Scratch That

So it turns out, no matter how hard I want to, no matter how hard I try, I simply haven’t got the ability to be in two places at once. My college overload coupled with the schedules of two grade-school boys and one kindergarten girl caused me to smack right into the reality of that shortcoming.

Abby is in kindergarten all day, Mon and Thursday, and on alternating Wednesdays. Except at our charter school, all the kids get out at 12:30 the first two Wednesdays of the month. Is that confusing enough? Add to that that I was supposed to be in school until 2:00 each day, 25 miles away from where my children would be waiting. I tried it for two days. It was an unmitigated disaster. I was in tears last night at 2 am, when I was still doing homework, that was due this morning, after I got out of my night class at 10 pm. Yeah. No kidding.

So I called my advisor this morning, and she got me in right away. We sat down, and it turns out to be a very good thing- she was able to drop the two classes that were requiring me to be at the main campus, and replace them with other classes I also needed that miraculously had some seats open up. And those classes are at the downtown campus, where I usually attend. Tender mercies.

So my course-load is now 16 units instead of 19. When I expressed concern, she asked if I was aware that 12 units is fulltime- I laughed. Yeah. I don’t have time for that. As soon as the changes were made and finalized, I felt like a boulder had been lifted from my shoulders and I could breathe again. It was the right thing to do. Sometimes, I guess it’s okay to acknowledge that I simply cannot do it all- no matter how hard I pressed my shoulder to that wheel.

Onward.

I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can…

School started today. After 18 months of this, I start my Senior Capstone work this quarter. I’m also taking four classes. Nineteen units. Because I’m insane? Yeah, probably. But mostly because unless I do I’ll have 2 straggling credits shy that will keep me from walking in May. And because of that, I can do this. I can. I have to keep telling myself that, because today? Was a doozy. And it’s not over yet. I’m home for all of 25 minutes, before I have to leave for my night class.

I’m doing my capstone, and I’m taking basic Algebra. Because in all the massive amount of credits I’ve accumulated, in all my perfect scores and 4.0 grades, I have avoided math until the last possible minute. I am terrified. But I have to do this. I would rather face hungry lions and divorce attorneys than take this math class, and the one that comes next, which is what I really need- but so help me, I’m going to do it. I only almost cried once today, when she was explaining the difference between rational and irrational numbers- brief flashbacks to flunking- but I dealt, and then I went to the book store and really cried when I saw my math text was $130. Yes, really. Puke.

Wednesday’s are going to suck. I have two classes at the main University campus, which is 20+ miles from my house- most of my coursework has been done at the downtown campus, but there are two classes only offered at the main, so Monday-Friday, to the main I go. Anticipation of this was a huge part of why I traded the Suburban for the smaller car. My other two classes are at my regular campus. It’s only about a 15 minutes drive. Jeffrey has Scouts on Wednesday night, and Abby only has kindergarten every other Wednesday, so this going to take some serious juggling… but… it has to happen. So I best figure out how to juggle. Fast.

I’m trying not to panic- the first week of every quarter is always hard while you get your bearings- and I keep reminding myself of that. I haven’t figured out how to get my books yet, but I’m going to keep looking for creative solutions, and I only have to do this until finals in December. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Somewhere between now and then, I have to take the GRE and apply for grad school too. I need a wife.

Mismatched Me

My dishes don’t match. If you open my cupboard, you’ll see stacks of mismatched plates in a patchwork of colors, often in pairs. When I find something I really like, I might pick up 3 or 4, but mostly it’s pairs. Bowls are stacked in precarious towers, their odd sizes and shapes never nesting well, but it makes choosing a cereal bowl an adventure. (If my kids ate cereal, which they don’t, and if I did, which I don’t)

I think this started with my first apartment in Capitola, CA- it was one of the first tiny fences of “supposed to” that I can recall kicking down. My roommate was the OCD daughter of a Beach Boy, and I won’t go into what a mess that ended up being, but I learned two things living in that seaside loft: Never clean a kitchen floor with Comet, and matching things is overrated.

I like being able to chose the vessel for my food based on how I’m feeling any given moment. I have pretty blue flowered plates from England, terra cotta from Portugal, miso bowls from Japan, whitewear from Germany, chartreuse bowls from Spain, blue speckled stonewear from Poland, and transferware from Italy, France and England. There are a lot of white pieces in interesting shapes and sizes, and blue and green are more heavily represented than other colors.

My flatware and glasses are also quite a garden of choices. This used to drive my mom insane when she would visit, and actually the only sets of matched things I own came from her as a gift on a visit. I went along with it. It was nice for a while to have a full set of plates, cups and silverware- but one day I stood at my cupboard and thought “This isn’t me… I kind of liked that quirky part of me…” And so I got out the boxes I’d packed away of all my pretty plates and mixed them in with the stacks of American Gibsonware.

The one exception: my wedding china. When it was time, and I was wandering around Macy’s with the little barcode scanner trying to pick things for an imagined life, I wanted to register for ten different china patterns. They lady wouldn’t let me. More than anything I wanted to scan one of each 5-piece place setting that caught my fancy, but the outcry from family and the wedding machine was too great, and I caved. I picked Lenox Federal Platinum- a conservative, beautiful, timeless pattern that was sensible and lovely and… so not me. But so help me, I have service for ten, including the recommended salad plate and serving pieces. Maybe someday I’ll have a chance to use it again. Right now, it’s packed in bubble wrap and stacked carefully in a dry corner of the leaky Little House garage.

Today would have been my dozenth wedding anniversary. I’m not sad, not anymore. It just is what it is- it happened, and its a part of me. While its not a gaping wound anymore, it seems apropos to at least nod in respect for what was, and for what now lives soundly and forever in the past… along with matching dishes.

Mothering Bean

Recently an acquaintance and I were chatting about motherhood. She’s a brilliant grad student with no children, but has been thinking about motherhood. In the middle of our conversation, she said she was concerned about her ability to deal with motherhood and said she didn’t want a “defective” child. Full stop. She kept talking, but I was suddenly outside of time, everything floating unnaturally and disjointed and I stared at that ticking, dangerous bomb in the maze of my mind. The hard part, even in my horror: I know that feeling.

Before I became a mother, I knew exactly what kind of mother I would be. The naivete and hubris is astounding, and actual mothers everywhere smile knowingly and gently roll their eyes- or stare blankly, depending on how little sleep they got last night. To my friend, when I came back to the present, I said simply and plainly “Then you probably shouldn’t have children.”

Today is the eighth birthday of my “defective” child. My son, who has expanded my soul and my identity in ways perhaps incapable save only by the love a mother has for her child. Every other love we experience is transitory, to a degree- even the love we have for our spouses can wax and wane. But the love of a mother for her children is one of the few constants in our emotional universes.

Being Bean’s mother is not an easy, straight row to hoe. When he was born, I thought I knew how to be a mother. I had a two-year old who was a headstrong and willful boy, and felt as though I had earned my gold star and this new baby would surely fall in lockstep with our existing family. (I’ve written about his birth and first year here, and it’s one of the essays of which I’m most proud.)

For eight years now, I have been the mother of this amazing boy. Within days of his birth, he disavowed me of my previous notions of motherhood. He stripped me of my carapace, my pride, and my preconceived ideas of what being a good mother meant. In the natural storm of his childlike, all-consuming needs, there was no room for holding onto anything unessential- and caring what the neighbors thought, or about convention, were the first casualties.

Like all growth and stretching, it’s been painful. We’ve cut our teeth on each other, and I am not immune from moments of abject despair and frustration. But because of this child, this “defective” child whose brian works differently than most, who doesn’t even comprehend the social normative, who lives purely, without guile or artifice, in his own world, because of this child, we are all more fully realized human beings.

I think our plans need to be knocked off their foundations once in a while. Like a forest fire clearing out the underbrush and dead wood, it revitalizes our lives- makes room for our souls to expand and realize that pain doesn’t actually kill us- even when we think it might. There is a lot to be said for trial by fire, and the galvanizing, cauterizing effect it has on our spirits.

My other children have had to learn compassion and patience, and will never have to lose the artifice of desiring public approval. They don’t remember a time when Bean was not a part of their lives, and having a brother with quirky, expansive, and different needs is simply part of the waft and weave of their lives. My other children have enormous compassion for others, they roll with difficult situations, and they are experts deflecting stares and questions in social situations, in matter-of-fact ways.

Bean will continue to bound through his life, secure in the knowledge of love at home, and that he always has a soft place to land in his mother. He may or may not understand more of what he has done for his family someday- but it’s really immaterial. He’s busy being who he is- it’s for the rest of us to make sense of it. We are who we are because of each other.

Happy Birthday, Bean. Mama loves you more than you will ever know.

Driving Home

She rolled the window down and dangled her arm into the still shimmering heat. Her eyes drifted out of focus, the red light allowing her a moment of stillness in the sweltering late summer night. The air conditioned quiet of her car, without the children, had only amplified her loneliness, and she welcomed the noise, diesel fumes and unmuffled exhaust of the teenagers cruising in their muscle cars. Somehow the chaos banked the echoing canyon of her heart.

She had been doing this for so long alone, that she barely noticed it anymore. Or at least that’s what she thought. Isolation had been a part of her life for what felt like decades- isolation from her family, distance from her friends, geographical isolation when her marriage crumbled, emotional isolation as she picked up the shattered pieces and cobbled back together something of a life.  “I am a rock, I am an island…” Paul Simon’s words meander through her brain as the light changes to bright green and she pushes the car into gear.

Moving off the main drag and turning down a backroad, her path is inky black and the humid night hair whips her hair in an untamed halo, catching on her earrings and spilling out the window into the night. She is living on borrowed everything right now- borrowed loans for college, borrowed house until graduation, borrowed light for her soul.

The loneliness inside permeates the layers of her spirit, and reaches towards heaven to her God. Living on memories. Is that borrowed light? She doesn’t know. She only knows she doesn’t know anything now, and she misses feeling close to God, feeling like she was heard and loved. Now, the silence echoes through the same canyon of her heart. Is it borrowed light if you are using your own stockpile? she wonders idly, downshifting at a a deserted crossroads.

How much can one person handle? Her thoughts wander. Platitudes roll through her mind- you get what you can deal with, put your shoulder to the wheel, you must be so strong, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, I don’t know how you do it, count your blessings name them one by one, you chose this in the preexistence, and on and on the useless words roll. People mean well, she knows, and they don’t realize what they are saying. And the loneliness grows.

How much can she absorb, take in, buffer for those she loves, before she breaks? She is afraid to really ask that question, afraid the answer will terrify her and God will take it as a dare. Rationally, she knows this is crazy, but emotionally, her shoulders shake and she worries her knees are going to buckle any day now. How many times do you get knocked down? How bad can it hurt? How deeply can your heart be cut and have it still go on beating? Why does loving someone, anyone, everyone, hurt so much?

She laughs at herself. What kind of question is that? Silly girl. The smile lingers on her lips.

The night whips by, and the lights of home crest on the hill. Home, at least for now. Even if it is borrowed home, borrowed light, it’s still light, it still glows. It holds her children, and her lifelines, feeble though they may be, and it holds, despite the oppressive heat of the late summer night, hope. There are no answers. But there is that… a gossamer thread of hope.

Making Art: O. Commission Piece

Heather O’s husband contacted me and commissioned me to paint something for Heather’s upcoming birthday. Like I do nowdays, I documented the process, and now that Heather is in possession of the finished piece, I can show you all how I did it.

For the background, I used some snapshots of Heather’s trip to Jerusalem as a jumping-off point, and then used a paraphrase of a scripture given to me by her husband.Laying down the ground, I paint on dark masonite, and love the depth a dark background can give to a painting. Even if most of it ends up covered in paint, it shows through in spots, and I love it.This shows the background from the mount of olives, and the city of Jerusalem is supposed to be vaguely implied in the purple. Adding the foreground and the olive tree.

When I do the lettering, and yes, it’s freehand (I’m a type snob, what can I say) I often paint upside down, because it helps me focus on just the form, instead of my logic brain, underdeveloped though it is, taking over and focusing on the words.A view of the whole mess in my living room, as I create. The Underwood usually lives on the coffee table, but was relegated to the wingback.And the finished piece, and a detail shot. you can see my letters are imperfect- and I like it that way. Handmade, freehand letters are never going to have perfection- and while I’m biased, I know which I prefer.