Souper Sunday


Outside chilled by drizzle, inside warmed by hearty homemade soup, no football in sight and yet we have a winner:

Bree of The Trott Family Blog wins an autographed copy of Momma Zen.

Thank you friends and visitors for playing along in the Bloggy Giveaway.

Now eat your soup.

When it pours


The other week my h-u-s-b-a-n-d stayed home on a Friday. What? Turns out his office closes every other Friday. What? But he’s usually either out of town or so busy that he can’t spare the day at home. What?

But on this day he’s home working, and I’m home working and he seems happy enough and then he looks up, a little disoriented, and asks what time our daughter gets out of school. I tell him 2:15. Then he says,

Maybe I’ll just go to a movie.

Now in all the nearly five years since my daughter started preschool, it has never once occurred to me to go to a movie during the daytime, during a weekday, when I could have stayed home and slaved like a worn-out washerwoman.

So I looked up at him dumbstruck and I thought, What is wrong with me? Why hasn’t it ever occurred to me to enjoy myself on a Friday before 2:15? But what I said was,

You could clean the rain gutters.

Cleaning the rain gutters, like nearly everything I do around here, is a job I don’t particularly like doing but a job I like to get done. In my first marriage, we paid someone to come around once a year and do the job for us. But that was before I took so seriously all those vows of worse and sickness and poorer. For all the years Ned and I have been together I’ve done the gutters on my own.

So he looked up at me and without even a sideways glance or a rolled eye, he said,

OK.

This is all I have to offer you. In a month when LA County has recorded about 55,000 inches of rainfall, he said OK, climbed up to the roof and rooted the mushy guck from the swollen gutters, and this is my testament, my only secret to a happy marriage.

***

We’ve plumb run out of fun with marriage this week. But you can still claim your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on Monday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!

It only looks like a doughnut

I’ve written before about the kind of work my h-u-s-b-a-n-d does. He’s in the long-distance business, the very long-distance business. Outer space.

Specifically, now he’s working on Mars. Seriously. When you work on Mars it involves daily side trips to the far reaches of Pasadena and occasional launches to Los Alamos, Washington and France. Before he worked on Mars, he worked on a couple of asteroids, which was a kind of a code word for Italy and Germany. When we met on that fateful evening in Florence, Italy, 13 years ago he was actually working on Saturn.

So you think it’s a surprise to me that I find myself alone so much? I always say the same thing to my friends in a similar circumstance, although it’s nubby comfort: Every mother is a single mother.

Now careful: I mean no offense to the single mothers who are fathers, or to the single mothers who really are single mothers. I do not know the depth of fear or frustration or anxiety, the financial hardship, the personal sacrifice, the sadness, the isolation or the inconsolable straits you may find yourself in, I only sense that most of us are in these things alone.

To his credit, Ned tries to interest me in the curious question of the composition, age and origin of the dust on the surface of the red planet, but that is not the aim of my life’s mission. My mission is to uncover the truth of my life on Earth, a mission that in my earlier days I had no earthly interest in at all. And so I know that I am indeed lucky to have this field to roam so freely on my own, to resolve my questions, to find the deep source of life and love right where I stand.

Even so, Ned’s absence gives me time and space to make trouble; it lets me boil and burn in my own flaming grievance; it invariably wears out my welcoming heart. He’s always happy to come home, and I am usually quite pissy about it. He has this habit of stopping near the airport and picking up two doughnuts as a coming home prize for Georgia and me. How is it that I can hate when he does that, but love when he does that? I eat mine promptly that night or next morning.

When I eat that doughnut, mind you, it only looks like a doughnut. What I am eating is my own clogged heart and deep-fried resentment. I’m swallowing residual anger and bad attitude. I’m chomping that ever-living ego of mine back to a manageable size so we can start over.

The search for intelligent life involves a lot of starting over and an advanced form of mathematics. As my daughter wrote in an email to her dad last night: YOU + ME + MOM + MOLLY (the dog) = 1.

***

Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on Monday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!

Lightbulbs go off


One morning last week, on a day Ned was in town, I came into the kitchen at god-awful thirty to start the coffee, breakfast and the slog of getting my daughter fed, dressed and bundled off to school. I found the kitchen nightlight pulled out of its socket and sitting on the counter.

First, you’re thinking: kitchen nightlight? It’s just one of the sweet little things that remains in our home from early parenthood, a beacon of comfort in case the baby crawls around in the dark at all hours.

I had an immediate and vivid certainty about why the light sat there on its side, and how it got there, but I plugged it back in and tested it, and it worked. So there.

The next morning I walked in to find the same thing sitting in the same way and I threw myself right into the investigation, turning on Ned.

Why do you keep taking out the nightlight? I charged.

He backed up a step and stammered. The bulb is burned out and I set it there to remind . . .

To remind me??? I cut in, quick, before he could even recover.

Because he frequently does things like this, you see, to help me out. If we run out of coffee, he leaves the empty canister conspicuously on the counter to call out to me. If his shaving creme is kaput, he leaves the empty aerosol perched on the rim of the bathroom vanity so I’ll notice while I parade through freshening up his towels and sorting his laundry. Some things, you see, just don’t have to be said, let alone done, by anybody but me.

I was going to replace it, he defended himself, but I don’t know where you keep the bulbs.

Where I keep the bulbs?

I pointed him straightaway to the closet two feet from where he stood, the closet devoted almost entirely to lightbulbs of every size, wattage and sustainability, a pharaoh’s tomb of lightbulbs nearly every one of which he bought and put on the shelf.

My first h-u-s-b-a-n-d (Beware: It can be very satisfying to say that), my first h-u-s-b-a-n-d- ran a hotel and he was never home. It’s understandable: we were a childless couple “married” to our careers. Now I never leave home and I feel like I run the hotel! How did it turn out like this? How did the whole thing spin a 180 on me?

Of course I know how, but I still don’t know why. I don’t know why to some people “clearing the table” means stacking the dirty plates on the counter then firing up a video game, and to others it means rinsing them off and loading the dishwasher. I don’t know why. I can never know why because there is no why to how things are done or even when they get done. All I have a handle on is the who. And the only who I have a handle on is me.

There is a mysterious symmetry, a cosmic boomerang, at work in our lives. It delivers us smack back into the scene of every crime from which we’ve ever fled, only with a comic twist, a change in perspective that widens our vision and illuminates, if we’re awake, a tiny nightlight of wisdom on the way to the refrigerator at 3 a.m.

Look who ended up in the hotel business! I run a fine hotel, and most days, I even like doing it. The days my lightbulb is on.

***

Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on yesterday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!

Giving yourself away

Yes, this is your Bloggy Giveaway. Just scroll down to the comments to enter. Check your entry to make sure that it includes a way I can reach you, or you won’t be included in the drawing.

Shortly after my daughter was born I spent long afternoons in shudders of sobs and laughter.

This was in the year 2000 before I could have entertained myself in front of this here screen for the better part of a day, so I parked my mushy butt in front of the great grandmother of all mommy blogs, the Neanderthal of reality TV, the ancient TLC. I would watch the hypnotic loop of The Baby Story followed by The Wedding Story followed by The Baby Story laughing and crying all the way.

I laughed at The Baby Story because most of these innocent, self-assured first-time mothers were about to give birth to an experience that was unlike anything they had ordered up, so contrary to their expectations, and so screamingly off-script. Then I bawled every time the baby was lifted up into their arms.

I cried at The Wedding Story because the goosepimply sense of romantic destiny, the adoration and most of all, friendship described by these couples was so unlike anything I experienced in my own marriage, either time. Neither time had I married what I would call “my best friend.” My best friend was back in Texas and if I called her and said I had a flat tire in the pouring rain on the 405 Freeway, she would have climbed on a plane with two umbrellas and a jack. If I had reached either one of my h-u-s-b-a-n-d-s, they would have said, “Call Triple A.” There are friends, and then there are advisors. My h-u-s-b-a-n-d Ned is not my most reliable friend, but he is my most consistent advisor.

By the time the happy couple on TV was drunk and dancing at the reception, by the time the wedding gown was stained and stepped on, the up-do coming undone, I would be laughing again.

We’d all better be laughing again, and soon.

Tears give way to laughter, laughter to tears. Marriage, motherhood, life, keeps handing us the opportunity to give ourselves away, and that’s how we become our own best friend and advisor. We marry ourselves for life, and we join Triple A. Everyone else who comes into the picture is there for laughs. The laughs always begin amid the tears.

***

Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment here. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Domestic addresses only. Make sure your comment links to your own blog or contains your email address so I can contact you when you win. Good luck!

One unique visitor


This post was inspired by Heather Armstrong (yes, that Heather), because I recently read an interview where she estimated that her blog had 55,000 unique site visitors every weekday. The interview was two years ago, so by now she probably has 5,555,000 unique site visitors every day. Can you imagine that? She’s so damn popular, so beautiful, so rich, so thin, so funny, so blonde, so talented, so insanely in love with her man, who seems so dependably to hold her hand and ease her way and make her laugh, that it unleashes in me a depth of awe and adulation that is indistinguishable, at times, from gut-rumbling hatred. Oh well. She has what she has, and I have my one unique site visitor.

One night last week I was checking my sitemeter for the 55,000th time that hour, and I spoke up to my dh, who for the sake of his privacy I’ll call “Ned.”

I said, “Hey Ned, someone just searched my blog for entries with the word h-u-s-b-a-n-d!” For the sake of my privacy, I’m spelling the word out every time I use it from here on out.

I turned to look at him then as he sat behind his laptop all of six feet away from me, and we both knew even before he grinned and said, “It was me.” Ned, sitting in the same house in the same room at the same time with me, searches my blog for some clue about my feelings for him, I suppose. Something unsaid to him but broadcast on and in-between the lines to my readers, a vast and influential audience steadily approaching 55,000.

This, friends, is the nature of our relationship. I’m not so sure that it isn’t the nature of every man-woman relationship, the nature of every marriage. The peculiar distance in sharing life side-by-side; the gulf between interests, feelings and pastimes; the doubt and isolation; the language, the view, the time, the space, the worlds that we do not occupy in common.

I’m dedicating this week to talking about this, this strange and universal phenomenon in partnerships and marriage, this unique visitor that some of us spell h-u-s-b-a-n-d.

Please keep me company. My Ned is out of town, your Ned might be out of town, and either way we always have each other.

All of the above

I did a little something different here this week because:

A. I was busy elsewhere.
B. I hadn’t read this old writing in about 10 years.
C. When I see it now I see it with new eyes: the pictures, the words, the recollections, the purity, the pain, the truth, the teaching, the wisdom that was waiting on the page all along.
D. I don’t want you to worry about yourself or your children. I don’t want you to worry that they won’t know a grandparent or have picture perfect happiness or a certain kind of memory. I don’t want you to worry that your skills are lacking, or that your children will end up hollow or ruined because of something said or done, or because of something that wasn’t said or done.
E. Tell me, please tell me that you see what hangs so clearly from this tree, what hangs from every tree, the only living thing that lasts, what refreshes and nourishes us forever, what we carry from day to day and season to season in an undiminished supply, that we need only reach up with our own hand to take and taste as our own.
F. Love.

A happy girl

First, a shout out to the wonderful parents at Serra Preschool in San Clemente, Calif., for welcoming me so graciously on a wet and wild Wednesday night. Your attention made me feel at home. And on that note, I’ll conclude this week’s story.

Home became a distant thing. She would write “Santa Monica” in the blank besides Birthplace, all those vowels imparting a faraway status. But they hardly ever returned there until they never went back at all. Her grandparents became faint and frail, even by phone. Grandma died first, a long and lonely departure. Then grandpa came to Texas for his turn. He was stooped and stale and forgetful, forgetting even to buckle his belt, since he couldn’t unbuckle it again. She had learned more about him by then. She had learned who he wasn’t. He wasn’t big and never had been, being a half-foot short of six feet tall. By then a young woman, she had already begun to choose big boys and men to stand beside, only later realizing the misperception. To a four-year-old, five-foot-six was big enough.

She held fast to what she later learned, the family secrets and perpetual failings, and forgot the rest. She forgot about California. Only recently, in the long sad summer which had just ended, and at the suggestion of a counselor running thin on weekly advice, had she looked through grandma’s photo albums, now in her closet, with open eyes. She saw herself again, and she was stunned. I was a happy girl.

A smithereen heap


Later, when she wasn’t near as small or cute anymore, but grandpa still glowed at the sight of her, her mom and dad moved to Texas. It was the week after Bobby Kennedy was shot right there in LA and on TV. Her dad had moved out first and alone, starting a new job and finding them a brand new Texas house with each their own bedroom and furniture. Her big sister graduated from eighth grade and they loaded up the new Ford Torino station wagon, her mom and the girls. They drove off and left California, the oranges and grandpa and grandma. Somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico, they heard a thudding crash and pulled over on the highway to see her mom’s master’s degree typewriter, a sacred thing, a centerpiece of their lives and a fixture on the dining room table for as long as they could remember, smashed in a smithereen heap in the middle of the road. It had flown off the wagon roof. Things weren’t tied down so good after all.

Her mom stood helplessly on the roadside in the desert wind. Watching from the backseat, she stifled tears for her mother, the tears she would cry in her princess canopy bed to the late night shouts in the living room in the years to come.

Milk and sugar cubes


Those might be any of the days but every night ended in the same way, doused in the ritual scent of Old Spice. Grandpa shaved in the evenings because he got up before dawn. Oranges were a life but they weren’t a living. He worked for Union Oil Company on Torrey Mountain, wearing blue work pants and carrying a painted black lunch box and when he got up in the dark to do it, she got up with him. He would fix a cup for him and her too in a tiny Tupperware tumbler, mostly milk and two sugar cubes, and they would face the coming day together in a fearless way, sipping coffee and sitting side-by-side in silence on the davenport.

And if it could ever be so, this was a place where leaving, even the leaving, was the best part of all. Grandpa would load them in his car for the two-minute drive up to the two-bit migrant town, park along the stubby curb and open the screen door to Lechler’s Grocery. These are my girls, Harry, he’d announce, as the three little ones shyly advanced on the cool cement floor. Harry would then fix up three identical bags of penny candy, precious cargo for the long trip home with mom and dad. When the dentist decreed and mom imposed, grandpa replaced the forbidden candy with two dollars each cash spending money and still took the girls to Lechler’s just for the showing off.

Yes I can taste it


And then there were the rose bushes, giant, taller than her with blooms that dwarfed her head when her grandma propped her there in her white gloves and patent leathers for an Easter snapshot. There was the honeysuckle vine that crept up over the shade arbor, eventually collapsing it, with the tiniest little filament right there, that one, that she pulled so carefully and touched to her tongue yes yes I can taste it. There were the tree swings and the black barrel barbecue for roasting marshmallows, the orange push-up popsicles kept in the freezer drawer. No evening without ice cream, no sir, gallons and gallons of Knudsen’s vanilla for grandpa and her, which might have been the death of him, but which she could take on the back porch in an ice-cold bowl carefully carefully and if it was still light, mash and stir to a frothy soup in the game called Making a Cake for President Kennedy.

There were long, sunny days with water sprinkler chases and front-room dance recitals, LP singalongs to Marty Robbins or Patsy Cline and black pitted olives in a glass dish on the supper table. She popped the olives like palace guard hats on her fingertips and ate them off one by one. Most everyone frowned at that but not him. He laughed out loud and so she did it every time, his Irisher.

Letter from home


Because these are the days when we watch for the oranges to ripen, and I can once again see them about to burst.

Home was once a funny word, since it was rarely the place that she lived.

She had been born in California, the granddaughter of a big-shouldered Illinois Irishman who’d come to the golden brink and ended up in all ways empty-handed. She was one of three little granddaughters, all loved so true that none doubted she was grandpa’s favorite, or that his house was where they belonged.

At home with mom and dad was a prickly kind of place, where the air sometimes froze and the ground swayed and the safest place to be was tucked out of sight. You could find her there, or you might forget to look.

At grandpa’s was different. It was a little patch of parched ground at the end of the road called the Road to Grandpa’s, an hour or so up the way from their starter house in LA and long after the littlest one in the backseat asked, “Are we still in California?” Grandpa’s was a tidy four-room box of a white and yellow handmade house in an orange grove ocean with a mountain in the distance, a mountain with a name they all knew, because grandpa always called it by name, Torrey Mountain, like he called everything by name, the names he gave if there were none, to pet pigeons and doves and chickens and the rooster and duck and dogs, sometimes cats, her grandmother, her sisters and her, the one he called My Little Irisher.

They would tumble out of the wagon on these, which must have been weekly trips when she was young, and her parents were achingly young and the cord that connected them all was noose tight but not yet torn. Tumble into the dusty earth and the endless rows of oranges which she knew stretched on forever at least until the highway way far away which was where grandpa’s two-acre spread played out.

First, yes there were the oranges, very special oranges which would be the very Sunkist oranges that you saw advertised on TV, which must be irrigated on rare and significant days known as Irrigation Days which were serious from beginning to end and produced the most luscious grade of mud which they were allowed to slog and squish through calf-high in the game known as Grand Central Station, these little raggedy girls having no earthly idea what a grand or a central or a station might otherwise be.

First there were the oranges. And then, and then.

Return to sender


And so we come to the end of our series on writing, the day that we confront the rather convincing body of evidence that no one likes you, no one wants to read you, no one wants to publish you and you’ll never work in this town again.

No, no, no, no, no, no. A million times no.

First you start showing people your work. No.
Then you start sending queries. No.
Then you try an essay or article. No.
Then you start sending proposals or manuscripts. No.

Not at this time. Not a right fit. Not a good match. No.

I mean yes.

Because every one of these dead ends is a beginning. Seriously. This is not cotton candy rainbow fairy talk. Every time you hear no, every time the door slams, it swings back open just a crack and gives you a glimpse of where you should go. And it’s never that far away.

Sure, every time I went to the inbox or the mailbox and saw that SASE shoot me straight back through the heart, I fell hard. I fell face first. I laid there in the dirt. I rolled in it; I covered myself in it; I was filthy dirty low. Then eventually I’d get up and dust off.

“I’m giving up!” I’d tell my husband as I crept back to the desk, opened a file and started over. We tell ourselves that these blind, idiotic, insensitive, stupid editors and agents are blind, idiotic, insensitive and stupid. But they are usually right. It really isn’t the time, fit or match. You really haven’t finished. You really aren’t ready. You still have a little turn or two to make.

Rejections usually point you to the last place you want to go, dammit. To the place you’re afraid of exploring in your work, to the discipline and the form, to the point you’re afraid to make, to the authority you’re afraid to claim, to the resistance you so stubbornly clutch.

One day I really did give up. I stopped trying to sound like someone I wasn’t. I stopped hiding from who I really was. I stopped making stuff up! The very place you fear you are lacking is your source of hidden treasure. Go there.

If you’re afraid to start, start.
If you’re afraid to say it, say it.
If you’re afraid to cut it, cut it.
If you’re afraid to send it, send it.
If you’re afraid to try, try.
If you’re afraid to change it, change it.
If you’re afraid to let go, let go.
If you’re afraid to give up, give up. It won’t be the last of you!

No matter where it leads, trust your life completely and you’ll end up someplace new. In that spirit, I make a deep bow to the glorious eye, hand and heart of Denise, who just this week proved my point in multitude. Not only did she give this gift to her beautiful pregnant friend Stacie, they both gave the gift back to me. You see it here. And that’s how it always ends. I mean begins.


Photo Credit: Boho Photography

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