that just don’t appear on my stats page. Had I been Freshly Pressed? I doubted it. I didn’t think my last post on green poop would meet the approval of the WordPress staff, much less imPress them.

But still, my heart went pitter-patter as I eagerly looked for the details of my newfound popularity…to find that, within the course of just four hours, 855 searches had found me, most of them originating in the U.S., and 805 of them looking for “Una Navidad Sin Pluto.” (Click here to read the original and now highly popular post!)

Can anyone out there tell me why?

It’s true that I appear in the first “Una Navidad Sin Pluto” page on Google, and although I’m near the bottom, I’m the second site in English (which makes sense, because the gist of the post is that I don’t speak Spanish, and the big trouble that that got me into). It’s also true that I appear in the third line of images on Google Images, with the picture of the Mickey and Pluto-on-a-motorcycle blow-up lawn decoration.

For anyone who has never heard of Una Navidad Sin Pluto, it’s an old Disney cartoon available in several versions on YouTube (link from my previous post). In it, Pluto runs away from home, Mickey goes looking for him, and Santa helps reunite them. It’s a tear-jerker.

What spiked the sudden urgent need across the United States to find out about Mickey’s Christmas Without Pluto? Was it a glitch in one of those search robots? Was it part of a homework assignment at the University of Phoenix?

Whatever the cause, the results are anticlimactic. I have no new followers. No one commented on it. No one even “liked” it, for goodness sake.

They were probably too busy crying onto their keyboards about Pluto’s absence, or congratulating themselves for being better parents than I am.

But at least I figured out the green poop.

The Beach, #2: The Nitty Gritty

Surf’s up, sand’s up. Noses and butts, that is.

One thing I enjoy most about reading blogs is being reminded of how many different ways there are of doing things, or feeling things, or thinking about things. It’s like walking down Broadway in New York City–seeing all those people who are all those colors and shapes and wearing all those different styles of clothes and shoes and hair. For me, it’s enormously liberating and each time I do it I feel more comfortable in my own skin.

But it’s easy to forget.

I didn’t think twice about the fact that, when I returned home, I shook a tide’s worth of sand from every shirt, pair of shorts, and set of underpants. I thought nothing of burying my snout in each garment before dropping it into Lake Dreft (well, not the underpants). I grew up vacationing near the north shore of Massachusetts and on the leeward beaches of Maui, and if I could turn that keen sea smell into a room freshener, I’d do a brisk business selling it to myself.

I will be digging sand out of ears for weeks. I do not mind. I see the bots’ faces and wonder why exactly it looks like they’ve been at the beach; they live in Arizona, for god’s sake–what’s the difference in the appearance of that tan and the one you get on the shore, even when you’re not trying for a tan, even when you’re slathered with a healthy dose of UVA/UVB spf 50 sunscreen? I actually put some thought into it last week and realized that it’s due to two factors.

One: the ocean. There’s a reflective glare off the water that sends the sun to the upper inner parts of the cheeks, on either side of your nose, and up under the bridge of my sunglasses. It gets your whole face. Two: we’re exposed this way, from multiple angles, from hours at a time. If we were at home in the desert, we wouldn’t be out in the sun for hours at a time. I will always associate that kind of tan not with melanomas, hyperpigmentation, and the premature onset of looking like a dried apple doll, but with health and laughter. I will always associate a trace of sand in the bathtub with a happy day.

The day after returning home, after I had done the laundry and thrown away the Q-tips, I had a chance to not quite catch up on a few blogs, and was amused by Deni Lyn’s report of her beach vacation, (Diary of a Relectant Mother) in a rental house, with a baby and relatives. I was ridiculously surprised to discover that a surpreme aversion to rental carpet (and the fact that the vacation was actually more work than real life, as any mother who travels with her work I mean children will tell you), (oh, and a genuine liking for our relative-in-laws), was about the only thing we share, as far as opinions of the beach go.

Lyn got supremely peeved at her husband for even taking their weebot onto the sand and dipping him in the waves. “Filthy” is the word she used to describe sand. It’s true that her bot is much younger than mine, and there was a nice clean shady pool nearby, and she pointed out that her bot has years ahead of him to wallow about on the beach. But I couldn’t help but think that mine were rolling around in such filth at eighteen months (and I grieved that it wasn’t earlier)–granted, wearing a rash guard, long shorts, a hat, and enough sunscreen to fill a hollowed-out pineapple.

I don’t care for the crunch of sand between my teeth. But all this time I’ve thought of the ocean as one of the great natural cleansing substances, unless you’re taking a dip off the shore of Tijuana, under the Brooklyn Bridge, or around a BP drill site. I will never begrudge another mother’s pleas for ease and a nonsunburnt bot. And I love Lyn’s writing, and I’d love to share a bottle of wine with her, and I love how different her point of view is. But as for me, I’ll take the surf with my turf, cuz I yam what I yam.

Food for Thought

(image via thehamiltonian.net)

Aren’t lives apples and stories oranges? What really goes on when you try to change one into the other?

– Joan Wickersham, “The Suicide Index”

I love these words, and I think a lot about their truth in relation to blogging. What is said, what is left unsaid; what is picked up and woven into a narrative; what is discarded because either it does not lend itself to brief essay form, or is too complicated, or too disturbing, or doesn’t fit the blog’s tone, or requires too much analysis?

I had come to think of lives as grapes, stories as wine, and blogs as grape juice. But the apples and oranges cliche–which is so unexpected in this context as to rise above cliche-dom–may be a truer description of the relation of the two. Food for thought.

Feel Me Better By Clicking Here

I have this new image in my sidebar because SuperheroUnderpants has been accepted intoTopMommyBlogs.com! It’s a marvelous community of bloggers and readers, with blog categories that cover everything from crafting to coupon-cutting, marriage to adoption, eco-friendly tips to fashion to food. But I think I am the only one of us making a sixty-eight inch-tall Ironman pinata.

The pinata really, really didn’t mean to be so big. I mean, I didn’t mean for it to be so big. My friend Solveig asked this morning on Skype chat, “Why, again, are you making a huge pinata?” I realized it was because I had fallen in love.

Not with Ironman. Not even with Robert Downey, Jr. (well maybe just a little). And not with the glory that would be mine (at least in my mind) if I completed this damned thing in time for Mbot’s birthday party (now seventeen days away). No–I fell in love with the mylar “It’s a Boy” bottle balloon.  I fell in love with its potential. With the possibilities. We would go places together. We would change the world. So what if it was 24 inches tall? Love is, if not blind, myopic, with little foresight, and as impractical as a boat made out of Wonder bread, and I was too in love to do the math.

With each additional layer of flour paste and newsprint, Ironman, The Killer Pinata more closely resembles both my marriage and my state of motherhood. It’s way bigger than the fantasy, way messier. Way more consuming. In its best moments, it’s captivating and marvelous. In its worst? Well that’s where the chianti comes in.

But back to TopMommyBlogs.com. Readers can vote for blogs they enjoy EVERY DAY! (one vote per day), with a simple finger motion. Clicking on the TMB image will cause me to rise in the Top Mommy Blogs ranks.

On a not unrelated topic, when Gbot crashed on the tile floor and burst into tears yesterday, all he wanted was a kiss on his elbow. I gave him one. He looked up at me in wonder, apparently pain-free. “Yook,” he exclaimed (his version of look), “You feeled me better! Sanks for feeling me better.”

And so, in anticipation of your clicks, sanks for feeling me better!

Betsy

Gingerbread Cocktails and the Gloppy Bloppo

This is me, floating on a puff of whipped cream in an oasis of calm. (muchadoaboutfooding.com)

I have stepped out of the space-time continuum for sixty-eight hours and entered a world where the most madness occurs in a poorly-written knitting pattern and the most physical activity has been achieved by a monstrously fluffy kitty who murdered a bunny in the backyard.

No, I have not been institutionalized: my friend of thirty-seven years, Solveig, flew me to Colorado for an early forty-fifth birthday present. We have done little but sit and eat Pad See-Ewe and dark chocolate and she has knitted and plied me with cocktails, and I of course have been writing.

But it hasn’t been much fun. The writing part, I mean. I’m at a crossroads which is another way of saying I’m feeling a little lost. One thing I loved about writing for magazines was that I had a specific assignment. Another was that I had a deadline. Another was that I loved learning about the lives of the people I interviewed. I loved the certainty of publication, and that a large number of people would enjoy and/or learn from what I’d written. The downside was the small paycheck, which made it impossible for me to do full-time and also feed myself.

I am not currently writing for magazines or for anyone other than myself and my blogdience. I am considering a rewrite of the novel but must first weigh the value of the intensive time commitment. I am almost ready to pick up the thesis I completed last spring and turn it into a book–a memoir about fumbling my way through one bad relationship after another (The Gay Exfiance, The Sociopathic Candyman, The Congenial Excon, etc.

In the meantime, I have returned to my first literary love: picture books. In the nineties, I made several attempts, received several  extremely polite rejection letters and requests for more work, and then, due to youth and impatience, I think, quit trying. My early lack of persistence was astonishing.

But this blog reminded me of my love for combining words and images. And, I cleverly became a mother, thus creating my own captive audience–an audience that has no qualms about expressing boredom if a character is dull or a plotline is predictable or my verbal flourishes are self-indulgent. Really, it makes the learning curve MUCH shorter.

And so now I’ve recently finished a manuscript called Squeak and the Gloppy Bloppo. It’s eight hundred words, and with any luck, they are the right ones.

In the past two days, along with polishing off a gingerbread martini, an orange-jalapeno martini, and a pomegranate-elderflower martini, I polished my manuscript and the cover letter. According to Solveig’s handy breathalyzer, I was never legally drunk–when cocktails are stretched out over a twelve-hour period, you can have your drink and your relative sobriety, too. I would have renewed my efforts at researching agents, via the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which provides a wonderful network of writers, illustrators, agents, and editors), except that when I opened my notebook with my list of twenty targets, I found I’d brought Mbot’s field journal, instead. The crayon drawings of angry birds, one-eyed robots, creekbugs, and monsters made me miss the bots terribly and reflect on the dichotomies of passions, careers, quiet time, and motherhood.

It made me think about how one of the easy things about motherhood is that I have an assignment, I have deadlines, I learn every day about interesting people and situations and things, and others appreciate what I’m doing. The downside of course is the low paycheck. Also of course that a bath can be undone in three minutes in the sandbox, and a book is slightly less easy to destroy.

But a children’s book manuscript, by an unknown author, in today’s publishing environment, is not a sure thing. And even if it ever does, it is not helping to pay the Amex bill today. It makes me question whether I’m being realistically hopeful or simply self-indulgent. These are some of the things mothers ask themselves, too, about motherhood. Both writing and motherhood are exercises in persistence, patience, and faith.

But people are enjoying the story. I first told it nearly two months ago, and every few days, Mbot mentions the gloppy bloppo, or Magnolia, the heroine. He asks what I’d do if he turned into the gloppy bloppo, and I pretend to have forgotten the trick to turning a gloppy bloppo back into a little boy.

So we’ll see. Uncertainly is uncomfortable. And there is nothing like being surrounded by peace and calm, kitties and knitting, to give me  a chance to think about the uncertainties. A gingerbread cocktail is comforting, but sadly, it’s only a temporary solution. Learning to live comfortably with uncertainty is the answer.

Working on it.