Monday, May 27, 2013

Blue Nail Polish

There's blue nail polish on the bathroom counter top. I think I could maybe get it off if I bought some nail polish remover, but I feel like it needs to stay there for a while.

When Toby was three (fucking three--it's a baby), he got blue nail polish all over the carpet in the basement bedroom of the house we were renting. I, of course, rushed in there, yelled at him, and violently threw him to the side when I realized what he was doing.

I could say a lot of things...  as soon as I get the house under control, as soon as I remember to cook on a consistent basis, as soon as I pull back on working from home, as soon as they get a little older, but none of these things are the real issue. They can be triggers to rage, but they aren't the things that need to be changed.

When I started getting along with my husband, it wasn't because we suddenly managed to manage our money better or because he learned to close the bread bag or because I started paying better attention to his laundry or any of the other ridiculously trivial things that used to trigger fights (not to say that we don't fight anymore, but we do so with increasingly less frequency and intensity). We started to get along because to put it bluntly, I decided to stop being such a fucking bitch, and as soon as I did that, things got better.

This time, when my now eight year old got nail polish all over the bathroom, I didn't get mad. He was being ever so careful with toilet paper, and I told him not to worry that it was an accident and accidents happen. But I still get mad. I still stomp and yell and throw things  I just didn't this time over the nail polish.

Eventually, we left the house where my little son defiled the carpet. It wasn't the only damage that was done so they kept our deposit and sent us a bill. Now, there may or may not be a roll of old carpet with blue nail polish on it in a landfill somewhere, and there may or may not be stained carpet in the basement of a house I will never walk into again. It doesn't matter.

The only thing I have left from that day is my son--the eight year old version of the three year old I can see in my mind's eye crouching on the floor, painting the carpet.  And that's my responsibility, not the fucking carpet, not any of the other trivial things that have flown me into a rage. My responsibility is my son.

And this is not the sentiment I want to leave him with...

"All I ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you." --Leonard Cohen

So, for now, I'll leave the blue nail in the bathroom while I think about it.

Friday, May 24, 2013


I think while I was writing a book, I felt a clearer sense of purpose, but I knew while writing it and engaging in the drama that surrounded its conception that I was ignoring my kids, and I promised myself that when I was done, I would spend a year writing essays about them, about us.

Studies say you're less likely to follow through with plans if you announce them in advance, and people say the best laid plans of mice and men are often set asunder so why fucking bother (making plans or announcements).

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Robert Burns

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What Are Your Scallops?

I picked up my husband from work the other night, and he was a little blue that everybody seemed to be making more off his talents than him. So, he cycled through some petty complaints about this and that, and finally, he said, "It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, they go home with all their money, but I get to go home knowing that I've cooked the scallops... I do whatever I want all day, and I love it ."

So, clearly, this brings me back to me.... what are my freaking scallops?

About a week before this conversation, we were having another argument. (God bless, my friend Nicole, by the way, who convinced me to get married in the first place and who has listened to recaps of about a million and ten arguments since then.) During the argument, I thought my husband was being a real ass by turning everything on me when the argument wasn't even about me. After the post-game with Nicole and a bit of reflection on my own, however, I realized that he was just utterly frustrated by my unhappiness which I, of course, blame on everybody else (I'm miserable because you're disgusting slobs who don't help or I'm miserable because you all eat all the time and I hate cooking or I'm miserable because of whatever you're doing wrong.)

So, it was those two conversations together that brought me back to...  what are my freaking scallops?

First of all....  let's be honest about the fact that scallops for women are different than scallops for men (not in every case but statistically in most cases and on a biological level, it's a different bowl of seafood). My husband can spend all day doing whatever he wants in spite of having children because he has someone on tap to watch them. Whether he needs to go to work at a nine in the morning and work til well past midnight because of a wine dinner or whether he needs to grab a drink to unwind after work, he doesn't need to worry about where his kids are or how much extra he needs to pay the babysitter or even arranging a babysitter or anything else because I'm here taking care of that shit.

I had a little "first of all" pity party for myself for a couple days, and then, I thought about writing. I think writing is my scallops...  If I were making a bowl of scallops, they would come in the form of a book deal and a sun flooded room above a garage and some part-time child care and a garden outside that I wasn't responsible for weeding and maybe some fruit trees while we're at it. But that's not the case.

So, I "first of all" and "but-ted" for a few more days, and then, I remembered. I remembered that I had a what-are-my-scallops party two years ago (see all drunkenly written posts from April of 2011 and read between the lines), and at the end of that party, I decided to write a book which I did (more on that later probably). And by the time I got to the end of the book, I decided yes, I would like to write another book, but more importantly, I decided that I wanted this life, the one that I have, the one where I cook for people who are hungry and clean for people who are dirty and read to people who are bored and work (writing actually but about boring things like car insurance) to help support all of that.

And when my husband says he gets to do whatever he wants in a day, he is slightly overstating the fact. He has to peel potatoes when his wrists are aching, and he has to sweat his balls off in a cramped space in the summer, and he has to deal with countless other petty things that I'm sure are not awesome, but they're part of the package.

And so finally... It took a week of asking myself what are my freaking scallops before I realized that I have the freaking scallops, I just need to cook them and enjoy cooking them and try not to blame everybody else when and if I fuck them up.

*** I just want to note that thinking about scallops is a luxury. As life happens, choices often get whittled away, and for some people, the choices available to them are painfully scarce. They're lucky if they can open a can of spam much less think about cooking scallops, and I'm grateful for the amount of time that I can devote to thinking about these issues because I know that not everybody gets to.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Mother's Day

For some reason, Mother's Day made me a little depressed this year. Really, I've been on and off depressed since January so it being Mother's Day may have not really been the cause, but as it spun in my mind, there were two reasons:

A. My mother. I think I am purposefully distancing myself from that woman, and although it doesn't make me sad like I miss her, it makes me a little sad. Also, because I only remembered Mother's Day the day before it happened, I forgot to send her a card, and I felt guilty all day, but I decided the guilt was easier to deal with than actually calling her. I don't think I've ever really sent cards in the past, but now that I'm distancing myself, it seems important to keep up with gestures like cards so nobody notices that I'm not making phone calls or coming to holidays. (Not that anybody calls me, and if they did, I'd let it go to voice mail because I need to build up to that kind of thing.)

B. My cynicism. I can't deal with greeting card holidays, and although I know that Mother's Day has ancient roots, I have it grouped in the greeting card section of my mind. I do well with the Christian holidays because they more or less align with the seasons in ways that feel right to me. That said, Easter was way too early this year, and I could have used Mother's day as my spring time bacchanal, but the idea didn't occur to me until after I had gotten all depressed about it. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't so cynical...  that I could just take a day and not over think it.

The kids found out it was Mother's Day, and they all picked flowers, and that was really the highlight.  

And the next night, we had steak and crab and friends over for dinner, and it's nice to know that people will come eat our food and mull over life even though the house was disgustingly dirty and I hadn't showered in ages.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

No Rules

My son and I recently watched an episode of Wife Swap that featured a radical unschooling mom (Dayna Martin) and a military-discipline style mom. If there was a winner on this episode, it was clearly the unschooling mom, but not necessarily because she unschools but because she believes in loving and listening to kids rather than ruling them for their own good. I think that level of responsiveness is far more important than any ideology a person may be using.

The one idea that stuck with me (actually there were several) from this episode seems to be pretty common in the unschooling world (particularly in the radical unschooling world), and that was her one rule of "no rules."

Conceptually, I get it. Personally, in this house, the more rules we have shed, the better we have all felt and acted. Clearly, there are some social and cultural rules and laws that have to be followed at certain points, and these rules may differ from situation to situation i.e. Martin's kids were allowed to jump on the trampoline at 1 in the morning which my kids really want to do. However, that family seemed to live in the country, and we live in town where it's not appropriate to jump on the trampoline (because it's loud) after ten. (This article from the Guardian briefly touches on that idea as it pertains to cultures where the kids are more or less not ruled by their parents.)

There seems to be a pervasive idea in the unschooling/AP world that if you respect your kids enough or model good enough behavior or let them explore the natural consequences enough that they will magically not be dicks, but... These people don't have my kids, and my kids are freaking lunatics.

I've gotten a lot of parenting criticism for not saying no enough, but I feel like I'm saying no all the damn time.

No, don't shred carrots so that you can shove messy handfuls of them into your mouth while jumping up and down and playing video games with the neighbors and spraying carrots all over the floor.

No, don't jump on the mini indoor trampoline while eating a muffin, the crumbs of which you will grind into our already disgusting carpet when you start running around in circles which you will undoubtedly start doing at any moment.

No, don't drag the rotten old mattress, which is only in the garage waiting to go to the dumpster because you jumped on it so much that you broke it, through a mud puddle and into the yard, where it will kill the grass and the landlord will evict us because she's a grass lover, to make a landing pad so that you can jump off the shed.

No, don't swing on the clothesline and break the line (again) because the dryer has been broken for over two years, and the clothesline is the only option.

No, don't drag every blanket we own into the yard (again).

No, don't say nigger in the house or anywhere. (Note, this is not a word that I ever use, but their friend likes to walk in the door and shout, "What's up my niggers?" as a greeting so they've picked it up, and although I've gone over the cultural and historical background of this word and although it may eventually become more socially acceptable as slang continues to adapt, it's just not an appropriate word for little white boys to be saying).

No, don't use the entire bottle of cleaner that I just bought for my yearly shower cleaning to wash out a footprint of mud that you got in the bathtub.

I see the benefit of listening to my kids, to figuring out what they really need to do rather than what I think they need to do, and every move we've made further in that direction has been a positive one. I see how much they appreciate it when we respect them and their choices, but no rules....

Maybe it's just a case of letting them get older or helping them think of better options than dragging old mattresses into the yard (and if I had a couple acres and a dirt yard, they could put the frigging mattress right next to the broken down cars and the other yard rubbish and it would be swell).

At the moment, though, they say this, "All you see are messes, and we're just trying to have fun."

At the moment, though, when they approach me with their ideas, they preface them with hand gestures to calm me or admonitions of "Don't get mad, can we..." and then, maybe they continue with "dismantle the food processor to build a meat grinder."

I'm not sure how I can be any more permissive without losing my sanity, but maybe I had it above, maybe I just need to chill til they grow out of it or help them think of better things to do... but I'm not sure if there are better ideas than mattresses in the yard or dismantling working appliances to make new ones.