Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dolphin Day

For the second year in a row, Owen's school Christmas pageant was postponed because of snow.

Last year, I took it pretty hard. Unless, that is, you think tears and fist-shaking-at-the-sky are reasonable responses to missing a few songs and post-show cupcakes.

This year, I just rolled my eyes and laughed at the absurdity of it---December is a most inconvenient time of year to do musical productions, don't ya think?

Perhaps we should do more pageants for Waiting for the Barbarians Day (November 4th).  The costumes alone are a win.

However, because I am not in charge, it is unlikely that my suggestion will be taken seriously.

Instead, because we suddenly had a morning free, Owen and I went sledding. We drove to the elementary school that he will attend next year, a warm, boxy building with truly excellent hills. Our feet crunched in the slush as we walked to the steepest hill. He flashed me a grin, gave himself a running start, and rocketed down.

He spun in circles, like he was a pin in an icy pinball machine. He swerved left and right, leaving crests of icy slush in his wake. He crashed into a bank of snow, seemingly miles from me. For a moment, I heard nothing. Then, I heard his distant voice, "Woo-hooo! AGAIN, Mommy!"

And again we did. And again. And again. There was nothing on earth but his icy, still playground. Adventure awaited him with every ascent and descent.

It was perfection.

As Michelle reminds us, the Universe is Abundant.

Several years ago, my husband and I took a boat trip to the Channel Islands, around Ventura County, California. At least that was the plan. The waves were especially choppy that day. The boat heaved and shifted like a giant rolling over in his sleep. We were forced to turn around.

Although I was disappointed to not see these islands, which inspired the Island of the Blue Dolphin books I devoured as a young girl, we were okay with it. Why? Because on that rollicking boat ride, we saw dolphins. Pods and pods of liquid-dancing dolphins, silvery and magic. They jumped around our boat, each one a honest-to-God miracle. It was majesty in motion.

Who needed the destination with a journey like that?

I feel the same way about the school pageant. If it hadn't been canceled, I wouldn't have had that wintry small moment with my son. I wouldn't have shared a hot chocolate with him at Starbucks, and possibly wouldn't have heard him whisper, "You're the best friend to be around," before he drifted off to sleep that evening.

He will have his pageant, and it will be heart-swelling adorable, I'm sure.

But--- because I was lucky enough--this time---to recognize the opportunity, we had a dolphin day. Those you never, ever forget.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Dog Isn't Howling, So We're Doing Just Fine

In my classic four-years-behind-the-curve way of functioning, I have just discovered Pandora radio. 

It is perhaps the most brilliant thing ever. With a click, I can listen to pre-made radio stations, featuring artists I like and artists like them. Basically, it's like getting a mix tape from a music-savvy friend, instantly.

In addition to learning that Michael Buble is sexy and that the soundtrack to Rent still makes me misty, I've been prompted to ruminate on my life as a wannabe musician.

I was in choir in high school. I was neither mocked and slushied a la Glee, nor was I revered and worshiped like, um, Michael Buble. I was average.

I can carry a tune, meaning that I rarely make dogs howl when I sing. However, I cannot sight-read to save my life. When people note (heh-get it?)  that something is sharp or flat, I nod my head, clueless.

I am the Paula Abdul of my personal American Idol, waxing on about "energy" and the "intensity of your soulfire" to cover up the fact that I have no idea what's going on. 

I didn't make the select choir back in my high school days. I never had the lead in a school play. I wasn't even especially popular with the other choir kids.  But yet, I would do it all again.

Why? Because it taught me humility. It taught me that things that look easy rarely are. I didn't know what was involved in making a song until I actually tried. Which is why, when I look at performances like this, I am suitably awed.

Choir taught me strange little things, such as the knowledge of  Latin phrases like dona nobis pacem. I  know the alto AND tenor parts of the Hallelujah Chorus.

Yes, I can sing tenor. Isn't that hot?

Thanks to high school choir, I understand that there is beauty in the collective, that the support of others can create a cathedral of sound. I have felt goosebumps in that magic pause between the final note and the return to earth.

 Perhaps, for a type-A perfectionist like myself, the most important thing high school choir taught me that it really is okay to act like a jackass sometimes. It's okay to let go. It's okay to stop being right, and it's okay to sing. And dance. And celebrate the fact that I can.

If I'm singing Neil Diamond while doing it, all the better. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Upgrade

Paul has told me on more than one occasion that I can get an upgrade on my engagement/wedding band someday--all I have to do is ask.
Indeed, compared to the beautiful settings and platinum bands of my friends, my wedding ring is rather simple. First of all, it's gold. I apparently didn't get the memo that gold was out back in 1999, but I don't know anybody else my age who wears a gold wedding band. Not even my husband---and we're supposed to match.

The second supposed issue with the wedding band is that the karat is small. And by small, I mean it's somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 of a karat. An attempt has been made to conceal the size through the setting, but it's not fooling anybody.

Paul bought the ring at the local Kay's Jewelers. He had left the military two months earlier, and was taking classes at the local community college while making ends meet with two jobs. He spent his days working with traumatized veterans at an outpatient mental health clinic, and his evenings driving a truck, picking up donations for a thrift store.

The mental health clinic was right across the street from a methadone clinic, and people would wander in occasionally, quite agitated, and perhaps needing some counseling of their own. But the addicts' demons came from the needle, not the battlefield, and Paul would send them on their way.

At the time, the clinic treated veterans of the first Gulf War, and a handful of Vietnam veterans. The issues ranged from family counseling, to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder), to addictions counseling. I often wonder how that center is functioning today. Surely, they must have needed to hire more staff, and add more chairs to the waiting room. All those demons. All that pain.

Paul's evening job was note-worthy because Paul was the only employee that did not have a criminal record. Paul would load up the truck with members of the Aryan Brotherhood or various gang bangers. On especially magical evenings, both!

Paul is a quiet man to begin with, and he was quite happy to do his job, and keep his head low. While my husband is not a wimp, he just didn't see the point in arguing with a six-foot, two hundred and fifty pound ex-convict. Especially an ex-convict that told Paul, right off the bat, "I get really angry when people try to tell me what to do."

This was the context of Paul's life while he was shopping for my engagement ring. He found the ring, and set up a payment plan of $50 a month. He paid these payments for the entire year of our engagement, and occasionally had to work extra hours to make it work. I was a second year teacher, pulling in a salary around $23,000 a year. Times were tight.

How did I know that things would change? How did I know that Paul and I would be successful in life? When Paul talked to those veterans, he looked each patriot in the eye, listened to their stories, and treated them with honor. Despite the fact that he worked long, evening hours with former felons, Paul never complained, and never deemed himself "too good" for honest labor.

I'll always remember one evening with Paul. We were at a happy hour with some pretentious folk. One of them said, and I forget the context of the conversation, "It's like being a lumberjack. I mean, have you ever met a real lumberjack?" He spoke as if the concept was ludicrous. And I suppose, if you went to Dartmouth and never found a brie you didn't like, it was.

Paul took a sip of his beer and said, "Yes, my grandfather. And my uncle. And my aunt. Good people."

He didn't have to say anything else.

This man---who truly listens, who hates snobbery above almost anything else, who works hard, without complaint---inspires me to do the same.

I will never upgrade this ring.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nobody does it like Tracie, but I'll give it a shot.

In a blatant rip-off homage to the brilliant Tracie of Snuggie Wasteland, I bring to you the yays and boos of the last few days. 

Yay: I had a morning all to myself. Owen was in school. A dear friend was watching Joel. Whatever should I do with my time?

Boo: Oh yeah. Right. Annual trip to the OB/GYN.
Yay: My new gynecologist is hotter than my old one.

Boo: He told me that I may need a hysterectomy someday. Kinda killed the mood.
Yay: Owen is going to be Joseph in the school Christmas pageant.

Boo: He tells strangers that he is "Jesus's Baby Daddy."
Yay: Microwave-free living is not as painful as I thought.

Boo: My phone and washing machine have decided to gang up on me and break as well. Soon I shall be pounding my clothes on a rock. Perhaps topless.
Yay: In a pinch, you can clean a poopy bottom with a washcloth when you forget to buy more diaper wipes.

Boo: Remember the broken washing machine?
Yay: I still weigh less than my husband.

Boo: But according to the doctor's office scale, not for long.
Yay: My baby boy still loves to kiss me on the lips.

Boo: He has a massive runny nose.
Yay: There's a new yoga studio in town with invigorating hot yoga classes.

Boo: I practiced next to this guy.


Yay: People read my blog
Boo: But perhaps after that picture, never again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Gone Viral

Sunday afternoon. I'm hiding in the bathroom. I perch on the toilet, holding my head in my shaking hands.

I had meant no harm. Truly.

Glancing at the polished nickel wall sconces, the pewter bowl with the artfully scattered seashells and the white, claw-footed tub, I swallow back another wave of nausea. As I splash cold water on my face, I hear my husband pacing behind the locked door.

"Honey? What happened to our house?" my dearest asks. He has never liked change, and with each word, his voice grows more and more taut, like an over-tuned viola. 

I shudder. What happened? Just a few words, a stupid Twitter update. I wish I lived in a Pottery Barn Catalog. A mindless joke, meant to be mildly amusing, perhaps worthy of a re-tweet at most.

I didn't think it would go viral. I didn't think I would wake up to an artfully staged, yet completely soulless tomb of a home.

I breathe deeply, in an attempt to slow my racing heart. "Did you check the baskets by the Bedford Collection Craft Organizer?"

He sighs. "Yes, Claire. All that's in there are Architectural Digests and stacks of logs. Where are my beer steins? And why is our kitchen table...wicker?" He says the word as if it was pustule or malignancy.

I step out of the bathroom, glance at the oversize spoon and fork dominating our kitchen wall, and force a smile to creep across my face. "It's really a crazy story..." His face is granite. I place my hand on his forearm, and continue. "Don't you like it? I mean look, honey, Found Belgian Train Signs!"

He jerks my hand away. "I liked us. I liked mess." He glances at the hurricane glass full of pistachios, and grimaces." I need a drink."

I laugh, waving my hands, "Well, look!" I shriek, "There's lots of champagne on ice!" I read the hand-printed sign hanging on parchment paper: "Tonight's Cocktail! Champagne with your choice of wild hibiscus, framboise, or assis."  The hysteria explodes from within, spurting like a broken sprinkler. I crumple to the floor, weeping softly.

"I'm sorry. I never meant for this to happen. I'm so, so sorry."

My husband sits down next to me. I can smell the framboise and artisan cheeses on his breath. "We'll talk about this later. But remember, everything can be undone." He kisses me gently on the temple, and walks away.

I rest my head on the Solid Sisal Rug and say a silent "thank-you."

After all, my original Twitter Update? Husband for sale. First come, first serve.

This week's entry for the red writing hood link-up was to write a piece of flash fiction (200-2000 words) using the topic "Trapped." or "I truly enjoyed spending time with them. I just had to decide which of them I would kill."

As always, your comments and feedback are most appreciated!