Monthly Archives: August 2011

Love, Eternal

Dear Gramma,

I still think of you all the time.

When we were all there with you, those last few days, I remember thinking we should have another family reunion later, when we’re not waiting for something so sad to happen.

I  sat next to you for hours and read as you slept. Your consciousness drifted back and forth between the place we both were and the place you were going next, without me.

You opened your eyes, once, and asked if I remembered my little yellow raincoat, the one I had when I was three. Some time later, you asked if I remembered the time we boiled a clam I found in the lake.

Later still, you said we made a nice family, and I agreed.

***

I don’t often think of those last days, though. Mostly, I think of things you said (“My stars and bars!”) and did.  Things you knitted. Things you cooked and baked. The way you laughed, the way you walked; your snowy hair. The stories you told me as we played cards on lazy Sunday afternoons. Working the crosswords with the big paperback cheat books, as you called them. Listening to you name the flowers and birds as we strolled to the lake. The way some of your teeth came out at night and were left to sleep alone in a water glass on the counter.

I think of the time you found a snake in our basement and killed it with a hockey stick.

I think of how I wrote you eight-page letters as a lonely freshman in college, and how you wrote long letters back. Tucked inside there were always Marmaduke cartoons to make me laugh, and crisp dollar bills so I could buy myself a Coke.

I think of the time we were lost in rural Wisconsin after a cousin’s wedding reception. You guided us home through the inky black night, using only your voice and a map that lived somewhere in the far reaches of your mind.

I think of how thankful I am that I have a picture of us hugging after my wedding. (It makes me promise the universe that I will take more pictures, because every passing moment is a precious one.)

I think of these things, and so much more.

On the worst days, I think of how much I wish I could see you walking with my own two little ones, stopping to show them the Queen Anne’s lace and the devil’s paintbrush, or pointing a long finger skyward at the chickadees and the goldfinches.

Things I can do: Snuggle their little bodies up in afghans that you knitted with your two capable hands. Feed them your baked apples and your schaum tortes. Teach them the card games we played, and when they beat me, I’ll exclaim, “Son of a GUN!”

***

A few days before you died, I heard my mother ask you if you were scared, and you said no. I could tell that you really meant it. Your faith had made you sure of things.

***

Leaving your side to fly back to Michigan was excruciating. I tried to choke out some words sufficient for the occasion of seeing my grandmother for the very last time, but every time I tried, I’d simply cry harder. Then you looked at me and said,

I know you love me, and that makes me happy.”

***

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but I picture you floating on a warm fluffy cloud, laughing and drinking happy hour Manhattans with Grandpa. I hope it’s fun, there. I hope you’re happy.

I miss you.

Love,

Anne

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The Scream Queen

The Daddy worked this weekend, so I was essentially a single parent. Single parents everywhere, I tip my hat to you. YOU ARE HARDCORE. When it was just Benjamin it wasn’t so bad, but Ellie’s flair for the dramatic and the natural histrionics that accompany age 2 made me want to  move to another country – by myself, please. I got so angry once about the incessant arguing and defiance that I sent myself to time out, and then I sent everyone to their rooms so the dog and I could have a few moments to regroup. It didn’t really work though, because they just continued their argument upstairs, loudly enough so I could hear every word. Next: an unidentified crash, followed by crying, followed by Benjamin yelling, “I told you not to touch that!”

The dog sat close to me, leaning in as if to soothe both of us. I murmured apologies into her ear for bringing her in to such a chaotic family. Poor thing.

The whole weekend wasn’t like that, thankfully (right now, for example, they’re sleeping like angels). Earlier today, I took them to their very first stage play, a local production of Pipi Longstocking. It was a bit of a risk, taking Ellie there; I knew Benjamin would do fine, but 2-year-olds aren’t known for their attention spans, or their ability to understand why they can’t talk loudly wherever and whenever the mood strikes them. In the car on the way there, I explained what a theater was and how we should behave during the play. We practiced whispering. She assured me that she would be quiet. “I pwomise, Mama!”

Amazingly, we made it all the way to intermission with no problems whatsoever! I was so proud. They really seemed to enjoy it, too. When intermission started, though, Benjamin said,

“I really like this, Mama, but I’m ready to go home now.”

“Don’t you want to know how it ends?”

“No, I don’t. I just want to go home.”

Given how well things had gone, I decided that leaving on a high note wasn’t such a bad thing. I said sure, we could leave now.

Error #1: But INSTEAD of going home, instead of listening to the poor boy, I convinced him that it would be fun to go to a nearby furniture store to quickly pick up a pair of lamps I had ordered.

(When will I ever learn?)

We got to the store and it was packed with people. They were having some kind of big sale, seemingly attended by everyone in town. I had called ahead so that the lamps would be ready when we got there. Ellie wanted to ride in one of the courtesy strollers they offer at the door, so I let her. We chose one and started towards the customer service desk at the back of the store.

Error #2: Then I decided we should quickly check out the clearance center for bar stools.

At that moment, Ellie decided she no longer wanted to ride in the stroller; instead, she wanted her doll to ride in it. In the following moment, I decided I should look for bar stools another day, and we’d just get the lamps and head out of there.

Very rapidly, the situation deteriorated. I can’t even describe to you how it happened. All I know is that I told her we were leaving, and suddenly she was screaming – and I do mean screaming. It was screaming worthy of a horror movie, and it ricocheted off the walls of the jam-packed furniture megastore. She screamed and sobbed and screamed some more. It was like a dramatization of a child’s meltdown in a movie. I’ve never seen anything like it from either of my children. My best guess is that she had held so much inside during her stint at Pipi Longstocking that it all just had to come tumbling out. Of her mouth. Loudly.

At first, Benjamin and I just stood there and stared dumbly at her, unsure of what to do. Finally, I calmly said, “We’re leaving now.” I took Benjamin’s hand and started to walk away. She called my bluff and didn’t follow. Benjamin, a better parent than I am,  started tugging at me. “We can’t leave her here, Mama! Go get her!”

So we walked back to her. I put her screaming little self back in the stroller and went to the desk to pick up the lamps. On the way, I started laughing. Benjamin started laughing too, because I was. By the time we got to the desk, we were laughing so hard that we could barely talk, while Ellie continued her screamfest.

A masochistic employee offered to carry the lamps for me, since I obviously had my hands full. As we began our bizarre trip back to the front of the store, people glared and stared at us disapprovingly, moving carefully out of our way.  Ellie, in the lead, continued to scream inconsolably in her stroller; Benjamin and I followed, laughing maniacally; the store employee brought up the rear and attempted to set himself apart from our strange, cacophonous parade.

As soon as we got outside, she stopped instantly, like someone flipped a switch. I guess when your captive audience of around a hundred shoppers disappears, so does the motivation for your Oscar-worthy performance.

“We go home, now, Mama?”

“Yes, Meryl Streep. We go home now.”

The Box Rebellion

Sunday

“Mama, we go HOME.”

“We are home, Ellie, this is our home now.”

“No, Mama, dis is new house, not home. I wanna go HOME now!”

“Our stuff isn’t there anymore, sweetpea, it’s here in this house. Your bed is here, your toys are here, Mama and Daddy and Benjamin are here. See?”

“I wanna go home.”

“This is where we live now, bunny.”

“No, thank you. It NOT.”

Monday

“Mama, we going home now?”

“Yes, we’re going to the new house. That’s our home.”

“No!” *pouting, tears*

We take her to the old house to show her that nothing is there anymore. Then we go home.

Tuesday

I turn left at the light onto our new street. Ellie is in the back seat clutching her doll.

“Mama, we go to the new house now?”

“Yep, we’re going to the new house now.”

“YAY!”

It was unprecedented. The 2-year-old was suddenly, inexplicably able to triumph over her typical rigid and maladaptive nature, adjusting to the new house in only three days. Benjamin did an equally good job. I’d love to take credit and write something profound about how I leveraged the concepts of consistent, compassionate parenting in order to effectively manage change in my children’s lives – but really, they did a good job all on their own with little input from me. The Lesson: Sometimes if you get out of your kids’ way and stop talking so much, things just fall into place.

(Now that I’ve said that, it’s certain that the first thing Benjamin will bring up to his future therapist is the time he was ripped away from the only home he ever knew, and everyone acted like it was no big freakin’ deal. Unfeeling monsters! Passive aggressive manipulators! Emotionally numbed-out zombies who eat children’s tender beating hearts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!)

Speaking of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I unpacked the kitchen first. Because BY GOD, WE HAVE TO EAT. Clothes? Medicine? Toiletry items? Books? Ppppffffftttt. I still haven’t unpacked all of that stuff. But all the food is right where I can find it.

Also unpacked and/or installed: televisions, blinds, wireless Internet, pet supplies, and sod. I’d love it if we were the kind of people who rushed to unpack their art studio first thing, or their cherished world-travel memorabilia, or even their home gym equipment…but alas, we are not those people. We are people who unpack the food and televisions first, and race to ensure that we have blinds up so the children sleep as long as possible in the morning.

I’ve given myself until the end of next weekend to get all of the rest of the boxes unpacked. The main motivation is that I’m tiring of conversations following this general template:

“Have you seen my _________?” (Fill in anything, here. Shampoo. Book. Health-sustaining medication. Cat.)

“No. Did you look in the box in the dining room?”

“Which one?”

“The one on the top? Or maybe it’s in the box in the coat closet.”

“No, I looked there. That box is full of cleaning supplies and toddler clothes.”

“Oh. Well, there’s a box of Christmas decorations in the half bath. It could’ve gotten thrown in there.”

“Christmas decorations in the half bath?”

“Yeah. I was carrying the box, and that’s where I got tired.”

“I’ll just go look in the garage. There are tons of boxes in there, still.”

“Good idea. Maybe someday we’ll actually be able to park a car in there!”

Or a bike, at least.

As usual, I’m being slightly hyperbolous. It’s not really that bad. There are not any boxes in the half bath (anymore). We are not missing the cat. Even now, there is room to park a bike in the garage. But anyone who has moved recently knows what I’m talking about. It’s like living in a convoluted cardboard maze. And no matter how carefully you label the boxes (oh, if only I’d labeled carefully), there is just no way to know where everything is until you’ve unpacked every last one of them.

Given my history, that will probably occur sometime around 2015.

MY SANITY IS IN ONE OF THESE