Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I beg the forbearance of my long-time readers with this post, as it's a re-run (albeit updated) from three years ago. However, because it's a personal favorite, I hope you'll hang in there for a re-read...or perhaps for a first-time through.

"Ten Years Since the Blue Moon"

I got engaged and pregnant on the same day.

Even better, it was "Buck Night" at the local ball park, so I also got to drink eleventy dollars of watery beer on a humid July evening while feigning interest in an All-American sport.

You might be trying to forge a connection between all that cheap beer and my getting knocked up. Damn your clever mind. Does it never rest?

Suffice it to say, though, that pretty much all of my days since then have been anticlimactic. They're all "go to work, read to the kids, sweat through a run, fold some laundry" and ever-so-rarely are they "get engaged, drink beer, get pregnant" kinds of days. I suppose, though, that a girl can only have so many splendid Whopper Days; otherwise, I'd have a whole lot of husbands, hangovers, and kids. And frankly, one or two of each is about all I can handle. Ask both my husbands. They'll attest to my treating them with an air of benign neglect. Fortunately, they are a comfort to each other.

So, yes, from that sticky July day came good things. I still dote on my groom, and the issue of that pregnancy is just cresting ten years old (since I, personally, remember a lot from Age 10, this implies to me that I should start being nicer to Girl, now that the threat of recall is firmly in place).

It's all good now, but the growth and arrival of our Girl weren't as straightforward as her conception. In fact, Girl started out as two.

All I knew was that I was pregnant, and the hospital in our town would confirm that but would not have me see a doctor or midwife until the end of the first trimester. So I took some vitamins, ate a lot of Ben and Jerry's, exercised, and dreamed an entire life for the child inside of me.

Until one night--the last night of that first trimester--when I got off the couch after watching some bad reality tv and went to the bathroom. After pulling down my shorts, I discovered the pregnant woman's nightmare: blood. Lots of it. And when I sat down on the toilet, there was an explosion of more blood, along with many miscellaneous floating bits...of tissue.

My brain reeled, of course, and all I could think was, "This can't be good. I'm pregnant, so this should stop." At the time, Groom and I weren't yet married, and he lived almost six hours away. I called him; he lurched out the door and into his car; then I called a Best Girlfriend, and she was at my house in minutes.

We went to the emergency room, where I spent a long, long time with my feet in stirrups. I heard words like "she's dilated" and "tissue in the cervix" and "no heartbeat." My friend stood by my side, crying quietly into a Kleenex. My own tears ran down my cheeks into my ears.

After some time, I was told that it looked as though I'd miscarried. But, they told me, I was young, so future pregnancy could happen. And, they told me, a miscarriage is Nature's way of ending a non-viable pregnancy. It happened, they told me, all the time.

But here's the thing: it hadn't happened to me before, and so I was ill-equipped to handle the absolute, immediate grief of losing a life I had already planned. Sure, I'd heard of women having miscarriages, but no one had actually ever brought that experience alive for me; no one had shared their experience publicly--and if there's one thing I do, it's find ways to process the world by touching the experiences of others. Yet miscarriage proved to be one of those last female taboos, one of the hidden subjects that no one acknowledged. So all I really knew was that I was in significant physical pain (I didn't even know enough to realize a miscarriage is actually a mini-labor, with a contracting uterus and everything) and in even more profound emotional pain.

When, at 4 a.m., Groom finally got to me, we just cried. And the next day, and the day after that, we cried. A baby isn't real to the world until it's born, but it had become real to us from the minute that stick turned pink.  Even more, the promise of a life we'd made together confirmed our rightness of being.

Some days later, we went to see the midwife at the hospital, to have her check my uterus to see if all the tissue had been expelled that night in the emergency room, or if I'd need to undergo a D & C, to "clean things up."

As I lay there, again on a table, she palpated my uterus, noting, "There's still a fair amount of tissue in here. If you don't mind, I'm going to roll over the mobile ultrasound machine to see how much we're dealing with."

I didn't want to see the remains of the babe, so I stared at the wall as she worked, not registering her words of, "Hmmm. I see a heartbeat here."

How cruel, I thought. Why is she taunting me?

But. Then. It. Sunk. In. A heartbeat?

My head whipped to look at the monitor, where I saw a most-contented-looking little figure, reclining in the tub of my belly, a strong and regular heartbeat emanating from its chest.

My memory of the next few minutes is the feeling of Groom's tears hitting my face, as he stood above me, and the midwife exiting the room, saying, "I'm just going to give you guys a few minutes."

So my grief had prayed for a miracle--for the miscarriage not to have been real, for that pregnancy to still be happening. Suddenly, it was. Gradually, we pieced together that I had been carrying twins, and one of them had not made it. This, according to one nurse, happens more frequently than we know, but it is still a "once in a blue moon" event.

For the rest of my pregnancy, we called the kid inside of me The Little Gripper; I pictured it hanging resolutely onto the walls of my uterus by its tiny, soft fingernails while its twin fell out of me. Assuredly, I will never stop missing The Kid Who Fell, but mostly I can only marvel at the child who hung in there.

Today, March 31st, it has been ten years since The Little Gripper became our Girl, ten years during which she has emerged as shy, smart, sweet, wry, amiable to a fault, Love Incarnate.

The Birth Day: Groom cries some more, as Girl greets the midwife. Under the white sheets, once again relegated to laying on a table, I wonder how long it will be before I can have a bowl of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Girl Was One

And Then She Was Two

Same Dress at Age Three, But the Wheels Were New

Four Was Fun

Five Became Her
She Grew to Six (Plus Two on the Lap)

 Then She Was Seven, Feeling Crafty

Eight Flowed Easily

Nine Popped with Color

Ten Promises Drama

As the years tick by, I love her purity of character above all else.

Even she was six, a wee first grader, her unalloyed caliber was evident. One night, at bedtime, her overtired Brother Wee Niblet (now Paco) cried in his bed, sobbing: "I don't want to go to sleep, ever. I wake up in the night, and I am alone. I'm always alone. I'm never going to close my eyes because sleep is too lonely."

We had already pushed the kids' beds next to each other, strung the room with lights, played music on a CD player through the night, and tried everything to get him to appreciate sleep as an opportunity, not a burden. But no matter what I suggested that night, he cried even harder.

Then an almost-seven-year-old hand snaked its way across his bed and extended itself onto his torso. With all the compassion of two souls, Girl said, "Here, buddy. Just hold my hand while we fall asleep. And when you're asleep, I'll just keep holding on to you. You know I won't ever leave you all alone."

Happy birthday, Toots. Every single day for ten years now, I have thanked the sky above me for that blue moon.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Call Me Scarecrow"

We've been busy at the bathroom whiteboard again.

The other week, I posed the question, "If you could attach a new body part onto yourself, what would it be?"

Before answering, I did consider a hand with a goblet growing out of it.  I also saw sense in attaching an arm that extends into a cake server.

However, because simply answering this simple question made me thunk at my forehead for a bit, I ultimately had to draw myself with a second brain--a new model, you see, to compensate for the existing one that's riddled with Swiss cheese holes.  With a new brain, I might sometimes be able to find the clogs I like to wear around the house...

instead of constantly wandering around the kitchen, forlornly whining, "I can't find my clogs.  Where are my clogs?  Has anyone see my clogs?"  When I'm done doing that in the kitchen, I head into the living room for a repeat performance.

Paco read the question and immediately came panting up to my side, gasping, "Does it only have to be one body part?  Or can I add all the things I want?"

Assuring him we have The Whiteboard of Dreams, I gave him license to consider all options.

At which point he drew himself with scales, a spiky tail, multiple eyes and arms, and wings.  Just in case he ever encounters General Grievous in a dark alleyway.

Girl delighted me by inventing a new part, something called a "furkla," which is essentially a long jump rope that attaches to the body in six places (shoulders, hips, knees).  "Hosannah to Rocky!" I cried, "You'd be like a flying squirrel, in a way.  You could climb a tree, jump from it, and then hope your ropes snag on enough branches to break your fall. It's kind of like base jumping with a rope.  Also, you can strangle evil villains, and if you've ever just stuffed a turkey and have no string to tie the legs shut, you could use your own furkla; sure, you'd then have to stand next to the oven for all the hours while the bird bakes, but once it came out, you could unwind your furkla and feel proud of helping to provide a meal for 15 people you don't actually particularly enjoy being around!  Plus, even better, you could use your furkla like bungee cords, so if you needed to put a bike on a bike rack and secure it there, all you'd need to do is lean out the back window and wrap your furkla around the bike, hollering 'Hit it!' to the driver, and the job would be done.  You also could..."

"Mom?  MOM," Girl interjected.  "I just think it looks cool.  That's all."
Best of all are Groom's attachments.  First, he'd attach a flaming tail.  He is, after all, Paco's father.  Of course, rather than hoping to take on legendary villains in dark alleys, his rationale was, "If I'm making a creme brulee, I can brown the top using my tail, which is a whole new kind of efficiency."

Groom also, much to his son's delight, added a mohawk.  'Cause who wouldn't want one?  Duh.

And then he'd add a beard--a far-fetched body part, indeed, for a man whose face looks like it's been rubbed in coffee grounds, even two weeks into trying to grow a real one.  Live the dream, Grizzly Adams.  Live the dream.

How about you, Monkeys? If you had the chance, what body part would you attach to yourself--and why?

Friday, March 26, 2010

"The Clock Struck Midnight, and My Every Dream Came True.  For, Like, a Day."

You know how it's impossible to guess Susan Lucci's age--unless you look at her neck?

And then you gasp and declare, "Why look at those deep grooves!  Say there, you well-preserved soap sprite, you're holding up nicely--but maybe wear a scarf, eh?"

This is not a judgment.  Personally, I've not only got some grooves but also have the start of a wattle; I'll be the one hiding behind the rain barrel come November, when it's slaughtering time for the national day of belching.

Unlike La Lucci, my wattle isn't the only giveaway of age.  Unlike La Lucci, I need to wrap my entire head in a scarf to preserve the illusion of youth. ('cause, er, all the 19-year-olds these days are waaaay into wrapping their heads in scarves)

I mention my age because I turned 43 yesterday.

Even though I didn't jump from a plane or hop a junket to Cancun or get a pony, it was pretty awesome.

We went to parent/teacher conferences at the elementary school, for one thing, and if that's not your idea of a great birthday celebration, Scroogey McHatesKids, then try factoring in the Scholastic Book Fair we browsed after the conferences, and if you're still not convinced that looking at books is a fun way to pass the time on a Day of Significance, consider this:  Scholastic is offering Star Wars book that pits characters against each other in hypothetical battles, and readers of said book are then asked to predict the winner.

I KNOW.  What could be more fun? (typed the indulgent mother of a 7-year-old boy)

Thus, I spent my birthday dinner in a restaurant, eating charcoal grilled tenderloin tidbits in a Bearnaise sauce and shouting out "General Grievous would totally dominate Emporer Palpatine!" and "Droideka clearly would trounce Bossk!" (wrong on both counts, incidentally)

Other highlights of my day were being awakened by Paco at 7:30 when he busted in for his usual cuddles but, in honor of my big day, gave me the huggles while warbling "Happy Birthday."  Then the whole family gathered 'round while Paco disappeared under the bed, coming out completely dust-bunny-ridden but with presents in hand.

Poodles, I got a Webkinz.

Okay, to be honest, the kids have given me one each of the last three years.  They wanted me to be able to decorate my Webkinz' own apartment instead of trying to micromanage where they placed the sofas and coffee tables in their own pets' little rooms.

Two years ago, I got an elephant, which I named Cornucopia.
Last year, I got a manatee, which I named Sassafrass.
Yesterday, I got a gecko, which I named Mucca (the Italian word for "cow").

I was not either still up at 2 a.m., decorating Mucca's room in a chic Japanese theme, replete with bamboo floors, hanging scrolls, and a bonsai tree.

My other gifts were a gyro (a few years back, I started asking for toys for my birthday--things we all can enjoy):

and a Kindle.  Yes, a KINDLE!  We'd talked about getting one before our upcoming adventures next year, knowing that we couldn't tote along enough books to feed four voracious readers and being uncertain of the availability of books in English once we get onto the island of Sicily, but I hadn't expected the Kindle purchase until summer.  Part of me hasn't been terribly enthusiastic about the idea of reading off a handheld screen; I do so love the tactile experience of reading a book and the opportunity to leave Triscuit crumbs between pages, but I figured I'd rather read off a screen than not at all.

However, one day into the Kindle, and I can tell you it's cooler than I expected.  I like that it makes no noises, and I like that it's so intuitive that a semi-Luddite like myself is able to use it easily.  Plus, Amazon provides the first few chapters of new books for free, as a tantalizer that will, ideally, lead to purchase.  So last night I downloaded and tasted the first bits of a few books I've been curious about.  Even better:  any book over a hundred years old that doesn't fall under anyone's current copyright is free.

Which means all of Jane Austen's works, so now I can carry around in my hand--or bra--Austenian nuggets like "A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."  Well, I could do the latter if the Kindle fit into my bra.  Which is kind of today's project, if you really need to press the point.

Which kind of shows you how well I'm doing at concealing the anything I know.

Anyhow, lots of older books are free, so we've loaded the thing with The Secret Garden and Little Women (a little light reading for Groom) and also some free chapters of the latest Magic Tree House and Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed and Julie Powell's Cleaving..and..and...and, in the spirit of Jane Eyre, I need, at this juncture, to announce of my Kindle:

Reader, I married it.

Clearly, the Kindle was a birthday highlight.  Another highlight was the cake Groomeo made me--a little something from a Gourmet cookbook involving chocolate devil's food cake and brown sugar buttercream.

However, the biggest highlight of all grew not out of reading or baking but out of mania.

The backstory here involves Facebook.

I'm sorry.

You see, in the last few months, I've been playing a lot of Scrabble on Facebook. Then my sister challenged me to the game called Scramble, which is, essentially, Boggle on the computer. Scramble occupied me for a few days, but eventually clicking on the same three-letter word combinations, with a few longer ones like "dashing" thrown in, got old.

So then I tried Word Twist.
It's an anagramming game.
I'm not a natural at anagramming.
But I've wanted to get better.
Because I am all about expanding my repertoire of useless skills. Sure, it's great that I can quote episodes of "Three's Company" and stand on one foot for a respectable amount of time, but the repertoire has been ripe for new additions.

Word Twist has done the job. Basically, in the game, the player is given six or seven letters and then has two minutes to spell out as many words as possible. Longer words get bigger points.

The first round I played, I think I got a 17. This would have been fine...unless you factor in Facebook's evil strategy, which is that a "ladder" of one's friends' names and their scores runs up the righthand side of the screen, so you know how you rate compared to everyone else you know who's played the game.

And eff all if fellow blogger, Lime, didn't perch triumphantly at the top of the ladder with a score of 166.

The thing about Lime is that she comes across as jovial and interested and fun.

What malarkey.

I'm going take a risk here and holler that Lime is some sort of freakish Word Twist savant crazy beyotch creature from the depths of verbal hell. Because 166?

It hurt me many muches.

In my healthier moments, I'd view her score as a goal.

When I'd get tired, and the screen would start to waver in front of my bleary eyes, I'd cry a little and realize I could never match her. I readjusted my expectations and challenged mortals.

Groom and I had comparable scores for a bit, until he scored a 100. At that point, I was entrenched with a 92. Day after day, the score held.

I also was taking on my pal Kirsten. We were worthy adversaries.

Until she scored a 122.

As is no doubt apparent, I'd gone to a very dark place with the Word Twist. In fact, I actually had to cut myself off from it for a day or two.

Then, in an effort to allow myself to play--but for myself! as a personal challenge!--I decided my birthday goal was to break a damn 100.

In the days leading up to March 25th, I twisted and worded and shimmied and rubbed my eyes, getting scores like 23, 47, 75, 88. Finally, in one frantic round, I got a 99.

But still not a 100.

Then, the other night, as I was chatting with Kirsten and playing The Twist simultaneously, I hit a game and immediately deciphered the longest word of "testers" which of course leads easily to "testes" and "tsetse," not to mention about 27 others.

At the end of the two minutes, at exactly midnight, marking the start of my birthday, I got a 164, still short of Lime ("Argggghhhhhhhhhhhhh," me bellows, shaking fist to sky), but putting me in 2nd place on The Ladder.

The jubilation that filled me carried me all the way through the next day, puffing me up as I opened the Kindle, as I stretched my hamstrings in yoga class, as I sat next to Groom at a matinee, as we heard good things about our kids in the parent/teacher conferences, as I guessed Yoda would drop Darth Vader in a one-on-one (wrong again!) over dinner, as I ate cake and admired a birthday bouquet...

and then, when everyone had gone to bed, and the house was quiet,

I logged on to Facebook,

only to discover Kirsten had pulled a 201 in Word Twist earlier in the day.

It appears, then, that 43 is not only the age at which I'll start wrapping my entire head in a scarf.

It's also the year when I'll need to take a long, mandatory hiatus at a "recovery spa."

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Heavens to Mergatroyd!"

The vast spaces of Montana obviate concern about driving distances. It is only in recent times, thanks to a meddling federal government, that Montana even has a speed limit; previously, the policy was a more libertarian "be prudent and reasonable," which is exactly the kind of phrasing that filled this impetuous, irrational redhead filled with gusto about being behind the wheel. Culturally, though, even with posted speed limits, there remains a disdain in Montana for folks who think, "Oh, we shouldn't go; it's too far." Rather, the state functions with a "Have car, will drive" mentality.

For example, my parents used to hop in the VW and drive an hour and a half, to Powell, Wyoming, for dinner. After wiping their mouths, they jiggity-jigged their way back to Billings.

Also, there was the time when I was in high school when my mom drove a crew of us teens to Bozeman, a mere two-and-a-half hour drive away, to see the totally-rad and briefly-legendary rock group Loverboy in concert (upping our excitement and in no way hardening our hearts: Quarterflash as opening act). That night, while we stood in the smoke-infested auditorium, waving our red bandanas in the air and bleating out "Everybody's workin'/for the weekend," my mom toodled around the city for a few hours, picking us up and driving back to Billings after the triple encore. Incidentally, two-and-a-half hours fly by when your ears are ringing and the only conversation consists of the word "WHAAAT?" hollered repeatedly.

As a consequence of big skies and open horizons, I became accustomed to getting in the car, pushing down the gas, and nosing my way into the next adventure. One weekend, this meant I ended up in Louisiana for Mardi Gras.

Admittedly, the drive home that time did chafe a bit. It's hard to detoxify and pass an 18-wheeler simultaneously.

Having had a fair amount of time on the road in my formative years, I was a savvy road tripper by my early twenties. I’ll put it this way: I could eat a six-piece chicken nuggets—dipping them in honey—without ever tearing my gaze away from the ribbon of highway.

Thus, when I was at a transitional stage in my life, in between undergraduate and graduate school, I broke up the boredom of lurking in my parents’ basement by occasionally visiting friends in Colorado. There was no better antidote to too much time spent watching Jeopardy and playing Freecell on the new-fangled contraption called “desktop PC” than getting in my Honda Accord and driving ten hours south to Boulder.

During this stage in my life, I bobbled across, and got repeatedly hung up in, one of America’s little-known mystical attractions: The Wyoming Triangle—a region of bad luck and tales of woe; a place where folks went in, but they didn’t always come out. Laypersons referred to this Triangle as “the stretch of road between Casper and Cheyenne,” but those of us with faulty vehicles and even-worse judgment knew it better as a land of clunks and sputters followed by ominous silences.

It’s not as if I didn’t have warnings. The land tried to tell me. It tried to give me a heads-up that Wyoming was a place to tread lightly on the gas pedal. First there was the time when, a mere few miles over the Montana border into Wyoming (far from The Triangle, in fact), I got pulled over by a Wyoming state trooper for going 86 miles per hour. After I rolling down my window to let Trooper lean in, I quickly dipped my nose into my armpit in the hopes that a whiff might help drum up some crocodile (er, odor-induced) tears, the sight of which might soften Trooper’s heart enough to get me off the hook.

Unfortunately, his opening salvo was, “Why you got your head down in your armpit, Miss? You hidin’ some drugs down there?”

It’s a little-known fact that many Wyoming state troopers talk with Southern accents, even though they’ve never been south of Buffalo. Makes ‘em more cinematic. It’s also a little-known fact that speeders can clear themselves of drug charges by raising their hands to the sky, exposing their pits, and mewling, “See? No powder traces. No white marks. In fact, it’s a revolutionary new deodorant that absorbs entirely. Your wife might like it. Tell her to look for Lady Coke Stick. You, yourself, sir, might enjoy the male version. It’s called Meth for Men... not, er, to imply that you’d ever need deodorant yourself, sir, what with you smelling quite naturally like a field of freshly-mown hay upon which a warm apple pie is cooling.”

He followed up with a request for my license and registration before beginning to heckle: “You’re in Wyoming now, Miss Montana. Unlike you folks up there in the loosey-goosey Big Sky Country, we Wyomingites have laws, up to and including a perticc-lar called Speed Limit. All you unibombers and militia men might be happy to risk your lives bein’ ‘prudent and reasonable,’ but down here in the real world of Wyoming, we’re more realistic. You can go 75. Not a mile faster. Damn Montanans.”

Casting about for a way to lighten his mood and sway his opinion, I chattered, “Well, I, uh, know that Montana’s an anomaly; I’ve been all over the states and have spent fair amounts of time in Minnesota, along with some stretches in Colorado, California, Virginia. Oh, and we lived one summer in Manhattan when I was young; we didn’t drive while there at all. My mom still remembers my chubby little toddler legs chugging away like mad as I’d trip along behind her on our way to the next museum, but I promise I never went more than 75 miles per hour, even when I was trailing her excited self to the Met.”

His look darkened, and he reached into his pocket to retrieve his pad of tickets. Starting to copy down my personal information, he harrumphed a bit about “no-count states with their ‘we’re so free to be you and me’ jurisprudence.” As he ripped out the ticket, however, he conceded, “I suppose you’ve picked up one or two things in your time outside that big, wide, ‘don’t touch us’ state of yours. Good job wearing your seatbelt. I knocked off five dollars for that rare and unexpected sign of maturity.”

Grabbing the ticket from his meaty paw, I threw him a quick “Heil!” salute as I pulled away from the shoulder, gunning it up to 75—and exactly 75—in the space of 3 seconds.

The fact that he then tailed me for twenty miles rather deflated the juvenile “in your face” of my departure, of course.

He pulled off in Sheridan, though, which then freed my right hand—which had been flipping Trooper a low finger the whole time—to crank up a mixed tape of Michael Penn, The Sundays, Four Non-Blondes, and Toni Childs. I’m here to tell you that the Indigo Girls got my mood back closer I was to fine in a trice, and before I knew it, the miles had flown by, I was south of Casper, and I’d headed into The Triangle, a beautiful section of The Empty West in which gas stations can be hundreds of miles apart.

Rather a shame I hadn’t thought of that back when I’d had a hearty quarter tank still working in my favor.

Because as soon as the last notes of Sheryl Crow’s “All I Want to Do Is Have Some Fun” drifted away, so did my speed. All 75 mph of it.

Before I’d even registered the gas light on the dashboard or noticed how menacing the “E” for “Empty” can appear with its sideways devil horns,

the Honda coasted to a stop.

In the last moments before it halted completely, I managed to maneuver off the highway towards the scrubby ditch.

Well. Hmmm. What to do?

Good thing I had my Western-style fringed jacket along.

It would help cut the winds during my 12-mile walk to the nearest town.

However, people being what they are in largely-uninhabited, arid spaces, I didn’t get far before a pick-up truck screeched over in front of me.

“Oh, crap. I wonder if they want to push me down and take my awesome Western-style fringed jacket” was my first thought.

My second thought was, “I wonder if they’d siphon off a bit of their gas and put it in my tank, in return for pushing me down and taking my awesome Western-style fringed jacket.”

The next thought, which popped into my head as the driver rolled down his window, was “Why does he have his nose tucked into his armpit? Is he trying to work up some crocodile tears in case I’m a state trooper about to issue him a ticket?”

My fourth thought, which crashed into my head the second I got a better glimpse of the driver and passenger, was “Holy Hanna Barbera! It’s Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle!”

Indeed, the cab of the truck contained an animated jumble of fuzzy faces, missing teeth, overly large heads perched upon too-small bodies, and suspiciously bright eyes.

“Howdy,” drawled the driver. “You in a pickle?” Simultaneously, he gave me a wink and elbowed Yakky.

A bit flustered, I started babbling, “Well, yes, I suppose I am, what with my car being out of gas, but really, I think I’ve got it under control. See, I’m quite a good walker because my family lived one summer in Manhattan when I was young, and I spent the whole time furiously tailing my mom around Midtown, which, as it turns out, was great training for situations like this one I find myself in right now. I’ll just pretend I’m trying to get to the Met before it closes, and I’ll have a gas can in hand before you can warble ‘Heavens to Mergatroyd’!”

“Don’t be ridiculous” was the response. “It’s 12 miles to the nearest gas station. Hop in,” commanded Snagglepuss.

Sheepishly, I came back with a, “Oh, no, really, I don’t think I could. My mom and dad would never forgive me—getting in a car with strangers and all…uh, not that I’m implying in any way that you’re ‘strange’ as animation is a highly-underrated art form and, plus, you both smell as sweet as a field of newly-mown hay with a warm apple pie cooling upon it. But, you know, I just can’t. Get in. Your truck. With you. Despite your many good smells and charismatic cartoonishness.”

“Okay, hon. But we can’t just leave you here. What can we do besides drive real slow behind you as you walk the 12 miles?” sniggered Snagglepuss.

“Well, I have this sweaty $20 folded up in my hand. It’s all I’ve got, but I could give it to you, if you’d go get me some gas.”

Grabbing the sweaty $20 and chuckling, “Yea, that’s right, sweetheart. We’ll be right back,” Snagglepuss tore down the highway.

So. Uh. That was a plan, then. Right?

Unless they were running short on Mad Dog 20/20.

In which case, they might put the $20 to more inebriating use.

In which case, I’d be walking 12 miles in the hopes of trading my awesome Western-style fringed jacket for gas.

Deciding to wait and bit and see how things played out, I headed back to my Honda and stood near a yucca plant. I’d barely started plotting out new choreography to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations” when another vehicle screeched off the highway. Out leapt a middle-management looking type and his dropwaist-prairie-dress-wearing wife (picture the Chloe Sevigny character in Big Love) who rushed over to me to voice their concern. Within moments, they avowed they’d wait with me, just to be certain Snaggle and Yakky came back.

And in the meantime, perhaps I’d like to hear about their lives in Utah and about a little something called The Principle. Helpfully, they pointed out that, in their community, you don’t see stranded women standing alone, hoping strangers will return with a can full of gas. Rather, the women in their world would just unload all 24 of their children from the out-of-gas vehicle and string them out between the car and nearest gas pump, bucket brigade style. “Slosh Ma some gas there, Ezekiel. Don’t burn Ruby Sky’s arm, neither, while you’re at it!”

You know you’re in the West when you’re glad to see cartoonish, half-witted, rough-living guys sporting ponytails careen up in their pick-up truck--simply because they prove to be your salvation from a life of polygamy on The Compound.

Ever my heroes, Yakky Doodle and Snagglepuss had made the gas run in under 15 minutes, returning with a shouted “We had to give ‘em a $5 deposit for this here can, but we got a gallon of gas. Let’s fill her up for you.” Fixing a slightly-unfocused eye on the couple hovering near me, he snarled out, “And you all? Skeedaddle!” When they stared back at him, unblinkingly, he lurched forward and shouted, “Boogeda-boogeda,” putting his thumbs in his ears and giving them the moose antler treatment (a trick he’d gleaned from his compatriot in animation, a big lug named Bullwinkle).

Reluctantly, the couple turned and climbed back into their car, waving a sad goodbye to the ripeness of my ovaries.

Before I could mutter, ruefully, “Well, at least I could’ve learned to churn,” Snagglepuss was unscrewing the gas cap on the Honda, pouring a gallon of his very best refined crude into my car and memory. Finishing the job, he advised, “Now you drive down to the next exit and return this to the station there. Dusty’ll give you your $5 deposit back. And here’s the rest of the change from your $20.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I enthused, flooded with relief. “Please keep the change, though. Go get a beer [or a shave and a haircut—only two bits!] as my thanks for your efforts.”

“Naw, honey. That’s okay. You might need it to buy yourself a six-pack of chicken nuggets for supper. Just do me one favor, though?”


Well, upon further consideration of his beard and the food scraps hanging from it,

almost anything.

“When you’re eating those nuggets, even when you’re dipping them in the sauce, don’t take your eyes from the road. Keep them turned up, so you can see how the sunset makes the sky all pink and salmon right at dusk. When them colors drop down behind the sandy buttes, and you can hardly breathe from the beauty of it all, you’ll know you did the right thing getting in your car today. Ain’t nothing compares to the show of it all.”

Nodding, I slid back behind the wheel, buckled up, turned on my music, and screeched away from the gully,

edging the speedometer up to a satisfying


Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Child's Pose"

Admit it.

When we were young, we had ideas about the future:

"I'll never be old like those dorks"

"I can't wait to live in a mansion"

"I'm planning to harness ambition and power to make an impact in the world"

"I can't wait to drink legally"
And now, here I am, in my own future, and I have realized

old is incredibly awesome, but we dorks like to hide that from the whippersnappers, lest they try to draft in our wake

mansions just mean more dusting--and, OY, the property taxes!

I have ZERO ambition or power, what with being a professional nimrod and all, but I'm still leaving a dent in a few things here and there (not the least of which is my Toyota Camry's back fender)

drinking legally is wayyyyy more awesome than I even knew when I was hitting up old dorks outside the liquor store to buy me beer
Here's something else I never envisioned in my youth--a time when random hair clipping, yoga, and little kid hairdos were totally, as we un-PC slanged back in the '80s, "gay":

that this thought would ever cross my mind, "Tarnation and fluff!  Now that I've hacked at the layers on the top of my head with the office scissors, my hair's too short to fit into the pigtails I like to wear to yoga class.  All this excess time spent clipping these various and dramatically-short tendrils to my noggin is going to make me miss the first vinyasa!"

...all of which is to say, "Youth of 2010:  you have no damn idea what's coming.  Practice humility now; you're going to need it later.  Especially after you've been wielding the office scissors in front of the bathroom mirror."

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Don't Even Bother with a Tickle-Me-Elmo"

You better believe we can drive to Target blindfolded. What's more, we're members of The Birthday Club at the independent toy store. We've rocked Goodwill. We know how to hit the "pre-sale" at local garage sales.

In short, we know where to find Playmobil sphinxes; robots with remote controls; board games for learning geography; scooters for knee skinning; and baby dolls to dangle upside down by one foot, negligently, "like Mama did to me when I was little."

Oh, yes. I am a toy aficionado. The officers can check my credentials at any border crossing, and I'll be waved through in record time with a peppy "May you find a deeply-discounted Melissa and Doug wooden pizza set at the TJ MAXX, intrepid traveler!"

Born from a decade-long honing of expertise is this insider tip: if you only were to buy one toy, one pastime, one piece of attention-occupying junk to have in a house containing kids,

go for an easel...particularly one that has an erasable whiteboard.

When our Girl was two or three, her grandparents gifted her with just such a thing. I plan to have those grandparents cast in bronze. They are keepers and would look great on the mantle.

Over the last eight years, as other toys have come and gone and fallen down the toilet, the easel has been a steady presence: backdrop to fingerpainting, sponge painting, leaf painting, and some dabbling in oils. Its chalkboard has been the basis of many an imagined classroom. And the whiteboard half of it?

Well, you know. There's been Pyramid Man, for one.

In addition, there've been about forty-ninety-eleven other scenarios drawn upon it, including aliens attacking the Midwest (what were you doing that day?) and maps of Middle Earth.

Of late, the whiteboard has been home to Girl's "Daily Question." See, Girl has a penchant for collecting information about people. In the last few years, she's gone so far as to type up surveys, have us make copies, and then distribute them to everyone we know; the results are then alphabetized and collated into three-ring binders.

Clearly, I am delighted at the thought that she will one day be handling our estate.

In the last few weeks, her penchant has found roost on the whiteboard, where she poses a question of the day, and then all comers (namely me, Paco, and Groom...unless a random runner stops by, needing to empty his bladder) are to answer it, signing their responses with a representative symbol. For awhile, I made up all sorts of crazy symbols, but in recent days, I've lapsed into a no-thought sunshine (a symbol of something I hope one day to see). Paco can be counted on to create a symbol with three heads, something emanating radioactivity and malice; alternately, if he's tired, he just scratches out a claw. Groom's symbol has morphed, like mine did; these days, he uses a little version of his own face, which poses a bit of a problem because then I have to kiss the whiteboard a lot and, tactiley, that's a pretty strong turnoff. Suffice it to say, Groom's whiteboard alter ego is getting less and less action as the weeks tick by.

One of the educational upsides to The Daily Question is that Girl is learning to construct her questions better. While it is a hardship to her that she has smartass parents, we like to think we're preparing her for the idiocy of the real world.

As a case in point, she put forth this past week the question of "What are your three favorite flavors?"

To tell you true, we knew exactly what she meant, as she's in the throes of planning a Lip Smacker birthday party. We knew she meant "What three lip smacker flavors are your favorites?" but since she didn't specify anything lippish or smackerish in her question, we simply listed favorite flavors.

Compounding the arse-pains was the fact that Paco only listed one response, not three, and Groom and I listed more than three.

Listen, the girl wants to be a teacher when she grows up. This is all good training.

After some complaining and give-and-take and a visit with her union grievance representative, she revised her question, making it more specific while also allowing for longer lists:

In its revised version, the question reads:  "What is your favorite lip smacker flavor?"

Girl's answers are:
1. Strawberry-kiwi
2.  Starburst
3.  Orange Creme

Paco gets to the point with:

1.  Cotton Candy

Paco is a big liar, as he also loves it when his lips are glossed over with Rootbeer Float or Skittles Berry Punch.  However, we consider lying training to be essential for a successful future--just like confounding the instructions of a future teacher is--and, therefore, he suffers no consequences for the omissions.

Refusing to put forth the effort to change our answers even after Girl revised her question, Groom and I held firm with general "favorite flavor" lists.  Consequently, my favorite lip smacker flavors are:

1.  Ginger
2.  Balsamic Vinegar
3.  Australian Licorice
4.  Imperial Stout
5.  Bubbles

And Groom admitted he likes to coat his lips with:

1.  Anise or Black Licorice
2.  Chilis
3.  Marinara
4.  Grilled Steak

A few days later, ready for another question, I took the initiative and asked:

If you were going to work in the circus as a clown, what would your clown name be?

Jocelyn says:  Rotini Hotdogbuns
Groom says:  Oughter McShiatsu
Girl says:  The Amazing Legrini Lips
Paco says:  Uga Chuga

Clearly, the family with a whiteboard is the family that can run away and join the circus together.  I do, indeed, strongly recommend bringing one into your lives--better yet, your bathrooms--if you are currently whiteboard free.

In fact, I'm so enamored with whiteboard-based communication and conversation that it's my intention to request one for my tombstone.  Who needs boring old static words ("She annoyed many/But loved few") when I could host The Daily Question into eternity?

So give, dear readers: 

What are your top three favorite lip smackers flavors?

And if you were a clown, what would your clown name be?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Also, Both Kids Have New Teeth Growing In"

My college is on Spring Break. Ergo, it is rainy, grey, drizzly, and miserable outside--the kind of days where we have the lights on even at 10 a.m. since there's not enough natural light coming in to keep us from tripping over toys on the floor.

Another key element to any Spring Break worth its salt, once crappy weather has been established, is looming illness. Most likely due to some very busy days, a cold is rapping quite insistently on my head, bringing with it swollen tonsils. Thus, while some think of dancing in wet t-shirt contests and sucking down body shots as the central activities of a Spring Break, I've been focusing more on unwrapping zinc lozenges and stirring up Emergen-C packets.

In fact, the only thing heartening me at this very minute is this: I just turned the tv on, only to find Tyra Banks explaining hairstyles, and as it turns out, since I'm not Tyra Banks or someone who spends $8,000 getting "just the right weave," I'm going to call today a win.

Thanks to Tyra and cold-induced head cloudiness, I can't seem to sustain...wait, what was I typing?...oh, yea, thoughts. I can't seem to sustain thoughts.

Sound bytes will have to do the trick then. So here are some briefs. This last week:

Groom redeemed the birthday coupon I'd given him last November. It was for a trip to Seattle to visit our pals Michael and Ella and their toddler Forest. Pretty much, Groom got all hepped up on espresso and delighted in riding the light rail;

While he was gone, I negotiated kid stuff like sleepovers and getting a neighbor girl to a sample martial arts class with Paco; because the neighbor girl's folks are clamped down in a state of hostility and living in the same house while they divorce, this 7-year-old has stress and tension she doesn't know how to process. Seeing her blossom during that free martial arts class--which was taught by a gifted husband/wife couple--was one of the delights of my recent days;

I also made polenta a couple of times, so's I'd have dishes to pass at two potlucks. I was left with the feeling that polenta is the great Foodie Test. Most attendees didn't try it; but those who were excited at its appearance have been added to my will (note to self: make will);

One of the potlucks saw the kids and me going to my aunt and uncle's house for a celebration of "late winter/early spring birthdays." My aunt, to whom no one can hold a candle in the kitchen, had made five cakes, in honor of the Olympic rings. Each cake's flavor represented a different color, too: blueberry, lemon, chocolate, strawberry, and carrot. You know me not at all if you ask, "And which one did you try, Jocelyn?" I'm here to tell you they were ALL good. The highlight of the party was when my cousin challenged Girl to a "who can stand barefoot in the snow longer" contest. A handful of others joined in, too, including Paco, who decided to pull up his pant legs and do the contest on his knees. Once we started the stop watch, my cousin and Girl were out within 40 seconds; however, Paco and three others made it ten minutes. We finally had to call it a draw, lest amputations be necessary;

The next day, the kids and I headed to Minneapolis for a few hours in the Mall of America, a place that gets our patronage largely due to the Lego Store. So we got some Legoish things (including the new full-length Lego movie called Clutch Powers, which receives 79 out of 79 stars from Paco), ate crepes, and then popped into H and M to try on clothes, which is a surprisingly fun activity with a 7 and a 9 year old; that day, we all got into a big family dressing room and critiqued ("Mom, those jeans look good on you, but not for $40! Don't get them!");

Going to the MoA was actually just a pit stop on our way to the city of Mankato, where an annual Oscars party was being held by one of my favorite couples EVER. I like this couple so much that I almost hope Groom and I die in a firey plane crash some day, just so they could raise our kids (note to self: make a will). They have four boys of their own, too, but I like to think Girl and Paco could get blended in easily. Better yet, maybe Groom and I could stay alive but convince Oscars Couple to adopt us;

The Oscars party was a joy, as always, and not only because I voted correctly in 6 of the 6 categories on the Big Board that dominates the fun. Sadly, I guessed wrongly on the tiebreaker (Best Original Screenplay) and was edged out by my New Adoptive Mommy. However, the evening overall was a revelation; I hadn't actually thought I'd get to watch any of the awards, seeing as I was taking my reserved kids into a house containing the toys of four "stranger" children. This house has five levels, and I fully anticipated spending my evening on the Air Hockey level or down in the Running Room. Out of nowhere, though, both kids just sat with me, for more than four hours, and watched the show. I still don't know what happened there, as our kids don't sit and watch anything, ever, like that; could it be that I mistakenly drugged their crepes earlier that day? Sedatives are underrated;

The next day, as we headed back to Duluth, we stopped at IKEA to scarf down meatballs and buy bedding. Our aim was to get back to Duluth in time to get Girl on the bus for downhill ski class that would be leaving her school at 3 p.m. Naturally, a definite time goal meant we hit a 45-minute traffic jam. Knowing that getting Girl on that bus--and then dropping Paco at karate--was the only way I'd get a run in that day, I slammed pedal to metal and made the 2.5 hour drive in 2 hours flat (praise my Montana upbringing);

During all our travels, I remained very, very patient in the face of silence from Italy; the family seems to be mulling about visas and schooling, and it's all I can do to kick back and give them the space and time to make up their minds. Without Tyra Banks and her wigs to distract me, I'd be goony by now;

These last few days, I've also been in just the right mood to read HALF-BROKE HORSES by Jeanette Walls, which I can say, objectively, is not a great book; but the fact that it tells a woman's life story through what she did rather than what she thought--with an emphasis on external over internal life--actually feels very authentic to a Western existence in the early 20th Century. It resonates with the lives of my own family members, many of whom value(d) doing over reflecting, who define(d) themselves through projects and acts without ever overlaying those "things done" with analysis of their larger meaning. Plus, I like this book because the chapters are about a page and a half each, and I'm kind of dumb. Wait, what I meant to type was that the short chapters fit a novel that is based upon Walls' recollections of her grandmother as filtered through her own mother. Each chapter is clearly a snippet of memory made fiction;

The absolute highlight of my last week was when Groom walked through the door, late Monday night, as I sat on the couch, in a well-earned state of passivity. I had missed him sharply, and not only because when he's here, I don't have to do as much. Mostly, I just wanted to sit with him and talk and rub his knuckles. Such moments had to wait, though, as he'd brought me a gift from a Seattle bakery which, taking its recipes to a competition in France a few years ago, won the "best baguette" award. Yes, you got it: Groom carried home a baguette from the West Coast, strapped to the outside of his backpack (the guys x-raying it at the airport will not soon forget him)--a gesture of love that hits me where I live (aka my gut);

Oh, yes, and relatedly: one other thing I did this week was to wipe a lot of butter off my chin. An hour later, in the darkness of our bedroom, Groomeo and I talked and talked, recounting various social interactions, observations about people and places, and wonder at how delicious it feels to return to the fold after switching up the routine...until...gradually...our voices faded away...replaced by soft snores.

Monday, March 08, 2010

"Seven Miles and a Side of Ketchup"

The beauty of my husband is that, in addition to accepting my quirks, he comes up with ideas as to how I can bump them to the next level.

A couple of months ago, for instance, I was thumping around the house one afternoon, kvetching about how Jocelyn's Perfect Storm coalesces when free time for exercise is countered by a deep peckishness. The winds began to swirl as I headed for my running clothes while thinking about biscotti; darkness set in as I began layering on pairs of socks while considering the richness of a breakfast burrito; sleet began to spit from the sky as I snapped on my Ipod while picturing a pasta bowl teeming with carbonara; 50-foot waves began kicking up as I reset my running watch while mentally buttering a huge hunk of challah.

Standing up to zip my windproof shell, I bellowed in frustration, "This is the only time today I have when I can go for a run, but mostly I just want to tip a cow and gnaw on its leg."

While I often do my bellowing in solitude, on this particular day, Groom was there.

I continued, "And so here I am, quite virtuous despite the growling in my belly, ready to go for a run now."

Groom lifted a brow.

"Except running is kind of hard to think about doing seeing as I'm ravenous, in a profound way that no quick banana could remedy."

Compassionately, Groom gave a quiet nod.

"Because what I'm trying to say is that I'm hungry in a 'just set the entire pot roast on my chest, please' way."

With that, I started stomping towards the door, only to be interrupted by His Groomishness' voice, suggesting:

"Why not go get a hamburger as part of your exercise?"


I understood his words. He had said "hamburger," after all. He was speaking my language.

But what? Get. Hamburger. As. Part. Of. Exercise?

As the halves of my brain shifted and then realigned, as the universe tilted three degrees on its axis [which is super weird--the universe on an axis! I am so totally an English major and leave that quantum junk to the, uh, geologists], as everything I knew, as everything I had ever known rushed towards me and receded again, I was left enthralled by his suggestion's brilliance.

"So, you're saying eating a hamburger and going for a run can co-exist?"

Supportively, Groom pointed out, "Well, not for just anyone. Most runners can't stop for a burger mid-run. But you have a well-documented ability to eat heaps and still be hungry, remember? And you're the one who can slam a 20 ounce latte and then head into yoga class and hold a downward dog for ten breaths. Not once, not once, have you ever urped, either. I think you can do this."

As he spoke, his voice was unusually mellifluous. I fell under the spell of his dulcet tones.

"So here's what I'm suggesting, Joce. You run from here, down the Lakewalk, then cross over the foot bridge and come up on London Road near all the fast food places. You know how you love a Wendy's burger? Today's your day, girl. The mid-point of your run will be Wendy's. You head in there, have a burger--make it a double--and then you run home. When you get back, your every need will have been satisfied. How's that for Living Your Best Life?"

Swooning, I responded with a, "So wait a minute. Not only are you motivating me to run, you're also throwing in the promise of beef and topping it all off with an Oprah catchphrase? Honey. Oh, honey. You're speaking love to me right now. The Romantics had nothing on you and your 'Ode to Enabling Jocelyn's Every Random Desire.' I'm warning you right now that when I get home, I'm going to be pumped and fueled, so protect yourself. My huggin' arms will be out and looking for squeezies."

With that, I tucked my debit card in my sports bra and galumphed out the back door.

A delightful destination in mind, I ran with vigor, hardly noticing that it was the coldest day of the year, with windchills in the double negatives.

Ten minutes in, though, even dreams of hamburgers couldn't distract me from encroaching frostbite. I felt myself in a conundrum: must get to burger, but must keep skin alive. How to do both?

A-ha! Giving the debit card--and, okay, my left breast--a quick rub, I remembered that I had options.

Not too far past the Wendy's was a running store. Thus, my first stop was there, for a few more layers (how negligent of Groom to forget to factor a shopping spree into Jocelyn's Best Run Ever!). Minutes later, wearing yet another pair of wool running socks and a new Smartwool balaclava, I bounced out of the Duluth Running Company and turned my compass towards a double, no pickles, no tomatoes.

An hour and a half after leaving the house, I returned from my run, debit card still warm on my chest, new balaclava covering the ketchup stains on my face:

Groom peeled down the faceguard, took one look at my grinning mug,

sniffed my breath for telltale signs of recent carnivorous inhalations,

and murmured,

"I was thinking: you know how you want to swim laps more often? What if we put English muffins by the diving board?"

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"I Think I Need a Good Plucking.
No, 'Plucking.'  You Trashy Guttermind."

In seventh grade, I played flute, piano, and bassoon.  I took ballet and modern dance several days a week after school.  I sang in the children's community choir.

Simultaneously, in seventh grade, I believed KC and the Sunshine Band had created something revolutionary with their "Boogie Shoes."  I thought Shields and Yarnell redefined the boundaries of bodily movement and were, just perhaps, magic.

Thus, in seventh grade, I was a peculiar mix of "couth" and "unschooled," of "cultured" and "mainstream."

This mix came to a head in 8th grade, when I performed for my peers, in English class, a puppet show version of Romeo and Juliet starring Froggy and Miss Piggy.

To this day, I can only say the words "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east, and Juliet is the sun" in the voice of Jim Henson.

Mostly, in middle school, I just wanted to date Barishnykov and eat frozen Twinkies.

That is to say:  I've never made much sense.  Highbrow and lowbrow swirl together, resulting in a mottled brow that is almost "right" but which is, under closer inspection, somehow a little "off," rather like the caterpillars that hitch a ride on Jennifer Connelly's forehead:

The thing about being a Mottled Brow is that I just was, just me, just fine, not noticing inconsistencies in taste or values

...until I wanted to partner my life with someone else's.  Because when you're with someone all the time, 'round the clock, in the same space, inconsistencies of character prove difficult to hide (just ask Dr. Jekyll's wife about the contents of his briefcase, and watch the resulting rictus of horror).  My challenge, then, would be to find someone whose notion of A Life Partner encompassed a mate who wants to attend Lucia di Lammermoor to have a good cry but who also tucks a romance novel into her jacket pocket, just in case the beautiful yowling gets boring.  Indeed, a Potential Jocelyn Mate would require the patience to understand a woman who wants to take piano lessons again as an adult--but mostly so she can work out new variations of "Peter Peter, Pumpkin Eater."

When I was casting about, during my dating years, to find someone who might want to commit to a long-term gig, it never occurred to me that I would actually find someone who could accept All the Vagaries that Make Up My Wholeness.  Instead, I thought Life Partnership meant Pretending to Be My Best Self...for the rest of ever.  Frankly, while always presenting my finest self sounded exhausting, it seemed a fair tradeoff to loneliness.

Thus, my dating adventures tended to revolve around a Jocelyn who was unrelentingly smart, witty, perky, upbeat, hard working, just, wise, brave, well rounded, accepting, thoughtful, astute, creative, talented, and limber.

Of course, this version of Jocelyn didn't actually exist in nature, but I attempted to bring along (in a suede hip holster) at least four of the outlined traits to any interaction with a Potential Partner.  In reality, sometimes limber was enough.

When I met Groom, back when he was simply Beau (he changed his name when we got married), I was amazed at how easy it was to embody four, five, six--all--of the desirable traits.  He just made me feel that good.  Also, he's a pretty pure soul, and so blending my muddy waters with his clear rivulets helped my sediment settle.

As we got more serious, though, I worried about dropping the act and wondered if the emergence of Real Jocelyn could be a dealbreaker.  I mean, it was easy for him to love me as we read aloud to each other, nestled in a big rock on the shores of Lake Superior, but the truth was, eventually, in his presence, I would make a bad smell.

The worry started to niggle.  One day, just as I was trying to work up the courage to tell non-processed-food-eating Beau that sometimes I just need to cram about fifteen Double Stuf Oreos into my mouth (knowing that he occasionally swigged a can of Coke when he felt a migraine coming on, I thought he might relate to my version of a migraine, something called "life," which was only curable with a massive dose of the tonic called Oreos), he launched into the story of a time when he'd had a few free weeks and, therefore, decided to fly his bike with him to Seattle, whereupon he'd get on his bike and pedal it back to Minnesota.  You know.  For fun.

Quickly, I understood this wasn't the time for my Oreo confession--or even for a commiserating, "Yea, I know what you mean.  One time I had a bunch of weeks off in the summer, so I watched all The Beverly Hillbillies episodes for the eighth time."  Wisely, justly, astutely, I simply made murmurs of "wow" and "I didn't actually know a person could do that."

Beau detailed the richness of his experience:  camping in city parks, striving for 100-mile days, avoiding carloads of rambunctious teens, picking up mail from his parents at various postal drops.  I continued to murmur "wow" and "I didn't actually know a person could do that."  Then I added a weak, "One time, Jethro and Elly Mae had a fight in the cement pond..."

Internally, I'd come to a moment of reckoning.  Beau set the bar pretty high--without even trying.  While I thought I might be able to hang onto that bar, toes scraping the floor, for a wee bit, I also knew it wouldn't take long for my arms to start quivering and for me to topple down onto an awaiting mat woven of Oreos.  Indeed, I could continue to pretend to be a Fine, Fine Person, but eventually, the jig would be up, and Beau would encounter me mainlining Jelly Bellies off a canoe (Jelly Bellies:  mine; Canoe: his).

Somehow, I agonized, somehow, I was going to need to reveal my true self without sending him screaming into the woods. 

I took a deep breath and continued, "So, yea, as I was saying, Jethro and Elly Mae had a fight one time in the cement pond--this wasn't the episode with yodeling or Minnie Pearl--and so, well, you probably wonder why I know so much about such inane things..."

Fortunately, Beau's head had been under the bed, where he'd been scrounging around, trying to find his bicycle repair kit from the Seattle journey, something he'd first learned to use long before that trip when, in preparation, he disassembled his entire bike into tiny pieces and made himself put it back together a few times.  Just so he'd, you know, be prepared (my idea of "prepared" had been to bring my own plastic cup to keggers in high school).

With his head under the bed, he hadn't heard my Beverly Hillbillies confession.  So I sucked in another big breath, ready to try again, when,


he spoke first:  "You know, one of the things I remember best about that trip was the week I knew People Magazine's 'Best and Worst Dressed' issue was going to come out, and I spent two days trolling through drugstores in tiny Northern Montana towns, trying to get my hands on a copy."

BWAHHHH?  Had my beloved tempeh-eating marathoner really just said those words?  Did I hear right?

'Cause it sounded suspiciously like a proposal to me.

In that one moment, with those words, his People Magazine admission reset everything for me, gave me permission to spill my own foibles, allowed me to realize that discussion of pileated woodpeckers can exist in consort with conversation about how ice cream sandwiches should only be eaten in multiples of two.

I could be me.  And he wouldn't leave.  Hell, he might even become an accomplice to my baser impulses.   And damn if a playmate isn't  more fun than Perfection.

Part II is coming next week. This weekend, Groom is, semi-ironically, flying to Seattle for four days (his bike literally broke underneath him some months ago, so its shattered self isn't going along this time) to visit friends, and, single-parenting it, I'll be taking the kids on a long drive to a super-fun Oscars party...and I don't even have to lie to Himself about what we'll be doing.  Because he knows I'm a whore for celebrity culture!!  And he wouldn't even be surprised if we stopped at the Mall of America to visit the Lego store!!!  Nor would he be shocked to know we're going to eat a bunch of cheesecake at the party!!!!!!

As it turns out, he's human, too. 

Monday, March 01, 2010

"Well, Jane, It Just Goes to Show You, It's Always Something"

Remember how Gilda Radner used to play Roseanne Roseannadanna on Saturday Night Live?  Even if you're too young to remember it, maybe you could humor me and use your incredibly taut and pert breasts to type out a comment of, "Yes, Jocelyn, I do remember Gilda Radner playing that character. She was very fubby."  (see, you mis-type that final word because you have a rogue nipple that veered away from the "n" key; this is the same nipple that used to go out and play Knock-n-Run at night while you were sleeping...who knew a nipple could be so adept at ringing a door bell?)  

Anyhow, remember how Roseanne Roseannadanna (or, er, the Radner character of Emily Litella--thanks, Geewits, for the correction!) would go on and on about something, only to get pulled up short by reality at the end of it all, after which she'd issue a semi-sheepish, "Nevermind"?

Well, I'm not quite in Rosannadanna territory right now, but part of me feels some identification with that character.

'Cause, Poodles?  Since a few days ago, we've been in email talks with our Sicilian counterparts, and the subject line on those messages has been "visa snag." 

Setting aside the fact that we still haven't heard back again from the Italian embassy about our own visas--we had the audacity to ask questions like, "Your Website indicates we will need to come to Chicago to get our visas, which we are quite willing to do; however, we also see that there are a few satellite consulates that have been set up, including one in Minneapolis, which is a mere two-and-a-half hours from our house, rather than eight.  Could we go to the Minneapolis consulate to get our visas?"--you know, difficult questions like that, which could take weeks to answer (however, in the meantime, a nice Italian embassy man sent us a lengthy explanation about how I, under a student/sabbatical visa, would need to go to Italy first, declare residency by filing with a local police station, and then issue my husband an invitation for a 90-day tourist visa.  I would be welcome to stay some months, really, but Groom would have to leave after 90 mention of the children, so I assume the plan would be that we'd put bowls of water and food on the floor and be sure to lock up before leaving Duluth).

So, yes, setting all that aside, we're now trying to wend our way through things from the Italian side.  Our potential exchange family has discovered that, with an F-1 visa, they cannot enroll their kids into the U.S. public school system without paying tuition (to cover the costs of their education).  I've been fishing around, asking questions of local administrators and the district office, just to see if reality doesn't align with what the visa stipulates--that is, if hundreds of thousands of "undocumenteds" enroll their kids in the public schools every year, is it possible the relevant screening questions don't get asked?  My sister, who has taught in areas with large "undocumented" populations, attests that there's a "don't ask; don't tell" policy in most schools.  Okay, then.  And a local principal had never heard of any of this visa stuff and basically said, "If a child lays his head on a pillow in our district, we'll enroll him."  But today a quick conversation with the assistant superintendent's office revealed, "Oh, there might be I-20 issues.  They might have to pay tuition.  I'll get back to you."  As of right now, we're waiting to hear more.

This is a distinct wrench, of course, which could result in the family saying they only want to do an exchange during the summer months (which would, of course, still be a huge experience and feel like a gift from the universe); or they might be able to pay tuition (there's also a parochial school locally, which could charge less for its tuition than the U.S. government would ask; between their having to buy a spendy short-term health insurance policy with a significant deductible and having to pay for their kids to go to school, I'm considering renaming this whole boondoggle "The Mortifications of Capitalism"); or, as I've suggested a few times, they could homeschool.  However, homeschooling is technically illegal in Italy, so their attitude toward it varies a great deal from what we're used to thanks to the Good Old Homesteading/Religious Right/Crunchy Hippy groups that have made homeschooling widely accepted in the U.S.

At any rate, we're suspended right now, awaiting further information, but mostly I feel like whispering, about my last post, "Nevermind." 

Having done that, I can also admit that I do think something will work out, somehow (thanks for the gift of that attitude in life, Mom!).  Until then, though, I'm pretty much sitting in front of the computer muttering "Crap.  Damn.  Crap.  Suck.  Piss.  Ass-hattery Up the Butthole" (don't read that last part, Mom!) and finding myself blogging about uncertainty when I'd had all good intentions today of writing about this one time I went and ordered a hamburger.

Never fear.  In my life, heart, stomach, and storytelling, the hamburger always wins out.  So I'll get to that story here in a few days.  If the wait is going to be too much for you, I'll give away the ending now: 

I ate the thing.

And, unlike the hamburger with a toenail in it that Roseanne Roseannadanna once ate, mine was actually relatively untainted,

featuring only the usual ick:   rat hairs and cow nostrils and ground up embassy workers.

Chew on that.