Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mischief Night

 I come home around 9pm and see 4 rolls of toilet paper and an egg carton near the front door. It's common for a neighbor to drop a carton or 2 by our house, since we have chickens. I absently wonder if Carol next door got such a great deal on Charmin at the grocery outlet she frequents that she was inspired to share. I say hi to the stepkid, talk on the phone for a little while, then take Alice out for a walk. I notice that the household supplies have gone away, and finally realize that it's Mischief Night.

Where/when I grew up, after the little trick or treaters had called it a night, older kids did the requisite marauding on Halloween, their pillowcases filled with eggs and spray paint cans instead of candy. Houses were egged and toilet papered; Jack-o-lanterns were smashed; mailboxes were knocked over with baseball bats and shovels; headstones were graffitied; sugar was poured into gas tanks.

Around here, teenagers make some mischief that seems pretty white-bread in comparison the night before Halloween.Which is tonight. Better yet (if you're 14), school is cancelled tomorrow because of a freak 7 to 10 inches of snow that fell yesterday, which is mostly melted but left widespread power outages.

I knock on my stepkid's door, wondering if he actually sneaked out.

Stepkid: "Yeah?"

He's playing xBox, talking with his friends online through his headset.

Me: "So...where are the toilet paper and eggs?" Teenagers have highly attuned bullshit detectors. I'm still refining my updated-for-high-school parenting technique: straightforward and respectful, and under no circumstances trying to be cool. He looks up for a moment, a near-smile.

SK: "I put them away."

Me: "Huh. What changed your mind?"

SK: "I don't know."

Me: "Sounds like a smart choice. There could be consequences you wouldn't want if you got caught." I don't mention the ethical import of leaving other people's property alone, as much as it kills me not to.

SK: "I might still go."

So, do I shut down that option? Do I in effect condone it by recalling my own high school Halloween exploits? Do I wait and see what he decides to do? I don't know so I don't say anything, just go about cleaning up in the kitchen. He comes out a little while later. I often wish we had an upstairs/downstairs floor plan, but I'm thankful tonight, as I know I will be for the duration of high school, that his bedroom is off the kitchen, a spoke of the household hub, and that he is forced by proximity to interact with the rest of us, all the while having his much-needed privacy respected.

I tell him whatever he does, I don't want him to use our eggs. The hens are laying less with the shorter days, and it's a waste of food.

SK: "Seriously? It's not a waste -- other animals will eat them. It's better than toilet paper. I mean, that's littering."

It was a long time ago, but I'm pretty positive I wasn't pondering the ramifications, ecological or otherwise, of my near-future actions as I headed out with my fellow Hallows' Eve vandals. All I could think of was sweet revenge on a mean neighbor, and later raiding my baby brother's candy stash. (I had a notion of myself as a nice girl, but there's quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.)

It's 11:30pm and he hasn't left yet, and I need to go to bed but I'm stalling. He just came out to use the bathroom. On his way back into his Man, Jr. Cave, I ask if he's going to bed. (The stepkid does have a bedtime, just to be clear. But with a 6am wake-up and 3 hours of football practice every day, it's not something we ever need to enforce.) "No, no school tomorrow." "Are you staying home?" He looks at the clock and laughs, at me. "Obviously."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Public vs. Private

I noticed this sign while taking a walk near my workplace yesterday. My phone camera doesn't convey how battered and knocked over the sign was.

This is the area to which the public has access.Wish I brought my picnic basket!

As obvious a contrast as this, I couldn't resist documenting it. This sign is within sight of the public briar patch.

Again, the camera on my BlackBerry doesn't do this a bit of justice. It's a truly sweeping view of Long Island Sound, with a mansion to the right that serves as HQ for an insurance holding company. I don't know what that means, so I asked a lovely older woman who was also taking a moment away from her work to admire the view. "I don't know what they do over there," she said, gesturing to the other part of the building. "I work on the foundation side, that's all I know. And I'm the only one who sits out here and eats my lunch in the summertime. The rest of them sit at their computers, never look up all day."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Room of One's Own, On Wheels

Every day I think, "Today is the day I take the train to work" to my J.O.B. 30 miles away. Every day I leave the house just a little too late to both catch the train and the shuttle from the train to my workplace in order to arrive on time. Driving might or might not get me at my desk any earlier...but it might. After six months of this daily delusion, of checking for my train ticket (still there, still only 2 out of 10 punches punched) and failing to use it, I'm finally admitting that I choose, I choose to sit in some of the country's worst rush-hour traffic, idling away my time and gasoline and ozone layer, ratcheting up that scary-high odometer reading, day after everlovin' day.

All I want is to be with my child, the one from whom I'm separated now 12+ hours/day because we need the income and benefits. (I miss my stepkid, too, yet while parental presence is critically important with a teen, so is allowing them their space. Also, his Dad is on-hand, more appropriate for talking about girls and shaving tutorials.) I cry every Monday for the duration of my commute, it's so painful that I can't do what ought to be my primary job, the only job that matters, except around the edges of the day... yet driving usually extends this separation from my children. This is crazy, right?

But then I understood: My car is the only place that's all mine (most of the time). Anywhere. My office at work is a cubicle. No, that's an exaggeration: It's a right angle. I share a cubicle. My home office is the corner of the kitchen. Another whole 90-degrees all to myself. It's the farthest corner from the stove, but if the wind is right and the wooden stirring spoon is cocked just so, a pasta sauce splatter across my computer screen is not improbable.

Our house is small and all on one level. The only potential Virginia Woolf turf is the playhouse above the chicken coop, and it's hard to write in a place where the ceiling's too low for a person over 4' 5" to comfortably sit upright.

Our bathroom doors don't have locks. My kid is four.

Me: I'd like privacy, please.
Her: Okay.
Me: Um, why are you still here?
Her: For privacy company!

My car is not exactly a destination. It isn't an on-the-go entertainment center, or an all-terrain overstuffed lounge chair, like some of the vehicles with which I share the interstate. It features an old-school AM/FM radio, all the preset buttons preset to our region's plethora of public radio (WNYC on the way to work, WSHU on the way home and  WFUV the rest of the time). The CD player became mysteriously jammed a couple years back. The shock absorbers don't.  The locks and windows have to be clicked and cranked by hand. It loses hubcaps like a gradeschooler loses teeth. But the heat and A/C work. It reliably starts and stays started. It's paid for. It's fairly clean. It is comfortable enough while stationary for a nap or meditation or to use my laptop when parked in a wifi spot.

I might go sit in it right now, in the driveway, actually. As I'm typing my stepkid, whose bedroom shares a wall with the kitchen, is waging battle with zombies or an opposing football team or some other video game enemy. My husband is standing at the island behind me, eating his lunch. My daughter has interrupted me three times...for kisses. Break my heart, already. I'm taking the train on Monday, I mean it. Even if it means crying in public (transportation).

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Parenthood, Planned

I've never had an abortion, but I almost was one. That second fact is responsible for the first; when I was 13, my mother told me that she and my dad had booked an appointment in Montreal to have the procedure done. It was 1970 and still illegal in the U.S. She was 21 and a student, as was my father. They were broke. They had married four months earlier, and I suspect the honeymoon was already over, that early on. But when they were asked at the border if they would be leaving anything behind in Canada, my parents changed their minds and headed back to the States.

This was a pretty impactful tale to tell a teenager who wasn't yet sexually active but was considering the possibilities. No doubt her story delayed that particular rite of passage by at least two years. I was the last of my friends to "lose it," spring of my senior year of high school, at which point I decided it was as good a time as any. But first I went to a local family planning clinic, got myself on the pill and waited the requisite amount of time for chemically induced infertility to commence. Then I visited my basketball player boyfriend while he was home alone. It was slightly uncomfortable but fairly satisfying. Then we listened to the Beastie Boys, ate barbeque potato chips and washed his twin sheets.

I never, ever once had sex without a pregnancy-prevention plan in place, not that first time nor for the next 20 years, until I was ready to be a parent myself. Well-played, Mom!

I relied on the services of Planned Parenthood for my down-there care throughout. (Except, ironically, when I wanted to get pregnant. At this point I was fortunate to have health coverage. I often hadn't over the years, and they see people--men as well as women--on a sliding-scale basis, providing free or inexpensive medication and contraception. I asked my fantastic midwife, Maggie, if I could continue on in her care. Alas, they are in the business of preventing unwanted pregnancy, and of supporting a woman's and her baby's prenatal health, but they don't deliver. She talked fondly about her own pregnancies and births, then gave me a scrip for prenatal vitamins and an ob-gyn referral.)

Aside from the security buzzer on the door and the bullet-proof window at the receptionist station, Planned Parenthood looks like any other lady-catering medical office: bright, cheery-colored walls and chairs; fashion and gossip magazines; a talk show or soap opera on the TV. The rooms have the same scales, blood-pressure cuffs, paper-covered exam tables and stirrups as any other. I never encountered a protester or saw evidence of the procedure for which Planned Parenthood is most well-known regardless that abortions are a statistically tiny part of their healthcare services.

In the thick of the recent political pressure to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, it was time to schedule my annual. I had other options. I have health insurance accepted by the ob-gyn practice that saw me through pregnancy, birth and postnatal care. But I opted to bring my business (and my business) back to Planned Parenthood. Call it arm-chair activism. Or exam-table activism, in this case. I didn't need to write a letter to Congress or attend a political rally; I could do it over my lunch break;  if I had to get felt up and probed and swabbed anyhow, it might as well be for a good cause.

Interestingly, for the first time I can recall, I was acutely aware of Planned Parenthood's full scope of services this time. I neglected to write down my appointment when making it, so I called a few days later to inquire. "I think I have an appointment today?" "Are you having a termination?" the receptionist asked. "Gosh, no..." I replied, caught off guard. "Then it's not today, Hon. Wednesday's termination day." She put me on hold to check the schedule. It hadn't ever occurred to me they dedicated specific days of the week to abortions; of course. She'd been so matter-of-fact. Friday's Prince spaghetti day. That's why I'd never crossed a pro-life picket. I felt naive, and grateful.

When I went in for my appointment not on a Wednesday, it was the same professional, extremely efficient place I remembered. (I was in my car and heading back to work within one hour of being buzzed in.) There were new purple upholstered office chairs in the waiting room. Maggie had retired; instead I saw a friendly nurse midwife in a starchy white jacket and high heels. We chatted about our children, and she warmed the speculum beforehand. She checked my iron levels and wrote a referral for a mammogram. She asked if I intend to have more children (no) and by what means I was preventing such (my husband's vasectomy. Amen for men who plan their parenthood!).

As I got dressed afterwards, I noticed what looked like a kitchen appliance on a rolling cart in the corner of the room. I queasily realized it was a suction machine, and not the kind used on carpets. Perhaps I'd seen it many times before, but now I am a parent. Just as I never took the topic of abortion lightly after learning my mother's--and consequently, my--story, it is all the more personal now that I've conceived, carried, birthed--and wholly adored and been ready for--a baby.

As I stared at the machine, I was glad I'd chosen to support an organization that does the distasteful work behind the saying "Every child a wanted child," through education, medical care, contraception and, sometimes--necessarily, unfortunately--termination. I was glad I never had to make the decision of women and couples who'd been in this room on Wednesdays past or since. I was glad the only thing I'd be leaving behind that day was a Pap smear, and a copay.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Welcome, Sinners!

People are scoffing the fundamentalists today since the world is, apparently, still here. Silly naysayers! End of Days isn't til October. Yesterday was slated as a sort of early-bird special time for the really, really good Christians. And, according to my sources, people may have raptured (is that a verb?) on May 21; those of us didn't simply have a holy case o' amnesia. Whatever the case, glad you're still here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Suburban Prayer Flags

From Little Bee:

"On the other side of the glass, the day smelled like summer. My neighbor had shuffled along his washing line, three feet to the left. He'd finished pegging Y-fronts. Now he was on to socks. His washing hung like prayer flags, petitioning daytime gods: I seem to have moved to the suburbs, I'm afraid. Can anything be done?"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pothole Atheist

I woke up to quiet -- not to an alarm or a three-year-old announcing "THE SUN IS HERE!" It was 7:17am. Michael was long gone to work; I heard the shower, so the household member most likely to oversleep, the stepkid, hadn't. I marveled at my good fortune to go under for few more minutes, found that sweet spot in the pillow...then remembered a recent story of a kid my daughter's age going for a stroll around his neighborhood one morning (in a diaper) while his parents dozed. They later stated wonderingly (and perhaps a bit proudly? Since the kid had suffered no more than chilled feet before being spotted by a neighbor, they could indulge a sense of pride at his dexterity and problem-solving skills that wouldn't likely have surfaced had the outcome been different) that he'd never opened the heavy front door on his own before, and how on earth had he reached the latch on the gate?

My kid was either still in bed, or on the roof. I vaulted to her doorway and witnessed, with relief, the source of the lack of the daily wake-up din: a passed-out pile of cuteness. Meow-Meow, the cat, was supine along the length of the kid's right leg and Wren, the dog, was curled into herself like a cinnamon roll beneath the left one. Everyone's hair was messy; someone was snoring an open-mouthed, air-gargling sound. I stood there a while staring wonderingly, proudly, at our furry foundlings and their human playmate/pack member.

We knew we hit the companion-animal lottery when Wren came to live with us 5 years ago, by way of a rescue group that moves dogs slated for death (mainly pitbulls and rottweilers) out of shelters and into foster homes. She was already a survivor, having been left caged in an empty apartment in the Bronx, all scars and ribs. Her foster mom, Jeannie, fed and loved and leash-trained her, and Jeannie's pack of rescued pooches schooled her in the domestic arts of climbing stairs, snuggling on the couch and not shitting where you sleep. Michael rallied for a Staffordshire Terrier; I wasn't sold on the notion. Although I'd only known them personally (through shelter work and a pet-sitting business) to be sweet of temper and mild of manner, people have definite preconceived ideas about pitbulls and I didn't want to deal with fear and bias, especially as new residents in a neighborhood full of children. But between the tearjerker testimonial about her horrid history and this glamor shot,  it was love at first sight:

And she loved us back a hundred times over. She loved our son, and our baby, and the kitten. She especially loved my aunt and their walks. She loved to swim and play but if her people were hanging around the house she loved to just be with. She knew the difference between kid toys and dog toys that look exactly like kid toys. She didn't chase the chickens. She was our por vida pup, and then she died.

She was hit by a van. The front door was ajar and she pushed her way outside. She had never done that before. Maybe she never had pushed out the front door before because she hadn't had the chance. Maybe she had to pee, or saw a dog she likes across the street...The stepkid and his friend came home after school and didn't shut the front door well enough behind them. It has a tricky catch, and we've all accidentally left it open. But the storm door latches tightly; perhaps it was a tiny bit open, too, snagged on a lip of snow. The snow. There were 8-foot walls of snow blocking sidewalks and visibility.

No one knew the front door was open or that Wren was outside until a cop came to the (open) door and told us she'd been hit. He saw it happen, saw a van not see her and saw her unable to get out of the street because of the snow.

She was healthy. She was afraid and in pain at her death, which wasn't a quick one. Animal Control brought her to the vet hospital, where we saw our sweet Wren bleeding, spine broken, still rallying, the vet stunned at her fortitude and cautiously optimistic about her survival. We opted for surgery, but she died before it was possible. We were with her when she died. She knew we were there, which offers no consolation whatsoever.

Someone said, "Why did God take her so young?" I wanted to punch them through the phone. I thought, "No, it was a D-O-D-G-E, not G-O-D." I never felt like an atheist until that moment. (Would that be a pothole atheist, rather than a foxhole atheist?)

I don't believe that everything happens for a reason, or that God works in mysterious ways. I believe that crap happens, some of which we have control over, most of which we don't, but that we always have the choice on how to interpret and respond to said crap.

We've talked matter-of-factly about death to Stellina -- she's known 2 great-grandparents and 2 hens and random critters around the house -- squirrels and birds -- to expire before this. We told her what happened. We cried together. The next morning -- the morning after marveling at our perfectly compatible combination of kids and critters -- she asked when Wren was coming home. (Note to self: when you tell a kid the people they love will always come back, they believe you.) I explained again that she died, and said, desperately, that she was running and playing in doggie heaven. She gave me a Look and said, "She isn't RUNNING. She is DEAD." Well, then.

As for the stepkid, it was a good opportunity to talk with him about how we know it was an accident (no one leaves a door open on purpose on a 20-degree day) and that we all screw up, but part of being in a family is accepting and forgiving one another our mistakes and getting through stuff together. We don't want him to carry this. We don't blame him. We grieve as a family the loss of the first pet we had as three (then four) people figuring out how to be a family. And it's in this afterward (versus afterlife) that grace resides.

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr