Big gulp


I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today she left without me
while I stayed behind and mopped up:
the floor, the walls, the ceiling,
the stickiness of me

I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today I spilled over,
supersized with my own wonderfulness
when I asked, “Want some Coke?”
(Which I never do, you see, since Mommy says it makes kids stop growing
and that settles that.)
I poured this one-time specialness over ice in a cup,
toasting my good-motherness,
our happy-togetherness,
handed it to her
and instantly it spilled,
emptied over homework and folder,
onto table and chair,
soaking the Crate and Barrel rug.

The poison rose in me like foam over a tumbler
streaming down the sides
puddling on the counter
my long tongue lashing out the blame
lathering the shame
my arms and legs erupting
in a crazy-lady dance
saving wet pages
wet carpet
letting her wet face dry by itself.

How awful, how inane, over a pause that refreshes?
Sugar water and dye.
I’ve had my pause. I’ve died.

I’m sick and sad and sorry to be
looking out the window
for my baby to come home
Standing alone
where I can catch the first gleam
It’s what moms do
we do it forever
even before we are moms.

The waiting is worth it.

* * *

For Denise. In fullness. Of time.

My bus


School’s out for many of you. But for some, it’s always just beginning.

I always knew where it would lead.

As we cruised down the street on the morning commute to nursery school, my two-year-old would pipe up from the back seat whenever the yellow bus rumbled into view.

“My bus, my bus!”

“That’s right,” I would carefully rejoin, “A bus,” affirming the noun, but not yet the pronoun, not the possession, not the slightest quiver of possibility that the public school just down the street would one day be hers. Years before the question of schools could reasonably be raised, I already felt the fluttering clutch of resistance to her baby-talk claim.

Which school for my daughter? I waffled. Haven’t a clue, I’d think. Never given it a thought, I’d shrug, although I’d given plenty of thought to how brilliant her future would be. How bountiful her birthright. How predestined her success. Although my husband and I were public school progeny, those were different times in different places with different kinds of parents, we thought. Our parents had neither the privilege nor the need for a choice.

Our school district was as underfunded as any and especially ill-favored by those with a chance of escaping it. Decades earlier, forced busing had decimated enrollments. As incomes and property values rose, the middle class that had once populated neighborhood schools was nowhere to be found. Sixty-three private schools educated more than one-third of all children in the district. Competition for admission was severe; tuitions were stratospheric. But for parents like us, parents who could pinch and scrimp their way to having a choice, there seemed to be no other choice.

This was the state of education in our country. This was the state of our country, in which the newly elite lived in fear of being left behind with the mass of others we had falsely promised to never leave behind. This was the road the yellow bus traveled twice a day: hauling mostly Hispanic kids to and from the apartment buildings that rimmed the industrial fringe of our suburb; collecting them on the littered streets at frosty dawns and delivering them to our quaint hometown school in our million-dollar neighborhood, made empty by a herd of us heading the other way.

***
To continue reading. To continue listening. To be continued.

Disconnect the dots


Even when the news is 2,500 years old, it can be useful to pay attention.

How the better half lives


Upon returning from the pet store with goldfish, hermit crabs and/or aquatic turtles, which have been called one of the most labor-intensive reptiles to maintain:

Don’t worry, you won’t have to do a thing.

Upon being reminded that it’s time to renew the car insurance, pay the property taxes, or fix the broken sprinkler that sprays a 30-foot geyser onto the neighbor’s front porch every morning.

It’s on my list.

Upon hearing of the bolt embedded in the tread of my brand-new tire:

That’s easy. Just drive it down to the station and wait for it to be fixed.

Upon learning of the first day of school, the date of the parent-teacher conference, the call from the school nurse, the school reading night, art night, volunteer night, open house, and the last day of school:

Wish I could be there.

Upon entering the kitchen while the lasagna is in the oven, the artichokes are steaming, the maple-glazed carrots are glistening, the salad is chilling and the garlic bread is warming 15 minutes before the company arrives:

Do you want me to grill something?

Upon opening the drawers where four dozen articles of clothing have been sorted, washed, dried, folded and returned every week for the last 12 years:

Thank god. I was almost out of underwear.

Upon getting out of bed, after the dog has been walked and fed, the water boiled, the beans ground, the slow-drip coffee made, the girl’s breakfast and lunch assembled, the dishwasher emptied, the permission slip signed, the homework checked and the child herded out of bed and wrestled into her school clothes, all by 7:25 a.m.:

Are you in a bad mood today?

Upon being asked to check his calendar for a week in the summer when it might be possible to plan a vacation.

Nothing. Not one word.

DISCLAIMER: These incidents are not exactly based on the real life of any actual better or worse half that I know. But they may be based on one you know.

The doormat of your life


One last thing my dog showed me.

Before the accident, Molly and I had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the home front. I’d leave the backdoor propped open and she’d wander out to do her business, whatever that was, and I stayed inside to do mine, whatever that was. The stipulations of her rehab now require mutual engagement. I have to decode her wags and whines to judge the likely outcome, the redeeming value, of a bothersome excursion.

Do you have a good reason to go outside, Molly? I test her intent as she tap dances her enthusiasm.

Lately, she has no good reason at all.

Because the sun is shining.

Because the earth is warm.

Because the grass is thick.

Because she is alive.

This is a line of argument that I do not practice. I hardly do anything for no good reason at all. Last week she led me outside by leash, and I followed, impatient for her to find the right spot as only a dog’s nose knows. But she had no business being outside. She simply plopped onto the lush carpet of mondo, letting the day’s radiance soak her sun-starved coat.

Amused, I took the time to gaze up through the canopy of maple leaves. Then I saw the painted birdhouse we hung five years ago when I felt interminably housebound with a three-year-old.


The project, like most of my projects, was a way to relieve my confinement. But there is really no part of life that is confined, no part that is just a tiresome interlude to be tolerated, or a penance to be endured, because life doesn’t come in parts. Every moment is your whole life.

In faded strokes I’d lettered under the portal it still says “Enter.”


Make yourself at home. Cross the threshold. Enter your life.

Dogs, birds, babies, everything, everywhere, all the time shows you how.

***

And if you’ve read this far, read a little farther still and see what I found in the laundry basket. It will take me forever to get it washed, dried, folded and put on the shelf.

No inside, no outside

Another thing my dog showed me.

Just the idea of it had me pacing anxiously. But there it was in black and white:

Molly should be STRICTLY CONFINED for the next 2 months in an airline kennel, crate or equivalent.

All my doubt and consternation rammed up against this barrier. Say what? A dog? A big dog? A big running, jumping, happy-go-lucky dog? Behind bars? For how long? Say what?

Truth is, just the idea of having a dog – a healthy, ambulatory dog – had seemed confining enough to me. And now the walls were squeezed to an inconceivably narrow enclosure.

We lugged the crate into the house. It loomed over the room. Black, menacing, punitive. Her prison. Our prison.

Molly walked inside the pen. She walked inside and laid down. She laid down and relaxed. She fell asleep. She snored her doggy dreams. When she got better, we began leaving the door unlatched. She ambled in by herself, undisturbed by what you or I might judge as the cruel separation of inside and outside.

She has never been anything but completely unconfined in her confinement, because she has no idea of confinement.

Me? I have been thrashing my head against these bars all my life.

Some are a quicker study.

Poetry in motion


One thing my dog showed me.

Plainly speaking, the benchmarks of convalescence are often the movement of bowels. So it was in the first weeks of my dog’s recuperation, as she swayed between long silences of worrisome constipation (She’ll explode!) and the urgent crescendos of an opposite kind (She’ll explode!).

One night, as her whimpers sounded oncoming eruptions, I hoisted her outside again and again. Four times that night. The quiet covered the yard like a blanket. The air was prickly with dew. Molly’s sore hindquarters convulsed, and I looked up at the sky. The moon’s dark lid was half lifted; her glowing eye kept sentry.

Night must be the birthplace, and the moon must be the mother, of patience.

Good dog


The author and Zen teacher Lin Jensen wrote a book entitled “Bad Dog!” I haven’t read it although now I want to, since Lin let me read an advance copy of his forthcoming book, “Together Under One Roof.” You will want to run out and fetch that book too as soon as it’s out. You will want to want to run and fetch and sit and stay with everything Lin writes from now on, as I do, because I have a hint of what he writes about in “Bad Dog!”

And that is that there is no such thing as a Bad Dog. Mercy me, there is no such thing.

This is what I have been learning so vividly in my relatively brief yet eventful tenure as a dog owner, in my slightly longer stint as a mother, in my considerable experience as a wife, on the bumpy road as a daughter, and even in those storied stretches when I’ve been bad at any and all of those things.

If you’ve been traveling here with me for a spell you know that Molly, our dog, came to us from my father’s house, after his death, after all other recourses failed, on good authority that if not yet altogether bad, she was probably difficult, quirky, nervous, untrained and prone to peeing on the carpet. Including his last, humiliating debilitation, those were the very things we would have said about my Dad.

Molly is none of those things, or maybe all of those things, but we just can’t tell anymore. We can’t tell because she’s such a damn Good Dog.

Her goodness was revealed to me in little bits, like milkbones, until Molly went and had herself a bad accident in March. It was the kind of accident that turns your day and night inside out for a good long while, topples your every notion of what a dog could and should do (and what you’d like to do yourself), rattles all that loose and shakes it silly.

She ruptured her ACL, the ligament behind the knee, repairable by a fabulously expensive surgery. She spent four days in the hospital and then came home with a list of post-op instructions that knocked the last bit of sense out of me. She was to be completely confined in a crate for two months, hoisted for weeks via a sling when hauled out expectantly to pee and poop, noosed for 14 days in an Elizabethan collar (a gross misnomer for its indignity) and kept painfree. I look at this list now and it doesn’t seem outrageous enough. It doesn’t seem like the list that left me deranged. We are now six weeks into the stretch, she and I, six weeks when we’ve never been closer or more dependent, and I can only say that I’m smiling now, my eyes flooding with love and appreciation, because she is such a Good Dog.

I’m dedicating this week to Molly so I can show you all the tricks she’s teaching me.

The cheese manifesto


Last week we shared the disappointing news with Georgia. “It doesn’t look like we are going to have the first girl president this time.” Then, moving swiftly to pre-empt a pout, we delivered the good news. “This means you could be the first girl president yourself!” She busied herself for a bit, then presented her first executive order:

Laws
No gasoline at all times
No violation on people’s proporty without pormishon
No war
No littering enywhere
No kids in front seat under 10 inless emergencey
No bombs
Every victum goes to the hospital as soon as possible
All violaters go to jail for 3 months
No one eats American cheese

***
L’enfant terrible! Elle est un francophile.

Happy Camembert, Everyone.

Quanswers

My last post generated a few curious and querulous comments each of which merits public response.

Shalet recognized that the “getting” was in the “forgetting” and how is that done? Moment after moment, we remember to forget. As my teacher vividly instructs, it’s like wearing out the sole of your shoe.

An anonymous reader protested that forgetting people is a disservice, and I wholeheartedly agree. We serve people not by forgetting them, but by forgetting ourselves. When our service is not selfless, it gives rise to such tragically amusing developments as this one. Good deeds undone because the outcome isn’t self-satisfying enough.

Mama Zen, that comically astute social observer, wondered what “Porn Dye” was, the nearly indecipherable writing that appears as the single item not crossed off the list in the *stolen* photo I used in the post. I can only guess that Porn Dye is what you see when you look too closely into things better left unseen.

The crooked crown of falling down


I’m holding steady this crooked crown
Knowing I’ll lose if I look down*

When my sisters and I were little – I mean really little – we used to gather around the TV on a sultry Saturday night in the late summer and watch the Miss America beauty pageant.

This is not a joke. This was in the days before we joked about such things.

We would sit inches from the screen, irradiated with anticipation, and choose our favorites even before all 50 girls had introduced themselves. Then we percolated through the rest of the program, through the talent and the evening gowns, through the arias and baton twirls, the sparkle, the suspense, the adoration and yearning, until a point of unbearable despair. A point that I discerned even at age 8 or 9, a point of tragic and humiliating desperation when I could watch no longer.

You see, there was a comic quiver in the girls’ outer thighs when they stalked the stage with mock pride and purpose (because what purpose could there be in wearing swimsuits with stilettos?) I turned my little-girl eyes aside and winced to see how earnestly they posed and yet how fraudulent they seemed, how tight and taut and twisted in pursuit of – what really? They were already pretty with perfect teeth and flat tummies and nice and friendly with bright futures and all, and here they were trying so hard to be something that they sure as heck weren’t going to be and we all knew it. We already knew it was going to be Miss Texas.

And although eventually the whole lot of us grew so smart and cynical about this kind of contest, I swear everything on TV today, everything in ads and magazines, everything on the Internet, everything in this country, everything in our lives, yes my life and yours, is just a reprise of this sad sport over and over every day. Not just about beauty, either. About fame, money, power, popularity, winning, losing and numbers, numbers, numbers. The desperate urging, chasing, yearning, selling. wishing, hoping, praying, prying, gnawing, groaning, clashing, crashing contest to be something more (or less) than what you are.

Not everyone sees this and weeps. But I do. To feel this very full and broken heart, to carry this unbearable sympathy and sadness, is to touch the very source of compassionate wisdom.

But to let go of the tortured striving for yourself? To let it all give way and lose nothing? That, dear Karen, is the path of enlightenment. What a refreshing topic to begin a new day, a new week, a new way. Which is the oldest way of all, the original unimproved, unretouched, you as you are way.

***
*Click here for more gospel.

Every day is Mother’s Day


Celebrate your life.

Must run to settle the fistfight in the kitchen between my fans.

Hand wash cold


A reprise, because somebody somewhere knows what this means.

I recently ordered a set of samue. Samue is a style of street clothing for Zen monks. This tiny piece of printed rice paper came tucked into the garment. I have no idea what it says, and for that very reason, I find it quite charming.

I imagine it could be laundry instructions. Maybe it says “Inspected by No. 12.”

It reminds me that, with only a change in perspective, the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty.

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