Sunday Scribblings

15May

Chai and Dry

Raindrops are rolling out of overfilled clouds and scattering evenly into our balcony planters from which seedlings slurp and spring skyward. The daisies are practically giddy; I, meanwhile, am tucked up inside with a mug of peppery chai trying to stave off nap-envy. As much as I would love to doze away the afternoon in a nest of flannel sheets, the results would not be pretty:

Exhibit A: Hungry children’s pleas for supper wake up my brain but otherwise fail to lodge it out of rigor mortis. (I have heard rumors that naps actually make some people less tired rather than more, but I’ve never come across any supporting evidence.)

Exhibit B: Mothering instincts eventually drag me out of bed by the ear; however, they do nothing to diminish my ill will toward mankind, specifically the portion of mankind requesting me to make pasta for them.

Exhibit C: I slump to the kitchen with all the motivation of a dead leaf and then realize how late the time is, how little I’ve accomplished today, and how very much I dislike existing.

Exhibit D: I stay up three hours past bedtime trying to accomplish more, more, more but really just stirring up dust and aggravating my rigor mortis… and then, when I finally lay me down to sleep, I can’t (see above re: nap).

I get that rest is important, and our gentle Italian life has helped me to see relaxation as a treasure rather than a waste of time, but I haven’t yet reached the stage of self-actualization that will let me wake up from a nap as anything other than an obsessive-compulsive corpse. So sorry rain and flannel and Siren-soft afternoon, but there will be no surrender today.

So long, chai

21Feb

Prompt Delay

Sunday Scribblings used to post writing prompts on Thursday so participants could have the whole weekend to wade in words and come up on Sunday clutching a fresh story. At least that’s how I saw it from my sporadic spot at the computer. But then Thursday turned into Friday and Friday to Saturday and Saturday to so late on Sunday that Italian calendars had already flipped to Monday… and nobody wants to read Sunday Scribblings on a Monday. However, when this week’s prompt nodded its tardy hello from my feed reader, I knew exactly what I wanted to post.

The prompt was food; the essay I had in mind was written two years ago and never published, though not for lack of trying. In fact, it won me my first honest-to-goodness rejection letter. “Thanks so much,” the magazine editor wrote, “but we don’t have a spot for this.” Cordial and blessedly succinct but rejection all the same. I’ve since realized that I employ two different ways of coping with rejection: one is to cry while plunging into a creative funk and the other is to repress while plunging into a creative funk. In this instance, I repressed. I buried the letter, typed “Rejected” at the top of my essay, and then got busy forgetting either one ever existed.

Today’s Sunday Scribblings’ prompt brought the essay back to mind though, and I decided hey, if it’s not good enough for publication, I can at least use it on my blog. No rejection letters this time, guaranteed. However, as I read over my concoction of words I had shoved to the back of the fridge two years ago, I realized it was good. Age hadn’t diluted any of its original flavor. It still brimmed with the succulence that had inspired me to submit it in the first place, and the corresponding rejection note felt as insignificant as a fly to be brushed away.

Which explains why I spent the girls’ naptime researching literary journals and why, instead of an essay on food, you now get a photograph of a dark-chocolate-salted-caramel cupcake waiting to be devoured by an overly sensitive writer.

Dark chocolate salted caramel cupcake

I call it Food for Rethought.

7Feb

Wicked

“It seems funny and horrible to think of Diana’s being married,” sighed Anne, hugging her knees and looking through the gap in the Haunted Wood to the light that was shining in Diana’s room.
“I don’t see what’s horrible about it, when she’s doing so well,” said Mrs. Lynde emphatically. “Fred Wright has a fine farm and he is a model young man.”
“He certainly isn’t the wild, dashing, wicked, young man Diana once wanted to marry,” smiled Anne. “Fred is extremely good.”
“That’s just what he ought to be. Would you want Diana to marry a wicked man? Or marry one yourself?”
“Oh, no. I wouldn’t want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I’d like it if he could be wicked and wouldn’t. Now, Fred is hopelessly good.”

(Anne of the Island)

~~~

When Dan and I started dating, the only thing I wanted to do more than get swept off into our personal Happily Ever After was to break up with him.

It was for his sake, you see. I was a psychological disasterpiece back then (as opposed to the mere social casualty I am now). Though I no longer lived at home and had faced the pain of my childhood pen-first, my mind was still at the mercy of old dogma. The God I knew required sacrifice, so I worked when I should have been sleeping, skipped breakfast, and stumbled through crowded days feeling as valuable to the world as a wad of overchewed gum. I judged people as I had been judged with a persistent, needling criticism that made me want to rip out my own brain. My heart was deeply pitted, oozing dark secrets like tar, strewn with scar tissue like emotional speed bumps. Romance was the last thing I needed. Romance was the last thing I deserved.

It found me anyway. It came as friendship but quickly unfurled into something more, something sweet and affirming and scary as hell. Dan’s kindness threatened my jagged defenses in a way that nothing had ever done before. I tottered on the verge of a thousand nervous breakdowns the first week and two thousand the second. Holding hands sent me into a panic. I was falling for him, yes… but I still wished he had stayed away. He was so good to me, so good, and I was convinced that my true self would be toxic for him.

I also looked down on him for it. I felt like his reservoir of experience was a puddle compared with my ocean; he had grown up happily whereas I had worshipped the divine bogeyman and dreamt with demons. I, the über-sheltered girl from an extremist conservative home, viewed him as naive. The more I loathed myself, the more I resented him for loving me, and I finally decided to come clean. Scaring him off early in the relationship would be a mercy, after all.

Only he wasn’t scared off. He wasn’t even scandalized. He didn’t crumble under the weight of my baggage, and he didn’t bat an eye when I brought up taboo topics. He was deep, strong, and anything but the “hopelessly good” featherweight I had pinned him as. Even neck-deep in the mess of myself, I wasn’t too much for him.

We will have been married eight years this summer, and when a friend asks about our story, I share the light-hearted details of how we met. However, our real love story started for me the moment I realized the kind, thoughtful, respectable man tenderly holding my hand could be wicked and wouldn’t.

Mommy loves Daddy

The wild and dashing part is just icing on the cake.

3Oct

Starry-Eyed

Sometimes,
I forget that marriage is my own real-life romance,
the same filigreed fabric woven with
our luminous first kiss,
vows handwritten as love letters,
anniversary trips to Venice, NYC, and Rome…

Sometimes,
among the bills and dirty diapers,
our orbits colliding within the same four walls,
marriage lowers its starry eyes
and takes on the antiseptic green of
an institution.

But sometimes,
when he’s away,
memories sift like sunlight through the holes:
glasses of wine in cobblestone cafés,
the living puzzle of our hands,
the core temperature of our last kiss melting memories of our first…

And sometimes,
I have to turn off the chick flicks halfway through
because glamorous actors
and heart-nudging storylines
are only a Netflix imitation of
this.

15Jun

Ay to the Caramba

What was that? You want to hear the details of our overseas trip and/or are in the mood for horror? Well, if you insist.

I keep wondering if it all went wrong because we didn’t call a taxi. Saturday morning in Madrid was quiet, the whole city and the sun itself still groggy from their traditional late nights, and we decided to save money by taking public transportation to the airport. Technically, nothing went wrong (which is probably a miracle in itself). But by the time we had taken the bus, found the right Metro entrance, lugged the stroller up and down three sets of underground stairs, caught the two different trains for the airport, bought the ticket supplements to get into the airport, and walked for a week to the international terminal, we only had two hours left before our flight. And we couldn’t find the check-in counter.

Mangling the Spanish language beyond recognition, we asked an airport official for the American Airlines counter. He pointed us to the opposite end of the building, at which point we asked another official. He pointed us back the way we came. I thought bad words in Spanish. We finally found an information desk with—heaven!—someone who spoke English. “Oh no, no, no,” he clucked at us. “You can’t just ask anybody these things. You have to ask someone who knows. No, no, you are in the wrong terminal. You have to go outside and take the bus to Terminal 4. Here is the number for your check-in desk, and don’t worry; your flight has been delayed an hour!” We ducked away as he launched into a story about why some of the international airlines were not to be found in the international terminal, blessing the powers that be that we had an extra hour on our hands.

We took the bus. We found our counter. We waited in line until our turn… and found out it wasn’t the right counter. Not even the right airline. Oh, and our flight had not been delayed at all; it had been moved up. With only one hour left, we found the correct counter and waited a-tremble through the line. “Do not worry,” said the woman behind the check-in counter. “You have plenty of time. Except, there is a big problem.” She explained that their system did not show a ticket reserved for Sophie, and we were sent to wait in line at the ticketing office.

Natalie and I trotted off to buy some breakfast while Dan solved the situation, and when we came back, he was begging to talk with the ticket agent’s supervisor. Ten minutes later, he was still begging to talk with the supervisor. Twenty minutes later. Thirty minutes later. Finally, the ticket agent relented and called her supervisor, who shrieked on the phone, “Their flight leaves in twenty minutes?! Why are we still talking? Get them on the plane!”

Eight blue-clad employees sprang into action. They slapped tags on our luggage, shoved a temporary ticket into our hands, and told us to run. “We’ll figure this out by the time you get to your gate,” they assured. So we ran the fifty yards to security. We got through and ran to the shuttle. We got off at the right stop and ran to the passport check… and nearly plowed into the 400 people in line before us. No time for courtesy; we dodged our way to the front, explaining in-between breaths that our plane left in a few minutes. We made it through and ran like we’ve never run before to our gate, where flight attendants were calling “Bassett!” Natalie and I dashed onto the plane while Dan paid the finally-determined amount for Sophie’s ticket, and we settled into our seats with still-warm breakfast sandwiches as the overseas flight took off.

The situation was decidedly un-funny until we were up in the air, at which point a laugh and a few more bad words and then another laugh were in order. The flight was smooth, and the girls did great. Once we landed, all we had to do was catch a short connecting flight, and we’d be done. Well, pick up our luggage and then catch the connecting flight. Well actually, only pick up the particular luggage items that the airline hadn’t lost.

We waited while someone in a uniform looked below for our luggage, and by the time he assured us it wasn’t coming, the line for Customs was fanned around the carousels to the very back of the building. We looked up the time at the exact minute our connecting flight was scheduled to take off. I thought unscriptural things about our airline. After this point, the story just gets tedious and teeth-gnashing: more lines, still more lines, a screaming Sophie who got us promoted to the front of the line, no way to call the relatives who were supposed to pick us up, replacement tickets for a flight several hours later, a flight delay, a second flight delay, a third flight delay, a 20-minute flight through a lightening storm, and finally a safe arrival at an hour our bodies expected to be waking up from a long night of sleep.

I will need counseling and maybe a few exorcisms to get over the trip itself, but I can’t entirely begrudge the effort taken to get here… soaking up the Florida sun in the lazy river, eating chocolate frosting with forks, and cramming into the minivan to sing Beastie Boys at top volume (while Dan’s mom teaches Sophie DJ scratching motions). Oh, I love my family-in-law. Their superpower is talking—both the Italian mealtime variety and the midnight heart-to-heart kind—and they like each other. It’s exactly the kind of vacation my sponge-thirsty heart needs.

Especially after that trip. Ay to the caramba.

10May

Gentle Tsunami

I was walking home from the park three days ago hand-in-hand with my daughters, smears of frozen yogurt on our cheeks and playground gravel under our fingernails, when it hit me. Grace. Like a gentle tsunami, it washed over that moment. Then, at half-past-naptime in the afternoon. There, under the silver-glinted olive trees. My hands clasped with the two little girls who make me crazy with love (and sometimes just crazy)… and I whispered “Thank you” into the springtime sky.

Mommy with her girls 1

I remember another Sunday years ago when I sat in our church’s youth group after a particularly terrifying lesson. I was already a veteran victim of religious terror, and our church had raised the bar impossibly high with the unit study on demons when I was in 5th grade. Still, this particular Sunday’s message was the most frightening of my life: You are doomed to commit the same sins your parents did. It was an interpretation of Exodus 20:5 that many Christians accept, and it scared me into a hopeless panic.

“Please, God, no!” I prayed over and over like a character in a scratchy black and white film. “Please, God, no! Please, God, no! I don’t want to hurt my own children one day, I don’t want them to end up like me. Please, God…” I muddled through vague resolutions not to ever fall in love or get married, not to ever, ever make a baby. I was heartbroken. Damned.

In college, I met, kissed, and married my husband within ten short months, irreversibly losing my anti-marriage resolve. However, my fear was still alive. I felt it in the secret passageways of my anatomy every day of married life. I tasted its metallic bitterness. It compounded in my chest when I leafed through Anne Geddes books, wondering what kind of monster a baby would unleash in me. I did not want to find out. I adored children, so I was particularly cautious not to have one myself.

Another Bible study turned the tides. I worked through Beth Moore’s “Breaking Free” with a group of college friends and learned that faulty translation had created all this mess. Exodus 20:5 in the original language says that the “sins of the fathers” (oh, what a sinister phrase) are taken into account by God. As in, God understands how the misdeeds of older generations affect younger generations. Other Bible passages such as Ezekiel 18 go into greater detail on how people’s choices and consequences are solely their own… but this isn’t meant to be a Bible study. It’s the story of how my fear let out a surprised “Oh!” and vanished in a wisp of smoke.

That very next summer, I got pregnant with Natalie. And while I still had some freakouts and hyperventilations to work out of my system, I welcomed her to the world with a fuzzy, warm, king-sized happiness. I met my baby and turned into a mother.

Meeting Mom

Four years and two months later, I played with my daughters all afternoon at the park. We picked Sophie’s favorite miniature daisies and flew on pink horses that Natalie conjured up. We ran all the way home for a potty break and then back out for frozen yogurt topped with white chocolate, strawberries, and heaps of colorful sprinkles. We walked home giggling, and I realized with the full profundity of a once-afraid soul that God answered. For all my faults—getting frustrated with the incessant toddler messes, blocking out every third hour of the incessant preschool chatter, saying “We’ll do that later” far too often—I have been spared the pain of becoming an abusive parent. My own hurts are even healing under the skilled touch of grace. The fear is simply a forgotten nightmare; grace is my here-and-now. Grace is why today, I can hug those little girls with a heart full of our delicious memories and say, “Happy Mother’s Day to you too.”

Mother's Day toes
22Feb

Fail/Pass

They’re sleeping in the next room… or at least the older one is, curled up neatly on her bunk bed where I left her, propriety intact. The younger one is still dancing around in her slipper socks, strewing books and toys across the floor and shouting “Da da da da da!” in blatant disregard for all known rules of naptime. Instinct tells me I should be stern with her, but I can’t help giggling. I adore those girls.

In just over a week, my oldest turns four—an impossible, terrifying, glittery-pink age that will suit her perfectly. I don’t know how this happened, and it occurred to me that the girls may be in dentures and Depends before I reconcile myself to their growing up. It’s like getting hit over the head with a final exam for which I’ve never studied: How can you raise your strong, vibrant preschoolers into strong, vibrant women? Present your answer in 14 years or less.

Uh, I have no idea. My own formative years were sponsored by the decade 1860 and the planet Mortificationus; no help there. I’ve worked with children from infancy through college age without ever unraveling the mystery of parenting, learning which colors and patterns work together to keep the kids out of therapy. I know an encyclopedia’s worth of Don’ts, but only two and maybe a half Do’s. This scares me.

The only two things I have going for me are that I love my daughters, as immensely and achingly as a mama can, and that they trust me. I doubt every molecule in my body from time to time, but they haven’t yet learned the logic of parent = human = fallible. And even though that feels like cheating, their good impression of me boosts my confidence until I begin to think I could actually nurture them without any disastrous side effects. And maybe it’s not cheating at all…

Because my daughters absolutely can trust me to stick with them through the best and worst times of their lives. They can trust me to give them honest answers on sticky topics and to encourage their independence. They can trust me to teach them about boys and bodies and creativity and forging a future. They can trust me to read family bedtime stories as long as I can force them to sit still they’ll let me. They can trust that their precious hearts, their technicolor personalities, and their treasure troves of dreams are held securely in their mommy’s love. And they can always trust that when I embarrass them beyond all hope of recovery, I’ll be able to embarrass them further still with a cautionary tale from my own childhood.

I may pass this exam after all.

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