Sunday, February 28, 2010

Desktop Dinosaur

“You know what your problem is,” I said to my husband. “There’s no dinosaur on your desk.”

I said this to cheer him up because he is frightfully overwhelmed with work and responsibilities, but truthfully, there is a dinosaur on my desk that does motivate me. The smallest member of the house (not the rabbit) recently delivered to me a six inch tall Tyrannosaurus Rex. This wee beastie sits, mouth frozen in a silent roar, each two-toed front claw facing inward, in what should be a terrifying pose. Instead, he looks as though he is remarking on the weather. He is a cheerful reminder of why I wake in the morning, of who inspires certain aspects of my creativity, and that at a certain point in the day, the work must stop so my other job can begin—after-school hours with my children. The dinosaur is a countdown without being a clock, and a chemical-free mood lifter. The best thing about the dinosaur is that it doesn’t talk at all, unless of course, one might believe what the rabbit says about it.

“What can I do to help you, sweetheart?” I asked my better half. He cited taxes, reorganization of finances, the need to finish transcribing an interview. I think I’ll just put a dinosaur on his desk.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Read, Rabbit, Read

Cleaning out the rabbit’s cage this week, I found a tattered, nibbled copy of Paul Fussell’s Class.

“Ha!” I exclaimed pointing my finger to the haughty creature. “This explains everything!”

“Well,” he snuffed, “it’s not as deprecatory as you might think. More factual, really. The neighborhood rabbit association and I were conducting a contextual analysis should we substitute certain words with rabbit, hare, bunny, or lagomorph.”

“This is not a good book for you, Rabbit. You should be reading something that opens your eyes to the plight of the working class. Something about American poverty to take the edge off your hubris. How about Grapes of Wrath?”

“Ugh,” he said, “Read it. Not one damn grape in the whole book.”

Sometimes with rabbits, you just can’t win.

In fact, you might want to see this youtube video…

Seems like rabbits could be a lot of trouble, even in the medieval years. :-)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I once read a short story where a woman describes her visit to a museum restroom at lunch hour in New York. She portrays the women, who elbow and sneer their way for counter space, as thoroughbreds. Periodically, I am struck with this comparison of chic, svelte, suited women with race horses. I have come upon them often. Like the narrator in the story, I do not consider myself among them.

This past weekend, I socialized with a group of parents from my son’s private preschool. The women I met had definite, real, measureable careers. Careers that come with steady paychecks, benefits, and 401Ks. They were confident with the labels they were able to paste upon themselves as to who they were and what they did. One in particular struck me as the lead thoroughbred in the group. An established lawyer for a reputable firm, she had a business helping the community on the side. It put her in the six-days-a-week worker bee category, which made me wonder who was raising her children, but I was a little green as she spoke about her accomplishments.

When people ask me what I do, I am always in transition, always starting over with a career that comes second to family. I am always trying to get somewhere. Just when my nose is moments away from the finish line, so to speak, I find myself pressed to the rail with a tragedy, a massive set back, a life change. Things that take more than a few months from which to recover. As a result, my resume, which reinvents itself constantly, has a massive amount of unusual work experience in spurts. It is this creativity to adapt that I have started to cite in cover letters over the last couple of years, but I still, in a room full of polished professionals who don’t flinch at the sight of their child’s tuition bill, feel like the shaggy pony that could never qualify.

I don’t think I really want to be a racehorse in the way these women are. I wonder if deep down, they cringe at the time spent away from their children. But, I have always had aspirations of being something, achieving things, and have in fact, done some pretty nice things that occasionally startle a prancing racehorse into asking just how did that happen.

People who work in the arts don’t fit with the Kentucky Derby lifestyle of the world around them. Most of us do not wish to anyhow. It is our uniqueness, our un-fitness, that makes us notable in our arena, but we don’t get rewarded in measureable, tangible terms most of the time. I have never stopped painting or writing—not really—not for more than months at a time as I addressed a family need (a new baby, hurricane aftermath, an illness), but my work has resulted in being published without pay, in exhibitions where the cost of framing and travel has outweighed profits, or where someone has been too broke to pay, so they have traded a service or merchandise.

I could use a Derby Day just once in a while. Merchandise doesn’t pay the medical bills. And it would not hurt to be put in direct competition with one of the slinky, well-dressed women in the community again. In the meantime, I’ll just keep working, doing my thing. This time, I am hell-bent to create my niche as a person that thrives in a constantly changing environment and who enjoys as much time with my children as possible. I want them to see that it can be done, and not at their expense. I want them to see that the limitations that I have put on myself due to my choice can also be something that fuels a different kind of career. I guess you could say that I am racing with extreme caution.

And speaking of thoroughbreds, Seabiscuit, for all his glory, scratched a lot of races that would have jeopardized his health or that would not allow him to perform under ideal circumstances. His trainer's careful selection of when and how he performed caused sheer scandal and gossip, but he eventually raced Man O'War and won. And he was, for all intents and purposes, a creature that resembled a cow pony with crooked legs. Who knows. Maybe, in a way, that's me-- racing selectively, in it for the long haul, and an unlikely champion.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bad, Bad Movies

Today is a short post due to a large stack of other work. There's no prose here, just a rant.

Don't waste your time renting these two terrible films: Nights in Rodanthe and A Serious Man. Nights tries to elicit sympathy from the viewer and fails due to its long-winded nature, predictability, and lack of believability. Tragedy induced fits of laughter from my husband and I kept scratching my head over the multiple errors in the hurricane scenes-- the timing of preparation, the detritus of aftermath when the house only has broken windows, just to name a few. By the time Richard Gere's character dies, I was ready to die, too. My husband said we should have placed bets on who dies and how once we saw the movie playing in the usual Nicholas Sparks format.

The other film aims for humor and falls so short that it induces sleep. Literally. A Serious Man came recommended. Why? For example, what did the opening scene, a flashback to the past, have to do with the rest of the film at all? It was at least, the only good part however. Everything was downhill after that... at least the parts where I remained awake.

Good movie recommendations anyone?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Woeful Wails and Bedtime Tales

I have a terrible secret to share with you. I really, really do not look forward to my children’s bedtime. Each night I walk up the stairs with the same dread as Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill.

At 8 pm, blocks must be picked up, legos collected, dolls brought upstairs. There’s crying from the youngest and the oldest magically seems to remember that there are a hundred toys left downstairs that must be retrieved—one toy at a time. The smallest child recovers from tears and scampers up and down the stairs gleefully challenging us, and on occasion, mooning us. Oh, the resistance to the end of the day. Once the short people are officially upstairs, there’s the bath, the teeth brushing, the search for pajamas and pull ups. I usually have to conduct some kind of peace negotiation between one child and the other. There are loads of explanations: Honey, this is why we don’t like to buy blue toothpaste. Tiny Man, water stays in the tub. There are reminders: Didn’t I just tell you to find your blanket? Did you dry your hair? Why are you drawing naked on your bed when it is time to get dressed and your hair is still sopping wet? And there are threats: Your mother is going to collapse from exhaustion unless you are in bed and quiet before 9 PM. You will find her motionless and bourbon will be required to revive her.

Children all of a sudden have a million reasons and a million excuses at bedtime. They have brain damage. They have a renewed sense of energy. I, on the other hand, have one mission, a limited period of time, and a limited amount of patience. I’ve been holding down the fort all day and I am ready to end my shift. By the time those warm, clean bodies have been snugly tucked into covers, prayers have been said, stories told, songs sung, and a million kisses exchanged, I am thankful for my motherhood, yes, but tired enough to have run a marathon.

“It’s 8:45,” I might announce. “Mommy is now off duty!”
“One more kiss!” pipes the youngest. How can anyone resist that? Even off duty?

My mother recently confessed her own distaste for the bedtime routine when she was raising my sister and I. Since I consider her the paradigm of all things maternal, I was particularly struck by this revelation. After all, my mother seldom raised her voice to us, she was home after school so we could make peanut butter balls, she let us fingerpaint, or watch her sew clothes for us. She was an incredibly intense and serious mother, but she was always there, always loving, always patient. I’ll never forget one Mother’s Day when I asked her why there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but no Children’s Day.

“Because,” she sighed with fatigue, “every day is children’s day.” (This might explain why at one point, my father took over the final tuck-in and storytelling.) At the time I didn’t understand, but I have since learned that not only is every day for children, but really, every night, too. And long after the short people are comatose or at least should be, I am still working. There’s laundry, there’s research, there’s writing, there’s general household maintenance so that this place is sanitary and functional for short and tall people alike. There is some peace though, to that routine until I hear footsteps in the middle of the night.

“Why are you still up?” I call out. Pick a response from below.

“I had to go potty.”
“I was thirsty.”
“I was cold.”
“I was hot.”
“I heard a funny sound.”
“There’s a dinosaur in my closet.”

The tall, handsome man of the house, my line of reinforcement, who is actually responsible for the singing of the final song each night, must troop back upstairs and remind the child gone AWOL from bed that there is no negotiating sleepy-time. I might at first hear pleading or giggling depending on the situation, but ultimately, there is silence. And upstairs resumes the stillness of slumber for good this time.

Last night I surfed the web for suggestions to expedite bed time routines. One site said to put the kids to bed earlier—not an option for us most nights. Another said to explain the importance of sleep to the child. Umm, did that writer even have children? There were reminders to be patient, reminders to keep the pre-bed activities low-key—even suggestions to dim the lights to help the body read the bed-soon code. None of these sites really help me, especially in reference to the dinosaur that seems to have taken up residence in a closet.

The days are long, but the years are short, said someone to me once. I try to remind myself of this. Soon, the youngest will be too big to dance naked with glee before bathtime. And the oldest will eventually lose interest in the songs we sing. I might despise bedtime’s business, but the total lack of any of the craziness or comedy at night would be terribly sad, as it is when the children are away. I can keep doing this, I know. Besides, the reward is in those kisses I steal when children sleep like angels and the perfume of their slumbering warmth rises from the sheets. Perfect sweetness, which will fade when Sisyphus’ rock rolls back down the hill in the morning for the AM madness of readying for school.

I think we’ll be okay if I can just figure out what to do with the dinosaur.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Second Woman

Some weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone who asked me, in reference to her husband’s prior wife whom I had seen recently, if the woman had looked pretty. We were rocking quietly on a porch with our backs to a surprisingly warm and bright beam of sun in the middle of winter. The air, heavy with heat in its concentrated ray, still cast a threat of coolness each time the swing of the rocker brought shadow across the edges of my knees. I thought about how hearts never age, how in second marriages, a ghost of the first one can still haunt. I looked at this woman, aging gracefully with a man who still after decades refers to her as his bride, and who has a completely devoted following of children, step-children, and grandchildren. I said to her, “She was just a woman.”

Define pretty. Define pretty after thirty some-odd years. Whatever your definition, what do you say to the woman who, although not responsible for driving the first wife out, still finds herself occasionally preoccupied with the lingering image of a rival female?

Last year, I had an interesting discussion with my boss about some kind of disagreement I was having with the woman that replaced me in my former home. Frustrated with the woman’s quick defenses, I had allowed an event to escalate to a place from which neither of us were willing to retreat without looking beaten.

“You know what her problem is, don’t you?” my boss had asked sagely in his thick foreign accent. “She is not first woman.”

First woman! Should I capitalize that? Brilliant! And no, I had never thought of this, ever.

“My mother was not first woman either,” elaborated my boss. “She was always competing. My father’s first wife had been dead for years. It did not matter. She felt second.”

There is a funny power to this realization that helped me gain a little perspective into the situation. I began, despite the complete horror that my ex-husband’s woman had played into once-upon-a-time, to feel a little bit sorry for her. No matter what she does, she is not the first woman. A justifiable consequence in her circumstances? Maybe. But it is what it is.

Ironically, things being the way they are and my own remarriage now a tangible state, I am not my new husband’s first woman either. But it does not really haunt me they way it haunts some others who wear shoes similar to mine. Maybe my plate is so full that I don’t have the time to allow those doubts to preoccupy me. Maybe, I am simply confident in my own role. Maybe, it has more to do with the fact that neither my husband nor I live in a house remotely associated with either of our past marriages. Maybe, not enough time has passed for me to draw further comparisons. My husband might disagree— after all, there is a kitchen table here with a history of wobbling and looking shamefully worn in his prior marriage. This year, I bolted, braced, screwed, and repainted that table into compliance. Replacing it would have cost less money. There might be something subconscious there.

I never will be able to forget the vulnerability of the beloved grandmother on her porch, a woman who past 70 years old can still do a split on a living room floor and then get up without grunting to go whip up the best pimento cheese I’ve ever had, and who still worries that once I had met the first wife, I would like her better. Before I left for the day, I sneaked a note onto her bedroom pillow. It said. “I love you. A lot.” What I meant was, “You win.”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Of Rabbits and Rebuffs

We have a rabbit, a rare breed of rabbit that somehow wound up in a pet store and was selected (saved, really) by a certain representative of the Easter Bunny Foundation and delivered with enormous care to us on an Easter Sunday morning a couple years ago. This fine, fluffy creature came to us with the promise that he would remain small (I hear laughing) and that the young person to whom his care was devoted would, in fact, readily participate in providing said care. (I hear more laughing.) This was a serious promise we undertook considering that the rabbit was in fact a close cousin of the famed egg-gifting lagomorph who bestowed us with this great responsibility. It was an honor, I explained to my daughter. I reminded her that should this dear creature suffer from lack of care he would have to be delivered to another family who would appreciate him more.

Let’s just say that the rabbit’s needs are mostly met by me, the mom. Of course, I knew this would happen, but the irony is that he holds it against me. Small furry creatures have definite preferences, they have attitudes. This one is no different. Apparently, I am less than because I shovel his poo. I supervise his feedings and water bottle freshening. I replace soiled bedding with nice, fresh cedar chips. I make sure the children don’t manhandle him, and when he stomps his foot during a long bout of visiting in the living room, I make sure he is returned safely to his den. This rabbit prefers children. He rides in their toy push trucks or on skateboards. He tolerates houses of pillows or blocks built around him. He will bundle down in the lap of even the smallest tyke that is willing to hold still for 30 seconds of time with “wabbie”. But when I stroll in and scoop the critter out of his cage for cleaning, he starts complaining. He sits on the top of the dryer where he can watch safely and says, quite clearly in the way that rabbits do, “Hey! You! That’s my poo you’re moving around in there. Wait now. Put that back. I had it just right in there. Oh, wait now. Waiiiit just a cotton-pickin’ second. You did not refill the tray with the right food. I like the rabbit party snacks with the crunchy colored kibbles in there. I cannot believe you bought the cheap, plain stuff again! Come now, woman. I know what you buy for the dog. You’re just discriminating against me because of my size or something. Wait just a minute! Did you put cold water in that bottle? Don’t you know I like it room temperature! For crying out loud!”

Unless, you’ve had a rabbit, and we have had many, you could not possibly know how ticked off these creatures can get if their routines are altered or how absolutely pleased as punch they can be if they see the dog getting in trouble. While most creatures show absolute gratitude toward the person who provides their food, removes their poop, and shelters them from the elements, this one rabbit sees my care as a class issue: Here she comes again. It’s the maid. I need to tell her that she missed a spot dusting. And you know what, I would really prefer bottled water with electrolytes.

Despite the fact that the rabbit writes me off as a second class citizen, and despite the fact that my daughter does not clean the cage and needs to be reminded to feed her bunny, I have chosen not to send him to another devotee of the Easter Rabbit. My threat, which has been restated from time to time to the small people of the house, really should be directed at him.

“Listen here, rabbit! I know the kids are all fun and games, but without me, you’d dehydrate and starve. You better straighten up and lose the attitude, pal. Don’t think I can’t send you right back where you came from.”

I can just see him, perched loftily on the dryer, filing his nails, holding one paw out for inspection, and saying, “Yeah? Well when you do, just make sure you buy me a ticket in first class, Cinderella.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Welcome to Catiche's

Why Catiche? Catiche is the unseen woman who serves hot coffee and satisfying repasts to Edna Pontellier and her verboten paramour Robert LeBrun in Kate Chopin's The Awakening. A glimpse of this passage can be seen here Catiche's little cafe is a hidden jewel in nineteenth century New Orleans, an oasis for the wanderer that Edna has become. It is the scene of a surprise meeting between the two lovers, and likely were it to have existed, the playing field for multiple social gatherings both public and private, approved and disapproved, exciting and mundane.

A cafe is where life is seen in snippets, collected in murmurs, gossip, and guffaws over steaming cups. These days coffee has become couture, the paper cup and logo-emblazoned huggie a kind of trend stamp on the chicness of java consumption. But for me, the cafe has always been a place to quietly observe the comings and goings of the community, to reflect quietly away from the demands of home, and to have the chance to be served something exactly as I wish it to be without having to clean the kitchen later.

So welcome to Cafe Catiche, where you will find all those snippets of life captured here. You'll have to brew your own coffee, unless you surf this from your local java shop. Coming to a table near you will be a mother with small children, a writer and artist re-establishing herself after multiple life changes.