Even before I got pregnant with Kaleb, I hoped so hard for a girl. When I had my ultrasound and learned he was a boy, I had a whole series of conflicting emotions: I was excited to meet him, to learn who he was and to see what kind of person he'd become, but I also grieved---hard, ugly grieving---for the daughter I hoped to have. During those difficult post-ultrasound weeks, I had a dream I am just now starting to understand. In it, the baby I was carrying was about four months old. He was at that stage when they're just learning how to sit up by themselves, and he and I were sitting on the floor in his bedroom, near an open window. I propped him up into his awkward sitting pose, then carefully let go of his ribcage, and he managed to balance for a few seconds. As he toppled sideways onto a pillow, he looked up at me with a gleeful smile, full of pride and that sheer joy that babies have just from being alive---and he looked just like my dad. Using dream language I said out loud something I still struggle to put into words, something about how I'd had so much sadness over not having a girl, but this was the reason for it. It connected back to Dad. In the dream, I understood exactly how it connected, knew exactly why I wouldn't ever have the second daughter I'd hoped for. When I woke up, I no longer had the understanding, but I did have the memory of understanding, and that memory brought me some peace.
Kaleb was born on my dad's birthday, and his middle name, Don, is my dad's first name. He is my dad's seventh grandson, and maybe it seems odd that none of the previous six boys have their grandpa's name, but I know why it turned out that way. Kaleb was supposed to share the name. And it's not just the birthdate and the name; Kaleb and Dad have a special connection. When Kaleb was born, we all suspected Dad's Alzheimer's, but he hadn't been diagnosed yet. He still talked some, still could find his way to places, still could drive by himself. He came to see us in the hospital the day after Kaleb's birth. His hair was wild and uncombed, and there was a smear of something on his shirt. I wasn't truly comfortable letting him hold the baby without hovering near. But he took him into his arms,
and he smiled. He looked down on his last grandson and checked to see if his baby ears were floppy or not (as he has done with all of his grandbabies). "What's his name?" he asked, the question of the day. (It took us nearly a week to finally pick Kaleb's name.) I told him the first names we were considering: Max, Sam, Alexander. I told him that my first (and most beloved and I-still-try-to-not-be-bitter-that-I-didn't-get-my-way) choice was Baylor but that Kendell absolutely hated it. "But we're certain what his middle name will be," I told him. "His middle name is Don." And that smile he had on his face---the slightly confused one trying to hide his unsurities---changed. It became a smile that didn't hesitate, a smile that beamed, a proud and joyful smile. The same smile from the baby in my dream. The smile was a spark, and then a bridge of invisible light, connecting faltering old age to new life's unlimited potential.
Kaleb doesn't look anything like my dad. He is, in all honesty, Kendell's Mini-me, except for the brown eyes. He's got Kendell's temprement, too, which is nothing like my dad's. But they still have that connection. My dad wasn't ever a real hands-on kind of grandpa. He saw the kids when my mom did, on birthdays and holidays and family get-togethers. He didn't seek out his grandchildren, didn't do a lot to develop their relationship. I don't think my Bigs have many one-on-one memories with my dad. Kaleb won't, either. But the connection seems to be more about recognition than experience. Every time they are together, I can feel that spark flare up again. Kaleb loves to see his grandpa. The promise of a visit is enough to get him excited about getting dressed and leaving the house, which is saying a lot because he's highly attached to staying at home in his pajamas.
Yesterday, Becky and I went together to visit our dad. She had her two boys with her, and I brought Kaleb. My Bigs are stressed by the idea of going to see Grandpa at the rest home. They each, in their own way, communicate to me their sadness at how he has changed. But not Kaleb. For Kaleb, going to see Grandpa is never about being sad. He loves it. It hit me hard, yesterday, as Kaleb showed Grandpa Don his lion. Dad was lying in the awkward-fetus pose he so often takes up now, unable to quite get his body into a comfortable position, his face bewildered and lost. Kaleb stood by his bed. "Look, Grandpa. Look at my lion!" he said. "He roars." Dad's hand fumbled at the lion, unsure of its purpose. "You push the button!" Kaleb continued, taking up Grandpa's finger, pushing the button together. Kaleb laughed; Dad almost smiled. Sparks, not just between them but in my own mind, taking me back to that dream. A little piece of the forgotten understanding fell into place: I had Kaleb because Dad needed him. He needed Kaleb because they have always---not just during the almost-four years my youngest has been on this earth---had their connection, and he needed it in his life right now. He needed this little person who would love him because he knows him in a way I have forgotten knowing him, who loves him for who he is. Who doesn't ever associate sadness with Grandpa Don. Just happiness. He didn't know my dad before he had his disease, he doesn't remember who he used to be in this life. He just knows who he is now, and that is enough.
When we left the rest home yesterday, Dad was again curled up in his awkward position on his bed. "I love you, Grandpa!" Kaleb said before tugging on my hand to remind me he was ready to go. I kissed Dad on his cheek and then caught his eye. "I love you, Dad," I said, not expecting a response, but still waiting for one. He kept looking at me, looked right back at me. Seconds passed, maybe twenty, maybe half of a minute, and he kept looking at me. "I love you, too" he finally managed, in his creaky voice that is both old man and child. And then he looked away. I tried not to cry, because Becky wasn't crying and because we had a roomful of little boys with us. But I couldn't help it. I felt unbearably grateful that he can still tell me he loves me, that he managed to look back at me for so long. I felt that half-anger, felt the peculiar grief of here-but-not-here, felt the burden of all I can no longer say to him. Felt the untenable sadness that sadness has become what our relationship is about. I couldn't keep my tears away.
"You sad, Momma?" Kaleb asked as we walked down the hall. "Yeah, I'm sad," I told him, squeezing my hand. "Why?" he asked, and in his tone of voice I could hear him also say: what is there to be sad about? We just got to see our cousins, and some unknown lady gave us all popcorn, and we all did puzzles together. We got to see Grandpa. Where's the sad in all of that? So I squeezed his hand back. "I'm just silly, I guess," I told him. And a tiny bit of the ache I still carry, the one that goes with losing my other daughter somewhere along the way, lost its edge. Only Kaleb could remind me that there is joy, too, and that the joy is what really matters in the end.
You know how, in the Harry Potter series, Hermoine is the girl who always turns to books for answers? That's me, too. When new things come up in my life, for good or bad, I tend to read as much as I can about them, and Dad's Alzheimer's is no exception. Reading about other people's experiences with the disease helps me make sense of my own, so when our library got a copy of Mary Ellen Geist's Measures of the Heart (a book Becky and I had already talked about), I was the first to check it out. The book tells of Geist's decision to give up her job as a radio news anchor and return home to Michigan so she can help her mother take care of her dad, Woody, who has Alzheimer's. I wanted to read it desperately, not only because books are always where I turn, but words are, too. I wanted to see the Alzheimer's experience through someone's writerly eye so that I might better understand what my mom is experiencing as my dad's caregiver.
Despite the fact that I took the book home the very day it could be checked out, it took me forever to read it. Not because of any problems with the writing. It is a well-written book, absorbing and interesting. It tells the science behind the disease as well as the personal cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer's. Geist's training in radio and television news is obvious; the book reads like an episode of 20/20, moving easily between the author's personal story, medical research, social implications, and other people's experiences (other caregivers, doctors, social workers, writers). She negotiates a wide range of ideas, from helping her father shower to helping her mother pick out a care center for him. You learn exactly what is entailed in being the caregiver. "The benefits," she explains, "are that your heart expands. You find out who you are when you stop moving so fast. You retrace some of your life and try to get it right this time. You go through old photos with your mother and learn more about your family and where you came from. . . . You realize what you're made of. You provide comfort for both your parents in a way you never could before." Of course, she also discusses the troubling part of caregiving. It is an exhausting, never-ending task. I had imagined it as taking care of a child, and she describes it that way, too. Only it is, in a way, the opposite of being a parent, because rather than looking forward to new milestones being achieved, you are always looking backward: yesterday, he had this skill, and today it is gone. Geist's use of language, her way of thinking, is similar to my own, that way of looking at something that I call "writerly," fed by wanting to use words to understand something, to use your own history of reading to make sense of the world. I get that. I needed it, in fact; looking from the writerly stance at Alzheimer's makes it more bearable. It is a filter that pulls out some of what is painful.
There were plenty of times when I shook my head, agree with Geist. "Sometimes, your wonderful idea of how to help," I would have underlined if it were my own book, "doesn't work. In fact, sometimes you have to admit that the idea is more for you, to help you pretend he's the person he was before the disease took hold." When I read this, I immediately flashed back to my first reaction after hearing Dad's diagnosis: I'm going to get him to tell me everything right now. I bought him a notebook and I asked him to write something in it every day. My faith in words was this: he'll still be able to write something. He'll still have something to tell me. If he has a pen and a notebook, he'll finally tell me the thing I need to know most from him. But already, he couldn't do it. I asked him to write about his memories of his dad, and told him to type it instead. Eager to please, he tried. The result was a hodgepodge of words, a few lucid sentences, but nothing that gave me what I needed. I put myself in his shoes and imagined that, if I had Alzheimer's (far, far from the last time I have worried at just that), I would still want words. I would try to use words for as long as I could to make as much sense of it as possible. I put that need inside of him, thinking it was helping him. But I realized later: it wasn't for him. It was for me. It was my way of making myself feel like he was still there.
That's just one connection I made in this book, one shaking-my-head-in agreement moment. It was full of those connections, but it still took me months to finish. Why? Quite honestly, the marked difference in Geist's family's approach to taking care of their father. They are able to focus on what is left of Woody; they are able to be sustained by the "sort of gems" that come in the experience. In the few times I've helped with my dad, I have experienced those gems, too; they are moments of brightness, of surprise, even of laughter. Moments that you could never have had any way other than by being a caregiver to a person with Alzheimer's. For me, the gems haven't been enough. For me, there is a sort of almost-anger that builds in me whenever I am with Dad. A desperation---a surreal, complex knowledge. There he stands in front of you, looking almost like himself (Geist describes the Alzheimer's face as leonine, a word I have used in my journal, too); he's there, a physical presence. But he is not there; he's not there, a personal absence. Some other man has taken up his form, has taken away everything he used to be, and it rises up in me, the almost-anger. Go away, I want to tell the person Dad has become, let the real Dad come back.
The Geists don't seem to have any of that go away emotion. Instead, their experience seems to be based on there you are, a realization that, while it comes in smaller and smaller doses, is still enough to sustain them. I want my experience to be like that---I don't want to feel that pushing away. I want the gems to be enough for me. I even felt some envy of Geist, that her life was such that she could give up everything to take care of her dad. Maybe if I could have been more active in his care, I would have had enough of the gems to sustain me. Maybe it is only by immersion that you're able to find what you need.
I'm glad I pushed through and continued reading, though; I'm glad I finished. Near the end of the book, Geist quotes a psychologist, Carolyn McIntyre, who continues to work with families immersed in the Alzheimer's experience. Grieving for someone with Alzheimer's is a unique sort of grief; "you have to grieve the person you once knew. . . you're saying good-bye and then the person doesn't leave." That's exactly it; every time I see Dad, I say good-bye again while I also try to say hello to the other person he's become. It is complex and surreal. It doesn't make sense. McINtyre's small statement opened up a door for me and for an instant I felt like my grief was OK, simply because it is mine. That maybe I don't have to feel guilty for feeling angry, because it's not really Dad I'm angry at---it's the at the disease itself. So, even though I left the book feeling more sadness over my family's response to Dad's Alzheimer's, I also got a little bit of relief from it, too. It gave me a label to put on one part of the grief: I am saddened by the fact that I couldn't help more than I have. My life right now wouldn't allow it, and that truth means I lost out on the gems I could have had. It left me feeling like my grief is something I can own, something I can name and describe, feeling like it is normal to have the feelings I do. It is a measure of my own heart.
I think it's a January thing. Or a post-Christmas winter thing. All I know is: I want comfort food. Like, for lunch today? I had a bowl of cream of mushroom soup---with potato chips. That's the only time I really, really want potato chips, when they're alongside cream of mushroom soup. I keep making warm oatmeal cookies and hot cream of wheat. Two weeks ago, I made an enormous batch of tomato sauce with hamburger in it. We had it for dinner on a Monday, and I had it for lunch on Tuesday. And Wednesday and Thursday, too. And I didn't even go the healthy route: I made white spaghetti. I put butter in it before pouring the sauce on. I put Parmesan cheese on top.
I did not eat a dainty portion.
No matter how wrong and unhealthy it is, eating spaghetti with red sauce just makes me happy.
It reminds me of coming home late after gymnastics. I used to work out from 5:00-8:00. I didn't like to eat before going to the gym, other than something small, so I'd always eat after. I'm 100% certain my mom made us meals other than spaghetti. But that was my favorite. She made it with the tomatoes she'd bottled during the summer, with a pinch of sugar and some Italian seasoning, hamburger and mushrooms. I make it with crushed canned tomatoes I bought at the grocery store, mixed with a pinch of sugar, oregano, basil, and two jars of Bertolli's Marinara with Burgandy sauce, which I have to process in the blender because no one will eat the sauce if there is even the slightest hint of a tomato chunk. I brown the beef with garlic, of course, and then I let it all simmer, all afternoon if I manage to be organized enough. I like my spaghetti to have just the right al dente bite; 11 minutes and 15 seconds on my stove makes it perfect. Plenty of salt in the pasta water, and a drizzle of olive oil. And the little piece of butter after it's drained makes it perfect.
Even though my entire spaghetti process is different from my mom's (she's be disappointed by my use of canned tomatoes and bottled sauce; aghast, quite simply, at the butter), it still makes me feel that same feeling I had on those post-gymnastics nights: relief that I survived, the satisfaction of a weary body pushed to its limits, the tingling sting of my ever-blistered palms. Just being home, and done for the day, and knowing sleep would come soon. That's the reason I love spaghetti with red sauce.
Well, Kendell hates spaghetti. I think it's entirely inhumane to hate spaghetti, but he disagrees. Haley eats her noodles plain, with only occasional teaspoons of red sauce; Jake and Nathan will eat it but don't love it, and Kaleb? If there's even a hint that a drop of sauce might have touched his spaghetti, well, that's the end of dinner for him. The groaning racket of "seriously? We're having spaghetti?" and "do I have to have sauce?" sort of drain all the comfort right out of it. So I don't make it as often as I like.
Still, weeks later, I can't stop thinking about my favorite comfort food. I want to make more. In fact, I'm going to make more. Tomorrow morning, even, so I can eat it for lunch, when Kaleb is napping and there's no one else around to complain.
Just a list of some random stuff I've been meaning to get down in words, just because:
Since starting Primary this month, Kaleb has started singing more. He walks around the house singing random stuff, so much so that sometimes his cute singing becomes background noise. Yesterday he was singing while I was cleaning the kitchen, the same thing over and over. I finally started paying attention, and these were his lyrics: "the rains came down and the flowers came up, the rains came down and the flowers came up, the rains came down and the flowers came up and the house in the dirt went away."
I took the kids to the dentist last week. Holy cow do I have dentist issues. A week before the appointment I start having dreams about teeth---usually, dreams about teeth that are all falling out, or rotting away. It's been a little bit better since we found a dentist who doesn't put having cavities on the same level as, say, having an affair, but I still don't like going to the dentist. This time? A dental miracle: not one cavity. I couldn't believe it. I was especially worried about Kaleb, because he's not the most cooperative kid when it comes to brushing teeth. For awhile, when he was younger, I'd have to do this straight jacket sort of hold just to swipe around in there a few times, with him screaming like I was murdering him. We do have to go back in next week for my and Kendell's appointments, and for sealants, but still: what a relief.
One of my biggest fears is smelling weird, so I'm always sniffing clothes. I've not been happy with our clean laundry lately; it just smells weird. I've taken to putting vinegar in every load, and using liquid Oxyclean, and generally just obsessing about laundry. I don't know why it took so long to dawn on me that it's the laundry detergent. Let's just say that the Costco store brand? Does not work as well as Tide, despite what Kendell's friend's wife swears by. It doesn't really have that clean-laundry scent. In fact, I just now took a deep sniff of it and can say that I think it smells just like a package of berries that's been sitting in the fridge for too long---a fridge that also has a slight onion-and-fish scent. I now have a testimony of Tide. Anyone want a ginormous, only-half-used jug of Kirkland detergent???
Where is my Scott Kelby photoshop book? I have torn my computer room apart, looking for it. Did you take it? ;) I'm really, really, really wanting to upgrade to the newest version anyway; my version is so old it doesn't even have a number, just the CS part.
Speaking of "where's my," I can't find my work bag. I'm 99.9% certain I didn't leave it at work (but am 100% too embarrassed to call and ask; I'll just check tomorrow night) and it is not in my house or my car. I have a sick feeling it might have been stolen. If so, the thieves got away with last year's planner, including some expired coupons, a collection of Burt's Bees chapsticks (can't get enough of the pomegranate Burt's Bees), my favorite sunglasses for running, and about ten library books. DANG. I really hope I did leave it at work. I'd miss my sunglasses.
I've been thinking a lot, lately, about blogs in general, and Internet friendships, and a few people who have let me down. Why do I keep reading & commenting on the blogs of old friends who never read or comment on mine? And why does that bother me---I'm not keeping a blog for the comments, right? But then...why is it that I'm keeping a blog? Kendell asks me that all the time, which generally sends me in a downward shame spiral over the fact that I don't go out and do much with real, live friends anymore. Why am I isolating myself? Are the Blog Friendships I have real enough to combat loneliness? Probably not, especially as I learn more about the nature of blog friendships. They're real, of course, and good, and I cherish them. But are they enough?
Alternate Title: Blogging as Avoidance Tactic. I need to be doing something else but I’m doing this meme that I stole from Sophia instead.
I wouldn’t want to procrastinate my procrastination, of course. Anyway, the meme:
One thing I won’t let my husband buy me: a purse. There’s a very long story behind it, but it’s not a story I love. In fact, it’s a story I hate. So, there’s enough of that story!
One thing I would love to have, but I probably will never have: a cat who lives inside the house. Unless I were widowed or divorced, of course, and then an indoor cat would be the first thing I’d get.
One thing you will never find in my closet: much of anything that’s red. It’s my least-favorite color to wear.
One thing I would choose if I were having elective surgery: definitely a tummy tuck. All those pregnancies means that no matter how much weight I lose, I still have extra skin. It’s like a deflated balloon; it can never be as small as it once was. (This answer might be surprising to those who know how un-endowed I am, but I’m not sure I’d ever get The Girls taken care of. Even though they’re minuscule. Gah! Did I just post that on my blog? Moving along...)
One thing I love about my face: Hmmm. I just thought about this for five minutes. I can’t think of something on my face that doesn’t bug me. Especially the fact that I am starting to get wrinkles but I still have a zit now and then. How does that work out?
One thing that I love to do: Stop by Starbucks for a caramel apple cider. Last week I did just that before picking up Kaleb from preschool. When he saw my drink in the cup holder, he said "Mom, can I taste your coffee?" How WEIRD is that? I don’t drink coffee. How did he know that those cute Starbucks cups usually have coffee in them? I did let him drink some of my apple cider, so now when you ask him what he wants to drink, he’ll often say "I want a coffee cider."
One thing I would like to change if I could: My ability to get up early in the morning. More precisely: my inability. I know things in my life would go much more smoothly if I could just get up before the kids do and get things done then. And really, "smoothly" isn’t even the point. I would just get more done. But every time I set the alarm for six or so, I hit snooze repeatedly for an hour or so. What is WRONG with me?
One thing I would change as a mom: If we’re talking about things I’d like to change about myself as a mom, that’s way too complicated to answer. Suffice it to say: a lot. If we’re just talking General Motherhood, I would change how hard it is to be in the world for kids. There is a lot of outside heartache. OR I would change our education system, but that’s another post.
One thing I would do if I had unlimited money: Right this second? I’d make our house bigger. I don’t necessarily want to move, but I wish we had one more bedroom and a bigger master bath. Down the road: I’d get my PhD.
One thing I that I will not do again: Fly standby. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever again. It doesn’t matter if the standby ticket was for the best vacation ever. The fact that there’s a standby flight you might get on for your return trip ruins the entire vacation. Did I mention never?
One thing that I would like to do: finally conquer my sugar addiction.
One thing I could do without: my sugar addiction.
One thing I love to smell: chocolate chip cookies baking. See the problem here?
One thing I would do if I won the lottery: Pay off our house.
One thing that infuriates me: Well, right now I am furious over the fact that our junior high, alone out of every other junior high in our district, is not having an Honors English class next year. Can you imagine? The school’s excuse: we don’t have the money for it. Give me a break—they have to teach English to every single student anyway. It doesn’t cost a penny more to have an Honors class. I am on the warpath. The Honors English war path.
One thing that I love about winter: Snow.
One thing I am addicted to: Do I really have to answer this one? I think you already know: SUGAR.
One thing I pray for: the ability to be patient.
One thing I wish I had: more energy. Lately I am just out.
One thing I would do again, regardless of the pain: Have my babies. Labor and delivery is a great experience and something I was fairly good at.
One thing that I absolutely hate to do: Wash the car.
One thing that is weird about me: You mean aside from my crazies, and the fact that I can stand on my toe knuckles? Or talking in my sleep? I’m not sure there’s anything that’s not weird about me. OK, maybe something I’ve never mentioned on my blog before: I really, really like scrubbing the kitchen sink. Odd because I’m not that big a fan of housekeeping in general.
One thing that I need help on: Figuring out how to make my photoshopped photos match up with the place I have print my photos. I’ve read all about color management (in several books and online articles and magazines) but I still don’t understand how to make the two identical. This is driving me a wee bit loony lately. Which is never a good thing.
One thing I find most relaxing: a hot bath. Hot baths are inherent to my very nature. I couldn’t live without them.
One thing that could get me in trouble: if I indulge myself in hoping for the thing that I have been dreaming about lately. I can’t go there. I can’t start hoping for it again. CANNOT. Not even enough to write about it.
One thing that annoys me: People who expect the library to purchase every single book they want to read. I mean, I’m all for public libraries (obviously) but come on: buy your own books every once in awhile! Especially if the book you want is going to teach you how to: run your business, use something you own (namely, cameras or computers), cook, or manage a disease. In those cases, you might even want to read it twice. Your own copy, that is.
One thing I dread; therefore, don’t do very often: clean out the fridge OR washing the windows.
One thing that I have learned, but still sometimes forget: Change takes effort, not wishes.
(If you want to use this meme on your blog, I put just the questions (without all my answers) right down there in the comments. You can just copy and paste and answer away. Wheeee!)
Back when toys made in China started being recalled for excessive amounts of lead, I had this wild idea, culled, no doubt, from reading too much dystopian literature. Maybe all that lead wasn't accidental; maybe it was China's subtle way of trying to control the world. Send American
children cheap, lead-filled toys and voila: you've got a generation of vaguely brain-damaged kids, easily overcome in the future. Of course, there're flaws in the diabolical plan, namely that not everyone buys cheap toys and, of course, the Consumer Products Safety Committee, which makes sure to test all imported toys for lead.
Still, it's a novel I'd read.
At any rate, my point is that of course I'm all for eliminating lead in toys. With my own buying habits, even, I try to avoid items made in China, just in case. (One reason I love Playmobil toys: made in Europe! Not that Germany couldn't adopt the same diabolical plan, but that's a different novel altogether.) But I think the CPSC has taken it just a little bit too far. Its new law, the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act, is designed to massively increase the testing required for lead in items manufactured for children. The only problem? The law also includes used items, and is retroactive. Meaning, after February 9, it will be illegal for anyone to sell anything, new or used, that hasn't been tested for lead. Goodwill centers, second-hand stores, even garage sales would all be doing illegal trade.
Not to mention libraries.
Because the wording of the law says something vague like "all items for children," books are included. Obviously library books are used. So, come February 10, we've got two options (and by "we" I mean: all libraries that have children's books): pull every. single. children's book. OR we can ban children under twelve.
Great options, right?
When I started reading about this, I thought it was one of those urban-legend kind of things because it sounds so impossibly ridiculous. Especially considering the fact that books test lower for lead than the 2012 requirements. Yet, despite its seeming silliness, it's true. Forbeshas a great article on it, explaining the general ideas and why it's such a failure of a law. To see how the law applies specifically to libraries, check this out.
It's really pretty odd that I don't consider myself a political person, and yet here I am, writing my third political-ish post in five days. Maybe I accidentally licked one of those suspicious toys from China, and my brain is manifesting its damage with a marked change in writing topics. Still, even for non-political me, this is simply ridiculous. Maybe it's the politicians who've been licking lead? Seems like a LOT of money is being spent on this legislation, but much of what the law is doing is damaging small resellers.
Come on! Books are good for growing brains, not bad. And, let's see: when was the last time your ten-year-old licked a book anyway? Or your five-year-old for that matter, not to mention the twelve-year-olds. Doesn't everyone wash their hands after reading a library book anyway? The damage from not having access to books is far greater than the tinchy little bit of lead that might be present in a book. And besides, what about those of us who actually own children's books? Are we next on the you-can't-read-that list? Sounds horribly Farenheit 451-ish to me.
So, are you ready for this: Shaky-on-the-politics little ol' me is going to call her congressperson. And if I can call my congressperson, then you definitely can. Even if you're not a fan of libraries, you might be a fan of etsy shops, or buying used books from Amazon, or whatever. We do, of course, need to be protected from lead, but involving logic in the process might be a good bet, yes?
(PS, I can't figure out why Typepad is making my fonts all wonky here. I tried to fix it. Really!)
I started scrapbooking way back in 1996. Although I'd seen other people's scrapbooks, it didn't seem like something I'd do until I had kids; once I had Haley I couldn't wait to start one for her. My scrapbooking friends all used Creative Memories albums, but since I'd just started being a stay-at-home mom, I didn't feel like I could afford them, so I went the 3-ring-binder route. I found so much pleasure during those early days of scrapbooking, even though once I learned more about it, I hated my first pages and ended up redoing most of them when I could afford the CM albums. I loved looking through my photos, loved writing about them, loved the happy little thrill of easy creativity. During my two years of finishing up my first degree, scrapbooking was my happy place. "Finish writing this essay," I'd coax myself, "then you can make a layout." That's exactly why I thought of it as "easy creativity"; I loved writing essays, too (still do, obviously) but they were hard. Writing requires a sort of self-examination that playing with paper doesn't. Scrapping was just fun.
Plus, all my friends did it. We got together all the time to scrapbook. I'd pack up all my supplies—back then, they all fit into one medium-sized Rubbermaid tote—put Haley to bed, then head out to scrap. We even had occasional weekends-away, dedicated to scrapbooking. Hanging out till far too late, just for the pleasure of kid-free time, eating snacks and admiring each others' pretty layouts, as well as laughing, talking, giving each other baby advice or marital empathy: I loved those nights. I think the only negative thing I would have said about scrapbooking was that I never had enough time to do it.
Things changed over time, of course. As my friends' families (and mine!) grew, the ability to get away for an evening got smaller. Some just lost interest in the hobby. People moved away. I did keep scrapping, especially once I'd finished with my English degree, because I discovered that what I loved most about scrapping—even more than pretty supplies—was that it gave me a space to write. After all those essays I'd written in school, I needed to continue writing pieces that would be read, and scrapbooks were the perfect place for that. I learned that my journaling didn't have to be just a listing of a few facts, but could be a place where I could really say something. It's hard, though, to write that way when you're scrapbooking with other people. Our scrapping nights began to be a thing of the past.
The biggest change was the release of Creating Keepsakes magazine. You'd think that a magazine about scrapping could do nothing but help me scrapbook better, right? But instead, it frustrated me. Don't get me wrong: I learned about things like layout design and cool techniques by reading it; in that sense, it did help my scrapping. The frustration came from two places. First, the fact that I knew people who were writing articles. There I was, English degree in hand, and yet people who knew someone at the magazine got to do what I wanted to do: write stuff that people read. The second source was that, as I read all of these different voices telling me how scrapbooking should be done, I stopped liking the way I did it. If there was a new, cool technique, I learned it; if there was a hot new trend, I followed it. My motivation for scrapbooking shifted: I wasn't doing it because I loved it anymore, but because I wanted someone at The Magazine to notice me.
I still remember the exact moment when I began to see how lame I was being. I was reading The Magazine, and turned the page to an article about using fun foam on a layout. "Wait a minute," I thought. "That would be so thick in the page protector. I don't want to do that." Right then, two roads diverged; The Magazine took one way and I took another. Scrapbooking started to become an industry; there were scrapbook artists and scrapbook celebrities and Hall-of-Fame winners; layouts started to become about how much product you could pile on. Metal embellishments became the rage; there were layouts with turkey bags (seriously). Websites and online forums dedicated to scrapping flourished. Scrapbooking, which I had loved, stopped being about matching up pictures and words; instead it was all about getting and spending . It became a popularity game, a fashion show—and we all know how good I am at those things! Nowhere in this new industry, especially in The Magazine (which I continued to read despite my "I'm not doing that" epiphany) could I find a representation of the way that I wanted to scrap: something pretty paired with an emphasis on photos and, mostly, words.
Somewhere in all those changes, a new magazine came out: Simple Scrapbooks. And that's where I found myself as a scrapbooker. That's where I discovered that my way of scrapping was just fine. It's also the place that stopped rejecting my work but, instead, wanted me to write for them. I worked as a freelance writer with Simple for about three years and loved every second of it. Writing for the magazine helped me overcome that feeling I had, that every layout I made should be "good enough" to please some invisible editor who might finally, finally notice me. But even more than writing for the magazine, reading it helped me overcome my scrapping neurosis. The reinforcing idea, every issue, that words and pictures were the point (not becoming famous and receiving the adulation of many), never did change throughout the course of the magazine. Scrapping became fun again.
Even though I stopped writing for the magazine (not, I hope, based on the quality of my work, but simply because there was a change in editors), I never stopped reading it. I never stopped gaining inspiration from it—because it never stopped reminding me that my way of scrapping was just fine. Your way is good, too! So I can't tell you how sad I was when I learned that Simple has just about run its course, and only two more issues will go to press. A casualty of the economy, I suppose. It’s probably a little bit strange to be emotionally involved with a scrapbook magazine. To be grateful for it. But I liked the voice of sanity in the otherwise-crazy industry. In fact, I loved that magazine and will miss it.
A hobby should make you happy. But it doesn’t always feel the same; your relationship with your hobbies changes as time passes. And that’s OK, too. I’ve not felt that utter and innocent joy it used to bring me in a good long while. In fact, aside from the work I did on my Big Picture classes last year, I hardly scrapped at all. I found the holy-cow-I'm-so-excited happiness in the fabric store. But somehow, with the new year, I’m anxious to dig in to scrapbooking again. (Maybe because my sewing machine is having issues and has lost my trust?) I’m grateful that along the way I’ve gotten rid of most of my scrapping issues. Stacy's magazine taught me to scrap first for me, and it’s a lesson I will always be happy I learned.
Despite my shaky politics, I did watch the Inauguration. And, despite my feelings that speeches are mostly rhetoric, I found myself wanting to believe what the president said. I even found myself a little bit teary-eyed. Looking at his speech from a rhetorical stance (meaning: how did he use words to evoke emotion?), I think that the way he connected our current times to our foundations was masterful. He spoke directly to what is troubling us and then lifted us above those troubles by speaking confidently: we can overcome, because we have, in the past, overcome. Plus, he spoke to the future: "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." By mentioning every imaginable trouble---economy, environment, war, health care, retirement, education, terrorist threats, the abilities of government---he managed to make a connection to nearly everyone listening, because nearly everyone has been impacted by one (or more) of those troubles. In fact, when he said "Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights" it was as if he were speaking directly to me, because that is exactly how I feel.
In fact, as I've reread his speechI've become aware of just how well he uses words. He's brilliant, I'd say. (Unless someone else writes his speeches, in which case I'd say whomever is writing his speeches is brilliant, but I do think he writes his own.) The structure of the speech, the way he proves his points, the use of metaphor and other figurative language: they all work together to make you feel something.
The question, of course, goes back to my original sentiment, to my cynical (to use one of his words) view of politics: how much of what is being said really is rhetoric---language used well with the intent to make you feel something---and how much is truth? The president's skill makes me want to believe. I want to believe that things can be fixed, that we aren't on an inevitable decline. I like the idea of "retirement with dignity" as an option, especially as I witness my dad's insufferably undignified descent. I want my children to be able to attend universities and own homes one day. I most assuredly want the world to be repaired, somehow, hobbled back together from our untenable use of it.
I want to believe his rhetoric.
And maybe, for my cynical little heart, just wanting to believe is an enormous step. I'm not, yet, though. Believing that is. Instead, I am watching to see if it all really was just rhetoric, or if it was truth. I am waiting to see how life either affirms or denies the truth behind his rhetoric.
This morning I read a New York Times article that made me believe, a little bit, in his words. The article (you should read it!) is about how books have influenced President Obama. It gave me the same feeling I had yesterday as I thought about having a president who valued words enough to ask a poet to read an inaugural poem. How can I help but be drawn towards a person whose life has been influenced by books? There is a certain joy for me in the fact that our president realizes the power in words, their ability to change, their very nature which is, deep down at their roots, the ability to create. Of course, since we are of a different generation, race, and life experience, the list of books that influenced him is far different than mine. We've both got The Golden Notebook on our lists, though, and Gilead. A president who seems to always have a book with him? That, even more than his speeches, makes me hopeful.
Because, of course, it's not only through books that our lives are changed, it's through life itself. One of the reasons I became an English teacher is because an English teacher, by introducing me to specific books and authors, helped in a way to save my life, and I had the idea that I could do that for someone else. It was an entirely all-too-idealistic reason for choosing a profession, because I quickly learned just how few people really love books. One of my clearest teaching memories came on the first day back from Christmas break. I asked my class---it was B5, my favorite sophomore students---what books they'd received for Christmas. Everyone looked back at me with blank faces; I don't think one of my students had received a new book for Christmas. Holiday blasphemy! What is Christmas without a new book? At that moment, I began to question my faith in the power of books. How can a book change a person's life if that person isn't reading any books? What I thought was strange---people not reading on a daily basis, people not even needing to read---was actually the norm. I was the weirdo.
And that's exactly why President Obama's penchant for reading makes me more hopeful than anything else in politics right now. Deep down, even though I have that clear vision of just how few people love books and are changed by them, I still believe in their power. I still have faith that books can transform lives and, in doing so, transform the world. And here's a president who would, I think, agree with that faith; here is someone who believes the same thing. It doesn't quell all of my unease, of course. But it does help me want to believe even more.
During the elections, I very purposefully refrained from blogging about the elections. My political views are too shaky for me to throw them out in public very often. By "shaky" I mean that I don't know that my opinion really even matters much, so why share it? But this morning I am feeling the smallest bit more hopeful, and it is, after all, the Inauguration. When else might I get political?
Yesterday, I was reading the newspaper as I do three out of four Sunday mornings, over a plate of carbs (homemade waffles, but usually it's pancakes), and I got stuck on an article about the new president, and how he wants to craft "a new Declaration of Independence." I sure hope he was speaking metaphorically, as in declaring us independent from, I don't know, things like meddling in other countries' business, or war, or financial ruin. Because I honestly still quite like our old Declaration of Independence, you know?
I am deeply uneasy about our future.
I listen to political speeches and I can't help but think: isn't this all rhetoric? How can anyone believe anything a politician says, when we've had so much contemporary history prove that they rarely do what they say? I've stopped believing that politics is about governing a nation; now I see it as something similar to Hollywood, something that's about money, fame, and power. And I have to add that I would feel that way no matter which guy was elected president. I feel like America has become very Roman in our outlook, in the sense of conquering and claiming the world with our philosophies and ideas. Forcing democracy doesn't feel very democratic to me. And look what happened to the Roman empire! It feels, to me, like some sort of crumbling is in order. Of course, I'm just the pessimistic girl in the back row, so no one should listen to me.
Still, today's Writer's Almanac made me feel a little bit better. It introduces the poet who'll be reading an inaugural poem at the festivities today. I don't know anything about Elizabeth Alexander and don't think I've read any of her poems. Still, not many presidents choose to even involve the poets. President Kennedy did, and I've always thought that if I could go back in time, one of the events I'd like to see is Robert Frost reciting "The Gift Outright" instead of the poem he'd written for the occasion because he couldn't read his inaugural poem from the bright-white paper. Obama's inclusion of a poet makes me like him more. It makes me think he and I might have that little bit in common: poetry. Even if the cynical part of me is whispering "but he probably only has a poet there as a way of making you think you have that connection." Even with that whisper, I still like him a little bit better.
And, and: I think I like his poet, too. Or, at least, I like the poem from the Writer's Almanac because, well, I agree with it: real poems aren't about "love, love, love"---they are not about false emotion---but are about something real that we can all relate to. So, I think I'll share it here and then go back to watching the inauguration. I might even try to believe a little bit of what I hear.
Poetry, I tell my students, is idiosyncratic. Poetry is where we are ourselves, (though Sterling Brown said "Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'") digging in the clam flats for the shell that snaps, emptying the proverbial pocketbook. Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner, overhear on the bus, God in the details, the only way to get from here to there. Poetry (and now my voice is rising) is not all love, love, love and I'm sorry the dog died. Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?
Tight tendons. Weak muscles. Tired lungs. Everything, in fact, complaining.
But I finally did it: started running again.
I've only hit the pavement five or six times since my half marathon in November. The holidays got in the way, and the cold weather, but I'm starting to feel really soft. I need to start exercising again! I finally got some mojo back when I stumbled on this half marathon---close to home, and not a bad course, and, well, close to home! I wish I didn't need a race to get me motivated, but there you go: I do. Whatever it takes, right?
It was a cold run this morning, and probably I should have gone to the gym instead, because the air was dirty. I felt like I'd eaten dirt once I'd finished and cooled down. But it felt so good to be outside, running again that it was worth it. I'm just left with the question I ask myself every time I drop the exercising ball: why do I ever stop when doing it makes me feel so good?
The second thing I'm beginning again: cooking real meals.
I've been feeling terribly frustrated with dinner. It seems like there's nothing I can cook anymore that some child doesn't complain about. After the Lasagna Incident (which involved actual puking) I have thrown up my hands in cooking despair. We've pretty much lived on pasta, cheese tortillas, and cold cereal since then. I'm not the kind of mom who cooks four different things for four different kids. I think I'm a good cook, and I think they should be able to eat what I cook. If they don't like it, then they can eat it anyway or be hungry.
That's supposed to work, right?
Well, it hasn't. And I've been discouraged. But I'm trying again this week. Not that I think anything will change---I'm 100% certain that someone will complain about every single meal I've planned. I'm just trying to encourage myself to take a deep breath and ignore the complaining. I can't just give up, right? I finally got organized this afternoon, planned the upcoming meals, and went grocery shopping. Kendell went with me, so it wasn't quite as stressful as it usually is when it's just Kaleb and me. In fact, Kendell kept Kaleb happy, walking him around the store and looking at stuff, so I shopped all by myself. Nearly a pleasant experience that way! At any rate, here's my upcoming meals, just so I don't forget:
Sweet pork burritos
Lemon chicken and brown rice
Chicken pot pies (with the leftover lemon chicken of course!)