Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Week 15 - rewrite of adult memoir

I have found that as children get older, performances get longer - whether they are plays or concerts - and yet the seating arrangements stay uncomfortably the same.   As I walked toward the gymnasium I was debating my choices.  I could head for the folding, unyielding, metal chairs in the front to allow for pictures without framing it with shoulders and heads of the people in front of me.  However the chairs were always packed closely together and didn't allow for much personal space.  I decided that I would change things up and sit on the bleacher seats instead - same butt-numbing results, but the advantage of a higher viewpoint which comes in handy for large groups such as this one and the ability to spread out a bit.  People tend to leave a bit of space between each other on bleacher seats, and it's easy to shift a bit to either side when not impersonating a can of sardines.  At least with these concerts there is no worry of being unable to hear, microphones and speakers flanked the back to amplify the piece enough that even the parents at the top could hear clearly. 

High school concerts are the big leagues of the public school concert world, and programs are handed out at the entrance.  I took two, one for reading through and using as reference during the performance (and then as a fan once the air became sifling) and the other to tuck carefully away to take home and put in the scrapbook with the pictures I would take.  I had my digital camera, video camera, and tripod all stored in my handy camera bag, along with extra rechargable batteries and AC adaptors tucked in the side pockets.  Over my other should I carried my purse, hastily cleaned out at home and refilled with bottles of water and granola bars (mostly for my son after the concert), tissues and a foldable seat cushion for me (it was a large purse).  I saw a lot of familiar faces as I found a seat.  We were all like an extended family by now, seeing each other four or five times a year at these same functions.  I set up camp mid-way up the bleachers in the center section, just 5 rows down from the top where there were several wall outlets, just in case.  I waved at another mom heading up the steps with similar gear in tow.  She scooted past me and began setting up as well.  We chatted a bit while getting comfy, placing our jackets beside us to make sure no one encroached in our territory, and looked through the program commenting on the soloist selections and pieces that the children were performing.  The selection for that year was Jersey Boys, and I was pleased to see that there were several pieces that were familiar upbeat songs.

The audience hushed as the performers quickly and quietly entered and took their beginning places.  The boys all looked rather dashing in white dinner jackets and bow ties, and the girls in purple sequins with large tulle bows around their waist.  Scanning the layout of the group, I turned on the video camera and adjusted the zoom so that I would be able to see all of them and I wouldn't have to fiddle with the buttons except to zoom closer for the soloists.  The director stepped up and described the different pieces for the performance, introduced the soloists and walked towards the small band that would be playing the music.  As the band began, the singers all began the choreographed steps, smiles in place.  I spotted my son near the back with most of the other boys and snapped a few still photos of him, and them, as they stepped and moved to the music. 

I find that the show chior is aptly named, it is a complete show story with amazing vocals.  The opening song shifted to another as the ladies melted away and the gentlemen stepped forward.  My son took a step further toward the microphone and I zoomed in the camera as he began his solo piece.  I held my breath.  He had been practicing all week, humming under his breath and doing scales while in the shower, and it had paid off - he was fantastic.  I managed to get a picture or two of him before I had to dig for the tissues in my purse.  As his voice trailed off on the final note, the wave of applause built.  Technically the applause was supposed to be held until the end to keep from interrupting the following song, but since I didn't start it I didn't feel too guilty in clapping just as loud as I could.  Standing there in the spotlight, smiling as the applause (his applause) drowned out the continued music, his eyes met mine and I gave him two thumbs up.  I sat back comfortably on my cushion to enjoy the rest of the performance.  I thought of the amazing journey my son had brought me on, from school to school, group to group, concert to concert, and I was so thankful that he did.  All of it, every painful and butt-numbig minute, had been worth it for just this one night.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Week 13 - Review

I have always been a fan of book series.  Different styles, different genre - I just love a good story, and it's a great pleasure to finish a good book and know that there is another portion of the characters lives that I get to live along with them.  It's almost like calling up an old friend every month or so and catching up on things.  One of the first series that I became addicted to was the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series by Jean Auel.  In this series we follow our heroine Ayla from early childhood to eventual motherhood in the shadow of the last Ice Age.  When I had last re-read my final book in the series, I noticed in the author notes that she was working on another book for the series, I frantically went online searching for publication dates, in hopes that it was out and available at my nearest bookstore.  Sadly, that was not the case, I had to wait another six whole months for the next installment to arrive.  As the release date came closer, I pulled out all of the other books and dutifully read them all through in preparation, it would not do to read the new book without having the previous stories fresh in my mind.  Finally the day arrived and I plunked down my hard earned money on the counter, not even minding the extra I paid for hardcover when I usually went for the more comfortably priced paperback.  I waited for a quiet evening to crack open the cover and begin my new journey into "The Land of Painted Caves."

New mother Ayla was continuing her training of the Zelandonia and happily married to her love Jondalar, all was well.  The story drifted along, pausing here and there to remind readers, or to instruct those who had not read earlier books, of the history of the characters and land.  I noticed as I went along though, that there was a lot of that backtracking, a whole lot.  I understand the concept of not wanting to exclude readers that didn't have the history, but it became obvious that serious portions of this "new" book weren't new, but a recap of earlier ones. I plowed onward, optomistic that Ms. Auel would catch the new readers up to speed and the second half of the book would surge forward in time.

Ayla went to the grand summer meeting of people.  Her new introduction to everyone was over and this year she was able to look forward to familiar faces and catching up on news.  She was able to introduce her new daughter and juggled her duties as mother and wife with her new increasing demands of the Zelandonia, the spiritual leaders and healers of the people.  As the title foretells, as part of her training she is taken on a tour of the lands to see all of the sacred caves and their paintings.  There are lots of descriptons of stalagmites and stalagtites, dark echoing caverns, and cryptic lines and markings with the caves they visit.  All the while, Ayla is absorbing these with wonder and widom.  An chance meeting with a group of "outlaw" men from a nearby cave introduces the idea of retribution and justice in this early civilization, but Ayla and Jondalar return safely to their home in the Ninth cave as the summer closes.

Apparently winter in early civilizations is as boring as winter in modern times, because we skip forward to spring and Ayla's continued training.  Sadly the story detours to Ayla's history, as read in books one and two, and I get another chapters closer to the end of the book.  I must admit at this time I was waiting on the edge of my seat for some spark of new life to bring some conflict and excitement to the story.  While there was a captivating chapter or two when Ayla recieves her "calling" to the spiritual world, and the sacrifice she makes for that calling, the conflict never comes.  Unfortunately, although the author notes do not mention it, this seven hundred fifty seven pages is merely Ms. Auel's re-entry to authoring, and is apparently the groundwork for another book to follow.  I would recommend that avid Cave Bear fans reread the older books and wait for Painted Caves to come out in paperback to spare the $30 hardcover price, and wait for a couple of years for (hopefully) another book to come out that has that same spark and interest that the older ones had, yet this one sorely lacks.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Week 12 - Book Intro

As a gangly young teenager I was desperately looking for a way to reconnect with my stepfather.  He had been around since I was five and things were just like a "normal family" until I had gotten to about twelve.  Inexplicably, he and I never talked any more.  Our conversations became one sided where he interjected a monosyllable every once in a while before abruptly ending by telling me to go do "something."  I had no way of knowing, with my preteen experience, that it had almost nothing to do with me.  Looking back now, I understand the undercurrents of my parents' lives at that time and see more clearly that there was nothing that I could have said or done to make any significant change in my stepfather's grumpy disposition.  I never saw the drunken episodes or heard the arguments about his drinking between him and my mother, those were stories that I heard much later in life.  Long after the denial of being an alcoholic, the quitting cold turkey, the many falls off of the wagon, and finally the divorce in my early twenties - that was when my mother and I talked about those times.  But back then I was sure that it must be about me, and since it was I could, and must, fix it.

Since I was a young teenage girl, and my father a guy's kinda guy, there was little mutual ground for me to work with.  Still I gave it a shot.  That summer was interesting in many ways for me, since I learned a lot of new things from him even if it was with faked interest from the start.  That was the year that I learned to shoot a rifle, when I kept asking him about the one that we kept in the barn in case of raccoons or big rats.  He took me out and showed me how to shoot a few evenings a week for a month or so.  We shot some of the empty beer cans, ironically that he provided, off of the mound of dirt past the garden.  I learned how to change a bike tire tube, how to tell the difference between English and metric wrenches, and how to work a wood splitter.  All of these activities were rather short lived.  I assumed that I had not put in proper effort, and kept casting about for another avenue to reconnect.

He was never much of a reader, not for fun anyway, but I was.  I loved reading just about anything.  I actually had a secret goal of reading every non-fiction book in our little elementary school library before finishing eighth grade (I made it to the W's).  I had noticed on a little shelf in our living room that there were a couple of old, faded paperback books.  I had asked my mom and she had said that they weren't hers, so they must have been his.  I thought how perfect it would be if I read them and then I could talk to him about the books.   The covers were rather odd, an old Star Wars kinda look to them, and they were obviously old and well-read.  The title didn't give me any hint or clue as to what I was delving into, just a single word "Dune" with the smaller letters "Frank Herbert" underneath the silhouette of a man walking in a desert.  I knew my stepfathers liking for the science fiction stories - we watched Dr. Who on PBS and sat and watched Star Trek (the originals with Scotty and Kirk) every night - so I knew that this must be along the same lines.

Delving into the work of Arrakis, known as "Dune" to the natives was an amazing experience for me.  Not only was this a new and amazing adventure, but it was the first time that I found that grown-up books could be as interesting and attention-grabbing to me as the young adult versions.  It seemed easy to forget everything that I know and allow the author to paint a new universe, where monstrous animals lived, space travel was as common as cruise ships, and magic lived and breathed within societies.  The voyage of the teen prince to a new world was easy to follow, and lent itself nicely to my own tribulations.  While I was unable to use "Dune" as a vehicle to bridge the widening gap between myself and my stepfather, I was able to follow along with young Prince Leto through many stages of his life.  Through the reading several books in the series, I imagined my stepfather reading them at my own age, and I at least felt that while we were on different pages now, once we had both been in the same place, riding along on a highliner to a new unknown world.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Week 11 - Expertise

Seven days and counting to our family vacation, time to get to work.  The trip and reservations had been set and planned several months ahead, and left to sit quietly until now.  Our family, my husband, myself, and our four children are driving to Tennessee to visit with my mother for a week.
The lists begin, lists are as essential to me as breathing when planning a trip with our family.  Lists for the trip itself, we are driving fourteen hundred miles with two adults and four children in one vehicle.  Lists for the vacation itself, when we arrive in the mountains of Tennessee and our rented cabin.  And of course, the list for the trip home.  All of the lists are placed in the folder that will reside safely next to my co-pilot seat, along with the reservation confirmation paperwork, the registration and insurance information for the van, and an extensive list of phone numbers on the off chance a cell phone is lost along the way.

Packing begins.  Confidently, with extensive list in hand, I begin by tackling each of the kids dressers one at a time.  Carefully selecting only the choicest articles of clothing, ones that are comfortable for wearing in the car, are presentable enough to wear if we go to a nice restaurant for dinner, and will be warm enough/cool enough depending on the weather.  All goes into the quickly filling laundry basket.  Once the preliminary selections are finished, I pull out the kids backpacks and empty them of the residual school papers and broken pencils.  Checking off each item on the list as I pack, each backpack fills with the required number of socks, shorts, tshirts, and underwear.  Allowing each of the kids to have their clothes packed in their own backpack allows for easy packing and unpacking, but also allows easy access while we are traveling.  One bag for all of the extra shoes and sandals to keep any dirt, mud, or residual shoe smell safely away from the clothes.  The final backpack for all of the bathroom items that we are bringing, shampoo, contact lens solution, toothpaste, deodorant, etc - all safe in one place should anything leak.  The last to be packed, the only suitcase, would hold hubby's and my own clothes.  It also held the precautionary mattress cover for my son's occasional nighttime accidents, extra socks (which seem to disappear away from home much faster than they do at home), and any other incidentals that didn't fit in any of the other backpack's categories. 

With all of the items on my list checked and accounted for, I pulled out my tried and true LL Bean bag.  It's one of the bigger ones, but it was the perfect size to fit between the front seats under the slide-out cup holders.  This is what my hubby calls the Doomsday Bag, because if we lose it, we are doomed.  These are the basic essentials required to go any length of time with my children  in any vehicle.  In this bag goes a handful or two of pencils, a couple sharpeners, individual book lights for each of them to read (eternally optimistic), extra rechargeable batteries and the charger, every charger cord for the various electronics we are taking, and individual mini packs of M&M's and mini candy bars (never underestimate the power of chocolate as persuasion).  Topping all of this off is a gallon zip lock bag of the various medications that my son takes, the few my husband will need if his gout attacks, cough drops, antacids (my oldest son nearly killed us all after a bad BBQ sandwich last year), Nyquil, melatonin, and 3 large bottles of Advil.  Carefully placing the red striped bag near the now-assembled pile of backpacks, There is one last item on my agenda.  I grab throw five throw pillows from the couch (I always knew they were good for something) and open the blanket chest for five of the fleece throws I made last year. 

I call for all of the troops and explain that nothing, Nothing, was to be added, taken out, or messed with in any way unless I okayed it.  They all look at me with acceptance, knowing from past experiences the frantic animal I become if someone alters my perfected form of over-organization.  I point to the empty laundry basket next to the pile and tell them that if there is something else that they want or have to take, it should go in there, and we would see if there was space when it came time to pack up.  I knew that it would be overflowing by the time we left, and most would find it's way into the space left in my suitcase.  I gaze at the pile periodically throughout the time left before we leave, mentally reviewing if we had enough socks, or if I had forgotten anything vitally important; picturing in my mind how it should be stacked and packed in the van so that there would still be enough room for all of the kids.  My job for vacation is the provisioning and packing, to make sure we get there with all bits and pieces intact, and then I am on vacation.  At least until it's time to pack up again to come home.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Week 10 - Enlisting the Reader

I talk about my children a lot.  Well probably even more than a lot according to some people.  It just can't be helped, I stay at home full time with my four kids, and they pretty much determine what I do with my time each day.  After the kids all go to school, it's generally a small window of time that I get to myself to go through the mail and enjoy an extra cup of coffee.  Last week, as I leafed through the mail, glancing through the lastest sales flyers and sweepstakes winner notifications, I saw a rather thick envelope from my son's school.  Grimacing, wondering what new batch of useless information it might contain, I ripped open the envelope.

It contained a sheaf of paperwork regarding my son's recent evaluations and school progress for the year so far.  Somewhere within also would be the recommendations regarding his program for next year.  Steeling myself I begin at the top, trying to read and decipher as I went down the page.  As my eyes glazed over and the grocery list began drifting to the front of my mind, I realized I was not absorbing any of the information in front of me.  If you have ever had the pleasure of reading such a report you know that about four sentences into it, the "educational-ese" begins.  The first few are "I examined/observed such and such child who resides with none/both/one of their biological parents with 1/3/72 siblings, ages 3, 7, 9, and 105..."  blah blah blah.  Things I know and anyone who knows my kids or family knows, do they really need to put it in the report to tell it to me though?  Since no one without a signed and sealed declaration, and perhaps blood sample, can get a copy of the report, really does it require an introduction?  Perhaps its just to assure me that the person is actually talking about my son, rather than the 300 other children they are responsible for documenting on.  I wonder if it's like a form letter, filling in the blanks with pertinent information.  Of course that just leads me to think maybe its more like the old Ad-Libs books, adjective here, adverb here, word that ends in "ing" here... and when they are stumped for a good word they pull out the thesaurus and grab the longest word they can find, sounding sufficiently impressive and knowledgable. 

Luckily, or not as the case may be, I am familiar with the layout of this particular fill in the blank report, and there are handy section titles that direct me to the last paragraph or two of the report, "Conclusions."  My observations prove to be correct yet again, since this section is made of single syllable words and a couple of mis-spellings, obviously quickly typed or dictated and not properly checked for accuracy or complete sentences (note my son's name is spelled incorrectly, sigh).  The total sumation of the "conclusions" is that my son is receiving all of his current services and supports and making progress with said services.  In addition the writer, a consulting psychologist for many of the local school districts, determines that the services should continue until the next evaluation.  Phew, what a relief, my son is getting his services (which I observe and discuss with his teacher almost daily), making progress (which I see on a daily basis and again hear from his teacher), and should continue with the same regimin for another year (which is a relief since schools rarely manage to leave working programs alone without meddling with them). 

I notice the page number at the bottom, #14.  Fourteen pages to sum up essentially, it ain't broke so we won't fix it.  I wonder if the school has to pay the consultant piecemeal, per page of results per child.  I also wonder if perhaps it might be better to eliminate needless meetings and reports and fund some of the sorely lacking areas of the school budget.  Maybe an opt out option?  Certainly it might fund the notebooks that my daughters third grade class held a bake sale to pay for?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Week 9 - Speculative

Times when I am doing something particularly boring or mundane I usually allow my mind to wander and think back on my life.  Looking back it's like looking up a large tree, the wide solid trunk is the now of my life solid and whole, buried beneath the surface the collective knowledge and nourishment are supplied by tendrils of the past,  and the branching limbs above and ahead of me are the various avenues open awaiting to be chosen.  I picture my tree of life and wonder if it would be quite so solid and round if I had done this, or not done that? Would it have smoother bark, less gnarls and knots in the wood, or would it have failed to thrive and be pitifully thin, awaiting a windy Maine storm to snap it in half or pull the roots up all together?  My husband calls it my What-if game.  He sees the glaze in my eyes as I wash the dishes or fold the laundry and ask what I am deleting from my life.  He doesn't understand the draw is not to delete from my life, but to wander through the alternate lives I might have lived if I had made different or better -or worse- decisions.  Since I am a firm believer in the adage of "Older and Wiser"  I feel that the wisdom I have gained allows me to reflect and determine if I was wrong or right, foolish or wise, hasty or thoughtful.

A recurring theme in my idle musing is the changes that my life would reflect had I not re-met my husband several years after we had broken up from our high school romance.   Invariably this line of thought leads to the eventual conclusion that I was indeed extremely fortunate that fate peeked down and aligned our lives to reconnect. Being rather cynical or, as I like to say, realistic, I then peek ahead to ponder my future should fate decide to withdraw that blessing from my life.  What would I do if my hubby were to leave, or heaven forbid, to die? 

I am the mother of four wonderful children, certainly a handful but an amazing group even if I do say so.  I am also a full time student at the moment, in the hopes that one day I can get a real grown-up job that will supplement our single family income.  Of course I am also a full time student because my children are full time students.  My youngest son, the next-to-youngest total, is currently in the fifth grade but was diagnosed with special needs when he was 3 three years old.  There are no ready-made after school programs or daycare centers for kids who require the constant one-on-one supervision - thus the stay at home mom/student status I currently enjoy.  Enjoy.  I do actually enjoy being home for my children, regardless of the snarky comments about third grade math homework and the constant mom taxi duties.  And while it is fulfilling and I think important for parents, rather than daycares and babysitters, to raise their children, I also know that someday there will come a time when my children will not need me to be there when they get off the bus.  Being a stay-at-home mom is important to me but being a stay-at-home wife is not on my list of things I want to do.

If suddenly I were to become a single mother of four, I would seriously need to re-evaluate my lifestyle.  I would obviously have to begin working to support my family.  Who would I find that could care for my children and keep them safe and happy?  Would I be able to find a job that would allow me to spend as much time at home while my kids were home and awake.  With the current scarcity of decent paying jobs, it would more likely be not one but two jobs that would be needed.  If I were able to find two jobs to juggle together, I wouldn't even know where to begin looking for childcare for my kids.  I know that I would be playing the lotto every week to keep from paying 3/4 of that second check for said care. 

Would my older sons begin to drift away from the lack of a male role model?  My oldest will be off to college in a year or so, so he perhaps would avoid significant damage from the lack of father at home, but what about my second son?  I would be studying sporting updates hard and long (and mostly unsuccessfully, I'm sure) to fill the shoes of my hubby.  Long nights of off color jokes and wrestling matches would unfortunately be out.  Would he be able to talk to me like one of the guys as he struggles with girls, grades, and life in general through high school?  Seriously I doubt it.  I guess ultimately my kids would most likely have to accept that while our life had changed, I would still be the same ol' mom that I was before.  Certainly I would be trying harder, stressing more, and doing everything possible to make up the difference, but we would still be missing a vital piece of our lives. 

As I have told my children so many times, certainly there are times when people change their lives, but more often than not, the things in your life change you.  It's those darn roots that feed the trunk of the "life tree".   While you think you can pick and choose which branch you will travel into the future, it's the roots that can determine the width and breadth of those branches, and whether they will carry you further onward, or snap suddenly under your feet leaving you to begin again with the present.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Week 8 - A Good Friend

As I sit working on the computer, my cell phone trills a familiar little be-bop tune beside me.  Looking down I see that my mother is calling again, it's no surprise.  Let me explain, I love my mother.  She is and has been my very best friend since the day that I moved out of the house at eighteen, before that she was just my mother and it was hard to be friends with the local law enforcement, so to speak.  Usually I talk with my mom a few times a week, calls when she is driving to or from work at a private college in Tennessee.  We laugh and joke about how she has to drive slower so that her people (cell phone coverage) can catch up with her as she goes around the bend near the T&J store a few miles away from her house.  Usually we talk about what she is doing today with her nursing students, how warm it is down there, or which of my kids are sick, grounded, or performing in various plays or concerts. 

Lately however we have had a new topic of discussion, and subsequently the increase in calls.  My mother had gotten a phone call from a nursing recruiter, telling her of a position particularly suited to her skills that had come available.  While that might be exciting in its own right, the catch comes in that the job is in Portland, Maine - some 22 hours driving time from her current location.  When she initially called me she told me to sit down because she had some news.  Idiotically I immediately ask if she is pregnant, after all news of such importance as to warrent sitting down before hearing it can only be impending marriage or pregnancy, and I figured I would go for the bigger shock of the two just in case.  She laughed and I relaxed a bit, and she told me about the job opening.  Ultimately the position is wrought with circumstances and considerations that can make your head spin if you think about it for too long - having to move, selling the house, buying a new house, taking a management position again - but also being closer to family and grandchildren, moving back to Maine that has seasons and snow, returning to the coast where her sweetie Tom has worked his whole life, being able to attend grandchildren's concerts and plays, gathering for holiday dinners and celebrations.  For every pro there is a con, and then for every con there is a pro, round and round it goes. 

While my mother is my best friend, I flatter myself thinking that I perhaps am her best friend also, and in times of trouble, strife, or heavy decision making, you call your best friend for advice - thus the phone calls.  But this also puts me in a particularly delicate position.  I love my mother and I want her to move back to Maine even more than I want a Sonic to suddenly appear across the street from my house.  As a daughter I want to do the happy dance around the living room and sing "Nana's moving to Ma-ine", but as a friend I don't know thats what I should say.  If it were me, I would want my friend to give me their objective opinion on what they think would be the best thing for me to do, but it's much harder to be a good friend to your mother who is your best friend.  I want to be selfish, I want talk about the Christmas dinners we could have and the weekend trips for shopping, but I don't know if that is the best thing for her to do.  I remember many times when I have spoken about the kids or going out to lunch with the girls when she would go silent and I could feel the silent tears gathering in the corner of her eye from so far away.  It makes my heart break to think that I have upset her, and try to gloss over the uncomfortable moments with depreciating comments about rotten children or potential food poisoning.

Rembering this, during that first call I was able to keep a detached calm and ask about the pay, moving expenses, and talk about how hard it would be to sell her house in Tennessee in the current housing market.  I didn't do the happy dance and sing.  I asked about her contract at the college and the student loan forgiveness she receives for teaching there.  I wasn't planning those shopping trips and weekend visits.  I was gentle and subtle, even and considering of the pros and cons of the situation.  When we hung up, I just sat staring blankly at the television.  Hubby came into the living room and saw my face, he asked me what was wrong.  I was confused, nothing was wrong, right?  I was happy that my mom might be potentially moving back to Maine, wasn't I?  I was suddenly struck with the problem, talking to my mom I had been the perfect friend, but a terrible daughter.  What if she was calling me to see my reaction?  If I wasn't all that excited about it, then perhaps she wouldn't put much consideration to taking the position.  Now tears were rolling down my face, as I realized my mistake.  I called her back.