"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1816

Friday, September 30, 2011

Song of the Subaru

Hubby and I gave up our jaunty Subaru Forester in August and it still smarts. When we left it on the driveway at Carmax, we left behind a younger version of ourselves. A version that was sporty and environment-friendly. A version that refused to look beyond its own needs and desires.

We knew we had ignored our wiser subconscious when we bought the car three years ago. Then expecting our second child, we knew we eventually wanted a third, and, even if we somehow could shoehorn three carseats across its back seat (which we did when the time came), we knew there would be no further room for anyone besides our family.

But we bought the car anyway. It would get great mileage. We found it in a great bright blue. Our nephew got a Forester the same year for use during the cold winter months at his Midwestern college. I even put my college alumni license-plate frame proudly up on our new Subi. Now, two babies later, we know we never can return to our Subi mindset. Every decision that we now make has to secure the best outcomes for all parties, least among which are mama and dada.

In defense of our decision to buy our Subaru, we didn’t know when our third child would come. We didn’t know then, as we do now, how important carpooling would be to my ability to cope with the endless commitments of mothering. It’s time for our family to start building connections outward from our nested center now. Our new minivan is a crucial survival tool. For the kids and hubby but, most of all, for me.

So many little joys and sorrows were lodged between the Subaru’s two bumpers. It was the car we drove to the hospital when I was in slow afternoon labor with Toddler and then lurching night-time labor with Baby. Girlie contemplated the first boy to have a crush on her during one drive home from preschool in it. She was delighted.

How many hours did I spend in that car, circling between our house, the preschool, the library, and all the parks in town? How many minutes of sleep did the kids log in it, with their strawberry-tinted heads nodding and their thumbs hanging limply from their lips? How many oaths did I utter in it? How many prayers?

Before we finally pulled the trigger on the deal to buy our new minivan (it’s white) hubby begrudgingly voiced what we both probably had been thinking for weeks.

“It’s just a car,” he said, wincing. Even he had come around to a religious perspective on giving up the Subaru. We know we shouldn’t be attached to things.

But we were.

Really, it’s our former selves that we didn’t want to give up. With deep breaths we are facing this new life, this adulthood, every morning.

Oftentimes we face it with a prayer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Date with Steve Nash

The game was penciled in on our home calendar. March 29. The night Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns were coming to town to play the Sacramento Kings (yes, it’s a basketball team, not a hockey team, Dad) at what used to be ARCO Arena, now Power Balance Pavilion. There were more than a handful of reasons I wanted to go to the game, but the primary one was to see Steve Nash. In the flesh.

No, I’m not really a groupie. Steve Nash is the first – and probably only – basketball player I will ever have a crush on: Those pesky brown locks (curiously similar to my own), that soccer-player physique, darting here and there through defenders with the confidence of one who literally is at the top of his game. Of course, he’s about a foot taller than a soccer player.

In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons ranks Nash number 36 out of the 96 players in his Hall of Fame Pyramid. Nash is a legitimate athlete. Eighth in career assists… What girl doesn’t melt over a selfless guy? Please don’t tell me about his personal life. Let this tired and graying mama have her crush.

Hubby and I were overdue for a date night and although the prospect of the game was alluring we knew we couldn’t really afford it. Then somehow the stars aligned. Our babysitter was free on Tuesday nights. I figured out that I could make dinner at home and pack it up to eat in the car on the ride to the game. Hubby’s transit subsidy reimbursement check arrived in the mail.

It took only a few quick mouse clicks to secure tickets in the lower bowl at Power Balance (even upper bowl seats would have been acceptable in the small arena, hubby said). It had been 14 years since hubby, who grew up in this area, had been to a game there. It would be my first time. A lifelong fan, hubby had been grumpy about the Kings’ poor play and the prolonged discussions over whether or not, and eventually, how, the Kings would make their departure for Anaheim. He was glad now that the move seemed almost certain. Stem the heartache for good.

As soon as we sat down in our seats, the wood floorboards at our feet and Nash sinking threes in easy view, I knew we were in for a great time. We began the game rooting for Nash and the Suns. But the Kings gained confidence as the game minutes flew by. During warm ups it had looked like it would be another half-hearted outing for them. But no, the Kings realized that despite Nash’s best efforts they could win the game – and they did, 116-113. I was so caught up in the excitement I couldn’t bear to leave my seat to try to get Nash’s autograph on the chintzy Kings program, like I had planned.

The Kings fans embraced the unexpected win with the loving arms of a family welcoming home its lost pet. The guy in front of us videoed the entire last quarter of the game, he was so thrilled about the win. We chatted with the couple next to us who had traveled here from Lynchburg, Virginia expressly to see the Kings play at home before the team moves. Really.

As we walked back to our car clutching our free taco coupons like they were signed jerseys my husband and I even contemplated trying to make the Kings’ final game of the season against their nemesis, the Lakers, tonight. Our budget can’t take the beating. But it’s too bad Kings fever gripped us just when it least matters.

As for me and Nash, I think I’m gonna order a photo of him and mail it to the Suns PR department. Maybe Nash will have time to sign my picture now that the Suns season has ended. I’ll put it up in my sons’ room. It wouldn’t be proper for me to hang it over my night table.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Encouraging Words

The weeks are slipping by with no blog post. I have been scrapping around writing newspaper articles though. I’m taking a nonfiction research and interviewing class that has kept me nearly wholly in the mindset of newspaper writing.

I had recent encouragement of my newspaper writing from a prize I won for one of my articles. My article on the demise of a local moms magazine won second place in the Sacramento Press Journalism Open. The prize brought me $500 closer to my laptop and was my first actual payment for writing, if you consider an award a payment.

I mentioned the award to my grandma, “Nanny,” in a telephone conversation recently. She’s 99 and dealing with a mental condition called “aphasia,” a disorder of language comprehension and production. She seems to understand the gist of a conversation but then when it’s her turn to respond she gets it not quite right, using vocabulary incorrectly, or responding about a topic that is related but not on point.

Talking with her about the prize for my writing roused her. She clamored to communicate that she too, was a writer. She too, had stories for telling. This is a well known fact among her large family. She’s a gifted storyteller of her own imagined tales as well as of family stories. She has told me stories in her darkened living room that conjure a picture as bright as a television. I believe she has written down some of her stories. Relatives have also tape recorded her telling stories.

Through and despite her aphasia Nanny was hugely encouraging of my writing. She told me to keep doing it. She said I should get hubby to watch the kids for me so I could do it. She was regretful that she didn’t write more herself.

I gained the impression that despite the differences in our situation she understood exactly my wish to do something outside and apart from my mothering. Perhaps she felt that too. With her mind not able to accurately express itself these days, I can’t be sure. I didn’t take notes during our conversation and I wouldn’t venture to quote her.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tell Me a Story

My Girl Scout day camp was situated in a tall, dense Virginia woods, in a remote corner of one of the further flung Washington D.C. suburbs. It was about a half hour’s bus ride to the camp from a church near my home where my mother dropped me off each morning. We girls bounced along on the bus, glad to be together and without parents, clutching our camp bags packed full with our brown-paper nestled lunches, our sit-upons, and extra changes of clothes. We wore bandanas as head coverings to keep off deer ticks. The “swaps” safety-clipped to our bandanas swayed as the bus rounded the final turn before it swung into the camp’s tree-shrouded parking lot. …

My daughter has gotten into the habit of asking me to tell her a story every night after hubby and I have prayed with her and kissed and hugged her and she is all tucked into bed. At first I thought she was stalling. I thought she wanted a few more precious minutes with me or hubby - whoever got stuck that night telling the story.

I shouldn’t say “stuck,” of course. Girlie lights up our days with her jumpy breathless inquisitiveness, but at 8:00 or 9:00 at night we want to be done. DONE. We want to have our time together and separately, to decompress, to tidy the house for the night, watch a little TV and surf a little Internet. We even actually talk a bit.

So at first the storytelling was a chore for me. I would hang my head for a few moments, trying to compose something: “Once upon a time…” I struggled, reaching out into nothing, into my tiredness, where no words introduced themselves to me. Then finally I remembered. I remembered that the stories my mom told me mostly were true stories about her growing up. She told the same stories over and over to me: how her parents planned and executed the family’s annual camping trip each year; how she and her brothers and sisters saw scuba divers on the beach one night and thought they were monsters. She also told me older stories that her mother had told her: how her mother’s mother had sewn a penny into the hem of her dress in case she ever needed it…

In the past year I have started to think of myself as a writer. I am writing non-fiction, essays and newspaper pieces, not fiction. Writing true stories always has been easier for me than making something up. I returned to writing this past year through the comfortable entry point of writing true stories about my mothering. There weren’t any frozen fingers over the keyboard. Writing about my mothering just poured out.

Now, in telling stories to my daughter, I realize I am training my writing muscles. The more Girlie asks for stories and I try to tell them, the more I remember of the stories that are mine for telling. All the details well up in me as I grasp for them in Girlie’s softly glowing room, details that perhaps would have forever gone missing if she hadn’t pleaded yet another night, “Tell me a story.”

The storytelling benefits Girlie too. I trot out words she may or may not know and she asks me what the words mean. She asks me questions about what happened in my stories. She adds her own stories where they dovetail with mine. She learns listening skills. She learns the art of storytelling.

The telling of the true stories, of when I was girl, of my courtship with hubby, of our days before kids, of last year, helps to orient me in my new role of mother/teacher and, I think, helps to orient Girlie too. It gives her the map of a girlhood.

I have re-read this wonderful quote at least a dozen times since I found it in Lisa Garrigues’s book Writing Motherhood (The book deserves an entire post.):

“Writing can be a crucial skill, like cartography. Everybody lives in the middle of a landscape. Writing can provide a map.” (Phyllis Theroux)

The same is true for storytelling.