30 August 2011

The odds get even

The daughter has seemingly settled into her new school. Last week was a little rough, and she felt a bit lonely and lost. I assigned her a project which entailed bringing me the name, conservatory and class year of a new person each day. Of course, this meant she had to talk to at least one new person each day. There was a prize involved if she completed the project--a coveted pair of red high-top Chucks--and I eased the way by making some suggestions for conversation topics.

Then I gave her a conversation starter.

When we went for orientation a couple of weeks ago, we noticed a couple of Rush t-shirts in the crowd: one on a student, and one on a middle-aged man (surprise!) who appeared to be a parent. The daughter was amused because the middle-aged man was wearing one of the t-shirts she happens to own.

(Admission: there are a horrifying number of Rush t-shirts in this house. I could probably open my own vintage Rush t-shirt store.)

One of the reasons this school was attractive to the daughter was because the student body is a little different. Most of her former classmates walked right down the middle of the road, their tastes in music and culture never deviating from the usual suspects. The daughter (like the rest of her family) danced to a different drummer (or three), and reveled in Dave Grohl throwing a misbehaving audience member out of the Foo Fighters' iTunes Festival show over the summer. ("That was so satisfying!" she crowed as we watched. But then, she's seen her mother knocked off her feet at two different concerts by drunks. So yeah, satisfying.) She was pretty pleased when she came home one day last week and told me, "I met someone who listens to Muse!"

(Muse, bless them, provided the soundtrack for the little film she made that she screened for her audition.)

Still, the girl seemed cowed by the sheer number of people at her new school, and hesitant to interact with others. Like her mother, she can be paralyzed by crippling shyness (unlike me, she just hasn't learned yet to refuse to admit that she's shy. It works for me most of the time.)

Thinking things over, as mothers do, I went digging in one of my bureau drawers. I have so many t-shirts...

"Here," I told the daughter, handing her the item I'd gone in search of.

"But Mommy," she exclaimed. "You don't have to give me this..."

"Well, if you don't want it," I shrugged, holding my hand out.

"No! I want it," she said said, grinning and clutching the tee to her chest, turning partially away from me.

She wore the shirt to school the next day, a mint condition Vapor Trails tour women's tee.

(I actually had two, and I kept the long-sleeved one, which I bought at the merch stand at the show in Manchester all those years ago).

The story as I heard it was that a nice girl from the music and theater conservatory noticed her shirt and said, "You know Rush deserves so much more recognition than it gets."

And the daughter had found a lunch buddy.

The Chucks arrive today.

Go listen to some good music: "You Bet Your Life" from the album Roll the Bones by Rush.

28 August 2011

Pick up the pieces

I'm back in the place where I was several months ago. I'm running on emergency reserves; my brain can only handle the basics. Get from point A to point B. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In other words, get the kids back to school. Pick up the pieces. Try to put them back together.


Go listen to some good music: "Pick Up the Pieces" from the album AWB by Average White Band. It's bad. It's not as bad as December, for which I'm grateful, but I'm not sleeping because of the pain. And I hate complaining.

25 August 2011

My body is a cage

Ah, the elephant in the room.

This morning, I stood up. And that was it.

I don't know yet if another disc ruptured. If the same one ruptured some more (didn't think there was anything left in that one...). Or if maybe (please?) it's just a muscle spasm.

(Yeah, I know. It's not a muscle spasm.)

Back to the spinal surgeon I go.

Go listen to some good music: "My Body is a Cage" from the album Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. There is something about the plaintive refrain of this song. And yeah, there are lots of worthy reasons for me to have the surgery now, including the fact that my deductible for the year is paid...

23 August 2011

I'm taking a ride with my best friend

Over the course of 15 years, I've driven--literally--thousands of miles getting my children to and from their schools. This seems fairly ridiculous to someone who got herself to and from school almost exclusively on her own.

For 10 of my children's school years, I was able to walk both, then one, to school, which was a relief, but that ended today with the daughter starting school at a high school five miles away. Not that I'm actually complaining about the distance--one of her classmates has a daily roundtrip that is nearly 200 miles. There's some perspective. And anyway, the son's daily round trip is more than 25 miles, which is a pain, but he can usually take the schoolbus, which is pretty efficient.

Of course, this also gives you a peek into the insanity that is Southern California. Whether school, the orthodontist, fencing lessons, if the trip is less than 100 miles, you're expected to get into the car and just go with little regard for the time or the distance or the inconvenience.

(While we were traversing the Northeast over the summer, the kids were completely confounded by the idea that you could cross multiple states' lines in mere hours. Also that one could travel efficiently on public transport the same distance that it takes hours to cover here on a bus.)

And though I am slightly resentful of this new wrinkle in the next four years of my life, mostly I am just hopeful that the daughter will find this school suits her. I always enjoyed our walks to and from home; they were our down time, our time to sort out the day. I suppose that the drive home will serve the same purpose, but the area where her school is located is busy and chaotic, and I suspect that I will be distracted just trying to get us from point A to point B.

Today, I picked her up, and it was crowded and crazy and hot. But I had a bottle of cold water in the car for her and she was pleased I'd thought of her.

"I'm so thirsty!" she exclaimed.

Once we got home, we talked and while I prepared dinner, she crushed garlic for the green beans and we talked some more.

It will all work out in the end. I assure her of this as she sets out on her scary new adventure, and now, it's time to heed my own words.

Go listen to some good music: "Never Let Me Down Again" from the album Music for the Masses by Depeche Mode.

21 August 2011

It's only a day away


And then we can talk about the coming school year, the coming grocery strike, the fall of Tripoli (!) and whatever else strikes the world's collective fancy.

Go listen to some good music: "Tomorrow" from the album Annie--Original Broadway Cast Recording. The number of draft posts I have going right now is laughable...

15 August 2011

And who says...?

The shadows lengthen in ways I recognize, and I feel something like melancholy at the signs of late summer--by the calendar, not the seasons.

Somehow the summer has all but disappeared. Friday, I take the daughter to registration/get yer books and schedule and hopefully, a supply list/have your ID photo taken, and orientation (for her) and parents' reception (me), designed to make us all feel better about the first day of school in a strange new land. Where she lands the following Tuesday.

Really, how did that happen?

(Not to worry, I have the son hanging out with me until the following week.)

Usually, the idea of going back to school fills me with unholy and slightly guilty glee. Hours to myself again! Not so much this year.

This autumn, I need to make a decision about how much longer I'm going to live with this level of pain. I have such bad days (today) that I don't know how I'll make it another week. Then I'm quiet and everything sort of settles down, but you know, I didn't sign up to live the remainder of my life quietly. I haven't even made it out of my 40s yet, so it's not like I'm ready to roll over and play dead. We all know that there will be more ladders (hey, I only fell off once yesterday...) and rock concerts and the other physical things that get me into trouble.


There is also the college thing. Trust me, this is one that is starting to keep me up at night.
(Free-floating anxiety is a bit of a theme around here. We all have it right now for vastly different reasons. It's making for a lot of fussing.

All summer, I've been confronted with the reality that I've a year left with my son. Even if it should happen that he lands at a local school and lives at home, in some ineffable way, he will no longer be mine. I've been--gently and not so gently--pushing him toward adulthood these last few years, teaching him basic skills, though he often doesn't recognize that's the point. He's just happy to learn how to make tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches. He knows how to run a lawnmower, how to drill things. My generation of parents--at least here in California--seems so stuck on making their children dependent. I make mine help me trim hedges and clean bathrooms and sort their laundry and wash dishes.

I examine my relationship with my own parents and the spouse's with his, and I worry. I don't think I've made quite the same mistakes with my own children that our forebears did with us, but I have made mistakes. I don't know what impact those errors will have on my future relationship with these two, but I've enjoyed a closeness with them that I've never had elsewhere. I want them to grow up, I want them to become happy and fulfilled adults, but I don't want to lose them.

I've never rushed through the process of raising them, never been anxious to see them on to another stage, never thought "I can't wait until they're out of my house!" I learned early that yes, there are terrible twos and there are terrible teens, but each of those terrible phases has its own moments of beauty and discovery. I don't regret the difficult moments because each meltdown taught me something, even if it was an inconvenient moment for a lesson.

I've been firm with the son that what he decides is his decision. Of course, the schools have a say in what goes on, but I am trying to divorce myself from the selection process. It was up to him to choose the schools we looked at this summer; I just planned the trip.

I don't tell him that I can't for a moment imagine him three thousand miles away for years.

Go listen to some good music: "better on the hard side" from the album ...undone by The Lucy Show. I mean there is something to be said for no more driving kids to school and no more back-to-school-nights, but...

12 August 2011

I suddenly remember each time we've met

Tonight, at our local brewery, dinner and the one beer I allow myself per week (it's a pint, though, so really almost two when you get down to it), while we watched the Angels play Toronto on the big screens. Santana pitched a complete game; when he is on, he is on.

(And when he's not...YIKES.)

I watched the ridiculous promotions (bobblehead gnome? Rally Monkey Chia Pet?) that showed up between innings, smiling to myself at the action on the field. We were greeted, our hands shaken, a laugh exchanged. Sometimes, sitting there, it sort of amazes me that we know so much of the staff, and they know how predictable we are. If one of our group is missing, everyone has to stop by and ask, "Where is big boy?" "Where is the girl?"

There is a comfort in being known even if I do like wandering the world largely anonymously. There is a mystery in how we bounce into one another's lives, and I remain constantly amazed at how connections are made, in my life seemingly in the most unlikely ways. How sometimes the reality of presence moves from the unexpected to deep expectation.

Now you see me, now you don't.

I watched a batter's self-aware stance, while behind him, a spectator waved to the camera. I am curious about those who deliberately draw attention to themselves. When we were in New York, we had to wait about an hour and a half to get into the Met because the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition that the daughter and I saw in May was closing down, which was drawing mobs to the museum. A camera crew appeared, presumably a local news crew, and as I became aware that the cameraman was panning down the line just a few feet from me, I turned to face the opposite direction, my back to the lens.

And I suppose that negation is just as telling, an equal but opposite way of drawing attention.

On the television screen, the camera pans to Santana in the dugout. He looks deliberately blank, elsewhere, locked in his own head, and then a moment later, he is laughing uproariously with a couple of his teammates, 180 degrees from the moment before.

Today, I was asked some questions, and as I answered, I realized how remarkably secure I felt in my relationships. How privileged I am in my friendships. I enjoy my solitude but I am surrounded by interesting people who inspire me and stimulate me, friends, family, acquaintances. Who offer encouragement, reading suggestions, a fun camera trick, a bit of news, a smile or a wave.

How the world changes when we are desired, wanted, welcomed.

Go listen to some good music: "Solitude Standing" from the album Solitude Standing by Suzanne Vega. Posts can sometimes be inspired by something that happened within the space of three seconds, and here, I sort of backed into what I was saying, and then sort of swung around and finished somewhere in the middle. What does all that mean? Dunno, but you can probably figure it out. I know at least one person will.

11 August 2011

Sweet talk

It's that divide between who you think you are and who everyone else thinks you are.

I know that a lot of people see me as fearless. And it's true that I will catapult myself where angels fear to tread...sometimes with little provocation and tremendous glee.

Worry not. I fear plenty of things. I am terrified of plenty of things, and I don't use that word lightly.

One thing that I do not fear is making a fool of myself. I am an expert in this, I do it regularly, and I've always been reasonably good about laughing at myself and my own foibles.

The afternoon we arrived in New York was pretty warm, and because the subway train we'd taken from Penn Station decided not to stop at 50th street where it was supposed to stop, we finally disembarked at Columbus Circle, almost a mile from where we wanted to be. Undeterred, I told everyone just to grab their suitcase and head down 8th Avenue.

(Trust me, you see people dragging suitcases all over New York. I did not feel out of place. The son, who is fragile at this age, was mightily put upon...until he saw people pulling suitcases bigger than ours down the road.)

Naturally, our hotel ended up being a bit posh, but I marched up to the registration desk, rather damp and plenty disheveled and got us checked in. The delay had cost us some time, so after we deposited our luggage, and everyone washed hands, we decided to find dinner as the daughter was swooning from hunger.

It turned out that a grill that is attached to but not part of our hotel had just opened, and the front desk had given us a coupon for a dessert, and I was traveling with two kids who like their dessert.

It was early, I was disheveled and I marched up to the hostess podium and asked about a table for dinner, admitting gracefully that I'd failed to make a reservation and noting with no pleasure that I was not dressed to eat in a hip place.

"Do you have a Groupon?" the hostess asked me.

"I am most assuredly not cool enough to have a Groupon," I told her gravely.

Which made her laugh, and she cheerfully took us back to a table.

Once we were seated and perusing our menus, I realized uncomfortably that the restaurant was rather stuffy, and I was already glowing rather violently. I picked up my menu and fanned myself briskly, saying to no one, "Come on, kids, let's turn up the air conditioning. I'm having a hot flash!"

And a handsome young man, who turned out to be our server, put his head around the pillar, looking quite alarmed, and asked, "Are you too warm? I'd be happy to turn up the air for you."

The son and daughter were mortified, but I laughed out loud, assuring him that really, I was ok (and not having a hot flash, thank god. I haven't reached that state quite yet) but that we'd had to drag our bags through the steamy streets.

He commiserated and told us then that he would be with us in a moment, and when he temporarily vanished, the daughter wailed, "Mom-meeee! Did you have have to say that so loud?"

And the son announced that perhaps I could refrain from being quite so rambunctious.

I sighed as our server returned--my children can be so Victorian--and promptly began querying him on the wine list.

For what it's worth, I did not refrain from my purported rambunctiousness--I was not behaving in any way out of order and I will happily chat with anyone who wants to chat--and by evening's end, our server had pronounced us "best table ever," and the owner and the chef and the manager had stopped by to say hello.

(Or check out the sideshow...one never knows.)

Yeah, had I known the server was standing behind me, maybe I wouldn't have said "hot flash." But I did. Joke was on me. But a judicious bit of levity can make for a fun evening and it did, even if I wasn't dressed for the occasion.

Go listen to some good music: "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. Sometimes, when I get going, I get breathlessly vivacious. Later, I wonder what on earth I've said. It's the Gemini curse: I can be deathly silent or you can't shut me up.

10 August 2011

Letter never sent

(Whoops! A good reason not to blog when tired. Bad .html. Sorry about that. All better now.)

It's a balancing act between grumpy and...something.

As some have figured out, the party right now is at the photo blog, When All This Actual Life Played Out, mostly because it doesn't take much thought to post a photo, and I don't have to say much. Even though I'm not traveling at the moment--at least not until early October when I take the son to Chicago and leave the rest of the family to their own devices here--my life has become some sort of endless Rube Goldberg machine, between work stuff, the daughter starting back to school (less than two weeks. How did that happen?) and helping the son to negotiate the actual college application process (first one went out today...).

And of course, in between, there's the eighteen loads of laundry, the grocery shopping that requires 4 stores and the actual making of meals.

(Tonight, tandoori-marinated chicken, spiced green beans, naan and roasted nectarines for dessert.)

And I'm avoiding saying much, because I really haven't much to say, and would prefer not to just sort of blather. Like I am now.

It was a gorgeous sort of day today, warm and breezy. Nothing like August is meant to be. But yes, I'll take it. Thank you.

Go listen to some good music: "Letter Never Sent" from the album Reckoning by REM. Summer music, even if completely random. Dreams have been crazy vivid: empty arenas that shrink to empty auditoriums. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Not only do I not wait well, I don't want to spend my life waiting. I've done enough of that. Then there was the one with a hotel room that strangers suddenly barged into, announcing they were sharing it with me. Which precipitated quite the outburst from yours truly... I'm not tense or anything.

08 August 2011

Been caught stealing

Since returning home, I've been slammed with oddments of work and kids' school, and there's been no time for play.

(Or writing.)

The title, of course, is a reference to our government, which seems to have successfully destroyed what little financial stability was salvaged after 2009. I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Obama, who really should have known better than to get up to the business that he has since he took office. He may refuse to accept the burden, but I won't accept his finger pointing. I didn't expect much from the campaign promises that I paid for with my vote, but I wanted some progress, some measure of responsibility, some modicum of common sense. And once again, I've been robbed. This presidency is a failure, utter and complete.

Do these fools watch TV, I wonder? Do they really believe that an Arab Spring, an English Summer, might not suddenly become an American Autumn?

I for one fervently hope it doesn't come to that. None of us need more chaos. But I worry. I worry a lot.

Go listen to some good music: "Been Caught Stealing" from the album Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane's Addiction. I am trying to bite my tongue, but I am so, so, SO disgusted with the President and with Congress. Offer solutions? You bet: make public service a service with no remuneration whatsoever. No pay, no benefits, no nice gym, no dining room. No privileges whatsoever. They seem to have forgotten that yes, I am the boss of them. Along with my fellow Americans.

05 August 2011

I get around


And I don't mean a hotel.

The final tally: Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Pennsylvania; New Jersey; Connecticut; Massachusetts; Vermont; New Hampshire; Maine (for a lobster roll, not a school); Rhode Island; and New York. In between scheduled visits to eight different campuses, we hit a baseball game, two battlefields, and spent an entire day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a 1/2 day at the American Museum of Natural History (which, sadly, was a disappointment). The spouse, daughter and to a lesser extent, I, also spent several hours in the Peabody Museum. Then there was Salem, which was a travesty. The travel arrangements were nothing short of an engineering feat: moving four people in various directions at different times in planes, trains (including subways), and automobiles, and on foot. The spouse joined us belatedly; we'd already survived Georgetown, which was an ordeal because of the extreme heat.

I am remarkably grateful to be back.

Go listen to some music: "I Get Around" from the album All Summer Long by The Beach Boys. Sleep...NOW!

03 August 2011

March over months of the year

I was standing in the middle of Times Square a few hours ago and my cell phone began to ring. My cell phone almost never rings, mostly because few people have the number. The call was local to home, so I picked it up.

"Mrs. S?" I heard, "this is So And So, admissions officer of your son's high school."

I was standing in the middle of Times Square, incredulous.

"We were just wondering if your daughter had made a decision about high school..."

"The daughter," I yelled into the phone, partly over the noise of Times Square, partly in sheer annoyance, "has been accepted at the arts high school."

And furthermore, I added mentally, but in deference to the son and the fact that I have to endure one more year of this school, did not actually say, I have told you about her acceptance to the arts high school 50 times in the last 4 months.

"What attracted her to the arts high school?" he asked conversationally, clearly oblivious to the cacophony on my end of the call.

"She wanted to study film and television," I bellowed, "and was accepted into the film and television conservatory."

The son's high school has very little in the way of arts education. Their focus is medical magnet, engineering magnet. Which is fine if that's your bent. It's not the daughter's.

"Oh..." he replied. "Well, thank you."

Times Square. Really?

Go listen to some good music: "Pilgrimage" from the album Days of Open Hand by Suzanne Vega. I can't seem to escape the kids' schools in any way, shape or form. I even had to register the daughter for the coming year while I was in Baltimore.

02 August 2011

Gonna blow right through you like a breeze

En route to New York. Hard to believe it took me 20 years to get back there and now I'm back again after 2 months.

Kids on a road waving at the train as we pass. I used to take the son to see trains. And road construction.

He wants to go to Dartmouth. Or Georgetown. Or Princeton. At least until he visits University of Chicago next month and his friend newly matriculating at Stanford.

I've never traveled so extensively through the northeast. I've been through Boston and I've spent time in various bits of New Hampshire, Connecticut and Pennsylvania but never in such a down on the ground, get intimately familiar with the road sort of way. I haven't much enjoyed it.

And that may be the stress of the trip talking. It's been that and then some. It's not easy to travel with a 17-year-old who is averse to change and who is displeased to feel my foot firmly on his rear end, pushing him toward the door. Even if he thanks me for it someday.

Still we have our moments of travel hilarity. My dislike of non-dairy creamer is legendary amongst those who know me well (or who have to feed me coffee). Somehow this has given rise to a joke about dairy and non-dairy cows, particularly as we drove through Vermont. Various authors have come under scrutiny as well. When we passed Walden pond, I opined that Thoreau might have been one of the most boring writers to ever hit paper, while the son contended that no, the author of his summer homework novel--something to do with Balzac--should be accorded that honor and the daughter nominated Steinbeck as she had to read Of Mice and Men for the second time for summer homework and was seriously displeased.

(But that was the book that gave rise tp the family joke about "slangin' pups." We can cover that another day.)

So it's onward to New York with 2 kids and 150 lbs of luggage. Gods.

Go listen to some good music: "Even Better Than the Real Thing" from the album Achtung Baby by U2. This is the last trip where I don't bring a laptop. Blogging from my phone is hell and it looks like I'm writing in Dutch.

Sent from my iPhone