Done calling myself “busy”

thIf a life is like a

Jar full of rocks,

My jar is objectively

Pretty full.

I’m married,

We have four kids

Ages two to fifteen.

My husband and I both

Work full-time.

I spend time every week with my

12-step program and my church.

I see friends frequently.

Exercise daily.

Have a blog, and am

Working on a novel.

And yet,

I made a decision at the

New year:

I’m going to stop calling myself

“Busy.”

A rich life?

Absolutely.

A busy one?

No thanks.

When people asked

How I was, I always answered,

“Good.

Busy,”

The “busy” somehow a

Qualifier to the “good.”

The busier I thought of myself

And the busier I told people I was,

The busier I felt.

Just saying the word

“Busy”

Tightens my chest like

Twisting a piece of cloth.

The panic of

Not enough time,

Feeling like I’m trying to do the

Impossible:

Fit more into this span of time

Than the limitations of our world

Allow for.

Or, to tack on to the

Rocks-in-jar metaphor,

To try to cram more rocks

Into the jar than

The jar can hold.

(Pushing down on rocks to

Compress them

Is a futile exercise,

A waste of time and energy,

And can break the fragile jar-vessel.)

There have been times when I’ve

Glimpsed the

Self-induced spin I’ve

Put myself into.

Sudden breaks in the action when,

Between this and that activity,

I have an unexpected blip of unplanned time,

And I’m at a loss.

I actually grasp for the

Next thing

(Or my

So-called

Smart

Phone)

Because I’m so

Unpracticed at just

Hanging out.

Being.

There’s also a

Self-importance to my

Busyness, and an

Implication that

I don’t really have time for

You,

So if I’m standing here

Talking to you,

You’re imposing on my

Precious

Time.

(Even if I have a smile on my face.)

In the last few months,

I started to suspect that,

Maybe I’m not as

Busy

As I think I am.

I’ve got a lot of rocks in my jar,

But there are

Spaces between the rocks.

And room at the top for

New rocks,

If I want there to be.

Thinking of myself as

Busy,

I cut myself off from the

Serendipitous.

I’m so focused on

The next thing to do that

I don’t even see all these

Cool things and

Cool people

Happening around me.

I catch myself now.

When people ask me how I am,

I don’t tack on the

“Busy”

Qualifier.

I’m trying to focus more on the

Spaces between the rocks,

The air in there,

The nothingness.

Those spaces,

That’s my paradise.

That’s my wandering without aim,

My earplug-quiet and darkness

Just before sleep,

My Sunday mornings when we

Skip church,

My clocklessness,

My finding myself with

Nothing to do,

And

Not reaching for my

Smart phone.

Paradise amongst the

Rocks.

 

 

 

 

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My little white boy in an all-black program

Pixelation14There’s almost nothing

I’d rather

Not write about

Than this:

Race,

And the honest truth about how I

Respond to racial difference.

But here goes.

After searching online,

I found a new after-school program

For my 9-year-old:

One that’s affordable and

Convenient,

That his school will bus him to,

And that had an opening.

I went over to

Sign him up and

As I was standing there

Waiting for the director to

Get some paperwork,

I read a brochure about the program

That I hadn’t seen online.

I learned that this program is

Intended to demonstrate and teach

African-American heritage to its students

Through different art forms.

And then I looked around and realized that

All the staff and kids

Were black.

I had two nearly simultaneous reactions:

Wariness–

Actually,

Let’s just call it what it is:

Fear–

Of putting my little white

Finnish boy in an all-black environment.

And then,

Immediately,

Shame for feeling that way.

For the next couple days before

He started there,

I thought about my son.

At nine, he was too old now to

Not notice race,

But not old enough to have

Too many culturally prescribed

Notions about it.

It was going to be something

New for him,

Something I’ve never experienced

In my life

Ever.

For the first few weeks

Everything went great.

Everyone was friendly and welcoming,

The kids calling out,

“Bye Victor!” when I’d come to pick him up,

The staff giving me an

Indulgent play-by-play of his activities.

In the car,

I’d ask him how it went,

And he said his usual:

“Fine.”

And then one day,

When I came to pick him up,

He was sitting on a bench

In the playground

Instead of playing with the

Other kids.

In the car

When I asked how things had gone that day,

He said,

“I dunno.”

I tried to probe a little, and he finally said,

“I don’t wanna go back there.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I feel embarrassed.”

“Why do you feel embarrassed?”

“Because I’m the only white.”

So.

Here we go.

At that moment,

There was a part of me that wanted to

Yank him out of that program

To protect him from ever having to feel

Unsure of himself,

Or wary,

Or out of place.

But I knew that wasn’t

The answer.

He was going to stay in that program.

And we were going to talk about this.

“You know, buddy,” I heard myself say.

“A lot of black kids in Minnesota

Experience it all the time,

Being the only black kid in the room.”

I named a boy in his class at school

Who is one of a couple black kids

In his class.

And I told him about the

Handful of black kids at my

White suburban high school.

And I told him about how

I wish I’d had an experience

Like his

When I was his age.

What became clear as I

Stumbled my way through this

Conversation,

Watching him through the rear view mirror

As he gazed out the car window,

Screwing up his nose to push his glasses up

The way he does,

Was that I had

No

Answers

For him.

Just a handful of experiences

And a freaked out

Willingness to

Discuss

If he wanted to discuss.

Now when I come to pick him up

I find him out of the playground with the

Other kids,

And he went back to saying,

“Fine,”

When I ask him in the car

How it went.

It’s no big deal to him again.

Me?

I feel unsure even writing about this.

I brought up Victor’s situation

To a black girlfriend of mine,

Seeking some input on how to talk about

Race

With kids

Respectfully

And honestly.

She was utterly gracious.

We laughed about how Victor used to call

Black people

Brown people,

Because,

Well,

Their skin is brown,

Not black.

And I confessed that once,

At the height of Victor’s struggles in school

When the district changed its busing policy

So that he might have to go to

Our neighborhood school,

I vowed not to send him there.

“He’ll be the only white kid in his class.

I won’t put him in that situation,”

I’d said then.

“I just won’t.

I’ll take him on the city bus myself

To a different school

If I have to.”

This is my liberalism:

Words, ideas, good intentions.

But when it comes to my family,

I stay where I’m comfortable.

I’m dismayed to think that

I don’t even know how to

Talk about this,

Or write about it,

That it feels like there’s no language

That strikes just the right tone.

I want to

Bear witness to the

Differences between

My experience and

Yours.

To acknowledge past and present

Pain

And beauty,

And the commonality of daily living we all share:

The sleeping,

The eating,

The breathing,

The raising kids.

To just see you

And acknowledge you

And say,

“Yes, I see you.

I see you.

I don’t know what to say

And I don’t know what to do,

But I see you.

We see you.

My boy and I,

We see you.”

It seems like a start to

Me, who has

Lived long in

Shame and

Obliviousness,

Who doesn’t want the same

For her boy.

 

 

Leaving my child by boat, like my ancestors did

P1040960I had never left

My first boy

In such an ancient way:

By boat.

Shiny, modern airports

Have always been the scenes of

Our parting.

Tears in the security line,

And then the suddenness

Of a plane trip

Away from my boy.

And a mere few hours later

I’m eight time zones,

One ocean,

And half a continent away from my son.

This time was different.

This time, at the end of our

Big family trip through Europe

The five of us

Said good-bye to Victor for

His summer in Finland with his dad,

And we got on a boat

In a harbor in Helsinki,

And set off into the

Baltic Sea for Germany,

Where we would fly home.

Once on the ferry,

After the craziness of getting

The rest of the kids out of the

Car hold and

Our stuff deposited in our

Cabin for the 30-hour trip,

Joe took the kids

And I had a few minutes alone.

I sat on the bed and

Watched out the window as

The boat chugged along the

Pine-forested coast of Finland and

Out into the Baltic Sea.

The steady rate at which the boat moved

Me away from my boy

Felt humane and natural

Compared to the

Otherworldly shock

Of the airplane lift-off.

With every few meters and

Knots the ship moved,

I acclimated to my boy’s

Physical absence.

It was a slower,

Gentler parting.

And I realized,

As I sat cross-legged on the bunk

Watching the sea swirl and foam,

One that I’m not the

First in my family to have made.

At the turn of the century,

My Finnish great-great-grandparents

Left for America

By boat,

Leaving behind their

Teenaged daughter–

My great-grandmother Selma–

And her younger brother Toivo.

A year later, in 1906,

The siblings would make the

Trip together:

A 16-year-old and a 12-year-old,

Traveling for weeks across the

Atlantic to

Meet their parents in

Their new homeland in 1906.

So as I sailed away from Finland,

Leaving my son behind for the summer,

I thought of my great-great-grandparents

Doing essentially the same thing

110 years earlier.

My situation,

Of periodic, international separation

From my little boy,

Feels abnormal from my

Low-boil heartbreak perspective.

But I know it’s actually not.

Parents and children

Are separated in our world

All the time,

And they always have been.

Whether through

Wartime chaos,

Arbitrary national boundaries,

Military service,

Difficult circumstances and decisions,

Sickness and death,

Addiction,

Incarceration,

Parents parent from a

Distance as best they can–

Or are unable to parent at all.

I think about the

Parents I know who

Don’t experience separation from

Their minor children

Sometimes with envy,

Until I remember that

Those of us who do

Endure it

Are only experiencing a

Premature and

Exaggerated

Version of what every parent

Eventually has to do,

Which is

Let

Go

And turn our children over to

The world and

The universe with

Trembling hands.

Whether they’re eight or

Eighteen or

Twenty-eight,

It has to be done.

What was that like for my

Great-great-grandparents,

I wondered as I watched the

Sea pass beneath our ship.

Did parents experience the

Maternal and paternal instinct in the

Same way back then

And back there,

When infant mortality was

30 times higher

Than it is today

And many families lived in

Third-world conditions?

I imagine they

Loved and grieved their children

With the same ferocity

As we in first-world modernity,

But perhaps there was a

Certain resignation

We don’t have today

To the fact of

Tragedy and pain,

Such as through separation from

A child.

It’s always been a comfort to me

To know that,

Though it feels like it sometimes,

I’m not the only one

Enduring the absence of my child

In this world.

The idea for

The novel I just finished the first draft of,

Firebird,

Comes from the stories of

Undocumented worker parents in our country

Deported,

Leaving their children behind,

Sometimes separated from them

Forever.

Those stories hurt my heart

So I wrote about them to

Soothe myself.

I’m fortunate.

I know I can get out my credit card

And my passport

At any time

And be with my boy within

24 hours, if I really needed to.

Not every parent in my

Situation has that luxury.

And certainly my

Great-great-grandparents didn’t.

In a few weeks, it will be time to

Go to the airport and

Wait outside the frosted glass

Sliding doors of

International arrivals,

Craning my neck to watch for him

Every time the doors open.

Maybe this time I’ll

Think about my great-great-grandparents

Waiting at the train station in

Waukegan, Illinois for their

Children whom they hadn’t seen in

More than a year.

How much taller would they be?

Was everything okay on the trip?

And most importantly,

Which train car would they step off?

There my boy will be,

Bigger and wearing new clothes,

Pulling his suitcase and

Pushing his glasses up on his face.

When he sees me

His mouth will twist up into the

Sly, embarrassed smile he gets with a

Rush of strong feeling.

I’ll squeeze his bones like a

Bundle of long sticks

And lift him off the ground,

Which I can just barely still do.

On the car ride home,

I’ll tell him about his

Great-great-grandmother’s journey from

Finland to America.

He’ll probably have questions about the

Boat and the

Train.

Logistics are important to him.

And he’ll know

That he’s not alone

In this family by

Splitting his life between two countries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our epic trip to Europe, recounted for your reading pleasure

We’re back from our trip:

A three-week tour of Europe

That we’d planned for nearly two years.

Here’s a brief outline of some trip highlights.

Arrival: Munich, Germany.

P1040210

Trey, Joe and Victor feasting at a Munich beergarden.

Hotel concierge directed us to a

Beergarden where waitstaff wore lederhosen,

And we feasted on pretzels, meat and sparkling water.

Next day, Neuschwanstein castle

Which the Disney castle is based off of, and our first

P1040248

Cassidy, Trey and Victor with Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian Alps.

Taste of castles being at the top of a hill

You have to walk up.

Kids were troopers on a hot day.

Germany surprise:

Joe’s high school German

Bubbling to the surface, and

He as astonished as anyone that he could

Read a few signs and

Understand snippets of overheard conversations in German.

-10

The R.V.

Next day: picking up the R.V.

From a company with the baffling name McRent,

And getting lost trying to leave Munich by

Relying on an offline maps app I’d downloaded.

I literally realized we were

Going the wrong direction by the

Angle of the sun.

And later that night,

Postcard

Postcard of Prague at night.

As we drove into Prague at midnight,

I was using landmarks like the

Havra River and the Prague castle to navigate by.

Which were lovely at night, BTW.

Prague is magical,

Even when it is midnight and

You’re driving an R.V. down

Questionably narrow cobblestone streets with a

Car full of strung-out, jet-lagged kids.

Spent our first night in the R.V. in a

Parking lot of an apartment complex

Because our campground had

Locked its gate for the night.

Next day: Prague.

P1040328

Us on the Charles Bridge, Prague.

Wandering the Old Town,

Charles Bridge up to the castle.

Hot, and again,

Castle at the top of a hill.

Kids troopers.

Souvenir of the day:

Green Bay Packers Russian nesting dolls,

Number 12: Aaron Rodgers.

P1040318

Rocky, Cassidy, me, Trey and Victor having lunch in the catacombs of a Prague monastery.

Lunch of pork shoulder,

Dumplings, sauerkraut in the

Catacombs of a medieval monastery.

Delicious hot shower at the campground.

Next day, I asked the campground owner to

Show me on a map

How to drive to Krakow, Poland.

I wanted highway numbers,

But he laughed and shook his head.

“Here we don’t use highway numbers.

Just follow signs to the

Next town,

Then the next town,

Then the next town

Until you’re there.”

Huh.

Quaint.

But it mostly worked.

We stopped at a Tesco hypermarket

On our way out of town to load up on groceries

We didn’t really end up eating

And got to Krakow before dark.

Krakow!

P1040386

Cassidy, Trey and Victor in Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland. Chandelier and floor and everything is made of salt.

Joe and the kids were intrigued by the

700-year-old Wieliczka salt mine, where

Miners had, over the centuries,

Carved sculptures and cathedrals 200 feet underground,

So we went there first.

Konrad the tour guide picked us up at our

Campground and drove us there.

He informed us that

We could go home after Krakow

Because it was the best city in Poland.

The salt mine was strangely interesting,

P1040374

Sculpture of the seven dwarfs carved of salt in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland.

Enough to keep the kids occupied for

2.5 hours on a guided tour.

The tour guide kept saying the miners had

Carved all these sculptures and

Underground chapels and a cathedral in their free time,

And I was surprised to think miners had

That much free time.

After the salt mine,

Konrad the tour guide

Drove us to Pod Wawelem restaurant in the

Shadow of Krakow castle where we

P1040408

Cassidy and Trey about to dig into their massive fish platter at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow, Poland.

Feasted on pierogies,

Sauerkraut, beef tartare,

Polish mushroom soup,

Fresh fish and weinerschnitzel for a total of about

$80,

P1040413

The two-floor kids play area at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow.

And the kids played in the

Two-floor indoor play area.

After that,

We strolled around the Krakow main market square,

P1040423

Main market square in Krakow, Poland.

Which is delightful.

Krakow, like Prague,

Was spared during the war because

Hitler didn’t consider it Slavic

As opposed to Warsaw, which was utterly destroyed–

And rebuilt.

That night at the campground,

We watched the Netherlands-Spain World Cup upset

With a bunch of Dutch campers who had

Decorated the outdoor T.V. viewing area with

Orange streamers and who

Passed around shots at

Every goal.

The next day, we drove to Gdansk,

Stopping at Lodz where we got

Turned around at a gas station with a

P1040438

Chinese restaurant with Route 66 sign at a gas station in Lodz, Poland.

Restaurant attached that had a

Route 66 sign but which served

Chinese food from a Polish-only menu.

Joe ordered number 12

(Aaron Rodger’s number),

P1040467

Trey, Cassidy, Rocky, me and Victor in Gdansk, Poland.

We spent the next day in Gdansk,

Parking the R.V. in a lot outside the Old Town and

Walking in.

The Old Town is lovely,

And we all bought souvenirs and

P1040506

Cassidy feasting in Gdansk, Poland.

Had our second-to-last gluttonous restaurant feast

Before taking the ferry that night to Scandinavia

Where only Arab royalty and

Russian oil magnates can afford to

Feast in restaurants.

When we got back to the R.V.,

We had our only minor disaster of the trip:

P1040521

Attempted R.V. break-in in Gdansk, Poland.

Someone had tried to break into our R.V.

By jimmying the side door open.

They didn’t make it in, though.

The damage would cost us the 500 Euro deductible,

But at the time we just chuckled at the

Incompetence of the would-be thief,

And we were glad we’d brought our passports with us that day.

On our way to the ferry,

P1040527

Victor, Trey, Rocky and Cassidy frolicking on the Baltic Sea beach in Sopot, Poland.

We stopped in the resort town of Sopot on the

Baltic Sea which looked like a

Communist-era resort town for

Party higher-ups.

Sopot was the only place we

Drove the R.V. too deep into a

Narrow dead-end cobblestone street and had to

Slowly back it out of the trap.

It was an overnight ferry we took from Gdynia, Poland to

Karlskrona, Sweden,

P1040536

Buffet feast on the overnight ferry from Poland to Sweden.

On the ferry, we feasted at the buffet before

Jerry-rigging Rocky’s pack-n-play between two bunks in our cabin

And passing earplugs out to Joe and the kids against the

Drunk Euroteens squealing and pinballing down the hallways.

The next morning, we drove to Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden,

Where Victor and I lived in 2006-07.

I haven’t been there since, and

P1040556

Caroline and me in front of St. Andrew’s church in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I got a chance to spend time with my

Dear friend-of-Bill’s

Caroline,

Who had seen me through the

Scary, wondrous months of early sobriety and the

Uncertainty of divorce.

We went to a 12-step meeting at St. Andrew’s Church,

Which is where I attended my first 12-step meeting on

Oct. 1, 2006.

The next day, we drove north along the Swedish coast to

Oslo, Norway,

P1040599

Therese and me.

Where lives my best girl and muse,

Therese, whom I hadn’t seen in more than six years.

As we drove toward Oslo, I was telling Joe

All the parallels between Therese and me:

How we’d met and became close friends,

Working together at a magazine in Minneapolis in 1999.

Me a reporter and her a graphic designer,

When she was married to her American husband, Noah.

How we’d both moved to Scandinavia, her to her native Norway,

And me to Finland around 2003.

How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our

-8

Milla (wearing a Minnesota Rollergirls cap) and Victor, both born in 2005.

First babies, Victor and Milla, born in 2005.

How we’d both gotten divorced and then

Remarried to men who had two older kids.

How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our

-9

Liv, wearing her American (and Norwegian) colors in honor of our visit, with Rocky. Both born in 2012.

Second babies, Rocky and Liv, born in 2012.

The highlight of my trip was

Sitting at Therese’s kitchen table

After the kids were all in bed and the

Husbands watching World Cup,

Drinking tea and talking

Truths.

It’s still there:

That otherworldly connection of a

Good friend.

Therese, Milla and Liv

Took us around Oslo,

P1040600

Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway.

To Vigeland Sculpture Park,

The largest sculpture park in the world made by one artist,

Depicting family relationships in

Various forms.

P1040593

Rocky, Joe, Trey, Victor and Cassidy in front of Joe’s favorite statue at Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway.

Joe got a picture of himself with a

Statue of a man juggling

Four babies,

Summing up,

He said wearily, his life.

(Poor guy).

P1040625

Trey and Cassidy with a 16th century Norwegian barn at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo, Norway.

We also went to the

Norwegian Folk Museum

An outdoor facility with buildings from various points in

Norwegian history,

Back to a Stave Church built around 1200.

P1040629

Cassidy and Trey with a Stave church built around 1200 at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo.

As a history geek,

I love this kind of place,

Standing in a centuries-old farmhouse and

Imagining the daily tasks and

Worries and small joys of the long-gone inhabitants.

I could’ve spent a whole day there.

We left Oslo the next day,

P1040653

Victor, Rocky, me, Therese, Liv and Milla about to say good-bye in Oslo.

An easier parting since

Therese and her family

Will be in Minnesota next summer.

Excited!

We drove across Sweden to the east coast,

North of Stockholm,

Where we caught an overnight ferry to Turku, Finland.

This ferry wasn’t as fancy as the first one.

It was mostly for truck drivers.

And there was no internet,

Cass and Trey noted.

P1040684

Entering Finland!

Then, Finland!

Victor had been asking through the whole trip,

“When will we get to Finland?”

And once we drove off the ferry,

He sighed, “I love Finland.”

This is where he was born,

And where he spends summers with his dad.

It’s one of his homes.

P1040689

Victor, Rocky and Trey and Victor’s grandparents’ country home in southern Finland.

We spent that night,

Midsummer Eve,

At the country home of Victor’s grandparents,

Where Victor’s dad presented him with a real crossbow,

-1

Cassidy and Rocky in the sauna.

And we took our first Finnish saunas

In the beautiful sauna Victor’s grandfather had built.

In Finland,

The sauna is a sort of sacred,

Meditative place,

-7

Joe in the sauna.

And it’s where you bathe,

By soaping up and pouring water over yourself.

The best is to get really steamed up and

Then go stand outside to cool off.

It’s not for everyone.

Cassidy was a good sport

And tried it out

But it wasn’t her thing.

Joe, Trey and Rocky liked it.

The next day we went to a

Railroad museum where you can

Joe, Victor, Tapio, Cassidy and Trey taking a break from pumping along the tracks in southern Finland.

Rent the two-man train cars you move by

Pumping with your arms.

That evening,

We went to my cousin’s summer cottage and

Had a sauna there

-1

Joe taking the native sauna plunge in southern Finland.

And jumped naked in the cold lake.

We had a delicious meal of

Smoked fish, vegetables and small, Finnish strawberries.

And watched World Cup soccer with my cousins.

Next day was the family gathering at another cousin’s house where I

-1

Katri, me and Jenni , cousins, in Turku, Finland.

Got to see my Finnish cousins and good friends,

Katri and Jenni,

Whom I first met in 1997

When they came to Minnesota during their trip to America.

I got to meet some new cousins, and was

Treated to my cousin’s Iina’s lovely hospitality.

-1

Midnight in southern Finland in late June.

That night back at Tapio’s parents’ country house,

Victor, Trey and Tapio played army in the woods

In the late night dusk

Before taking one last Finnish sauna.

-2

Me, Riikka and Victor with the Helsinki cathedral.

The next day we spent in Helsinki with Riikka,

Victor’s aunt, and we went to Suomenlinna, an island fortress

Off the coast of Helsinki

-2

Victor and me in Helsinki, about to say good-bye for the summer.

We said good-bye to Victor for the summer–

Always hard and sad.

And then me, Joe, Cass, Trey and Rocky got on our last ferry ride

From Helsinki to Germany,

30 hours through the Baltic Sea,

-3

Rocky on the ferry from Finland to Germany.

I was ready for a break from touring

And it was nice to sleep in and nap in the

Ferry in our room,

And take a long sauna, and watch World Cup.

When we arrived in Germany, we drove through the night to

-4

Cassidy, Trey, Rocky and me in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

Rothenburg, a medieval, walled town

Where we spent our last full day of the trip

Wandering cobblestone streets,

Feasting and

Buying souvenirs.

Everyone but me was ready to go home,

And Trey got a little homesick.

We spent the night in an R.V. parking lot

Just outside the walled down where we saw a

Huge R.V. with a Florida license plate.

A little foretaste of home.

The next day we returned the R.V. and

Flew home where

Rocky waited until we were in line at

Customs and immigration to have his only

Epic meltdown of the trip.

——–

Overall, the trip was lovely.

I loved seeing the sights and

Eating the food and the twice-daily ice cream.

But as I’d hoped,

The best part was the

-5

Everyone on the ferry to Suomenlinna in Helsinki.

Quality family time.

No devices,

So we had to interact,

And it was fun to come up with inside jokes:

“Is that a bird up there?”

“Crockery!”

“Parkour!”

“Crabby card.”

“Suomi in my belly.”

I had never spent that much time with my

Stepkids and I enjoyed having these new experiences with them.

It was gratifying to know that we could

Make this happen

With some planning and saving,

And I’m inspired to do something like this again,

-6

Keep those passports handy.

Now that we all have our passports…

 

Putting a cramp in our $20K vacation before we’ve even left

car-tripWe’ve been planning it for

Almost two years:

Our big family trip to Europe.

All six of us tooling around the

Continent and Scandinavia in a

Rented R.V. for three weeks

À la “Vacation” and “European Vacation.”

Particularly, for me, Chevy Chase’s epic rant:

“I’m gonna have fun and

You’re gonna have fun.

We’re all gonna have

So much fucking fun

We’re gonna need plastic surgery to

Remove our goddamn smiles!”

We’ve spent nearly two years and

More money than our wedding

On this thing.

It had better be

Fucking

Transformative.

The good news is,

I know me well enough to

Guard against my

Fun-fatal desire to control

Your

Good

Time.

And controlling everything

Isn’t even my biggest problem.

(Although it is one problem.)

I’m prepared for the possibility–

Nay, the likelihood–

That some part of the trip

Will be co-opted by a

Half-day visit to a

Polish or German or Swedish

Urgent Care

For an ear infection or a

Broken arm.

I get how my silly little plans can be

Flung and quashed like

So many cars in a

Godzilla-esque movie called

“Your Jet-Lagged Toddler.”

What I’m actually more

Worried about is that the

Trip will be

Amazing,

That it actually will be so transformative for our

Blended family that’s still

Melding and setting like a

Rainbow Jell-O mold,

That I won’t want to come home.

That I’ll want the experience to go

On and

On and

On and

On…

See, I’m the kind of person who,

Like all persons,

Not only avoids

Unpleasant experiences,

But clings to pleasant ones.

“Clinging” in the Buddhists sense:

The desire to make things stay the same

When in fact,

They’re always

Always

Changing.

This, supposedly,

Is why the so-called good things

In life cause suffering, too.

Kind of a buzz kill

If what you’re going for is a

Perpetual state of

Giddy, feverish

Happiness with a

Capital H.

Which is what I’m going for.

It’s that clinging tendency

That makes me want to

Marshal the six of us to a

Flawless experience of

Family togetherness

In a lovely field at the

Base of a German castle with a

Rainbow cresting overhead and a

Warm breeze tousling our hair and

I want to

Cryogenically freeze us there so

We’ll be deliriously happy in that

Moment of

Family togetherness

Forever and ever,

Amen.

So I guess the lesson here is,

Yes,

It’s about “being in the moment”

(Hate that phrase)

But it’s also about

Letting that moment pass into

The next moment.

And it’ll be about finding some

Goddamn little thing to be

Grateful for as I

Drag our overloaded suitcases and

Jet-lagged toddler back into our

Trusty, boring ol’ St. Paul house

At the end of our trip

And contemplate

Going back to work

Three days later.

Mindfulness and gratitude at that moment?

We’ll see.

Wish me luck.

Even when it’s about you, it’s about us

CAM00318I’m one of those parents.

For gifts, I give people tchochkes

With pictures of my kids on them.

This year for Christmas

It was one of those mugs you can

Put pictures of your kids on and,

In just a few tips and taps of your keyboard,

Be done with your holiday shopping in like

Ten minutes.

Did I stop to think about whether

The recipients

Needed or

Wanted

Another coffee mug?

No.

I assumed that,

Because these are picture of

The Kids,

You know,

The Kids,

They’d be interested.

The grandparents,

I’m pretty sure,

Actually really like the mugs.

But I felt a little sheepish

Handing over the two

Uniform little boxes to my

Brother and his fiancee,

Who had gotten everyone in our

Family something

Individual they might actually like.

“Even when it’s a gift for you,

It’s about us,”

I joked as they

Very graciously

Admired the mugs after

Prying them out of the unbreakable

Styrofoam packaging.

It’s true.

I don’t have time to think about

Much else besides

Keeping my kids and myself

Alive:

No small feat.

But I do recognize that

It must get tiring for people to

Ask how things are going,

And have me talk

All about

My kids:

Ear infections,

New sports season starting up,

All the school closings this winter.

What’s worse,

When people tell me

About stuff going on in their lives,

I’m really good at

Co-opting their experience

And providing a corollary about my kids:

“You say you’re recovering from a

Car accident that almost killed you

And left you fighting for your very life?

My son’s favorite movie used to be Cars!

He was really scared of that scene

Where the semi-trucks fall asleep on the road…

I bet you get why!

Ha ha!”

Parenting,

I’m starting to realize

(And this is not to news to

Childless people, I’ll bet)

That most selfless of activities,

Actually makes people

MORE

Self-centered, not less.

How can this be,

You bluster,

Imagining scenarios in which you’d

Give

Up

Your

Very

Life

For your child?

Here’s how I see things:

I pretty much think of my kids as

Part of me.

Maybe it’s because they came out of my body.

This is mostly a good thing.

It’s what makes me sure I’d

Jump into oncoming traffic to snatch my child

Out of danger.

Or scrape poop off my 1yo’s butt with the

Edge of his wet diaper

(Because I can’t find the wipes)

Then go finish eating my dinner

Without gagging once.

Same with boogers.

Your kid’s boogers?

Disgusting.

My kid’s boogers?

Whatev. I’ll blow my nose in that tissue later

‘Cause they’re practically

My

Boogers.

See how this works?

So if my kids are

Part of me,

My self-centeredness

Has now expanded to

Include my kids.

Now instead of one

Self-centered person,

You get a three-fer.

I’m not really sure what the

Point of thinking myself into this

Paradox has been

Except to acknowledge the grumblings of the

Childless population who

Complain about how

Oblivious parents can be to

Anyone around them except their

Little precious.

I’m not wishing this parenting time away

Because I know these years and days and minutes are

So dear,

But it will be nice,

Once the daily tornado of child-rearing is over,

To come up from the cellar

And have a nice chat with my neighbors

About anything

BUT

My kids.

Antidote to mommy guilt?

MOMMY_guilt__470x4510One of my boys has

Challenges.

I won’t get any more

Specific,

Because it’s his story to tell

If he ever wants to tell it.

But he’s got some

Characteristics

That are going to make his

Journey

A little more

Strenuous

Than the average

Kid his age.

And it’s funny.

As I’m discussing him

With his various providers and advocates,

I’ll make a

Weak

Joke

About damage

I must have caused him,

And they always look at me

Sharply,

Concerned.

“You don’t blame yourself,

Do you?” they ask.

Their attention suddenly shifted

From my boy

To his mother possibly about to

Start weeping.

They’ve seen weeping mothers before;

They know the signs.

I want to laugh.

Of course I blame myself.

Are you kidding?

You can slap down

All the research you have about how

This doesn’t cause that, etc.

But I want to smile kindly and say,

“I know you’re trying to make me feel better,

But please,

Don’t bother.

No matter what you say,

No matter how many studies you show me,

I will blame myself.

You might be able to

Convince my twitching brain,

But in my gut,

I know

It’s my fault.”

The guilt and self-blame feel as inevitable as

Winter.

You can’t stop it.

It will have its way with you

And leave you pale and depleted.

The saddest thing I heard about

Motherhood was how

Guilt

Will put up a

Wall between

You and your child,

Will hinder you from loving your child

Wholly and completely.

I’ll admit I’ve

Given in to it,

Let it so twist me up that

All I can do is gaze down on my boy

From miles above him with

Mortified eyes,

Or snap and growl when he only needs

Softness and warmth.

But there’s this

Woman

I think about

Who gives me hope.

A mother of four boys,

I knew her when she was

Already elderly and

Dignified.

Two of her boys had had

Very difficult

Tragic lives.

Addiction and violence killed them

When they were young men.

And I remember her saying things like,

“He wasn’t able to get well.”

Or

“He wasn’t willing to use the

Resources available to him.”

And somewhat even

Shrugging her shoulders.

Now,

Some might see that as

Cold or cruel,

But the way I saw it, she was

Placing responsibility for her sons’

Dissolutions

On her sons.

She didn’t blame them,

But she didn’t blame herself,

Either.

I wish I had gotten a chance to ask her

Before she died,

How she at least seemed to not

Blame herself

For her children’s suffering.

I imagine she would’ve talked about

Using her own resources,

Because I saw her doing it.

She was busy with church

And service and grandkids.

I’ve been talking to

A lot of people,

Friends,

Who’ve shared their own stories,

And given me information,

Tools,

Support.

A friend just yesterday

Observed that

This is probably a lot harder on me

Than it is on my son.

And I had to stop and frown,

(I frown a lot when talking about this)

And contemplate that.

I think she’s right.

I guess I’ll take a cue from my elderly friend:

Give my boy all the resources I can,

Then step back and let him use them.

And if at some point in the future he

Stops using them,

Let him do that, too.

And meanwhile,

Stay busy, looking around me

At the world

Instead of staring

Hysterically only at

Him.