Sunday, January 30, 2011

Less Than Genius

The premature readers, the early walkers—they all become equal in the primary years. In a fifth grade classroom, one cannot at all single out those developmental prodigies. My own daughter used to have an incredible attention span and could chew with her mouth closed as well as use a fork at age one. She is almost eleven. Now, every meal is a circus of reminders to chew properly and quit eating with her fingers. An early talker, my daughter said “dog” at eight months, but now, when asked about school studies, silence grips her and a sort of shocked expression crosses her face. (Ask her who was busted for passing notes that day, though—she’ll relay the entire story). As a small toddler, my daughter could quickly dress and ready herself for bed. We parents patted ourselves on the back for raising such a focused, skillful, self-motivated creature. Just tonight, when I directed my big girl to prepare for bed, she wandered into her room, lay down on the floor amidst the detritus of socks and Littlest Pet Shops, flipped lazily through a magazine, and seemed overwhelmed by Suddenly Cannot Accomplish Requests Disorder. How and why does this happen?

I no longer hazard guesses about which of my friend’s babies will be geniuses. My own son has taught me that there is no measure of predictability whatsoever other than his decided hell-raising approach to life. He is the family wild card. My goal for his school years is simply to survive them. Genius is unimportant.

I have posted this video before, but Bill Cosby’s comedy routine on brain damage is one of my favorites. For all of us who have raised perfect angels that confounded us with their new-found inabilities in later years, Bill’s words are golden.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Equine Wonder

We spend Saturdays at a horse ranch outside of town. My daughter, who tells me riding "makes everything go away", learns how to clean horse feet, move gently about the barn and its critters, and gains confidence in more and more time off the leadline. Two weeks ago, we arrived in time to be greeted by a sudden snowstorm. I pushed my children into the shelter of the barn and waited with equine company for the wind to die and the raining flakes to cease.

The horses quivered in the cold and darkness. Some called to us for nuzzling and treats, but a few turned to watch the mini-blizzard. One graceful animal stood to the side of his window and breathed rolls of steam against the churning flakes that wafted into his stall. His silhouette against the cascading white, the glistening of light on groomed mane and fur, and his ears twitching, the horse leaned and looked out, puffing and musing on winter in its surprising beauty. Snow must be a sight magical to even a beast.  

Unfortunately, we did not bring our camera to capture the horses enraptured by snowfall, but I do have other pictures. Below are just a few. They are from two different barns and different seasons.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On the Mend

The other night, frustrated with my own exhaustion and irritability from discomfort, I went to the local 24-hour clinic. My ears, the main source of complaint, had been plaguing me on and off since Christmas. I gave up on the notion that they would permanently heal if left unattended, that the bourbon with dinner was not going to help me do anything but sleep, and put my trust in the hands of whatever white coat was on staff that evening. The little people stayed at home with my husband.

After an hour’s wait and a rather curious exam with Doctor Deadpan, a man who seldom smiles much less releases any sort of emotion in his cold, direct, and factual exchanges, I learned what he looks like when surprised. Apparently, people with infections this severe are usually in considerable amounts of pain, can’t walk straight, and can’t eat; I was a living, breathing contradiction to the fine doctor’s medical training. I laughed as he lectured me on the virtues of antibiotics and staying warm, and urgently requested my return for a follow-up.

Note to self: There are some things bourbon can’t cure, but occasional use sure takes the edge off.

Later, I mused over the hour or so I had spent at the clinic. With the exception of occasional voices and squeaky shoes, the place had been incredibly quiet. I had slept uninterrupted on my gurney to the point of feeling refreshed when waking, even with all the swelling and tingling in my ears. No chatty, needy children. No dancing dog. Next time I need an adult time-out, I might just fake an illness or sprain something. At least with ears on the mend, I feel far less ornery and much more tolerant of the short people.

In the middle of all this, my little son has been quite the young ruffian. His Papa Doc touches on those antics in a blog here.

Happy reading!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Breaking the Silence

When I am quiet on Café Catiche, it is not because I cannot think of anything to say—I have, in fact, the opposite problem. There is much to say, much to write, much to digest. I simply cannot isolate one topic due to the complete merging of so many events that at one time seemed to be completely disconnected and the ridiculously fast pace in which these ideas have morphed into something else. The other problem is that certain aspects of myself I would rather not share, those things seeming to make me more vulnerable than I am already here. Ironic, isn’t it, because the truthful, intimate nature of a good post is what draws the reader to empathize or relate, to receive an impression in some way. It is why you are here reading this.

Tonight marks the completion of a life-changing week, one in which epiphanies were made, losses marked, and progress achieved. I lay tossing about in bed tonight and finally succumbed to rising for pre-dawn hot chocolate and the chance to put on paper the words and phrases that plague me. Some ideas are mundane—like the visit to the clinic where I was told I have been walking around for weeks with severe ear infections (well, that explains a lot), but the biggest was a heartbreaking and humble apology from my ex-husband. I have been intrigued by something else, too--a recent obsession with Deadwood, namely the characters whose curious blend of propriety and malevolence is reflected in often prose-like Victorian speech. Of course, I would find entertainment in this because certain people in my life seem to mirror exactly that union of disparate concepts within their own psyches. And my curious draw to the use of language on the show (not all characters speak so mellifluously, at least half are simply prone to callous and profane discourse) has sparked my interest in yet another topic—the way we express ourselves, particularly in the 21st Century world of texting.

So, having broken the silence here, and having said much and nothing at all, I think I should succumb to the soft whuffling of my husband’s slumber, nuzzle under the covers, and try to find comfort in sleep once again. I need more rest (and antibiotics). Ideas noted, I will likely explore the above concepts later. Here are, however, words directly quoted from Deadwood. Pardon the f-bomb, please. Al Swearengen, who manages a bar and brothel, and whose characteristic offensive language was surprisingly my motivator for facing the world again after my daughter’s therapist gave us each a frank talk, speaks to a printer whose shop and presses have been broken and ransacked as a measure of retaliation. I needed to hear this, even in it's rawness.

“Pain or damage don't end the world. Or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man... and give some back.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mortal Dining Sins: Tooting My Own Horn and The Potato Temptress

For a change of pace, I offer you this light post today. Part of me still can't believe I allowed myself to publish this...

Over Christmas break, my family found a wonderful little Creole/Cajun joint in the town where we had gathered for the holidays. How excited we were to find this place served Gambino’s bread and the familiar recipes of home! Over the years, I have often visited restaurants that brag of New Orleans cooking only to find that the cook is still a little unschooled in the details that should make the dish authentic. This restaurant, however, managed by a gentleman from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, made us and our tummies feel right at home.

Listed on the menu were red beans and rice, a favorite. “We de-gas our beans!” boasted the menu. I raised an eyebrow and summoned the waitress who readily confessed the restaurant’s method. Two of us volunteered to be test subjects. Some days later in my own kitchen, with the memory of that wonderful meal and having been living proof of a gas-free aftermath, I wrapped an apron about my waist, and employed the restaurant’s secret weapon: a potato.

After soaking two pounds of beans overnight, I eased the full pot onto the stove and fired up a burner. When the water reached a full rollicking boil, in went the sliced hunks of the potato, and eventually the holy trinity (bell pepper, onion, celery), sausage, and seasonings. I mashed a few cups of beans in the pot for the right texture and cooked the beans down until the flavors mingled pleasantly. That evening, as the beans cooled, I retrieved the cooked potato chunks and put them aside.

I confess that I am a fallen Catholic, as so many of us New Orleanians are. Unable to resist the temptation of the well-seasoned and soft potato, I succumbed to its sinful deliciousness. Unfortunately, every sin has a consequence, and I spent the evening apologizing to family. Lesson learned: when employing this de-gas tactic, DO NOT EAT THE POTATO. The potato will show no mercy.

Interestingly enough, a friend from across the country just sent me an article about the oil spill in the Gulf. Apparently, methane-eating bacteria have cleaned up the methane deposit that threatened the waters. Now, just where could I find some of that for the next red bean emergency?

Monday, January 10, 2011

No One Will Take Away Your Joy

A cousin recently posted a message of comfort to a friend on Facebook. He quoted the Bible, specifically a portion of a sentence from John 16:22, when he wrote, “…no one will take away your joy.” Over morning coffee, I wrote to my cousin that this was a very nice sentiment, but an impractical thought. I had been deliberating how to manage a difficult situation and was further frustrated with someone’s obstinacy to embrace the larger picture. I spent the remains of morning completing tasks related to the matter at hand while I reflected with cynicism on the quote from John. I did not realize that later that day, I would find joy despite the reality of dealing with a certain kind of long-term hardship.

That afternoon, my four-year-old son waited on me at school. His face brightened when I entered the room and he held up his arms. His soft skin, with its still-a-baby scent, comforted me as I carried him to the car. Up to that point, I had been burdened with stress, but suddenly, I told him that he was my joy, and no one would take my joy from me. After school, we stole a few minutes at a café together. He shared his muffin by breaking off dime-sized portions. My son, who was once known for his pervasive disobedience and defiance, has become my joy. While I love all my children (if I can so loosely include in that definition my husband’s grown girls), there is something unique in the spirit of my son. He is Mommy’s Tiny. He dances with delight when I enter the room. This, I embrace blissfully, and all burden seems lifted; raising him is a gift. As part of this immeasurable gift, my son has taught me about how to forgive (topic for another blog post) and how to be thankful.

My father once told me that there is a difference between joy and happiness. Joy, he said, is a continuous state. It is knowing that you do the right and honorable thing, that you live by acts of goodness, that you embrace selfless love in others and yourself. Happiness, he continued, is temporary. Happiness is fleeting, is an emotion, and is dependent on circumstances. At the time he had told me this, I was not quite willing to accept his idea, but the concept gave me courage and faith. I have drawn upon this conversation frequently since those turbulent days.

So today, I embrace joy. I am joyful despite fear, frustration, need, and even doubt. The full quote from John is this: So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

There may be readers here who could benefit from this today. If so, I send you blessings and wishes for mercy and compassion. May you choose to find joy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Be Good to Each Other

A few years ago, when I thought my world was coming to an end, my then-husband wondered aloud why he did not treat me as nicely as my father treated my mother. What I realized later was this: to treat someone that beautifully requires an interior quality so profound and pure that all one’s actions become a reflection of that goodness. This is not to say that change isn’t possible, that effort cannot improve a relationship, or even that difficult people can’t have a solid marriage, but really, this kind of lovely treatment of one another is a rare gift, and my parents are particularly blessed with it.

When I walked down the aisle the first time, my father whispered in my ear as he guided my arm to my soon-to-be husband’s. He said, “Be good to each other.” Such simple directions—the most uncomplicated marriage advice I have ever heard. Unfortunately, my first husband was unable to embrace those plain words and the marriage ended. Recently, my father and I paused at a café for java and had a long talk about the end of that relationship, and I commented about what I had observed between him and my mother that week. This Christmas, as I watched my parents speak gently with one another, my father cupped my mom’s face in his hand, and they bowed their heads toward one another, and murmured affectionate words. I held my breath as time stopped. It was a beautiful moment, the likes of which I witnessed often through my childhood, but that I never fully experienced until I courted my new husband: tenderness in its most innocent and sweetest light.

As we dawdled over coffee, my dad and I eventually grew to a deeper discussion of our own present marriages, my father and mother’s being their first and only. He elaborated on what he had learned as a young man in his early married years, and we laughed about how his errors paralleled some of the comedic ones my husband and I now experience as newlyweds at our age. Despite newness and trial though, we do triumph.

“I looked across the room at the Christmas party,” I said, “and saw my husband smiling at me. And he was proud—not ‘my wife is a trophy’ kind of proud, but proud to be married to me.” Suddenly, and even with my own spouse miles away, I could smell his cologne and feel the warmth of his body. I could almost hear him breathing the way he does when he bends his own forehead to touch mine in a wordless exchange of love. I paused in reverie. My father and I sat near the window of a Starbucks, the steam long having abandoned the cups in our hands, our thoughts drifting.

I thought about the goodness of my husband. When he speaks, he speaks gently. His voice still stops my heart and slows me down—it is the sound of love. This is not to say that we don’t have moments where we have overstepped boundaries in some way (Do NOT remove the carpet from his office! Do NOT!), but the overwhelming sensation I have for him is ultimately adoration. This Christmas, one and a half years after the start of our marriage, we drove our children from their father’s home to my in-laws far away. The kids were quiet, sleepy, and warm in their blankets against the dampness and chill of the fog outside. We cruised down the highway, picking out familiar landmarks silhouetted against the grey mist that curtained the countryside. I was overwhelmed by a familiar feeling—security, love for family despite obstacle or stress, and faith despite the unknown future. I told my husband later how much I enjoyed being part of his family—both the nuclear one we create and the extended one we share. We are good to each other.

Snugga Bugga and Child Speak

My son folded himself up in my lap, tucked his head under my chin, and pulled his blankie around himself. As I drew it up to warm the back of his neck and tucked the loose end under his toes, I asked him if he was my snuggle bundle. He replied, “Yes, I am your snugga bugga.” I rocked him and thought about all his funny words and phrases. Super boach lives in infamy here due to the day he announced that such a thing was on the stairs. When he had run to my husband for help, I had proceeded to examine the source of Tiny’s shock and horror: the largest house roach I have seen in years. What he says in reflection of my own spoken discipline is just as sweet and amusing. One day, frustrated with a Transformer toy that would not fold per the illustrated directions, he put his hands on his hips and stated clearly that he was “tired of this" and "it is so disappointing.” I’ll never forget my daughter at the same age taking her bears into another room for what we termed special chats. After her bears returned, their behavior had dramatically improved. Hearing her discipline her bears was always an amusing check on my own behavior.

Of course, repeating what one hears can backfire. My daughter attempted to shun her chores one Sunday morning by announcing that her intentions were just to take it easy and she was not in the mood to do her work, words that mimicked mine from a different conversation (with different intentions and circumstances) the week prior. That did not end well for her, by the way.

Most of the time here, the things the children repeat or reiterate in some form are varieties of affectionate talk. For example, “Mommy,” says my little boy, “I am your Tiny Man! Are you my Tiny, too?” And after years of telling him I am going to eat his little bumply toes, he says, “You need to chase me, catch me, and eat me!”

These days, I find myself sad that my last baby is outgrowing my lap. Next year, Tiny will be a kindergartner and I will be out of the house more for work or school again. Note that I crave another baby—a woman knows when she’s done. Tiny, however, has a special bond with me. He reminds me of a very green pony I worked with long ago. My trainer once stood me beside that tired, frustrated little horse and told me that hardship forges a bond.  (I hear she is now a well-trained, but still naughty pony, just like someone else I know.) My son and I have forged a bond through hardship, too. He has been a challenging child to raise. Even pregnancy with him was a battle of wills. Our little man has reached this wonderful place where he can listen and follow directions without being angry, where he understands consequences, sleeps and stays in his bed, and is eager to cooperate and please. He does regress occasionally, but always will be my snugga bugga, as he likes to say. So these last couple of years where he invents vocabulary or naively bumbles through speech will be cherished more than ever. His words will carry me.