For my own personal history

Memarie Lane has a great post today about how most of us are bit players (if not Kleenex-disposable extras) in the big scheme of life. That’s why (because I agree, not because of her post) I wasn’t going to write some grandiose “Where were you?” post about September 11th. Wasn’t going to say that we were living in New York City in 2001. That we were proud of Rudy Guiliani,and also the democrats, and that we were scared when we thought there were seven planes hijacked. But we calculated that Columbia’s Low Library must be pretty low on a terrorist’s list of targets.

I wasn’t going to admit that I was excited that we got to order in (free) lunch from that deli on Broadway because we were all so upset and of course I couldn’t even think of eating at a time like that. I think I ate a spinach salad, with bacon and hard-boiled eggs, and a vinegary-sweet dressing. (This is not a comment to trivialize but to confess how my appetite is never, ever ruined. A post for another day.)

Earlier that morning my shoulder dislocated while I was using the thera-band from my physical therapist. Wasn’t the first time, or the worst time, but, oh! did I feel sorry for myself as I rode the subway to work. As I took the 1/9 to 116th and Broadway and walked through the quad at Columbia University.

Someone had a TV on in the lobby of the SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) Building, and the rest of the day was a Kafka-like nightmare of helpless surrealism. We sat around the Economics Department with the lights half-on. We made plans to give blood, and then we heard that no blood was needed.

I wondered if Tom was okay and if I’d be able to make it home to The Bronx, if the bridges and tunnels and subways would be reopened soon. He was home with one-year-old Avery back then. Every day at four he dropped her off before going to class, and I took her home after she’d gotten lots of attention from Angela and Sharon and Leslie, and polite disinterest from Laura.

I had visited the World Trade Center for the first and only time two weeks before the attacks. My brother was visiting from Utah and wanted to see everything. I’ve got pictures of us with Avery in her MacLaren stroller. We have pictures of her, a little older, in the same stroller, in front of the photo and ribbon-festooned plywood barricades that ringed Ground Zero (and probably still do, for all I know).

I felt so stupid that day, for feeling sorry for myself about my dumb shoulder. Even stupider when reports of the bravery and desperation of the “Let’s Roll” people came out of Pennsylvania.

It was probably only weeks or days before I felt sorry for myself again, over something even dumber, like too many poopy diapers in a twenty-four hour period. Or a husband who liked to play basketball in the evenings instead of rushing home to be with us.

And then I’d remember to be glad, and immeasurably grateful, that he would be coming home at all.


For thirty-one years I’ve apologized for you. If that’s not love, what is?

Last week I went with my sister to look at a house my parents were encouraging her to buy as her divorce approaches. My sister wasn’t very excited about the ‘cow place’ (it backs onto a pasture), and I had to agree with her. On Monday my mom took a plate of “Sorry!” cookies to the little old lady who lives at the cow place. Apparently the little old lady agreed with my mom (who heard from my sister) that I was “bombastic” when we were looking at the house.

Am I bombastic? (and does anybody know what that means? It’s not actually a synonym for obnoxious).

Look, all I said was that the floorplan was a little crappy, which it was, and that it’s kind of silly that they didn’t put in a master bathroom. Instead, a miniature pocket door connects the master bedroom to a miniature hall bathroom. That’s silly, right? And a major problem if you ever want to resell the cow place.

Since sellers are always completely candid.

When we were looking at the house, the little old lady told my sister that she really loves the floorplan (and the miniature bathroom), which would be nice, except the little old lady wouldn’t be trying to offload this crappy cow place house to move into her dream home in the next town over if she really “loved” this one. Am I right?

Of course I’m right.

Being right is such a burden when everyone around you wants you to go around whispering what you are right about, if they even want the benefit of all of your rightness. Which sometimes it turns out they do, because my sister decided to buy a different house that has an actual master bathroom. And no cows next door.

Mostly it’s enough to be right.

But sometimes I wonder if my parents think I’m kind of, well, annoying. I wonder if they ever looked at me and thought — this child is perfect. Did they ever want to stop all the clocks and announce to everyone that here is perfection. Here is more than we ever imagined coming from us?

But sometimes I feel a bit picked on.

I always knew that they would prefer me to be a little more quiet, a little more humble, a little less out-spoken, a little less critical, a little more nice.

Even though I’m a parent myself now.

I’m afraid Sally will remember that I told her ten times a day to stop screaming that high-pitched squeal in excitement whenever Daddy came home or Mommy gave you your book back or your sister walked by and looked at you. And Susan will remember that I put her in time-out for not helping to pick up the board games she dumped out all over the living room. And Spot will remember that I slapped her hand for pounding on the keyboard when Mommy was at the computer.

Will they wonder if I found them annoying?

Yesterday I saw Spot playing with Grandma’s dog, and as I looked at her round face and listened to her telling me repeatedly that Lindy was “a doggy,” I felt this warmth and pressure that wasn’t something I ate but felt like a thousand soft explosions of relief and hope and adoration. She is absolutely perfect.

Here is perfection.

Even though I had to change four of Spot’s toxic tar-poop diapers in one day and had to threaten Susan with Barbie-dismemberment if she wouldn’t throw her cantaloupe rinds in the trash right this minute, and even if Sally thinks it’s hilarious to say, “Mommy pooped in her diaper” in front of people I want to have think we’re normal.

Even though someday they’ll like boys.

Sometimes I sit and stare at Sally and Susan and Spot. Or I hold them on my lap and run my fingers over their baby-soft cheeks and tickle their smooth-squishy bellies and I feel this upswelling of wonder and almost panic. What will they remember? I want them to know: maybe you ARE annoying and like to ignore me and maybe I have to apologize for your loudness and stinkiness, but you are mine, and you are perfect.

Dear Sally, Grandma thinks you’re autistic and she can’t stop talking about it

{Back to HELP WANTED.}

Sometimes I think about homeschooling. This thinking usually peaks around May and plummets in July. The timing is handy, making me look forward to both summer vacation and to school starting again. And even though I know it’s a cycle, I can’t avoid it because let’s face it: two universal truths are competing here.

1) Kids are annoying. (Yes? You disagree? How about “high-energy” or “best-enjoyed-after-long-stretches-away-from-home”?)

2) Public school policy can be moronic.

I think I’m pretty rational (if liberal) about school attendance, so imagine my surprise when Sally’s school started sending home truancy notices last year. As if their attendance policies were somehow more significant than mine. Wait — Who gave birth to this kid? That’s what I thought.

When I reported to the school secretary, she advised getting doctors’ notes in future, as illnesses are excused. I asked, “How about I just tell you she’s sick. Because I don’t take her to the doctor for every cold or stomach bug, and I assume you don’t want green snot and vomit everywhere.” And the secretary kindly told me I could bring Sally in for them to determine that she is sick. As if I need anyone else to tell me my kid’s sick or to dispense a heavenly benediction upon my decision to keep my kid home from school. Just when, exactly, did public school import Principal Mao?

So. There’s a lot to be said for homeschooling, namely: freedom from dimwit public “officials” with unimaginable thirsts for power.

Then again (it’s July, after all), there’s much to be said for saying adios every morning at 8:30 and feeling genuinely excited to pick up the kids at 3. Love you again!!

I admit. This seems pretty unbalanced on the side of arranging things for mom’s benefit. Sure, Sally gets interaction and learns stuff at school. But I could set up playdates and fieldtrips and such. And now that she can read (after agonizing about her not reading by five, she read Harry Potter 1-4 last week), I am ultra-plus confident that she can and will learn whatever she wants to.

So why are we gazing longingly at the bins of Elmer’s glue and plastic pencil keepers? The stacks of freshly-cut paper and the Barbie backpacks?

The truth is, Sally needs other adults to love/emulate/admire. The longer she’s at home all day with me, the more needy she gets. I was teaching her Sunday school class at church until recently, and she always wanted to sit right by me, kissing my arm and distracting everyone.

Last June, Dick came home from a business trip on the last day of school. I picked him up at the airport and then we went to Sally’s school. I thought she would be ecstatic over seeing her beloved, fun, tolerant father. But she barely looked at him. She was inconsolable for a couple hours because she wouldn’t be seeing her teacher anymore: Mrs. Machol had announced that she was switching schools next year.

We reminded Sally that we were hoping to move too before the next year, and that she would be in second grade anyway. “But I won’t see her ever again,” she wailed.

Honestly? I was a bit miffed. Wasn’t she excited to see Daddy? Wasn’t she delighted about getting to be with Mom all the time? I promised to take her to the library (like kid crack) and swimming lessons (more kid crack) and Grandma’s house (ultimate kid crack), and, nothing.

Of course she bounced back, and this summer has been pretty good. But I want you to know that I am buying school supplies tomorrow, and next week I’ll call the school to see who she gets for second grade.

As long as her teachers are like Mrs. Machol and not Principal Mao, public school is best. For mom AND for Sally.

Don’t forget to go share your Things That Must Go. The LLBean Tote Bag giveaway ends tonight at midnight.

p.s. I don’t think Sally’s autistic. For one thing, she’s very affectionate and, for another, Grandma, despite all her other perfections, is not a trained psychologist. I’m sorry Sally was so crazy at the Little Women musical, Mom, but I don’t think autism was the problem.

For Nana and Grampa in Florida — Thanks for the dorky husband. Also, you’ll be glad to know your grandkids can swim

dick and susan swimmingFor a few months after my sister’s husband left her, Dick and I were really nice to each other. I cooked his favorite meals (or at least I cooked: not sure if they were actually favorites). He started putting Spot to bed along with her sisters.

Of course he does this completely wrong, letting Spot play for “five minutes” in the big girls’ room before being banished to her lonely crib, but I accepted that it was a nice gesture.

We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary and recounted our highlights, which consisted mostly of remembering fights in exotic locales (remember that discussion in Hyde Park when we went to Iceland and England for Spring Break at Columbia? There’s a reason people head SOUTH for Spring Break).

Then this weekend we went to my parents’ to celebrate my sister’s birthday. My dad got a little upset when I volunteered Dick for some outdoor labor, saying I shouldn’t “take advantage of his good nature.” I think my parents have spent the past ten years living in fear that my shrewish nature might finally push Dick over the edge, and I suppose now they’re really worried: What if Dick decides to follow the Prince of Darkness’s example and leave his innocent wife and three kids?

Well, I got news for you. First: I want Dick to know that if he ever left, I wouldn’t fight him for custody of the kids. It’d be a sacrifice, naturally, but he can have them all to himself. And second, I cannot imagine a person more different from my more-selfish-and-self-centered-than-Lindsay-Lohan-and-Bill-Clinton combined PoD brother-in-law than Dick. Whereas the PoD has both a Bentley and a Mercedes, Dick would like to buy a bike. From DI (like Salvation Army). Because riding a bike would be better exercise than the train.

I could go on, (I could mention our connubial life, and how superior Dick is in that area as well, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that my sister and I compare notes on that sort of thing. But we do, and Dick is. Much.)

Mostly I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I am blind to Dick’s flaws. He does have a few.

Number one being that he is, in all honesty, a dork. I should probably look in the urban dictionary for a term from this decade, but “dork” just fits. Here he is, pretending to drown. How inappropriate.

dick pretends to drown, susan swims the length from jane on Vimeo.

Just ignore those pet names we have for each other.

And here is Sally doing underwater somersaults. I am afraid that I might be a dork, too. At least I didn’t attempt a Michelle Obama-style bump. It’s humiliating enough to have your high-five go unacknowledged.

sally doing flips in the water from jane on Vimeo.a>.

Dick thinks I should get the kids in swim team. I think he should try driving them everywhere before he starts inventing new activities for them to do. I know, Nana and Grampa, Dick was a star in swim team. But, remember how annoying it was driving him to all those practices?

What? You say that sort of hands-on parenting is what produces such wonderful, dorky grown-ups? Argh.

Well, swim lessons start again on Monday, and I’m planning to keep my dorky husband, and that’s what works for me this week!

Things That Must Go and an LLBean Tote Bag giveaway are this weekend!