Thursday, October 21, 2010

Our Lady of Perpetual Mess

I am, I freely admit, a disastrous housekeeper. My house is a shambles. Which causes no end of anxiety for me. I mean, my house is such a disaster, I sincerely fear play dates. Not because I know that nicely turned-out parents in their tidy vehicles will arrive at our door to pick up their darlings only to be shocked at the overflowing laundry bins and Lego underfoot, but because I won't be able to locate their precious, but oh-so-easily misplaced progeny.

Now, don't get me wrong, we aren't depraved. We don't share our home with cockroaches, mice, or assorted vermin (that we can see), and we're certainly not candidates for Hoarders (God forbid!), but we're so deeply mired in stuff you have to wade through the hip-deep detritus to find the couch.

I'm not proud of this, and I certainly don't relish having to shovel a path to the bathroom each morning--in fact, sometimes I become so claustrophobic I go on a rampage filling plastic bin bags with any and all toys, clothes, shoes, bedding, and assorted small appliances within reach and hoof it off to the Sally Ann--but I'm sufficiently uninterested to make a permanent change.

So I've decided to find and extol the virtues of living in a mess. It's my new mission, maybe even my new religion. I will convert at least 3 people a decade. It'll be a small congregation, but a lazy one. We'll call ourselves Our Lady of Perpetual Mess and some of our hymns will include, Go Throw it Off the Mountain and Amazing Glaze (on the Bathroom Counter). Of course the backbone of my new faith will be the Five Virtues:

: Avoid extremes of housekeeping. Forebear resenting injuries caused by tripping over your husband's shoes so much as you think they deserve.

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, like a strawberry stuck to the kitchen floor for two weeks, or at accidents common or unavoidable from stepping and sliding on said strawberry.

Order: Let all your things have their places, and when they don't, let the places they lie be their new places. 

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought, when you're not tired or to busy blogging. Perform without fail what you resolve, when your in-laws are coming for the weekend.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or wine glasses, but in habitation, give yourself ample leeway.

I feel a great weight lifted off my shoulders at this decision (mostly because I shrugged off my wool coat on to the floor). It's freeing to aim for the middle. No more battles. No more weeping. No more renting of clothes. No more shouting down the hall to get kids to pick up their backpacks, or threatening life and limb when I find a 4-day old bowl of mushroom soup in the laundry room, or frantically flipping through the Yellow Pages to find a divorce lawyer after discovering toenail clippings on the kitchen table...again!

And when Our Lady descends to finally bring me to that tidy, quiet, peaceful place in the sky, I'll know I did my job. I'll know that my family is safe from pestilence and disease because my conversion has enabled them to be exposed to every known virus on the planet, that, and the fact that they'll probably find enough money (and popcorn kernels and Barbie shoes and crayons and underwear) under the cushions of the couch to hire a house-keeper.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blogging, Narcissism, and my Grandma

God I love blogging. I love looking back at snapshots of my life and my relationship with myself and my kids.

Is that narcissistic?

Yeah, actually. I think it might be. Just a little. But perhaps not more so than journaling (except perhaps that journaling is a private, meditative act and blogging is a public, dirty-laundry-airing act, at which I excel, thankyouverymuch).

My Grandma--Clara was her name--was a faithful journaler. Every day she'd write a little of what went on in her day:

October 18, 1946,

Cloudy today. Feels like more snows coming. John went into Munson today and wasn't back until after supper. Bought Karen boots. Shot a coyote sneaking around the chickens. Repair chicken coop tomorrow. 

She wrote for years like that, most of her adult life. We found them, the stack of diaries she'd carefully kept, in a small credenza in her sewing room after she died. Reading them now is fantastic, like unearthing some glimpse into a foreign, ancient life. I feel strangely close to her reading her tiny bird-like scrawl across the page, suspecting that she wrote small to conserve paper (she was a fabulous conserver, she'd have put Al Gore to shame).

In fact, I feel closer to her now than I did when she was alive (and I loved her enormously before she died)--now that I'm a mother, and not unlike her, a sometimes frustrated, sometimes unfulfilled mother. My grandmother was an artist in her heart and in her soul, but in her life she was a small-town, lonely, disappointed farm-wife and mother. I think she lived, and died, resentful of how she lived. I think she wanted and needed more. She didn't get it. Perhaps because of the time, perhaps because she didn't know how, perhaps because she was denied it.  She lived out her resentment, often shown in the harsh, fierce entries in her journals. She felt cold, and that's the way she wrote.

So I follow in her footsteps and write about myself and my life. Why? I don't know. What compels me to take what small, precious time I have to spare and put my thoughts down? Maybe it's a genetic compulsion. Maybe, fearing, knowing, we're mortal, we try--from cave paintings to blogging--we try to preserve a part of ourselves, our history, to pass on who we are, not just what we've done or how to do it, to our children and the future.

Everywhere I go, everything I write or say, I take a part of Clara and Karen with me. These often troubled women and mothers who were and are my role models. They prop me up and, just because they were and are, make it possible for me to write and speak my mind. Yes, I'm just as often frustrated and unfulfilled as I am the opposite, but I write and rant and rave and scream above the din, and I love to do it. It makes me happy.

So am I a narcissist? or is this genetic?

What does it matter? My grandma would be glad that I'm finding joy (though it would probably piss her off a little too). I am, as she did, leaving my own small, sometimes crazy record, of who I am. And, like her own small message to the future, maybe, someday, this too will matter.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm a Teenage Medusa

MMMmmmmm HHhmmmmmm,

It's cocktail time. Time to crack open a nice, medium-bodied (by this I mean medium-priced) bottle of red wine. With a twist off cap for easy access, of course. None of those pesky corks to slow me down.

I love this time of day. My house is as close to quiet as it ever gets. The ankle-biters are in bed. The teenager is out (it's Friday after all). The husbands in the shower. And I'm curled like a pretzel on a red leather Ikea couch with my bottle of red handy, and I'm relishing it.

I've been ridiculously moody lately (which might account for why Bart is in the shower much longer than usual--either that or he's got some "personal business" to attend to). More moody that usual, though I personally know some individuals who would dispute my ability to be "more moody." I always find that ignoring these people, or the occasional well timed tongue-lashing helps sort them out--of course, withholding cookies and sex (depending on the audience) helps too.

Perhaps it's the weather--it actually snowed here this morning, or perhaps it's nearing a full moon, or perhaps it's that I've been trying to wean myself off my antidepressants, but all I know is that I'm a terrible bitch.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not all that fun being a bitch. In fact, it lacks most any kind of appeal. My family looks at me as if I'm going to grow snakes for hair to turn them all to stone. My inability to sustain a reasonable conversation without significant eye rolling and snorting has kept me from seeing or speaking to any friends (after all, I'd like to keep them). And even my reflection finds my sour-puss distasteful.

So today, after my kids carefully skirted the filthy kitchen, where I was aggressively preparing myself, and only myself, something to eat, while purposefully ignoring the sink overflowing with dishes, and my husband hastily tripped over the back doorstep terrified he was getting home hairy-eyeball late, I had an epiphany. I had reverted to my 15-year old self. I was behaving like a self-obsessed, unbearable, nauseating teenager.

Good God! What a sickening revelation! I'm my own worst nightmare. All I need is a bottle of gin hidden under my bed and it may as well be 25 years ago.

I swiftly and firmly decided not to indulge myself. I promptly took a shower (the first in 3 days), sterilized the kitchen, made a reasonably healthy bedtime snack for the nose-miners, with only 3 marshmallows each (so stop judging!), then tucked them in, popped a Wellbutrin, and without further delay, unscrewed my bottle of wine.

Thank God for age. I wouldn't go back to high school for a billion dollars--gin gives me heartburn.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Deep, Dark Secret

She had a deep, dark secret. One she couldn't share with her friends, her family, her husband, or her kids. Was it shame that kept her locked in this emotional prison? Was it shame?

To carry such a weight was nearly unbearable. To keep this secret for so long. To long to tell. The overwhelming need. She felt it rise in her throat, inexorably creeping. She wanted so desperately to tell. Anyone. Just share and not feel judged. But she knew judgment was inevitable. And what came with the judgment, she wondered. Would she be worthy anymore? Would her children be unable to respect her? Love her? Could she love herself?

So she wore her secret like an old bandage needing to be removed. Greying and fraying at the edges. Losing it's stick. But she was too frightened of the pain she knew she'd feel in tearing it off.

What did it mean to be a mother? Surely, even a mother is an individual who's entitled to secrets. If our past forms our present, and if who we are is defined by who we've been, then, surely, surely, we are all patchwork people of truths, lies, successes, failures, and secrets.

So why did she feel so duplicitous keeping secrets? Why did she feel that her failures were not just failures, her secrets not just secrets, but were somehow untellable, unthinkable, unknowable? Suddenly, she felt becoming and being a mother had erased her past? Erased everything that she'd made and lost of herself in the years she was before they were born? It all started to feel so surreal, so unreal, like her life was merely an old film she'd seen once. Was anything she'd done or said or been or felt real?  Had any of it actually happened? Or did she begin when her son took his first breath?

Perhaps giving birth takes our own lives, she thought. Perhaps, what we barter for the life of a child, our child, our children, is ourselves.

No one tells you. No one says that you sell your soul to the future to have a child. That your past is buried, but not mourned for no one grieves you when you're still there. And, she thought, that is the darkest secret of them all--one she'd just come to understand. Did she want to grieve for herself? Could she say goodbye?

How do you say goodbye, especially to yourself. How can you think of yourself, and the person you'd planned to become, as gone?

Then her son laughed, the sound rising up above the din of the house. It was some TV show from the other room--Grover or Little Bear. Suddenly, in that moment, she knew she could say good bye and mourn, and she allowed slow tears to drop into her coffee. She knew then that it was okay to let go of her secrets too. That her secrets, that secret, had died with who she was, who she might have been. And she knew, as the tears fell, that everything she had been was a treasure, an inheritance she'd left herself. She was a new woman--of new hopes, new possibilities, new depth for pain and for joy--that was born when he was born.

And, she knew, her inheritance was more valuable than gold.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning

It's dark in my head. Deep, dark hazy black. Driving water beats and prickles my scalp. The walls are closing in. I bang my shoulder--I should be warm, but it's cold, very cold. Pound, pound, pound. Why is there always pounding?

Blood. Blood, then pain. Why does my body know what's happening before my brain can register?  I can feel the sharp sting of warm blood run down my leg. It just begins to pool between my toes before it gets washed, swirled away. I open my eyes and watch my essence trickle away.


"MOM!!! Where's my home-reading? MOOMMM!!! MOOOOOMMMM!!!!!!!!!


Not Armageddon. Not the Apocalypse. Not even the Second Coming. It's my morning shower: shaving my legs (read: aggressively, though inadvertently, removing a 2-inch strip of skin off my left shin) with my eyes closed (because I'm too damn tired to open them) while the no-account-nose-miners hammer on the door screaming inane questions their father could answer were he not entirely and purposefully engrossed in his book and Bran Flakes.

Oh morning. How sweet you are.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Got a What?!

I have 3 daughters. All amazing, and exhausting, in their own ways.

Emma's 20: tall, lanky, intense, funny, deeply intelligent, elegant, somewhat-nerdy, burbling with talent, and gratefully, away at university (I love her so much....when she's at school....and I send up a little prayer of thanks daily when she's away, "God? Thank you for creating universities in other cities. Thank you Lord. Amen.")

Bronwyn's 6: tall, sturdy, bright as a new penny, happy-go-lucky, and an accomplished's a regular occurrence in our house to hear, "Bronwyyyyynnnnnnn, quiiit it!!!!"

Then there's Isabelle. 17-year old Isabelle. If there were a prize for the World's Best Teenager, Isabelle would be in the top ten. She's, quite frankly, amazing. She is smart, funny, beautiful, sensitive, thoughtful, and she keeps the snide back-chat to a low roar. She's serious and sincere. And she's got the work ethic of a Trojan (warrior not condom). Isabelle's one significant weakness? She's got Woody Allen-sized anxiety and self-doubt. It's of epic proportions. When, in the fourth grade, the class was examining enhanced photos of dust mites, she went into a 2-day obsessive scratching-twitching-skin-scorching-showering-insomniac frenzy that nearly had us wrap her in plastic wrap and drop her on the curb. Or, the absolute tail-spin terror that accompanies each and every hair cut. So when September rolled around and her final year of high school was imminent the stress began to build.

The first couple of days seemed to go fairly well, but as the pressure started to build, Isabelle started to waver and quake. I shouldn't have been surprised when she walked through the back door 2 hours before school ended one day....but being me, I was. One look at her face told me something was dreadfully wrong. One word and she burst into tears.

She got to school that morning and her world literally began to turn upside down. As she lay on the bed in the spare room, sobbing and holding her pounding head, she told me: first, she'd lost her ability to understand what her friends and teachers were saying--everything was gibberish. Then she lost her ability to write, her normal tidy scrawl, becoming a indecipherable line-drifting mess. Finally, she lost her ability to form words. She bailed out of school, walked home, and fell apart.

So after I'd listened and internally fallen apart, I took her to the only place I could think of....the Emergency room.

We sat together waiting to see a doctor and Woody began to show his grizzled head. Isabelle began to stress about her homework....she had a Chemistry assignment, an English assignment, and an Art assignment. All due the next day. She rang her hands, and began to vibrate with anxiety. So I did what any decent, right-thinking parent would do......I did her homework.

Alright, I didn't do all her homework. I did her English homework (she blew off her Chemistry and Art homework with a note from me).

I wrote a great piece of work! 200 carefully chosen words. All painstakingly arranged into a grade 12 English assignment that rivalled some of my university writing. I loved it.....I mean, how could you not, right? I've been paid to write. I made a moderately unsuccessful career doing it.

So just after I'd finished Isabelle's English homework, and her CAT scan was complete, diagnosing a stress-related migraine (rather than the paralyzing stroke or brain tumour I'd been imagining) I was elated. We went home with a handful of Percocet, a plan for mediation classes, and what I knew to be a piece of grade 12 English homework that would go down in the annals of high school writing. They would frame it and ask if it could be used as a classic how-to-write example for generations to come. I tucked Isabelle in and all was well with the world.

Until she got her assignment back. I got an 8 out of 10. I got an 8 out of 10!!! 

I got an 8 out of 10--from a Social Studies teacher, a Social Studies teacher, mind, assigned to teach English--because, ..."while it was certainly the funniest, it lacked substance."

No framing, no gilding, no using my writing as an example for ripe, young minds yet to come, because, well, because I lack substance. And now my sweet, earnest daughter want me to attend parent-teacher interviews to meet my nemesis. To sit face to face, across a library table with the clearly uneducated, unappreciative, illiterate boob and make nice (okay, perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, but 8 out of 10??!!).

Nope. I'm going to take a pass on PT Interviews. I'm going to take the low road to sit home and sip scotch and ponder my skills--as a feeble parent, as a substance-less writer, and as a long-term grudge-holder. And just possibly, if I perform well enough, I'll give myself a 10 out of 10.

Friday, October 8, 2010


It's harvest time here in Canada: farmers are working their land and filling their elevators, geese are fattening up for the long trip south, sweaters are being pulled from the top of cupboards, and turkeys are quaking and lamenting their no-fly status. This Monday is every Canadians Government-given right to give thanks.

Today, I feel grateful. I have healthy, bright, gorgeous kids who manage to get into reasonably manageable amounts of trouble (no crack, prostitution, human-trafficking, or teen pregnancies. Yet). A sweet, somewhat dense husband, who though losing his hair still has a great bum and enormous patience with me. A nice, albeit shockingly untidy house. And an extended family that I love (from a distance).

It's great to be thankful. I kinda like it. It feels good to feel good and for that alone I'm, well, I'm thankful. It's especially sweet because it's taken me so long to get here.

I had one of those childhoods. You know, one of those childhoods that is horrifying at the time (and a future financial boon for therapists), but comical in retrospect: young mother, skirt-chasing-embezzling-absent father, divorce, welfare and living in an 2-bedroom apartment, with my mother and 2 brothers, furnished with cardboard boxes, and a mattress on the living-room floor. Then remarriage and a new "father" who, though not a skirt-chasing embezzler, was a wife and child beater--ahhhh, the good old days.

What?!! Ghastly!! you say. What a terrible ghastly childhood! How can you make light of it? What kind of cold-hearted villain could say such things are comical! I know....I know, but if you can't laugh you're gonna cry, right? And as the original funny lady Carol Burnett said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." And my own small tragedies have had enough time to adequately percolate to full blown belly laughs.

Then, I had one of those marriages. I married young, very young, as a direct result (so my therapist has helpfully and expensively pointed out) of my childhood. And I married the wrong man. Oh, did I choose badly: a controlling, angry, demanding, demeaning man. Well, 3 kids, some severely devastated self-esteem, a disastrously messy divorce, and a handful of years as a poor single-mom later I'm here in a thankful place.

And today I'm thankful for so many things: for family, for friends, for love, for joy, for warmth, for comfort, for safety. But believe it or not, I'm truly thankful for all the above. For all the heart ache and hardship. For all the loss and pain. For everything I learned and lived.

I am a woman tattered at the edges from life and age, but maybe, just possibly, there's a little bit of beauty in being care-worn. A small bit of grace in coming out alive and intact. Some small bit of refinement in hardship. I want my children to see that. To carry with them the small bit of knowledge that even through their bleakest moments, thankfulness can and does wait on the other side.

So happy Thanksgiving everyone. And when you stop to give thanks this weekend, don't forget to send up a small thought for the troubled-spots, and certainly, don't forget to giggle.

Never Let Them Tell You Complaining Doesn't Pay!

Evidently 2 years of whining, whinging, moaning, complaining, and writing about how down right hard and dirty (albeit rewarding) it is to be a mother has paid off. My little bitty blog has been nominated for a 2010 Canadian Blog Award!!!

Thanks Nominator, who ever you are! I'm honestly flattered and honoured!