Just another liberal on the bus

One day last summer

I wanted to take my infant son to a festival and

Since my husband had the car that day,

I decided we would ride the city bus.

My son was in his stroller–

The kind where you clip the car seat in–

And his huge diaper bag was stuffed into the undercarriage,

And my purse was swinging from the handlebar.

Like any infant/parent duo out for an afternoon,

We had as much

Equipment as we had

Pounds in our two bodies.

Now,

My experience with public transportation is

Informed by the five years I lived in

Scandinavia

Where parents and kids in strollers

Ride for free,

Where if you’re getting on a train or tram with stairs,

Strangers will pick up the front of your pram without a word

And help you and your kid on board,

Where other riders will

Uncomplainingly

Make way for you and your stroller.

It felt like

We were all in this together.

Everyone invested in raising these kids–

Even those who didn’t have kids–

A value exemplified by the

Public transportation system:

Institutionally, with the free fare;

And culturally, with the unspoken agreement that

Someone will help you

Get your pram

On the damn bus.

So as I was pushing my

Stroller system to the bus stop,

I got a sinking feeling:

I’d ridden the bus plenty as a commuter,

And I’d seen that

Wheelchair elevator thing they have,

But I’d never seen a stroller on one…

Sure enough,

The bus pulled up to the stop and the doors opened,

And the bus driver looked down at me and my

Grapes of Wrath-esque stroller system and said,

Skeptically,

“You’re gonna have to fold up that

Stroller to get it on here.”

I looked up at her,

Starting to panic as I

Envisioned how I would

Sherpa a

Folded-up stroller,

Car seat,

Diaper bag,

Purse, and

Oh yeah,

The baby

Onto the bus

In one load

With no help.

Reader,

I lied.

“My son has a head injury and the

Doctor said

We can’t move him.

He has to stay in his stroller.

I can’t take him out.”

The bus driver looked at us for a minute,

Then pushed the button, and the

Elevator contraption

Beeped its way down to the ground for us.

I crammed us onto the thing

Diagonally–

It’s not meant to have someone standing behind the

Wheelchair–

And we got on the bus.

Not only did people

Not make way for us,

But they glared at me.

Annoyed that I was making the bus run behind schedule,

And probably seeing through my bullshit line.

The whole bus ride,

I fumed.

How is it

Safer to have a

Folded up stroller and a

Loose infant rolling around the

Inside of a

Moving bus than a

Stroller locked in place with a brake system

And the infant buckled inside?

It seemed designed to actually

Discourage

Parents from using public transportation.

As I steamed,

I made this into an

Example in my mind

Of everything that’s wrong with our country,

Of an individualism that borders on

Absurdity.

It’s your kid.

You decided to have him.

You decided to ride the bus.

You get him on board yourself.

You don’t want to ride the bus with  your kid?

Then get a job

And get a car.

Oh, and by the way,

Same goes for his health insurance.

But all of a sudden–

Maybe it was the evil eyes boring into the back of my head

From the ridership sitting behind me–

I could see myself like I think

The

Other side

Might see me.

The assumptions I was making,

The language I was using in my mind.

Wow.

I did sound entitled.

(I even lied to get my way,

Which is another whole issue.)

I’ve been given the gift

In recent years,

Of having

Politically conservative

Friends.

And though we don’t talk much about politics,

I can see from the way they live their lives

What they mean about

Personal responsibility.

They see a problem,

And I see the same problem

And we see different

Reasons for that problem,

And we have different ideas for

Solutions to the problem.

I can look into their eyes and

See that they’re not

Evil or

Mean or

Vindictive.

My problem–

And it is

My problem–

Is when it’s a whole

Half a country of them,

And they become faceless,

And I don’t get to look into their eyes

And see that their motivations are true.

It hurts.

It hurts me to feel so

Disconnected from seemingly

Half my countrymen and women.

(It felt like

The bus was

Full of them

That day.)

But all I can look at is myself.

My assumptions.

My senses of entitlement.

My distrust of

The other side.

Where does it come from?

It doesn’t even matter.

I’m pretty sure that

Any of my conservative friends would’ve helped me

Carry my stroller off the bus–

Though they might not have thought I should have

Free fare–

And maybe that’s a start.

Getting the wanderlust back?

You wouldn’t know it from listening to me know,

But I used to love to travel.

I grew up in a road-trip family:

My parents were both public school teachers,

So we spent summers hoboing around the country,

A beige plastic luggage container

Clipped to the roof of the Oldsmobile.

We went to California via Seattle and back home through the

Southwest,

French Canada via Niagara Falls,

Florida via New Orleans,

Washington, D.C.,

The Black Hills.

(We flew to Mexico ’cause I guess you don’t drive there.)

I’d watch out the car’s side windows for hours,

Lulled by the rhythms of the power lines and the

Pavement breaks.

Frugal,

We camped.

My mother in a red bandana making breakfast on a

Wood picnic table in a

Grove of pine trees.

My dad standing on the inside of the

Car door frame,

Loading the tent and sleeping bags and tarps into the

Bug-encrusted luggage container.

In high school,

My brother and I chose to use our fresh independence to

Road trip together to the Black Hills

In the Chevy Lumina my parents loaned us.

And summers in college

I was always driving off somewhere–

One summer to work on a guest ranch in Montana,

The next to rent a little apartment and wait tables in

Spearfish, S.D.

A little time,

A little money,

And my friends and I were off on another

Camping road trip.

In my early 20s,

I would take off alone on a Saturday or Sunday:

No map,

No time constraints,

And I would just

Drive.

My mind got

Clear and calm with the

Pavement rushing by beneath me.

I did a couple trips to Europe, too.

First England,

Then the continent.

Some of the best naps I’ve ever taken were

Seated upright on a train,

My stuffed backpack in my lap,

My head resting on it.

Back then I loved traveling.

It was the pure joy of movement,

The wonder of the different.

I just went,

And then came back.

I think it all changed when,

Instead of being a tourist,

I tried to go live there.

Seattle,

A few places in Europe.

Living somewhere is a

Completely different proposition than

Visiting.

You’re not just there to observe from the outside;

You should be a part of it now.

Instead of consuming,

You should produce.

But I would move there with a

Tourist mindset:

No reason or goal

Or plan.

Just,

Here I am.

I’m ready.

Instead of the new city

Opening itself up to me,

Its opportunities were a puzzle I couldn’t solve.

I would get menial jobs

And watch the natives

Negotiate their homelands easily.

It was hard.

And not very fun.

But I kept at it.

Seven years I wandered around,

Five of them in Europe,

Squelching the nagging question,

“What the hell am I doing here?”

With another drink, and another.

Until my thinly stretched life

Unraveled with an

International divorce and

Excruciating child custody decisions.

Now, flights across the ocean are exercises in

Emotional restraint as I

Count the last hours of a months-long

Separation from my son.

Those backpacking college students in

Reykyavik airport?

Naive,

And irritating.

I want to sit down at their cafe tables,

Elbow aside their egg sandwiches and jet-lag beer,

And tell them like it is:

“Everything you think you’re looking for?

It’s

Right

In front of you.

Cut up your credit cards

And go home.”

Bitter?

I guess so.

My travel life

(And vacation time

And extra money)

Is now is confined to these

Shuttles across the ocean

And of course,

Business trips.

Which I

Dread because,

Says this former flower petal

Who once drifted on the wind,

They take me away from

Home.

But wait.

This bitter rant has a hopeful ending.

I was in NYC a couple weeks ago

On a business trip,

And I was ready to do my thing

Which is to attend the requisite events,

And then hide in my hotel room

And wait for it to be over.

When one night at dinner,

Tickets to a Broadway musical

Popped out of the breast pocket of someone’s blazer,

And we were off:

Tromping through Times Square,

Getting lost and then

Turned back in the right direction,

So that we arrived at the theater

Just as the lights were going down.

And suddenly,

An old familiar wonderment

Came over me.

Suddenly,

I was energized in that weirdly calm

NYC way,

Where you know you haven’t slept enough,

But somehow, it doesn’t matter.

You’ll be fine,

You’ll have more than enough energy for what’s about to happen.

This naif had never been to a

Broadway musical before,

And the musical,

“Memphis,”

Was

A-Ma-Zing.

Like a child,

I never wanted the

Singing and dancing to end.

It was

Simple

Wonder.

I had thought

That I had maybe

Changed

Intrinsically

Into a homebody–

That the wanderlust had been

Stunned out of me by my

Naive decisions and mistakes

In trying to go

Live

Where I maybe should have just

Visited.

But in the plane back from NYC,

As I settled into my window seat for a delicious nap,

I thought,

Maybe not.

Maybe not.

But I don’t WANNA ask for help

Image from telegraph.co.uk

Got back Thursday night

After four nights on a business trip.

Took a taxi home from the airport through the

Dark streets of my city.

I came in the front door

And stood for a moment in the dimmed, quiet living room.

Then I went into my son’s room and let myself

Wake him up a little–

I couldn’t resist–

By rubbing the warm back under the shirt.

My son speaks in complete sentences

When you wake him up,

As if picking up in the middle of a conversation:

“Will you sleep down here tonight?”

“No, but I’ll check on you before I go to sleep.”

“Do I have school tomorrow?”

“Yes, tomorrow’s Friday. Go back to sleep now.”

And he does!

I hate being away from home overnight because

Yes, I miss my family,

But also because

When I’m gone on a school night,

I have to ask three or four people for help.

And I hate asking for help.

I have to ask Joe to change his schedule,

I have to ask my brother or dad to

Come over in the morning to

Get my son to the bus stop,

I have to ask a neighbor to take my son after school once or twice.

And of course I have to ask my son

To be good, don’t be sad

While I’m gone.

So many people inconvenienced,

I always think.

So I call Joe the second night and ask about my son,

“How is he?”

Expecting reports of tantrums and tears.

“He’s fine,” Joe says.

“I think it’s good for him to get some time with me.”

I get a voice mail from my brother:

“Hey it was nice to spend some time with him.

I don’t want to wake up at 6 everyday to do it,

But every once in a while,

It’s really cool.”

And the neighbor:

“Yeah, the boys played cars and it was great.”

And my boy after I got home:

Perfectly normal,

In fact, particularly well-behaved.

Unaffected, it would seem

By my absence.

(I forget:

I’m not as important as I think.)

The fact is,

I don’t want to ask for help.

I don’t want to owe you,

Or have you balk at my nervous request.

“No, no, we’re fine. I got it,”

Has been my mantra.

But,

If I don’t ask for help,

You don’t get the chance to help me.

It’s selfish to

Not

Ask for help.

I need to give you the opportunity to be of service,

And give my son the opportunity to have a

Different experience–

Without me.

It’s scary though.

What if you say no?

Well I guess I’ll find out on my next overnight trip:

The day after Halloween.

All Saints Day.

Give my brother the chance to grope for sainthood by

Waking up an hour early to come over and help get

My son to the bus stop.

You’re welcome, Doug.

After 10 years without, a television

We got a TV.

It’s the shape of a movie screen.

It teeters on a circular stand–

It looks precarious, like one bump

Could send it over onto its face.

I haven’t owned a TV for ten years.

It all happened very fast:

Football season

Combined with an unexpected chunk of bonus cash,

And now we own an HD plasma smart TV.

Those who know me well

Know

How conflicted I am over the

Introduction of the

Black screen into our home,

Yawning at me from across the living room.

As a kid I loved TV like everyone else,

After school watching Little House on the Prairie in the

Cool dark basement,

And when it was over at 5:00,

Supper time.

My brother and I got 1.5 hours of TV per day,

And we had to page through the TV guide that came in the Sunday paper

And highlight the shows we wanted to watch for the week.

As a teenager, I had a small black-and-white TV in my room.

All I watched was the 10:00 news on KARE-11,

And a M*A*S*H rerun if I could stay awake for it.

I think it was in college.

That I developed my squeamishness for

TV.

Dorm rooms,

Dorm lounges,

Apartments with roommates:

It seemed like there was

Always

A TV on.

Laugh tracks,

Guns shooting and tires squealing.

And always someone on the

Couch scooping food into their mouth while

Completely transfixed by whatever was on the screen.

Yep, I judged.

Here we were,

At college,

Supposedly developing our minds into

Critical,

Creative

Vessels.

And everyone seemed to

Mindlessly

Lap up

Whatever the screen disgorged.

“It’s relaxing,” people would say.

It didn’t relax me.

TV made me anxious.

The chunky stop-and-start sound of

Channels being flipped through,

The blinking and flashing of the

Lights from the screen on the

Walls of a dark room.

When I left school and started living on my own,

I ditched the TV

Who has time to watch TV anyway?

Even before I had kids,

I was busy enough without it.

And then when I was around a TV,

Like in a hotel room,

Or at my parents’ house,

It felt like a treat to turn it on.

But then I’d flip

And flip

And flip,

And finally just settle for HGTV because there was

Nothing

Else

On.

I made Joe promise we would set parameters

For the kids.

The idea of a child

Staring for hours at the screen

While the sunlight of a lovely day outside

Tracks across the walls,

Is anguish to me.

So we set some rules.

Joe has promised a minimum of flipping and a

Reasonable volume level.

And Netflix has Glee episodes,

Which this former show choir nerd has been wanting to check out

For years.

Actually,

The house is empty right now, and quiet…

Maybe I could figure out this remote control and

Watch a quick episode of Glee before anyone comes home.

The sacred lunch hour

My son comes home after a summer with his dad and

Everything changes

Schedule-wise.

That’s what I’m looking for, actually.

A wise schedule.

The one thing I know is

Exactly how to spend that

Workday lunch hour.

Five free hours per week.

No kids!

“I never know what to do with my lunch hour.

I just wander around the skyways.”

I’ve heard people say.

Not me.

I know exactly what do with it.

Lately,

It’s swimming laps at the YMCA,

Or today, writing my blog post.

Sometimes it’s a 12-step meeting.

Use that hour

Effectively.

‘Cause evenings and weekends,

They don’t belong to me.

Which is great.

I love the hectic family life.

But my lunch hour is sacred.

If I schedule a lunch with you,

I’m giving something up.

You don’t need to know that;

I’ve thought it out

And made the decision after some deliberation.

And once a week,

That’s not a big deal.

But I might say,

“Sorry,

I can’t this week.”

And the secret is,

It’s because I gotta

Hide at the corner table of a

Skyway cafe

With a styrofoam cup of soup,

A plastic spoon,

My journal,

And a pen.

An hour to gird up

For the ceaseless action of home life.

So if you see me sitting alone

At a two-top

In a skyway coffee shop,

Don’t go out of your way to say hello.

Believe me,

I won’t take it personally.

We can even pretend we didn’t see each other.

For all I know,

You’re on your way to your

Lunch hour hideout

For your own delicious

Hour of solitude.

Have a good one.

See you around.

The domestic arts

I can hang out here

Alone for the weekend,

I’m doing a little yard work,

A little cooking and cleaning.

Activities I used to have

No patience for:

The juicy smell of grass

Fresh cut with an electric mower;

How the heavy snake of water from the

Emerald garden hose is cool but not frigid;

The sizzle of chopped yellow onions

In hot olive oil,

Then garlic mince,

A carpet of ground thyme,

Flecks of basil and oregano,

Cubed tomatoes:

A marinara sauce to be

Dumped over a nest of pasta strings,

Eaten slowly

At a freshly wiped table

While I measure with my eye

The straightness of the folded throw blanket

Draped on the arm of the couch.

I have even folded

All the plastic grocery bags

Into triangles,

Like flags,

And they’re tucked in the kitchen drawer

Under the window.

I used to scoff at

Learning these skills,

Satisfying the

Basic human needs

With a little grace,

A little dignity,

Even some flair.

I had no time.

Now,

I enjoy these honorable, repetitive tasks

That are undone within hours or even

Minutes of completion.

It takes a gentle,

Detailed,

Patient touch

That I don’t naturally possess,

But could maybe learn.

I want to learn.

An open letter to my husband about why I like it when he and the kids go out of town

You get it, Joe,

Don’t you?

What I mean when I say,

Go.

Yes, please.

Go to your mother’s in California.

Fly standby with the kids,

Gamble that you’ll get on the next flight.

Don’t come home.

Not yet.

The quiet it this city and state

Is delicious.

You and my step-kids in California,

My son with his dad in Finland.

My parents on vacation in Alabama.

Even my brother is in Wisconsin this weekend.

My own little family diaspora,

Leaving me here in Minnesota,

Alone.

No

One

Needs

Me.

What will you do with yourself,

People ask in wonderment.

Oh, I’ll meet friends for coffee,

Go to yoga,

Take a nap on the porch.

It’s supposed to be a secret from you, Babe,

But what I really like to do when you’re gone

Is clean.

I’ve got two small cleaning projects:

My mom cave, which became

The dump spot for wedding detritus,

And my son’s room.

Time to finally get rid of this five-year-old’s size 2T clothes.

But it doesn’t matter what I do.

The deliciousness is in the

Range of my thoughts
When I’m alone.
Books I might write,
Characters,
Like cats that hide under the bed
Until the house is empty
And then slink out to play.
Or just nothing.
An empty mind
Filling up the unclaimed space.
The vastness of human existence,
I can see it
Alone.
Like pulling back on a wide-angled lens.
It’s hard to explain without hurting your feelings.
You miss me when I’m gone
One night on business.
Without my civilizing influence
You stay up too late,
Zombied out on the Internet,
And sleep listlessly,
Staying on your side of the bed.
When I come home,
And am walking past you in our small kitchen,
You pull me by the waist toward you
And hold onto me until I fidget to be let go.
And it’s true.
I wouldn’t enjoy this solitude
Unless I knew you and our family and friends
Were aware of me,
Were maybe even thinking about me,
Were available if I needed them.
That’s the difference between
Solitude and
Loneliness.
Solitude is supported by a
Foundation of
People
Who are not physically present
At that moment.
Loneliness has no such foundation,
Or has the perception of no such foundation,
So that you feel that you’re
Falling through space with
Nothing to catch you.
I’ve experienced both,
And you, Babe,
You’re a part of why this is
Precious solitude.
So thank you,
Joe.
Thank you for leaving me
Alone
This weekend.

The kid who watched me do yoga in the park

A few weeks ago,

I was in the park over my lunch hour

Doing yoga in the sun.

I was in headstand

With my legs pretzeled into lotus.

I was listening to the

Birds chirping,

And enjoying the spring breeze on my stomach

Where my shirt had peeled down,

When I heard a voice:

“Hey, I can do that.”

I curled at the waist,

Lowering my braced legs to the ground,

And looked up.

A teenage boy was kneeling on the

Green pitch next to me.

He put the tip of his head on the pavement

And raised his legs above him,

Basketball shoes tiptoeing against the sky.

“See, I can stand on my head.

I don’t think I could do that leg thing, though,”

He said, his voice as steady as if he were

Standing upright.

“You could if you practiced,” I said,

Moving into my next set of poses.

(I hesitated,

Are we going to chat?

But then I just kept moving.)

Shoulder stand:

Legs and torso slicing up into the sky.

My eyeballs,

Behind my sunglasses,

Rolled left:

The boy was perched on the concrete wall,

Toes brushing the ground.

“Do you mind if I watch?

I’m not invading your privacy am I?”

“No, no, that’s fine,”

I said quickly.

My legs folded down over my face into plow,

The backs of my legs pressed up against the sky.

From between my knees,

I could see him.

His hands were resting on his thighs.

We were silent for about ten minutes.

I moved through my poses.

Breathing as I’ve been taught.

I didn’t forget about him,

But the fact of his presence receded

As if he was backing slowly away.

When I stood up into

Eagle,

Twisting one leg around the other leg,

And one arm around the other arm,

I quick

Checked.

He wasn’t looking at me.

He was looking up at the sky.

———————————-

After I was done,

And rolling up my mat,

We chatted.

He had just moved up from

Chicago

To live with his mom.

He was a senior.

He played football,

And wanted to be a

Car engineer.

He was going to go to the

U.

He thought I should put

My son

In football

If he couldn’t sit still in class.

That’s what his mom did.

We walked

Sort of together

Back toward the road.

Me toward work,

Him toward his alternative high school.

“See ya,” I said as we walked in different directions.

A few other times,

I went back to that park over the lunch hour,

And he was there every time,

And every time,

He would come and

Talk to me

Or sit by me

As I moved through my yoga poses.

One day,

I started going to a different park.

The origins of my mom cave

For the first year we lived in this house

The room at the top of the stairs

Was a dump space.

I wouldn’t even say “storage”

Because that implies some

Deliberation and

Method.

One day,

The kids discovered it,

And started nesting in there like

Wild voles

Among the piles of clothes and

Boxes of junk.

They would stash

Food under their t-shirts and

Close themselves in the windowless space

To snack and

Conspire in the

Pitch blackness,

Until one of them yelled they had been

Stepped on.

We would open the door,

And they would blink at us

And the offended party would pick his way

Through the clutter,

Crying,

To the door,

And then everyone was kicked out for the day.

I came up with the idea of making it a sort of

Indoor tree house

For the kids.

I cleaned it out

(Crumpled pop cans,

Deflated bags of chips,

Empty Gogurt wrappers folded gutter-shaped,

Stray bits of candy rolling around —

It was a bandits’ lair I commandeered that day).

I laid down a patch of carpet,

And lugged all the toys up the stairs,

And organized them on shelves.

When I presented it to the kids the next day,

They were dismayed:

“But we liked it the way it was!”

It never really took off.

Every few weeks,

I would open the door and turn on the light,

And see that the toys were strewn about differently,

Or the Christmas lights I had strung up were falling down,

Or a bed pillow was left in the middle of the floor.

But I never saw them playing in there —

It was as if elves stole in at night and

Messed the room up.

So one day,

I grabbed it.

And now it’s mine.

Weather on my May 7 wedding: A task to delegate

None of my damn business

It occurs to me

That I could delegate

The weather

On my wedding day.

It’s just too much,

With five days to go,

Amidst printing programs and

Last-minute shopping,

To think of

Changing the weather patterns,

Too.

Erecting colossal fans in the atmosphere

To blow rain clouds or

Cold fronts away.

Building an immense clear dome

Over the whole Twin Cities metro area

To repel rain and wind but

Let the sunshine in.

Launching a new sun into the sky that would

Hover under any cloud cover,

And would be tethered to the spire atop the

IDS Center so it could never roam

Too far from the Twin Cities.

I just don’t have time.

I must have help.

But who to ask?

Who is up to the task?

Oh good god.

I don’t want to ask

Him.

He’s so unpredictable.

He’ll use this as a

Teachable moment about

Acceptance.

Pleas for mercy after a pitiless winter,

Cries of unfairness at flurries in May,

Don’t help.

All I can do is buy a scarf

In my wedding colors

And get my rain coat dry-cleaned.

Fine,

God.

Whatever.

You can have the

Weather-task.

You’ll do it anyway.

All I have to say is:

Thank you for the saying about

Rain on your wedding day

Meaning you’ll be rich.

It is some consolation.